The End of the World as I Knew It

Something long overdue happened yesterday.

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Canada legalized pot.

 

It’s a limited legalization, of course: we have to buy it from legally-certified shops, who in turn access the product from legally-certified growers. We are limited to growing four plants per household for personal use. Each province got to increase the rules and regs (up to a point) beyond those laws, and then each municipality got to add bylaws of their own.

But it is legal, and, we are promised, legislation to grant full free pardons to those convicted of simple possession in the past will be forthcoming in the next year.

Canadian dispensaries ran out of legal weed within hours…which says a whole lot about us as a culture.

But what struck me as most telling were the people who suddenly revealed themselves as both fearful and vindictive.  It was there, on my FB wall, as plain as day.

There were a lot of people I had thought of as mature, common-sense, level-headed, tolerant adults, predicting gloom and doom.

There would be a HUGE increase in car crashes. Mayhem in the streets. Depravity run amok. Civilisation as we know it would cease.

And when I pointed out that a) no jurisdiction that had legalized pot had seen any of this happen and b) they knew, for a cold, hard fact that many of their friends had been smoking dope for decades and there was no sign of even small, domestic collapse, let alone an earth-shattering meltdown of society in general, they gleefully said “Time will tell!”

Like they couldn’t wait to be right. Like they wanted things to turn out badly: for people to die, for marriages to end, for there to be riots and looting and the need for martial law to be declared.

The other thing that became apparent, as the discussions progressed, was that this was not about drugs, or even about negative consequences.

It was the power over others that they were losing – that was what annoyed them.

It was as if somewhere in the back of their minds, they had enjoyed the thought that at any point, if a friend who toked up irritated them sufficiently, they could turn them in and ruin their lives.

They would never do it, of course. They are “nice people” and they love their friends to bits.

But that unconfessed potential to harm – coiled so deep under their own understanding of themselves that they do not even now acknowledge it – that was what they were bemoaning the loss of.

The idea that they could no longer feel superior to someone who enjoyed something that they did not do is what is fueling their fear, their anger, their prognostications of doom and gloom.

And I am more than a little dismayed to think that I once respected them.

 

UPDATE
Sunday morning…I noticed that after the Tuesday night/Wednesday morning prognostication of the beginning of Armageddon, these people went utterly silent.

It’s possible that the complete lack of riots and depravity shocked them into speechlessness.

It’s also possible that, having seen the line-ups at the new pot stores, and heard from heretofore “assumed to be straight/turned out to be tokers” (colleagues, supervisors, and close relatives) they are at home on the couch with the smelling salts.

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A Book Review – The Emperor’s Soul

I don’t do these very often, but every once in a while, I hit on a book that really speaks to me.

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This one, a novella by Brandon Sanderson, put out around 2012, hit me at just the right moment. I’m struggling with short story formats (I need a lot of writing real estate…room for error, as it were) and in addition to being a really engaging story, this book taught me some things about structuring shorter work.

It’s about a woman with some very unique skills (well, unique in the sense that I’ve never seen a magic “system” quite like this – it’s incredibly well-parsed out, so that you feel as if it could be real) and a specific problem. Her solution(s) were interesting, unexpected, and believable.

It’s also a very hopeful book. In the same way that C. S. Lewis (I think) said that the point about fighting dragons wasn’t about whether dragons are real, but about the fact that they could be fought, Sanderson gives you the sense that the way things are doesn’t mean they cannot be changed. In this day and age, we need stories like that.

I loved the reading aspect, but then, afterwards, I reread trying to analyze the how part – how Sanderson doled out the information, how he paced the action, how he revealed just enough of the world that you found it real, even though you might not know very many details.

And that might be Sanderson’s biggest gift. Lots of people write books that are engaging and lovely to read, but to be able to do that and also set out a kind of blueprint on how to make a story work – essentially, a lot of Sanderson’s work really can teach you about writing – that’s a rarer ability.

So if you haven’t read The Emperor’s Soul, go do that. For any reason at all.

 

 

True Confessions

This is probably going to be one of the weirder posts I’ve ever done.

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I am, most certainly, a cis-gendered, straight woman. I mean, I’ve never had any doubts about it. Seriously.

But – and this in no way contradicts what I just stated – sometimes, I feel like something else.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m a man.

I know. It sounds a little crazy. It’s just for brief moments. I’ll just be standing there, watching something, or thinking about something, and I just have this flash of a sensation of “being male”.

It’s in no way a “doubt” about my sexuality. It’s in no way any kind of body dysmorphia. I am still utterly “me”, and comfortable in my skin.

And what is more, I sometimes also have flashes of being no gender at all.

I am, in similar, brief moments, aware of myself as simply human, without being on either side of the sexual equipment fence that society has erected.

And no – this gives me no special insight into anyone else’s struggles. I claim no virtue here. It’s just damned interesting to me.

Because the thing is, I suspect I’m not the only one.

I have this sneaking suspicion that all of us, at various moments throughout our lives, suddenly are pushed from our primary orientation by the myriad “others” that inhabit our DNA and our selves, and for a millisecond, have these submerged and fragmented portions of our identity surging to the forefront.

And maybe, for some of us, it’s kind of scary, and maybe that’s why some of us react so hatefully when we see others performing against the tide of what we have been convinced is “normal”.

O, vanitas, vanitatum, omnia vanitas

This blogger (who I admire greatly) has a very different view of this:
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When you start out as a writer, everyone and their aunt’s grandmother will warn you about vanity publishers.

These are outfits that are, very simply, a scam. You pay for everything under the sun (like editing, and PR and the cost of printing the books themselves) and are required by the contract you sign to buy a large number of copies up front. There are no royalties, and you are expected to publicize the book yourself, and do the sales part as well.

You pay for the privilege of having a physical book.

And you would think, in this day and age, when anyone who wants to can produce a book at no actual up-front costs – in this age of Kindle and Ingram and Lulu, et al – that these guys would have folded up and gone away like the dodo.

But they are still out there, catching the unwary by pretending to be actual publishing houses. They solicit your manuscript, flatter you by acting like they don’t go after “just anyone” and that they realio-trulio believe you are the next JK Rowling or whatever.

Because they know that you crave the validation and legitimacy that the mainstream “actual” publishing houses have created as a bar to keep the field in check.

Seriously, the gatekeeper status of the traditional publishing sector is what fueled the need for vanity publishers in large part, and their jealous guardianship of what is “literature” (or even “marketable”) is what keeps these scammers in business.

And to be honest, I don’t think today’s publishing world is that much different from the thieves and con-men on the other side of this fence.

Wait.

No.

Hear me out.

One has only to look at the track record of these “legitimate” businesses to know that they are almost wholly concerned with money, and do not much care if the books they publish are any good at all.

Maybe once upon a time, the men (they were mostly men) who owned and ran these houses cared about books.

And I am sure that the people who act as editors still believe that they care about the text, first and foremost, and are hopeful, every time, that when they pitch a project to the accounting people, that they can fulfill both objectives: to make money and release a great piece of writing.

But when most of the companies involved are owned by huge global corporations that probably sell everything from cell-phone cases to carrot juice, the fact is that it is not about the product’s excellence, but about the money earned. No ifs, ands, or buts.

And because they need to stay earning those dollars, they, too, play on the need for validation and legitimacy – in fact, that’s how they stay in business at all.

They have artificially restricted the input of “product” by erecting more and more barriers to a manuscript being accepted. Very few places allow unsolicited manuscripts (the dreaded “slush pile”) and require you to have an agent (who also erects barriers and gate-keeping walls) to front for you and woo an editor into maybe, possibly, rarely, taking a look at the synopsis and page one before throwing it into the trash.

To get an agent, you will have to have paid for a professional editor, to make sure that the book is good enough (ie: ready right now for publication) to attract an agent.

This means that the few authors that do get accepted have a perceived value over those unaccepted writers. It confers a status.

But it comes at a price.

The authors who have landed actual contracts with actual publishers give up a lot. They aren’t, especially as first timers or “midlist” authors, going to have even minimal input, much less control, over their covers, for example, and, if they want a second kick at the can, they will be docile and obedient about the editing process.

They will be expected to already have a strong social media presence, and for most of them, the majority of time, energy, and costs of publicizing the book will be on their shoulders.

They will, on average, receive about 10-15% for every copy of their book that is sold, once the advance* is paid off and BEFORE the agent gets their cut.

And there is a very high probability that after the second book fails to make the publisher a million or so in profit, that will be the end of the contract.

But forever afterwards, the author gets to bask in the reflected glory of having their work published by a “real” publisher, which means they are a “real” writer, and set apart from the hoi polloi of indies and the unpublished.

Frankly, it’s become as much of a scam as the naked robbery evidenced by those “vanity publishers”.

 

*Advances are trending ever downward, too: the average amount for a first time/unknown author is between $5000 and $15000 now – and that’s if you’re lucky.

 

Switching Up

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When I was about 8 or so, I discovered my dad’s collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books in a box in the basement.

I was a voracious reader, so I sat down and read them all, over the course of a week (maybe longer…I was 8, and now I’m “mumble-y ‘leven plus” years old, so I can’t really say, at this point, how long this took) and I loved them.

It wasn’t that long afterwards that I discovered C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.

 

And I was hooked. Science fiction and fantasy took hold, rooted itself inside of me, although, looking back, I realized that I’d been primed for it through countless books of fairy tales and a healthy dollop of dinner time conversations about real science, and the ongoing Race-To-The-Moon being played out on the evening news.

 

It’s no surprise, given that and the academic family background,  that I ended up as a fantasy writer.

 

Lately, what with the influx of women writers into the field, there’s been an attempted backlash.

Male fandom is increasingly perturbed (okay, maybe that’s the most polite and/or weakest word I could use here) about the proliferation of SFF works that feature not the “John Carter” heroes bravely giving their all to rescue a sex object, but interesting women with agency, tackling problems and solving them without the aid of some more knowledgeable and brawny guy stepping in to save the day.

They are put off by books that deal with the relationships between people, rather than novels that are designed to showcase the superior technology that allows for space travel. They balk at reading about women in command of weapons-systems that can wipe out planets. They weep, as they read the back cover blurbs, unable to find works that they can “relate” to.

They have even, in some cases (#notallmen), organized campaigns to stamp this awful trend out.

It doesn’t need to be like this, of course. But to change this attitude will take some work on male fandom’s part.

They will need to learn, as generations of young women have done before them, to put themselves into another gender’s shoes.

 

I mean – do you think I loved all those Barsoomian tales because I wanted to be kidnapped by Martians and wait around for someone to save me? Do you honestly believe that I identified with Haja, a slave?

I assure, I did not ever think more than a nanosecond about those women, because it was obvious that Burroughs didn’t stop even that long to think about them.

I saw myself as Carter.

And I was not alone.

 

So, guys: when you open a novel and realize that the protagonist does not have massive jolts of male hormones coursing through their veins, and that they do not own the testicular equipment you do, fear not.

You can learn, as countless women have over the last century, to ignore the pronouns, to redesign the “hero” in your mind, and finally, to see the human-ness in all of us, on the page and off.

The Things You (don’t) Need

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Time was, a man or woman grabbed a wax tablet and a twig and started scratching cuneiform symbols, telling a story or pouring out their love for someone in verse.

Then there were those people with the quill pens and the oak-gall ink.

Actual lead pencils, and then fountain pens.

Typewriters, where if you made a mistake, you pretty much had to start a whole new page and retype what you’d already written.

Microsoft Word….

and then…

Pages. Evernote. Grammarly. FocusWriter. FastPencil. Scrivener. yWriter. InDesign. WriteItNow5.  A hundred others.

 

Writing software is proliferating, and so are the articles telling you which one you should be using.

We are so focused now on the bells and whistles of the technology that many writers seem to have forgotten that it isn’t about that. It doesn’t matter how well you master the latest “writing program”. If you cannot tell the story – if you aren’t holding it in your head and your heart – all the programming tricks and electronic aids won’t make you a writer.

I know that some people find the stuff useful.

It’s the intense preoccupation so many writers (especially newer and/or younger writers) have with the tech part that worries me.

Because while all those files and folders might help you keep organized on some level, these are only minor blips in the toolkit.

The real implements of your trade must come from inside you. Spending endless hours arranging the alphabetical list of character names, or labeling your chapter folders, or designing the lay-out of the geological data of your worldbuilding: that’s not writing.

File clerks file.

Tabulators tabulate.

Writers write.