GigaNotoSaurus Announcement

I posted this announcement this morning at GigaNotoSaurus:

This summer, Anna Schwind (who is among other things one of the editors of Podcastle) will be taking over GigaNotoSaurus’ slushpile. She’ll be reading for the next three months.

This may or may not be related to the fact that I have a deadline coming up. But I’m also interested in the ways other people might curate stories, and I’m seriously considering future guest editing slots.

Writers who are familiar with Podcastle might already have some idea of the things that appeal to Anna–now’s the time to send those things if you have them! But don’t forget that sometimes the most wonderful discoveries are a surprise–something you never thought of, never expected. Keep sending the stories you believe in, not just the stories you think a particular editor might like. The submissions process will be unchanged–the regular guidelines still apply.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Anna brings us.

Pretty self-explanatory, really.

Haven’t been blogging much lately, mostly because I’ve been busy with, you know, stuff. And things. Nothing really exciting. The last couple days I’ve been making things out of Roman Cookery: Ancient Recipes for Modern Kitchens and so far the results have been interesting and quite good. Though this morning’s serving of puls punica was entirely too much cheese at the beginning of the day and I am loathe to move much now if I can help it. Apparently the recipe comes from Cato the Elder, who fed it to his slaves, and actually it tasted quite good and no doubt all that cheese was good for calories and protein if you were doing Cato’s farmwork, but urgh.

I do highly recommend the mixtura cum caseo with lagana (the lagana weren’t hard to make, but just for reference, a box of wheat thins would make an entirely acceptable substitution). Fabulous lunch. Also ginormous amounts of cheese.

Once I’ve managed to digest the puls punica–I expect that will be some time next week–I’ll be trying the moretum and maybe even trying to make some garum. The “if you don’t have the patience to leave a jar of fish and salt in the sun for six months” version, I’ll just say that right up front.
And there’s still quite a few breads, porridges, and soups, as well as one or two things with, like, meat or fish in them!

Anyway. A conversation on Twitter reminded me of a writing peeve of mine, and I thought I’d rant on that a bit, because.

The peeve is, complaints about “passive” characters, when those characters are not, in fact, passive–when in fact small choices in constrained situations do indeed lead to change, sometimes on a large scale, sometimes not. I most often see this when the characters in question are very hedged about by circumstances. The movements available to them can be small and subtle.

Now, it’s true that small and subtle movement often can rule out big, wide, adventury stories with exploding planets–though it doesn’t always–and it definitely rules out naked power fantasies where the MC is a Chosen One with all kinds of power–physical, political, economic–at their disposal.

But “very few choices, few of which involve much physical violence or action” is not the same as “passive” and I think assuming it is is particularly unfortunate. In fact, historically, in various times and places, women have lived in constrained circumstances, with options limited by custom, and yet quite a few women, historically, in various times and places, have done some amazing things within those limits, up to and including ruling empires. And there’s a great deal of drama available in those stories, in the ways people can, and did, manipulate the limited choices available to them with pretty astonishing results. Looking back on those and saying, “Well, but she didn’t really do anything, she was just passive” is….let me politely call it an error.

It’s quite a coincidence, isn’t it, that those stories and their real life analogues are so often about women or members of other marginalized groups, and when you look at that, the prohibition on writing passive characters suddenly looks very different.

Plus, while yes, it’s very fun to read about emperors and generals and whatnot, I have a problem with the unstated assumption that everyday people, just ordinary folks, must therefore have lives that are not interesting enough to tell stories about.

Not to mention the fact that thinking only the planet-exploding, power fantasy stories are worth telling is so extremely limiting. I mean, I like planet exploding power fantasies as much as the next girl, but I’d be so, so bored if that were all there was to read.

Stuff and Things

Been doing stuff! This weekend I went to the Missouri State Sacred Harp Convention. Which basically was like this: (If the embedding doesn’t work, try clicking here)

All day for two days, with occasional breaks for coffee and/or lunch. Or as it’s referred to in singing circles, Dinner on the Grounds. Which, translated, means “a ginormous potluck round about noon with so much delicious food that you can’t possibly try even a taste of every different thing, plus a zillion cakes and pies.”

I also attended Career Day at the nearby high school, where I talked to kids who were interested in writing. There were only a few students interested in SF&F, and several who were mainly interested in poetry, which I couldn’t really help them with. There were lots of good questions about quite a range of issues, including some technical ones (how to handle transitions, dealing with being stuck in a particular place in a project, etc) that really needed more complex answers–I mean, transitions? The choices are essentially limitless and without seeing the piece in question I could only give general advice (try just cutting to where you want to be, plus watch how the writers you love handle the same sort of thing and try imitating it to see if it works for you), but hopefully I was able to help a bit.

But my takeaway was, there are, locally, a good number of smart, eager kids interested in writing. They were a pretty wide-ranging group, too–I saw three sessions of about twenty kids each and they seemed to be from a pretty wide range of backgrounds from what I could tell just seeing them for a half hour or so. I really enjoyed talking with them.

Ten thousand thousand are their tongues, but all their joys are one

I need to run errands today like a super-efficient errand-running thing, but I can’t go anywhere just yet because all my jeans are in the dryer.

Meantime, I just thought I’d mention that Ancillary Justice has an amazon page, and it is, it seems, quite entirely possible to pre-order it.

At some point–no idea exactly when–I will have some ARCs to give away, too. I am trying to think of a fun way to do that, and haven’t come up with anything more exciting than “send me your name and I’ll pull some out of a hat.” There’s time, though!

Whether you pre-order, or wait for an ARC giveaway, either way, you can also apparently add the book on Goodreads.

No, I do not keep looking at those pages over and over again. I also did not set the mockup of the cover I saw a few weeks ago as the wallpaper on my computer and also my phone. Because that would be silly.

Omniscient

So, on a discussion forum elsewhere the topic of omniscient came up, and I got cranky and wrote a post, and this post here is a very edited version of that one.

One of the things that made me cranky was an assertion that omni was an advanced skill and only highly trained professionals with safety equipment firmly in place should attempt it. It was also suggested that because readers are mostly used to limited third, one should only deploy omni if one had a really good reason to.

I’ve said several times what I think about “don’t try this at home, kids” advice for writers, so I won’t repeat myself beyond saying I think that’s bullshit and you should absolutely try anything at all that you think might make your story as marvelous as you want it to be. Or even anything that sounds cool and fun. There’s honestly no real downside.

So, that disposed of. Is omni really all that advanced?

I don’t think it is. It’s just that limited third has become fashionable, everyone trying to learn to write is using models that used it, and in limited third headhopping is experienced as obtrusive so beginners are told to avoid it but not how to make it work or how it’s different from omni. So if you haven’t read much that uses omni, you won’t understand how it works, let alone how or why it’s different from limited third.

It’s true some number of readers just aren’t used to reading omni. But this is really not relevant. If writers only ever produced the kind of thing everyone was used to reading, sweet merciful Mithras, all of literature would be one gray, formless mass of uniform goo. It would be easy to read but why would anyone bother? And is that really what you want for your writing?

The question isn’t “is this what readers are used to?” The question is, “How do I make this work?”

You’ll be ill-equipped to make omni work if you haven’t read much of anything that uses it, or if you assume you can treat it like limited third. So the first thing anyone should do who wants to use it–and you don’t need any excuse to use it beyond the simple desire to do so, or the feeling that your story would be better for it–is to read work that uses it. In the conversation that triggered this post, Middlemarch was suggested, and I heartily endorse that suggestion. By all means, go read Middlemarch, it’s fabulous. But while you’re reading, pay attention to the POV. Notice that there’s a narrator. There’s a “someone” to be omniscient, to know all and tell us about it.

Limited third has no “narrator.” In limited third, somehow the impressions and thoughts of the POV character are arriving on the page. Omniscient, by contrast, only works if you assume Someone is telling the story. That someone needn’t be made explicit–you can do it by consistency of voice alone, if you want. But once you’ve established that narrative voice, by and large the reader will let you do whatever you like, because you’re never actually violating the main POV–that is, your (nearly always unnamed and often unmentioned) narrator.

That narrator can be a character in the story herself, named or not. Or they might be just an unnamed someone whose voice and comments make it clear they’re sitting there telling you this story, commenting on it, providing incidental information, their own judgments and opinions. Or they might be nearly invisible, barely detectable but for a few value-laden descriptions or one or two wry comments, or possibly just a certain distance in the narration–though of course it’s entirely possible to do an intimate omni and a very distant limited third, still, one quick and dirty way to establish omni from the very start is to open with a bit more distance than you’d expect in limited third. (It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…It is a truth universally acknowledged….Once upon a time…)

Now, if you don’t like omni, and have no desire to use it, then by all means, don’t. And if you don’t enjoy reading work that’s in omni, well, don’t, but of course I do think a writer ought to at least sample as broadly as she can.

But don’t avoid it because someone has told you it’s advanced, or hard to sell, or something readers won’t tolerate. Do whatever it is you think you need to do to make your story the most awesome thing you can manage to make it. Editors aren’t sitting around hoping for bland imitations of the last thing they published. And even if they were, is that what you’re really wanting from your writing, in your secret heart of hearts? Or do you want your work to be freaking awesome?

And you’ll never learn to do the awesome stuff if you don’t try.

(BTW, I also highly recommend Hal Duncan’s Rule 4 for New Writers: POV is not a communal steadicam. Hell, just read all the stuff he’s got for “new writers.”)

Debt

So a while ago I made a try at reading David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years. But I have this thing about nonfiction–if I run across one or more glaring inaccuracies I find it impossible to trust the rest of what the author tells me, or the honesty of their arguments.

The sort of thing that puts me off is generally the sort of thing that five minutes with Wikipedia would clear up. In this case, I ran across this sentence:

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which appeared in 1900, is widely recognized to be a parable for the Populist campaign of William Jennings Bryan, who ran twice for president on the Free Silver platform–vowing to replace the gold standard with a bimetallic system that would allow the free creation of silver money alongside gold.

Okay, so. This is mostly only recognized by people who have their pareidolia turned up way too high, and also a fine disregard for Baum’s stated purpose (and what the actual point of a parable is to begin with). I read that sentence and said, out loud, “Are you shitting me, Graeber?” and closed the book and sent it back to the library.

But a friend of mine suggested maybe I’d been too hard on him and maybe I should give him another chance. So I got it out again and paged past the offending spot, and dove back in. And some of it is interesting and I find myself going “yes, that makes a great deal of sense.” But every couple pages I feel like he’s making logical leaps–small ones, but still. Not enough to make me put the book down.

Then I run across a sentence where he seems to conflate a commentary on a source with the source itself. I raise my eyebrow. And then I hit this.

To the contrary, insofar as prostitution did occur (and remember, it could not have been nearly so impersonal, cold-cash a relation in a credit economy), Sumerian religious texts identify it as among the fundamental features of human civilization, a gift given by the gods at the dawn of time. Procreative sex was considered natural (after all, animals did it). Non-procreative sex, sex for pleasure, was divine.

The footnote at the end of this passage just cites two books, it doesn’t give any explanation or amplification. Now, I’m not an expert in this area, I’m only a hobbyist. But I know what “religious texts” he’s talking about here, that describe the “fundamental features of human civilization.” He’s talking about the mes. Which are–oh, let’s let Wiki tell us:

In Sumerian mythology, a me (Sumerian, conventionally pronounced [mɛ]) or ñe [ŋɛ] or parşu (Akkadian, [parsˤu]) is one of the decrees of the gods foundational to those social institutions, religious practices, technologies, behaviors, mores, and human conditions that make civilization, as the Sumerians understood it, possible. They are fundamental to the Sumerian understanding of the relationship between humanity and the gods.

So, if the gods gave us these social institutions, religious practices, technologies, etc. they must all be good things, right? Divine gifts from the gods? It’s not necessarily a bad assumption, but go look at that list. Lots of good things and then you get things like the destruction of cities, lamentation, and falsehood.

So, “prostitution is on the list of mes” isn’t really a very good argument for the ancient Sumerians holding a positive view of prostitution. I don’t say they didn’t, understand, just that you couldn’t necessarily know that from its presence on this list. (Or for that matter, from its apparently religious nature, at least in some cases, which is his other support for his claims about Sumerian attitudes towards prostitution. But that’s a whole other discussion.)

But Graeber is basing part of his argument on the attitude of ancient Sumerians towards prostitution (vs later attitudes), and this is his evidence for the attitude he says they had. And so the question for me is, did he not actually look at the list of mes? There are plenty of Sumerian texts that are mentioned or summarized in books but hard to find in translation, but this one, as I mention above, is easily available. So if he didn’t read the actual list of mes, he did sloppy research and I’m bound to wonder where else he skipped research he ought to have done.

Or did he know what was on the list, and that things like destruction of cities and troubled heart and fear and terror were there (they are) but went ahead anyway because darnit he was sure he was right and how many of his readers would question it, or had ever actually seen that list? Cause it’s pretty obscure.

Either way I can’t really trust him anymore–if he’s ignoring or eliding things in areas I know something about, surely it’s happening elsewhere in the book and I just don’t see it because how could I? And now it’s increasingly difficult to go any farther without going , “No, really? Can I believe any of this?” Which is a shame, because I’m interested in understanding his arguments, and I think his takedown of the “myth of barter” is spot on–I’m just having trouble following him much farther because I keep seeing moments like this that speak of either ignorance (which means some arguments, no matter how logically composed, won’t stand because they’re based on inaccurate premises) or dishonesty (which means he knows some facts won’t support his thesis but he’s going to deal with that by eliding those things).

Ugh. I hate when that happens.

Clockwork Phoenix 2

So, I meant to post this yesterday. Except yesterday was, for me, the worst technology day in the history of technology. On the good side, I got a new keyboard and an upgrade to Windows 7 out of the deal. Also that kind of old but still functional automatic backup thingy I’ve got running saved all my data. On the bad side, I was so freaking stressed out yesterday I can’t even. Do not ask me what happened, you will only receive sputtering and some incoherent swearing. The worst part of it is, it was pretty much all my own fault. AAAAARGH!

Anyway. Let’s start today off with something good! Back in the day I decided that I needed to write a post-apocalyptic dinosaurs on Mars story. The result was “The Endangered Camp,” which appeared in Clockwork Phoenix 2 Which was, itself, chock full of awesome stories–one was nominated for a Nebula (Saladin Ahmed’s “Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela”), and several others turned up in various years best volumes.

But it was not avaiable in an ebook edition. Until now! Gentle readers, I give you the Kindle edition of Clockwork Phoenix 2! For $3.99!!!!

Editor Mike Allen has links to Amazon UK and Amazon DE and says it’ll be available in epub and mobi at Weightless Books next Tuesday.

The Adventure of the Vacuumed Cat

Yeah, I’ve got Real Life Crit Group on Sunday, and a story I need to finish before then so I can, you know, get it critted. I’m up to the climactic scene, I’m kind of stuck for a detail. Normally I get those details by reading huge amounts of nonfiction, and then adding in showers or naps. So I ought to be using arcane methods of divination to figure out what nonfiction I need to read. Instead, of course, I’m writing a blog post.

I was, as I just mentioned yesterday, a victim of the Arthurian Virus. Around the same time, I also contracted a Sherlockian infection. It was mild compared to the Arthurian thing, but it left a lasting impression.

Before I recovered, I had ingested not only the entire Sherlockian Canon, but also The White Company and a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle. It wasn’t nearly as hard-hitting as Arthur was–I was left able to appreciate most of the pastiches that occasionally hit the market (Carol Nelson Douglas FTW, IMO), but never amassed a collection or spent time tracking down related historical information. And I have to admit, besides the fake notes customarily tacked onto the front of pastiches about finding boxes of papers signed by Dr Watson, I have a decided aversion to The Game.

This desperately needs a cut. Don’t click unless you want to read nearly three thousand words of me blathering about Sherlock Holmes.
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