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Author of queer, quirky sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Blame It On The Girls: Boys in Disney and 'Princess Flicks' in General (Girlcember 10)

Hello hello!

Earlier last month, I watched Frozen and compared it to several other Disney movies. I went for a bit of a blog rummage and had a look at other reactions to the movie. They were evenly split between 'FEMINISM YAY' and 'Grrrr, no PoC and they made a hash of the original narrative of the story'. The PoC criticism is a very fair point, as we all know that Disney seems to drop the ball the minute its main characters are non-white, but the last bit, enh; we should be used to Disney making a hash of folklore by now. (I should mention that Kristoff, by the way, has been officially confirmed as being a Saami person--it may have been done messily, but I ended up learning a bit about the Saami people as a result of the debacle, so there's that, anyway.)

Now, what follows involves

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS 


for Frozen and other Disney flicks. Are we good? Good! Then let's talk about something completely different: the boys.


I noticed something interesting--the male characters in Frozen were really quite stellar. The nameless King, Hans, the Duke of Weaselton, and Kristoff were all portrayed with surprising subtlety. The Duke, for example, was a jerk with mostly good intentions, and was manipulated by Hans. Both Hans and Kristoff were pretty layered characters, which was a nice change. And the King was trying to be a good father, but gave his daughter really bad advice--something Disney fathers aren't usually allowed to do. All of this was a great change from the norm.

A change from what, though? Surely the princes aren't that important in Disney movies; it's more about the women, isn't it?


Prince-i-pals


Therein lies the problem. Male characters don't have a problem with character development and representation in 'non-princess' movies, but for most of Disney's history, the men have had even less character and personality than the princesses. Consider Phoebus from Hunchback of Notre Dame, John Smith from Pocahontas, Adam (the human version of the Beast) from Beauty and the Beast, Eric from The Little Mermaid, and the nameless princes from Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White. Granted, the last three are older, but do the newer ones I mentioned really have that much more depth? Sure, there were sequels that expanded on these characters a tiny bit, but the most interesting princes/love interests in the 90s princess movie canon were the Beast (in Beast form), Quasimodo, Aladdin, and Shang-Li. You'll note that these are all societally-rejected or conflicted characters--Shang-Li's abandonment of Mulan on the mountain was very 'unprincely' and memorable. The majority, though, are bland as hell, and much less developed than the princesses. (A comprehensive list of princes and not-quite-princes can be found here.)



Source. Notice any similarities?

In contrast...


Consider princes from the most recent revamps of the franchise--the would-be princes in Brave are played for comedy, and are pretty dorky; Naveen from The Princess and the Frog is probably the most interesting character in the movie, and Kristoff and Hans have plenty of meat to their characterizations. The Prince in Enchanted was at least as interesting and sympathetic as the heroine, with faults to match (though the same cannot be said of Giselle's unmemorable other love interest), but I have to admit to a stumble with Flynn Rider. Flynn--in my opinion--is annoying as hell, but at least his thievery had more consequences than Aladdin's, and came with a deceitful personality. There's something to be said for that. In fact, like Naveen, he was arguably more interesting than Rapunzel herself, and went through more development. Disney has had a tendency to touch on subjects without actually exploring them, so the demonstration of more consequences and depth in a hero's personality and life is a very good progression. Real men (both in the sense of 'good men' and 'actual, 3-D humans that walk around and identify as male) aren't just villains OR heroes. They're lazy, strong, smart, stupid, naive, funny, lame, shy, and awkward; brash, quiet, gentle, sensitive, and sometimes, even boring. We're starting to see that shift, and it's overdue.


Is it changing?



Well, actually, the answer is yes. I don't know if it will lure more boys into the franchises, but at the very least, young girls are getting a better idea of what men can and should be like. Regardless of one's romantic or sexual preferences, getting the idea that men are more than cardboard superhero cutouts with money is pretty important. The idea that male characters can and need to develop right alongside their heroines is simply not there in a lot of female-targeted media. A lot of romance novels tend to blur over that or only add token development to the male leads, when they're not abusive and overly dominant jerks, of course.

So, all of that is very good, and girls deserve examples of realistic men--the song 'Fixer Upper' in Frozen encapsulated why quite beautifully, with the idea that no-one is perfect but love (and patience) can really help--but a constant refrain always punctuates this issue...



Source. Presented without comment.



But...but...princess movies are for girls!


Okay, but do they have to be? I do understand that princess movies are sort of a 'safe space' for a lot of women--girls and grown-ass adults alike--to bond over. However, the fear of boy cooties, much as it may be valid, is foolish and feeds into cloistering of gender roles. I have no doubt that these movies will still continue to be marketed to and written for girls.

This is a serious issue, because it means there's no hook for boys to participate in the princess culture thing easily. I touched on the way girls' toys are segregated in my previous list, and I want to continue with that point here; boys are still stigmatized for liking anything feminine. That's bad both for boys and for girls. Boys do, in fact, knit, bake, paint, and do other artistic things, and they aren't always puff-chested heroes or monsters when they do said things. The problem with assuming boys who do these things are gay is that it forces boys into an awkward feminine camp, to say nothing of the fact that leisure activities have little to do with one's sexuality, if anything.


What needs to be changed?


As always, I like to point the accusatory finger back at the audience rather than just decrying the company. I think Disney is honestly trying, and while they still have a long ways to go with both culture and equal representation, it's more important for us in the audience to adapt. Genderswapping characters and things like the Hawkeye Initiative are great for showing off systemic misogyny and sexism, but women have to take an equal role in making sure that our portrayals of men don't just continue the same negative trends. So, consider inviting a boy or two to that 'Princess movie night'. If you're a writer or artist, consider the way you're portraying men. Are your love interests all 'badass alpha males' or predominantly geeky boys? Are they ripped or otherwise 'perfect'? Is he a rich white dude, or is he a middle-class person of colour? It's time for us as creators to stop making our fictional characters self-inserts, the people we wish we could be or wish we could love. The world has enough cardboard princes. If even Disney can figure that out, so can the rest of us.

*****

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr. More interviews and witty commentaries are coming. Keep checking back to see those surprise posts, too. This is your darling SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Breaking News: PSSST! Free Post-Apocalyptic New Adult novel with QUILTBAG people and POC

Hey guys and gals and people and pandas!

This is free today! As it says on the tin, it's a book loaded with diverse characters. There is also madness, possible magic, and monsters. If you're good, there will be a dragon. If you're bad, there will definitely be a dragon.

Get it here!

image


Pass it on! MWAH!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Gratuitous Violation: Or, Why I Wish People Would Stop Writing About Rape For A While (Girlcember 9)

Hello, hello!

I'm going to stick an 'upsetting content' warning on this post. I hate the phrase 'trigger warning', but there are times when it's applicable, and this is one of them. I might get in trouble for this post, but I welcome a good dialogue. Feel free to post your thoughts and comments below.

In my experience as an editor and a reader, I've come across a fair bit of this in my day. I won't pretend to avoid sexual assault in my own writing--I can think of two stories of my canon that have involved rape. They won't be the last, either. There are times when writing about violation is necessary for a story. I'm also not opposed to making jokes about rape, actually. It's often tasteless, and needs to be done carefully, and gods help you if you threaten to rape a person or say they should be raped. However, that doesn't mean the subject can't be, say, subversively or even darkly funny. For example:



Obviously, this video belongs to Amanda fucking Palmer. 


And, perhaps in spite of or because of my fervent devotion to equality and multiculturalism, feminism, and general human betterment--I'm also very against censorship. Just saying everyone should stop talking about something makes people repress it and hide from their icky feelings. It also doesn't contribute to helping victims--it's just another way of sweeping something uncomfortable under the rug. That means that people are going to say awful shit, unfortunately, and that we'll probably always have tasteless arguments and bigotry. It's part of human nature, so all we can do is try to keep it in check.

Otherwise, though, I'm certainly not opposed to transgressive books. They have a place. I had shivering nightmares after reading the Wikipedia summary of De Sade's 12 Days of Sodom, also known as Salo (and no, I'm not linking it), but I'm not going to say it has no right to exist. I think it's probably the worst thing ever written, but it does exemplify ultimate evil pretty well, I think. And is there a point to retaining an absolute bottom of human achievement? Well, if we forget the lessons of the past, we're certainly doomed to repeat them. So, yes--there is a place for awfulness, but one ought to be aware of what they're talking about, and I am emphatically NOT condoning the horrid misogyny and racism that you hear on Call of Duty teams. Freedom ends where hate speech begins. This is a whole blog post, or several, in and of itself, so I'm going to skip ahead to my main topic.

So, now that you know where I'm coming from and what I stand for, I am going to say something apparently contradictory. Can we please stop writing about rape for a while?

Rape? What's with all the rape?


Specifically, it was editing and reading some really bad indie fiction that brought this to my attention. Names have been redacted to protect the well-intentioned, but trust me when I say that I have read some very messed-up things. Several of the absolute worst books I've ever read all involved gratuitous rape. A lot of people point at 'the patriarchy' (every time you use that word, a kitten dies) and make j'accuse noises, but I sure have seen a lot of female fans writing about the issue. And when I say 'a lot', I do mean a lot. Fan fiction, for instance, is infamous for its bizarre and improbable rape scenes.

Now, I'm not going to say that the multitude of sexualized rapes in fan fiction are contributing to the sexual assaults that female cosplayers have been subjected to. That's an unrelated issue, as far as I know, and given that so many writers of fan-fic are female, it would smack of victim-blaming. Part of me wonders, though, if the casual use of rape as character development/gratification/plot points is contributing to the misunderstandings of sexual assault in geek culture? It is true, unfortunately, that sexual assault figures worldwide are pretty horrifying. Isn't it kind of awful that we're fetishizing something that's a serious human rights concern?

Is there a good side to rape? Why is it so appealing?


I don't know if I would say there's an 'up side' to rape. It is worth writing about as a human experience, sure, and it presents a dark challenge, but this isn't what I'd call a really positive experience. Sure, characters grow from it, just as real people do, and scars become a part of us, but rape isn't usually treated like that in these contexts.

I asked Disarcade, AKA Andrey, for his thoughts, because I was stumped. He pointed out that rape gets around the problem of sexual desire if you're a 'good girl'. If your character is 'pure' and wants to have sex, but is forced to do so, she bears no responsibility for her desire. He was as disturbed by this as I was, but both of us agreed that it did make some sense of why rape has been so sexualised and so often used in fiction.

It also presents an easy solution to the issue of character development and conflict. Notice I say 'easy' rather than 'good'. However, with stunningly high rates of physical and sexual assault affecting people worldwide, there's the disturbing possibility that people write about rape partly because it helps them reframe their own experiences. It may even resound for other victims of assault. Myself, I've been lucky enough to escape that, so I'm just speculating.

 I also understand the appeal of this material to a certain extent. Blurred power lines and borderline coercion--in a safe environment, let me underline the word 'safe'--can be really sexy. There's no sense in denying that roleplay and controlled scenarios for this kind of thing appeal to a LOT of people. Is that necessarily wrong? Well, as long as no-one's getting hurt, far be it from me to judge someone for what they're into. Everyone has skeletons in their closet, and often a few leather harnesses and exotic devices as well.

So: consent play is fine. Fantasy scenarios are fine. But can we please stop relying on rape as cheap and easy character development? It makes one's writing worse, it numbs people to rape, and it's damned sloppy. There are better ways to traumatize a character--though really, if your character only has a personality defined by victimhood, maybe it's time to rethink the character. Even people who undergo severe abuse are still people, outside of and beyond their negative experiences.

How do we fix it? 


Do the right thing. If you find yourself relying on rape to advance a character, cut and paste the scene to your discard pile. If you're typing a one-handed coercive fantasy scene, do us all a favour and maybe keep that in your 'private enjoyment' files. I know this call to make the internet a better place might go unheeded. I'm not saying that we shouldn't write about sexual assault at all, but I am saying that people could stand to write about it less--or at the very least, more respectfully. Don't use it as a cheap plot device. Sympathize with the victim. Don't sexualize it.

Are we good? Good.

*****
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 



Friday, 14 February 2014

Writing Women, Part 4: FINE, SMARTASS, YOU TELL ME HOW TO WRITE WOMEN! (Girlcember 7)

Hello hello!

So, now that you probably think I'm an arrogant feminist twat who's ruined your novel, let's talk about stuff you should do.

Women! How do they work?


The most important thing in writing a woman is to write a person. Talking to real women can help with this. After all, your characters aren't dolls on a table--they're people. Even symbolic people need to be respected. I'm not saying bad things shouldn't or can't happen to them, but tragedies should never be cheap or tossed aside. If the events in the story happened to your mother or sister, how would you feel? What kind of person would they become? Let's not talk about what would happen to you; authors never have objective judgement on that sort of thing.

Understanding a female character requires understanding people. This may require you to leave your desk and talk to actual humans face-to-face. If you've gotten into writing to avoid people, or you're unwilling to do research by talking to the sort of people you're writing about, put down your pen or consider quitting. Writing fiction, whether that's sci fi and fantasy or the highest literary work, is about people. At no point should your characters come second to your plot, and if basic to intermediate research about your population/character/history makes you uncomfortable, stop writing about your topic or change it. This is harsh advice, but it needs to be delivered, based on both the traditional and independent publishing industries' output.


Instructions unclear? Dick stuck in keyboard?


Right, so--women. Make them real people. Your female character is not your substitute best friend, nor your substitute girlfriend, nor an alternate version of you. She is a person who lives in your fictional universe. She has little things she likes, such as chamomile tea or the way cotton ankle-socks feel or the way fresh snow looks. People are built of little details and tiny scraps of history. Grand gestures and career plans are fine, but the way her little sister looked when your character broke her toy train when they were both children matters more. The way your character surprised her mother on her birthday matters more. You don't even have to write these things in (though writing about them for practice might not hurt) to imply that they exist.


Here are some elements you could consider adding to a character--if they fit, that is. Ask these questions and try them on for size.

Has your character been injured? Seriously? Have they got a disability? That could be interesting. Physical challenges are much more intriguing than super-magical competence powers. Sometimes they're even a trade-off for magic, but they don't have to be.

What is your female character's motivation? Does it solely revolve around one person, or two? If it does, try to explore her motivations from her perspective, in a way that doesn't involve family or romance.

What are her favorite things? What does she buy at a market or grocery store first? What are her small indulgences or her vices?

What's the meanest thing she's ever done, the smallest evil? I don't care about saving puppies. I want to know about that one time she kicked on and it let out the saddest whimper on the face of the earth. I want to know what keeps her up at night.

That should give you a starting point. Now, enough talking. Go read some good books with female characters. If in doubt, ask some women. And above all else: practice, practice, practice. We won't eat you alive, as long as you keep trying.

*****
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Human Centipede Syndrome: A Meditation on Internet Activism

Hello hello!

So, those of you who follow me on various streams--Tumblr, Twitter, etcetera--will probably notice a bit of a change in the coming months. I'm giving up on formally trying to pursue activism. I'm currently taking a week of (mostly) blacking out social media, and it's really helped me articulate a few things.

I'm twenty four, and I'm tired. I should not be this tired and exhausted at the thought of interacting with people I like, on platforms I like, about topics I like. I still care about diversity and signal-boosting alternative authors. I still plan to write about queer people and people of colour and the disabled. I still care about environmentally sustainable lifestyles and humane, fair treatment of animals (tasty ones included). I am still going to write about women doing things that they aren't supposed to or 'allowed' to do. This stuff does matter.

But I had to ask myself, as I stared at my Tumblr feed full of people arguing that Joan of Arc might have been bigendered, people tossing around the word 'patriarchy' as an insult, and the endless links on Reddt featuring people complaining about Muslims and women and basically anyone other than themselves--is all this negativity doing anything? Is screaming at people really going to get us anywhere?


Source. I love you guys too much to put actual screenshots from The Human Centipede up.

Who gets to speak?


There is a time to scream and there is a time to pick up your sign, write some letters, and take a stand. Screaming can be good. It's important and necessary. But there's too much of it going on. Add to the fact that a lot of the people doing the screaming are--like me--privileged, white North Americans. That also got me thinking--do I know enough to adequately represent the stuff I care about in public forums?

The answer was, frankly, no. I don't want to misrepresent people from other cultures, the trans* community, or anything else when it comes to issues that revolve around them. I can lend my support, but I can't speak for someone else.

The problem is that people (like me, admittedly) pick up a cause or choose to slam a celebrity for making a misstep without realising the importance of their actions. And then others fight against them, often saying pretty horrible things (the subReddit "Tumblr in Action" is a pretty fine example of social commentary gone awry, and let's not talk about "TalesofPrivilege", which is irritating and misogynistic enough that I don't want to link to it.) Is arguing with a bunch of neckbeards on The Escapist forum going to actually get more diversity into mediaeval settings? And furthermore, do I know enough to really talk about these subjects the way I'd like to?



Source. Opinions, on the internet.

What's the point?


Sure, on issues of mental health or sexual preference, I can speak, but I have professional experience on the first one and personal experience with both. And it's not a matter of being 'not strong enough' to take the endless feces-flinging from both the privileged masses and the hyperaggressive activists. It's about how I want to spend my time.

I am a writer. That means I need to write. I'm also an editor, which means I need to help make other writers' books better. Will an essay on pop culture, the internet, the teeth of Neanderthals, or sci fi help me develop the skills for making good art? In short, yes. Yes it will. Will screaming at people en masse or clicking reblog on a hundred posts or wandering through the endless crap swamp that is Jezebel help me make good art? Nope.

So, what's going to change? There's going to be more phuquerie. I'd rather laugh than scream, and I'd rather comfort than kill. When something matters, I'll still be there with sword drawn and banner flying, but I'm going to save that for the occasions where it's really merited. I'll reach out to people, not just shout into a void.

Here's the raw version of what I was feeling, before I could articulate it more clearly, previously published elsewhere.

"Stop.



Stop telling me to wear makeup. Stop telling me to cut my hair. Stop telling me to watch my mouth when I really am being insulting. Stop telling me to not talk about my genitals. Stop telling me to talk about my genitals. Stop telling me to tag things that passingly mention hard topics. Stop telling me to ‘check my privilege’ as though spewing a magic phrase at me will make me a better and more conscious human being. Stop telling me to not be a feminist. Stop telling me to be a feminist. Stop telling me my activism is annoying. Stop telling me my activism is boring. Stop telling me not to wear dresses. Stop telling me to wear dresses. Stop telling me to cover up. Stop telling me I need Jesus. Stop telling me not to swear. Stop telling me you think I’m too PC or that I’m being diverse for brownie points. Stop telling me something is ‘too diverse’. Stop telling me to campaign 24/7. Stop telling me it doesn’t matter. Stop telling me I should feel awful for liking something. Stop telling me it’s stupid to criticize pop culture. Stop telling me I’m a bad atheist. Stop telling me magic isn’t real. Stop telling me creationism is legit and should be taught in science classes. Stop telling me I am irredeemable. Stop telling me I am lost. Stop telling me there is something wrong with me. Stop telling me I don’t know what it’s like. Stop telling me to be polite before I have opened my mouth. Stop telling me I’m normal. Stop telling me I’m a freak. Stop telling me I’m crazy. Stop telling me my sexual orientation is imaginary. Stop telling me I’m deviant. Stop telling me I’m not deviant enough. Stop telling me I’m obese when I just want to listen to music on Youtube. Stop telling me how to lose fifty pounds with this one weird old tip. Stop telling me my personality is more beautiful than my body. Stop telling me how to have sex. Stop telling me being an introvert makes you special. Stop telling me extroverts are king. Stop telling me you think queers are less than human. Stop telling me you think cis people are less than human. Stop telling me to tag things. Stop telling me it will be fine. Stop telling me it’s my fault. Stop telling me that rape is deserved. Stop telling me pregnancy is deserved. Stop telling me you miss the days when racism was the norm. Stop telling me to smoke weed. Stop telling me not to smoke weed. Stop telling me sex workers are just nasty lazy hoes. Stop telling me that you know better because you are white and male. Stop telling me I am too sensitive. Stop telling me my junk is a political statement. Stop telling me to calm down. Stop telling me to get angry. Stop telling me to just be happy.
Stop. Telling. Me. What. To. Do."

*****

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Three Short Sci-Fi Films

Hello hello!

So, when I'm not writing or reading, I am very fond of movies. Consider this a sort of "Missed It" review of some short films that I really enjoyed. recently. I'll be reviewing these in order of length, and in order of viewing, in fact. So! If you need a break from your Sherlock feels, something to watch that's not just on Netflix, or you're merely looking to spend a couple of hours on something different, I have just the thing.

The first is Pandemic, by Chuck Wendig.




Incidentally, I am now a Wendig-worshipper. The man's brilliant.


This was all show and no tell, and I think that's why I liked it so much. I could stand to watch it a couple more times, frankly. It creates a feeling of horror very effectively in a short time span, and there's minimal use of fancy effects or nonsense. The tension comes from the scale and the mysteries of the implications. What's up with the coal? Is the sister an alien? Possessed? What's the pandemic, exactly? What happens afterwards? It's brief, but very rewarding.


The second film of interest is Junk Head 1. 






I really liked this film because it was subtle, creepy, and unusual without sacrificing emotion or scale. Some of the design elements reminded me of Alien, but the horror really comes from all the unanswered questions about the world. How could humanity fall so low? The aesthetic is grim and oddly beautiful as well. There's even a bit of humour, something that post-apocalyptic settings often neglect, to their detriment. I don't really have anything bad to say about this one; it kept my attention and drew me into its world.

The creator worked on it mostly alone for four years, and is trying to raise funds for a sequel. You should help him. Yamiken Hori is obviously very talented.


The final film is Visioneers, coming in at the longest time.




It features Zach Galifianakis of the mighty beard. I was impressed with his performance and that of the other cast members--the dark comedy of the piece is really stellar. There's a ton of 1984 references as well. I haven't seen the film version, but structurally, Visioneers is similar--but just different enough.

Having worked in an office, OH GODS, THIS MOVIE. It really captures the emotional isolation, meaninglessness, and repetitive nature of office work. There's also some very clever commentary on how people who reject the rat race or try to escape it end up playing into the culture. I won't tell you too much, but it's an on-point analysis of Disney, Walmart, and large corporations in general. And it might just make you lose sleep. Oh, and did I mention the beautiful cinematography and excellent settings? It's precise, and on point, and I could write an entire article analysing it, but I'd prefer that you watch it for yourself. 




*****

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 


Eyes in the Night

Hello hello!

So a friend of mine challenged me to start doing a short story a week. Here's last week's! I may make this a regular feature if you like it. So, without further ado, here is Eyes in the Night!

***

Eyes in the Night


I rub the glass as best as I can. Ol' Petey eyes me with his one good peeper down at the end of the bar. The other one's glazed over with a cataract.

My job ain't easy, but it is what it is. I lick my teeth, avoiding the hurt one on the lower left, and go back for some stale water. Minnie's keepin' it pumped, but it ain't flowin' easy. Not everyone can afford the fixin's of the Grand Hotel a few cities away.

Still as a graveyard tonight. We been raided again. Damn fools comin' into town, thinking they'll just rob us folk and then go shoot some injuns and bag a reward. I'm half Hopi myself, though we're all the same colour of dust 'round these parts. But that half that ain't Hopi is smart enough to know you don't tamper with them people. There's things in the desert, things with gleamin' eyes and long teeth. Them things is older than any damn fool white man's camp and older than the Hopi. It don't take no half-breed fool like me to know you don't mess with the things in the shadows of the desert.

Heard 'em howlin' again last night. Men crowded into the bar. I kept a hand on the gun tucked into my lacies and waited for the usual. Always happens, at least once a month--some fool tourist or prospector or traveller will stagger in through them doors, unaware that he's been saved by the iron over the threshold, and say we oughta do somethin' about them things. They listen to the yowls and yips and one will say somethin' about coyotes. Ain't no damn coyote never sang like that, nor no wolf neither. The voices of despair, a deepness that comes from a place beyond the stars.

"Ain't nobody going after them things," I say, striding out from behind the bar. "Not tonight and not never. You don't like 'em, you should leave. But otherwise, you leave them iron charms around the doors and you ain't got nothing to worry about. We don't bother 'em and they don't bother us."

But people can't leave well enough alone. "It ain't nat'ral," the Damn Fool will say.

"Listen to the Belle," Ol' Petey will mumble. "I saw one 'a them things once. How you think I done lost this eye?"

"Ain't nothin' but age," the Damn Fool or his friend will say. My girls wash things or pour drinks or keep dealin' cards quietly. They know. They don't have to speak up to make sure I get heard.

The town doctor will say somethin', and so will the preacher--if he ain't been run out yet; we can't keep preachers 'round here. And the debate will go on, the Sherriff rollin' his eyes at me. We know. And when he comes to warm my bed at night later, we'll both grumble about another damn fool gettin' lost.

So that's my side 'a the story. You can take it or leave it. Or you can look at the pile 'a white, polished bones licked clean just outside 'a the Hopi camps. I guarantee you, it ain't because my people been eatin' white folk. It's them things. But if you wanna go raidin' or killin' Injuns for a lark, you're welcome to it. But don't come cryin' ta me when yer staggerin' back through them doors, eyes wild, yer tongue ripped outta yer mouth from the screams. You leave them things well enough alone, and the eyes in the night won't bother you none.

Probably.


*****
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Friday, 7 February 2014

Writing Women, Part 3: Rebels Without Their Bras (Girlcember 6)

Hello hello!

The tutorial on writing women continues!

Who is she?



Now that your female character has her sexual orientation, beliefs, and possibly her career picked out, let's talk about her background. Is she an orphan? A super-powerful young girl being fought over by two factions? The Only Hope for Humanity? An embittered assassin or thief, a-la Catwoman? A princess? In love with someone outside her species/social rank/temporal bubble?

 If some or all of these are true, you might have to crumple up your sheet and start again. They've all been done to death. We're bored. Oh, sure, you can write them, but you're going to need to go either balls-deep (or vag-deep, or ass-deep) and just RUN with that cliche in a self-aware way, or you're going to have to do some rewrites. In addition to reinforcing bad ideas--that women exist to serve men, that women are only powerful when they're young/cute/harmless otherwise, or that sex ruins women--those cliches are boring as phuque. We've heard them all before. We're done. Give us something different.


A brief word on a thing you shouldn't do, probably 


Now, another tricky topic--in addition to careers, sexual orientation, and etc, let's talk about a common plot device. If I had a dollar for every time I've read about a female character with sexual assault in her history or during the story, I would have a lot more tacos. Rape is a common trope used to make a character traumatized or tougher. Stop it. Just stop. I don't care how justified you think it is; cut it out. I'm not saying rape should never be written about; quite the opposite. Rape is hard to write about. If you do it properly, it will hurt you as an author and you'll be crumpled up in a ball of feels after you put your character through it. (Ask me how I know.) However, if you need a way to toughen your female character and show trauma in her past, be more goddamn creative. Car accident! Cat that exploded! Lost family member or best friend! These are just scraping the surface. You can do better than tossing in a cheap sideline rape. We'll be talking about that at length in a post down the line.

Some authors may be leaning forward, scrolling in consternation and trying to hold back a sense of panic; others may be leaning back cockily and saying, "ah, yes, but in MY story all of this is necessary!" I don't care what your identity is or what you've got between your legs. If you have a rebellious princess who has a super magical power and is embittered towards her father and still getting over a close-but-not-actual sexual assault that doesn't violate her purity, and if she 'does her own thing' and has several guys (and possibly girls) fawning over her, your book sucks. If you can make all that work, either you are a genius of parody, or you're deluding yourself. There's a small possibility it does work, but I'm not holding my breath.

"Ah," some authors may say, "but my work is literary! It--"

No. Shut up. Quality standards exist for a reason.

"Ah, but my characters defy social conventions!"

Okay, I'm listening.

"In her setting, she's really different for rebelling! She's--"

Is she a human plot device? If she was replaced with a talking lamp, would the story change? No? Shut up.

"But these are basic mistakes! Only really bad authors--" No, they don't. These can happen to the most well-intentioned or practiced authors if they don't pay attention. Don't fall asleep at the watch! It's easy to be sloppy with characters. I'm not saying this makes you a bad person, if you do these. I will willingly cop to a lot of them myself, especially in early drafts. After a while, too, it's easier to move away from tropes and cliches, but they will sneak in!




Source. Katniss is actually a good character because her actions contain internal logic and are self-consistent. 


Rebel, Rebel 


So, how can you make your character a rebel? The social class thing isn't a bad idea. You can play with gender and ethnicity. I was reading The Night Circus recently and noticed that Morgenstern avoided mentioning black people or ethnicity entirely. Not only was it an infuriating inaccuracy given the culture of circuses and sideshows of the era, it cut out some intriguing possible plotlines. Remember, you can make your character a person of colour, queer, or variously abled/challenged, and it doesn't have to make them less 'normal'. If anything, it makes them more normal.

Still not content? Okay, consider your character's circumstances. Why are they rebelling? Do they want to go against society? Is your character an anachronism in a fantasy setting,or is she part of a movement? Is she perhaps conservative? If so, why? Make sure the internal logic of the character holds up outside the story. If her actions make no sense, your audience will be confused and angered.

Okay, so, making sense so far? Tune in next time for more tips!


*****
Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Top 10 Indie Books of 2013

Hello, hello!

Well, it's finally time to pick my Top Ten list for last year's books. Noteable non-indie books were Zamyetin's We, John Varley's Blue Champagne, John Scalzi's Redshirts, and Harlan Ellison's I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream. (On an unrelated note, wow, I read a lot of sci fi this year. My only regret is not reading more.) I'm not what you'd call a proper book reviewer, but I do like sharing my opinion, and I always like to share the word about my favorite books from each year.

So, let's not beat around the bush. Here's a list of the best things I read in the last year. You can find my full reviews on Amazon, of course. In approximate order of awesomeness, behold! The best of 2013!


10. Divorce Hotel 



This was just fun. I had heard good things, but I didn't expect to be laughing as much as I did. It reminded me of Sideways in some ways; it's not quite as bitter, though. If you're looking for a light read that doesn't involve turning your brain off, this is the one.

9. Tea Party Teddy



This one was delectable. It's a biting satire with the sting of truth, and it's both tragic and satisfying. The ending was a bit less dramatic than I expected, but--on second thought, nah, it was pretty good. I don't want to say much, but I will mention that this isn't just a 'Democrat only' satire. One of the female characters' moral choices are particularly conflicted and compelling. Definitely worth a read.


8. Lame Excuses



This one was sitting on my Kindle for a good long time, and I went in blind. I suggest not reading the synopsis at all on this one, because it made for a very rewarding read. It was nice to see an issue that is never addressed actually given some airtime; most books in this genre--which again, I'm not going to spoil--focus on the shiny addictions. Also, this book will make you hungry, so there's that. I also like the moral conflict in the ending. It's realistic, and not in a forced way.

7. The Northman


Now we're getting into the good stuff. How about an eerie sci fi/fantasy/horror/time travel book that also stands on literary merit? Sounds good? Awesome. Oh, and the author understands how women's brains work. Extra points. Frankly, this one could easily have been number one on the list, and it would have been if there weren't so goddamn many good books in the upper half. Anyway, it's amazing, and I highly recommend this for anyone who...screw it, just anyone. It's magnificent.


6. Demon Divided



I'm not really a Paranormal Romance or Paranormal fiction fan. It is known. However, I love this series. This is actually the second book in it, and I can't praise it or the author, Sharon Stevenson, enough for crafting realistic teenagers. I'm still very impressed by the self-contained logic, the chip grease, the alcoholism, and the bad life decisions that aren't overly romanticized. This book will cure your Buffyitis or Supernaturalitosis with its wit and logic.

5. Nexus


Okay, I admit it; Nic Wilson is on here twice. That should tell you something about the scope of the guy's prose. It's deft, sharp, and self-aware. I can dig that. I can't wait for the next one in this series--it had a comfortable Star Trek vibe with a self-awareness and dirtiness that you'd never get from the series proper, and Wilson actually seems to know how technology works. Add in some of the best insults I've ever read, solid science, and really good characters, and you have a surefire winner.


4. Fairwell, Horizontal



Admittedly, choosing between this and Kim Oh 1: Real Dangerous Girl was hard. Really, you should read both. This one won out for inducing sheer, gibbering excitement. It was impressive, original, and the characters were surprisingly subtle. The thing I loved most was the setting, though; I feel the need to reread it, just to try to picture its awesomeness. This book deserves to be a graphic novel.


3. Whores


This was a really challenging read. It was funny, too, but the breadth and depth of the work, and the extent to which it is based on real events, can only be described as terrifying. I don't want to mention any spoilers, but I will say that a very conservative Christian friend of mine couldn't get through the first two pages. That probably speaks for itself. That said, it's well-written, on point, and made me extremely aware of some of the horrifying legislation currently in effect or on the books in the 'home of the free, land of the brave'. Ever notice nobody calls America that anymore? Moving on...


2 Ghost In The Machine 




This is another one of those 'candy that's good for your brain' books. I got hooked on this and immediately bought every other book in the series. I didn't expect to like romance--my personal antipathy for the genre has been noted on many occasions--but the wit, the neat setting, and the self-assured pace of the prose really made it work for me. I love the characters, I love the humour, and I'm pretty sure this series is just crack cocaine in book form. Oh, and did I mention you can leave your brain in the 'on' position while you read these?


1 Neon Lights




This won out because it was the biggest surprise of the year, which is saying something. A completely different genre that I'd never heard of (Street Lit)? Check. Brilliant satire? Check. Layered examination of social/emotional diaspora and the difficulty in conforming to internal expectations of a marginalized group? Check. And the thing is, not only was it beautifully and tightly written, it was moving. I had to put it on top of the list.


So there you have it! Now go give that credit card a workout.


*****

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 
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