Monday, July 21, 2014

Going Dark

I am going dark for a bit on social media.
“No!” you gasp, gasping for more gasps, “why, the horror?”
Because the world doesn’t deserve any more sentences as bad as that one. Among other things. I’ve got a project I’d really like to finish. I needta update my Clarion West Write-A-Thon goals to reflect completion of this project, a space opera, rather than the historical novel I was working on, which I’m setting aside to percolate for a bit.
So I’m taking a week off, and hoping just to write through the week.
Wish me luck, and chocolate.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

What It Means To Give A Platform to Hate Speech

So, I'm a writer, yes, (with a story forthcoming in F&SF!) and I've finally achieved some measure of "success," as we gauge such things. I publish short stories. Some of them are reprinted or podcast. I hang out with a lot of people in this field and enjoy their company and their respect.

I'm not a fan of self-publishing or nontraditional approaches. It works for some people, but I want my work to be a part of the professional sf field as much as I want an audience.

At least I did until this weekend.

Vox Day, the neo-Nazi who was removed from SFWA for hate speech, has been nominated for a Hugo. This is due, at least in part, to conservative blogger and writer Larry Correia's recommendation.

Correia's confrontational and dismissive of his opponents. I don't like his politics or his tone. But he's absolutely right that there's no "ballot stuffing" in the Hugos. People widely campaign to win these popularity contests. I thought Lev Grossman was a poor choice for the Campbell in 2011, when a writer as original and refreshing as Saladin Ahmed was on the bill. For that matter, Correia was too. But Grossman, who made the transfer to sf from a long career in mainstream fiction, just plain had more friends. That's how the award works.

So Larry has a platform. He promotes work that he thinks needs exposure in the Hugos, and wants a greater voice for conservatives in the mostly-liberal organization. Some of his recommendations are right-on. Toni Weisskopf at Baen is overdue for a nomination as long-form editor, whether you like Baen's quirks or hate them. Don't mistake this, though, as simply a promotion of work based entirely on quality. Larry is promoting a slate of work that reflects conservative and conservative-friendly work.

He can do what he wants. But he sure isn't doing his field, his people, or his allies any favors. When Larry recommended Vox Day, he included the works of a known eugenicist, spreader of hate speech and misogynist. I'm not going to repeat Day's disgusting words--Bleeding Cool repeats plenty of them above.

And the simple face is that if Larry had respect for his community, he would have drawn the line at including Day. He would promote genuine dialogue between liberals and conservatives, not liberals and neo-Nazis.

Instead, it's probably more important to him that he irk John Scalzi, who drummed Day out of SFWA for his hate speech, and is well-known as a liberal. And this under the pretension that this is about "quality of story."

Let's wake up. It's 2014. Realpolitik, people. No one votes by quality of work in a vacuum. We've all read our friends' stories first. I'd like to see more Native American writers represented in sf, by hell, because I work on a reservation, and I think Native voices are an important part of the most imaginative of fiction genres. It would be stupid for me to pretend otherwise. I will read everything I can and vote for the best work, but no human being is without bias entirely.
We are a community. We need to think about who we are giving a platform to by supporting their work. What happens when a scumbag like Day is given a platform, and given support by, a majority of people in this community?

This community is built on the beauty of the imagination. Everyone has a right to imagine the future, to imagine faraway lands, and everyone can access the beauty of the imagination. Day's platform and Correia and his fans' support for Day says that certain imaginations are not welcome.

(Triggers coming up)
Day is recycling and prettifying every abusive man's "stupid cunt" and "fucking bitch" toward women. And many women who look at the sf field will see it as just another domain of abusive men and those who support them. They will take their voices and their imagination elsewhere

Day is recycling and prettifying every racist's "dumb Indian" and "black thug." And many Native Americans and African-Americans who look at the sf field will see it as just another organization that gives racism a voice. They will take their voices and their imagination elsewhere.

Correia doesn't seem to get that just because he can recommend Day and he can rub John Scalzi's face in it, he has a responsibility to his community not to. He hasn't stopped to think that maybe, if more conservative voices need exposure, he shouldn't alienate minority and women's voices in the process. Because he's characterized his opponents as whiny liberal wusses, he's not going to bother to engage, he's just going to provoke the blanket opposition.
Just because you have civil rights, doesn't mean you negate your civil responsibilities.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

My NorWesCon schedule

I'm sorry for neglecting you, blog! I will show you some love. For now, my Norwescon schedule:

Fantasy in Comics
Fri 1PM - 2PM Cascade 5
Comics have great potential for fantasy as a visual medium. Fantasy comics range from traditional fantasy like Prince Valiant to the more unique Bone, and reinterpretations like Fables and Conan. Here's a look at some of the great work that has been done and what's being published currently, from comics to graphic novels, and how fantasy comics have evolved over time. 
Jeff Grubb (M), Clinton J. Boomer, Spencer Ellsworth, Duane Wilkins

Comics and Cultural Appropriation 
Fri 3-4 PM Cascade 5
How accurate are comics are portraying different cultures? Does the medium limit or enhance an artist's or writer's ability to genuinely show other races and cultures? Our panelists will discuss how comics such as Habibi and Scalped represent other cultures and how comics can pay homage to other cultures without marginalizing them. 
Dennis R. Upkins (M), Clinton J. Boomer, Spencer Ellsworth, G. Willow Wilson

Lies My Writing Teacher Told Me
Fri 5-6 PM Cascade 2
Much of what we think we know about publishing is wrong--or rather, it's not true anymore. This panel aims to dispel common myths and radically update everyone's understanding of etiquette, norms, and plausible paths to success in this fast-changing industry. 
Dean Wells (M), Susan DeFreitas, Spencer Ellsworth, Diana Pharaoh Francis

The New Big Two
Fri 6-7 Cascade 2
How has DC's treatment of creators affected their business and fans? What does Disney have in store for Marvel comics? Hear our panelists discuss upcoming news on the biggest publishers in American comics. 
Ashley Cook (M), Spencer Ellsworth

Comics for Young Adults and Teens
Sat 11-12 AM/PM Cascade 6
Our panelists will discuss a range of comics that are age-appropriate for a younger audience, including graphic novels like Bone as well as popular titles like Adventure Time. 
Spencer Ellsworth (M), Lola Watson, G. Willow Wilson

Reading: Spencer Ellsworth
Sat 7 PM- 7:30 PM Cascade 1
Something new! Rated PG
Spencer Ellsworth

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Massage Your Sore Butt, Last Year

I kicked 2013's bootie.

Hence the title of this blog post.

It was a stunningly productive year and one full of huge changes.

Most importantly, this thing happened:

I have three kids now instead of just two. This is in an interesting development. It means that there is no more "you deal with that one, I'll deal with this one." If our kids are split into two categories, the categories are Baby and Not-Baby.

My three-year-old and six-year-old are cute, but when they bawl I want to tell them to fix their own damn problems. When the baby cries she sticks her lip out and big baby tears appear and she must be held and lovie loved. This is the main difference.

The baby's name is Brigitta, although I call her Betty after my grandmother, who always hated the idea of Betty being a proper name and not just a nickname. All solved.

Also, this year...

- I sold two stories.
- I wrote a novel! From start to finish. I began it in March, desperately writing fifteen minutes a day. It's a total piece of crap. But it has a beginning, middle, end.
- I recorded and mixed and released Pawnbroker's new album. BUY IT IT'S REALLY GOOD. Seriously. We dumped our brains and sexies into it.
- I bought a house! This was a big first for us. We've been saving in order to buy inside Bellingham city limits (can't do zero down in any liveable places around here). We had a great realtor, a former builder, who was also an old friend. It was a massive financial juggle with only one huge expensive last-minute extra issue. We just got in before Christmas. Wowee.
- I actually lost a little weight. I've been about ten pounds up from comfortable for years, and I am now back at comfortable.
- I determined that I wanted to change Primary Job, and have begun the transition...
- I quit writing for IGMS, and started writing for Bleeding Cool.

There were more things. My only disappointment was in the lack of publication, but most of that is due to lack of submission. A Hugo or Nebula wouldn't hurt.

By far the greatest side effect of this list, besides the cute baby squees, is this: writing feels fun again. For the last few years I've had to shackle myself to my desk. This year I looked forward to just about everything I sat down to do.

I am not sure why. I came out of a long depression that began in 2011, for one. I was teaching so much (and really enjoying it) that I got the reverse of teacher burnout; I had to write to process everything I was doing.

Now, I would like to point to this as a model productivity year. All year long I worked a full-time and a part-time job and I was a full-time parent (that includes time spent behind a locked door, pretending I wasn't there, btw). I am fairly amazed that I got all this sheeeeyit done.

If I do, though, I'm afraid I'll hate myself as soon as I hit a lower period. So rather than making this year the standard, I shall call it Extreme High Tide and hope the tide is high enough that I can get some more stories out the door soon.

That is why I follow my longstanding practice of NO DAMN RESOLUTIONS. I hate those things.

How about you? How was your year, and how is your relationship with Productivity getting on?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Spirit Summoner Cover Reveal!

Hey everyone

A shout out to my buddy Matt Campbell. His book drops December 3rd! Matt and I have been in a writing group for years, although he's not very good about attending. (Angry look).

Book One of The Chosen of the Light Series
Spirit Summoner
By Matt Campbell
Coming December 3, 2013 
Darr has the ability to hear the disembodied voices of the spirits. Unfortunately, the spirits have nothing useful to say. A young, inexperienced Spirit Summoner, Darr often wonders at the purpose of such a useless ability. When an unnatural fire sweeps through his village, Darr sets out on a mission of self-discovery and curiosity.
As a Spirit Summoner, Darr learns he can enter the spirit realm. There he has access to the elemental magic contained within the Sephirs, legendary artifacts that once promised balance for a world turning towards chaos. Now, the Sephirs’ powers are dwindling since their untimely disappearance, and Darr is at the center of the quest to find and recover them. Suddenly, Darr’s curiosity is a whirlpool threatening to drown him, but his compulsion to see things through locks him into a journey attracted to disaster.
For the Sephirs do more than restrain the primal forces of magic. The Devoid, an evil long caged and hungry, has begun to loosen the bars of its prison. If the Sephirs fail, the Devoid will escape and feed on the Light of the living until nothing remains.
And the Devoid knows Darr’s lack of confidence is the key needed to free itself completely.
Pre-order now from Wild Child Publishing!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Getting In/Staying Out

Do you know the Penny Arcade Dickwolves thing?

If you don't, this is the general idea. And this is Mike Krahulik's recent apology. And you can find the original strip in there somewhere. Links upon links upon links!

For the record, I don't go to PAX. I do read Penny Arcade. I love the comic's absolute lack of decorum. I have to admit I chuckled at the dickwolves joke. It was so bizarre and over-the-top. As I read it, I realized it could be offensive to rape victims. I didn't think that was the intent, but I was interested to see what conversation would come of any backlash.

Once that backlash arrived, the PA guys reacted in an utterly stupid, immature, disingenuous way. I think they've finally realized that.

And I know why. I've been accused of rape humor when I really meant something else entirely. Not just using it in an over-the-top way like Penny Arcade did--in this case I meant something completely different. When someone took my humor as a rape joke, I immediately sprang to my own defense, and painted myself as a victim, and said "how could you think that of me..."

I should have just said, "Oh, I didn't mean it that way. I'm sorry to have hurt you or brought up bad feelings. Please forgive me." That easy.

But hey, it was a nice awakening, and I was embarrassed, and I started to become aware of rape culture and all the subtle cues I had absorbed growing up about rape. I don't get to decide what should and shouldn't be a trigger. So I thank my friend for working with me (and still being my friend) on the whole thing.

Point being, the conversation is less about whether or not Krahulik was being an idiot, and more about PAX itself, and whether the gaming convention fosters rape culture and culture hostile to women. Would you be better off quitting PAX in protest? Or should you stay, trying to use your influence to change the organization from within? This is much like another conversation I am very familiar with. It has to do with a large institution, staffed by committed volunteers, and driven by deep passion for the material. (Not SFWA, but that applies here too.) This institution is rife with problems, deep-seated in rape culture and homophobic culture, and yet it has great potential.

The Mormon Church.

I'm what author Samuel Woolley Taylor called an "eating Mormon"--I'll go to events where food is served, but you'll have a hard time catching me in church. I don't get a lot out of the services themselves. I've been to congregations where I really enjoyed the services, because we talked about the things that interested me--feminism, LDS history, the Church's tendency to rewrite said history to "safer" versions.

Around here, at least in church, people stick to the safe stuff. I get bored.

The Internet has opened up a lot more dialogue than Mormons used to tolerate. So while many LDS people I know glommed on to the deep-in-rape-culture post FYI: If You're A Teenage Girl, this satirical rebuttal was written by a Mormon mother. Since Proposition 8, the gay-rights-Mormon minority has been more and more vocal.

But the LDS Church fosters an unhealthy (in my humble opinion) near-worship of their leaders, so that few people are willing to talk about issues in the Church for fear of undermining the Brethren and going against the general grain. This is why many moderate Mormons supported Prop 8 in California, and thirty years ago, opposed the Equal Rights Amendment. Because the leaders said so. Only liberal Mormons seem to have a problem with, for instance, "The Tolerance Trap." The leaders are supposed to be modern-day prophets, so while they are not infallible, you'd have a hard time figuring out where that "not" begins with orthodox Mormons.

If you're interested in the ex-mormon/liberal, doubting Mormon point of view, the Mormon Expression podcast gives a lot of good overviews. (If you want to know the orthodox LDS viewpoint, just find the guys on their bikes.)

My wife attends every Sunday although, like me, she is bored a lot, and sometimes offended. Unlike me, though, she believes that she can change things. She may be right. She works with teenage girls, and has determined to create a sex-positive, inclusive, tolerant (gasp!) curriculum. This is great, considering that most Mormon girls grow up with damaging messages about sex. For instance, the leaders in my congregation in the 90s would lick the frosting off a cupcake, ask if any girls in the audience wanted it, and then explain that the cupcake symbolized a girl robbed of her "virtue." I'm not alone. A particularly choice verse in the Book of Mormon describes extramarital sex as "the sin near unto murder." I knew missionaries who spent their two years in deep, crippling depression and anxiety because they could not stop masturbating. Some tried to commit suicide. A good leader can intervene before these attitudes develop.

Mormonism offers a rich history and a profound set of opportunities to serve. Even from a pessimistic point of view, that church ain't going NOWHERE. It's huge, it's rich, it converts at a rapid rate.

Returning (finally) to PAX, a volunteer, blogger or participant has a certain sphere of influence within their organization. So... stay in or get out?

In any organization that fits this strained comparison, it might be helpful to ask yourself a few questions:

1- What do I get out of this organization? Is it fulfilling for me?
2- Am I in a position to mitigate damage that might come from leaders, other members? Am I willing to speak up and isolate myself when these messages are shared?
3- Am I willing to choose my battles?
4- If I leave and criticize the organization from the outside, will my criticism be more effective than my presence would be on the inside?

There are other questions but this blog post is turning into a book. Which reminds me. I read books. Next time I post, it will be a nice simple book review. Amen!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The State of the Rock

I have debated whether to post this. What the heck.

You've got friends who are in bands, who put on comedy shows, or who put on a local circus. If you don't, I feel bad for you, son.

Those friends send you even invites every time they perform. You RSVP to some. Sometimes you go. Often you forget, or you RSVP to some and then the night rolls around and you can't do it. I was just there. I had RSVPed to an event Monday night, and by the time I got the kids in bed, the event was half over, and I had to be up at 6:30 for the first day of school, so I flaked. Yep, it happens.

Thing is, those clubs that host the shows? Unless you live in a one-bar town with nowhere else to go, they expect said bands and comedians and performers to bring the audience.

My band, eh, well, we are liked. Many a compliment do we receive, and our CD sells well online, and we can usually book on the strength of our recordings. But our audience? Our turnout? Not so much. We just played at a great venue. The other bands liked us, the patrons liked us, and the bar staff liked us. But we won't get invited back.

We didn't smash a urinal or fight the bar staff. No, all our friends, all 70 that we invited, failed to show. We brought three family members, two of whom got in on the guest list. The bar didn't break even for the night.

We will never play there again. 

We've puzzled three hours, till our puzzler was sore. Perhaps we rely too much on friends. Perhaps we're not reaching the right group of fans. Perhaps we need to pursue different venues.

Or perhaps this situation sucks.

First question out of any bar owner's mouth is not "What does the music sound like?" It's "can you bring a crowd?" Well, bar owner, let me ask you this. When you can watch two hours of live footage from your favorite bands online, when Netflix is calling and you've got millions of songs on Spotify, do you always go support your favorite local bands?

I'm sure you did when you were 19 and life was all about punk shows. Or maybe you're one of those lucky popular folks who never lacks for followers. For the rest of us, it's a real gamble. We've played with one of the biggest bands in the Seattle/Bellingham area, Keaton Collective,and not only did our audience failed to show, theirs did too. They have over one thousand likes on Facebook, they get played on KEXP, and there were maybe three people in the audience that night.

We love what we do. And we want to share it with you. Every show we play is a privilege and a reward and the product of thousands and thousands of hours of hard work. It's NOT for us. We want to play you a kind of music you do not hear everywhere.We busted our brains and hammered out songs and put in week after week of practice in our drummer's basement to make something UNIQUE. Oh, and we sank tons of our money into instruments and recording gear.

That goes for any performance your friends put on. It is the result of more sweat and strain and practice than you know.

If you don't show, the bar owner notices that this band/comedian/fire-eater doesn't bring a crowd, and won't give them another chance, and eventually they stop booking shows, and "eventually I'll see them" turns into "dang, I wish I had seen them when they were still gigging."