Media Consumed in August

I had plenty of travel time in August, so yay for reading. My primary focus this month was to read as many of the Dragon Award nominees as I could before voting, but there were a number I just didn’t get to or did not finish. I had read some before, luckily, and am particularly pulling for D.B. Butler’s Witchy Eye, which I loved.

Works that are bolded are ones I found particularly outstanding or otherwise remarkable and would recommend.

Robert Aickman, Cold Hand in Mine
Peter S. Beagle: Summerlong

Betsy Cornwall: Mechanica. I wanted to like steampunk Cinderella, but it didn’t feel very new.
Nathan Crowder: Ride Like the Devil (lots of fun for fellow Seattleites)
Pippa DaCosta, The Heartstone Thief
Robert Dugoni: The Trapped Girl (could have done without the complaints about the various restrictions the legal system places on police officers)
Patrick Edwards: Space Tripping
A.W. Exley: Ella the Slayer (I really did not expect to like Cinderella + zombies).
Kate Elliott: Court of Fives, The Poisoned Blade
Ruthanna Emrys: Winter Tide. If you like Lovecraft novels, you need this one.
Carrie Fisher: The Princess Diarist
Eric Flint: 1636: The Ottoman Onslaught
Amy S. Foster: The Rift Uprising
Theodora Goss: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter FABULOUS and is the 19th century equivalent of Cat Valente’s The Refrigerator Monologues)
Brian Guthrie: Rise
Renee Carter Hall: Huntress (loved this, but book is structured in a frustrating way)
Elizabeth Hand: Aestival Tide, Icarus Ascending
Faith Hunter: Blood of the Earth
Shirley Jackson: Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings. Not enough writing on craft, but what there is, is solid.
Dennis Lehane: Prayers for Rain
Alison Littlewood, The Hidden People
Gabrielle Matheiu: The Falcon Flies Alone. Modern melodrama that pulls from all over the place in a way that is unexpected.
Robert McCammon: Gone South. McCammon is the frickin’ BEST at this sort of novel. Delicious.
Brian Niemeier, The Secret Kings
Richard Paonelli: Escaping Infinity
Lucian Randolph: The God in the Clear Rock (has my vote for most attention paid to a point of view character’s breasts in a book)
Delia Sherman: The Porcelain Dove (very pretty, but the structure makes it feel as though the book evaporates away just as you hit the end)
Shayne Silvers: Beast Masters
Dale Ivan Smith: Empowered: Agent
Safari Spell: Long Live Dead Reckless
Arkadi and Boris Strugatski: The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn
Anne Tyler: A Spool of Blue Thread
R.R. Virdi: Dangerous Ways
Martha Wells: The Edge of the World

Stuff I’m Watching: Big Brother (yes that’s my guilty pleasure and I don’t know which I loathe more, Josh or Paul), The Defenders, Orphan Black Season 5, Rick and Morty. Watched BRILLO BOX (3¢ OFF), which was an intriguing documentary if you have any interest in Warhol. Also Extraordinary: The Stan Romanek Story, which I thought was pretty silly.

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SFWA and Independent Writers, Part Two: Bringing in the Indies

In part one of this series, I talked about the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writes of America (SFWA) prior to the move to bring in the independent writers. This section will discuss the decision and the process, as well as some of the reactions. My sources in putting all of this together are my own faulty memory, my personal notes, and the Internet. The discussion of the indie admission took place in a number of venues, including e-mails, blog articles and comments, social media, and the SFWA discussion forums. In drawing on the latter, I have tried to ensure that I did not violate their confidentiality rules, quoting only with permission.

Nomenclature has varied, but when I refer to independently published writers, that is the same group that others have used self-published, self-pubbed, indie, and other terms to describe. Self-publishing has been conflated with vanity publishing in the past; I believe them two distinct things.

Beginning to Recognize Independently Published Works

As far as I can tell, the question of whether people should be able to qualify for membership with independently published sales was first brought to the board by Vice President Mary Robinette Kowal in 2009. Discussion focused on a couple of points: how to translate the SFWA requirements for professional writers into ones using self-published material and whether or not the gatekeeping done by traditional publishing represented a quality bar. I’m framing that last badly, primarily because I don’t agree with it, but I can understand why, depending on their relationship with traditional publishing, someone might be invested in that view. That discussion moved on, but the question of indies had been raised and would continue to be something discussed at board and business meetings, with increasing support for allowing indies in on the part of some Board members.
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Cat’s Schedule at GenCon 2017

10 AM Story Craft: Where Do You Begin Your Story?
12 PM Writing 101: Careers – What a Writing Career Looks Like

Lunch plans
5 PM Business of Writing: Handling Problem People — From Divas to Needy Fans to Harassers
7 PM Writer’s Craft: Using Tension to Drive the Narrative
8 PM Gaming with SFWAns!

1 PM Business of Writing: Using Social Media
5 PM Writer’s Craft: How to Revise Right

I’m in walking distance of the convention this time, huzzah!

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SFWA and Independent Writers, Part One: History of the Organization

graphic of membership benefitsAs part of a Twitter conversation, one of my favorite gamewriters, Ken St. Andre, suggested I write up something about SFWA and independent writers that goes into enough detail that people can understand why — or why not — they might want to join. This is part one of a multi-part series that will talk about some of the history behind the decision, and in this first part I want to talk about the organization prior to admitting independent writers. Part two will discuss how SFWA came to change membership criteria in order to make it possible for people to qualify for membership with indie sales in 2016, and some of the changes made as part of planning for that expansion. Part three will focus on how SFWA has changed in the intervening time, while part four will look at what I see as the changes that will continue as we move forward over the next decade. In all of this, I’m trying to provide something of an insider’s look that may or may not be useful, but certainly will be full of many words.
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Summing Up July 2017

IMG_3725Over halfway through the year, and here’s some of the happenings for July.

Online I taught workshops on Story Fundamentals, Flash Fiction, Writing Steampunk & Weird Western, Moving from Idea to Draft, and Editing 101. I’ll announce September and October classes next week. I also got a chance to teach at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference mid-month, which was terrific.

I wrote short stories “Say Yes,” “A House Alone,” and “Another Selkie Story,” all of which were posted for Patreon supporters. (You can see a pictorial version of my July Patreon here.) As always, I’ve got a crop that I’m working on: highlights include a story about a woman who buys a magical talking mask only to find she doesn’t agree with what it’s saying. I also worked on urban fantasy Brazen, about a magic-wielding post apocalyptic hellion.

Videogames I’ve been playing are Stardew Valley and Dream Daddy. Curse whoever introduced me to them. In RPG news, my Star Wars RPG game managed a session. You’ll be glad to know my prophet/conwoman continues to talk her way out of things successfully but the rest of the party didn’t want to take her suggestion of throwing a mysterious crate out a fifth-floor window in order to discover the contents.

I continue using Habitica, which I blogged about here. I have a follow-up post in the works.

SFWA work included working with the Galaktika settlement, answering a bunch of e-mails, a multiplicity of video calls, and nudging a couple of projects along.

Books I read included the following. I’ve bolded the ones I particularly enjoyed:
Karen Abott, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War
R.S. Belcher, The Brotherhood of the Wheel
Mike Caro, Caro’s Book of Poker Tells
Ramsey Campbell, Demons by Daylight
Tori Curtis, Eelgrass
Laurell K. Hamilton, Crimson Blood
Elizabeth Hand, Winterlong
Georgette Heyer, The Grand Sophy
Alice Hoffman, The Probable Future
Michael M. Jones (editor), Scheherezade’s Facade
Damon Knight, The Futurians
Tanith Lee, Red as Blood
Gabriel Squalia, Viscera
Glynn Stewart, Starship’s Mage
R J Theodore, Flotsam

Kentaro Toyama – Geek Heresy

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Playing at Being Motivated: Habitica for Writers

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 11.06.55 AMOne thing that was fascinating about this year’s Nebulas was the chance to meet so many people in the publishing industry, including a couple of the founders of Habitica, Vicky Hsu and Siena Leslie, who were on a panel about avoiding distractions – a key skill for a writer.

Habitica is a motivational game. It lets you gamify your daily tasks and to-do list, turning them into challenges you face in the game. As you complete tasks, you gain levels and items in the game, giving you an extra push to get things done. You can also set it up so you lose points for doing things, if there’s habits you want to avoid. There’s a social aspect; you can join parties and guilds in order to share your progress with friends.

I am always on a quest for a method that will help me stay organized. Various systems have come and gone, some more successful than others, and I’ve learned a few things about how to make such systems more effective. As I share how I am using Habitica, I’ll include some insight into how that knowledge shapes that use. I’ve been logging into it consistently for two weeks now, and I believe it’s going to stick, because I’m finding it very effective for a) nudging me to do things, b) helping me remember stuff, and c) motivating me to use free time and options (like snacks) better.

Core Component: Dailies, Habits, and To-dos

The key to Habitica is its tasks, which fall into three categories: dailies, habits, and todos.
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You Should Read This: Five Satisfying F&SF Series for Vacations

I just got back from a trip that included a couple long plane rides. I’m a very fast reader and finding a long, well-crafted series immersive enough to make me forget that my back is aching, the kid behind me keeps kicking the seat, and all the other discomforts of travel. Airport bookstores are usually full of stuff I’ve already read, so I try to load my e-reader with an abundance beforehand. Here’s a few that have stood me in good stead in the past few months.

Most recently, Kate Elliott’s The Novels of the Jaran (Jaran, An Earthly Crown, His Conquering Sword, and The Law of Becoming), which come as a single ebook bundle that Immensely satisfying space opera mixed with nomadic life with the Jaran on their unexpectedly pivotal planet. Elliott has become one of my goto writers (another favorite is Walter Jon Williams) – I know anything I pick up by her will be a satisfying and sustaining read.

Martha Wells’Picture of a Book Shelf The Books of the Raksura is fantasy, following the adventures of one of the Raksura, Moon, as he finds a new home and family, only to have to defend them. Moon is a character who shines; you desperately want him to be happy, and his path towards that is deeply engaging. And the most recent book, The Harbors of the Sun, is out now!

Max Gladstone’s The Craft Sequence. I had read the first three of these, but another nicely-priced ebook bundle let me pick them up all together and read them that way, which I highly recommend. They connect in a interesting and convoluted way that makes the series do what a series should – create a whole that is greater than the sum of the individual books. Awesome fantasy with a modern flavor and a delightfully careful attention paid to economics.

Kristine Smith’s The Jani Kilian Chronicles is military-flavored space opera with a strong and engaging protagonist, games with linguistics, and plenty of action. A protagonist who is flawed, fearless, and feisty, and a romantic life that adds to the book but is certainly not the focus. Not quite military SF but close, I guess – I’m never sure where space opera ends and military SF begins.

Short stories are not something I would normally take on a vacation – they’re candy, not sustaining rations. But there’s a lovely series collecting all of Theodore Sturgeon’s work that I’ve been picking up book by book, using them as rewards. I’m up to Volume Five of those, The Perfect Host. And yay! All of them seem to be available on the Kindle. If you’re an F&SF short story writer, Sturgeon is one of the people you should read, in my opinion, to see how brilliantly and beautifully he does things.

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Writing and Gender Class

rainbowflagbygilbertbakerOften when I add new classes, it’s because someone has specifically asked for them. I know whenever I teach something new, it’ll be a learning experience for me as well, because I’ll have to think hard, come up with an outline, figure out some writing exercises, and have some resources to provide people afterwards.

That need for thoughtful preparation is why I’ve put off something frequently asked for, a class about Writing and Gender. But now I’ve been working on one, and the live version will take place on Saturday, August 26, 9:30-11:30 AM Pacific time. I am very pleased to say that Cheryl Morgan will be guest-speaking in it – I find classes with two teaching perspectives are usually much more interesting, and this class is going to be interesting, thoughtful, and stuffed full of good and useful information and concepts.

There’s plenty of time, but with stuff like this, I find I do well to start jotting down notes early and building on them over time, with one last frenzied spurt of effort dedicated to completion in the last week or so. Here’s some thoughts so far:

I want to discuss how modern Western views of gender have fractured, and concepts like asexual, aromantic, cis, gender fluidity, etc as well as moving outside binary thinking.

I asked on Twitter about fiction thqt does interesting stuff with gender and am compiling a list, but here’s a Storify with all those titles in it. Some science fiction that has dealt with gender: Ann Leckie’s Radchai series, Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Deb Taber’s Necessary Ill — and what’s the name of that John Varley story where the woman switches genders and her husband has such a hard time with it?

For me, Susan Griffin’s Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her was an important text in thinking about the construction of femininity and language, so I want to look at a couple of passages from that and see if I can derive an interesting writing exercise from that. It came out in the 70s, though, so I have some fears that it’s going to be dated.

Along the same lines, at least one writing exercise that involves genderflipping (or other-flipping in a different way) a passage of writing. I’m looking for other ideas like that which help me show students different perspectives in a way that sinks in. So much writing depends on finding the unexpected angle, the voice that has been too quiet to hear before, the elusive scent on the breeze that tugs at some memory — that’s what is both thrilling and terrifying about exploring things in one’s writing.

Register by mailing me at cat AT and specifying whether you would prefer to pay by Paypal or by check. The cost for a single session live workshop is $99 for new students; $79 for students who have formerly taken a class with Cat. Classes are taught via Google Hangouts; all you need is a computer with a microphone and reliable Internet connection, but a webcam is suggested. Live classes are are limited to fifteen students.

There are three Plunkett slots – scholarships for people who couldn’t otherwise afford the class – in each one. I am always pleased when people take advantage of the Plunketts – so help make me happy by passing the word along to someone who might be interested or applying. To apply, mail me at the above address and include a brief statement regarding why you want to take the class.

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Nattering Social Justice Cook: Celebrating Rainbow Hair

And as he spoke of understanding, I looked up and saw the rainbow leap with flames of many colors over me. -Black Elk

One place recent culture wars have been being played out has been the virtual space occupied by Twitter and its adjacent social media. Examining a particular hashtag or recurring phrase often provides insight into what the topic of the moment is, as well as what tropes and memes are being deployed.

A common adjective in many of the more conservative, alt-right, and other theater-of-outrage rants I’ve seen in the past couple of years is “rainbow-haired,” never in a positive sense. It’s usually paired with some form of “social justice warrior,” and often accompanied by an emotional catch-phrase or verbiage like “feels” or “drinking the tears.” There’s a lot of interesting stuff built into that particular fixation. So let’s dig around to find what’s contained in the phrase and its use in this pejorative sense.

The rainbow itself has plenty going on, symbology-wise. In many mythologies, it’s the bridge between heaven and earth, used by gods, heroes, and shamans. In the Christian allegory of Noah, it’s the sign of God’s covenant with humanity. Leprechauns hide their gold at the rainbow’s foot, Indra uses it for his bow, and in the Australian Dreaming, it adorns the scales of the Rainbow Serpent who created the world. It’s also got a maxim built into it: something positive that cannot appear without something negative happening first. There are no rainbows without rain, at least a little of which must fall into every life.

In 1978, this metaphor for something containing a multitude of variations became associated with gay pride and diversity, through the efforts of artist/drag queen Gilbert Baker, who said of it: “We needed something beautiful, something from us. The rainbow is so perfect because it really fits our diversity in terms of race, gender, ages, all of those things. Plus, it’s a natural flag—it’s from the sky! And even though the rainbow has been used in other ways in vexilography, this use has now far eclipsed any other use that it had.”

And we should not forget Skittles and the slogan “verb the rainbow.”

What happens when it becomes hair color that makes it particularly hate-worthy for dour conservatives? It’s something I’m fairly familiar with, since I started dying my hair with streaks of pink in 2006 when I found Loreal’s Color Rays on a Bartell’s shelf. The dye requires no pre-bleaching; it is alarmingly, wonderfully bright when it first goes on, and fades over the course of the next couple of months. While it only comes in three colors rather the multitudes other lines hold. I have yet to find another dye that lasts as long and well. I’ve tried plenty over the years, including Manic Panic, Ion, Arctic Fox, and Vibes. I wrote at length about the (over a decade-long now) experience in The Pink Hair Manifesto so I’ll avoid saying anything other than it’s something I anticipate continuing to do, particularly since it’s become part of my authorial brand.

Let’s ground the recent phenomenon of chemically-colored hair plumage historically, since it happened a few decades earlier than my decision. Fabulous colors required science to make it possible, but the earliest adopters were the punks, particularly Cyndi Lauper. This was considered pretty shocking; I can remember a girl at my high school dying a small patch of hers blue and having her father threaten to kick her out of the house as a result.

Rainbow hair, rooted in a counter-culture movement, revels in individuality and a certain DIY spirit (there is no shame in going to the salon for it, but I find it much more fun to do my own). It celebrates one’s appearance, draws the eye rather than shrinking away from it. It is something beautiful that those who don’t fit inside normal standards of beauty can have. It is playful, joyful, delightful at times.

Very recently it has spread like wildfire, and many of the people adopting it are millennials. This gives the anti-rainbow hair sentiment a double-whammy, providing an “oh these kids nowadays” moment while slamming anyone older for acting overly young. (Which implies that’s a bad thing, which isn’t a notion I agree with).

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 10.19.06 AMHere’s something that I think also often makes conservative minds bristle: it confuses gender norms. In traditional thinking, men aren’t supposed to care about or celebrate their appearance in the way women are. But rainbow hair appears all over the gender spectrum. Pull in the strand of meaning associated with gay pride, and the objectionability quotient increases.

There’s a reason alt-right and other manifestations of conservative trollish rhetoric so often focuses on appearance, on fat-shaming or fuckability or even how a new Ken-doll wears their hair. It’s a reversion to the schoolyard insult, the way insecure children will be cruel to others in order to try to build their internal self-worth, a behavior many, but sadly not all, outgrow. Worthy of an essay in itself is the fact that it’s also behavior advantageous to advertisers: anxious consumers who want to fit in are willing to spend money in the effort.

This strategy of playground taunts based on a) something most people have little control over and b) a rigid set of norms is curious when we go back to the associated ideas of emotion and “feels” (I do want to talk about what additional stuff is built into the latter, but let me return to that in a second.) Emotion is traditionally seen as the domain of women and children; men keep a stiff upper lip and a silent heart of winter. Often emotionality is built into the verbs used to describe speech: shrill, shriek, and scream are favorites.

Big boys don’t cry. Women and other non-males do, and there is a Smeagol or Renfield-level insistence on the deliciousness of such tears, as with so much of the writing, which depends on mockery of other people’s passions or even what’s portrayed as their rude insistence on co-existing in this world.

It would be nice if pointing out the gender and other biases BS built into such language defused it entirely, but certainly it’s easier to keep it from affecting you if you’re aware of it. Life for many non-mainstream groups is a constant course of avoiding the particular lumps of low-level radiation scattered throughout our daily landscape. I’m aware I’ve got some shielding from that denied others.

So what’s built into “feels” beyond that? It’s a denigration of the memespeak and emoticons of the millennials, as far as I can tell, a curious mockery of Tumblr and lolcat culture. And there’s a reason that they fear that group, which is better (IMO) at seeing through the clouds of Internet argument than some of the other generations.

Literally four decades ago, when I was a kid, we saw football player Rosey Grier singing that it was all right to feel things:

I’m bemused that the people in the world I inhabit remain so wedded to a norm that seems harmful to men and makes them less capable of understanding the world. Maybe the feelz aren’t such a bad thing after all.

Which leads me to my conclusion, which is that it seems like an ineffective and overly dour point to hammer on. Overall, I can’t read any of the negatives being packed into rainbow-haired as actual negatives. Celebrate the rainbow connection, I say, and close accordingly with that.

Who said that wishes would be heard and answered when wished on the morning star?
Someone thought of that and someone believed it.
Look what it’s done so far.
What’s so amazing that keeps us stargazing and what do we think we might see?
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

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Guidelines for Guest Blog Posts

IMG_3041Because I’ve run a number of guest posts on my blog and get offered additional ones from time to time, here’s the guidelines. I prefer they fall into one of the following areas but I’m open to interesting pitches:

  • Interesting and not much explored areas of writing
  • Writers or other individuals you have been inspired by
  • Your favorite kitchen and a recipe to cook in it
  • A recipe or description of a meal from your upcoming book
  • Women in the history of speculative fiction, ranging from very early figures such as Margaret Cavendish and Many Wollstonecraft up to the present day.

Please do send a pitch along with relevant dates (if, for example, you want to time things with a book release) to cat AT If it sounds good, I’ll let you know. Length is 500 words on up. Please include 1-5 images that can be used with the piece and a 100 word bio that includes a pointer to your website and social media presences

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