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Aug. 19th, 2016

02:00 am - Recommend poetry to me?

So here’s the thing: I read very little (basically no) poetry. When I find a thing I like, I really like it . . . but the rest of it more or less bounces off my skull without leaving a mark. Result is that I don’t read much poetry, because the odds of me finding one of those things that will embed itself in my brain instead of poinging off my cranium are too low to make it worth the effort.

But! I have an internet at my disposal!

So those of you who are lovers of poetry: please recommend things to me that you think I would like. To assist in narrowing down that field, here are things I know I like in poetry:

* Narrative, because brain likey story.
* Aural devices, such as meter, rhyme, alliteration, and so forth. (With exceedingly rare exceptions, I bounce hardest of all off free verse.)
* Generally a darker mood; not sure why, but poems about how happy somebody is tend to draw less of my attention.
* Allusions to things I know about, be it mythology or pop culture or what have you.

I would also be interested in seeing the poetically-minded among you ramble on about why you like poetry: how you read it, what you think about when you consider a poem, etc. Theoretically we had a “poetry appreciation” segment in my high school English classes, but, well. High school.

I’ll put specific examples of what I like behind the cut, for space reasons.

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Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Aug. 16th, 2016

02:28 pm - Panel suggestions, free to a good home

After the brouhaha over WFC’s panels the other week, I took to Twitter to brainstorm ideas for panels that would make World Fantasy more up-to-date with the current genre. Wound up with quite a few I’d like to see at some con, a selection of which are below.

Additionally, I propose a guideline for all panel programming: if you’re discussing a topic or subgenre and your panel is not explicitly about either a historical period in the genre or its most recent works, then it may be good to have your panel description reference one foundational work, one classic, and one recent title. So, for example, if you were going to talk about vampires in fiction, you could name-drop Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. If you cannot think of an example from within the last twenty years, then get Twitter or Facebook to help you out. Otherwise you wind up calling Interview “recent” and looking pretty ignorant . . . .

Anyway, panel ideas! Feel free to suggest more in comments.

* Serialized Publication — Both self-publishing and projects like Serial Box have revived this approach to storytelling. How does it differ from its Victorian or pulp-era counterparts (and from modern serialization on TV), and what are the benefits it offers to the writer and the reader?

* Living Memory as History — Fantasy is stereotyped as being mired in a medieval past, but historical fantasy has started to mine the twentieth century for settings. What’s the appeal of setting a novel not in the present, but within living memory, and what perils does that hold?

* Works in Translation — English-language authors often derive a portion of their income stream from translations of their works into other languages, but the flow in the other direction is much smaller. Let’s highlight recent successes of translation into English, and discuss what the barriers are that keep the numbers from rising higher.

* DVD Extras — Author websites and social media provide many opportunities for writers to “add on” to their works, providing additional details or explanation or behind-the-scenes glimpses of how a book came to be. Do these add to the experience, or does knowing too much take away from the magic?

* Trigger Warnings — Fiction, by its nature, often includes content that might be distressing to a given reader. There’s a trend on the internet to note when a post might contain references to triggering content such as sexual assault or child harm, and fanfiction has a long-standing practice of tagging stories to give a preview of what’s inside. How might professional writers do the same — and what, if anything, is the aesthetic cost of doing so?

* Everybody Writes It, Nobody Reads It — Certain genres appear to be more popular with writers than with readers. Or is that just received wisdom? Agents and editors say nobody wants a portal fantasy, and yet many authors want to write them; the same might be true of pulp. Why the disjunct?

* Resurrecting Books — It used to be that your backlist, once out of print, might never be seen again. Self-publishing offers the chance to give these books new life — but what should an author do when these works aren’t up to their current standards of craft, content, or more? Is it better to revise them before republishing, or should they stand as the historical artifacts they are?

* Examining Empire — Good-bye, faceless minions of the Dark Lord; hello, realistic examinations of empire and colonialism. Recent works such as Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire, Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings, and Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant have delved into the ways that empires acquire and maintain power. Let’s discuss the angles they take, and what this tells us about the world today.

* Alternatives to Violence — The default assumption in the genre is that the stakes are high only if a lot of lives are at risk, and the most exciting victory a character can achieve is to win a climactic fight. But there are books that present alternatives, either by solving problems through non-violent means, or by basing the conflict on some other axis entirely. How do writers create excitement and tension without resorting to violence?

* It’s Not About You — Popular authors may find a fandom springing up around their works. How do they strike a balance when it comes to interacting with those fans? Authors have been cautioned for years that it’s dangerous to acknowledge fanfiction and other fanworks, but is that really true? And what’s an author to do when the fans say they aren’t welcome in their own fandom?

* Grimdark Women — When we hear the word “grimdark,” most or all of the authors who come to mind are men, and the stories they tell are often criticized for sexism and misogyny. Who are the women writing in this corner of epic fantasy, and do they receive that label on their works? Are the female characters in their stories handled differently from those in the works of men?

* Poverty in Fantasy — Many fantasy protagonists grow up poor, but in most cases it seems to be cosmetic poverty: the rural farmboy and the girl from the streets never seem to be malnourished or wondering where they’ll sleep tonight. What books feature protagonists who are realistically poor? What are the difficulties in writing about someone who lacks the free time and disposable income to engage in the usual activities of a protagonist?

* Bring Your Own Dragon — Our modern world is mobile like never before, but a lot of urban fantasy still features protagonists who are ethnically and culturally homogenous with their homes. Who’s writing about immigrant protagonists? How can an author navigate the mesh of different folkloric traditions, the dynamics of multiple cosmologies being real?

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/771730.html. Comment here or there.

Aug. 14th, 2016

01:09 pm - World Fantasy 2016

Unless something changes in the next month or so, I will not be attending World Fantasy this year. Here’s some other people giving the background on why:

Sarah Pinsker on the issues with the program
Fox Meadows
Jim Hines
File 770 roundup

And then Darrell Schweitzer doubled down.

World Fantasy has had a number of issues over the years, but this turned out to be the straw that broke my back. As I said in my email to the concom, Schweitzer trumpets the fact that there are “smart and friendly people” at WFC; well, as a smart person, I decline to engage with a program that shows such profound ignorance of the last forty years, and as a friendly person, I decline to support the behavior of someone who doesn’t care how many people he’s alienating. He appears to believe that “PC ignorami” and “outrage junkies” are driving people away from the convention — so the only course of action I can in good conscience follow is to provide a data point in the other direction.

WFC is one of my favorite conventions, but that has more to do with the number of friends I can see there than with the convention itself. If they could update themselves to show any awareness of the genre’s development during my lifetime? That would be excellent. But so long as they’re presenting a program whose genre awareness ends at 1980, and so long as the man in charge of it thinks that women, PoCs, and anybody under the age of fifty is beneath his notice? I decline to join them.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/771364.html. Comment here or there.

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Aug. 12th, 2016

01:38 am - Today’s media thought

I’ve been watching Elementary, and I figured out why I subconsciously keep expecting Sherlock to relapse: because his drug addiction registers on Writer Brain as Chekhov’s gun, and therefore I expect it to go off eventually. But at this point (halfway through season three), I suspect that’s the point the writers want to make. An addiction is Chekhov’s gun . . . and you have to live the rest of your life with it sitting on the mantel, begging to be fired. Whether this is a suitable analogy for addiction or not, I can’t say — I have fortunately never struggled with that myself — but I’m pretty sure that’s the thematic point they’re aiming for. Which I do find interesting.

(What do I think of Elementary as a whole? I think I would like it better if it weren’t a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, because I often find it disappointing in that regard. Their Moriarty is fabulous, but sadly underused, and their Mycroft was not just a resounding disappointment but an active detriment to the story as a whole. But where it’s doing more of its own thing, I think it’s decent. Not hugely compelling for the most part, but acceptable background entertainment.)

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Aug. 10th, 2016

10:15 pm - The Littlest Black Belt Gets Dressed Up

After my test back in March, Shihan gave me a plain black belt to wear.

My real black belt had to be ordered from Okinawa, you see. Which takes a while — and then I vanished for three months, on account of house-buying and travel and house-moving and the dojo’s annual summer break. But tonight I went back, for the first time since early May, and this was waiting for me:

my karate black belt

Mind you, the really real symbol of my achievement won’t come until the dojo party this Christmas. As Shihan has pointed out, anybody can go online and buy a black belt — even one with their name embroidered on it in Japanese. But you can’t buy an enormous diploma signed by a ninth-degree black belt in your style, which is what I’ll get in a few months.

Still and all . . . it’s good to have the belt. 🙂

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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04:38 pm - My first (actual) GenCon

When I lived in Indiana, I would habitually go up to GenCon on a day pass just to go shopping in the dealers’ room. This year was my first time actually attending in any meaningful sense — mostly as a part of the Writers’ Symposium, but it counts, right?

Naturally, I took my camera with me. Wound up not taking nearly as many costume photos as I thought I might, but I quite liked this Lady Thor, posing in a sunbeam:

Lady Thor at GenCon 2016

(I deliberately experimented with cranking certain settings to make the picture look less than entirely realistic.)

GenCon was a lot of fun. I went on a True Dungeon run at Patrick Rothfuss’ invitation, because of my participation in last year’s Worldbuilders fundraiser; most of us were complete newbies, but one of the players had such an enormous stack of equipment tokens for every class that we geared up and went through on Nightmare mode. We, uh, survived? I did a variety of panels, a one-hour workshop on Writing Fight Scenes (which hopefully taught participants many things, and taught me I should ask for a two-hour timeslot next time), and hung out with several friends from my Indiana days. All in all, I call that a good con.

Good enough, in fact, that I’m tempted to go back in a future year — and possibly to run a LARP when I do . . .

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Aug. 1st, 2016

12:55 pm - Dice Tales roundup

Man, I’m behind on linking to these things. Have a bunch of Dice Tales posts!

“PvP(ish)” — on how setting up PCs to be in conflict (or at least contrast) with each other can be a good thing

“Older and Wiser — Or at Least More Powerful” — on character advancement in a campaign

“In Medias Res” — on the narrative challenges of introducing a new PC mid-campaign

“Every Title I Can Think of For This Post Sounds Like Spam” — on the mechanical challenges of same. (All my title ideas had to do with making things bigger, helping them grow, etc.)

Comment over there!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Jul. 29th, 2016

12:22 pm - How to bore me in thirty seconds flat

I needed to be doing some random stuff on the computer this morning, so on a whim, I put on the first episode of Rizzoli & Isles, which is Yet Another Police Procedural, though with two female leads.

First thing I see: a bound and terrified woman, in the clutches of an unknown villain.

Which led me to ask on Twitter, What percentage of police procedurals open their pilot ep with a woman chased, crying, screaming, or dead?

Because seriously — at this point, that is the single most boring way I can think of to open your show. Also problematic and disturbing, but even if you don’t care about those things, maybe you care about it being utterly predictable. There is nothing fresh or new about having the first minute of your police procedural episode show us somebody (usually a woman) being victimized. I said on Twitter, and I meant it, that I would rather see your protagonist file papers. I might decide in hindsight that the paper-filing was also boring . . . but in the moment, I’d be sitting up and wondering, why am I seeing this? Are the papers important? Or something about how the protag is approaching them? Because it isn’t a thing I’ve seen a million times before.

The only thing that brief clip of the victim gives us is (usually) a voyeuristic experience of their victimization. They don’t make the victim a person, an individual we get to know and care about. They rarely even give us meaningful information about the crime, except “this person died from a gunshot/strangulation/burning alive/whatever” — which is info we could easily get later in the episode, through the investigation.

There are exceptions, on a show or individual ep level. But the overwhelming pattern is: here’s some violence for violence’s sake, before we get to the actual characters and the actual story.

I decided last year that I was done with the genre of “blood, tits, and scowling.” I think I’m done with police procedurals, too. I won’t swear I’ll never watch another one, but they’ve just lost all their flavor for me, because I’ve seen so many. And because I am so very, very tired with those predictable openings.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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10:22 am - Stepping up

Last night, I went to the website of the California Democratic Party and filled out a volunteer form.

Because I believe that this election matters — and I don’t just mean the presidential election, though keeping that proud bigot, Donald Trump, out of office is a high priority for me. As I’ve said before, I think we as a society need to pay more attention to the down-ticket races, to the local elections and measures. And I think one of the most corrosive factors in the United States right now is the combination of apathy and organized efforts to restrict voting rights: the sense that your vote doesn’t really matter, and the passage of laws supposedly designed to combat the next-to-nonexistent problem of voter fraud, which just so happen to make it harder for the Wrong Kind of People to vote. I don’t know yet what my local party will ask me to help out with, but I’m hoping I can work on the “get out the vote” end of things.

But I won’t be choosy. Whatever they need, I will do my best to provide. Because I’m not sure I’ve cared about any election year as much as this one.

If you’re involved in politics, organizing or volunteering or holding some political office, speak up in the comments! I’d like to know who out there has already waded into this particular pond.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/769897.html. Comment here or there.

Jul. 28th, 2016

10:32 pm - a three-word review of JASON BOURNE

It came to me while I was sitting through the interminable final action sequence:

Macho masturbatory bullshit.

Because the action scenes were generally half again as long as they needed to be (and full of obnoxious, over-used shaky cam), I had plenty of time to contemplate how done I am with The Adventures of Scowly McScowlface and His Total Awesomeness*. Matt Damon is a good actor, but this film gave him bugger-all to work with; I imagine the direction he received consisted of “look intense!” and pretty much nothing else. And although there was supposed to be an interesting character conflict at the heart of it all, the script basically just nodded in that direction and then went back to the tired old formula of evil cover-ups and revenge. Round about the point at which a SWAT truck started slamming through other cars at an improbable rate, I mentally checked out for good, with the three words given above.

It is perhaps unfair to dismiss the entire film as macho masturbatory bullshit. The most engaging parts had nothing to do with Bourne at all; they were about Nicki Parsons and Heather Lee, who are the actual drivers of the plot. (For a movie titled Jason Bourne, he was a remarkably reactive character, basically just punching bad guys and engaging in vehicle chases when somebody else gives him a reason to.) Even they couldn’t really save the story from its essential blandness; Lee, who’s got a better claim to the title of “protagonist” than anybody else there, spends quite a lot of her time staring at screens and talking into a microphone, telling other people what to do. And contrary to what the director seemed to think, rapid intercuts of people walking places very intently doesn’t really build tension. But quite frankly, watching a straight white dude go around inflicting mayhem has gotten boring enough that even the simple expedient of swapping him out for a straight white woman looks interesting by comparison. My days of needing nothing more than fistfights and explosions to engage my attention are long gone.

I prefer the new Ghostbusters. And Wonder Woman. And that remake they’re planning of The Rocketeer, with a black woman as the lead. Or, y’know, anything with actual characterization and depth. Anything other than The Adventures of Scowly McScowlface and His Total Awesomeness.

*So why did I see the movie? Free ticket, via my husband’s company, which had bought out the entire auditorium for a preview. In hindsight, there were better uses for my evening.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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