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

Friday, August 29, 2014

The 11th Hour

So I am on the playa, unaware of what is going on in cyberworld.

We almost certainly failed Blogust. Numbers were great even before I left. Better than they've been since last year when Creepy Guy was still doing the rounds, but with 15,000 left to go, it just doesn't seem possible.

I have pretty much done my "We did the best we could," deep and heavy sigh (while striking a look of complete ambiguity with exactly equal parts satisfaction and disatisfaction). I am content. Perhaps even zen.

I don't want to sound like a broken record, and many of you have already been far too kind about sharing articles, but you want to see Writing About Writing, somehow pull out an 11th hour win, it's going to take a lot of love.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Will We Make It?

By now, I am either out on the playa or in a stuffed car on my way.  I suppose there is a non-zero chance that I am descending into maddening frustration at the fact that the car isn't loaded yet and we still haven't gotten on the road, but I'm hoping for the best.

I'd ask you to do me a solid, and share this post, but it would be pretty boring for your friends. It may just have to be a post that only the dedicated Writing About Writing fan knows about.

I won't be home until the first or the second and you might be wondering how to know if I've made my goal for Blogust of 50,000 page views. Or, more likely you're wondering how to find out just how badly I'm going to miss the mark.

So if you go all the way down to the bottom of the page, you will find the total page views of this blog. It looks like this.

This was on Monday when I wrote the entry, so it's probably bigger now.
If that number is over 860, 375 by 5pm on August 31st then I have (somehow) managed to succeed at Blogust.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Off to Burn the Man

Writing About Writing is about to go on a small break as I head to the Black Rock Desert to go be A Writer At Burning man for the 13th year in a row.  

I shall return with poignant tales of moments at the temple and the renewed fire to write a certain story that I started last year (but which got put on the back burner due to the coming of The Contrarian). 

Vigor: it shall be renewed.

I may not actually leave until tomorrow, but I need to pack and prep and I teach tonight. I might have a moment to continue my Tabs Menu clean up of The Cast and Crew, or I might not. It depends on how quickly I can stuff rainbow costumes into plastic baggies.

There is at least one post scheduled for while I am away, but I will have no way to promote from a land with no internet. So you'll have to check back (or follow us in one of the auto-update ways) if you're curious about whether or not we hit our Blogust goals.

As of this writing, I am 16,800 page views shy of Blog's ambitious goals for August. Short of the viral spread of Changing the Creepy Guy Narrative last summer, I have never seen traffic come anywhere close to this. However, you will all know before I do if I made the 4,200 hits a day needed. So stay tuned.

There is a non-zero chance that I will be back Monday, Tuesday is most likely, Wednesday at the latest.

Take care, and keep writing!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Worshiped (Some Call Them Cats)

Currently I don't entirely share a domicile with any Worshiped. My roommate has one, but I have not yet been recognized as a thumb monkey worthy of attention–perhaps because I have not delivered enough chicken or salmon unto the shrine of worship.

You can tell how much I hated her.
Princess Mononoke- In February 2017, Princess Mononoke decided that in order to truly achieve Peak Orangosity, she would have to transcend this mortal plane. She was a good girl. No matter how much she crankily meowed when I had the temerity to move the bed. Or move in the bed. Or really just move.

The Worshipped at The Hall of Rectitude

I no longer work full time at The Hall of Rectitude but there are a couple of Worshipped there who remember me when I stop by for one of my freelance gigs.

James Bond- A sweet cat started poking around the Hall in 2011 with tuxedo markings. Not just "Hey does this cumberbund fit?" tuxedo markings but "Damn I make this look good!" tuxedo markings. We named it James Bond, later to discover that the sweet James was a girl. Fortunately, James rejects society's gender binary, so she's totally cool rocking a name that's typically male. She strolls around acting like she owns the place and calling everyone Moneypenny.

Moneypenny, I could use some scritches under my chin. Shaken, not stirred.
Oh and tell me I'm not rocking this tux on the brown background.

Benjamin J Cat- The J does not stand for anything. It's just a J.

Benjamin is fuzzy. Also, Benjamin is probably not college material.

I'd really like to snuggle you.
To death.
To understand Benjamin, you have to personify him like Doug the Dog from Up. "Hey guys. It's really silly that you think I'm not college material. Colleges are made of wood and stone and stuff. I'm made of fluff. I like snuggles. Do you guys like snuggles? I also like soft things. You know what I really like? I like snuggling on soft things."

Don't be too hard on Ben. Early in his life there was a door to a bedroom that he could open by slamming his head into it--Alien Queen style. Unfortunately it took him a LONG time to learn that it was JUST THAT ONE DOOR, and that all the others were going to stay closed. There were some serious head-banging sessions in his early life. Ben has no delusions of power or nobility. But he does like snuggles. Also....he is trying to murder me.

No Apologies! A Defense of Why Speculative Fiction Needs No Defense (Part 3)

Return to Part 2
All the Way Back to Part 1  

It is actually very hard to get a reader to keep reading some avant-garde, experimental work long enough to appreciate what an author is trying to do with language when the reader couldn’t give a crap about the characters or the plot. This isn't about "good literature" vs. "genre." It's about "a good story" vs. "a boring story."

And "literary fiction" is guilty of an awful lot of boring stories.

That's why so many people like certain canonical authors beyond just what they are forced to read of them in high school or college. Austen, Dickens, Woolf, and Shakespeare are all great with language, but they also spin an irresistible yarn. Even the cardboard dry writers like Melville and Hawthorne that take some getting used to are enjoyed and appreciated by more fans than most modern day authors.

It's almost like plot is a major element of literature. It's almost like stupid linguistic flourishes don't much matter if your story sucks.

Dismissing the audience for philistines is all too easy.

"Ug do appreciate human condition.
But Ug rather hear story about great hunter.
Boring story about Oog not interesting--even if deep."
Sadly, when you have a perception so ingrained about the superiority of a single style, things in the sommelier word can get a little...circle-jerky. This idea that the unwashed plebs don’t appreciate good art is simplistic. It’s seductive. It’s comforting. It makes a writer feel better about the fact that even small press won’t take a chance on them because their last book only sold 128 copies...mostly to their MFA writing group peers.

Oh and ten copies to their mom.

However, the perception of mainstream unwashedness isn't true. It’s a sweet lie. Literature sells. People read it. And a good writer, like Woolf or Joyce, can create compelling plots and characters AND be completely avante guard for the time. And of course, Shakespeare can play with language beautifully AND sell out a theater to those plebs with a compelling plot and some bawdy jokes.

Another factor to consider is that there often is an illustration of the quality of a work as being EITHER commercial OR literary (and mind you, I hate these terms) in the same way that a light is either on or off. However, I would also suggest that this dichotomy is not a dichotomy at all, but a continuum. The literary world speaks in absolutes, and in value judgements. But the reality of a work’s quality is far more complicated.

Exactly when has this light switch sold out?

Authors like Kurt Vonnegut, JRR Tolken, and Phillip Pullman (all speculative fiction authors if you're keeping score) clearly present a conundrum to the ideas of writing as EITHER commercial OR literary (in as much as either of those terms is synonymous with “high artistic quality”). Unless one is dismissing speculative fiction outright (as some do), none of these authors could be put squarely into either category—commercial or literary. Not, at least, without considerable difficulty and a number of exceptions. There is clearly more going on in these authors’ works than could be dismissed as commercial, and yet none write definitively at the caliber of high literature—whether we define that by canon authors or by the quality of “literary fiction” we might find in the Pushcart or awarded an O Henry. We could probably debate about exactly where on a line each author might go. (Personally, I would place Pullman slightly to the commercial side, but just about dead center, Vonnegut very close to literary, and Tolken somewhere between the two, but that’s just me). The point is that they defy straight classification, as do many other authors of both “genre” and “non-genre” alike.

Stevenson, this is really hard to pigeon-hole.
Can we add a Vxendrathi space cruiser and be done with it?
Like the assumptions of most communities, the assumptions behind the vernacular of the literary community usually go unexamined and most dialogue or discourse assumes their truth without question, but we must be careful about letting established community culture fall into the fallacy of begging the question, EVEN if that community is the literary community. It is this sort of examining the forest for the trees that can reveal how patently absurd the rest of the prejudice towards speculative fiction really is.

Really, REALLY stupid.

To fully understand the prejudice against speculative fiction, it helps considerably not to try to be disingenuous about its quality. The devil must be given its due if we are to proceed honestly or with integrity. So let us be honest. There is a lot of extraordinarily bad writing within speculative fiction. Genre sells well—and speculative fiction sells particularly well among genre—so publishers and agents will lower their standards when deciding to take a chance on speculative works--particularly sci-fi or fantasy.
It is possible that this might not be some of the best literature ever written.

It is not unlike how the current trend in the popularity of reality television has led to producers giving the green light to shows SO stupid that they actually have the power of performing non-surgical lobotomies on the audience.  They do this because they know that a bad reality television show is a better risk than a bad sit-com.

Within speculative fiction there is work that isn’t so much plot driven as plot railroaded, there is character dialog that is mostly a round robin of exposition, there is melodrama, sentimentality, Star Wars and Star Trek clones by the cartful, and there is work where the fantastic elements do nothing for the story but change a pedestrian setting out for a fantastic one often called the “….in space” factor.

As in “this is just Beverly Hills 90210…IN SPACE!!!!"

And while we all care if Kelly is going to pick Dylan or Brandon before Starship Melrose docks with Dawson's Space Station, this writing pretty much sucks.  Speculative fiction is the comfy EZ chair for flat characters, clichés, tired tropes, and enough truly awful work to fill a giant library with nothing but writing that the world would probably be a better place without.

Beyond the patently bad exists another strata that is simply mediocre and uninspiring. Reams upon reams of speculative fiction exist that aren’t necessarily of poor quality—and when some people grab for pleasure reading, it’s their first choice—but it certainly isn’t deep, moving, or literary writing either.

This is the fiction of preference—the fiction of someone who would prefer to read a story about space pirates than one about Somalian pirates. This is the fiction of people who want to read to visit other worlds, or take fantastic journeys. (That this motivation to pick up a book and read is judged as a less valid than immersion into banal realism is little more than a value judgment manifest as an objective criteria, but we’ll explore that soon.) Speculative fiction is home to Harry Potter, Twilight, Xanth, Dragonlance, dozens of Stephen King novels, and so much unnamed dross as to—at first glance—warrant any degree of prejudice about its quality as absolutely valid. A glance across the landscape of speculative fiction would seem to confirm that it is the denizen of little but bad and mediocre writing. And this is the position from which many fans of speculative fiction find themselves defending their tastes.

But of course they shouldn't have to.

On To Part 4 

Monday, August 25, 2014

No Apologies! A Defense of Why Speculative Fiction Needs No Defense (Part 2)

Return to Part 1

These sommeliers consider genre to be commercial, a word that in literary circles has an antithetical meaning to “literary.”

The first fallacy we must consider (among the many many many our darling lit snobs regularly make) is a false dichotomy. For those not up on your logical fallacies, "False Dichotomy" (or "false dilemma") is an informal fallacy that exists when only two options are presented in an "either/or" context. For example literary OR commercial.

“Literary” tends to be at the good and proper end of an awful lot of dichotomies. We hear literary paired up as opposite of words like “commercial,” “mainstream,” “non-literary” “popular” and of course “genre.” Also “expository” and “informational,” but those seem more like classifications than value judgments. (Really, I’m not kidding. Plug in “Literary vs.” into your Google field and then run down the letters of the alphabet. You’ll get all of these words as top hits.)

Totally not making this up.

What is notoriously lacking from these dichotomies is any indication of the actual qualities that place them at odds with each other.

Most art forms have an awareness of the commercial or the mainstream, but we get a sense of what makes them commercial or mainstream in the pairing of their opposites. You have mainstream film and independent film, which reveals something about the movies’ budgets and the studios behind them (they are independent of the same concerns of major studios). You have commercial television and public television, a difference in how funding is procured (also a difference which immediately becomes apparent when you have to pee during Hurcule Poirot, and you decide to wait for the commercial).

With “literary” we face an increasingly nebulous word that has consistently been used simply as a synonym for “serious,” “valuable,” or “proper,” and not actually adequately defined except by what it is not. Rather than actually meaningful dichotomies, we increasingly see a self-referential one that just gets used as a sloppy way of saying good vs. bad. And it’s time the ivory tower stopped accepting that as anything but intellectually lazy elitism.

Increasingly from lit snobs it has come to mean little more than, "Whatever the hell we dictate it is, for we are the arbiters of such things."
"I deem this blog post....unliterary."


Am I actually claiming that “literary fiction” doesn’t have any meaning? Am I claiming that someone familiar with it wouldn't know the difference between it and speculative fiction?

Oh perish the thought, my friends!

If none of these guys has a bionic arm or sparkles in the sun,
we might be on to something literary here.
Literary fiction is its own genre, and the hegemonic genre of our era, but it does not mean—and never has meant—“good.” That is simply the way it is being used these days in literary circles to avoid more meaningful discourse. Cultures in power often set themselves as the bellwether for what is proper and good and invalidate the way any other cultures choose to do things. If they do regard another culture it is only through the lens of their OWN culture’s values, resulting in Kipling-esque portrayals. Post-colonial criticism and Orientalism are rife with this sort of observation of judging one culture through the lens of the hegemonic one. Currently, it seems that the culture in power of the literary community is no exception to this tendency. They are the imperials, laughing at the genre savages, and possibly giving the approving nod of “noble savage” to the genre writers like LeGuin, Orwell, or Bradbury, who come the closest to reproducing what they value in a work.

However, before we pick apart the genre of literary fiction (and let’s be absolutely clear that it IS its own genre), let us first look at its enemies across the "divide" of those dichotomies I mentioned earlier. “Non-literary.” Well that charming bit of circular logic certainly doesn’t tell us much except in as much as anything can be said to be the opposite of not it. Cats are very much not like non-cats, and green is very much not like non-green colors. “Genre,” of course is what this is all about and we’ll get back to that. But let’s look at the other three for a moment: “Commercial,” “Popular,” and “Mainstream.” “Commercial” is a strange little word in the context of fiction, seeing as most fiction doesn’t have any commercials at all. Ever.

And if you cruise into a book store, they don't give away "literary" books–you have to buy them like everything else. With money. Filthy art-corrupting money.

How dare you not struggle on in ignominy.
So what this little back-handed bitch slap of an aspersion actually is getting at is that the writing made money--probably a lot of money. That doesn't happen unless a lot of people are willing to spend their hard earned money buying it. “Mainstream” means having appeal to many groups and sub-groups instead of just esoteric ones. “Popular” means liked or enjoyed by many people. What we quickly realize is that all three of these words mean successful.

People like this fiction. Lots of people like this fiction, and not just people who’ve had 7 years of being told what they ought to like and ought not to like.

Now let’s be clear here. “Good” and “bad” are opposites, but “literary” and “commercial” are not. (Nor "mainstream" nor "popular.") They are USED as opposites in a very sloppy, intellectually lazy way. They exist upon separate axes in a way that it is entirely possible to have a work of high commercial value and high literary value at the same time.

“Real literature doesn’t sell very well,” I hear echoed in my head from the Lit Sommelier professor’s voice. “And what does sell well is inevitably crap.”

Oh really?

Orwell’s 1984, Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities, Heller’s Catch 22, Nabokov’s Lolita, and Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye are all among the top 30 selling books in English OF ALL TIME—and this must also be considered in the context that most books in the top ten are religious texts.

These works are absolutely literary—some are canon. Yet they have had extraordinary commercial success. If we widen the list to the top fifty or one hundred bestselling books of all time, it brings even more literary works to that list.

Sure, you’re going see J.K. Rowling and Dan Brown on that list too, but the assumption that anything with mass appeal must not be quality work is patently absurd. The opposite claim is even more ridiculous: not everything that sells poorly is literary—some of it is just crap that you wonder who the holy fuck published in the first place. And while there may be the possibility to find some correlation between the literary quality of a work and its general commercial appeal, the presence of data points in explicit contradiction to that claim would make any assumption of causation laughable.

International bestseller?
Obviously mainstream crap.
In some cases, like in the works of Antonio Belaño, a conscious, deliberate attempt to make money (to give as an inheritance after his death) has turned out works of extraordinary quality. Charles Dickens wrote serial novels to support a horrendously huge family, and no one denies his literary quality. Even William Shakespeare was trying to gather up the money for a family crest. Maybe he's a sellout too? Even most literary purists can, in theory, acknowledge that literary fiction can make money. However, the fact that anywhere in the literary community, folks will instantly understand a conversation of “literary” vs. “commercial” as being one of quality, shows how deeply the perception is ingrained that this dichotomy is actually valid.

Let’s make sure we are crystal clear here. What is called “literary fiction” is a genre of its own. It has distinctive stylistic markers, such as banal protagonists (rather than extraordinary ones), settings that work as kinetic landscape for the themes, intense psychological depth, ambivalent or negative endings, a strong emphasis on the elements of linguistic manipulation, style, and theme over plot and sometimes even character, and of course…the intense concern about its message regarding the human condition. This of course and the fact that it visits certain thematic landscapes so often as to create its own tropes that boarder on the cliché—landscapes like childhood trauma, parental rejection, addiction, suicide (especially by siblings), and sexuality. This genre gained a hegemonic dominance in the 60’s that was so powerful that it has since been able to call ITSELF “literature” or “serious” and everything else around it “genre.” It’s not much different than the way the Dutch, then the English, and most recently The United States have been able to declare their culture superior and all others "uncivilized" in some way. Unfortunately for the writers of this genre, “literary fiction” has the problem of being not particularly compelling to wide audiences....even when it's really good.

Watch a Samuel Beckett play. You'll understand.

I wouldn't WANT those plebs to understand my work!
I'm glad I didn't even make back a $500 advance.
It’s kind of hard to look at what’s happening within all these dichotomies of literary vs. “people actually like it” synonyms and wonder if this isn’t a case of sour grapes. To think that somehow the entire literary community has managed to collectively do the equivalent of petulantly saying “you people just don’t appreciate my genius!”

The world of art, regardless of discipline, is often an austere labor of love to all but a tiny few who scrape out a bohemian life and even fewer who could be said to be successful. But this stark reality of an artist is made that much worse when the dominant acceptable and “proper” form of that art is particularly uninteresting to almost everyone who hasn’t had nearly a decade of indoctrination telling them that by god they will fucking well love it. To see the material gains of those with far less concern for those parts of craft that are supposed to be the “real” and “serious” parts—or so we’ve heard for over fifty years—must seem at times to present success as antithetical to artistic integrity. However in the case of commercial vs. literary, like most overly-academic perceptions, a bellwether created to illustrate something has turned into a false dichotomy with a life of its own.

Continue to Part 3 

Blog: You Are Done

At three o'clock in the morning last night/this morning Blog kicked open the door to the junk room (where I do my writing). I was frantically trying to punch out articles for the coming week.  

Blog: Okay, that's it.

Me: (still typing) What's it.

Blog: This insanity is over. Go get some sleep. Pack for Burning Man. Take a few minutes to yourself for once this month.

Me: (still typing) What? We're not even close.

Blog: Exactly. You're pedaling a bicycle flying machine that isn't aerodynamic. And no matter how fast you pedal, it won't fly.

Me: Heh. You know....that's sort of ironic since that's exactly what I told you back at the beginning–

Blog: Yes, I know. Now, go get some sleep. It's three in the morning and you are trying to write fifteen articles.

Me: You know five of them were really fluffy...

Blog: Sleep!

Me: (shaking my head) No, I can't. I have so much to do. You're the one that got me fired up for Blogust. I can't quit.

Blog: We're not going to quit, Chris. We're going to fail. But we're going to fail with dignity an honor not with some 11th hour blast of quantity over quality. That's not what Writing About Writing has ever been about–some desperate "Please look at me!"plea while jamming out half-baked fluff pieces at a rate that would make Stephen King tell you that you're overdoing it. So let's fail with a flourish, okay? And without having a psychotic episode from stress. One post a day, maybe two.

Me: No, we don't have to fail. We can still make it.

Blog: Chris–

Me: I need to write six articles for the next two days...

Blog: Chris–

Me: ....and then another four or five articles for the days I'm gone.

Blog: CHRIS!

Me: If I can promote everything properly before we leave. Maybe get a friend to post the scheduled posts on Facebook. Oh! I bet one of the patron muses would totally do it!

Blog: (in a Sean Connery voice) Indiana. Indiana.....   Let it go.

Me: (stops typing) That scene was really cool. I'm so sorry.

Blog: I'm not. You fail better. Did you notice we haven't had a single day under a thousand all month?

Me: Really?

Blog: Really.

Me: That was May's goal.

Blog: Do you ever actually read the sub title of this blog?

Me: Okay. Let's go get the shit kicked out of us by love.

Blog: Love of writing?

Me: Movie quotes are not easy to shoe horn into this sort of situation.

This morning, in my e-mail, I received this from Blog along with this note: 

"See you at the finish line."

Sunday, August 24, 2014

No Apologies! A Defense of Why Speculative Fiction Needs No Defense (Part 1)

Wait, this really happened?
Oh well then it must be gritty realism.
No Apologies! 

A defense of why speculative fiction needs no defense.

Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other art forms.  

–Theodore Sturgeon 

When I admit my love for speculative fiction, I often feel like I should be in a high school gymnasium or church multi-purpose room being clapped at by others who have accepted their “little problem.” I will clutch a Styrofoam cup of burnt coffee in my hand, and preface my admission with “Hello, my name is Chris…”

If my "higher power" is The Force, does that count as a step forward or backward?

For many familiar with the literary world, or just casual fans of mysteries, romances, westerns or science-fiction, the rocky relationship between “genre” and “literature” (or “real writing” as the snobs are wont to say) is well known. These two terms are set up as a opposing dichotomy at the opposite ends of a quality spectrum, with “genre” mainly being the purview of people who don’t know any better—sort of in the same way that a gourmet might talk about those who appreciate microwavable burritos or Mac&Cheese out of a box.

Despite the literal meaning of genre (translated from French as “kind” from the Latin genus, or even the more English meaning that finds commonalities in any kind of stylized art form), amongst the literary community “genre” basically has two meanings. At once, it can refer to the different disciplines within writing of poetry, drama, fiction, or creative non-fiction, and also as a description of formulaic, plot-based fiction that is—according to these very same literary circles—notoriously bad.

In fact, very often, one will hear the word itself often used as a pejorative. Fans are no stranger to the backhand compliment of “It’s not bad…for genre.” And if that strikes as about as sincere a compliment as saying “Hey, you’re pretty good at math…for a woman,” you get your merit badge in observing asteism.

You would probably notice if the nobles in court were making fun of you. Pretty good for a peasant. A scummy, genre-loving peasant.

It is important though, before we even begin discussing a specific genre to understand it. Terms that define anything as nebulous as a genre are rife with contention and debate. Yes, genre fiction contains various tropes and conventions. These tropes and conventions can be followed or broken for effect in the same way that GRAMMAR creates a set of conventions that can be followed or broken.

The claim that every convention within genre writing is a tired trope has no more validity than does repudiating drama for its adherence to a basic three act structure, or instantly disregarding poetry because it has a meter or end rhyme. (Both of which some modern literary critics are guilty of.)

Genre is as much about what we find familiar in art as what delights us because it is different. If we had no “rules” a work of art that “broke all the rules” would be meaningless. And in a turn of irony that is often overlooked, even the purported “realistic” literary fiction would be considered genre by these terms. It contains its own set of conventions, tropes, commonalities, and stylistic motifs. Minimalism, present tense narrative, second person meta-fiction, HIV/AIDS, coming to terms with cultural paradox, parents who don’t accept a child’s sexuality (and on and on)…

If we filled out these things on a bingo card, and gave everyone a random literary review, it would really only be a contest to see who read the fastest.

I asked a professor of literature once when "genre" became a pejorative, and she told me it started showing up with that connotation in criticism around the fifties. Now this isn’t an essay about the history of literature, nor am I particularly qualified to speak on such topics, but one thing I thought of immediately when I heard this was about everything going on at the time. New Criticism, which threw out the book on a work’s quality being related to its “moral lessons,” was hitting its peak. When anything peaks, that means the reactionary swing is beginning in some form. The Red Scare was destroying artists left and right. Culturally there seemed to have been an almost hyperconscious struggle between rebellion and conformity at that time.

And suddenly we had the “right” kind of literature and the “wrong” kind of literature. I’m no academic, but it seems to me awfully convenient timing that the rise of the perception of genre as inherently valueless came at roughly the same time that the fuddy duddys all said rock and roll wasn’t real music and had no aesthetic value. And while the tweed jacketed Humanities professors of today seem to have eventually have worked out the cultural value of…well…CULTURE—at least when it comes to music—over at the English department, the war rages on.

They're okay, I guess.
However, despite the fact that it is currently harder to find a Music History teacher who DOESN’T like The Who or Jimmy Hendrix, the genre work of speculative fiction—comprising sub-genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural fiction, hero (or superhero) fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, alternate history, and possibly even more—holds a place among the lit snobs in the genre “hall of shame” with mysteries, westerns, romance, and erotica and is considered by these literary elite to be only a small step up from fan-fiction in the annals of dross writing. Those who are attracted to speculative fiction, both as readers and writers, find themselves ever on the defensive about their tastes.

Sadly, though, the real irony is that speculative fiction fans have no reason that they should be on the defensive, and every reason to be aggravated by the elitism of the literary world. It is the growing prejudice of the literary communities that leads to dismissing preferences out of hand, ignoring the generous contributions that speculative fiction has made—both modern and classic—to the literary canon, and undermining speculative fiction’s enormous potential as an art form and literary genre. It is they who are descending into labels rather than having the kinds of discourse that would be genuinely meaningful.

For many literary reviewers, literary editors, MFA’s of creative writing, literature MA’s and PhD’s, teachers of the craft of fiction, and other lit-sommeliers who collectively claim the authority of determining “what is literature,”—and more frequently the aspersion of “what isn’t”––the prejudice about anything that hints of genre runs deep. It runs deep enough that it can actually be analyzed with the same handful of tools we might take into a discussion about privilege among social justice theories or the tools we must cultivate to engage in a discourse about class dynamics within a society whose cultural narrative of meritocracy silences such dissent. (Though it must be understood that I mean only in terms of the discourse’s tropes and tactics, and that I would never claim literary preference to be anywhere even remotely close in moral equivalency to social justice.)

In the case of speculative fiction, the mere presence of a speculative element—a time machine, a vampire, a space ship, or a castle—is enough to get the fiction dismissed outright—without consideration of quality—without any rationalization beyond itself. Professors will not accept it. Reviewers will not review it. Teachers will not incorporate it into curriculum or accept it from their students.

This was high art until I noticed that the setting was next year.

This isn’t about quality.

Quality does not even enter the conversation.

It is only about the speculative element present and glaring within the piece. While a piece of gritty minimalism about a dysfunctional family living in a seedy halfway house whose gay son is dying of AIDS may get two or three careful reads by a lit sommelier—giving the author the benefit of the doubt, digging deep for thematic meaning and subtext, and working hard to discover what symbols and literary elements the author may have incorporated (even unconsciously)—it would be almost laughable to think that a piece set on a newly colonized planet with a guy who is a little too quick to use his laser pistol to solve his problems would be given the same attention.

Even if the writing were of EXACTLY the same quality.

Even if the pieces explored identical themes, and used the same symbols and subtext.

And yes, there have actually been studies that merit out this bias that the EXACT same writing is less carefully considered if it looks like it might be speculative.

Genre simply can’t get a respected seat at the “big kids” table in modern literary circles.

Continue....(Part 2)


Baby Soldier is ready for the next four days.
Are you?
So I'm leaving Vera for a few days to do my writer-goes-to-Burning-Man thing again this year. And I also have Blog breathing down my neck not to give up on its August ambitions.

I swear some days it can feel really frustrating to be at the whim of anthropomorphized aspects of my creativity.

I can schedule posts (and I will) but the problem is how little traffic occurs on posts I don't promote. And I won't be around to do that promotion by Thursday. Of course any of you are always welcome to help me promote any post, and this coming five days or so (Thursday-Mon or Tues) will be no different, but the last time I counted on someone for something this important, I ended up with a couple of no-shows to a threesome.  (I still had a good time, but it was disappointing.)

However, there's a lot of half-written, plotted out, planned, and percolated content intended for August that's still coming. I got it ready (some of it just needs a revision or a polish) but I ran out of time to post it all.

Also as a point of note: I am going to be waiting to post the first installment of our grand experiment until I am back from Burning Man. I'll be gone next week, and I don't want the first thing I do to be a one week break.

That does means there's going to be a "glut" of articles in the next few days as I attempt to get all the good ones posted before I leave so that I can properly promote them, and then things will calm down after that.

Or maybe you are. I don't really know. 
It's just some blog entries really.
No need to be all melodramatic with your skull and your wings and shit.

The Supernaturals


My muse. 

She takes the form of an Asian dragon wood carving that sits on my desk, and she comes to life when no one else is watching. Then she threatens me with unspeakable torment if I don't get back to writing.

Last week she mentioned that she found the sewing needles in the third shelf, and how much they would hurt if she used her fire to make them white hot and then shoved them under my cuticles while I slept. Then she asked me how that story I was working on was coming along.

She really likes chasing the cats around the house, and has an unholy penchant for Tim Tams (or Arenots). She eats entire bags of them in a day, for which I always end up getting blamed.

Cathamel when she's pissed at me.


Blog's theme song is "Big Time" by Peter Gabriel which it listens to it every morning when it wakes up--right before it looks at itself in the mirror, and says"You know who's going to hit 1,500 page views today? You are, big guy. You are!" My blog thinks big, dreams big, and has wild dreams that aren't even remotely realistic for an unpublished writer's blog. Blog constantly gets me psyched up for goals I can't possibly hit. The worst part is that he doesn't care that I'm the one that has to do the actual work. He wakes me up each morning by screaming out "Hey, I'm not going to write myself over here!"


My laptop.

Vera came to me under strange circumstances, but after a horrible data loss involving Dropbox and Microsoft, I really wanted to switch to a Mac for a dedicated writing implement.  Vera knows she's an affectation, but she doesn't mind.  She likes me to use her–which is a lot less kinky than it sounds like.


Technically, this is Cathamel's boss.

Art doesn't manifest directly within my life very often, but when she does, it is usually to extract some horrible price for my continued love of her. Though from time to time she actually does something nice for me in return. She is a capricious and jealous and I might even go so far as to say "insecure," but if I said that, she would probably show up right now and absolutely kick my–

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Don't Forget to Vote

A bit over a week remains in our Best Multi-Author Book Poll. Come get your vote on.  

Only a few days remain to vote on in our multi-author book poll. While Good Omens has taken a heavy lead, our resident Pratchet fan has apparently already expended all of his "street cred" for stuffing the ballot box, as Niven/Pournelle are close on Good Omen's heels, and the other Pratchet book is tied for last place.

I don't know exactly when I will be home from Burning Man, but I'll close the poll as soon as I've showered and slept. It might be as late as September 2nd, but please don't count on anything beyond Aug 31st. My ride is, after all, a mother who will be away from her 9 month old for the longest time she's ever been. One of us is bound to crack.

As always, remember the polling program has a fatal flaw. It only holds your ISP address for a week. So if you voted when the poll first went up, you can vote again. And if you vote right away, you can vote again right before the poll closes.

So take a moment to scroll down to the long black poll on the lower left and tell the world which multi-author book you find to be more amazeballs than all the rest.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Mailbox: Attack of the Strawmen

So what you're saying is... 

[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. Most personal attacks will be ignored unless I'm feeling like a masochist.] 

All of today's e-mails involve people who have decided to ignore what I've said, and tell me what I meant.

In each of the questions or comments below, I have added a link to the article I think they are talking about; however, it wasn't always easy when they're e-mails instead of comments, and because I never actually said the things they are responding to.

Anonymous asks:

So you think every single gatekeeper is secretly a racist? That seems titanically stupid.  Source?

My reply:

Yep, that's exactly what I said.

I didn't spend several paragraphs talking about institutionalized structures, unconscious and invisible value judgements, long-standing traditions of favoring certain voices in the literary tradition, deep seated aesthetic values that favor white men's writing as better or proper, the way marginalization tends to be invisible, ubiquitous, and unchecked even in a world where overt bigotry is generally frowned upon, and a self-perpetuating cycle of marginalization that keeps the very same people in charge of deciding what is good and what will sell, quagmired in the aesthetic of times when oppression was overt and intentional rather than systematic and often invisible.

ETA: Kind of like the whole thing going on with sad/rabid puppies.

Rather, what I said was that every single gatekeeper is secretly a racist. That makes much more sense.

B.L. writes:

Seriously Chris?  So every artist should just live in squalor? Source?  

My reply:

That's not even a little bit LIKE what I actually wrote. If you just randomly chose words out of the dictionary, you'd probably get closer to my meaning.

First of all squalor is a relative thing–a value judgement usually that richer people pass on poorer people for the fact that they haven't retouched the paint or fixed the woodrot on the porch (perhaps because the heating bill and groceries were more important than just jumping over the third stair). I know someone who thinks I live in squalor because my cat tree is all scratched up.

I'll give you a second to let that one sink in.

What I've said, and what I've hailed Fight Club for saying better than I could, is that we live in a culture that is very commercialized and very consumerist. And most of our culture believes that we are defined by our possessions. (They may not ostensibly believe that their designer jeans define them as a person, but watch how many act when someone is wearing knock offs or homemade clothes, drives a cheap car, or lives in a ratty apartment.) Economic power is one we can flaunt.

If you want writing to pay the bills, it's going to be a lot easier if your bills are $1500 a month instead of $3500. I can't tell you what your means are. I can just tell you that living within them will make your dream come true faster than succumbing to the lifestyle obsession.

Anonymous asks: 

So let me get this straight. What you're saying is that nothing created the massive complexity of the universe and the wondrous variety of Earth? We all just sprang into being magically? Do you also think that a printing press exploded and happened to form the dictionary? Source?

Also completely.
My reply:

I swear to god Anonymous, if reading comprehension were water, you'd be the fucking Sahara. Did you even actually read the article before you wrote the hate mail? I didn't say things magically sprang into existence. I said I have no evidence with which to support the claims of a dogmatic deity.

The evidence we do have goes as far back as a billionth of a second into the existence of the universe, but to say that because we don't know what happened before that, it must be God is a logical fallacy. (The same one that leads people to assume that all unidentified flying objects must be alien space ships--no, they're UNIDENTIFIED.) If you don't know, you don't know. That means you DON'T FRACKING KNOW. And even if I thought supernatural instead of not-yet-understood, why does that mean YOUR supernatural entity?

See it might feel tidy to you to say "God," but what if I say "Allah," or "Unmanifest Brahman," or "Alien warships"? Now you're getting uncomfortable, right? Now you think that sounds kind of crazy and you would need some proof. That's how I feel about your claim.

While we're at it, scoffing at "magical" universe creation while attributing the universe's creation to an improvable god who basically does magic is...well the best thing I could say without being too offensive is that it's circular. (I had a bit here about your mom's predilection for drinking around marble floors when you were a baby, but it was inappropriate.) Functionally miracles and magic are the same thing. All you did was add a omnipotent, omnipresent being whose will supersedes all known laws of physics and who influences the course of events with supernatural power–isn't that pretty much the spot on definition of magic?

Also, just a point of note, the universe tends towards entropy and chaos not order. We are in an ever expanding universe where everything is boiling slowly away into light and heat, so in your analogy....we're actually the printing press (a few milliseconds into our explosion).

Anonymous asks:

Okay so you you think having an iPad and a MacAir and living in the Bay Area makes you poor? I hope some day to be as "impoverished" as you. (No clue the source on this one.)

My reply:

I didn't say I was poor. I said I don't make very much money. There's actually a pretty big difference, and it's why so many conversations about wealth mistakenly focus on income. And it's part of the reason politicians and rich people get away with so much fucking bullshit.

So listen up if you want a really important lesson about socio/economics and why people with a low income are often a lot wealthier than folks making more than them (and vice versa).

If a person has $20,000 in student loans, a year of payments before they own their used Geo Metro, rent an apartment and just bought their first TV from Sears with the hopes that they can get it paid off in six months before their interest goes from 0% to 22.5%....  If they need to replace their "student" wardrobe with something more professional so they have more than three outfits to wear to work, and have parents who often borrow money for medical expenses.....

Well, they are in a very different situation than someone whose parents put them through school, bought them a little economy car that still runs for college as a high school graduation gift, got them a "professional clothes" shopping spree as a COLLEGE graduation gift, gave them the 30 inch plasma TV when they upgraded to a 42, and regularly takes them out to dinner.

Even if they both make the same 30k at their job, their lives will be very, very different.

Of course both those people are in a different situation than the trust fund baby with the Audi, the house their parents bought so that "the future grandkids would be close by," and the seed money to get them started, who has the same 30k income plus a portfolio from Grandpa that they can either reinvest in or take about $10k in annuities. And I haven't even talked about the top .1% yet and the kind of life THEY have. 

This is the reason rich people really really really really want to only ever talk about income and really really really don't want you to ever notice their intergenerational wealth.

I don't actually own very much. I don't own this house. I don't own the car I drive. I ride the coattails of my family, and it means my life is pretty good, but this stuff isn't mine. I have some higher end electronics because a lot of my income is discretionary but all their values combined would be less than a reliable car. So I don't really consider myself rich or poor. I'm comfortable. I don't really compete with the Joneses. I don't have a lifestyle obsession.

But I definitely don't make much money. I make so little on paper that I don't actually have to file taxes legally, and only do so when I'm getting a refund.

Disclaimer: A Grand Experiment

I have my reasons for opting out of traditional publishing.

Sure, I still dream of the Jimmy Fallon interview and the New York Times Bestseller list, and that smoking groupie threesome backstage (before AND after the show), but as pipey as those dreams are, I still believe my strongest act of protest over traditional publishing is to completely work around it. Because the straight dope is that the real dream has always been to pay the bills with writing. Anything beyond that is icing. Or gravy. But not gravy icing because gross.

That leaves me in a quandary. It's not that there isn't any other choice but traditional publishing. It's that there are LOTS of other choices besides traditional publishing. Self publishing. E-publishing. Blogging. Bathroom graffiti.

However, the longer I go on in the world of entertainment and blogging, the more I want to make my work about sharing rather than selling. Yes, that may make it more difficult to make money. But as I've already begun to realize even with a modest audience, it's not impossible. People seem to be ready to donate to arts and entertainment that they care about. It may even be possible to remove ads one day (or  at least form partnerships with businesses I believe in).

This novel is an experiment in blogging a very long work as a serial post. I'll be paying close attention to the analytics of each "part" of the story to see if it's really working in the medium of a blog. I picked an older story and a "lower stakes" story because I want to get a sense of whether or not this is going to be viable. If this story does well enough, I'll put all my longer works up here for free, perhaps offering the most successful ones as low cost e-books or as self-published copies (if there's a demand) for those who are willing to pay a little extra to have their own copy.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


In addition to the other ambitious project that is kicking off, Writing About Writing is going to be undergoing a major overhaul.

See the menus on the tabs at the top of the screen? Well, they're a mess. (Except for the FAQ which I cleaned up last fall.) And every month I don't clean them up, they get messier. So along with everything else that is going on, I'm going to be creating a lot of sub-menus and links so that they are a lot cleaner.

In the coming weeks and months a lot of "brunch posts" will likely be bits and pieces of the tab menus that I am straightening up or collapsing into links instead of big long posts. You may also notice some new tags, starting to show up and get retroactively put on old entries, though that is more behind-the-scenes stuff.

Some day in the distant future, when W.A.W. pulls in a slightly less paltry sum than it does right now, those tabs at the top are going to be drop down menus. (And yes, I know I sound like Les Nessman when he talks about his office walls.) But I took one look at the "easy" steps on how to HTML code drop down menus and instantly shat myself (twice), so it'll have to wait until hiring a web designer doesn't involve not paying the electric bill that month.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Blogust isn't going so well. I'm not doing so well either.

Here's the truth of it.

It's late in August, and despite dogged efforts to bolster page views, I'm still roughly 400 per day shy of the maniacal goals of Blog. At first that number was easy to face with a sort of "Make it up next week!" type of enthusiasm, but as we cruise into August's 20th day, we are almost ten thousand page views behind where we would need to be. I can keep doing what I'm doing, and I'm going to put on a show, but at the end of the day, unless something I write in the next eleven days goes viral (and there's no way to know what's going to go viral before it does), I'm going to be about 15,000-20,000 page views shy of my goal.

Don't worry. I'm not going to stop blogging or anything. I haven't tossed my Macair into a full bathtub and screamed, "Screw this Popsicle stand!" The wind is just out of my sails a bit. While it's possible to go all night like a lumberjack (so to speak) when one is winning, the fact that I haven't had a day off* in over three weeks is harder to grin through when it looks like I'm just pedaling a flying machine that isn't aerodynamic as it crashes to the ground.

*From blogging anyway. I write every day even when I don't have a scheduled post.

I also did something that I haven't done since Hurricane Katrina and before that during the aftermath of 9/11. I sat around and read everything I could find about current events–specifically in this case the aftermath of Michael Brown's killing and unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. There's a lot I could say about how we are NOT in a post racial world, efforts to control the narratives, and how the stories we tell get repeated in event after event (I think a post like that might be coming), but I'll spare you most of it except to say that the suppression of the media has been chilling. And that I want to punch everyone in the face who says the innocent have nothing to hide when the NSA spies on its own citizens but can't see the fucking irony when police confiscate cameras.

Still, I just kept reading. Hours and hours. One story after another. Dozens of them. My head hurt. My eyes burned. But I couldn't stop. I simply couldn't stop.

I can usually hold back the flood of care. My empathy doesn't have a kill switch, but I can usually remember the good things in the world too. I'm like a Facebook feed. One minute there's outrage and then there's a kitten and an ice-bucket challenge.

But today I got stuck. I got stuck in a moment that is going to define us for probably a generation. A moment like Katrina and like 9/11 where we dangle on the edge of a spiderweb-thin thread and our whole society will lurch one way or another. For better or for worse, these are the moments that make us who we are.

Will we have yet another generation of race riots and victim blaming? Will suppressing our civil rights become commonplace when we're too "uppity." Will law enforcement black out the media so that their actions can go unobserved? Is that the kind of people we will become? Or will we embrace the uncomfortable truths that systemic injustice, unequal treatment, that unearned advantages are very real, and that things are deeply, systematically unfair in a country whose principle selling point is a meritocracy.

We are facing ourselves in the mirror these last 11 days and many have realized what some have been screaming all along: that we have a very real racial equality problem in this country. And this is one of those rare moments where we can choose to listen and talk and do something about it.

And I'm terrified that we won't.

So I didn't do much writing today. I just stared at the screen--at story after story after story--and pressed my lips together and hoped beyond hope that the better angels of our natures would, finally, make some real progress in overcoming a bloody and sordid history, and that we could experience that painful progress that is so frustratingly, mind-numbingly slow.

I look down the road and I see a smear campaign against protesters, a young man essentially on trial for his own murder, an exonerated officer, and riots like 92 when I lived near Los Angeles. Then we can blame "those people" for "destroying their own neighborhoods," ignore that patterns of police brutality and the criminal justice system disproportionately affect people of color, and start it all over again. Welcome to post-racial America.

I hope we can consider this instead:

Fidel Lopez was attacked (at the same intersection where Reginald Denny was pulled from HIS car, but a few minutes later). He was eventually rescued by Rev. Bennie Newton. Newton told the rioters: "Kill him, and you have to kill me too."

And then he stood there, keeping a total stranger safe by physically standing in the way of every person that came along, preaching non-violence, even as the riot raged around him.

Newton is as much "Those people" as anyone.

We lose part of our humanity when we paint everyone with the same brush. But mostly we lose entirely too much of our humanity when we chose which brush we paint with, and which we ignore. When a community that stands vigil over its businesses during a protest, throws tear gas away from children, and just wants some fucking answers is lumped in with out of town provocateurs, because that makes it easier and more comfortable to dismiss the whole thing, we have fallen into one of our worst human failings.

We're better than that.

I hope.

If you are reading this late at night on the 19th (though technically after midnight on the 20th) I will be taking tomorrow off. And if you are reading this early in the morning on the 20th, I'm taking today off. I just wasted too much writing time reading, and too much emotion caring. There's just nothing left for twisted threesome jokes today.

I hope you all take a moment to care about the events happening right now that may shape your world for years to come, whether they are happening in your back yard or Missouri or half way across the world in a desert you've never seen, but mostly I hope you don't reduce anyone to blocks of "those people."

If you are a writer, you know that every single one of them has a story that matters.

And I confess, knowing that makes it harder sometimes to hate or blame or dismiss. But you'll be a better writer for it. A better artist.

A better person.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Never a Dull Moment (Personal Update)

Today an appraiser came out to look at the Hall of Rectitude. Apparently if we can get 20% the equity on the holographic battle simulator paid off the bank will reduce some of our renegade plasma cannon dispersal insurance. (I swear you blow ONE hole in a major population center, and everybody loses their shit.) Anyway, on the best days, this place has bits of postage-stamp-sized spandex, thousand pound barbells, and baby toys all over it (I love the squeaky giraffe!), but most of the time there are also half built robots from Uberdude all over the place and random piles of clothes from where The Brain plugged into the Hall's personality matrix and dematerialized from her corporeal form. Since we didn't want the appraiser to have to wade through Wrecking Ball's post work out spandex thongs or end up on the working end of one of The Contrarian's "I AM NOT"s if they tried to move a stack of Baby Einstein videos or something, I've been cleaning like crazy.

I spent most of the weekend cleaning and even woke up early this morning to dive into a little more. We walked around making sure to use our memory eraser flashy thingy on the appraiser every time he looked at the top secret stuff (which was like every five minutes, sheesh) and he said he'd get back to us. Then we headed over to Costco to stock up on protein shakes and martial arts equipment. Also microwavable burritos–because not everyone is a mega lifting, testosterone meat puppet; some of us are sidekicks who like to teach and read and write when we're not "getting our justice on."

Uberdude's latest construction is....well, it's kind of a dick. It walks around trying to get everyone in the Hall to "prove" that they're really alive and not just biological masses of chemicals and synapses that happen to react to outside stimulus. It's not a time sink in the strictest sense, but it's been getting on my nerves.

I start teaching this Wednesday. (And thanks to all of you, it's JUST one night a week and I can focus the rest on writing.) That's not so difficult but getting up and putting on pants for ANY reason starts to feel like an imposition when your life is basically just creative writing. Especially when Uberdude's dick robot is asking you to justify going to work so that other people can make far more money than you from your effort if you're so alive.

And if all that weren't enough, the gear up to this year's burning man has begun. Sonic Gal promises me every year that with her incredible speed, the car will be loaded in seconds, but every year there is some roof jumper or bank robbery right when we get started, and I end up doing it all myself. That might help me with my feelings of isolation, but it also makes me tired and cranky before we even get in the car. This year I've crossed my arms and said that if she wants to go on Wednesday night, instead of Thursday, she's got to do a lot more of the packing. She totally promises me that only an arch villain attacking the city with a doomsday weapon could possibly keep her from helping. We'll see.

So it seems as if my lackadaisical 60 hour weeks are coming to an end.

Ah summer; I shall miss thee.