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."

Monday, August 19, 2013

What I Learned From This Album

My band Pawnbroker recently finished the recording process for our second album. One song is up in the "Band Profile" section of the Facebook page as a preview. Buy the first album here.

Stay tuned for when it drops! Things I learned:

- My singer lives in the same house where Death Cab For Cutie lived in the 1990s. I know this because my friend Chris also lived there. When Chris moved in, a quick search of the attic yielded the detritus of Death Cab's "side gig"--clippings, fertilizer, reflective sheets and various other weed-growing paraphernalia.

- It's cool to look at my Shure SM7B and be like "I OWN THAT."

This is a bar mitzvah for musicians. I finally own a nice vocal mic!

- It's not that cool that it weirds out the pitch correction function in Logic Express. Our singer Nicole doesn't need pitch correction, but I'm not so good with the whole staying in key thing...

- Don't try to record an album and have a baby within a few months of each other.

- Unless you magically can live without sleep.

- I need like, five more guitars to be happy.

- I still don't know how to describe our music. "We want to put the 60s and the 90s together" is my best. Someone smart said, "sweet driving in the rain music."

- HEY! Readers! If you can come up with a better description in the comments, I'll send you a prize! (What's that? The prize that you want is for me to stop spamming you with my band stuff? Okay, wiseguy...)

- One can put songs together just through the process of recording. Two of the tracks did not so much have endings or arrangements. We kind of invented said arrangements, in our drummer's basement, during the recording sessions. Yeah! It's like free-form funk inspiration. Or possibly like the part on Spinal Tap where they decide to become an acid-jazz band.

- "Like the part on Spinal Tap where they decide to become an acid-jazz band" is not quite a good description of our music.

- For the last album, a lot of the material had been in heavy rotation for years, through the last two projects Nathan and I were involved in. For this album, we wanted to root our music in the current lineup, reflecting everything that is happenign now. We came up with six new songs and rerecorded one that we put on the first album. All seven of the songs on this album come from the current incarnation of Pawnbroker and from the gigging and writing and fun-having of the last year. I'm very excited to give birth to this thing.

- I wish I had money for another five guitars.

- I can't deny it any more. I need to lose some weight. There has definitely been more of me in the last year of band photos. On the world tour, when I tear my shirt off, I don't want everyone to be horrified.

- I like my bandmates. Speaking as the guy who sometimes creates the drama, this band has a low level of drama. Also, we actually hang out. Nicole and I babysit for each other, and our drummer Scott did my taxes. Who knew that drummers could do stuff like that?

Enjoy the music!

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Great Never-Wrote

Writing Week! Subject to change, this blog now has a different subject each week, in an attempt to get some of my many many ideas out of this head.

It will go thus: Writing Week, Music Week, Food/Fitness Week and Teaching/Parenting Week.

This week, I discuss the Great Never-Wrote.

So who's your Great Never-Had, people?

If you haven't hear the term, the Great Never-Had is your hopeless crush, or a relationship ended before its time, or a relationship that died before it started.

My great Never-Had was an artist, a vegetarian, and a redhead. I tried to date her all through my junior year of high school and failed. When senior year started, she serendipitously reciprocated. A few blissful months later, my Spider-Sense told me she was not that interested in me and was about to break up with me any minute.

Disclaimer: my Spider-Sense sounds exactly like typical adolescent neurosis.

So I dumped her, then went right back to pining after her. She, rightly, surmised that I had broken her heart once and I was a farking mess.

She got over me. I piiiiiiiiined.

We lost contact for a while, then became friends again in college. At this point, she ate meat, gave up painting, joined the Army, and went brunette. I had a lot of fun with her, but I never dated her college incarnation. Yet if her high school incarnation showed up to my 22-year-old self's door and said she'd take me back... damn the age gap, damn the time travel, I would have done it.

You understand, people.

In writing terms, she has a cousin in the Great Never-Wrote. More accurately, the Great Wrote-But-Never-Got-Right. It's that novel or story that you pour your soooooooul into, cram all your ideas into, rewrite and rewrite and give to everyone to critique and then... send it out and no one even wants to look at it. Or you realize that you learned a lot, but the ambition of the project has contributed to its downfall. It's too big and unwieldy. The plot hinges on an event that just does not work. The story is an allegory for your faith, but you became an atheist. The love interest is based on your great Never-Had and you don't want her to recognize herself because now you're Facebook friends (that's a stupid reason not to write something, btw).

My Great Never-Wrote sits, unfinished, in the middle of it's fourth full rewrite. That's not revision. That is Re-Write, from scratch, starting with a blank page.

It started as a novel called Blood Earth, which I wrote in 2004. For this novel, I took the four or so fantasy ideas I had and threw them all together into a blender. The result was cool. Part epic fantasy, part portal fantasy, part doomed messiah, part religious war.

So by 2005 it was ready for submission, and I put together some subs and sent it out and... THUD.

That was a good year for form rejections. I hope you bought stock in stationary in 2005.

In 2007, I noodled around with a new version of the book. Although it had seemed perfect when I submitted it in 2005, by 2007 I knew where the problems were in the structure. I decided to try rewriting it. What could it hurt?

The original version had been set in a nondescript fantasy world. I made the whole thing more like the Crusades, my favorite historical clusterf***, and my elevator pitch became "it's the Crusades, if the Muslims were telepaths and the Christians were shape-shifters."

Version 2.0 was a mess, but a good one. I changed a lot, let it breathe, added characters, tried four titles and finally closed it out at 220,000 words. That's over one thousand manuscript pages. I whittled it down to 180,000 and gave it to my writing group to read. We were all in agreement that it was...

...still a mess.

I decided cut away some of the characters to simplify things. Instead of six viewpoint characters, we went down to four. I got kind of far in that version, but couldn't deal with the issues I had now created for the ending, because so many crucial characters had been cut.

I was tired. It was now 2010. The title of the work was now "The Betrayer's Song." I referred to it as The BS.

In late 2010, I attended Viable Paradise, a one-week science fiction writing workshop on Martha's Vineyard. At VP, I had a VISION.

I knew how to fix the Great Never-Wrote. I got home and finished NaNoWriMo 2010 in two weeks. I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote and burned out at 82,000 words, with about 60,000 words left to go. Stuck, I gave that version to a friend who said "Your first chapter really needs to be a novel of its own. This is great but it's Book Two." And, while this is dangerous advice to heed, I thought he was right. The advice clicked. So throughout 2011 and 2012 I wrote 110,000 words on the first-chapter-into-a-whole-novel version... and burned out with only 20 or 30 thousand words to go.

In the words of Tolkien, "Foresight had failed and there was no time for thought." Less profound: I have such a huge pile of The BS, and nothing to do with it.

This year, I started working on an entirely different project, although I'm recycling some of the stuff I threw away in early drafts of The BS.

I think about it often. Specifically, I think about the fun I had writing it way back in 2004 when I didn't know what I was doing. Or the joy of that late-night idea session at VP. My critique group's feedback on the second version. And the most recent version, for which I have notes and fix attempts from just a few months ago.

Occasionally I pine. But I don't pine for what I have now. What I have now is a huge mess. I pine for all the times I thought it was working, and I knew exactly what to do with it.

(However, I did cull a number of flashback sequences and publish them as the story "The Death of Roach." In case you want to know what the world looks like.)

How about you? What's your Great Never-Wrote?

(Although this is so 2006, I still believe in the virtues of a good comment left on the blog page, in the blog's format. So leave one if you have an answer. I


In Which I Am Not Dead!

I haven't written much since the baby was born. Because how can you write with this cuteness around? THE CUTENESS MUST BE HEEDED!

Buuuut, I went to the Cascade Writers workshop/JayWake the weekend of the 26th and I got myself all fired up. [Then I went to a wedding and forgot about this blog post. Bear with me.]

If you do not know of this workshop, you should. Karen, the grand poobah of the workshop, runs A Classy Joint. Crit groups roll with with published novelists and their New York editors and agents. Your tuition includes one-on-one time both with your group leaders and said agents.

When I arrived, I felt down. I've been going to this workshop since 2008, with one small break for 2010. Nothing much had changed about my situation this year from when I attended in 2012. In 2012, I was mired in the pits of an unfinished novel. Now I've given up on that one and I... am mired in another unfinished novel. Since last year, I published one story at non-pro rates, and then pulled it for a contract dispute.

Ask any writer, and you will find that there is a wall they want to leap ('step to take' doesn't describe the effort involved). For a long time, that wall is Publication, Oh, Please, God, Any Publication. Then there's where I am, More Respectable Publication. In SF, that means pro-rate pay of 5 cents a word US or more. I need one more pro sale to qualify for SFWA membership. Nice reviews and award nominations wouldn't hurt.

All writers have their wall, whether it's Sell New Novel Series or Avoid Internet Feuds. George R.R. Martin's is "Finish This Book In Less Than Six Years." JK Rowling's wall is "Keep The Next Pseudonym Secret REALLY REALLY JOANNE F.F.S."

I've been at More Respectable Publication for a long time. Since 2011. Not coincidentally, all through 2012 I had 2+ kids and 2+ jobs.

So I got to the workshop, collapsed on my hotel bed, and thought, "I should have stayed home. I'm not getting anywhere." Then I slapped myself for being a self-pitying dork and got up to prepare my presentations and critiques. Cue "Gonna Fly Now."

My first presentation was What Agents Want with Cameron, where I dragged out the part of my brain that, a long time ago, worked for a literary agency. I gave the usual shpiel, which I will repeat here for you: agents want to pay the rent. Give the agent a reason why people will buy the book.

Also useful: While your agent is shopping around your manuscript, write like crazy, blog like crazy, and generally put yourself out there. It's the writing version of Dan Savage's maxim "don't complain that no one wants to have sex with you; go make yourself into the kind of person people want to have sex with."

After What Agents Want, the good folk of the workshop gathered around and practiced pitching their novels. I critiqued every form of pitch, from elevator pitches, query letters, and rambling explanations of what the audience members' books were about. There is some serious talent out there, people. I heard about a lot of really excellent novels.

Pitch practice this year went a lot better than it did last year. I held a pitch practice session last year in which I tried, off the cuff, to pitch my complete novel The Great Faerie Strike.

The 2012 pitch was terrible. I couldn't pitch my own novel!

This year I stayed away from such things and just went with other people's pitches. We will come back to that abortive session last year, though. This year was a success, partially due to the fact that I didn't make a horrible example of myself.

Then, I got to explore the joy of grammar with Your Sentences Suck. This was an interesting presentation. Call me a weirdo, but there is no possible way I can squeeze my love of sentence structure into fifty minutes.

I started out by talking about structure, and the eyes, they did glaze over. BUT. IT'S IMPORTANT. You, dear reader, need to understand the difference between interrogative, simple, and cumulative sentences. I would have liked to spend more time on subjects, verbs and objects, because they trip everyone up. As it was, I moved on, in order to avoid said glazing over

I got to the good stuff, though. Partially thanks to Randy's handy handout. (I am not so much with the organization, so I got a guy to keep me in line.)

A sentence, like a prostitute masquerading as an FBI plant masquerading as a prostitute, offers many levels of proposition. A sentence like "Invisible God created a visible world" proposes all sorts of meanings. Oftentimes we aren't aware of everything we propose in a sentence, or For more, check out the Great Courses course by Brooks Landon.

Chrissy and the kids came down for JayWake on Saturday night. Much has been blogged regarding JayWake. I enjoyed it and was glad to show Jay our support. I even served as a pallbearer (for Jay's live body in a prop coffin). Quite unique and bittersweet. Despite best efforts, I cried. Lots of other people did too. We'll miss you, Jay. Don't leave yet.

On Day The Last, Cameron (and later Claire, the Tor editor present) asked me what I was working on. I brought up The Great Faerie Strike. Now, since last year, I've revised that novel and readied it for publication. Aaaand, I've worked on my pitch. Apparently I've done well, because both of them liked the pitch, and asked to see the book.

Pitches aren't much in the writing business, because they require a subset of skills that are only part of good writing. HOWEVER. I left knowing that I had improved since last year. The pitch that flubbed last year had been refined, purified, made goodenough.

And, I realized, I had submitted a novel for the first time since 2005.

Whether or not anyone takes the novel, that's definitely an important step in the work out to jump the wall.

How about you, dear readers? What's your wall and what are you doing to leap it? If any of you are secretly JK Rowling, you are exempt from leaving comments.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Why I'm Not Seeing Ender's Game (It's Not Quite What You Think)

Hello everyone! Remember back when you were 11 and you read Ender's Game, and it blew your mind because you somehow didn't see the twist coming, and you would have killed a baby goat to see a movie of it?

Yeah, that was me.

I was the archetypal audience for the book. A gifted child--and didn't I know it, as part of a gifted program at school and alienated by my terrible lack of ability at sports--and a bookish one, and one who had one older sibling who, if I squinted, could seem tyrannical, and a similarly sympathetic younger sister. This was a book about ME. More or less. Minus the part where I got recruited for war.

It's a refrain Card was to take up. His introduction to the "Author's Definitive Edition" ten years later talked about how the book stirred the hearts of alienated, "gifted" kids everywhere.

Also, it's a book about videogames. About strategy, with strategic decisions that put the Hunger Games to shame. (The enemy's gate is down!) Looking back, I liked the book for many of the same reasons I liked the more juvenile Redwall. Redwall is also about a young, gifted but isolated individual who has to reason through a series of puzzles in order to fulfill his destiny, although the Abbott never tricked Matthias into committing genocide.

In the last few years, Orson Scott Card's politics have seemed entirely out of step with his sympathy for the unloved and alienated. This article from Salon makes for some interesting speculation, but ultimately we can just presume that the guy, like all people, is a crazy mess of contradictions.

But let's talk about the book. And about the absolutely spec-fraking-tacular trailer that dropped a few weeks ago. Oh man, my 11-year-old self did backflips inside. I promptly went online to share my joy--and quite rightly, got questioned.

After all, if you scroll down this blog three mere posts, you will read my public repudiation of Card. I don't want anything to do with the guy, although I bear him no personal ill will; it's his political activism I find repugnant.

Truth: I can lapse enough to see one movie. It's one thing to not want your name to appear in print as a representative of him; it's less (or so I thought) of a moral compromise to pay nine dollars to partake in a piece of entertainment made by a huge group of people including Card. I don't like that he's involved. I don't like his politics. But I'm human. I want to see the damn movie more than I want to make a statement by withholding nine dollars.

Until I realized something else. And in that realization, it all unraveled.

Ben Kingsley is a British actor of Indian descent. In the film, he's cast as Mazer Rackham, a character of Maori descent. He wears a set of Maori facial tattoos.

I don't know much about Maori facial tattoos. I work on an Indian reservation (or Native American or First Nations--the truth is that most of my students and fellow faculty still use the term "Indian") and I know a lot about indigenous issues.

None of my students like Pocahontas, Dances With Wolves, or Last of the Mohicans (except for the fact, which we all will admit, that the last has stunning music). None of them want to see a white person adopted by Indians saving the day. They roll their eyes and groan at the casting of Taylor Lautner as a Northwest Coast Native, and then his silly ad hoc rationalization that he's got a tiny bit of Native blood in him somewhere. They've all heard the old chestnut "My great-grandmother was a Cherokee princess!" (Proper response: "You too? That Cherokee princess sure got around.")

They do like movies like Thunderheart, where the complication of Native ancestry is acknowledged and explored, and modern Natives, with the modern rez issues, get screen time instead of their romanticized ancestors. They want to see their race portrayed as normal modern human beings who still hold onto their unique culture, by Native actors, or in the case of Val Kilmer, actors whose parts acknowledge their Native ancestry without laying claim to tribal identity.

A quick Google search of "Maori facial tattoos meaning" produces this:

Ta moko - traditional Māori tattooing, often on the face - is ataonga (treasure) to Māori for which the purpose and applications are sacred.

I don't know what justification the producers of Ender's Game can offer, but I can't imagine a justification that would explain to me why an actor whose qualification is "more or less brown" gets to wear tattoos specific to one people's sacred traditions. In a multimillion dollar movie. Because why? It seems to be solely to show how Mazer Rackham is a badass.

The tattoos were never described in the book, IIRC. Card is famous for not describing how people look, but you'd think he would mention facial tattoos!

Can't give up the tattoos, Summit Entertainment? Then find a Maori actor who is rooted in the culture and language and people of New Zealand. There's no shortage of Maori actors on those islands!

This points to a much greater problem. This problem encompasses Card's politics, Hollywood's lack of respect for indigenous people, and really, all the things I didn't see in Ender's Game when I was eleven.

John Kessel has it right in his provocative essay, "Creating The Innocent Killer." Ender's Game skirts responsibility, because it assumes that Ender's motivations carry the morality of the day. Ender kills two boys in cold blood because he wants to win. Each murder, of Bonzo and Stilson, is astonishingly sympathetic.

I imagine that the desire to pay service to the story is, to the minds of the Hollywood elite painting Maori traditions on an Englishman's face, a noble justification on its own.

In the novel, nothing is really Ender's fault. He's being used, because he is so talented and so alienated, in order to create the perfect weapon. This resonated with me because I felt distanced, bullied and used.

Shockingly, in all the discussion of this book, I've never heard anyone say "Well, how could Ender have stopped it?" Very easily, actually. Ender knew, throughout the book, that he was being used by a corrupt system and all he had to say was "no, I'm done." At several points he tries, half-assedly, to stop it.

But in the end, Ender's inherent goodness justifies things.

Why didn't he just say "no?"

I'm not going to lie. Telling me I was "gifted" led me to genuinely see myself as better--more noble, smarter, with a great destiny--than every other person around me. All eleven-year-olds carry around major fallacies. But with Ender's Game, we seem to have extended that fallacy, justifying Ender's actions because he was part of the system of the "gifted." He was told over and over again "you are our only hope" and he was somehow, despite his brains, not smart enough to see that this might be one more lie in a corrupt system.

We use this attitude to feed privilege. The kind of privilege that says sacred facial tattoos can be appropriated to sell a movie.

If teaching has taught me anything, it's that the idea of "gifted students" is utterly poisonous and was one of the worst influences on my childhood and my mental health. I'm not gifted. I think I have a great capacity for learning, especially in certain areas. But all my students have capacity for learning. Particularly on the rez, where college education and literacy are not held at a premium, "gifted" is a misnomer. My students who succeed are the ones who work their asses off.

They are the ones who don't let the deaths and drug abuse and poverty in their family stop them from turning in papers, who read and discuss works at a college level when they may not have read a book until last year, ever. They are the ones whose recent life trajectories are: rehab, clinic, GED, college.

I am damn proud of them.

And here comes this movie all about this special kid whose motives are so pure that he can't see through an obviously corrupt system, and he doesn't protest, but is used to commit genocide and just can't stop it because the system is too big. And in order to sell the movie, it's okay to violate the inherent sacredness of Maori tradition, to sell a big Westernized movie.

This is a movie about how certain people are special, about how certain people are inherently virtuous, and about how certain people have a profound understanding of humankind and their inherent goodness cannot be taken away, even if they commit genocide.

I call bullshit.

In Kessel's words, "No one is that special. No one is that innocent."

So you're human and you loved the book and you want to see the movie. I don't blame you. Until a few days ago, I was with you.

Now, I see Ender's Game as another bucolic childhood dream, with its reality as far removed from the truth of human interaction as that of the talking mice and evil rats in Redwall. The difference is, there's not a multimillion dollar movie campaign trying to convince you that mice are inherently noble.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Story! "The Skin of the Lesser God"

Hey, I'm alive!

I've been teaching for two schools, getting read to have a baby, and have had my brain EATEN ALIVE by a novel idea. I made it to about 78,000 words before hitting a Horrible Middle and slowing down. The pitch for the novel is thus: The Cuban Missile Crisis as an epic fantasy. Two bloated, over-armed empires face each other down over a little spit of land... and our main character is the nuclear missile in question.

I am racing Seamus Bayne in this endeavor. Both of us are sitting in the dirt trying to decide who is the tortoise and who is the hare, and not moving.


I have a new story up at Michael Moorcock's New Worlds!

You'll have to register with them to see, and pay a bit of money to your British overlords. But it is worth it just to see the amazing cover art Tom Hunt came up with.

"The Skin of the Lesser God" started from a phrase in an old novel. I had tossed around the phrase "godskin" meaning "god's kin." Someone rightly asked me whether I meant "god skin." And of course, I wondered who in the world would go around skinning gods and, as one might, wearing the hides.

Then I figured out who.

Aztec, Norse, and African myth all collide in this one. This is one that has an unusual lack of direct female characters, but since they are all gods and thus archetypes, I think you are free to see them as at least somewhat sexless, or transcending gender.

I have another, very different story coming from Toasted Cake later this year as well. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lots Of Pageviews

I decided I should write a post because my last post got a lot of views.

The mood at the party, ya see.

Uh... damn, the M&M jar is out again. Let me refill that.

Have a scotch.

Have a non-affiliated-with-Orson-Scott-Card cookie.

Seriously, thanks for the support, and the polite disagreement. I want to reiterate: a lot of what the man said has been cherry-picked and taken out of context, and he supports things I support, but... he's affiliated with National Organization For Marriage, and there are your boss's annoying opinions and then your boss's activism.

Thanks so much to the people who sent me leads on other places to put a column. No bites yet, but I think something is coming my way.

Anyway, if you're interested in more opinions on Mormonism and gay people, I wrote a long response to the infamous viral post by Josh Weed. Here it is again.

On a totally different subject, I have fallen deep into the hole that is the early 1960s and Don Draper's fragmented psyche. Season 3 now, and I just cannot leave Mad Men alone, even though I suspect it makes me a little depressed about life and money and things.

It's like they have everything, and they talk about having everything, and they're miserable. And it's like an extensive explanation of This Is Why Baby Boomers Did The Stuff They Did, Because Their Parents Actually Were Messed Up. And it's like, it kind of makes sense.

I grew up with parents who burned draft cards, partook of "substances" and generally raised hell. I don't love the topical aspect of the show so much as the way it reflects the mindset that gave birth to my parents' mindset, and gave birth to my generation, who lived through a troublesome decade of our own and were mostly... confused. More thoughts as I watch the show. Which I'm getting back to now.

Also, the one movie scene that could make any man cry.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

I Resigned From IGMS


Here we go.

I have resigned from writing columns about graphic novels at Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. In addition, for whatever it's worth, I won't be submitting any more short stories, even though I had a wonderful experience when they chose one of my stories for publication.

This is because I do not want to be associated with the anti-gay-rights views that Orson Scott Card has become synonymous with.

This was a hard decision.

Scott Card was my favorite writer through most of high school, until I replaced him with Octavia Butler, who I learned about through one of Scott Card's books, How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. At the time I was far from the controversies that would dominate public discourse about Card. I didn't know he opposed gay rights. I didn't know that I supported them!

I didn't know my sister was gay. I didn't know that my parents, loyal California voters that they are, would support Proposition 8 in 2008, choosing the requirements of Mormonism over the vocal protests of their daughter and son. I didn't know that I would not blame my parents for their decision.

But I did know that I wanted to be Just Like Orson Scott Card.

The man was one of my heroes.

He had promoted his faith through his writing without soft-pedaling his work or rating it all G. I even admired his complex treatment of a homosexual in a heterosexual society in the Homecoming series. I don't admire that part of it anymore, but I will still defend that series as a great piece of writing.

He was great at writing misanthropes and people who didn't fit in to a society they were supposed to fit in to. Ender was too smart and persecuted. Nafai was too connected to his spirituality. Jason Worthing was too aware of the foibles of his society.

As a missionary, I served in his ward and got to have dinner at the man's house. He signed books for us, cooked us salmon, and was a perfectly lovely host.

In 2005, I attended his writing workshop, where he was again a wonderful host and a great mentor.

I'm sorry, people who hate him. He's done a lot of nice things for a lot of people with no hope of reward.

And thus it was easy to ignore the fact that, when he began writing columns for The Rhinoceros Times and The Ornery American, his political views were very far from my developing ones. He was a vocal supporter of President Bush and the invasion of Iraq. I didn't like either; in fact I found Bush's behavior shockingly irresponsible. Big deal; I disagree with lots of people I respect.

He was surprisingly opposed to gay marriage, considering the rather sympathetic treatment of homosexuals in his work. Oh well. I supported gay rights. My best friend in high school was gay, and although she hadn't come out, I more or less knew my sister was gay. I had always and would always support gay rights. I could work with, be mentored by, and read the works of people I disagree with.

After I attended his 2005 Boot Camp, I got the opportunity to write comic book reviews for his fledgling magazine, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. I cannot express enough how grateful I am for the experience. For five and a half years I got to write about comics and get paid for it! They asked for the work sight unseen, having only seen my work in Card's 2005 workshop, and praised the columns.

In 2011, IGMS published one of my stories, and the experience, working with editor Ed Schubert and assistant editors Eric James Stone and Scott Roberts, was really wonderful.

But. Here's the big but.

Scott Card is not just a vocal opponent of gay rights, he is an activist against them. He sits on the board of the National Organization For Marriage, one of the big supporters of movements like Proposition 8.

By writing for the magazine, I associate my name with the name of someone who represents the National Organization For Marriage.

In this he is following the lead of the LDS Church, which also supported Prop 8. And if Prop 8 drove me out of the Church, I had to ask myself if I could remain visibly associated with an anti-gay-rights-activist.

The conflict in my family over Prop 8 was... well, we never get intense in the Ellsworth house, but it was a conflict. My sister and I were against it. The rest of my family voted for it, or at least abstained.

This was particularly difficult for me to watch. My father was in a high place in Church leadership, but was a supporter of gay rights. To speak his conscience would have meant that he would lose his calling, possibly his membership, and of course his "eternal blessings."

It was his name. His name on a roll in Salt Lake City, and what it represented, that he could not lose.

Adulthood is full of compromises. I can't hold my father's decision against him. I've made lots of compromises in order to stay employed, feed the family and save face. And he didn't support Prop 8; he just laid low.

But in the words of Arthur Miller's John Proctor: "It is my name, and I cannot have another in my life."

(Well, unless I pay 80$ at the courthouse. But you know what I mean, semanticists.)

Looking at what Card has said, I can't compromise on this one. I cannot put my name next to his. I cannot put myself in a place of constant compromise.

I don't know where it might lead me.

It's not just gay marriage. It's the comment that "there is a hierarchy of suffering," which violates the principles I teach every day in a tribal school on an Indian reservation. It's the fact that Zdorab, the sympathetic homosexual in Homecoming, was essentially cured, feeling only "the memory of a youthful desire," which is something most people seem to forget when they focus on Card's typically sympathetic homosexual characters. I won't go as far as John Kessel in ascribing a dangerous interpretation to Card's fiction, but Zdorab's character arc is only complete if you understand that he really was supposed to have been "cured."

As to whether or not he should write Superman... actually, I think that one's rather silly, considering that just about every variety of people in history have written about Superman, and if you're going to go after DC Comics, encourage them to demand more accountability for labor practices in the factories that make toys of their characters in China, where abusive conditions are rampant. You get what I mean.

There is much debate within the sf field about the ethics of submitting to Card's magazine if you support gay rights. For the record, I've known a queer author who published fiction with queer characters in IGMS and never heard a peep; in fact his work was in their year's best. Card takes a giant financial loss to support a magazine of short fiction.

However, that author, like me, still has some trepidation about the name at the top of the page, and what it means to his name.

I loved writing that column, and I loved getting paid for it. This is the hardest decision I've made in years. I wish everyone involved with the magazine, including the Cards, the best. And I sure would love it if anyone out there is looking for someone to write about comics and contacts me.

It is my name. And I cannot have another in my life.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Letter To Spencer, Circa 1993

Without further ado, I give you this.

Dear Thirteen-Year-Old Me:

I just read the ending of The Wheel of Time.

"Aha," you say, "I must be receiving this missive [don't know about emails, do you?] from three or four years in the future. Perhaps I'm a junior in high school. But no, it couldn't take THAT long to finish the series, could it? There's already five of them!"

I know what else you are thinking. "I have to know. I want to read the end so badly. I love these books so much."

You are even thinking "if my house was on fire, the first thing I would save would be those books." Yes, I remember thinking that.

I'm sorry.

I'm really sorry.

I am thirty-three years old, TYOM.

I have two children and a third on the way, I live in Washington, and I'm a teacher.

And no, I'm not a professional writer. Kind of close. I have been published. But I have not published any of the massive fantasy volumes I have slaved over.

There's one that I think I will send off soon. It's short and it's pretty funny. It's got economics in it.

Wait! Don't cry!

Seriously, don't cry. I remember crying that much. It's weird and makes people uncomfortable.

(Although, for what it's worth, the depression and lethargy is not just from puberty, it's partially a complication of your celiac disease, and as annoying as it is, you really, really need to stick to a strictly gluten-free diet, kid. Like, entirely. Not even Postum, damn it! Listen to me.)

So, how was the book?

Pretty good. Some stuff was amazing. Some stuff really deserved a little more time. Some stuff was boring and I wish the author had spent less time on it.

What part of the ending do you want to know? Yes, Rand wins. What did you think would happen? Does he die? Um, kind of.

He also has hot foursomes with his three wives. At least, it's implied. What does "foursome" mean? Changing subject!

You have to understand that there are now fourteen of these books. Robert Jordan is dead. He wrote eleven books and died and they drafted someone else to finish the series. They got really bad. I hate to tell you this, but you're not going to even like books eight through eleven.

And another guy wrote the last three. His name's Brandon Sanderson. They're pretty good books. Gets the series back on track for the most part.

I met Brandon Sanderson once. He's a really nice guy.

Yeah, it wasn't me. I know what you're thinking. I would have thought the same thing, had I had this conversation at your age. Who else but the fabulously brilliant, talented Spencer Ellsworth would be drafted to finish the series? After all, I'm 33 and haven't I've had years to write tons of fantasy bestsellers?

You have, after all, just decided that you will focus all your energies on writing. You sat down at Dad's Macintosh Plus and said "I will be a writer." I remember that decision, and I remember the novel you started as soon as you made that decision.

You'll finish it, TYOM. You'll finish it and you'll write another one, a huge one, before you finish high school!

Hell, you'll have an actual girlfriend for a while, and she will even ask to read it, and her determination will outlast the relationship, even. I know, because she just turned up the manuscript when she was moving and she wrote me a Facebook message... it's kind of like a letter... to mention it. And your wife, who is awesome, will start your relationship by breaking into your room and reading all the copies of your stuff you have lying around.

You will never ever went back on that resolution. You have just made a decision that will change the rest of your life.

It's just that you won't be a famous author like Robert Jordan. At least not by 33.

Ah... shit, you're crying again.

Yes, I swear a lot. It's one of the few advantages of being an adult.

The truth is, writing is really, really hard. 

You know it's frustrating. But what you don't know is that writing is REALLY frustrating. Like when your sister won't stop berating you frustrating. Like when a cold hangs on for a month. Which is also related to the celiac autoimmune issues. Writing is hard. Like when Mom brings home a bunch of Costco muffins that you can't eat, and you are supposed to just stay away from them because you can't eat them.

I've written some stuff that I thought was really good. Even as good as The Eye of the World, TYOM. I published some fantasy stories that I think you might really like, if you read them.

But TYOM, I know you don't want to hear this... life throws you curves. I didn't expect to have kids this young. I did and I love them and they need my time. I didn't expect to feel this exhausted from working a day job and being a dad. I do. Every day I feel more tired than I ever thought possible.

I didn't realize how much rejection was involved. Call me stupid, but I still hate it when I think about how much stuff I've written that got a billion rejections that I finally threw away.

Also, the universe is not really handing out contracts to finish a multivolume bestselling fantasy series. We didn't have Mat Cauthon's luck for that one.

On top of that, there are not a lot of Robert Jordans in the world. In fact, I even worked in the publishing industry, TYOM, and mostly an author gets famous through luck, not skill. They write a book that people didn't know they wanted.

And, also, I suspect I've never been that good.

Shit, now I'm crying. Give me a tissue. I know you have a cold. Gluten-free diet, damn it!

It's a wonder I got through that stupid book--all fourteen of those stupid books--these last few months with this existential crisis on the heels of the reading.

Truth is, TYOM, you will save yourself a lot of pain and a lot of therapy bills if you realize, right now, that writing is its own reward. Telling a story is fun. But the big famous author dream hasn't happened yet, and may never happen, especially because of how the entertainment industry faces its own Breaking of the World and Last Battle called file-sharing... never mind. You're bored. Point is, when you sit back down at the Mac Plus, think less about your name in print and more about the characters.

Think about how much you love Rand al'Thor's frenzied journey, and then create a character you can love as much as Rand al'Thor. Then follow him. Or her. You'd be surprised how misogynist you unintentionally are, TYOM.

Life is better than you can imagine, TYOM. There is even decent gluten-free food in the future. See, I brought you back a muffin. Tastes like the real thing, eh?

Just be happy with who you become. Much like The Wheel of Time, life has all kinds of derailments, oddities, stupid plot twists, and endless delays. It also has unexpected wonders, and times when everything seems new again.

Write your way through it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Only Four Million Words Till The Good Stuff!

When I was thirteen, nothing was more important than reading the ending of The Wheel of Time. Yeah. I was one of those thirteen-year-olds.

There is now an ending. I have not read it.

Bear with me. There will be a test. (We're talking about Robert Jordan. I'm gonna have to be verbose.)

Everyone has that author. The one who, for better or for worse, got you when you were twelve, and led you around by the hook of the nose for years and inspired your taste and made you go all dumb and drooly... and who you realized, years later, was not really that good.

Christmas 1993 and The Eye of the World consumed my brain. When I reread it last year, it consumed me again. A dark, harrowing chase story through a rich and dangerous world. The Great Hunt is similarly dark and thrilling. Book 3 is a bit of a dud but 4 and 5 are quite epic, expanding the world while maintaining the thrills.

And I was thirteen, therefore all flaws in entertaining writing could be forgiven.

So I didn't understand at the time that men and women didn't actually interact like this, didn't spend most of their time making maxims about how the other gender was crazy, or that the Aes Sedai could never rule the world while acting like grudge-hoarders on a planning committee at the local Presbyterian church. I didn't understand even some of the skillful parts of his writing, like the fact that Rand al'Thor really was crazy by Book Seven, genuinely, unalterably nuts. He seemed misunderstood. Of course, I didn't understand that because Jordan, after Book Seven, never committed to any subplots, instead throwing out constant new ones.

And of course I didn't understand that the man was ill from 1997 on. (Also an issue with another author who grabbed my imagination, Octavia Butler.) With all the old-guard military upper lip he could muster, Jordan insisted he was fine while his writing struggled. As my good buddy Jay Lake will tell you, even the most prolific, absorbed writer can be deferred by chemo. (Love and writing power to you, Jay.)

Book 7: A Crown of Swords (on of the better titles) came out when I was fifteen. Most people quit around books 6 & 7. I drank it up. At eighteen, I sucked up Book 8, which was particularly bad, considering it lacked any mention of Mat Cauthon, every nerd's favorite scoundrel since Han Solo shot first.

I also had severe acne and no girlfriend and by this time was writing my own massive Jordan imitation. You know.

But folks, this boy joined a punk band, found a social life, and kind of grew up, at least in reading taste. After my Mormon mission, I was pleasantly surprised that Book 9 went somewhere. Then Book 10 undid all that goodwill by having exactly one, one plot twist, and ignoring Rand, our main man, in the same way book 8 ignored Mat. When 11 came out, I more or less enjoyed the book, but it was clear that between sickness and attempts to manage his unwieldy subplots, Jordan's writing had devolved. I could see the cracks. Also, why did it take until book 11 to bring Rand's dad back into the story?

He died and the series went to Brandon Sanderson. I loved Sanderson's debut novel Elantris. I found his recent offering The Way of Kings to be too much of a slog and never finished it. Plus, having lived in Utah, all his characters sound Mormon to me. All shades of Mormon, true. Ex, liberal, mystic, conservative, but they all sound Mormon. Which will be interesting in the Wheel of Time, where all the characters sound like old parishioners in said Presbyterian church.

But. Not there yet. I am determined to reread the entire series one last time before the ending. Closure won't be the same without it. Even if it's a bit of a chore.

I am pleasantly surprised that parts of his writing hold up. His characters act ridiculous, true, snippy and backbiting, and I can't buy any of the plot twists involving Aes Sedai. No one that incompetent could last in politics. But he's really good at some things.

In particular, I really like the Aiel this time around. In younger days, I never knew why Jordan spent so much time with them. They were the veiled desert culture off to the east. A standby for fantasy. They had different humor and different customs and oh man they figure so largely into the story.

Now, speaking as a white guy who works on an Indian reservation, I'm pleasantly surprised by all the consideration Jordan puts into the Aiel. They're a little Bedouin, a little Plains Tribes, a little other thing, but they're not cribbed from one culture. They're defiantly tribal, and of course super-warriors, but at the same time their way of life is just as viable as "civilized" folk.

Their culture is full of foibles and nobility yet degraded by those of Jordan's Western culture. They even have to suffer cultural appropriation from young noble men and women who are looking for meaning to their empty lives, a rather true-to-life twist.

So. There are some things worth studying in the horrible middle of the Wheel of Time series. More as I go along, I hope. I owe this to my thirteen-year-old self, who does not yet understand the sacrifices of adulthood, like reading the crappy parts of a fantasy series for one's thirteen-year-old self's sake. Or going to work, which I should probably do now.