Tag Archive | soapboxes

What We Talk About When We Talk About Shit We Know Nothing About

There’s this way people think about things that I always find surprising and more than a little pernicious.

In general it goes like this: Person A is doing something about X and actively engaged with it. Person B is not engaged with X, but thinks they know something about it because they once read an article/saw a movie/watched a youtube documentary on the subject. So while Person A has experiential, nuanced knowledge of X, Person B believes they have just as comparable and useful knowledge without really ever experiencing anything first-hand about X.

Another way of putting it is like this: when people say they know about X, what they actually know about it tends to be three pictures that they think about when they think about X.

So, for example, when I talk to most other Americans about South Korea, their knowledge of the country is pretty much the Korean War, Kim Jung Un, and kimchee; a weird incongruous  mix of 1950s world events, current cable news, and a pop culture reference or two. As if at this moment I lived amid a ruined city under North Korean siege with tanks outside my window while Psy gungnam-styled all around.

But, like I said, I find this way of thinking to be pernicious, where we mistake our thin veneer of knowledge about something, for actually knowing about it. I’d rather people, myself included, admitted to ignorance and say, “I don’t know.”

More to the point, I think it gets interesting when we start to see where those pictures originated and how they got inside our heads. What purpose is served by their being there? Maybe they say more about us and our own assumptions than they do about the thing we believe we know something about. Maybe we’d be wise to learn how to discern actual knowledge from the billboards we put up to cover our ignorance.

Matheson’s Game

Richard Matheson died a few weeks back. He’s one of those writers that people know without realizing they know. Anyways, when he died I made this quip on facebook:

Richard Matheson has died. Parents, when your child comes home with a copy of ENDER’S GAME, just go ahead and knock that trash from their hands, and give them I AM LEGEND instead.

That pretty much sums up my feelings on Ender Wiggin.

Some Further Words Anyways

Some thoughts on the SF/F genre sparked by the recent, latest, and ongoing SFWA crack-up.

What remains remarkable to me is the genre’s continuing ability to remain stagnant and gleefully rooted in its past. We’ve had over half a century of revolutionary SF with a clear line of fiction and artwork going back to the 60s and earlier. Whether it’s Chip Delany, Ursula LeGuin, or Joanna Russ, the heritage is there for a genre informed by more than the utopian technocratic dreams it sold itself. But Feminism, the New Wave,  cross-pollination from other genres, radical world politics or literary techniques… they all bounce off – or get uprooted and thrown away because those who’ve settled in and claimed “the core audience” status don’t want them there. The genre has a tendency to chew up those it deems to be intruders or unworthy of its “affection”* and spit them out.

I dearly hope to see this cycle end. Diversity, in all its meanings, should be a no-frills default feature and not some extra. Instead it’s gotten to the point where I’ll read a great genre book by a woman/minority/genre-outsider and wonder how long it will be before they get driven out.

A remarkable thing to see in the genre of “ideas”.

Images. Millions of Images. That’s What I Need.

Like most people I have folders and folders full of pictures glommed from all over the Internet. Lately I’ve been making crude collages with them on power point. The above is for a short story about a junky ghost hunter and the codependent relationship he has with his assistants. I made it after the story was written, which is a bit different than using it to brainstorm.

That’s one for a story in process. It hasn’t come together yet like the first one, but that’s likely because the story’s not done. Evocation’s my goal, and there’s a tendency to be prejudiced towards the chosen images and using them to illustrate the story, as opposed to finding the pictures that evoke the story best.

A Squalid, Sinister Atmosphere, Full of Slime and Decay

Locus Online gave “Shadows Under Hexmouth Street” a recommended review.

“Here is mystery in a squalid, sinister atmosphere, full of slime and decay. Well done dark fantasy.”

They say some other stuff. Click the link to read the rest of it.

I was as they say stoked.

Do the Pulps Still Matter?

I love the tradition but hate our adherence to them.

I love that authors have been working with the fantastic for so long that there are literally hundreds of years of material from around the world to get lost in. I love that every week I can potentially encounter a new author’s work. But I hate our desire to delineate genres and name epochs.

I hate tradition. I hate the collector scum, mylar bagging bull shit. (“Well, blah blah, American SF really starts with Hugo Gernsback.”) I’d rather no one walled the genres apart from each other. I’d rather find my own Golden Age than be stuck with someone else’s.

The Golden Age is the books you read when you were ten. The classics are any author writing before you were born. The walls can’t erode fast enough — and the more the pulp squad circles their wagons and closes their ranks around their andropause and incunabula the more I say good riddance.

Fandom doesn’t matter. The community doesn’t matter. Books matter. Reading matters. I fear we often forget this.

One could look at fandom as junkies on one side (“GRRM, I need my fix!”) and fetishists on the other. (“Oh my god! Sniff this book’s binding!”) What some marketing department decides to name Steampunk or what some editor calls the “new” Sword & Sorcery (when really it’s just recent sword and sorcery) or what some grad student writes about the “sense of wonder” doesn’t matter. They’re either tour guides or real estate agents who’ve positioned themselves between a reader and a book. At best they are useful in small doses.

This might be why I raise my eyebrows whenever I hear an SF writer say: “I love science fiction”. It smells too much of an abusive relationship loaded with codependency. I love to read, and I love books, and most of the books I love happen to be genre books, but I don’t love the genres.

The squishier and spongier they get, the happier I am.

NaNoWriMo Tip

Here’s a tip for everyone doing NaNoWriMo.

Say while you’re working on your book you get an idea for a decent 2-4K short story, but are uncertain whether you should take a break long enough to write it.

Now this isn’t an instance of “I think this’ll make a good story”. No, this is the story has more or less bubbled forth fully formed out of the froth of your NaNoWriMo-fevered brain, and since you’ve been putting in long hours pounding the keys you KNOW you can write this story, polish it, and get it out the door in 24 to 48 hours.

Well, if that’s the case, and you’re at all interested in actually completing some decent fiction this month, then take the break and write the story.

Your novel draft can wait. Inspiration won’t.

Control

I’m not a fan of writing posts, especially those written by unpublished, self-published, and/or “neo-pro” writers. Nor am I fan of “celebrity slushreaders” going on about how they dream a story they select might win a Nebula like they were right there writing the story beside the author, or at the very least keeping their tea mug filled, as if reading slush wasn’t the equivalent of being so much human baleen.

Bullshit on all that.

But I’ve got two writing posts itching to get off my fingers so let me just get them done between now and next week and then I won’t have to write about writing or slushing for the rest of the year. I’m putting it here for my own benefit as much as anyone else.

People talk a lot about hooks and openings and grabbing the reader so they keep on reading. And yeah I use the word hook as well, but it’s not about that at all. (Rudy Rucker has a great bit on “hooks” in his Writer’s Toolkit, which everyone should download.)

Other folks talk about establishing trust between reader and writer, and I agree with them but wondered how that trust was gained because it has to be right at the start. Then I got a couple stories in the slush this week that helped me figure it out.

What it comes down to is control.

You can do whatever you want in your story. Write it lush or transparent. Climb Freytag’s pyramid or flip it on its peak and kick it in the rear. Anything goes as long as you’re in control.

As long as each word and sentence connects to the next word and sentence and the whole thing makes a pattern where there’s nothing more you can subtract from it. That’s control. Having pieces left in your hand at the end is control.

What’s not control is starting your story with a well-groomed hook and then piling on introspection, backstory, and/or setting details. What’s not control is leaving nothing out, but throwing it all in there and hoping for the best. Lush doesn’t mean overgrown or overwriting a story so thick it collapses under its own weight.

Every word must link together. They can be ugly or oddly shaped words, but they have to fit into the story’s overall pattern (and of course that pattern can be all freak-a-deak weird, but there has to be some discernable resonance there).

That’s it. Writing post number one is done. It’s all about control.

Next week 10 Bad Slush Habits. Until then here’s Spoek Mathambo’s disturbing cover of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control”. Don’t blame me if it gives you nightmares.