My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Red Ink, Manuscripts, and a Multiple-Stabbing Victim

Marla had used blue ink. For some reason, that made things more clear than if she'd used red. This wasn't like when I was a junior at Eisenhower High School and Mrs. Scambray shrugged a bunch of arbitrary-sounding, angry red comments on me. I'd worked very hard on that English lit paper and none of those red marks made any sense to me. Especially not the C at the bottom. But this book that Marla had returned to me by FedEx wasn't that crushing 10-paged essay on the ridiculous thesis foisted upon on me in 1985 -- the equilibrium between heart and mind in _The Scarlet Letter_? WTactualH?

What Marla had done was review every one of those 300+ pages in my manuscript and marked up the hardcopy (it was 1999 and paper was all the fashion back then) to note examples of problems in the book. Examples of problems. Hunh. Think on that.

Imagine that you write an essay and send it to me for comments. I return to you your 750 words with slashes and circles and maybe some of those fancy insert paragraphs marks. At the bottom of your essay, I write the commentary equivalent of the C: "This looks like a start, but you're not supporting your thesis with evidence, and I want to charge you rent for all those commas."

Sheesh. What a trainwreck. I'm talking about the imaginary edit and comments I sent to you, by the way. Not your essay.

In 1999, Marla sent me a present of the sort that I'm supposed to say I didn't understand at the time. But keep in mind where'd I'd come from. In Mrs. Scambray's class, it was all about feedback phrased with a passive-aggressive "you should know this already." Who cares that according to Mrs. Scambray's evaluation I should already know this stuff that she was marking up? Clearly, I didn't, and so maybe it should have occurred to my English teacher that she should, um, TEACH.

So I knew right away the value of that smurfed-up manuscript that Marla had returned to me. I set that manuscript on my desk, opened its files on my computer, and I began taking notes on her notes.

She'd written me a note at the start of the book encapsulating the point of all those little blue ticks and marks and total teardown recommendations. It went to the effect of, "This looks like a start. Let's work on strengthening it, adding loads of examples to demonstrate your points, and afterwards, we'll work on some micro stuff like word choices and mistakes."

Let's do the text equivalent of a conversational pause to soak that in.

I think we do that with a set of ellipses. Damn. Marla would know.


I photocopied that note (that was a process in which we'd use a huge machine that was usually broken to take a black-and-white image like a picture of something such as a piece of paper or at office holiday parties, someone's bottom) and taped it to the surface of my desk. I glanced at that note periodically as I went through her changes, always reminding myself of the point of all of these edits. I didn't feel anxious. We were working together on this start to strengthen it, adding loads of examples, etc.

I could "feel" my writing skill take a leap over the weeks that I delved into that manuscript. The only other time I'd had such a feeling was when math suddenly clicked for me. Not only did the world of mathematics become a place where I could visit, but the new ways of thinking that math gave me caused my work in every subject to jump forward. I understood why that had happened -- math requires logic and that infant skill was pouring into everything I did.

This time, my writing skill was jumping ahead because Marla was a brilliant editor. She didn't just edit my manuscript by indicating things to change. She didn't even bother with fixing mistakes in grammar or typos. She wrote me notes that explained what she thought I was trying to communicate (based on our conversations, emails, and to a lesser extent, the manuscript itself), told me what I was actually communicating, and then suggested specific changes to align the text with what she knew I was trying to say.

She advocated total teardowns of some sections, but didn't stop there. She added outlines to suggest specific ways to revise the material so that it was communicating what I wanted it to communicate.

The book that we eventually published didn't look at all like the manuscript I'd first sent to her to edit. But it sure did look like the book I'd wanted to create.

I think that school sometimes prepares us to think of editors as adversaries, people we have to sate in some ritualistic way in order to get our stories, essays, and books into the world. And that's a shame because holy hell, editors are resources. They're on our side! They want our books to be as good as we want them to be. They have no interest in feeling superior to us because they can spot a comma splice at 20 meters. Honestly, if your editor returns a first editing pass that's just a collection of wordsmithing and text corrections, then you're either the best writer ever or you've got an editor who didn't look at the big picture.

Writers and editors know the market. I imagine that both groups think they know the market better than the other. It's probably one of those things in which each group has a puzzle piece and when they fit their pieces together, they get a great whole blah-di-blah-blah-blah-whatever. It doesn't matter. Respect matters. In general, both writers and editors share the goal of publishing a piece of work that speaks to readers and garners additional readers.

I thanked Marla for that gift. She seemed puzzled. She'd done her job. What's this gift business?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Construction in Progress

No posty post today. I'm working on some fiction that should go up either Friday or Saturday. (The last part of A Demon's Rubicon.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Hugos Nominees Were Robbed! (Mailbox)

Why can't we just keep reading Star Wars clones for another forty years.
The Authors at the Hugos were robbed!

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. And yes, I really do mean that.]  

Bobby writes: 

Not a member, but as a science fiction fan, not giving out awards at a awards show is really a slap in the face. I have not always agreed with the outcomes of the Hugos, but i think the authors who were nominated would likely want to kick the asses of the people who make such decisions. I think the Hugo's just lost a bit of their shine and credibility. As far as entitled white people, you seem fairly entitled yourself, working as a house husband and a writer, a difficult profession to make great money in, even for the talented. I see no winners in the outcome of the Hugo's, no winners at all. Good Luck with your writing. 

My reply:

Sometimes a more important question is to whom would the slap be delivered if a problem were ignored. Slaps in the face are no fun for anyone.  Well, they CAN be, but you need a safe wor---eh, you know what, maybe another time.

This comment dropped in my inbox this morning and I put aside what I was working on to answer it. Because we're nothing if not behind the curve on what's topical here at Writing About Writing, and here was my chance to only be a few days behind instead of weeks. Plus we haven't had a good row in a while, so it's honestly time to light things up a bit. (No not lighten things up. Light them up. Like with flames.) There's nothing quite like washing one's hair righteously and fuming in the shower to whip up the creative juices. My hair got SO fucking conditioned, lemmie tell ya! That shit is like five Loreal commercials worth of luster right now.

Bobby, your comment seems to reflect a major misunderstanding both of the timeline of Sad and Rabid puppies and the mechanisms by which the Hugos are awarded, so let me set a couple of things straight. This is a lot less a "slap in the face" and a lot more someone complaining that they got their hand bruised by a martial artist who did a power block on someone TRYING to slap them in the face. "Ow, you hurt my hand. How COULD you! It's all about me!"

Let me explain to you how the Hugos are awarded. Anyone can nominate books, the several books with the most nominations are then voted on by attendees of Worldcon as well as members of the World Science Fiction Convention who purchase a "supporting membership" (at a non trivial price), and then the Hugos basically pass out the awards to the winners. The Hugos aren't "deciding" who wins. There's no panel. No shadowy cabal sat and cackled evilly that they would be denying the white men their due. They're just handing out the awards to the winners that the people vote on. So unless you're ready to go toe to toe with a bald eagle holding a 2nd amendment-approved star spangled assault rifle, I'm assuming you don't have a problem with democracy. Right.....Bobby?

"i think the authors who were nominated would likely want to kick the asses of the people who make such decisions."
Yes, exactly. Let's make sure you understand the timeline, so you can appreciate the full irony of this statement the way I did when I rolled my eyes so hard that I sprained my left pupil. One year ago was something of a "renaissance" the Hugos. The awards, which had typically been given to cishet white men--some of whom were openly misogynistic, homophobic, racist, and more--suddenly became diverse. Yes, that was a calculated effort to attempt to achieve diversity, but it was a calculated effort at diversity and inclusion, not literally the opposite.

The kinds of writing that these authors were doing explored cultural tensions like appropriation, othering, privilege and more. They also subverted tropes like the damsel in distress, the one-culture aliens, and the weakness of emotional thought. (Also humans an robots falling in love. Who write about that kind of crap? Jesus!) One might even argue that this is a primary strength of science fiction: to discuss social issues through allegory. These authors won.

Let me make sure that was absolutely clear: these authors were nominated, voted upon, and won. They won their awards.

Did we hear that in the back row?

Along came Vox Day and the Sad Puppies. They didn't want "big thinky thoughts" in their science fiction. They wanted the same old shit with big ships, bigger explosions, tropes galore and no confusing space ship pictures on the cover tricking them into reading something that wasn't vapid because apparently they can't read a book jacket or something (which tracks with the whole not liking to think thing, tbh). And to remove that disagreeable diversity of voices, they rigged the nomination process, essentially "stuffing the ballot box" with SO many nominations for works by the white, male, cishet authors as to ensure that the final vote would have none of the selections of the diverse authors they took umbrage with. Well, what became very clear, from WHO they nominated, what they were saying about the "forced diversity," and the Rabid Puppy piggy back off of their movement (and who just came out and said they wanted the "Good Ol' Boys" club back) was that what they really had a problem with was the diversity itself, and that the call for empty-headed science fiction that wouldn't challenge them intellectually was just pretense. I'm not going to say they were stone cold racist, but they were basically looking around the country club and saying "This place used to be better before they let anyone in here."

So now you have them deliberately and overtly manipulating the nomination process to "edge out" the kinds of authors who won last year by writing in SO many white men nominations that it was the only thing on the ballot. And they were very vocal and very transparent about doing so. Seriously, some of them pretty much actually twirled their mustaches–promising to fuck up the Nebulas too.

Well, fandom didn't like that. They didn't like that one bit. Rather than allow this kind of brazen bullshit to stand (and because they couldn't necessarily rally around COUNTER-nominees without being just as bad) they put "Noah Ward" (say it out loud) on the ballot in many of the categories.

The Hugos didn't decide to put "Noah Ward" on the ballot. The Hugos didn't decide who would vote more for No Award than for one of the slated writers. These were readers and lovers of sci-fi. So unless the writers who were nominated want to "kick the asses" of thousands of the greatest sci-fi fans in the world, they basically just got hosed by the situation. Many of them withdrew. And like I wrote in the post you replied to, I do feel terrible for them. They got used as pawns in an asshole's power play game, which wasn't their fault; however, ignoring who would have gotten the "slap in the face" if these white, male, cishet authors were simply given their awards and everyone went home would be a grave error in the calculus of the bigger picture. Because that would have meant Sad Puppies got exactly what they want and could rig the whole Hugos process any time they felt things were getting too diverse.

If anything, the Hugos established their credibility. They can't be easily engineered by one group who wants to eliminate the competition. Their integrity is not simply a matter of drumming up angry white men on social media to write in enough nominations.

You're right though, no one "won." Vox day and the puppies saw to that.

As for your snipe that I'm entitled I think you're mistaking the word "privileged" and "entitled." I know I'm privileged. I'm a white, cis, middle class, het male who speaks English as my first language. I acknowledge that I would have had a much harder life if one or all of those things were different, and that unearned advantages of my birth have played a non-trivial role in where I am today. I have a lovely family that can afford to have one person out of three basically stay home and take care of the kid and the house. Not every family can afford such a thing and they have to scrape together for child care, work a second shift cleaning, and make the best of it. My needs are taken care of, and I make a little bit for spending and saving–I know far too many people who can't say either of those things.

But entitlement involves thinking I deserve those things or that I achieved them all on my own without any undeserved benefit.  I'm not really telling the world that I deserve to be a househusband or that white men people deserve to be househusbands. I'm not telling anyone that I deserve to write or that I've earned my financial situation all on my own with my bootstraps and not because of the privileges I mentioned above. As for writing....I don't even make enough from writing to even pay rent on a cot in the boiler room. However, I also don't complain that I deserve to make more money or that I deserve read more or I'm entitled to be read by all those readers out there who might prefer to read writers of color, LGBT+ writers, or women writers instead of me. I'm not whining that I haven't made it yet or blaming SJWs for encouraging reading diversity that I haven't yet arrived. In fact, I'm usually blown away and breathless by the traffic that I do get, my donors especially, and my regular readers as well. How did I get so lucky? I don't know. But I don't feel entitled to it.

It's also pretty clear that you've never been a housespouse behind a two year old if you think that's some sort of "cushy" gig. (I could get into how "women's work" is undervalued even when it's really hard, but one war at a time.) I like my three meter commute, and once in a while I can furiously pound out a post while The Contrarian watches Cars, but even with two other parents tagging in regularly, I work 50 hours on a average week and never get a day off. You might want to check your assumptions.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Day Off Schedule

We got in from Disneyland at 3am this morning and The Contrarian said, "I am not!" every time I tried to get him to go down in his own bed. Then, I finally collapsed with him in my own bed, and he proceeded to spend the night sleeping diagonally at literally the angle that would somehow allow a 32 inch baby to take up a king sized bed and kicked me in the head any time I dared to forget it.

So I'm going to be an article behind this week, but what that means is that I will put up an article on Saturday–and if all goes according to plan, that will be the final installment of A Demon' s Rubicon.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sad Puppies are Sad

This isn't a proper entry. I'm still at Disneyland and still watching The Contrarian's head pop with excitement.

But can we just take a moment to appreciate the fact that Sad Puppies got their asses a little bit kicked at the Hugo awards*. Rather than see a whiter, maler, straighter, less diverse group of books muscle to victory by manipulating the nomination process, no winner was declared at all. Several categories saw no award (or "Noah Ward" if you're keeping track), and those that were left, largely showed Sad Puppies the door. Can we take a moment to smile that a bunch of entitled white men were not able to UNdiversify one of the two most prestigious awards in science fiction?

I think we can.

*I do feel awful for the authors that didn't realize they'd been slated and got slighted because of it. The sad puppies created some painful collateral damage.