Thursday, February 28, 2013

For the Honor of Grayskull

Last week I went to a fascinating lecture given by a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend (of-a-friend? Facebook connections, you know, weird and tenuous) in San Marino, on the grounds of the Huntington Library. I could talk about the Huntington for hundreds of words; it was so beautiful and interesting that I took Matt back the very next day and became a member to boot. But I want to talk about the lecture, instead. It regarded women writers in early pulp magazines, and the project this gentleman, Patrick B. Sharp of CSULA, is doing to preserve these early pulps (pre-1945). From where I live to the Huntington is about 45 minutes' drive with no traffic (and boy, is San Marino a completely different universe than the part of L.A. where I reside), but I decided I had to go anyway because, after all, I've just finished writing a book that has a female hero and no small connection to pulp.

Although women had a somewhat hard time getting published in genre fiction (then as now), there were a nonzero number of them writing, and Dr. Sharp discussed some of the stories they'd published. A few howlers appeared, including a weirdly constructed penis-vagina creature that kind of subsumed an astronaut who had to be saved by another, stronger dude. Stuff like that. In all I found it terrifically interesting context for what went on in sci-fi movies of the 50s and what still goes on in genre magazines and anthologies today.

Backstage at Clarkesworld

Monday, February 25, 2013

This Is How Misogyny Feels

A scene depicting how the first musical number of the 85th Oscars telecast felt from inside my head, starring me and acclaimed caveman Seth MacFarlane.

Hey, Kat! 

Hi, Seth. 

So, I hear you make art. 

Well, I try to. I'm a writer. 

That's terrific. And I hear you're female. 

Sure am. I have a vagina and everything. 

Are you equipped with breasts? 

For the moment. The big C could always hit. 

Ha ha, yeah, cancer's bad. But seriously, you do have boobs, right? 

Yeah, I do. I also have a nose and ears. And a larynx. And a brain, and my hands, the latter two of which I use to make my art. 

But the boobs? 

YES, for heaven's sake, I am the owner of boobs. 

Well, that's great. How about you show them to me? 

Why would I do that? Don't you want to see what I've written, instead? That's what I'm trying to sell to the world. 

See, here's the thing about that. I don't really care about your writing. I don't care about your larynx or your nose, unless your nose is really ugly, in which case I can make fun of it. 

I don't think my nose is particularly--

What I care about is your boobs. Whether I've seen them or not. Whether I'll have the chance to see them again. Your writing? Your "art?" Ha! [laughs for a while] It doesn't really matter what kind of art you make. If you're female, the point is the boobs. That's all that matters about you. 

But I think this book I've written is pretty good. 

Maybe it is and maybe it isn't. But if you put a female name on it, everyone's going to be wondering about your boobs. Everyone. Well, everyone male, which as far as I know is everyone. 


Because you're female. And if you're female, and you make art, the only thing that matters about you is your boobs. 

But my body is irrelevant to the quality of the book I've written. And besides, it belongs to me. 

Sort of. 

No, not sort of. My body belongs to me. If mine were the kind of art where I thought it was a good idea to show my boobs, then I'd do it for the art's purpose, not because my body is intended for objectification. 

[laughs for a while] 

That wasn't funny. 

"Objectification"! What are you, a feminazi? 

My point is that showing my boobs for others' pleasure is not the sole essential thing about me, or about my art, or even about my body. Boobs are incidental. 

[laughter dries up] 
That wasn't funny. Boobs are EVERYTHING. 

No, they aren't. No more than noses are everything. 

Are you going to show me your boobs, or what? 

No. You're not entitled to see my boobs, whether I'm a writer or a movie star or a normal citizen. 

You know, I'll bet I can Google a picture of your boobs from ten years ago or something. 

Even if you could, my boobs still wouldn't be the most important thing about me. But you're certainly making me feel like they are. Which is making me wonder why I'm trying to have this conversation at all, or why I bother to make art in the first place. 



Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rejection and Reading

Some miscellany for today.

I owe thanks to my anonymous commenter of a few days ago. Whoever s/he was, s/he drove a spike of traffic to my blog the likes of which I haven't seen since I got an acceptance in late January. Anonymous criticism: the gift that keeps on giving.

Speaking of comments, a handful of readers (okay really just like three readers) have complained that leaving comments on this blog is annoying and buggy. I didn't understand how that could be, as comments were as open as I could get them - anonymity OK, no spambot text boxes required, etc. A whiz friend has helped me to solve this problem, with any luck, so comment away, even with silly comments, because I love comments. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled comments yearning to speak your mind.

On Tuesday I got the most painfully awesome rejection I imagine I'll ever get (after waiting for six months): "I really wish I could use it, but unfortunately, I can't. ...I suspect you won't have much trouble placing it elsewhere, though, and I look forward to seeing more from you in the future." I laughed a bit at the first half of this last sentence, as it's a pretty exact echo of someone else's words about this story (crazy robot), and this is my third rejection for it.

Despite the positiveness of this rejection, I'm not sure what to do next with this story. It's a bit long as compared to many markets' preferred lengths - over 8,000 words - and it's definitely in the realm of SF. Problem is, this rejection was primarily because the story's too soft in the science for this market. Also, it has sex and violence in it, which nixes markets like Clarkesworld and Orson Scott Card's Etc. Too long (and not right) for Shimmer, and Strange Horizons didn't want it. I'm going to scour Duotrope again for a market that'll suit, but I'm not that optimistic, as my notes from the fall (when I did this the first time) indicate pretty slim pickings for a long, soft, violent, sexy SF story. Maybe I'll just retire it and write some more.

The itch to write has started to come back into my fingers. I have plenty of ideas in my notes book, but none of them are developed, which means a lot of work before the regular work begins. Boo. And I've really enjoyed a total O.D. on movies over the last few weeks. (Like, a gross gluttonous mass of movies. Three a day, sometimes.) But I think I'll have to get back to the red chair - and the notebook - pretty soon.

On to books: I read The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender on Monday, and passionately adored it. I read it all day, compulsively, to the point where when I emerged from the book, all sorts of things had gone on while I was reading that I had neither heard nor seen. Like the dishes getting done and the dishwasher getting started, and my husband switching video games. I'd had no clue at all. GoodReaders were not so kind to the book, but I believe they were looking for plot where there was intended to be emotion and concreteness where suggestiveness was purposeful. There were answers I wanted badly to know at the end of the book, but answering them was not the point; the journey was the point. I recognized so much of myself, cringing in horror, in various places. What an extraordinary book.

And I finished Fifty Writers on Fifty Shades. Worth reading for the handful of essays that were good, but the essays that weren't good - most of them - pissed me off. Some of them were little more than advertisements for whatever work the essayist did, whether s/he was a writer or an educator or an event promoter (!). You may be unsurprised to learn that the authors who had some dabbling knowledge and/or lacked personal experience with BDSM? They saw nothing wrong with the power dynamics in the books, while those who had deep, broad knowledge of the subject were distressed by the relationship portrayed. Gee, I wonder what that means.

I also finished Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber, which took me a very long time for such a short book. I didn't like to start right in on another story as soon as I was finished with the last. The stories tired me, they were so lavish and thick with detail and subtlety. I have a short list of friends to whom I want to send copies of this book, because despite all that it was a remarkable book. But I have this feeling like she's an author that those friends already know about (which is part of why those friends are such cool people), and I'm the last one to the party, and I don't want to embarrass myself.

And finally, I started By Nightfall, Michael Cunningham's latest. He is best known for The Hours, but his 2006 book Specimen Days basically made me want nothing more or less than to write a book exactly like Specimen Days. (And if it takes me my entire life, I will.) The first hundred pages of By Nightfall are...kind of bad, to my great surprise and disappointment. But I'm planning to read the whole thing anyway, so I'll keep you posted.

Monday, February 18, 2013

We Need to Talk About Carl

You know, last week, on an evening before bed, I was thinking about something lousy that happened to me years ago. A circumstance that I got into back in 2004 or thereabouts due to trusting the wrong people, to my own frailties, and to the deft hacking skills of the jealous best friend of my boyfriend at the time. I know that sounds like a soap opera plot, but it really happened, and it caused me and people I cared about a lot of grief. Something I'd known (although not as certainly as I would come to know it) about the best friend - let's call him Carl - was that he'd do anything at all to reach his own ends, no matter what those ends were. Ethics, or the feelings of others, were not really his thing.

When my e-mail was hacked into and used against me, in a way that was indefensible except for that hoary old exception to the libel rule - it ain't defamation if it's true - my boyfriend at the time said a phrase I'll never forget. He told Carl to back off, that this hacking thing was over and done with, and that "she's a private citizen now."

The phrase communicated that Carl was to leave me be, not to treat my personal accounts as public property, not to use his skills to try and root me out of his best friend's life at whatever cost, like a rotted tooth. I don't know why it wasn't enough to tell Carl that you don't treat anyone like that, or why Carl never learned this in the first place.

I was thinking about this the other night before sleep for reasons I know not, except that I'm sort of always grateful under the skin of my everyday life that Carl isn't watching me anymore. Or so I think, and hope. So I prayed (in my way), the other night.

On the Internet, few of us are really private citizens. All of us, from me to Cory Doctorow, purposefully draw our own spheres of public citizenship, whether it's communicating to an intimate circle of friends or a huge group of fans or the entire fucking world. It has occurred to me, when I think about my big castle-in-the-air dreams for my writing, that all the people I've wished to leave behind throughout my life - Carl being numero uno - could potentially see my name and know something further about me than I want them to know, should I find success. It is not a pleasant thought.

I write this blog under my own name anyway, and I try to write work that will appeal to a wide audience anyway. Carl knowing that I continue to exist is collateral damage for the kind of exposure and writing career that I dream about in my more foolish moments. And the positive aspects of not attaining that kind of exposure and career are more plain to me when I think about Carl and similar people I knew in 2004.

Of course, part of what I was wondering when I thought about him the other night was whether he ever did come to consider me a private citizen. After the boyfriend was out of my life, did he continue to keep tabs on me anyway? I don't know why he would, but I don't know why he went to such dishonest and harmful lengths to ruin my relationship, either. Could he log into my Facebook account at will today, if he chose to? Is he reading these words? Is he aware of exactly whom I'm referring to?

Carl is my devil. The person to whom I attribute all the woe and unhappiness that befalls me. He whispered into the UPS driver's ear to make sure my mother's birthday chocolates arrived late. He inspired dozens of people to collude toward a traffic backup that kept me from seeing Matthew Inman in Santa Monica. In some form, he is every insecure thought that keeps me from going further into life, because all he's going to do is dog my steps and spread false information about me and sit in the shadows to record all my worst moments.

He is my stalker. My troll. And he is absolutely irrelevant to my actual life.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Come and See

Another selection from my Highbinder playlist.

That's all for today. Cash speaks for himself, and there's a lot going on in my head this week but none of it's related to writing or reading.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Random Capitalization is KING

I made this on Pulp-O-Mizer.

I love it. I'd've preferred to have the title splash diagonally across the page above the airship, and to remove Amazing Wonder Stories, but neither of those were possible with Pulp-O-Mizer's presets. As it is it's mostly what I had in mind.

I'm most of the way through Fifty Writers on Fifty Shades, and get this: the two most thoughtful, well-written, and filler-free essays I've read within were by writers named Sassafras Lowrey and Sinnamon Love. Clearly, being judgmental about people's chosen names makes an ass out of u and me.

I don't have any writing news, except that I got a rejection for a literary story - shrug - and found another market to which to submit it. And summarily did. And I'm hearing a few things here and there from friends about KUFC as they read it. All are gratifying, some are thought-provoking. Love love love feedback.

It's not yet 8:30 here, and if anyone else reading this is on the West Coast, and you have the capacity, try this to get you through humpday morning.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Stuff Wot I Read 'n' Watched

You must read this Amazon review of a gallon of milk. It left me speechless with joy and wonder.

This week I finished reading Ready Player One, after using it as an example a few weeks ago to talk about the black hole principle. I read some of it last week and most of it in an hourslong session yesterday where I read Cline and Matt read Butcher. Matt enjoyed Ghost Story, but my book was a frustratingly mixed bag. It absolutely overflowed with info dump, going on at enormous length - for whole chapters at a clip - either about things that I already knew (why on earth would I be reading this book if I didn't know how text-based dungeons work or that Back to the Future has a DeLorean in it?)* or about things that, IMHO, really didn't need so much detail. I understand that info dump is hard to avoid, particularly when you've populated a future universe with somewhat obscure paraphernalia of the existant one, but dozens of pages in succession is too much info dump. Once the book was able to get the hell on with it, I loved it, and raced through 50 pages at a time; when it slowed back down to explain and explain some more, I'd find myself getting up for a bathroom break or to get a snack much more frequently.

A good 70% of the experience of reading the book just tickled the hell out of me. Enormous, marvelous originality while still feeling comfortingly familiar, filled with love for its influences. I look forward to what Cline does next, because I hope he improves on his abilities to info dump with circumspection.

*Some degree of this is necessary to nab non-geek readers. But I don't see how non-geek readers would really enjoy this book anyway, and for geek readers it was major overkill. 

I started reading Fifty Writers on Fifty Shades of Grey last night when I was finished with Ready Player One, and it too is pretty mixed. Some of the essays are really good and some of them are...not. In essence it's a book full of blog posts, and as with any group of bloggers, some are smart and thoughtful and some are idiots or regurgitators. (Not all of the writers are mere bloggers, but in reading the book it sure feels like they are. The essays are all about the length of your average blog post and some of them feel hasty indeed.) After I'm done with this one I'll read The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender, which I've meant to read for probably two years now.

On another note, I know there are people who say they "don't watch black-and-white movies," and I just...I can't even comprehend it. In general I don't comprehend it, because that leaves out most of the history of cinema, and because black-and-white isn't a genre, no more than "movies with E in the title" is a genre. But I especially fail to understand after rewatching one of my favorite movies ever last week, an obscure pre-Hays code movie from 1931, Platinum Blonde

All of us are dead and gone, but we can still make you laugh.

There are so many reasons I love and want to talk about this movie, but this is still not a film blog, so I'll just say the biggest one: it showed me that life between humans really isn't that different now than it ever was. People fell in love, married the wrong person, and got divorced even in 1931. People were silly with each other and savvy (or clueless) about each other even then. Lots of stuff has changed - clothes, technology, slang, casual racism - but thanks in part to Platinum Blonde, I have this suspicion that everyday living and interacting in America just hasn't. At all. See it yourself (have patience during the first 15 minutes) and tell me what you think. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

That Time I Tried to Go to an Author Event

Well, that was disappointing.

On Wednesday, miracle writer George Saunders came to the Los Angeles Public Library to give a talk with another writer, Bernard Cooper. Saunders has just published his fourth book of short stories, and I think you could call what he's on a book tour, although it seems to be sort of sparse. Wednesday was his only event in the L.A. area, and because he lives in Syracuse and doesn't write very many books, I thought this would be the only shot I was likely to get in the course of a few years to see him speak.

The LAPL where Saunders was speaking (with Bernard Cooper, I'm compelled to add; I'm sorry you're reduced to an also-ran in this post, Bernard, but I haven't read any of your books) was downtown, though, and I mean downtown, like the skyscraper part of Los Angeles that resembles Manhattan. The talk was at 7:15 and I wanted to get there well in time to get a seat, so I left home at 4:30. Traffic was middling, to my surprise, and I got to the library and found parking in enough time to wander around the smallish but amazing garden space that surrounds the library for a little while. If you're ever in downtown L.A., go to the central library. The architecture is remarkable. Very Andrew Ryan.

I went inside and discovered a line of people waiting outside the auditorium where the talk would take place. So I joined them. After 20 minutes or so we were shuffled to a different line behind a sign that read "Standby". Via eavesdropping on conversations a bit, I learned that this event was ticketed, and that those tickets were all totally gone, so the twenty-odd people waiting in line here were people who almost certainly were not going to get in unless the current ticket-holders decided to go to the ballet instead or something.

Here is the website about the event. Here is the website about the lecture series. Do you see any information about having to attain tickets ahead of time? (It was not "off-site" to my knowledge, as I was waiting IN THE LIBRARY.) No, I don't, either.

So, instead of waiting around another 45 minutes for an event for which I was extremely unlikely to get in (I was 13th in line), I just went home. I felt about how you'd expect me to feel. I admire Saunders enormously and would love to see him speak/read/dance one day, but apparently it's not in the cards this year. (Adding insult to injury, it took about 40 minutes to go three miles, getting out of downtown. But once I was on the 5, things were smooth.)

My consolation prize, getting to visit the library itself (a temple to books) and the really interesting surrounding half-city-block of pretty landscaping and fountains, was a decent one. That and getting to see downtown L.A., which I've never seen, and which was sort of an alien experience. It's stupid of me, but I don't think of Los Angeles as a skyscraper-y type of city. When we went into Hollywood to go to the sign and later to see Grauman's Chinese Theatre, that was the L.A. I always think of when I think of it (or just the broad boulevards and ranch houses that exist in the part of L.A. where I actually reside). Definitely citylike, but not glass and steel and all-business. But I am mistaken in my impression; there is a downtown L.A., and it's not much different from Manhattan or downtown Baltimore.

So. I hoped this post would be another love letter to the experience of hearing authors give talks, but instead it's me saying that I can't wait to go back to the central L.A. library. C'est la vie.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Try, Try Again

Life goes on. Over the weekend, and during a long spell yesterday, I made initial revisions to the KUFC draft. I know I need to give it one more thorough read to make sure I revised it correctly before I start sending it to friends, and I will. Just not...this second.

I realized recently that my job as a copy editor has helped me enormously with my fiction writing. It was a surprise, because the two jobs shouldn't theoretically have much to do with each other. I copy-edit largely meaningless factual articles, all of which have to be written only to a certain point of excellence and not beyond. The New York Times it ain't. Since November of 2011, I've rearranged countless sentences, deleted infinity+1 unnecessary prepositional phrases, and written a great deal of copy even though I didn't want to and wasn't inspired to. All that rearranging and deleting and rewriting has shown me that no sentence has an imperative form, that English is crazy mutable (something I knew vocabularily, but didn't get on a structural level), and that all you need to do in order to write is put one word after another.

The imperative form thing has been the most useful lesson. In the past I tended to think of narrative writing as much more concrete than I now believe it is. Each sentence, I thought, should be structured in one way and one way only, and generally the best way to build the sentence is the way you came up with first, because that's how it feels right.

[your laughter here]

Let's bring in an example. Here's a sentence from the prologue of KUFC (which now has an actual title, Highbinder):
I don't often do jobs across the bay, in part because it's too easy for ferry stewards and M-line attendants to remember seeing me, instead of being able to pass through Ortassi unnoticed like I usually do. 
I know this is sort of a rambling, unsound sentence, but I'm leaving it the way it is. If I wanted to edit it, I would look at it and consider the information I'm communicating in it: 1) Berra (that's "I") doesn't often do jobs across the bay; 2) when a passenger crosses the bay, it's easy for transportation employees to remember seeing him or her; 3) usually Berra goes through Ortassi (that's a city) without being seen. Conclusions we can draw from this sentence are 1) she does most of her "jobs" in the city, and 2) these jobs are of a nature that it's better when she's not being seen.

So, how can I edit the sentence while leaving the information and conclusions intact?
I don't often do jobs across the bay. One reason for this is that ferry stewards and M-line attendants might remember seeing me. I'm pretty hard to spot when I work in the middle of Ortassi. 
This is the simplest edit. It breaks the sentence into thirds and sets its information out to the audience straight, no mixers. With rare exceptions, I just don't write this way. It grates on me and I don't think it communicates nuance the way that something with more style does. Her ego about her abilities shines out in the first edit in an indefinable way that I don't think it does in this edit. You'll notice where I struck through six words that I wrote initially, but didn't need.

Take three:
Most of my jobs take place in the city, so I'm used to passing through Ortassi unnoticed. Going across the bay means encountering ferry stewards, who don't see many people come and go at night. M-line attendants, too, tend to remember seeing you get off at the last stop. 
This is better, stylistically more like me. The similar sounds in "passing/Ortassi" and "attendants/tend" would mean more revision for me, along with the use of the second person in the last part of the last sentence, but other writers would prefer this sort of rhymeish syntax and the genial feeling the reader gets from "you". There's also "see" in two successive sentences. I wouldn't leave it this way, but this is an example.

Take four:
Crossing the bay for my work is unusual. The ferry doesn't see a lot of night passengers, so I might stick in a steward's memory more easily, a problem for someone in my profession. Most frequently I take jobs in the city, and don't encounter too many people who'd remember me for more than a few moments as I flit by in the dark. 
This one is passable, but too wordy and not emotionally nuanced at all. It sets its information forth in an obvious way, which is an advantage for some writers, but not always for me. There are also several simplistic modifiers, like "too" and "more" and "many", which sometimes means I need to break out the thesaurus to say what I really mean, or (as in this case) I'm writing lazily, rather than taking trouble to find the right flow. This version I would strike completely and rewrite rather than trying to cut and paste the pieces together a different way.

Cutting and pasting and rearranging is what I do in my copy-edit job all day long, and the constant question of "How do I put this a different way?" has helped me to read every single sentence in my fiction with the same question in mind. In the past I might have left a not-quite-right sentence as it was just because I didn't think it could be written in a better way. (That sounds egotistical, but what I mean is that I thought there was no better syntactical arrangement of words in English that would say what I wanted to say, not that no one could ever possibly write a better sentence than me.) My assumption was that if I could write it a better way, I would have written it a better way the first time I wrote it. This is bunk and hogwash, but I can only see it as such after having rearranged so many sentences in the past year that I can't even begin to calculate them.

This is what the sentence originally looked like:

I know the formatting's all fucked up if you're reading this in the blog.
Blogger doesn't have a manual picture sizer, because of reasons, I guess. 

So it hasn't changed much. I forgot while I was drafting that I meant this scene to be in the present tense, and later I changed "someone" to "me" to bring the focus back to the main character. Some might argue that I should revise the sentence so that "do" doesn't appear twice, to remove "being able", and so it's clearer sooner that passing through Ortassi refers to I, not to stewards and attendants. But after considering it, along with the other thousands of sentences in Highbinder, I like it the way it is.

The point of this whole exercise is to explain how copy-editing the work of others has helped me with my own, and the biggest change is that I'm able to discern the point of each sentence upon reading it. If I were a more literary writer, the point would be art; if I were a more straightforward writer, the point would be information. For me the point is to communicate information in a specific way, with a specific mood and feel. Doing so often requires breaking the sentence down to its component information and discovering how to retool its syntax to say exactly what I want, exactly how I want. Interestingly, the flexibility of English grammar means that you can often say the exact same thing, with all the same nuance, in half a dozen different configurations. So sometimes revision entails a lot of this, writing and erasing and trying again in a sense that's little more than carpentry.

So, if anyone asks you whether or not writing is an awful lot of work, having read this post, you'll say...?