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Can We Talk?

I’ve been churning the idea for this post around in my head for awhile. Largely I’ve held back because of the “who am I?” factor, something that I very rarely use as a reason to not post. But the answer to who am I is that I am a fan and writer of science fiction, someone who enjoys going to conference, and someone who is sick and tired of seeing blog post after blog post complaining about sexual harassment in SFWA and a cons.

There are many many cons that come and go without any sexual harassment complaints. Many of these likely didn’t have any instances that should have been complained about. But we don’t see those. We see the small minority of cons at which something major happens and it gets talked about all over the internet. Yesterday Scalzi had a post up about his insistence that cons have sexual harassment policies going forward. Mary Robinette Kowal is calling on the “Twelve Rabid Weasels” of SFWA to leave the organization. One of the major outcomes of WisCon were multiple posts about an instance of sexual harassment. These are just the examples from the last two weeks, because I don’t want to create a litany of links.

I don’t want to see these posts anymore.

Let me be very clear with this wording. I don’t want to see these posts anymore. However, I want people to keep writing them. Keep spreading the word. Keep the shame up. I want every post that needs to be posted about the problems of sexual harassment within the genre community to go up and go viral. I don’t want to see them anymore because I don’t want them to be necessary anymore.

Seriously, people.

I’ve seen the arguments about men who grew up in different ages. That it’s how business used to get done. An ugly past is no excuse for an ugly present, because it creates a precedent that an ugly present will be an excuse for an ugly future. The necessary and only course of action is going to be intolerance. Intolerance of harassment. Intolerance of exclusion. Intolerance of intolerance. There are times that intolerance is the only right and just way forward, but only when applied to the ugly parts of ourselves and the societies that we choose to belong to. Whether that society is the United States, the broad genre fandom community, or SFWA.

I don’t want these voices silenced, however. I want them to speak, loudly and clearly. As Mary Kowal says in her call for these individuals to remove themselves from the SFWA community:

Please quit noisily and complaining about how SFWA is censoring you for asking you to stop using hate speech. Please quit and complain about the “thoughtcrime” of asking people not to sexually harass someone.  Please quit and bellyache about the good old days when people could be bigoted jerks. I want you to express your opinions clearly so that everyone knows them and knows that you are quitting because the other members of SFWA want you to Shut the Fuck up.

Yes. Please. Make it very clear who you are, and what your motivations are. Let people know that you feel excluded from the community because the community has tired of your shit. Let them know that you are refusing to attend cons with harassment policies because you feel you can’t enjoy a con without participating in harassment. Let everyone and anyone know.

I stand with Scalzi. His insistence on cons having sexual harassment policies is sound, and honorable. I stand with that notion. But who am I? I’m one voice in a crowd, but it’s only by raising our voices that a crowd can be heard over the cries of individuals. I think that a vast majority of the genre community is sick of this shit, sick of the fact that harassment policies are necessary, sick of the posts that go up bringing to light another instance. If you’re as sick of it as I am, make Scalzi’s policy yours. I’m making it mine.  Let the cons you attend know you’re making that stand. Ensure that conventions are a safe place for all in attendance. They need to be. They deserve to be.

And, guys, this isn’t just about policies and stances. This is about not being dicks. It’s on every single person who is part of a society to remember that. Be good to each other. It’s really not that hard to do.

Alright, deep breath. This was one of my preachy posts, and I’m aware of that. Back to fluff and nonsense next time, I promise. If you’d prefer me complaining about a crappy movie, head over to Unleaded. Which I’m apparently the sole blogger on right now.

Edited after a few deep breaths: I’ve been thinking about this post for awhile, but I wrote it in a pique. Which isn’t to say that I don’t stand by every word of it, but perhaps a few words of where I’m coming from. I’m a father now. A father of a little girl. Having this little baby girl has forced me to see just what a world we’re building for our daughters. And our sons. And ourselves, god damn it. We’re not done with this world, we shouldn’t have to hope things won’t get better for us, too. The behaviors that some people think are okay in any company just infuriate me. I was never blind to it, but my eyes are open now even wider than before.

I hope my daughter gets into science fiction and fantasy. With her mother and I as influences, the only way she won’t is an act of open rebellion against the genre. Her bookshelves are already filling up with Cat Valente books as fast as she can write and publish them. So when I see posts about women being harassed at conventions, when I read about women being belittled by an extremely vocal minority within SFWA…I see my little girl. I know I can’t always protect her, and I don’t expect to be able to keep her in a bubble where nothing bad or nasty will ever happen to her. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hope that the world gets better for her. That she can be part of this community as she grows, and feel like she’s a full member of it. I don’t think this in an unachievable goal.

Alright, I’m going to start to babble. Or get sappy. Or maybe I’ve already done both. My thesis remains. Be better to each other. And don’t accept that the world can’t be better. And keep writing those posts when they have to be written. Because they do have to be written. Maybe one day they won’t. And I look forward to that day.

Edited almost immediately once again: I said voices combined make crowds. Scalzi now has a post where you can co-sign his convention harassment policy policy. Go make this a louder noise.

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On The Deaths of Giants

In my basement, on the shelf that holds all my Ace Doubles, is a copy of F-185. It’s a Jack Vance double feature, The Five Gold Bands on one side and his Hugo winning novella The Dragon Masters on the flip. While it’s on my list of Doubles to get to one day, that day hasn’t happened yet.

On the Kindle account I share with my wife there’s a copy of Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks. My wife has read it, I have not.

I’ve read some Banks, in the form of his only non-fiction book-length work Raw Spirit, a travelogue of Scottish whisky distilleries. His style made me thirsty for a drink I’ve never much developed a taste for, and furthered my longing to visit the north of Great Britain. But as for the Culture series? I’ve never touched it. Nor any of his other fiction. I’ve never traveled to the Dying Earth, or spent time with the Demon Princes of Jack Vance.

One of the reasons I started the Great Hugo Read is a recognition that there are holes in my science fiction knowledge. Writers I haven’t read, series I haven’t touched, entire decades that I’ve never even stepped foot in. It drives home just how little breadth of reading I’ve done in my favorite genre when giants like Vance and Banks die and I realize…I’ve never read them. And the Hugo Read won’t even help. Banks was nominated in 2005 but lost to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Vance’s Hugo successes were for his novellas and related works.

I hate that it took the death of giants of the genre for me to realize I’ve never read their science fiction.

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The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

This is one of those tag-you’re-it blog elements. I was tagged by Day Al-Mohamed of CVS and Unleaded. It’s a floating ten question interview, and since I’ve never been tagged with one of these, I feel I should give it a go.

1. What is the working title of your next book?

Nickajack.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Two places. The idea for the setting came from Lost States by Michael J. Trinklein, which is a collection of states that were proposed but never created. Trinklein runs a blog in support of the book if you’re curious about the kinds of places he means. It’s where I first learned about the Nickajack movement, which snowballed into a basic plot line. The characters come from a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, but with some major modifications. Same names, similar relationship, but in the post-war South rather than a fantasy realm.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Steampunk.

4. What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I don’t tend to think about this when writing a book. One of the main characters would be a CGI construct, anyway.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A conman looking for one last score and an automaton built to command in the Civil War must solve an assassination in the newly created state of Nickajack.

6. Will your book be self-published of represented by an agency?

Agency or bust. I’m still convinced by the agency model.

7. How long did/will is take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

First draft was completed in a few months. Maybe three?

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Boneshaker. Not really because of any thematic or plot elements, more from the attempt to set Steampunk somewhere atypical. Boneshaker moves it to the Pacific Northwest. Nickajack takes it to the American south. It’s not untrod land, but I like getting away from England and the Old West with Steampunk.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

It’s the first novel I’ve tried writing with a coauthor, in this case my wife. On this project, she’s the brains and I’m the muscle. It’s a formula that’s worked well for us when working on scripts together, and it’s working thus far on the novel. So she’s a lot of the inspiration.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

I’ve seen Steampunk novels that use the tech to lengthen the Civil War. We decided to go the other way. We’re creating an alternate United States where the North wasn’t afraid of using the technology to conduct a total war on the South, which changes the dynamic of the country. The story itself is set in a conclave of Northern support in the middle of a deeply scarred former Confederacy.

As far as keeping the tag chain going, I feel like a dead end. Most people I might think to tag have been tagged already. So I’ll let this particular chain letter come to an end, though there are many other branches of The Next Big Thing spreading across blogs. But since I like new writers to connect with, I’ll point backwards and sideways since I can’t point forwards. Check out Day’s answers here. She’s part of the same cloud of tagees as Kay Holt, Anthony Cardno, and Sabrina Vourvoulias. And I’ll put some second pressure on the two other writers tagged alongside me, Linda Adams and Wayland Smith.

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Baby Toys: The Flowchart

baby toy flow chart

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State of the Writer: May 2013

Focusing on the positive: This month I got some good world building done on the Sarah Constant series. The very last bit of writing related anything I did this month was come up with a major plot character for book two (probably won’t be a POV character, but is important to the story). Which…on one hand that’s dangerous, gotta get book one written first, but on the other hand it’s exciting to know that I’ve got a place to take this series beyond the first novel. I’ve also started some high level outlining, trying to break down the major plotlines into the seven beat structure I borrowed from Dan Wells a way back long time ago. At least knowing where each plot line starts gives me a structure for the first few chapters of the outline, which should help me see where all these plots are going and where I still have questions about the ship.

Still hoping to get a big chunk of the rough draft done in November.

State of the writer’s bees: I didn’t really put up a post about this, but we’ve got two hives once again in the back yard. This year we went with package bees, which is what most people think of when they think of bee deliveries. We paid our money, we were told when and where to show up, and when we did so we got two boxes full of bees. Nothing else, just 9000-10000 bees in a box with four wooden sides and two mesh ones, plus a can of sugar water to keep them fed during transport. It’s a little more complicated to put package bees into a hive, though we also didn’t do any of the methods we saw on Youtube.

Here’s how hard core beekeepers install packages. They open the box up, pull out the can and the queen cage, then just shake all the bees out into the hive. That just makes me think about the bee scene from The Wicker Man. We were a little more careful, opened up the packages, put them in the bottom of the hive, and just let the bees come out on their own. So much less stress on the bees, and more importantly, the beekeepers. Now we’ve got happy bees again, flying around like they’re supposed to, and this weekend we’re going to make sure our two new queens (Peachtree and Umbriel) are laying eggs and haven’t been horribly murdered by their loyal subjects.

State of the writer’s beer: The boysenberry stout recipe has some room for improvement, though I’m still a neophyte on how to make beer, much less improve a recipe. I still have hopes for this being my signature beer. What we have isn’t going to win any contests, but is certainly a pleasurable drinking experience.

May should be an interesting month. Saturday the baby turns eight months, and will probably get her first trip downtown on the Metro as there’s an exhibit my wife and I want to get to before it closes, and it closes on Sunday. She’s been an absolute delight lately, and really deserves her own post in the near future.

We’re into month five of the Great Hugo Read, which is the second month of 2013 nominees. That means Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, which is available in hardback or paperback at your favorite local independent or chain bookstore, in all your favorite electronic formats, and from Audible. I’m still slogging through a book on the archaeological proof of the people who spoke Proto-Indo-European, I’ll be picking up Moon in a few days.

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Flashathon 2012 Hour Four

It’s noon here in the DC area, this is when we started Flashathon last year. This year, we’re already rolling into hour four. Greetings for all who are just joining in, and hang in there for those who have been going since hour one. Don’t forget to get some lunch if you’re on the east coast, or some breakfast on the west, or some brunch if you’re in the midwest.

For this hour’s prompt, we’re taking a visit to one of my favorite websites, io9. If you’re a fan of science fiction or fantasy and don’t visit there regularly, you’re missing out. They also offer weekly writing prompt images. I’ve taken six headlines from recent io9 articles, and I present them now with no further context. Pick your favorite, and that’s what your story is about this hour.

  1. How do you explain the hummingbird’s bizarre tongue?
  2. How Will Humans Get to Alpha Centauri?
  3. The story of wine corks is a lot more complicated than you thought
  4. How much does a shadow weigh?
  5. An ancient mode of transportation that could work on other planets
  6. Why slime molds can solve mazes better than robots

No, I’m not going to link the articles, because then you’ll read them instead of writing. Go look them up later. For now, pick one, and have at it.

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Reading List: The List

I mentioned earlier in the week putting together a summer genre fiction reading list for my brother-in-law.  My wife and I did decide to limit it to books we could loan him, so after going through the shelves this is what we came up with:

  • From the Earth to the Moon, Jules Verne
  • Galapagos, Kurt Vonnegut
  • Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
  • Perdido Street Station, China Mieville
  • Watchmen, Alan Moore
  • Small Gods, Terry Pratchett (in case he’s already read one of the other five)

We could easily make a list three times that long, but we’re only talking about one summer.  The goal were stories across a few different sub-genres and ones we thought he’d like.  The point isn’t to torture him, rather to engage him and give him something other than video games to do for the next three months.

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The Reading List

Going into my senior year of high school, I was given a summer reading list with four titles on it.  This weekend I learned that my brother-in-law, who is going into his senior year of high school (yes, I have a brother-in-law nearly half my age), was given a summer reading list that was one book long.

When my wife and I expressed our dismay, we were given the opportunity to fix that and assign him a much deeper reading list than the school system has.  And since we’re us, we’re going to focus heavily on genre fiction for the list.  I want to stress, the purpose of the reading list is not to torture the young man, no matter how much he may deserve it, so we’re not looking for laborious tomes that he won’t enjoy.  The purpose is to find a handful of books (which is defined as 2-5) that are enjoyable and give a grounding into genre literature.  We’re looking for just fiction.  To that, I’m open to suggestions.  Note, he is not a complete neophyte when it comes to science fiction.  Fahrenheit 451, for example, is not on my draft list because he’s already read it.

I’d like to include one Verne or Wells story.  I lean towards Verne because the translation process keeps the prose more accessible.  Probably From The Earth To The Moon, but I could be persuaded into Wells’s The Time Machine.  The plan is a single Discworld book, likely Small Gods, though my wife is pushing for The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, read as a single narrative.  Which they are anyway.  For something nice and modern, we’re considering Watchmen.  We’re not the school system, we’re willing to include graphic novels.  We may restrict it to books we own and can lend to him.

So here’s where I ask for some suggestions.  We’d like to get the list assembled by the end of the week.  What should we include from Verne or Wells?  Is there a better Discworld option that the ones I listed?  Why do I always write “Discoworld” then have to go and correct it?  Why hasn’t someone written a book called Discoworld?  Focus!  If we were to include one Steampunk story for someone in his late teens, what would be the pick?

It’s an interesting assignment, and I expect I’ll get some suggestions that I’ve not read myself.

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The Reading Garden

I’ve mentioned my reading garden a few times on Twitter now, but it’s hard to really explain what it is just 140 characters at a time.  Since it’s a drizzly evening here in Northern Virginia, I am trapped inside, so I thought I’d take the time to actually talk about it.

Bad Robot!

First, it’s my literal garden.  Ours, really.  Over the last three years my wife and I have been massaging the side yard of the house, pulling down a chain link fence, getting rid of some overgrown divider bushes, walling off a garden portion for fruits and vegetables, putting in a small patio/cross-through to the backyard, expanding the garden, and putting in some Adirondack chairs.  It sounds like a lot, but we’ve done a little at a time.  The result, the garden to the right.  As, apparently, filmed by J. J. Abrams considering that lens flair.

One evening after work I noticed the chairs were in the shade.  At least, at this time of year they’re in the shade from when I get home until sunset.  So I grabbed the book I was reading at the time, settled in with a glass of water, and did some reading.

It’s become part of my routine, save on evenings like this when it’s raining.  And I love it.  We’re on a cul-de-sac, so there’s not a lot of traffic, it really is about as idyllic as is possible within a subdivision inside the Beltway.

The view from the reading garden back to the beehives.

This has been damn good for me.  My typical evening would see me get home from work, head to the basement where my laptop and television are, and watching…crap, really.  Noise television, excuses to just have the television on making bright pictures.  I’m even doing that right now, as I write this blog post, because I’m still fighting that habit on nights that I can’t go into the garden.  Which is a shame.  I love my new-found evening reading time, I really do.  It’s probably tripled the amount of time I sit with my nose in a book on the average day.  I’m consuming books again at a rate I like.  Going through half of an Ace Double in a few days, or a novel in a week.

I used to read like that.  I’m glad to do so again.  Stephen King shames me best, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”  So I’m making that time again.

Unfortunately, I know my time with the reading garden is fleeting.  In another month we’ll be in the armpit of a DC summer, with heat and humidity that may push me inside no matter how much shade I have.  In a few months beyond that, I’ll have my time split by a new baby.  Beyond that, the days shorten and I’ll get home at night.

For now?  I’m loving it.  Come home, relax with a book, and do more reading.  It’s like my morning writing, it’s amazing how much I can do if I just set aside a little time each day.  So find your place, find your time, and do some reading.  Or, I’ve always got a second chair if you want to join me in the reading garden.

Oh.  Plants currently in the reading garden: four blueberries, nine strawberries, a cherry bush, two cages of tomatillos, two cages of tomatoes, two poblano peppers, a jalapeno, a banana pepper, a cajun belle pepper, peas, beans, rhubarbs, pickling cucumbers, and eggplant.  Edibles elsewhere: a raspberry, two black raspberries, two blackberries, two pawpaws, and a wide selection of herbs.  Kinda awesome when I list them all out like that.

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Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)

I don’t remember if it was middle school or my freshman year in high school.  I do remember the assignment.  We were asked to pick a book off a list, and not just read it, but read it alongside a parent.  The assignment stands out, as it was one of the few times I had a teacher with the temerity to assign homework to my parents.  My mom and I looked over the list, and we easily picked out one title.

The Martial Chronicles.

We’d seen the television version as a family, both as miniseries and cobbled together into a feature length movie.  So we read the book.  And we loved the book.  Later, my mom worked in my high school library both while I was a student and long after I graduated.  One of her jobs was culling books, and one day she brought home an old library edition hardback of The Martian Chronicles for me, one that would be replaced with a new copy in the library.  I sat up and re-read it that night, cover to cover.  It’s one of only two times I’ve read an entire book in just a day.  The dreamy opening tales of Martians turning their planet into heaven for visiting astronauts.  The tragedy of their deaths.  The macabre notion of turning bits of Mars into living Poe stories.  The isolation of standing on Mars and watching the Earth burn.  I visited them all again, and I loved them all.

I read Fahrenheit 451 my Freshman year of high school, one of only two genre fiction books I can remember from my high school reading lists.  It’s the book that taught me that science fiction can be, and often is, social commentary.  I’ll occasionally visit bookstores that are helping schools build up the book quantities they need for English classes.  The schools give their reading lists to the stores, who keep copies behind the register, letting patrons buy one to donate while checking out.  Every time, every damn time, I see a copy of Fahrenheit 451 I have donate it.  And will continue to do so.  It’s one of those important books that I think everyone should read.

More importantly, that everyone should have a chance to read.  It’s one of those books that shows up all the time on anti-censorship lists of the most challenged books.  It’s proof, I suppose, that irony isn’t dead.  And proof that the people who challenge books either don’t read them or don’t understand them.

Yesterday we lost Ray Bradbury.  And it is a huge loss to genre fiction.  While it’s easy to dwell on what we’ve lost, I prefer to think of what we still have.  It’s what I learned in Fahrenheit 451, ideas don’t go away, and books don’t die as long as someone cares about them.

So thank you, Ray Bradbury.  For being you, and doing what you did.  We’ll all miss you.

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