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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?

Monday, November 20, 2017

Metacular (Personal and Meta Update)

I'm sure at one point I had a reason for looking this ridiculous.
A post on Monday? Whaaaaaaaat?

Actually it's just a preview to let you know what's going on. This week is a major holiday and our update schedule might look a little screwy. You know I can't get the staff to even come in on a bank holiday. Even if I offer them double-time, they say something like: "So, you're going to give us TWO coupons for half off DippenDots with the purchase of a value meal."

And they say it in that way that means it's totally the end of the conversation, so I'm not really sure.

Sci Guy wants to install a buttload of tracking software so we can definitively figure out what's going on with Evil Mystery Blogger by logging keystrokes or something, but it's a huge endeavor and he needs the entire building offline. I'm sure he's not just wanting the power reserves to do experiments to bring his dead girlfriend over from timelines where she didn't die because nothing weird ever happens here at Writing About Writing when we go on break for a few days. We also have a bit of freelance hero work happening Tuesday (rather than the usual Monday schedule for that sort of thing).

Anyway the point is, I'm going to take the opportunity to do something of a MASSIVE admin overhaul in the next week. Everything from figuring out the future of guest blogging to an Inside Scoop e-mail to a catch up on all the menus that have fallen into decay. And I'd love to get some full force sessions in with my fiction now that life is not a screaming tire fire.

And hey...I might even take a moment to have some good food with friends and family in my ritual sacrifice with pie.

There should still be a really real post for tomorrow (Evil Chris assures me) and some of our Best Modern Fantasy Poll business will go up on Wed. [Edit: It looks like I'm going to have to flip the rollout schedule on these two days, but all the same posts will go up.] But then we need to take the blog offline until Tuesday. If things go very well, we might fire it back up by Sunday, but we'll be back to taking Mondays off next week.

Now there's a D&D article I've been threatening, and I think it's going to be ready this week, but I've changed my mind about posting it this week. I'm overdue to give my patrons an early access post, and I'm going to let them have it for a few days.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

On Holidays, Flossing, and Writing

I stumbled into a metaphor not too long ago that resonated with me and has been packed into the top tier of my writing platitudes toolbox ever since. I share it now because my article about what Dungeons and Dragons taught me about writing will have to wait until at least tomorrow. And that's because frankly I needed a damned day off. (Uh.....other than this, I guess.)

I was having my teeth cleaned after a particularly busy period of my life. (Funny how often I seem to have those.) The dentist was remarking how good my flossing was and how good my gums were looking. This is notable because it was literally my first "Looks good. See you in six months," check up since I was a child. Usually I have to sit there and listen to how my every oral hygiene routine is actually completely wrong.

"I haven't flossed in like two weeks," I admitted anyway, wanting to absolve my guilt. I couldn't live with all those sweet golden compliments built on a turpitudinous throne of lies.  "Like maybe once or twice."

Thinking back on it, that exchange kind of reveals a lot about who I am as a person.


"It doesn't matter if you do it every single day. It doesn't even matter if you skip a few days. What matters is that you usually have the habit of doing it daily."

"Oh like writing," I said.

OH!  LIKE WRITING!!!!! I thought.

Here at Writing About Writing we're pretty staunch advocates of writing every day if you're trying to make it to The Show™. (Contented hobbyists are a whole other story.) Every writer whose name we recognize probably wrote every day or close. And while legit excuses are out there, there are few so beleaguered that they can't set aside fifteen minutes or so from Facebook or Zelda: Breath of the Wild to write for fifteen to thirty minutes.

However, as the holidays loom here in the States, it's also important for writers–particularly the kind that haven't carved out a paycheck from writing and have day jobs on top of everything else the Holiday season packs on–to remember that it's the habit they're cultivating that matters rather than whether or not they missed a couple of days here and there (or had to write a couple of paragraphs and call it good) in the days around a major event.

If you find yourself saying "I don't have to do it every day," to the mirror five days a week for six months, you might need to do a brutally honest inventory about who's fooling whom. But if you've got six hours of shopping and cooking and that's before the first guest arrives, and a boss who wants you to clear out a five day week of work in three days if you want Friday off, and the verge still needs trimming....be kind to yourselves.

Remember your writing doesn't have to be grueling hours on your work in progress. Tear someone a new asshole on a political post, redirect all that rage you have about your childhood to someone who thinks Trump isn't risking an irony fissure to the time space continuum to mock Al Franken, (or, you know, maybe send an email to Nana thanking her for the cookies if that's more your speed), and call it a day. The writing will all still be there on Monday.

It's not one day that's going to hurt your chances as a writer. It's forming that habit.

Like flossing.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Post Postponing

I mentioned this on Facebook, but I'm packing up one pet-sitting job and heading straight to another today (and the past two weeks of nannying haven't given me the time to have something mostly cobbled together already), so look for today's post this weekend.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Who Ordered The Extra Salty Mailbox (Mailbox)

It's not quite hate mail, but I'm not exactly putting up with this shit either. 

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will (eventually?) answer on my weekly reply.  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. I do not bother with the kid gloves if you don't sign your name.]    

Anonymous writes:

All you ever write about is writing. For five years you've been writing about writing. How much writing can be done about writing? How much longer can you keep this blog going and have it be just about writing?

My reply:

If you're not having a good time, I have a couple of suggestions for alternative activities. One might require a cloning machine, but I hear we have one of those in the basement.

Here's the deal. I have a couple of "notes" files of articles that I'm reminding myself I need to write and a lot of brainspace dedicated to future articles. A number of serial posts remain unfinished but I haven't forgotten about them or abandoned them (whether they are literary reviews of Skyrim or some of my own creative nonfiction). And there are far more entries for things like The Basics or Craft of Fiction that are yet to come. There are so many unwritten posts–so FUCKING MANY–that were I to experience some kind of trauma or injury or simply the all time mother of writer's blocks and stop generating new ideas....TODAY, it would be over three years before I finished up the backlog.

That means that if I only finish up loose ends, half written, and conceived but not yet put to pixel posts. If no one writes in a new question for the mailbox. If I don't manage to watch another movie and review it. If no news in Trump's America manages to invoke a Social Justice Bard response about narratives and sociolinguistics. If not one single new guest blogger ever steps forward. If no one tries to take a viral litsnob swipe at someone like Pratchett or JK Rowling. If I can't think of a single thing as the plot for Season 3. If I don't read a single new writing book or try out a single new thing of which I would want to do a product review. If I read no "lesser known" books that I really want to give a shout out to. If absolutely no ideas for a listicle  jumps into my head as a great idea for a post....

....at all....

....ever again.....

It'll be about 2022 before Writing About Writing closes up shop.

Frankly, I wouldn't count on that. I can get inspired watching those commercials they run at the gas stations while you're filling up.

Art and life are inseparable, and like life, you can declare that you've got it pretty much figured out or you can delight in the infinite complexities of endless variations on the themes.

A commenter writes:

How could you possibly claim to know everything there is to know about Loki's character if you missed one of the movies with him in it?

My reply:

(Dark World and Ragnorok spoilers ahead)

If only....

If only there were some sort of central repository of knowledge that we, as curious media consumers, could access with all these new fangled machines that have become so ubiquitous and we are so accustomed to.  Somewhere where someone who was watching an "Including Movies" run of Agents of Shield and couldn't get the Roku to work would be able to find some sort of synopsis of The Dark World and read about Loki's tricking everyone into thinking he's dead so he can abduct his father, usurp his power while pretending to be him, and abandon him in a situation that will eventually lead to his death noble sacrifice.

But honestly here's me looking for the place where I claimed I knew everything there is to know about Loki. Nope not there. Nope. Not there either. Are you sure I claimed that? Because I know winning arguments is a lot easier when you are arguing against claims someone never made, but there is a name for that sort of thing.

Nope. Not seeing it.
Look I know what the real crime here is. I had the temerity to evaluate Loki on a scale other than "Awesome," "Totally Awesome," or "Tragically misunderstood but nonetheless totally awesome." People really like Loki and want to put that whole murdering entire cities, slave trading, totally would have murdered that guy who didn't kneel, multiple betrayals, was-about-to-sell-bro-out-to-slavers thing behind them because he cracks wise, sometimes makes tenuous alliances, and rocks the curved horn look.

I like Loki too. I totes do. Too many villains don't have that depth and nuance and you know too well what they're going to do. I REALLY like that he brings nuances of biculturalism and "otherness" to his portrayal. His motivations are more complicated, and I think that's really cool. But while he might be on track for some very interesting MCU redemption arc action, is certainly a complicated character, absolutely OOZES charisma with Tom Hiddleston behind the wheel, and has some very interesting change-of-heart moments, he does most things most of the time mostly because they are going to help Loki to acquire power.

Anonymous writes:

As someone who's a literary major, maybe you should spell your literary references correctly. It's Chekhov, not "Chekov". 

As someone who's a literary major????  Do math majors not have to spell theater references correctly?

Oh wait. I get it. I see what's going on. I'm savvy.

This was an attempt to embarrass me because I should know better. How could I, a lit major, not have an eidetic memory with regards to the spelling of every major literary figure that I would have run across in the course of my studies. After all that's what I spent most of my four years of college doing right? It wasn't writing papers–it was spelling tests of notable figures.

It must really burn some people up when a guy like me shows up, someone whose dyslexia and ADD leads to grammar and spelling errors left and right, yet who still manages to get straight A's in his English major, gets invited to dinner with professors to discuss theses even as an undergrad, gets paid to write, and has a huge international audience.

"Why that guy doesn't even know his Jane's from his Texan cities!!! Balderdash!"

Since we're in the catty zone though, "Lit" stands for literaTURE major. Literary is an adjective. A "literary major" would be a high ranking officer in the army's book reading brigade. Also if you were paying attention instead of just giving your red pen a workout, you might have noticed that I was a Creative Writing Major so clearly I am simply lost without an editor. Though really, at the undergrad level, there's a lot of overlap, and they're all just English majors with various emphases. I still wrote rings around most of those lit majors though. Even if I misspelled some names along the way. Oh yes.

Because at the end of the day I can fix my Chekhovian flaws with two presses of a button (thanks Bee Tee Dubs), but confronting the sort of snide elitism that'll make someone try to shame a writer because their autocorrect recognizes Star Trek will take a bit more effort.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Best Modern Fantasy (Semifinal 2)

What is the best fantasy book or series written in the last 25 years?   

Behemoths continue to duke it out for the honor of going forth to the final round. We're almost there, and the end of literally months of nominations and elimination rounds is in sight.

Everyone will get three (3) votes. The top four titles will go on to the finals.

Now is the time to make one small reminder. Many of the books in question have some kind of adaptation to the screen. It's time to stress that while CGI dragons are goddamned spectacular, this poll is about BOOKS, and writing, and not about how much Peter Dinklage fucking rules. So please vote for the best book, not the best thing you've seen on DVD or HBO.

The poll itself is on the bottom left of the side menus, below the "About the Author."

My apologies in advance. Gaiman got three titles into the semifinals, so one poll was destined to have some hot Gaiman vs. Gaiman action going on.

Also, seriously, I know there are a lot of people on WAW's Facebook Page and the laws of large numbers are starting to dictate that a certain number of people won't read anything but the preview text before commenting, but y'all are hurting my soul. "Oh how could my very, very favorite fave not be here?" Well....chances are it is, or was. Please know that 1) this is only half the titles in the semifinal round ("Oh my god how could Harry Potter not be on any credible poll????" It is. Check the results of the first semifinal. It'll be on the finals.), 2) there were rules that disqualified titles that came out before 1992 ("Why isn't Wheel of Time on here?" Because it's not modern according to the definition of this poll.), and  3) there have been twelve rounds getting to here and that was after the epic-est nominations process I've ever seen and I controlled literally NONE OF IT, so if a title got voted off the island or never got nominated, I'm really sorry, but showing up when we're on the second to last round and declaring that if it doesn't have your very favoritiest title, it's not a good poll kind of makes you look foolish.

For mobile users you click on "web page view" and then scroll ALLLLLLLLLL the way to the bottom.

These semifinals will only be up a little over a week (we're going to end up going into December despite all my hopes and dreams, so I might as well give people a little more time) That means that the IP logging will expire. Since I can't really stop shenanigans, I encourage it. Vote early. Vote often.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Best Modern Fantasy (Semifinal 1 Results)

What is the best fantasy book or series written in the last 25 years? 

The semifinals open with some giants falling off the polls. I'm as surprised as anyone.

It's 11pm and I might be getting sick, so I'm just going to leave the results here, and hope to hell that a good night's sleep does a hard night's sleep.

The top four titles will move on to the semifinals.

And thank you to so, so, so many of you for getting involved. I suspect there was some Pratchett networking love going on, but the results are the results.

Text results below.

Small Gods- T. Pratchett 993 30.18%
Malazan Book of the Fallen series- S. Eriksen 458 13.92%
Harry Potter- J.K. Rowling 450 13.68%
The Kingkiller Chronicle- P. Rothfuss 384 11.67%
Song of Ice and Fire- G.R.R. Martin 308 9.36%
The Graveyard Book- N. Gaiman 262 7.96%
The Dresden Files- J. Butcher 239 7.26%
The Mercy Thompson Series- P. Briggs 196 5.96%

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Return of a "Dark" History (A Literary Review of Thor:Ragnarok)

Thor Ragnarok may be the coolest, slickest, funniest indictment of white supremacy that you're likely to see for a long, long time. 

Meta disclaimer: 

I so seldom catch movies on opening night, and even more rarely have the time to go home and write them up. Usually any review like this is weeks or even months behind the curve. I mean, no shit, I have a half written article about The Force Awakens here. I started it in good faith the night the movie opened and....well....shit came up.
Anyway.

The point is, I don't often catch the pop culture curve. I'm usually the one showing up six months late, wheezing, and saying "Have I missed anything?" And my ideas aren't exactly super ground breaking, I just try to throw in a sex joke or something. So this is me in rare form trying to type faster than the hype can get stale. I'm already seeing the first articles hitting that are making the points I wanted to make a week ago, so I lift my glass to their authors. and hope I can add something meaningful, or at least some eighties pop culture references or something.

And also spoilers, folks. Couldn't go where I go without LOTS of spoilers.

Though statistically liberal arts majors are likely to end up being "the boss" because of their broad base of reading and writing skills and ability to communicate*, the only actionable skills a Lit major has right after graduation chiefly involve literary analysis. Since my Creative Writing emphasis was lit heavy, I possessed two skills. (The other one was writing about writing.)

*(Turns out you really 
want someone who can read a hundred pages, find the connections with something else, and distil it all into a memo before lunch)

So of course I'm doomed to literarily analyze everything. Books of course, but I also literarily analyze comics–not comic books, mind you, I'm talking the three panel joke versions–they are surprisingly supple when it comes to poststructural and intentionalist lenses. I literarily analyze bars of soap, children's toys, facial expressions, my lunch...anything really.

And of course movies. Not just deep and confusing Nolan movies. But actually ridiculous giant robot movies too. The more ridiculous the better, to be honest, because it flexes the ol' lit-muscles to have to reach further into the bowels of incoherent vapidity to make a salient point. Plus, let's be honest. It's kind of hilarious to be able to do some halfway decent postmodernist and postcolonial theory on Sharknado. (We English majors have peculiar senses of humor. I own this.)

If I'm actually enjoying a piece of media, I'm probably analyzing it, even if that makes you think I'm a buzzkill who can't ever just relax and enjoy something. Thor was no exception. I was sitting in the theater giggling my ass off and remarkably surprised at how a frenetically paced goofy flick with a death scene that was basically "Welp...bye." was holding me rigid.

Here's the funny thing though. If you bring the thoughtful analysis to Thor, you'll notice topical commentary both grotesque and subtle. Unlike some of it's predecessors, and a disappointing number of MCU offerings to be honest, Thor Ragnarok has a lot to say. It might be a joke a minute, but there's a parable about the refugee experience, colonialism, and white supremacy that will liquify you far, far deeper than the Grandmaster's goo stick. And while T: R is not a morality play with characters who play nothing but their analogue, and certainly has characters (like Loki) who are layered and complicated with rich back stories as well as fitting into an extended metaphor, there are some artistic interpretations that fit quite well.

Some of the themes Thor touches on are as subtle as a brick. The Asgardians as refugees are disheveled, displaced, just want to escape death (literalized as a goddess) that is following them–ostensibly for some reason but mostly because they had the temerity to run. The line that they (not a physical place) are Asgard is repeated like a cudgel that can't be avoided. Valkyrie is a grizzled vet, with PTSD no less, who actually has a sense of what they're up against and how powerful it is. And The Immigrant song (the IMMIGRANT song–get it?) blasts not once, but twice through the action sequences.

But some of the metaphors are far more subdued: In the final battle one of the central tensions is whether the refugees will drown in the crossing over water. The resistance is led by someone who is both in character and actor from a typically marginalized group. The stinger scene and how welcome Asgardians will (not) be on Earth, the full force of how impossibly we treat refugees becomes fully apparent.

Other symbols are transparent to the point of invisibility at their core but slathered with so much laughter as frosting that they might escape cursory notice. When The Grandmaster (played brilliantly by Jeff Goldblum) engages in exploitation and human trafficking with a big smile and a manic affect, he reacts angrily, though hilariously, to his actions being referred to as "slavery." Much the same way that capitalistic exploitation of labor is fine so long as we never make those doing it feel bad. At the end, in the first stinger, the same character (a defeated slaver–wink wink nudge nudge–doyougetit?) declares what is essentially a civil war (where he got his ass kicked) to be a tie.

Perhaps the most obvious and also subtle metaphor is Hela herself, who not only marks the MCU's first woman villain, but arguably one of, if not the best. Naturally she too has symbolism both glaring and inescapable and somewhat muted. She walks onto the screen and declares herself returned and in control and can't really understand why no one is happy to see her. In one scene with Thor she indicts Odin as: “Proud to have it, ashamed of how he got it" and literally reveals how a sanitized history has covered up the real one. (No, like LITERALLY it covers it up.) She asks where Thor thinks all the gold came from. And in doing so she reveals that the nine realms were conquered and Asgard is a colonialist and imperialist power. Their prosperity has come at the expense of those they vanquished. She says that she will kill everyone who doesn't share her vision of Asgard's return to glory and power.

The only thing that could have made this more overt would be if she were wearing a red MAGA cap during her monologue.

But the family dynamic of the Asgardian royals is far more subdued as subtext for colonialism and white supremacy. Each presents a facet both of the complexity of colonialist nations (particularly the US) but also of the periods in history. And it brings out the real metaphor of the film–the tension between the distant past, the recent past, and the present. Hela represents a violent, tyrannizing distant past that has made the colonialist power great, and now seeks to destroy any who would challenge her vision. And when most of Asgard rejects her, she draws on that past (literalizing the rise of long dead armies who will execute her vision).  Thor is a young, well-intentioned and good hearted person who has benefitted directly from that violent past without knowing it and now comes face to face with it–and is shocked at its power (a moment literalized by the smashing of his hammer). Odin participated in the crimes, changed his mind, covered up the past, declared everything all better, and held Hela in check. Of course there is also Loki: a character who doesn't care as long as he gets his.

(Edit 11/12/17: Given how many comments have taken full fledged apologia umbrage with Loki's characterization here as power hungry, I will point out that even if you take out innumerable murders of innocents in the MCU that he was directly or indirectly responsible for in the name of ruling Earth, and only deal with the current source material, he still usurps his father's throne, trapping him far away and causing his death, falls in with slavers and even seeks to rise within their ranks without a significant moral objection to doing so, and tries to sell his brother out (again) but for being outmaneuvered. While I suspect that his MCU trajectory is headed for a full fledged redemption arc given that he has not been the full-out antagonist for a couple of movies, and I have to tell you I personally really like the character, his complicated, and often tragic, backstory of otherness and biculturalism and occasional pangs of familial loyalty bring him depth and layers, but they do not make him NOT fundamentally power hungry.)

The Asgardian royals create a powerful parallel to the political landscape US (and many colonialist powers) today. They got rich and powerful exploiting and subjugating other lands and peoples. The generation that changed its mind, and simultaneously changed the story and held some of the worst of white supremacy in check is dying and a new wave of white supremacy populism is on the rise. There are many who believes in their own exceptionalism without addressing (or even understanding) the atrocities of exploitation and human suffering that got them where they are, and they are suddenly confronted with the past. A past that has returned to claim its birthright for it is the TRUE heir to the throne. This white supremacy wants to remove or destroy anyone that isn't in agreement with it despite the inherent irony that the US (or other colonialist nation) is not really a place, but the very diaspora of people who would be removed. Even the wounded indignancy that it is being resisted is spot on. Those who believed in their history, institutions, and nations as forces of a greater good are shocked both at the truth of their past, at the power that past wields, and how easily those institutions they thought indestructible shatter in its hands. But a system that has been built on white supremacy and a country literally built with slavery and human suffering cannot simply say "Welp...bye," to its terrible history.

And, yes, there is even a huge contingent who frankly don't care what happens to anyone else as long as they get theirs, and they have deep and complicated reasons for doing so and often familial loyalty.

Perhaps my personal favorite persona in this parable is Skurge. More than Loki or Valkyrie his is a redemption arc that fits the extended metaphor, and almost perfectly represents a person with privilege (accurately cast as a white dude) who sees the rise of a power that doesn’t target him directly. He doesn't necessarily like that power (an echo of the "I have a real problem with that" that people in power admit to having about bigotry), but speaking out against it would cost him. (He doesn't exactly slip out the back and go join the resistance at the first opportunity either.) Here's a guy who imagines himself pretty badass and basically just wants to impress girls. He is offered power under the new regime because he is the "right kind of person." He goes with Hela despite lots of furtive glances that indicate his strong objections, but takes no no real action. However he comes to discover that not only is he the bad guy, but he's going to have to actually risk something or a lot of people are going to die. And lest you were beginning to succumb to the subtlety that is Thor, in a nod to both Chekhov and those who Skurge represents, he ends up turning a pair of U.S. M-16s (revealed earlier) on the undead army. Let us hope that the Skurges of our society who “have a real problem with what’s going on” but say nothing realize the cost of their complicity before it is too late.

The lesson here for writers is as heavy a bludgeon as Mjolnir itself–a story can be a fun, exciting, hilarious romp (and even have some non-trivial problems with pacing and fuck up actual mythology like woah) without necessarily being empty of meaning and subtext. Some of the subtler symbolism may not have been explicitly in the mind of the writing team, but given Taika Waititi’s background (a New Zealander with one parent Maori and the other a Russian Jew) it is nearly impossible to imagine the overarching postcolonial themes as unintended.

And it works! It works well. At no point did this ride stop being hilarious and fun. A writer shouldn't be afraid to be topical just because they want to reach a wide audience. The idea that one must pick either a good story or political relevance is a false dilemma.

In the end, Thor cannot defeat Hela. Her connection with Asgard is literally her strength. She is too powerful and that power is woven too deeply into Asgard's history. He can only leave her to Ragnorök, and it is only the swing of Surtur's sword that literally destroys Asgard to its foundations that (maybe?) defeats her. We face the same dilemma when surrounded by systems, institutions, laws, and culture all rooted in white supremacy–they cannot simply be unwoven and detangled without shattering those foundations from which they are intractable. And yes, if we do this, it will feel like the end of the world.

The important thing to remember is that it is WE who are Asgard.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Best Modern Fantasy (Semifinal 1–Reminder to vote)

What is the best fantasy book or series written in the last 25 years? 

When The Dresden Files, Pratchett, and Gaiman get voted off the island, I'm going to laugh and fuel my Genesis Device with all the "How can any serious poll not have my BABY?" comments that drop about the final round, so if you don't want me living forever off of your delicious tears, you better vote.

There are three days left to vote. On Sunday I will post the results of this poll and put up the second semifinal.

And while I know the laws of large numbers have begun to determine that a certain number of people won't read anything but the preview text and the poll before commenting that oh how could their very favorite fave not be here, please consider that 1) this is only half the titles in the semifinal round ("Oh my god how could American Gods not make it????" It did. It'll be in the second semifinal.), 2) there were rules that disqualified titles that came out before 1992 ("Why isn't Wheel of Time on here?" Because it's not modern according to the definition of this poll.), and  3) there have been twelve rounds getting to here and that was after the epic-est nominations process I've ever seen and I controlled literally NONE OF IT but rather my readers made all the decisions, so if a title got voted off the island or never got nominated, acting like it is a crime to the genre might make you look a little foolish.

Don't forget you get three (3) votes, but that there is no ranking, so using as few votes as possible is better.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

I'm told if you're on mobile you have to click "webpage view" then scroll alllllllllll the way to the bottom, you can find the poll.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

May's Best (And a tiny personal update)

I'm going to keep using this week–this week with it's double book, hours of driving, and emergency nanny hours–to catch up on these "Best of" posts that have gone months without updating. I've gotten a little writing time to work on a Thor article, and if all goes well it'll be up on Friday. (And if all doesn't go well, I'll finally actually have some time on Saturday, and it'll probably be either Saturday or Sunday.) Currently, if I'm not in the car, entertaining a soon-to-be four year old, or literally bent over in the physical act of feeding a cat or scooping their litter box, I'm pretty much writing right now, so I'll get you the good stuff as fast as I get it done.

Here are the top three articles (non poll and non-appeal) from May that will be moving to permanent housing in our "Greatest Hits" menu.

A Dream Destroyed (Mailbox)- R's brother's friend has really splashed some cold water on their love of writing. What should they do?

Swearing in Third Person (Mailbox)- Is it okay to have your third person narrator swear? Well it depends....

This Populist Writing Philosophy (Mailbox)Someone wrote into the W.A.W. Facebook page who was less than thrilled that I stress writing a lot over writing the best one could every time.

Honorable Mention:

An Open Letter to the Readers of Writing about WritingMaybe it was the title, but my appeals posts don't usually get more pageviews than other posts. But this would have actually been this month's number one except for one of the polls.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Admin Heavy Week

I'm about to have one of those weeks that I warn everyone about in my schedule sometimes happen when part of your world involves a three-year old. Life has brought the busy, and I'm about to jump at it in slow motion so we meet in the mid air, punching each other, as Led Zepplin's Immigrant Song blows everyone's ear drums.

So......

I'm going to do my very best to bring you both quality and quantity this week. I have articles in my head as new as Thor:Ragnarok literary analyses, and going all the way back to internet outage I suffered this summer. (Well, technically a few are even older than that.) And I'll be typing like some piping to try and get to you as much good stuff as I can.

However the conjunction of überbusy and super-behindness on admin/clean-up type posts (like menu clean-ups) that have been cannibalized by all the early rounds of the Best Modern Fantasy Poll reveal a clear solution.

Manus Jazzicus. Administraticus.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Vocabulary Builders (Product Review)

My vocab builder can beat up your vocab builder!
If you buy a vocabulary builder (and I don't recommend it), get the right one.

There are a lot of vocabulary builders out there for the writer anxious that their lexicon might need a little punching up before they have the kind of vernacular that will turn heads. And while these books can have a tiny bit of limited usefulness to a writer, they are not all they're cracked up to be and DEFINITELY not all created equally.

For a while there I shared this deep seated anxiety that if I wasn't able to deftly work "pulchritudinous" into my prose, I was going to be lost among the oceans of aspiring writers. (Who knew that the thing that would actually set me apart would be sitting down and writing?) The end result being that I have a half a dozen of these books most of which haven't done anything but increase the weight of every subsequent move I've made by about five pounds.

So if you really want my advice, you don't need these at all. And there are two main reasons for that:

1) The current trends in most modern writing is to write how we speak–generally more pragmatic and less baroque. We have major writing style guides telling us to keep it simple and publishers and readers tolerate far less purple prose from any modern writer than they might from, for example, a Victorian author or even 20th century writer. While many writers might know a three dollar synonym for what they're saying, most of the time it is simpler, more concrete, and more accessible writing to pick an easier word unless the complicated word captures the meaning far, far more elegantly and precisely. Literature (and to a greater degree art) is deliberately casting off much of the high-society elitism of "fine art" that is acutely emblematic within Anglophone culture's favoritism of Latin roots and Norman/French expressions instead of anglo saxon based "pleb language." (Think imbibe vs. drink if you want an example of an ostentatious word with absolutely no added meaning.)  It's just not en-vogue anymore to confuse readers with an elevated vocabulary.

Disclaimer: you can do it.  And a few writers do, but they also do it in a very natural way. Consciously attempting to do so usually leads to at best feigned savvy and at worse a stilted, prolix prose using words bordering on anachronistic. Like a politician who makes every question about the talking points, you are going to be working too hard to show off the words you've learned instead of just picking them when they are the exactly right word for what you mean. Which brings me to the much more important second point.

2) If you use a vocabulary builder to build your vocabulary, your vocabulary is going to FEEL like you used a vocabulary builder to build your vocabulary. If you pepper in a bunch of big words just to show off it's going to feel pretentious and contrived. It kind of shows.

The best way to get a big vocabulary is to read a lot. You will encounter words you've not seen before and decide if you want to try to muddle through from context or must look them up, and you will enjoy the delight of the adroit wordsmith to slip in the occasional words that titillate you and cause you work them into something you write five times in as many pages for the love of them (later to be revised down to only the best one, of course) your vocabulary will grow in a natural way. You won't be learning 5 roots and 25 words as part of "Unit 1" in a futile attempt to "catch em all," but rather your love for words will develop naturally as you encounter words in the wild that you realize have some power you've always wanted to be able to capture. Also, as you see the prose of other writers you will learn how you want your own writing voice resonate (because we give Faulkner a lot more latitude to send us to the dictionary every page or two than we would The Orcslayer Deathninja Chronicles, trust me).

When you have a big vocabulary, it can give you access to that PERFECT word, and that is a wonderful ability. But an artificially inflated vocabulary kind of feels like it is exactly that.

On the other hand, vocabulary builders are pretty fucking great for recognizing the words that already exist out in the world, for second language speakers, or for anyone still in a situations where they might have vocabulary tests. Also, some writers are not going to take the first part of this article's advice. The anxiety a new writer can feel of worrying about the inadequacy of their own natural lexicon can be potent. Maybe not as fierce as Trump working about the size of his.........hands, but potent.

If you must "build your vocabulary," don't get one of those books that is just a bunch of random complicated words. Those things are absolute crap. They won't help you at all, and you would basically have to make flashcards to even get close to absorbing the material. Might as well just read the dictionary for all the good it'll do you. (Not that you can't do this, but it's not a great way to RETAIN what you've learned.) The vocabulary builders I'm talking about here are far more than simply vocabulary books with big words. They are intended to help figure out prefixes, suffixes and roots.

So let me show you what you want in a vocab builder using these two examples.

I picked my worst and best versions. Ida Ehrlich's Instant Vocabulary and Merrian Webster's Vocabulary builder respectively. I don't know if my best is the best (especially not today) but this will give you an idea of what to look for.

Both of these books are still in print. (Though each is in a new edition.)  You can get a look from their sample pages (the links under each picture) what I'm talking about beyond the pictures–and probably easier to read.
Instant Vocabulary
Vocabulary Builder
Notice how in the Ehrlich, all you get is a "key." The key is defined in bold without any explanation. Then you get some sample words that employ that key and their definitions. There is a little practice quiz at the end of each section that you will literally never do.

This is not a great way to learn. It's okay, and it'll do in a pinch, but let's look at the Merriam Webster.

You have the same basic idea to start. A prefix, suffix, or root. But instead of just the meaning you get its latin source, a little history and some sample words. They explain how the word shakes out in English. There are only four example words, but each one is not only defined but also the link to the root is explained, and there is a sample sentence.

This is a much more comprehensive lesson that is far FAR more likely to actually stick than Ehrlich's "keys." So if you have to get a vocabulary builder (though what most writers really need is to read more), and whether you buy an actual book or use some sort of online resource, get one like the Merriam Webster that has sample sentences, explanations, and history rather than just one that lists words and meanings.

Overall Value: 3 (Ehrlich)- 5 (Merriam Webster)


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Best Modern Fantasy (Semifinal 1)

What is the best fantasy book or series written in the last 25 years?   

Holy crap everyone. I mean HOLY CRAP are there some tough choices to make as we close in on the final round.

We've finally reached the semifinals and man-oh-man do we have some behemoths slugging it out.

Everyone will get three (3) votes. The top four titles will go on to the finals.

Now is the time to make one small reminder. Many of the books in question have some kind of adaptation to the screen. It's time to stress that while CGI dragons are goddamned spectacular, this poll is about BOOKS, and writing, and not about how much Peter Dinklage fucking rules. So please vote for the best book, not the best thing you've seen on DVD.

The poll itself is on the bottom left of the side menus, below the "About the Author."

Also, for fucks sake, I know there are a lot of people on WAW's Facebook Page and the laws of large numbers are starting to dictate that a certain number of people won't read anything but the preview text before commenting that oh how could their very favorite fave not be here, but please know that 1) this is only half the titles in the semifinal round ("Oh my god how could American Gods not make it????" It did. It'll be in the second semifinal.), 2) there were rules that disqualified titles that came out before 1992 ("Why isn't Wheel of Time on here?" Because it's not modern according to the definition of this poll.), and  3) there have been twelve rounds getting to here and that was after the epic-est nominations process I've ever seen and I controlled literally NONE OF IT, so if a title got voted off the island or never got nominated, I'm really sorry, but acting like it is a crime it isn't on this poll might make you look a little foolish.

For mobile users you click on "web page view" and then scroll ALLLLLLLLLL the way to the bottom.

These semifinals will only be up a little over a week (we're going to end up going into December despite all my hopes and dreams, so I might as well give people a little more time) That means that the IP logging will expire. Since I can't really stop shenanigans, I encourage it. Vote early. Vote often.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Best Modern Fantasy (Quarterfinal 4 Results)

What is the best fantasy book or series written in the last 25 years?

We've finally finished the quarterfinals!

I've had two last minute kerfluffles on top of a flu shot that did a day and change worth of crud this week so everything is just running behind. Tomorrow is a full day of "Job 2." And I mean a full day. The kind of day that starts first thing with trying to get a four year old dressed and fed and doesn't end until they collapse forward into their bed at day's end without changing into pajamas.

Still I preserve with the best of intentions. Today results. Early tomorrow I will slap up the first semifinal on my way out the door (finished tonight when I get home from last-minute-plan number 1). Sunday a "slow burn" article that has been sitting, mostly written, in the queue for like a week. Plus an admin post continuing my vainglorious attempt to catch up with how abominably behind I am there.

The top four titles will move on to the semifinals.

And thank you to so many of you for staying enthused about this poll despite it's riDICKulous number of rounds. I'll try to narrow things down in the future so we don't have a repeat of this nonsense.

Text version of results below

American Gods- N. Gaiman 185 40.84%
The Dresden Files- J. Butcher 103 22.74%
The Abhorson trilogy by Garth Nix 53 11.7%
The Inheritance Trilogy- N.K. Jemison 52 11.48%
The Lightbringer Series- B. Weeks 32 7.06%
Black Jewels Series- A. Bishop 17 3.75%
Radiance - Catherynne M. Valente 6 1.32%
East- E. Pattou 5 1.1%

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Best Modern Fantasy (Last Chance to Vote–4th Quarterfinal)

What is the best fantasy book or series written in the last 25 years?

Even evil Chrises who live in basements need to get their flu shots, but the one I got yesterday has really kicked my ass. (I've heard the strains in it are going to be extra nasty this year. Be sure and get yours!) No signs of an allergic reaction, just the cruddiest I've ever felt afterward. I have the memory of one that was this bad, but it's actually one of Chris's memories from seven or eight years ago that was imprinted onto me, and causes me existential angst to think about. (What are we if not memories.......)

It's auspicious timing though because we've got to finish our quarterfinal rounds and start the semifinals with enough time to finish this poll in November.

So you have one more day to vote. Tomorrow I will post the results of this poll and put up the first semi-final. 

Don't forget you get three (3) votes, but that there is no ranking, so using as few votes as possible is better.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

I'm told if you're on mobile you have to click "webpage view" then scroll alllllllllll the way to the bottom, you can find the poll.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Quick Reminder From Evil Chris

Hello everyone,

For the next thirty days I'll be your emcee here at Writing About Writing. I'll be posting your polls, running The Mailbox, possibly busting out a potpourri, finding you articles (even writing a few), and just generally running the show.

But I do have something to say....

Chris–that's the "good" Chris–may have his fucked up, prescriptive, pretentious, elitist, bullshit issues with Nanowrimo, but at least he knows when to shut his clap trap and let me take over. It's no secret we get along better than we probably should. When we steer clear of talking about Nano for a few days, we often end up at this brunch place where they have French toast with bananas on it and bacon on the side that is really good, and we just shoot the shit for hours.

But you know, there have been some rooftop battles too. He's my Magneto that way. It's hard to have a nemesis that you get along with so well, and Chris has like five other nemeses anyway, so I sometimes have to wait my turn.

However I will tell you there is one thing we agree on completely:

This blog wouldn't be here if it weren't for our Patrons. We are completely free. We don't even host ads. And this is a tremendous amount of intellectual labor that we give to the world. Our patrons are the only reason we aren't slogging to a day job, coming home exhausted, and writing one or two posts a week–usually jazz hands.

Please consider being a part of Writing About Writing's support structure by BECOMING A PATRON!

We need your help if we're going to stay at our current operating level, and especially if we're going to increase the number of posts and "meaty posts" we put up each week. As little as a dollar a month will help keep us going.

There are rewards to being a patron–everything from getting in on backchannel conversations to having a character named after you or private tutoring and editing. And the more support you can give us, the more we will try to thank you in our own way. But mostly it is just your chance to support a non-traditional form of writing entertainment, which will allow me to keep everything I write (including the future books) free for all.

Please consider being a part of that support structure.

Of course if a monthly donation isn't your speed, you can always give a one-time donation through Paypal in the conspicuously placed tip jar to the left.

[And if even a dollar a month is just not in the budget right now, I certainly understand. (My good months tend to involve two trips to Chipotle these days.) However, if you still want to help in some small way, engaging this post on social media (liking it or commenting on it on FB) and of course sharing it will help it be seen by more folks who might have a dollar or two.]