Flash Fiction: Calendar of Fortunate Days

I’ve been meaning to play Chuck Wendig’s “Flash Fiction Friday” game for a while now and run behind enough on reading blogs that I usually see the prompts after their deadlines, but I caught this one and got something written for it just under the wire.

So, I give you: “Calendar of Fortunate Days”, behind the cut.

Continue reading Flash Fiction: Calendar of Fortunate Days

I finally saw The Last Jedi

Okay, I finally saw it a couple of weeks ago and then I went and read all the things about it that I had open in tabs in three different programs and I stewed on it all a bit and contemplated, and there were a couple of things that I was genuinely boggled by in the fan commentaries I saw. So I’m going to put a cut in here for those people who don’t want to see the spoilery bits, because I didn’t see it until a month ago and there might be people who care.

Continue reading I finally saw The Last Jedi

Passion and Disturbing the Universe

Autism is an experiment in passion.

(I don’t know which blog to put this on, heh. Let’s go with the writerblog, because I’m going to be talking about writing and fandom and stuff, but I started it on the religionblog.)

Long ago, in another lifetime, I got into a conversation on rec.arts.sf.fandom where, if I recall correctly, I argued that The Fannish Spirit was one that encouraged a more enthusiastic engagement with the material than was considered socially acceptable, more or less. I was at the time frustrated with a world that considered overt passion déclassé, that expected particular roles, particular fitting in, and I was at an age where I was hitting the expectation that I would give up “childish” things – my games, my roleplaying, my storytelling – in order to do something Practical. Or something.

I was not at all sure where I fit into that world, that model of “adult”, that considered passion unimportant, even tacky. (And these days, I see the people looking at the nihilistic lulz culture, the ‘caring about anything is Uncool, if our “ironic bigotry” upsets you that shows you’re weak’, wondering where it came from, and think back to where I was at the turn of the century, looking as a young adult for some reassurance that it was actually okay to care about things.)

I see so much saying that passion is untrustworthy, that logic and reason must rule. (But go into that dark bar and have a beer with Dionysos every so often, as Le Guin said, and there is a reason that I have long cherished that particular piece of that particular introduction.) Investment of myself is something that – at least for the right thing, the right moment, comes so easily for me.

But the things where it comes easily are not the things that the world outside respects. The bubble in which it’s okay to, for example, spend two weeks delving into gaining a superficial but details understanding of the history of the social crucible that gave birth to fandom, the modern pagan movement, the modern environmentalist movement, fascism, and fundamentalism (among many other siblings, half-siblings, and cousins) is not a large one, and it’s constantly threatened by this sense that if I must be so tacky as to have passion, I should monetize it, I should turn it into capital. If I want to return to college, I’m told I need an excuse that will bring in sufficient money to make it worthwhile (and with the cost of college being as it is right now, I can’t really argue with that; I can only hope that the ‘free state college for all’ movement has won some victories by the time the kids are old enough for me to imagine trying), and the masters’ I would love to pursue is wholly impractical and thus “But, why?”

Passion isn’t a good enough reason for anything, you see.

But back to autism is an experiment in passion.

I was talking, recently, about how my development is in many ways a steady sequence of finding things to fall in love with, and the way that shapes my stories, the things I tell, because my longest, truest passion has been the writing, the storytelling, the sense of falling in love with a piece of the world and trying to express that to someone else. And each story comes with little bits of other passions – delving into ecological architecture for a solarpunk city, or the class history of the temperance movement in the late Victorian era, or other things. And the more of these passions I pursue, the richer things are, because I can’t write fantasy steampunk like Cracked Pots without an awareness of the crazed mystical uprising in the same time period as gears-and-steam nostalgia, and I can’t chew on temperance ladies without poking at the class dynamics I was investigating when digging in a bit of history thirty years later when I was loving on Captain America.

Everything that I do uniquely, everything I do that is most of myself, is driven by this sense of falling in love with a moment, with an idea, and asking it to dance with me. And all of that is driven by that particularly, peculiarly autistic passion, that thing that gets called “special interests” by people who want to tut-tut over it all, but damn if I don’t write good nineteenth century mystical bafflegab social justice aesthetic pastiche.

Because of that intersection of passions.

There have been times I’ve wondered if what I do, what I care about, can be truly worthwhile, and at root that’s likely because I don’t have a passion for capitalism. I have passions for creation and knowledge and I write because I don’t know how not to and the stories happen and people keep telling me that “Delayed Exchange Deferred” in The Death of All Things made them cry and that’s a thing that matters in the world. (And that was a story I was passionate about, that needed to be told.)

But it’s been a long time since I was secure in the idea that passion was okay. That it was enough on its own, a justification of its own thing. I think back to those conversations in rasseff, and other things, and having this breakthrough that the art that I do, the art that I care about, the art that can only happen because of me, that I love, that I invest in… that’s something that genuinely matters in the world.

There will be time, as the poet did say, to murder and create.

And the time to dare to disturb the universe can only be now.

So I write.

Autism is an experiment in passion and this is the monomania that has animated me since I was a child, upon which all other passions depend, and which all other passions feed. I need not despair when I read someone’s perfect words, the ones that make me come alive, the stories that I hungered for without knowing I hungered for that, right there, because I can trust that that which I conceive in passion may feed some other spirit, somewhere down the line. I know that I can do that, because I have done it.

And so I will do it again.

Ursula K. Le Guin

One of the things about the alchemy of reading is that it is possible to take it in and be transformed. Often in ways where it’s impossible to articulate the difference between who one was before and who one has become.

I don’t know how to articulate the process of becoming as I am that depended on the work of Ursula K. Le Guin. I can only gesture, the finger pointing at the moon, and give you two quotations, one from Earthsea, one from the introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness. Somewhere in the alchemy performed by combining these things, I came into being as I am.

Only in silence the word,
Only in darkness light,
Only in dying life:
Bright the hawk’s flight on the empty sky.

– The Creation of Éa

and

Apollo, the god of light, of reason, of proportion, harmony, number–Apollo blinds those who press too close in worship. Don’t look straight at the sun. Go into a dark bar for a bit and have a beer with Dionysus, every now and then.

I talk about the gods; I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth.

Bright the hawk’s flight, but also remember the dark bar.

My oldest nom de ‘net is ‘Darkhawk’.

Writing and Reading Short Fiction

I never used to be a big short fiction reader. I mean, I read it, a lot of golden age SF compiled into books, but it wasn’t really the thing that grabbed me. The pieces were the wrong shape, I suppose. I would have things that stuck with me – the story I’m working on at the moment owes so much to the normalcy of flight in Heinlein’s “The Menace From Earth”, even though I suspect that nobody I don’t say that to will spot how it circles on that particular story’s thermal.

Something shifted, somewhere. I’ve written a couple of fairy tales – one published in Les Cabinets des Polytheistes, one still being anxiously polished like an Arkenstone while I try to figure out what to do with it – and those are shorts. When I read the call for submissions for The Death of All Things I immediately had what grew into “Delayed Exchange Deferred” right there, at my fingertips, the shape and the kick of it. A few other things exist for me now, as shorts that I can work on, which is… remarkable to me as someone who has mostly lived in half-stewed novels for a very long time.

And, occasionally, I’m venturing into reading short a bit more. Perhaps because that’s something I can fit into my life – between the kids and everything else it is complicated to sit down and do anything long, and a short I can swallow in one gulp.

Which is part of how I read “Avi Cantor Has Six Months To Live”. Which – given I saw that it was World Suicide Prevention Day yesterday – I am finally getting my act together to comment on.

I’m not Jewish, or of Jewish heritage, but I’ve long had the traditional fannish appreciation of Jewish minutiae, and there are those there. And there is the quiet endurance of the main character, Avi Cantor, and his ongoing struggle with life and death and identity and…

… it is one hell of a story.

I don’t know what to say about it, honestly. Avi’s struggle, that story, is a piece of why I wrote “Delayed Exchange Deferred”, though, so maybe we can get the stories out there that will make the world whole again. If we just tell enough of them. If people read or hear or see enough of them.

Tikkun olam.

Alas

Signing this weekend has been cancelled/postponed. Will notify if we manage a reschedule.

Release Day!

Death of All Things is out today, really truly officially. (I got a comment a bit ago on twitter from a Kickstarter reader who had an emotional response to “Delayed Exchange Deferred”, though, which gave me such warm fuzzies. Um. To the extent that ‘warm fuzzies’ are appropriate with that story, which is… complicated.)

The trade can be obtained via this link; the Kickstarter edition has a few extras kicking around, and there’s an ebook as well.

And I’m in there with other people who people have actually heard of! Who are worth reading!

I will be at Flights of Fantasy in Albany, New York on 9 September from 2-4 pm, for a Zombies Need Brains signing event, if anyone will be in the area. I’m not expecting a whole lot of people to be looking for me in particular, given this is my first fiction sale, so if anyone does want to show up to see me in particular it will make my everliving blue-eyed day. (At some point I’m sure they’ll list who-all will be there on their website, but they haven’t as of this writing, so rather than an incomplete/partial list of who will be there I will just name me.)

Storybuilding: A Ramble

I’m working on this story.

I have… nine tabs of reference material open, assuming I haven’t lost some somewhere, all of them about real-world culture and organization of the Marines (both US and Royal). That’s not counting the brief things I have opened, researched, and closed (“How would a Marine address their Navy corpsman?”).

Or the other things I’ve had open. Common world surnames, say, that’s one I keep having to pull up every time I get another speaking part. The aliens’ names are easier, there are only two of them in the platoon, and I can just make something up that’s in accord with their vocal apparatus. Trying to reach out for names that paint the suggestion that there’s a broad world full of human beings that contribute in the subtext, though, that requires some actual thought. And some thought, because just snagging ‘most common surname’ by continent or something is still lazy. Just a slightly broader lazy than before. But if the worldbuilding wants to include breadth of humanity it has to actually show it in the interstitial bits.

And then there’s more overtly political questions. I sit with this story, this story that I’m trying to root in a particular military experience, while proclamations are being made about trans people in the military, and I go, “… is there someone trans in this platoon?” Because that’s as conscious a decision as having women in the platoon, as having names for people that reach beyond European standards, and the odds are good that someone like Karou the hyenoid alien does not exist but I am damn sure that Chelsea Manning does. It’s easy to just grab the easy names, the assumed genders, the just-like-every-other-story bits, easy and lazy and anyway if it’s just like every other story why am I sitting and writing it in the first place?

And it goes on. Trying to articulate a plausible Space Marine ethos means spending a bit of time sitting with actual Marine expressions to try to figure out how that would translate, how to include it, how to express it in the story without sitting down and doing the “This Is What It Means” talk from people who are busy with their actual mission. It means coming up with story twists and angles that will let that actually show, rather than remain entirely invisible underneath the events. Which isn’t a different writing problem than questions of human diversity at all – it’s all about how to take the things that are true in the storyworld and make them visible and plausible.

I did a little mini-tweet-thread about this question of breadth of humanity, mostly talking about Cracked Pots, the novel in progress, but it holds here too. My gods, it’s full of PEOPLE. And figuring out the people means figuring out the things, the details that make them all real. All the effort into the little telling details and right moments.

This particular story is capped at 5000 words for the market I’m writing for.

Longer stories produce… notably more tabs.

Situating Myself

I wish I had more writing news, but it’s been hard to write lately for a variety of reasons, which means that it’s hard to have anything to say about how the writing is going. Instead, I’ve been doing a variety of other things, which include thinking about something of the nature of my relationship with writing, and with the communities that orbit around the sort of writing that I do.

Some of it comes down to upbringing – I was, after all, raised in part by the sort of parent who would read Tolkien to me, and whose shelves of various fiction were there for the raiding. (Sometimes illicit raiding on my part. I was, unfortunately, rather hard on books, and would occasionally have nicking them to read forbidden to me.) I was steeped rather thoroughly in a variety of forms of fantastic fiction when I was young – and I did not entirely comprehend the common markings of genre. Everything was strange people in unfamiliar surroundings to me, whether it was hobbits or the importance of having a chicken on the Mushroom Planet or Dr. Doolittle talking to animals or defecting Russian submarines or… well, I spent a long time wondering as a kid if the Black Spot was some sort of fatal curse of a magical nature, because the idea of the fantastic in my more or less otherwise realistically framed story was not implausible.

The world is a complicated sort of place, after all.

That same person who taught me the love of books would also be the one who introduced me to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – no, not the books, the radio series; who would pop a batch of popcorn and sit on the floor with that and some Dr. Pepper so we could chant “Cheap special effects!” at episodes of Doctor Who together; who talked about playing a version Space War with one of the members of the Grateful Dead. That he also knew people who could speak Sindarin was part and parcel of all these other things.

I’m of the console game generation, though my relationship with them is… complex. But my one actual encounter with a G*Gate sympathiser (he was not blatant about it, but the thrust was pretty obvious) ended in him slinking away in silence when he realised that I, an assigned-female type person, had been playing vidyagames since, I am guessing, before he was born. At the very least he didn’t have anything to contribute once I took the conversation sideways to talk about my old Atari system. (I was waxing something about Joust, and I’m guessing it put me a pixel above him and he turned into an egg.) All that rhetoric about how maybe women just weren’t involved in that sort of gamer thing sort of started looking silly.

I read. I wrote. I did all these things. But I also learned character arcs from Star Trek: the Next Generation, started thinking about the way language, culture, and species interacted from listening to Marc Okrand talk about Klingons, and did a whole lot of rummaging through the nature of story and how they go together from Infocom games and Myst. It’s all threaded through each other, and it connects up to other things.

I’m thinking, in the end, I’ll be doing some writing here about some of that. Not least because I just spent a while modding the heck out of RimWorld and am now pondering the shape of story in there.

Still need to work on Amber Eyes, which will probably wind up being a visual novel, unless I change my mind again.

I don’t know if this will make it into the book

When I write out of sequence things don’t always come out right and a lot of it is wasted work, but this bit was in my head so hard I had to write it down. And it’s wee, so I might as well post it as a maybe-teaser or something.

“You can get away with one thing outside of the expected,” said Constance, and then amended, with a slightly narrowed-eyed look at Margaret’s face, “maybe two, if you are lucky, and very, very skilled.” When it seemed there would be no immediate response, she gestured with the hand that was not holding the teacup. “Take a woman as a lover. Become a scientist. Marry a poor man you love rather than a rich man with prospects.” She grinned. “Become a beaconmaster in your own right, your own name. But you must pick one.”

Margaret frowned slightly. “But why?”

“Because one thing makes you eccentric, makes you curious, makes you interesting. It will make people gossip about you at parties, it will make people seek you out for your particular expertise and insight about some things.”

“But why only one?”

“Because with two, you will become scandalous; three, unsavoury; four, perverted. The further away from the expected you go, the more perilous it is. Consider [name].”

Margaret stared into her tea for a long moment. “All right,” she said.

Constance raised her eyebrows. “He liked to… push at social expectation in his art. Satire, cutting wit, the pursuit of pleasures as an aesthete. Sometimes to the extent that it pushed the scandalous, rather than the merely interesting. His feminine manner went the rest of the way to scandal for most, and into unsavoury for some. His choice in lovers….”

“Unsavoury,” said Margaret, quietly, “and some would say perverted.”

“Precisely,” said Constance.

Margaret swallowed and changed the subject. “What do you get away with, then, if you can only choose one or two things?”

Constance waited for her to meet her gaze, and said, “Being black.”