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Friday, August 23, 2019

Sapiosexual

I think about the word "sapiosexual" a lot. 

See, I have dozens of circles of people I interact with on social media who––while there might be one or two examples of cross-pollination––do not generally interact with each other. There are social issues conscious circles and OTHER social justice issues conscious circles and friends and people who follow me as a writer and people I game with and people I used to work with or went to high school with (you know, who didn't turn out to be total unrepentant racists). So I see a lot of conversations evolve among one group that AREN'T EVEN HAPPENING in others.

Like the conversation about "sapiosexual."

Among one group of friends, this word has been the focus of considerable scrutiny and criticism for about the last five years. They have unpacked and deconstructed it extensively. It starts as a lovely thought: that one is attracted only to people's minds and not their bodies. But interrogating that "I like brains" impulse often turns up some underlying biases, many that are probably unintended.
  • These folks have considered the ways in which we often talk not really about intelligence itself, but what our culture considers to be valuable. Howard Gardner describes eight types of intelligence (Naturalist, Musical, Logical-mathematical, Interpersonal, Bodily-kinesthetic, Linguistic, Intra-personal, Spatial*) of which two, perhaps three get counted within our culture as counting towards the label of "smart." Probably athletes with phenomenal, near-preternatural levels of spatial and kinesthetic and intrapersonal intelligence are not who gets deemed "smart" even though those folks have JUST as many neurons firing upstairs as someone with a sophisticated vocabulary and a working understanding of computer programming languages. [*Note: Some sources add a ninth––Existential––but Gardner stops at eight.] 
  • They point out that the way we test for intelligence is ethnocentric and assumes a white cultural background. This has been shown in several studies of its pervasive methodological flaws. To this day, IQ tests privilege white people of higher wealth backgrounds.
  • They consider why we place such a high premium on linguistic and logical/mathematical intelligence. Essentially verbal and mathematical are the only "aptitudes" early education is interested in, and even by college there's not much difference.
  • Beyond that, they consider the ways in which the ways the outward expressions of said "intelligence" is far more often linked to education, which makes it a little bit classist, and a formal academic dialect of the language, which often makes it racist as well.
  • At this point these folks see "intelligence" (as usually valued by a self-identified sapiosexual) as looking a lot more like a middle-class or higher upbringing and a set of cultural values that matches up with whiteness. 
  • And these folks point out that even if intelligence were better measured and understood and disproportionate values not placed on linguistic and logical/mathematical by academia, bragging about how one's attraction would not be inclusive of folks with processing or learning disorders that affect performance in these areas wouldn't be, in a manner of speaking, cool. Sort of like the intellectual equivalent of announcing proudly that you'll never date someone with a BMI over 22. 
  • So it kind of lands as usually classist, often racist, and definitely ableist.

For five years this group has been kicking around this discussion, crystallizing their thoughts, solidifying their resolve around how problematic the word is, and calcifying their initial reactions to seeing or hearing it in the wild. Though a few at the outset were like "wait, but what if we like brains?" and we talked about it gently (way back then), in the ensuing five years, the hegemonic view has been to take a pretty dim view of people who use the word unironically to describe themselves.

"He's a 'sapiosexual'," one friend says.

We all know what they mean and begin to shake our heads. "Damn shame."

Most of my other circles of friends have not even been exposed to this discussion, and certainly not over five years. They find "sapiosexual" a good word to describe how they are romantically/sexually attracted to people's minds irrespective of their body shape. They like the word. They cheerfully say "It me!" when they read about it. You can pick it as a sexuality on OKCupid. The Guardian just did a big article all about it. Some folks even want to be recognized under the GSM umbrella.

These are also folks who write and discuss social issues and care about unpacking privilege and calling out bigotry. They go to the mat with bigots of every stripe. They are also people who care about social hierarchies. They call out unexamined privilege. They are also intersectional feminists. They are also people who consider ableism and its harm without dismissing it outright. They just.....didn't get that memo.

When the groups cross-pollinate in some way, and "sapiosexual" comes up, there are usually a lot of hurt feelings. Mostly because it's human nature to assume everyone is starting from the same core assumptions. One group is frustrated at having the same conversation for five years running and having to start completely over (again), and if they can't blow through the entire five years of dialogue in a snippy comment or two, clearly the other party just doesn't care about the impact. The other is trying to handle the fact that they've been told they're being terrible (possibly in a pretty combative way) about something they consider utterly innocuous, and not given more than a single interaction to digest five years worth of introspection. (Even my super condensed summation was six bullet points.) A lot of shortcuts get taken in the explanations that in the thick of an argument can make it sound a lot more like it's not okay to be attracted to who one is attracted to––which of course stands in stark opposition to an entire system of values when it comes to anti-bigotry around sexuality. Sometimes intentions are assumed and the best faith is abandoned.

It's not that one group cares and the other doesn't. It's just a case of divergent linguistic evolution. One group had a five-year conversation. They learned to see "sapiosexual" as a watchword. The other group wasn't there. They were off getting gelato at the local freezery They don't see the problem. And while they might not need five years to be convinced to just use "not that into looks," probably wouldn't get it in one flame war and will at least think the first couple of people they run into are being oversensitive. Plus, sometimes, even people who are trying to be social advocates for other groups don't always tap their patience, take the time, slow down, and explain even the highlight reel  before going on the attack.

And of course it would be unfair to not acknowledge that this swings the other way too. Sometimes people won't listen no matter how gently they are told. No amount of patience is enough. Being in any way problematic is bad, and they aren't "bad," so this is clearly a case of oversensitivity donchaknow. Sometimes people won't listen UNTIL someone gets angry and they realize that social censure is going to be the consequence for their behavior. They are mixed in with the people who care, and there are no special glasses to tell one group from the other. Life is a spectrum and "total inconsiderate asshole" IS at one end––always.

So it gets pretty messy. And I don't have the answers. But it's exactly the sort of shit I stare at the ceiling and think of at night.

I don't have some didactic take home for this. Or for the the dozens (perhaps hundreds) of situations like it ranging from some on-the-edge case of cultural appropriation, the understanding that a word or phrase is AAVE, to a particular manifestation of casual ableism, to some celebrity's canceled status. I'm more a "better safe than sorry" type myself, but who even knows what memos I haven't gotten.

If I did have a take home, it would be entirely too finger-waggy for some and too mealy-mouthed for others. (Personally, I do a lot of sliding into people's inboxes with a "Danger, Will Robinson!" routine about what they're about to step in.) But it strikes me that sometimes the subcultures and even social circles we are in create "shibboleths" with which we can sometimes be the very gatekeepers we hope to see fewer of in the world.

And so, I think about the word "sapiosexual" a lot.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Pitches and Synopses and Blurbs, Oh my! (Mailbox)

Share your blurby wisdom!  

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer questions about once a week.  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 love doing two at once....even if we're just talking about answering blog questions.] 

So I just happened to get two questions in the span of a couple of days with a high amount of overlap.  So clearly the celestial bodies are aligned and the sentient universe wants me to talk about your blurb, your pitch, your summary/synopsis. So let's do that.  But first...the questions.

Cathy asks:

I saw a quote that has inspired a question!

“You shouldn’t ever write a novel that you can summarise because then you should just write a summary. What is the point of writing something that isn’t a challenge? I can’t think in a simpler way anymore. I really can’t.”

 - Arundhati Roy, when asked about the complexity of her second novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

(First, I'd note that that interview was discussing her work in general but also focussed on the situation in Kashmir, & India as a whole, and the rise of populism, and is worth reading for its own sake - https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/news/if-kashmir-is-occupied-by-an-army-right-now-india-is-occupied-by-a-mob-says-arundhati-roy - she was talking to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the Edinburgh Book Festival.) I shrank this bit for the sake of formatting space. -C

But the quote at the end made me stop - I've never seen that opinion before, and it goes against almost all of the writing advice I've seen.

In so many places I've seen the advice that you should be able to summarise your novel in a couple of paragraphs at most. An elevator pitch. 

If you can't summarise it in 50 words, then it's too complicated.

But then you've got an acclaimed, Booker prize-winning author saying:

“You shouldn’t ever write a novel that you can summarise because then you should just write a summary."

What do you think?

To be honest, I am biased and was delighted when I read that - a book I'm working on has no chance of being summarised in a few sentences, and I have been worried for a while I was doing it all wrong because of so many articles which mention this.

Thanks

And secondly,

Aubrey asks: 

Hey, there. Hope all is well! 

I know how busy you are, so if you have time to answer, great, if not I totally understand. 

I am currently trying to market my novel series, and when I can get people to pick it up, they love it. But actually GETTING people to pick it up is starting to seem impossible. Do you have any advice on how to write the perfect blurb or pitch? My books are a contemporary Mafia series, and always seem to lose out to the ones with mostly naked guys on the cover, and I'd like to not have to so literally pimp them out. 

Thanks for all you do. Some days your blog is all that keeps me writing. 

My reply:

I want to take one quick moment to apologize to everyone. Yes, even you. Apparently you all have this image of me where I'm so fucking busy that I can't answer an email or handle a question. Like, I just wake up in the morning and start screaming as I write. I scream as I write while I dress, scream as I think about what I'm going to write in the shower, scream/brush my teeth/write-with-my-free-hand, I drive to my nanny gig screaming and typing on my phone despite the danger, and if my email pings, I stop screaming for a moment, glance over at the counter, take a deep breath and scream EVEN LOUDER.

Let me divest you of this image. Now that I have the FAQ and the Facebook FAQ, I only actually get one or two questions a day that they don't cover. I love hearing from folks, and even though the day may come where I have to stop replying to every query I get, I set aside some time each day to deal with audience stuff (whether that is answering emails or moderating threads or whatever). Plus....these questions make up a SIGNIFICANT portion of my blog and my most popular "segment." So please please please keep em' coming. Don't be shy.

Let's start with that Arundhati Roy quote and work our way out to the more commercial aspects of these questions. And for the time being, I'm just going to focus on that quote and leave alone the fraught topics she sometimes writes about that bitterly divide even some of the short list of folks I would gladly jump in front of a bullet for.

To put it bluntly, this is a really "I have arrived" thing to say. It's like Joyce saying that he SHOULD be studied for years to be understood. Roy is an amazing writer of deep complexity and nuance and you can easily say that every sentence in her works is vital to the gestalt, but most everything can be summarized. In fact that's one of the skills you will often be set to in a liberal arts education because it is so absofuckinglutely useful. This is why you did it so often in English class. So you would learn not to be like, "And there was this one scene.....where the guy......takes these scissors.......and he kills this other guy......but then the guy kind of deserved it......so......" Instead keep it focused on the most vital information.

As a quick note: in praxis, "summary" in and "synopsis" are similar, but they are not interchangeable. A synopsis is usually what's on the back of a paperback. It's often written in the same tone as the book. It may be written "in character" or as prose or as bullet points or something. It often leaves out the final act for the reader to discover and avoids "spoilers." A summary, on the other hand, is a more academic response to a work. It is written more formally. It is written in the present tense. And it will contain the work's climax and spoilers. While all synopses involve some amount of summary, not all summaries are a synopsis. 

Think for a moment about the very best books you've EVER read. Could any of them not be summarized? I'm not asking you if you feel as if you can't do justice to every twist and turn and how gloriously the author dealt with details and how the work made you feel. I'm simply asking if you couldn't break it down to a couple of sentences.

Should you read Beloved cover to cover? Oh fuck yes! Can I convey every agonizing moment of gorgeous prose and deep emotional complexity in a three-sentence summary? Oh fuck no! Can I summarize it, though? Sure: A woman named Sethe is haunted by the ghost of her eldest daughter who she murdered to keep from slavery. At first the haunting is by a revenant, but then by a physical manifestation of a woman named Beloved––the only word on her eldest daughter's tombstone. Beloved consumes Sethe's life until the black community intervenes with an exorcism. 

Obviously any summary leaves a lot out, including the entire romantic plot line. That's what a summary IS. It is just the main ideas. That's why you open the cover and start reading if you "WOULD LIKE TO KNOW MORE," but distilling the MOST important information is actually a sought-after skill.

Roy is often contrarian towards conventional wisdom in just this way, and I think she does so to bring an important, oft-unconsidered aspect to the table even if she could just as easily advocate for the other side––sort of to force the hand of nuance. A lot of people limit themselves to summaries and so they lack the flavor and substance of a work. My three-line summary does not even begin to convey the sheer scope of horror in Beloved that is rooted in mother-daughter relationships and the relationship that develops between Sethe and Beloved is....deeply, profoundly creepy. For that, you would have to read it, and I think that's what Roy is getting at. Literature can't be summarized (even though it literally can). And if that sounds like exactly the sort of paradox artists live in, you're starting to catch on.

As we shift focus to the commercial side of this question, I want to point one last thing out about the Roy quote: she has an advantage over most writers that unless she scrawls her name on eucalyptus leaves ten million times, whatever she writes is going to be published. So she no longer needs to consider that a tight synopsis is a fundamental part of the traditional publication process.

Pitches and blurbs are a little different, and let me unpack this one at a time.

A writer's pitch––and right now I'm talking about a fiction novelist––is a query letter. There's no need to have an elevator pitch if you're writing fiction to be published. (Yes, I know the Jim Butcher story. I fucking **PROMISE** you that The Dresden Files were going to get published one way or another.) You are a writer. Your "pitch" gets to be revised, edited, and a little bit longer. (Isn't writing AWESOME!) I've written an in depth guide here. This is what you will send out with sample chapters (or whatever an agent asks for).

Unless you're writing screenplays IN HOLLYWOOD, you don't need an elevator pitch. And I swear to you, on all the writers' guides of the greats, that even if you are writing screenplays in Hollywood, this is one of those things that is sort of kind of true, but mostly a myth––like being "discovered." It doesn't really happen, and you're definitely not throwing away your shot if you focus on writing quality work instead of practicing what you would say if you ended up in an elevator with Christopher Nolan. Would you even know if you were in an elevator with the biggest publisher in the world? Would you recognize them? Go work on your query letter....and only do THAT after your book is done.

Okay, Blurbs....

Because now we're moving into MARKETING. The book is done. And you want someone to give it a chance. Enter the blurb. Remember the sentences that used to be at the top of every paperback or movie poster. (You still see them, just not as much because of different marketing tools.) Those are blurbs. Just enough to pique curiosity.

  • Start with the hook. 
  • Don't summarize.
  • No longer than a Tweet. 
  • Appeal to emotions.

Blurbs are like flirting, and even though my flirting is vaguely like a wombat with indigestion and has caused me to adopt a courtship ritual that is more like "I project weaponized cuteness and then say 'Yes!' a lot," I can do my best to explain blurbs.

The line forms to the left.

You want to tease your reader. You want them to want more. You want them to have an ever-so-slight sense of what the book is about and the genre without giving away the store.

"In a world where feelings are illegal, love was the ultimate crime...."
"The harbingers rolled into town one Tuesday. Now Billy had one week to stop Armageddon..."
"How do you measure a year in the life? How about love..."
"In the last days of Earth, could there be hope for the Unwanted?"
"A Jedi must not know passion. Or emotion. Or love."

You get the idea? Emotional. Charged. A little over the top. These are not quick summaries. "Eight friends deal with HIV over the course of a year." NO!  This is a wink from across the room. This is the promise of more if they take the step. Make that reader want to turn the book over and read the...um......SYNOPSIS (glances upward at the earlier part of the article). Hook them.

Now....there's another informal meaning of blurb that sort of just means ANY promotional short writing, and you probably want someone else to do your blurb if you're trying to sell books. "Author Aubrey weaves a breathtaking tale of modern organized crime dynamics, steamy romance, and supernatural forces living among us. A thoroughly enjoyable romp. If you like Kim Harrison, you'll LOVE this!"  See how that's just not going to work if you write it yourself?

If you DO write a blurb yourself, stick to a tiny summary, say what the book is LIKE (genre, a book it's similar to that many have read), but keep the sort of hook/enticing language, and talk up the BOOK without seeming like you're bragging about yourself. "Gumshoe McDick takes a case working for the mafia that seems too good to be true. But everyone has an angle and no one is exactly what they seem. Soon Gumshoe is in over his head, and the only way out is to face Chicago's underworld leaders: the ruthless succubus gang. A mixture of urban fantasy and gangster genre, with enough steamy romance to keep the pages turning well past your bedtime."

Just between you and me....I'll give you a little bit of "insider trading" advice. One of the beauties of blurbs and synopses and such is that they're SHORT. So if you're having trouble knowing what details to cut out of a summary or how to blurb your book with really enticing language, you can get professional quality help for usually only ONE HOUR'S worth of someone's freelance rate. (Unless you want them to read the whole book––which just so you know them reading YOUR summary will probably be sufficient.) That's all they're going to need. So it's cheap to farm this one out if it's giving you the vapors.

Encapsulate my entire masterpiece in a tweet???????
I hope this helps. Summarizing isn't easy, especially with an eye on making something as appealing as possible.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Best Modern Fantasy (COME VOTE!!!!)

What is the best fantasy book (or series) written between 1976 and 2000?

OUR LATEST POLL IS LIVE!  COME VOTE. 

Because we don't need to run any semifinal rounds, this poll will be up until mid-September (when we will start taking nominations for our Spooooooooooky Halloween poll: best horror). That gives you time, but it'll go faster than you think. Vote early. Vote often.

Two reminders: 

ONE: this is about BOOKS. If you loved the recent Good Omens miniseries, but you never quite could get through the book, then please vote for something else.

TWO: a lot of really good books did not get enough nomination "seconds" to make it to the poll. I know these were some of your faves, and there's going to be some "HOW CAN ANY POLL NOT HAVE," but these are entirely reader response polls and thems the breaks.

Everyone 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.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Another Cranky Rant: No I Won't Give You a Free Book (Claire Youmans)

Some people, I have to give free books.  There aren’t many of them.  Either they’ve done me huge services in exchange for a book or books or I’m closely related to them. I also have to have a set in my office to show off. 

This year I have SIX books. All shiny new, with consistent styles and new covers and better jacket copy. All of which cost me a pretty penny, let me tell you.

I just ordered the sets that I HAVE TO give away and have on hand to be sent to Japan from wherever they’ll be printed.  I still have more to order for shipment to the US. In the process, I found out some highly disturbing information.

All those “fees” and “costs” that I’m now being charged meant I had to raise prices, as I’ve said.  But somewhere along the line, my profit margin went way, way down, too.  On a hard-copy book, at full retail price, MY share is less than $0.75.  Yes, that is not a typo. I get less than seventy-five cents. I have to sell like Anne Rice or Stephen King before I even cover my costs. 

If I use my special author price, I simply don’t get the seventy three or fewer cents. I also have to pay for shipping.  I should do this for you? I bet you won’t even write a review. If you bother to read it. 

So that “free book” is costing me just about what it would cost you, if you’d just order it yourself. You can get it for less — YOU can read it for FREE — if you go into your public library and ask them to order it. Yes, the books are available from the Secret Library Distributor Catalogs, of course. 

Loan you my copies? Besides the fact that I’d never get them back, do I look like a library to you? Just go to the library and ask them to order them for you.  I need MY copies right here.

I’m a writer and I’m not going to stop doing that. I am very fortunate that I am in a position of being able to do so. But given the way the industry is moving, I may give some serious though as to whether I want to publish over the next few years. I may want to wait until the industry shakes out and stops trying to shake me down. 

My books are damned good.  They are well worth reading.  But, to quote the song about a chair, “If I can’t sell it, I’m gonna sit right here on it. I ain’t gonna give it away."

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Lesser Writer (Mailbox)

I feel like I'm the "lesser writer" oft spoken of.

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer questions about once a week.  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. Let me assuage you that there is no magic to writing.]   

Serena asks:

Hello Chris. I know you likely get thousands of messages a day, but I hope that you see this. Your page means a lot to me.

I'm struggling at the moment with feeling like I'm the "lesser writer" that reviewers refer to in their patented "In the hands of a lesser writer" line.

Advice? Thoughts? I'm willing to have this post made public if you're willing to publish it!

My reply:

Thousands?  Maybe more like ten to twenty on a busy day. But when they're all asking me for free editing or why I do transcriptions, it can feel like thousands, so let's go with that. (I'm hoping to use "Do you know who I am?" on the host staff at The Olive Garden later if the wait is over fifteen minutes, and this is exactly the inflating pep talk I need.) Anyway, my outrageous fame and thousands of messages about free feedback are exactly why I'm so excited to get interesting questions that I'm not only willing to publish, but that actually keep the lights on around here.

"In the hands of a lesser writer...."

Let me start by saying that the way the world (and even writers themselves) talks about writing and writers does an incredible disservice to writing and writers.

If you're a musician, everybody knows you have to practice for years before you can go join the symphony or make enough money on tour to have dental insurance. And we're not talking years of one hour a week either.

If you're on a theater stage professionally, there is probably a 90% chance that you have an MFA in theater arts, which represents at least seven years of hardcore training....and that's if you didn't start in junior high. Outside of sheer inter-industry nepotism, the amount of time actors spend before getting in front of a CAMERA is comparable (if they do not straight up have a theater background).

If you're a visual artist (painting or sculpture), it will probably be years of doodling, sketching, playing and creating projects before you get a piece of work in a gallery or an installation in a festival, and years more before you have your own show.

Architecture...?  A five-year degree and ongoing education with probably a decade of experience before getting to design a building that's bigger than a Mellow Mushroom or more interesting than someone's conversion of a garage to an inlaw unit.

But for some reason with writing, we don't talk much about the work. The long, shitty, unpaid hours that every artist goes through get sort of glossed over with the writer, and we talk about writing like it is an innate ability that one either has or doesn't.  Are you a "lesser" writer? Or a "greater" writer?

And never the twain shall meet.

But the twain do meet. The twain get together for lunch once a week, and sometimes the twain get a hotel room at the Radisson afterwards and spend the afternoon. Because we were all lesser writers once. And the liminal space between is vast and messy.

Maybe it's because you don't SEE writers doing their shit for years in the form of all those tossed manuscript drafts and rejection letters. Maybe it's because the writing MFA is not as vital to critical or commercial success as theater MFA or as non-negotiable as a degree in architecture. Maybe it's a certain sprezzatura that writers employ, obfuscating the tremendous effort behind what they make look easy.

If you're feeling like "the lesser writer," the best advice I can possibly give you is to keep writing until you're not a lesser writer anymore. Keep reading, keep writing, and remember that all writers who got an "in-the-hands-of-a-lesser-writer" review were themselves once LESSER WRITERS.

They just didn't give up.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Blogust! (Some meta news)

No official post today (I'm taking Wednesdays off) but I have a few tiny bits of update news.


  • Did I mention I'm taking Wednesdays off? Yeah. New thing. The staff kicked me out of the office. 
  • Five days was too much with the kid wrangling. (Had it wired there for a bit when I could write when the baby was down, but with a five year old joining the mix, it's a no go.) This is a temporary "feast" schedule that is helping me save up a nest egg to get through the recession that is coming (oh yes, my friends) when I will surely lose ALL THE PATRONS, as well as to keep me writing as long as possible in five more months when the niblet goes to pre-school and my hours get cut. Thursdays will still be mailbox. Fridays still something crunchy. Monday and Tuesday might be fluffy. 
  • I'll update the schedule this weekend.
  • Blog wants me to hit 50,000 page views by the end of the month. ("Blogust") I think Blog is being a little....ambitious, but they insist I try. 
  • Because of this, I am running a lot of "Best of" articles that have an appeal at the end of them. Because of THAT, I will not be running an official appeals post this month. But I'm always still looking for Patrons. (I'm down $6 this month right now.) Even the $1 and $3 patrons help me by establishing a monthly budget I can count on and a foundation where no one person can knock out 10% of my income by cancelling their pledge. 
  • Don't forget to nominate modern fantasy novels that you want to see in the upcoming poll. No nominations (or seconds) and it doesn't get on the poll.
  • Okay, I'm really leaving now. Day off. I mentioned the day off, right?

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Best Modern Fantasy (Last Chance to Nominate)

What is the best fantasy book (or series) written between 1976 and 2000? 

For any of you who have ever said "How can this poll not have SOANDSO?!?", now is your chance. Get it on the poll and get it some seconds.

We've got to get this poll going so we have time to do horror for Halloween.

We have a decent poll unfolding with some really good books, but it could use more titles.

So please pop over to the original page (very important), read the rules if you haven't yet, and drop a nomination or an undersung hero. 

I'll be putting this poll together next week.

Remember, go to the original page or it won't count. Not a comment here. Not a comment on the Facebook post. Not Tumblr. THE ORIGINAL PAGE.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Waaa and Whew!

Where’ve I been for the last few months? Reissuing The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series, along with bringing out The Dragon Sisters, book 6 in the series. That’s where.

Why did I do that?

It’s not just that I ran out of cover options with the old art. It’s not just that, at six books, I needed a universal style sheet, glossary and character list all located in one place. Those would be normal in the production of a book series. Nope. It’s that the publishing industry has changed a lot since 2014, when the first book in this series appeared.

Every writer now has to rethink the entire mechanism of publishing.

What happened, you say?

First, the Big 5 Traditional Publishers started raising prices to usurious profiteering levels. $25 for an e-book? COME ON. But the “experts” say I’m supposed to give mine away? (Not happening.  Either one.)

Second, the “fleece the author” industry grows geometrically every month, with all sorts of products and services you simply MUST have. (No, you don’t.)

Third, Amazon has become a strong player in the “fleece the author” industry by making their ads a crap-shoot. Bid for what you pay for clicks? For ad placement?  Huh? They are also ramping up to charging — this will happen very soon — authors to list their books on the Amazon platform. They already have instituted a “delivery charge” so authors get lower royalties. What’s next?

Fourth, Amazon refuses to discount or set up a return system so that physical outlets simply won’t buy from them. Amazon is now solely a direct to consumer marketplace. This has led Baker and Taylor, the other real catalog from which bookstores, schools and libraries buy, to stop listing anything published on the Amazon platform — this JUST happened. This leaves Ingram Book Company as the only game in town. Ingram already charges listing fees — although this year there are promo codes to get out of them.  I wanted to move SIX books over there before I got charged $49 plus a pop to do that. Ingram also sets your prices. Not terribly high, but higher than I wish, in some cases, I had to set them.

Fifth, Barnes and Noble just got bought out. This, too, JUST happened. Whether this means it’ll go under or somehow be salvaged remains to be seen, but this means outlets for physical books are going to change even more.

Sixth, rounding it off at an even half-dozen, Facebook, a major marketing platform, stopped showing posts to more than a few of your signed up followers unless you pay for ads. And they also do this lottery ad pricing thing.  So it’s not just pay to play, it’s pay more to get on the field, MORE to get a ball, STILL MORE to maybe get picked for a team, and MORE YET to maybe play.

I’ve gone back to school in marketing and advertising. 

This has led me to commission new covers and jacket copy designed for a new kind of consumer. Needing to list the books on IngramSpark, now the only game in town if you want world-wide paperback distribution for stores, schools, libraries and people — something my books require. Using an aggregator to make sure I get world-wide marketing on ALL the platforms, not just Amazon. Using Amazon in the US only, because they’re the biggest retailer in the US, so I have to.

I suspect Amazon is going to start penalizing its readers as it has done its suppliers. I don’t have much evidence of this, but I hear little bits of information from people who sell non-literary products.  I want the versatility to be OFF of Amazon entirely. I suspect this may be in the future. 

Want to see what I have done?  I hope so, because it’s cost me thousands and taken about 4 months of 12 hour days — not counting the actual writing and editing of The Dragon Sisters.  Check out www.tokigirlandsparrowboy.com.  Look at the listings on whatever retailers you frequent. We’re still in process of getting up on all e-book and on-line physical retailers as of this writing, but that should be done in a couple of weeks, with universal links up on the website.

And then give some thought as to whether you REALLY want to be a writer. 


Also check out Claire's blog and FB page and available books here (book one in the series is always free!!!):

http://claireyoumansauthor.blogspot.com

www.tokigirlandsparrowboy.com


Facebook:  The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy

Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Toki-Girl-Sparrow-Boy-Claire-Youmans/dp/0990323404/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8



If you would like to write a thinly veiled promo for your own work guest blog for Writing About Writing we would love to have an excuse to take a day off a wonderful diaspora of voices. Take a look at our guest post guidelines, and drop me a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Proposal vs. Proposition (Mailbox)


What is the difference between proposition and proposal?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer questions about once a week.  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. Don't think for a second that I'm too good to pick an easy question when I'm tired.] 

Johnny asks:

[Note. I have consolidated a few of Johnny's paragraphs (each sentence was its own in his email to me) for space reasons.]  

I have a question about proposal vs. proposition. 

From Learner's Dictionary: Proposition: something, such as a plan or offer, that is presented to a person or group of people to consider. Proposal: something, such as a plan or suggestion, that is presented to a person or group of people to consider. Almost identical meanings but different connotations, I think? When you want to get married or start a business, you use proposal. When you want to have sex or change a law, you use proposition.

Why?

They sound like they have the same root word too. Why two different words? And in any situation where you can use one, the other fits just as well. It just sounds weird because of what we're used to hearing I guess? I appreciate your help with this clarification. 

Thanks!

My reply:

Before I dig into this.....confession time. I was dead-ass tired last night after yesterday's article was GUTTED out over 8 hours and a painful revision, I slept twelve hours last night, and I'm still recovering from those 70-hour-weeks earlier in the month, so I deliberately picked an easy question to field today. 

Ain't English grand? We have synonyms that are so close together yet still with such subtle shades of difference that even the people who intuitively use the right word at the right time MAY NOT BE ABLE TO ARTICULATE WHY. Particularly native speakers.

These words are amazingly similar but your question actually does have an answer Johnny, and every native speaker reading this is likely to have a "Holy shit...he's RIGHT!" moment in just a few seconds. They may want to sit down.

In most cases, a "proposition" is the word used when the answer is going to be yes or no. (For example propositioning someone for sex.) A proposal is more complicated and usually involves consideration and discussion––more back and forth. The only difference in these definitions is is that "suggestion" is replaced with "offer." An "offer" is something you either take or leave (or maybe counteroffer). A "suggestion" has more....plasticity. It's almost more of a starting point.

Think of these two phrases:

"I suggest $10,000 advance and fifty cents on the unit for your new Dark Lord vs. Farmer space opera."

~or~


"I offer $10,000 advance and fifty cents on the unit for your new Dark Lord vs. Farmer space opera."

See how the first kinda feels like you have some room to negotiate and the second just feels like you can sort of take it or leave it?

"But what about a marriage proposal?" I hear you ask. That's got a straight yes or no answer in most cases. You're absolutely right. But that's "proposal's" second meaning. (Proposition also has another meaning–a statement that expresses an opinion or judgement–that is technically outside the boundaries of your question.) Literally one entire definition of "proposal" is JUST about marriages.

And of course "proposition" also has other meanings. The legal meaning ("Stop Proposition H! It's bad for the kids!") has to do with ballot measures that are voted on directly by voters instead of by the legislative branch. Also it has a mathematical meaning of a statement that is either true or false. (Although again in these two cases, you see that you can either vote yes or no legally or prove it or not mathematically, so there is a YES or NO dichotomy built into the emotive force of that word.)

If you think about it, the marriage one makes a certain sort of sense as well. Language evolves but sometimes words and phrases get fixed (or even become idioms). A marriage used to be a LOT more of the start of a business arrangement between two families that might involve some back and forth negotiations. The recent development where it's just the proposee who decides yes or no is kind of sign of modernity.

Just don't let the fact that the movie isn't called Indecent Proposition mess you up too bad.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Elders Did It (I am the Night)

Right before I stopped watching South Park, I remember there was this very meta episode where they were trying to come up with plots but the Simpsons had done everything. Ostensibly I think it was Butters trying to think up evil schemes to take over the world, but really they were talking about how often South Park itself had similar plots to The Simpsons. This was almost 20 years ago now, so I'm a little hazy on the details, and it doesn't matter much to my story.

But I think about that LINE a lot. The little sidekick(?) shouted, "Simpsons did it!" every time Butters tried to come up with a new plan.

"How about if I––"

"Simpsons did it!"

"Maybe we could––"

"Simpsons did it!"

Anyway, you get the idea. The––

"SIMPSONS DID IT!"

Yes. Okay. Thank you! Jesus FUCK!

So...I think about this scene a lot when I'm trying to do something that someone has done before (and probably better), which is a feeling all writers (who aren't egomaniacs) have to deal with. The vast, vast, vast majority of us will never be as good as the greats, or even as the damn goods. We just have to do our own thing with our own voice in our own way and be glad that most people are happy to get "two cakes."

Reference for the uninitiated.
*Description below




What does this have to do with vampires?

Well, at my last game there were elders.....doing things.

I have a pretty niche character. He's a sweet guy almost anti-vamp in his sincerity and genuine kindness, but he's got all his points into a public speaking/leadership build. It's actually a 5-point performance in public speaking. For those who don't know the system, I'll just say two things about this. 1- It is considered the pinnacle of speaking ability among the mortal world. 2- It is absolutely as high as my character can ever go.

So in theory, that should be my thing, right? You want to fire up the crowd, call Mark.

Nope.

There's NO concept I could have come up with that an elder couldn't do better (not computer hacker, not sneaky sneak, not investigator, not straight badass brawler, not mortal world manipulator, not sniper, not explosives expert....nothing), and in fact last game there was a SIX-point performance of oration (followed then by a TEN-point performance singing, which isn't a skill Mark has but it illustrates a further point about these elder characters). Mark literally can't EVER be this good at performance. Unless he went and sucked up several older, more-powerful vampire's souls (a behavior that is generally frowned upon).

Now....when it comes to vampires in this particular mythos of our role playing game, that's part of the setting. One of the central anxieties of the game's theme is that while you may have supernatural power, there is always someone above you who is better, stronger, could casually destroy you, and is probably using you. Neonates have to suck it up and just accept that elders are better than them and though they might be able to gang up on those a couple of rungs up from them, they would never be able to take out the progenitors and most powerful.

I'm pretty sure it's a metaphor for capitalism.

As a player, sometimes I'm not thrilled that these always-better-than-you-no-matter-what-you-ever-do characters are a distressingly high percentage of the playership and functionally inhabit all of the game's more "interactive" roles. I might wish elder PLAYERS would take it upon themselves to ALSO embrace (heh heh) the themes of manipulation by delegating instead of stamping around and fixing all the problems themselves, cloistering themselves in smoke-filled rooms to discuss issues only with the most capable, and never scheming with those beneath their station. (It's been four months and no one really even knows what Mark is good at––he should have been approached and tapped to be someone's pawn MONTHS ago! His ability to deal with mortals should be a boon to almost anyone.)

However this has been a problem with Vampire LARPs as long as there have been Vampire LARPs. Actual people aren't immortal beings who think a century is not that long to just wait and see if a problem will fix itself. Players of elders are much the same as players of neonates but with cooler character sheets: they still jump at a chance to interact with something novel, want to solve problem/puzzles/issues, show off their special powers, use their particular tools on the plots their particular tools work the best on, and be COOL! It can be a bit counter intuitive to assign a task to someone who is actually NOT the best at doing it, either because you have the leadership to want that person to develop or because you're a Machiavellian manipulator and don't want your power players to be moved to the front of the board.

And just think how much power the first elder gets whose player realizes the advantage of "collecting" neonates and using them like vampires do mortals.

It's because stories are about change and vampire elders are about stasis. The idea that you could live forever if you could basically keep from ever being angry, scared, or hungry leads to a decision making process that is very unfamiliar to most people. Honestly, the LAST thing they should want to do is take an action themselves (or even micromanage). Few players really GET how to play them right because they want to be a part of the story too.

Which brings me to the writing part. As I thought to myself, "How does this insight about glass ceilings make for a post about writing?" I realized what an unsatisfying character arc this frustration would make in fiction....and not just because a LARP is a story for 40, 50, or 60 people instead of one. Mark's character arc (and my enjoyment of it) are far from hopeless because I can set goals that aren't "be the best public speaker" and get embroiled in smaller conflicts.

Still....imagine if The Bad News Bears just....always lost. Not only that, but imagine that they never actually had the ability to win. And the movie was not changed into a story about character or friendship or overcoming failure, but was still the same movie about how important it was to win that game.  But they didn't. And they couldn't. Ever. No matter HOW hard they tried.

Now Mark in a story would not be hopeless either. His grim reality could be a background thematic part of a setting in which the central conflict involves some OTHER conflict. ("Mark would never be the best speaker, but one day he learned about a scandal among the elders that could rock the whole of Vampire society.") Consider the way in which hereditary monarchies and their socio/political faults are NOT solved in Lord of the Rings. Some people are just more powerful than others. And Frodo never becomes the best asskicker in Middle Earth (or even more powerful than the influence of The Ring). And they sure as shit didn't go punch Morgoth in the face. Because it's a story about other things.

OR there could be some way that the character can (and does?) overcome their limitations. Or at least HAS THE POTENTIAL TO but fails. ("Mark was never the best speaker, but he knew how to find the people who were hungry for change and spark a revolution..." or "Mark could have been the best speaker, but he befriended Joe Pesci, and learned that the real 'Honor' were the friends we made along the way.")

And another interesting story might be to be struggling at one's "own" power level. ("Yeah, we could call in the Avengers and win in five minutes, but the Defenders have to do this ourselves.")

All fiction involves conflict and most of it involves some kind of power dynamic. Writers have to deal all the time with worlds where a character is simply not as good as some antagonistic force in their world. (Not as clever, not as strong, not as powerful.....) And sometimes they even have to deal with forces no amount of montage training scenes will make them better than. But the protagonist has to figure out a workaround––one that maybe works and maybe doesn't.

Just be careful how much you let your more-powerful beings stomp around in your world. Whether they help or hurt the main characters it'll feel very ham handed and deus ex machina if they handle too much. And if they DO get tangled into the main plot, make sure that workaround exists in some form.

Because stories, at least the good ones, are about change (or at least the potential for change).

And vampire role playing games are about––

"ELDERS DID IT!"


*Two panel comic with simple black and white line art.

The top panel is captioned "The Artist." It shows a stick figure person, looking dismayed, at two cakes of different sizes. The speech bubble reads, "Aw man, that guy's cake is way better than mine."

The bottom panel is captioned "The Audience." It shows a visibly happy stick figure in front of the exact same two cakes. This stick figure is holding a fork and a knife, and the speech bubble reads "Holy shit! Two cakes!"

Best MODERN Fantasy (Nominations Needed)

What is the best fantasy book (or series) written between 1976 and 2000?  


Remember that we're rerunning some of our most popular polls of the past few years, but this time we're doing it with lots more voters (and we'll be keeping the results on display.) It's all part of our new Sticky Polls--the 2019 roll out for polls here at Writing About Writing.

The Rules

(This is now the fourth round we've done under the "new" rules, so you can see what I mean by some of this):

My hand to all that is holy in the universe, we are going to finish this poll by late September (in time to do horror for Halloween) or I will pull this entire poll over to the side of the road, so help me. So be prepared for quick turnarounds on the nominations and lightning fast semifinals if we need them.

There is a new category of nomination. It is NOT a nomination for the poll. It is an UNDERSUNG HERO nomination. Basically it is for books you think are great, tragically overlooked, but maybe not necessarily the besty bestest best. I will be listing these books along with the poll results. However, if you nominate a book for our poll it will not be considered for the undersung hero list and if you shout out something for an undersung hero, it will not be counted as a nomination for the poll. (Someone else can nominate it.) Think about if you want to give a book few seem to know about a shout out or if you're tossing your fave into The Hunger Games.


  1. As always, I leave the niggling over the definition of genres to your best judgement because I'd rather be inclusive. If you want to nominate Snow Crash as a fantasy book, I'm not going to argue that it's probably better classed as Science Fiction but YOU have to convince others if you're going to get seconded and on the poll--nevermind win.
  2. All books nominated must have publication dates from 1976-2000.
  3. A series with books that have landed inside and outside of the "Modern" zone may not be nominated as a series, but individual books in the series may. 
  4. You get to mention two (2) books (or series). That's it. Two. You can do ONE nomination for the poll and ONE UNDERSUNG HERO.  Or you can do TWO nominations. Or you can do TWO undersung heroes. But two is the total. If you nominate three or more I will NOT take any nominations beyond the second that you suggest. I'm sorry that I'm a stickler on this, but I compile these polls myself and it's a pain when people drop a megalodon list every decent book they can remember of in the genre. It is up to you how to divy your TWO choices. TWO.
  5. Did I mention two?
  6. You may (and absolutely should) second AS MANY nominations of others as you wish. THEY WILL NOT GET ONTO THE POLL WITHOUT SECONDS. You can agree with or cheer on the undersung heroes, but they won't "transform" into nominations unless someone else nominates that same book as "best" (and then they get a second). Also stop back in and see if anyone has put up something you want to see go onto the poll. 
  7. Put your nominations HERE. I will take nominations only as comments and only on this post. (No comments on FB posts will be considered nominations.) If you can't comment for some reason because of Blogger, send me an email (chris.brecheen@gmail.com) stating exactly that and what your nomination is, and I will personally put your comment up. I am not likely to see a comment on social media even if it says you were unable to leave a comment here. 
  8. You are nominating WRITTEN genre fiction, not their movie portrayals. If you thought the The Good Omens miniseries on Amazon Prime was fucking sick, but never managed to get past the hospital scene in the book, nominate something else.
  9. This is probably well known by vets of this blog by now, but there will be no more endless elimination rounds. I will take somewhere between 8-20 best performing titles and at MOST run a single semifinal round. By "performing" I mean the seconds. So second the titles you want even if they already have one. (Yes, I guess that would make them "thirds," "fourths," etc...) The competition on this poll might be fierce. You may have to get your friends involved. Buy them a pizza. Make it real. 
  10. TWO!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Getting Visited by the Bad Review Fairy and Other Tales of Self-Doubt by Arielle K Harris

Getting Visited by the Bad Review Fairy and Other Tales of Self-Doubt 

Arielle K Harris

I recently received the worst review I have ever gotten in my, admittedly short, published writing career. And when I say it was a bad review, oh holy moly was it a bad review. In the first paragraph alone (of which there were several) this individual writes: “A sadly colossal mess of a novel […] Seriously, I can't find something to praise here as hard as I'm trying to!” They helpfully list every facet of my book which leads them to this judgement, from my novel’s very premise, to my writing skill, to even including what they felt I should have done to make it a half-decent story.

I didn’t want this to affect me as strongly as it did, because clearly people have their own opinions which shouldn’t matter. But they do matter. I know that there are worse things in the world than a bad review, and quite frankly in the last couple of days I have experienced a tragedy which struck close to home, so I get it. It’s just words on a screen. 

But words are important. You and I both know this, or else we wouldn’t be here.

It bears mentioning that I’m not seeking sympathy, or fishing for more positive reviews by writing about this. Quite frankly I almost decided against writing about this situation at all for fear of seeming petty, but I realized that every one of us who has writing and publishing as our goal will be inevitably visited by the bad review fairy. We need to talk about it, because it affects us all.

So having realized that, I then began to wonder about the authors who I idolize and could only dream of becoming. How many of them get ripped to shreds in anonymous reviews?

All of them, clearly.

I took to Amazon to find 1-star reviews of some of my favorite books by some of my favorite authors. It makes both amusing and dreadful reading, but ultimately I feel it helps to know that we are all among good company.

Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens

“Kindle Customer” writes:

The "book" made no sense. Just random snippets of unrelated subject matter. Suggests the possibility of the use of recreational drugs. Complete waste of time.

Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea

“JB” says:

Very slow, dull, predictable, and wholly uninteresting. At no point does anything that happens come as even the slightest surprise. The battle sequences are very slow moving and would not interest anyone. It is a small book but it still took me over 3 weeks to drudge my way through this garbage. Afterwords (sic) I used it to start my fireplace, a task I am not sure its (sic) even worthy of.

Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind

This user decided to title his review: “Gary Sue wrote an autobiography and called it porn.”

I would use this as a form of torture or punishment. Doing chores or taking a nap is more interesting than the struggle of getting through a single chapter. […] This is just the life story of the arrogant long sided douche bag that catches you at the coffee shop each morning, and because everyone else likes him, you have to pretend to enjoy it too. But this book for people who have no taste, identity, or you flat out hate. They will love it, and you will seem like a really chill dude.

Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight

“Elmyr” informs us:

I wasn't able to get to the second chapter, because her writing-style was too stilted, and didn't have any flow to it. It was like she wrote down a basic idea, then went to a thesaurus to pepper the passages with adjectives.

David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks

Someone whose username includes the information that they are a writer themselves tells us:

This author had more imagination than ability. This book plodded along for more than 600 pages. You never quite grasp what is going on until the very end. The only reason I finished reading itbwas (sic) I kept waiting to read the good part Stephen King read. Easily the worst book I read in the last year. Waste of paper.
So there it is.

We all suck in someone’s eyes. I guess the trick is to either accept that this will always be the case, or to simply refrain from reading reviews of your own work at all. Honestly the latter tactic is my usual one, because I know my thin skin and easily obsessive 3am-litany-of-all-my-faults nature when it comes to these kinds of things. For this reason I didn’t actually see this review until months had passed, but the sting remained new and fresh.

So what do you do when someone tells you that you don’t know how to write? Well, you write. But it’s not them you’re trying to convince, it’s you.

There’s some aspect of our brains which is unnaturally quick at believing the worst in ourselves. We will wave aside every compliment we’re ever given as “oh, they’re just being polite” but even the slightest hint of criticism has us instantly convinced. Do we want to believe we’re terrible? Or is it just easier to accept that we might be awful rather than perform the mental gymnastics required to allow ourselves to believe we’re pretty damned awesome?

There are certainly those who have no problem accepting their fabulousness. They are fabulous, and they deserve to know it. I’m happy for them. But for whatever reason it seems that the majority of creative types are not this kind of person. Our path to creativity was perhaps driven by traumatic life experiences, a history of over-thinking and self-doubt, and various dark, angsty thoughts. Many of us were shunned by the social norm and pushed to the fringes, and often literally told throughout our formative years how wrong we were for simply existing.

Is it any wonder how easily we believe criticism as adults?

Our minds are wrong, but we can’t escape them. It’s even harder when mental illness preys on our thoughts, helping to drive these ideas into our minds like nails through flesh. The fight against these dark forces is one of the hardest things we can put ourselves through.

I lost a friend two days ago who lost that battle.

Please listen to me, anyone who needs to hear it: don’t listen to the bad reviews, don’t even read them if you struggle to separate another’s words with your own feeling of worth. Most importantly, don’t listen to yourself when you fall into the cycle of self-recrimination. It’s hardest of all to ignore those little voices, but they’re wrong.

You are fucking fabulous.


Arielle can be found online at her own website: www.ariellekharris.com as well as on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/ariellekharris/ and her published work can be found on Amazon here:https://www.amazon.com/author/ariellekharris




If you would like to write a thinly veiled promo for your own work guest blog for Writing About Writing we would love to have an excuse to take a day off a wonderful diaspora of voices. Take a look at our guest post guidelines, and drop me a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Best Post Apocalyptic Book (Or Series)

The results are IN!

I usually don't like that thick tangle of close results around #3, but it's stayed there since almost the first day (albeit at lower numbers), so I'm going to have to make my peace.

I'll get these results (and the undersung heroes) up on our Current Poll Results some time this weekend.

Text Results Below

The Stand - S. King 39 24.38%
The Broken Earth Trilogy N.K. Jemisin 33 20.63%
A Canticle For Leibowitz - W. M. Miller Jr. 17 10.63%
The Road - C. Mccarthy 16 10%
Parable of the Sower - O. Butler 16 10%
Station Eleven - E. St. John Mandel 11 6.88%
Oryx and Crake - M. Atwood 10 6.25%
The Uglies Series - S. Westerfeld 10 6.25%
Wool/Shift/Dust series - H. Howey 8 5%

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Best Post Apocalyptic Book (or Series)

What is the best post apocalyptic book (or series)?

Our poll will only be up until tomorrow, so this is absolutely your last chance to vote.

Everyone gets three [3] votes, but as there is no way to "rank" votes, you should use as few as you can stand.

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

If you're on mobile you can scroll ALLLLLL the way to the bottom and click on"webpage view" to see the side menus and get to the polls.

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Working (Creative) Writer [Biz of Writing, Meta, Personal Update]

Today's posts meanders through a number of topics I talk about here (the monetary business of creative writing, a personal update, some meta writing about what's coming up next, and let me be up front with you––my monthly appeal at the end). But mostly it's about how slow and sometimes painful it can be to go from a person with a dream to a working writer. 

As always, I ask that you help me to keep from having to constantly spam out calls for patrons and donations (and instead only bang this drum once every couple of weeks) by helping this post on social media with comments and reactions (even if you're only dropping your favorite meme or gif in the comments). 


Biz of Creative Writing

Almost no writer out there working for a living––and even preciously few of the household names–– simply wrote a novel, submitted it, got a book deal, and then forever became a writer by income. Most professional creative writers went through a period where they made some money from writing, but also had to keep working. I know New York Times bestselling authors with multiple books who have had to keep their day jobs. Even Stephen King before the fateful Carrie phone call wrote and sold short stories while he taught.

It's a sad fact of this career. Even if you give it everything you've got, and everything that having a career in writing requires, you will spend some time writing and making no money. Then you will probably spend some time writing and making a tiny little amount of sideline money. Then part-time income (even though it's full-time hours). Then somewhere on the luck/skill T-graph, you might find you're making minimum wage. Depending on your personal finances and drive to write, somewhere along the line, you might be able to start paring back on "day job" hours to make more room for writing.

Of course you can find other kinds of writing, from technical writing to content writing, and even make a very comfortable living. Going the creative route is usually a lot more unstable and unpredictable.

Personal Update

Right now, the money I make from writing means that I technically wouldn't die. But if I want dental insurance, a cell phone, and Ramen that doesn't come in a 244-pack at Costco, I have to do the side gigs too. I could also do better if I moved out of the Bay Area, but that's not really an option.

My schedule recently changed and the new one is a godsend. But I didn't know it was going to be there until a few days before it kicked in. My nanny clients were looking for work and suddenly it was like "You start Monday." I still had a month worth of pet sitting clients on the books, so I started my new awesome schedule while still working my old one.

Last week I worked 55 hours, and that was after I decided that, by fuck, I was going to take a day off.

The week before that was pretty close to 70.

Let me tell you, having no free time doesn't make trying to get back into the dating scene very easy . Mostly I just glower at OKCupid for a few minutes and try to make sense of the fact that they are suggesting a 58% match who lives in Modesto (a mere 90 minutes away) and wants absolutely no guys to message her.

And with a mighty cry to the heavens, I say "AND YET!!!!!"

And yet.

And yet.....

As great at is is to now have the financial stability from writing and nannying to hang up my catnip mouse and leash, pet sitting was an awesome opportunity and I did it for two and a half years. It saved me when I didn't know how I was going to make ends meet. And it is thanks to all of YOU that this is even an option.

Meta

The new schedule is awesome, but what doesn't work for me so well is overlaying the new schedule onto the old one where I'm still running around and pet sitting and walking a dog and stuff. I've been getting my ass kicked pretty good these last few weeks. So, much like last week, I'm going to fold in a day off (Tuesday) and do some jazz hands this week. I've even got some guest posts that are really good for you all.

Appeal

The reason I can hang up my catnip and leash is twofold. Partially it's because of the new nanny schedule.

Mostly it's because of you.

However, the new nanny schedule is only going to be around for six months or a year, and then the new niblet starts preschool and I will be less needed. So, as of this moment, I am on the clock. The countdown has begun. And I'm hoping beyond hope that when that time is up, I won't have to dive back into the mercurial and chaotic schedule of pet sitting.

If you like what I do here and want to see me do more of it, see fewer "jazz hands and guest posts" weeks, and more knock-it-out-of-the-park content like last week's Buy-Me-Lunch Answer About My Sexuality, I'm a guy with bills and rent just like you, and every bill I can pay with writing means a little less side-gigging I have to do. Those great articles take 20 hours or more from beginning to end.

Please consider becoming a Patreon. Monthly donations help me budget, even a dollar a month helps, and I set up one of my best rewards (the monthly newsletter) at only the $3 level because having a lot of lower-tier donors means that I'm not perpetually anxious of what will happen if an upper-tier donor has to pull the plug.

And if an ongoing donation doesn't work, you can always make a one-time donation here (or just click above on the "Conspicuously placed tip jar.") I can also do Venmo at chris.brecheen@gmail.com if that's more your jam.

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Buy-Me-Lunch Answer About My Sexuality

Let me tell you a story.

And before we get going, it's a story of who I might bang in the right kind of circumstances and even some of the (VERY EXPLICIT) logistics of said banging, so if either you're my mother or that's not the sort of thing you want to read, now's your chance to hit one of the clearly marked exits before the ride starts. After this, you just have to tuck and roll and hope that action movie physics will keep your injuries to a minimum.

No?

We're good?

Okay, here we go.


Last year I wrote The Buy Me Lunch Answer About My Gender, and even though I thought I was pretty well shoehorning a personal post into a commentary on labels and words, it turned out to resonate pretty hard. I had always sort of thought I would be doing this article SOME day, but the timing was decided for me when not too long ago, you will be shocked to find out that I ran across people being terrible on the Internet.

This is a similar story. It is a story about why I kind of grudgingly call myself a half a dozen vaguely descriptive terms, but would much rather have lunch with you (your treat because I'm pretty poor) and explain myself.


I don't like labels.

That might be weird to hear from a writer who deals in words, but I find it is actually ironically common. Maybe it's because writers ["and editors!" -Chris's editor] are the exact sort of people to understand the limitations of language. I'm not telling you that words don't have power. (I know far too well just how much power they have.) I'm telling you that when a signified concept has different signifiers for different people....well, a certain number of them start to act like wankel rotary engines.

If you've been online and discussed sexuality in the last ten years or so, you probably know there's a semantic....let's say dispute between hardline "pansexual" and hardline "bisexual" label enforcers. Most people are content to listen to the concerns the other has about a given label, understand the linguistic history of the LGBTQIA+ movement, respect the labels people choose for themselves (so long as they're not explicitly biphobic or transantagonistic), and honor others' identity. But some load up their No True Scotsman and False Equivalence fallacies and declare themselves the arbiters of What Words Mean™. Either by saying that "pansexual" is biphobic or that "bisexual" is transphobic.

It's just a whole lot of fingers in ears and lalalalala-ing.



I could spend a whole article spanking this kind of bullshit prescriptive dogma, its absolute lack of intellectual rigor, and the erasure damage caused by dismissing someone's identity. Folks out there stamping around, punching down, and not just letting everyone identify how they identify are behaving in what is a shocking echo to telling someone what ethnicity they REALLY are or what gender they REALLY are....since obviously they know better than the actual person.

And while I'm sure such an article would definitely do the trick, solve this issue, crack the case, probably end meanness online in general, and maybe even stop climate change, instead I just wanted to examine why, despite hating labels, I kind of grudgingly say "pansexual" as I hold out my flat hand and tilt its angle back and forth.

But what I really want is for you to buy me lunch.


Avoided label #1

I think I am probably on the "asexual" spectrum. Not very far. Not very far at ALL, but I'm there. I wouldn't have thought I was in a million years if I weren't regularly exposed to so much thought about sex and sexuality. I generally like sex, often like it A LOT, and I've had my share of multiple-times-a-day during a honeymoon period. But as I read people's experiences, the phrase that kept coming up for people on the mild end of the spectrum wasn't that they were repelled by sex or experienced no sexual interest or couldn't ever get aroused, but "I can take it or leave it."

Yes. That.

I have a great sex life...with myself. And part of the reason I wouldn't have pegged myself as "Ace" (hur hur "pegged myself") if I hadn't done a lot of reading about Ace experiences is because of just how frequently I have a great sex life with myself.

I mean really, REALLY good. I rock my world.

With other people, though? Eh. It varies? I'm not apathetic, but my desire is based on reciprocity. I'll be the first to admit that when my partners kind of just want to phone it in and get their rocks off, I'm usually perfectly happy to help them with that, but I'm probably going to be more "leave it" than "take it" with myself if they're not putting some effort into a seduction. I'm like a moon instead of a sun. I can be quite bright, but I'm not generating the light independently so much as reflecting what is sent my way. If my partners are not enthusiastic participants (which can mean distracted, uninterested, or preoccupied), approach sex like it is a banal working of body mechanics, or are just passive––by which I don't mean submissive, but more indifferent––my interest shrivels up.

Sorry about that visual.

I (often) will take care of my partner without wanting anything in return. I enjoy this but I could take it or leave it for me. Sometimes, though, this causes some "gender reverse" situations. I've had partners who I needed to slow the heck down (and some who didn't after I said so). I have had partners who didn't engage me in enough foreplay (both in ways that were abrupt and off-putting too early in an encounter but also in ways that didn't turn me on enough to get off). I have had partners get off but leave me wanting (sometimes literally rolling over to go to sleep while I contemplated satisfying myself). I have had partners use me without checking in. I've had partners focus on my orgasm like it's the only thing that mattered in what we were doing. I've had partners ask every few seconds if I was going to come. I've had partners take it personally and even get upset when I wasn't in the mood to have P.I.V. sex or wasn't in the headspace to have an orgasm. I've had partners be coercive about sex, whinging to the point where I simply did it because the fight we would have would be worse.

There's a reason I usually relate to women's accounts of disappointing sex much more than men's.

I think a lot of guys have stories of women who just thought they had to show up and be naked, or who were non responsive, and when I read them, it always seems like the guy didn't enjoy it much, but it also didn't exactly stop him. For me, there's a certain physiological response that makes just....um....plowing ahead (this shit writes itself sometimes) rather difficult. If I'm not into something*––and sometimes EVEN IF I AM––my physiological response tends to come and go. [Yes, I'm talking about an erection. Everyone do a synchronized clutch of your pearls.] So that lack of enthusiasm sometimes led to some pretty spectacular disasters in situations where my partner really did think that sex involved them being there and being pretty and what the hell is wrong with Chris that he just wants to go down on me again and call it a night?

I can take a lot of foreplay to warm up and even require some halftime coaxing to stay there.

(*I fucking swear I didn't even mean to do that one. It REALLY writes itself.)

It didn't take long to learn how empty, unfulfilling, and frustrating casual sex could be as a crapshoot with someone's willingness to work with my non-traditional sexual response. There are absolutely folks whose expectations of sex are utterly heteronormative––they expect to be drilled like an oil derrick for five minutes by a rock-hard penis just for showing up and stripping down. I've never been the guy who could make that happen. I get nervous, I get overheated, I get desensitized. I get too far into my own head. I want or need a break.

And the more heteronormative the expectations of "what sex is," the more of a letdown I tend to be. If I were the type to get a raging erection early and often, I might have been able to fake it through a few more of the encounters I had in my twenties, but I've never been that guy either. Sadly mine tends to come and go like the quirky neighbor in a sitcom. So once I'm clearly a letdown and focusing on that in my head, things tend to spiral downward pretty quickly.

Partners working with me often made for spectacular events worthy of the songs of scops, but partners who expected me to be a guy from a porno movie made for conversely events just as epically bad. I'd have rather been spending quality time with myself (if you know what I mean) or, hell, even reading a good book. Being pretty take it or leave it about partners I didn't know were going to be supportive, accepting, possibly patient, and with a willingness to explore ways to get me off that weren't the ol' in and out––or even just accept that it wasn't happening this time––has led me to mostly consider trust and intimacy high premiums...things it's awfully hard to find in someone you don't know.

Ironically, I've had some lovely Friends With Benefits relationships, where the sex was even better than some of the romantic ones because I wasn't too tangled up in my worries about rejection to just talk about exactly what I wanted and needed. I'm getting better about that, but it's been a long road.

If I'm not feeling safe and secure in a relationship (whether it's a friendship or a romantic one), my interest––and even my body mechanics––will betray me. I'm absolutely one of those people with whom the strength of the relationship can be gauged by what's going on with the sexual dynamics. So while I am attracted to attractive strangers, and I suppose that out there somewhere there might be a room key slipped into my pocket that I wouldn't simply ignore, most casual (or casualish) sex has been disappointing enough that I really want to know someone is going to bring something that will tip the scales from the fact that I could really take it or leave it.

Some people think this might put me on the "demisexual" spectrum too. I don't know. It seems like the ironic fact that the more sex is treated as PLAY rather than a solemn ritual laden with expectations, then the more I'm into it. Some people think that's the opposite of demi. Certainly I've never found sex and love to need to go hand in hand. I've had great sex without love. I've had great love without sex.

That's why you're buying me lunch instead of just getting a list of labels. This comment section is already going to be a trash fire of people insisting I am X or am not really Y.

Avoided label #2

If you're on my Facebook page or watch my personal updates closely, you probably have realized that I'm "non-monogamous." That means I have more than one relationship at a time and that I am open and honest about all of them with everyone else. Some of those relationships are deep and loving. Some are friends with benefits.

Twas not always so.

When I was a teenager, I was actually kind of the jealous type. I tried not to be, but I had a lot of cultural programming from a toxic culture about how people who love each other should act. (And, without going too far down the rabbit hole, usually my spidey senses were spot on, so I wasn't like indiscriminately jealous.) There's a lot to unpack about how I ended up married to the first person who expressed the slightest attraction to me (I was pretty messed up after a stint of being Muslim and feeling unlovable), but suffice to say that in my mid-twenties, I was married to a Mormon (and was technically Mormon myself for a hot minute), and another couple invited us to swing. While that didn't really ever work out like gangbusters (and there are whole stories here that I'm skimming over), the couple's check-out-all-this-dysfunction, bad-boy roommate convinced my spouse of this "polyamory" thing I'd never heard of, and I came home one day to find A) that I had been cheated on and B) an ultimatum about being polyamorous if I wanted to remain married.

Today I would take just the fact OF the ultimatum (regardless of any interest in the polyamory) and tell the person to get bent, but at the time I was a little ball of insecurities and.....well, whatever the opposite of boundaries is.

And the rest is history. I've been non-monogamous ever since. That relationship ended in the non-monogamous version of cheating (involving breaking of trust and agreements) a decade and a half ago, but the non-monogamy stuck. Mostly because I've always BEEN with someone who is polyamorous or engaged in some level of relationship anarchy. But I'm not like one of these people who says "If I weren't polya, I would just cheat." or "I feel hard-wired to be non-monogamous." If somehow, tomorrow, all my polyamorous relationships ended spectacularly and someone monogamous came along who was worth giving up threesome jokes totally real threesomes for, that would be great too.

I'm definitely not resentful (anymore) that I got coerced into being polyamorous.  I'm pretty good at it these days, to be honest! In the last fifteen years, I really haven't felt jealousy. I have felt some envy about people who have no end of success seducing everything that moves and hooking up threesomes, foursomes....thirty-sevensomes just by making a couple of phone calls, but I haven't felt jealous. I even spent a hot moment in therapy worried about whether that was a sign that I was keeping people out. (Very unlikely, given my other feelings.) My main thing is that agreements with partners––whether those agreements are monogamy or are that we send each other a text message if we're sleeping with someone else that night––are not one-sided.

There's certainly more to say about the agreements I'm willing and not willing to get into with partners (I don't like hierarchical relationship structures that can "veto" people further down the chain, for example––or in a monogamous relationship, the person better understand that I require a LOT of personal time and I am probably going to fall short if they expect me to be a source of direct engaged stimulation any time they're not at work or asleep), but this approaches the level of detail that only someone who were a partner would really require.

I found the term "ambiamorous" in an article a few months back and was delighted. ("Oh look. It me!") It means could be monogamous...or I could be polyamorous. It really depends on who I'm with and what they want. Perfect. Well, except for the fact that there is still a metric buttload of explanation required, and everyone does non-monogamy differently.

Hence the lunch.

Like really, really differently.
www.xeromag.com


Avoided Label #3

This is more of a quick rest stop before we get to the main event, but it's worth mentioning because it gets tangled up with attractions and affections.

It wouldn't have occurred to me until recently as I got further into the world of fluid labels and binary rejection, but many of my relationships with men, I would characterize as "romances." Non-sexual (at least all of them so far). But romances nonetheless. I wanted to spend time with them, made gestures, paid for things if they couldn't. In many cases they were as important or more so than my romantic or sexual relationships. Sometimes there were difficult fights and even, in some cases, breakups after a fashion. And I would be sick during our periods of estrangement. There weren't sexual dynamics, but "platonic" doesn't quite cut it and "bromance" is too chic and overused.

Of course more and more as time went on and I rejected the heteronormative assumptions I'd been raised with, I would consider what affection (beyond the hi/bye hugs) would look like with these men (usually quite pleasant). Eventually I'd even think about sex. Not that I was attracted to them necessarily, but with that trust and intimacy of friendship, if they wanted to "play" as sort of an extension of that deep friendship (or certainly if they wanted to have me join them playing with someone I was more conventionally attracted to), I probably would.

It would very likely be a case of wanting to make them happy and not being so much into anything myself, but I could see it happening.

Avoided label #4

I'm not sexually attracted to masculinity.

The more masculine someone is, the less I'm sexually attracted to them. This tends to go tenfold for those carrying around expressions of TOXIC masculinity.

I have friendships with masculine people, and sometimes I form platonic romances with those people (see above), and those could be possibly be sexual if the guy wanted it, but I'm not that into dudes. So MOST men don't do it for me.

As the slider moves towards androgyny and then femme, my attraction grows. High femme can make my head spin. I should say here that there are a lot of things that can attract me to someone other than their outward appearance (as I mentioned above), but that pure physiological response tracks.

Because of this, for many years, I simply called myself straight. My platonic romances could be written off as really good friendships (and they were), and none of those men had ever made a pass at me anyway, so that was moot. I just thought I had an active imagination and wasn't a homophobe. I was mostly attracted to women. Mostly NOT attracted to men.

Then one day––a couple of years ago––it sort of just OCCURRED to me that I was having an on-again-off-again sexual relationship with someone who is non-binary. They had a lot of femme presentation, but they were gender neutral. And that led me to consider that one of my partners identifies as a man. And I'm definitely attracted to other men (even if that attraction almost always exists because of some thread of femininity).

"I guess I'm not exactly straight," I thought.

This is the reason that if forced to choose a one-word label, I reach for "pansexual" instead of "bisexual." I'm still not that into cis-dudes or masculinity. MOSTLY I'm not into guys. I don't feel like "bi" REALLY applies because I feel like that suggests something is there that isn't. But people I have been sexual with (at this epiphany moment and since) have not all been women. Some have even been men. And I am sexually attracted to folks regardless of their gender. And my attraction ALSO happens regardless of people's plumbing (a few logistical alterations in what to do to make someone feel good doesn't really matter). So I'm definitely not straight. I shy from that "bisexual" label (personally, your mileage may very, you do you, your way right away at Burger King now) because my attraction, while perhaps growing more willing to play and experiment, hasn't really changed.

What changed is MY UNDERSTANDING OF GENDER


I don't like labels, but some seem to hit closer than others. Some people insist I'm "queer." (And I do use that word in some contexts when I don't feel the need to be at all precise.) Some say "bisexual." (But I have my reasons for why that seems a slightly less good fit FOR ME.) Some say "pan." (Look, maybe kinda, but I'm still going to ask you to buy me lunch because one word isn't going to cover it.)

I know I'm going to take heat for this article. I'll lose some of my religious followers. Maybe even a couple of friends from old jobs or high school. But I think those of us with the privilege and position to come out have GOT to be willing to talk about this stuff. To explore the complexities and the rainbow of human expression beyond labels. To understand that the full array of human variation absolutely applies to one of our most common behaviors. But also just to talk about it AT ALL. The heteronormative world that seeks to push everything into one of two or three columns ("and please shut up about it if you're in column 2 or 3"), and they complain bitterly that anything beyond that is "too complicated." Usually after memorizing all the Pokemon. I'd hate to see double plus ungood linguistic minimalism be allowed to define us when there's a whole world of lunches out there with which to extrapolate on as blunt an instrument as a label. And absolutely they can't be allowed to silence this discussion in a broader sense.

And when it comes to self-identities as complex as gender and sexuality, it is 31 flavors of obnoxious, elitist, gatekeepery, and shitty to dictate to entire groups of people how they ought to identify, to presume their (group) ignorance of any discourse, to "No True Scotsman" the label you insist they REALLY have while arbitrating that language only ever changes in the way you proclaim it to have changed (thus the label you deem the One True Label™ cannot possibly be tainted in any mind), and proclaiming that anyone who fails to immediately fall in line with their suggestion is a bigot.

....rather than simply take the two goddamned minutes to ask someone why they picked that label and listen with a little good faith understanding.

Also, in my case, buy me lunch.

[If you would like to actually buy me lunch, feel welcome to drop a couple of bucks into the tip jar.]