Yesterday's post about swapfic? Not the only thing to be said about swapfic. Nor, incidentally, do I think that every incidence of swapfic is something that someone has written with the intention of producing a trans narrative. Nor am I in any way outraged by the existence of swapfic. I don't regard it as a moral evil. I don't even have the same reservations I have about it as I do with mainstream m/m romance and slash. And yes, I know that swapfic can be something more complex and challenging than "VWOOP! new body, let's shag!" and that this more complex thing can touch on trans themes under the right circumstances.
While I like to think I'm speaking the obvious in explaining why I think there's a distinction, I also encounter a lot of people in my daily life who think they understand dysphoria and what happens under the big trans umbrella a lot better than they really do.
While most of my friends are pretty savvy people, and a great many of them are LGBTQ, sometimes people I know are otherwise intelligent say some really appalling things to my face. It always baffles me when this happens, like "how could you miss this really obvious thing?"
Given the virtual absence of trans characters in fiction, and how unevenly transness is treated in fanwork, I'm saying an obvious thing. I'm laying it out and supporting it. Not because I'm outraged or awash in a sea of things that make me angry, but because there's genuinely a case to be made for this being a point of confusion to people who are not savvy in the way my friends are (usually) savvy.
And that "usually" is there for a reason. Because my cis friends? Do fail sometimes. And if they fail, what will less informed people make of these things?
It's Tuesday night, and I'm at the library with a huge paper cup of Earl Gray (hot, milk, two sugars), a pen that has a laser in it, and a FREE JELLY DONUT.
Yeah, so Tuesday night rocks pretty hard.
If you've been reading for a little while, you'll probably be aware that 2010 is a book year. This is my mantra, my raison d'être, and the thing that's kept me sane through the month of March now that I am a wholly owned subsidiary of Dread Mistress Chloie.
For most of 2009 (and the earlier part of 2010), my life looked a lot like this:
- Find a story/prompt/market that appeals to me, or is inclusive of something that I'm already writing.
- Write the hell out of that thing.
- Submit the piece.
- Wait, freak out, wait, etc. until I get a response.
- Celebrate (if piece sells) or retool & resubmit (if rejected).
I got really good at this. I enjoyed this. There's structure and magic in the submissions process. It's a roller coaster, it's stressful, it reduces me to a gibbering wreck. A happy gibbering wreck with a goal, but writers? We're crazy. I'm lucky that gibbering was all I got up to, really.
Last month (with the exception of one thing I knew I had on my plate), this stopped being the plan. Free writing, play, and undirected, non-project writing was the rule. I was, in no uncertain terms, evicted from my comfort zone until this past Sunday.
People. This was hard.
During the month of March I learned some really important things about myself as a writer, and as a human being who writes.
One, have a lot of my self-worth bundled up in the idea that I am writing for publication. I judge my writing by whether or not it's something I can sell. This isn't entirely wrong or unfair as at some point I'd like very much to make a living with my writing. Since 2008 I've given myself permission to treat it like work. I've got an office at home in which I write daily. It is, as we say on the Internet, SRS BZNS. Putting everything aside and just doing the thing with no end attached to it was incredibly difficult. Apparently I'm more result-oriented than I thought.
Two, except for the one submission I did send out, I was basically prohibited from editing, heavy drafting, or anything but putting words in lines that pleased me in the moment. Again, this made me crazy. Before, when I worked, I would edit all the time. I'd write on my netbook and go back and correct misspellings, change turns of phrase, and so on as I went. I spent a lot of March writing longhand. Which, oddly, is how I learned this next tidbit.
Three, I write more at a higher rate of speed if I write longhand. Which sounds wrong on every level to me because handwriting and I are not good friends. My penmanship is absolutely abysmal. On the other hand, the inability to go back and correct things and leave no trace also makes me faster and more resilient. I don't like something? Fine. Mark it out and move on in the moment. I can always make changes when I type it up later.
Now, the purported reason for all of this is to get me in the chair (where I already was), to help me build a set of rituals (some of which I already had), to get me interested in writing (I do this 20 hours a week instead of watching TV so I'm either already interested or insane), and to get me accustomed to writing to quota (alright, so this was something I needed practice with). And I'm not complaining, but if you ask me, there's something more devious afoot.
Because now I'm still not allowed to write to a specific end (though I cheat a little around the edges on a couple of gift projects I really need to finish), or edit, or any of that. Those rules remain in play. But now I've been directed to point this manic storm of random words at my would-be characters. Just write crazy, random stuff about them. Open their mail, let them drive to Detroit, whatever.
The payoff: a minimum of about 17k of potential raw material.
Look, the thing is, I know that Chloie is devious. She's evil. And she's brilliant in that "I really hope she never decides to do me harm" sort of way a lot of my friends seem to have. Meanwhile, my muse is up in here acting like the rats in Room 101. I'm actually a little bit afraid of my creative self today after hitting quota in just under an hour in spite of a fever and gut sickness last night. Yeah, alright, it's killing me that I'm doing other work and cant go bounding off across the Internet to submit to this, but holy crap. I'm going to have 17k of raw material!
(But seriously. She could kill me and nobody would ever find the body.)
Week one back in the clutches of Dread Mistress Chloie, and already my anxiety level has gone through the roof. It's not surprising, since I've put a lot of emotional eggs into the '2010 is a book year' basket since before November, even. That I'm experiencing a solid case of the screaming crazies should surprise me not at all.
The last time I did one of Chloie's workshops, it changed a lot of fundamental things about my relationship with my writing (and, as a result, a lot of things about my life). Putting my process under a microscope in the ways she expects me to is hard. I'm in a better place to utilize the tools and help she's got on offer than I was in 2008, but the necessary breaking down and taking apart feels very near.
(Chloie, if you're reading this, just know that you're going to get a volley of freaked-out e-mails in the near future. You may wish to invest in some Thorazine.)
My friend Veronica Strega (who's got a bit of erotica up over at Clean Sheets) lured me out this morning to see the new Alice in Wonderland film in 3-D. I thought it was beautifully done with a few exceptions (the 3-D seemed to go a bit muddy when things moved quickly, there's one moment of significant WTF that left me quite cold, and one thing which fell a bit flat for me but that I can't mention without feeling horribly spoilery). Plus, having avoided a lot of the promotional lead-up, I had lots of fantastic moments of "holy crap, that's [insert actor's name here]!" We had coffee after and talked about biographers, general weirdness, and Speculative Literature Foundation grants. It was good.
My tab collection is getting out of hand. Have some links:
- One of the people I met at Gally, Jean Kang, has just released It Always Looks Better in My Head: A Sketchbook. Jean is awesome, her art is awesome, and everyone should buy this.
- An unsolved mystery from 60 years ago gets fresh attention when a reporter alleges that the 'cursed bread' of Pont-Saint-Esprit was the result of a CIA experiment. You can find an earlier article about the event (pre-LSD allegation) here, as well as a bit of video here. I confess that I prefer other narratives to the CIA one just in terms of it being an interesting story, but the idea of a whole town just going mad out of nowhere is fascinating and terrifying.
- A remarkably on-point piece by Peter Straub about the ridiculousness of genre snobbery. Aside: I want a spooky, light-up LEGO man!
- Cheryl Morgan has been refused entry into the United States. The whole situation is rather bizarre, and unfortunate, and there's apparently not much that can be done.
- Linked via everywhere, an incredibly useful, thoughtful post about suicide and the mental health system.
- The US Census does not count LGBTQ people (and, in fact, has changed data in the past to erase us). If you're a LGBTQ person or a straight ally, I encourage you to Queer the Census.
- I shouldn't laugh as hard at this as I do. AND YET.
- On a similar topic, Tea Party v. Coffee Party. As an avid consumer of hot beverages, I'm beginning to find this whole thing uncomfortably political. STOP MAKING ME CHOOSE, PEOPLE. (OTOH, think of all the action you could get on Capitol Hill if you started the 'Coffee, Tea, or Me?' Party...)
Spent an extraordinarily productive evening with my dread mistress Chloie last night. She had project work that needed doing and I had a story that needed plotting, and so we kept one another more or less in line until things were sorted. That turned out to be much closer to 3 AM than could possibly have been predicted, but it was good, and nobody got thrown through any windows.
Not that we didn't try.
Nominations are open for the WSFA Small Press Awards. If you're a small press author or publisher dealing in "imaginative literature" and know of something fantastic -- either a book or short story in a small press anthology or periodical -- go get your nomination on!
Of interest to anybody who writes, Joshua Palmatier posted about the nitpickier side of long fiction, writer's tics, and the travails of publishing a novel that will either be quite informative or make you groan with familiarity.
Otherwise, things are relatively quiet here at the house. Well, aside from the reasonable last-minute sort of panics one has before going to a convention. Gallifrey is starting to feel like a real thing that I'm doing, not just some words scrawled on my calendar in Sharpie. Airplanes! California! Panels! Me hyperventilating a little bit because I have to confirm my shuttle reservation!
And now to get some other useful things done so I can start getting a bit of word count going on this story.
Today's interesting thing: Claire Light writes about the apparent gap between women and PoC who are interested in writing and women and PoC who submit their work to major and/or mainstream markets.
I confess to having trouble getting into the meat of her post without clenching my teeth. Light complains about how few women and PoC submit to things within spitting distance of declaring most of the submissions she sees from them rubbish. She complains about talented writers who don't submit to high profile markets in an industry that continues to behave in ways that are hostile to them.
Even so, she makes some really excellent suggestions for editors who want to be proactive and court a more diverse contributor pool. My sense is that Light's intentions are good, but her post runs afoul of a lot of the same things that make mainstream publishing unattractive to the people she's trying to open it up to.
So, you know, it's a worthwhile read.
(Side note: Nick Mamatas challenges her statement about the quality of submissions by women and PoC here.)
For the last week and change, I've been working almost exclusively on a single story. In its final draft I anticipate that it's going to clock in at about 3,500 words. Being halfway through the heavy lifting of the second draft, I can say that I think it's going to be a readable and satisfying 3,500 words. But oh, has this week highlighted some major problems in my process.
To start, I did not go into this knowing what I was doing. Now, I've worked hard on and been proud of things that came out of nowhere, but starting this story was the writing equivalent of storming out of the room in a fit of pique.
I didn't know my characters, or how the story went, or anything at all. So I improvised. I grabbed some characters I already had in my head and made do. This was great fun because these are people I wanted to get to know anyway, but it had a massive side-effect of leading me in entirely the wrong direction. By day three, I was reduced to swearing and pacing because -- argh! -- I was either telling the wrong sort of story with the right people, or the right sort of story for the wrong people.
So I re-cast the lot of them.
This worked enormously well. I knew now the sorts of people I needed to do what, and where. I didn't know all the whys, but I knew the trajectory I wanted more or less. I spent a lot of time re-writing what I already had to accommodate these new people before I got into the new prose.
Which was awesome. I was happy. My plan was working! Except that while I now knew who I was writing well enough, I didn't actually know where my story was going. Which, honestly, you'd think I'd realize before day seven on a short piece, but apparently I am not the brains of the operation this month.
It is hard to look at a week of work and acknowledge that the problem with it is that I've spent a week doing the literary equivalent of feeling around for my keys in the dark with the light switch well within reach. A lot of the joy in writing for me is that process of discovery. I want to find out what happens next, so I make things happen.
Except in this case I was having to go through every possibility until I struck upon the right one, and many of the bits I was telling wrong in the original draft were still wrong. Not as wrong, salvageable in a couple of cases, but still wrong.
Last night, I took a string and tied it to point A of my draft, followed it through what I had, and then tied it to point B. And then, because it was the right thing to do, I took a claw hammer to everything that didn't belong to that string and ripped it out. And that felt good, though it means I'm going through the whole story and basically re-writing it. Again.
When I look at the past nine days, what I get from the experience is a good reminder that structure isn't the enemy. Too much structure (i.e. knowing everything and then slavishly obeying it) can be, though that's mostly because my brain says that I've already written my story, and that it wants to move on to the next thing. Still, hauling off with no sense of where I'm going and why is equally dumb because it's tiring. I have to do four times the amount of work I should be doing, and there's no way I can write a book like this and still finish while I'm alive.
So yes, I'll be glad to see the other side of this one, if only because it makes me want to do the next one in better, smarter ways.
Adventures in e-Publishing, Cat Valente is right about everything ever, and night of the (not-gay!) living dead
It's still February, which means my essay, "Writing Our Own (Alternate) Histories," is still in this month's issue of Crossed Genres. If you've got the time and inclination, check it out!
Speaking of things you can read without pulping trees first, Aleksandr Voinov is doing an experiment. He's posted his and Raev Gray's short story, "Spoils of War" on Smashwords, and is letting readers decide how much to pay for it. So far, it's been interesting to see the results. Check out his first three posts about it here, here, and here.
If you haven't read Cat Valente's blog lately, you've probably missed out on her posts about angry-making gender coding in hygiene products and the hell that is gender relations in popular media.
Please go read them. If it seems a little angry, that's because these things are worth being angry over.
Jim C. Hines added some commentary on the topic, which is (as usual) spot on as well.
And you know, I'm interested in this as a writer because I want to innovate and imagine and make good stories that don't propagate harm. When I say that, though, that's such a small thing compared to how important it is to look at this problem of culture as a human being living in it.
Regardless of your gender or sexuality or politics, these are the messages we see and hear and read and repeat, over and over, without thinking. We are so accustomed to it that we think that, "oh, it's just the way things are," when men are violent, or when women are victims, or when relationships fail because people don't know how to have them properly, or when people are harassed in the workplace, or when a boy likes dolls or a girl likes to climb trees, and it's exhausting because all of us have to invest so much time in either a) conforming to something which is not natural to us, or b) fighting the tide of expectation and everyone who tries to enforce these roles.
As human beings, this is a matter of life and death.
In less cheerful news, an upcoming anthology I'd planned to submit to has recently been withdrawn by the publisher because of anti-gay sentiment expressed not by possible readers, but by other authors who've submitted work the publisher.
When I write here about LGBTQ stories being harder to sell, or about LGBTQ writers having a steeper hill to climb in order to earn respect and make a living at their writing, I often get notes from people who tell me that these problems are long since past, and to get over it, and that there is no movement that actively wants to silence people like me, or the stories that we want to tell.
And yet, apparently the idea that the living dead (and those who survive to fight them) might exist in ways that transcend mainstream attitudes about gender and sexuality, and that someone might want to put this stuff in a book, is sufficiently robust a threat that multiple someones acted to shut it down.
I'm hoping this project will find another bigger, better, and more badass publisher. I was already writing my submission more for the love than for the money. Now, though, I'm writing it because I've got something to prove as well.
(And, because a post about zombies warrants a mention of it, if you dig both zombies and poetry, check out Vicious Verses and Reanimated Rhymes. I'm in there, my friend John C. Hay is in there, and everyone I know who's bought a copy has said exceedingly nice things.)