A Temporal Rift to Darkover Con


Thanksgiving Weekend (after Turkey Day!), I went to my first Darkover Con in Baltimore, and also my last, since it’s undergoing a name change.   The person who owned the licensing for the name recently died without passing it on, so they had to do a name change.  Next year’s will be called Chessiecon, which refers to Chesapeake.  Not sure I like the new name …

The con did start on a bit of a sour note for me.  They were so eager to promote the new name that I thought Chessiecon was the con this year.  I found flyers for Chessiecon but none for Darkover, and this was more than a year in advance.  Chessiecon also had a different website, almost identical dates.  This, by the way, is what happens when you’re not detail-oriented.  I booked the con in advance and wound up not being registered for the actual con …

I’m still not sure what I think of the con itself.  To be fair, the con was the last one, and it was a memorial for the person who had died.  Since I was attending for the first time, I didn’t have the context that everyone else did.  Since it was the last con with this name, they had a few workshops dedicated to variations of that theme.  The result was that it seemed a little content-lite for a newbie like me.

However, I also look for specific things in a con.  I like workshops on reading or reading-related, plus writing.  Demonstrations are also really cool to watch, and I like it when someone sets up a table and I can handle things.  I also have really enjoyed some of the science workshops (not all.  The speaker’s presentation abilities really make a difference).   Unfortunately, schedules are generally not available until right before the con starts.

But there were a few interesting workshops:

Military/SF.  Mike McPhail and Kathy Harmon (sorry, name was too common, and I couldn’t find her site).

Well, yeah, you knew I had to attend this.  Most of the panelists didn’t show up so the audience filled the void.  One of the things that was surprising to me was about a book I’d gotten, called No Man’s Land.  It’s a book about women soldiers in space.  The editor Mike McPhail mentioned that he had trouble getting promotion for it.  The SF side wasn’t interested, and the feminists decided that women in the military were wannabe men.

Hmm.  Hey, feminists, you do know that I enlisted because I needed a job?

Cross-Genre.  Panelists: Katherine KurtzMeriah CrawfordD.H. Aire, and Melissa Scott.

This one was on crossing science-fiction with mystery.  I know of writers who never ever read outside their genre, and I read where ever the books take me.  This panel discussed the appeal of mysteries, and of solving the unanswered puzzles.

Research.  Panelists: Melissa Scott, Leona Wisoker, D.H. Aire, and Electra Hammond.

I approached this one with caution because fiction writers can treat research like they’re being graded on a term paper.  Story has to come first and sometimes the best tale isn’t accurate, and sometimes the facts get in the way of the story.  I saw recently a writer saying you would only use 10% of what you researched — that’s a lot of time wasted researching and not writing.  I’d much rather it be closer to 50-60% and then reusing the rest on another project.

It was an okay con, but if I hadn’t booked the next one accidentally, I’d probably take a pass on it, since it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

Banned Books Week


September 22 marks the start of Banned Books Week.  I was surprised when I mentioned it to an acquaintance, and she had never heard about books being banned.

It happens every year.  There’s always someone out there very happy to tell everyone else what they can and can’t read.

This is a list of what was banned last year (from the above site):

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey .Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
  3. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher. Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James. Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
  5. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson.Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group
  6. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green. Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
  8. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz. Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence
  9. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls. Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
  10. Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence

Offensive language is the one that gets me.  It’s hard to find movie that doesn’t have all of these elements.  Yet, they don’t seem to get the same attention.  It’s like having all of these things in a movie is accepted, but in a book it isn’t.

I was glad to have parents who let me read what I want (though my mother did steal my books because she wanted to read them, too).  It opens the doors to a lot of different worlds and experiences.  Don’t close them off.

The Evolution and Decline of Advertising


The other night I was watching Covert Affairs, a spy show (with women!) on USA Network.  This year, the network or producers decided to eliminate the opening credits to squeeze a few more commercials.  In the past, opening credits could make a show.  Think Hawaii 5.0.  How about Star Trek?  China Beach? (Which is out on video this year at last, intact music-wise).

One of the problems is that ads are becoming increasingly ineffective.  It used to be that advertising targeted younger people because if the vendors got brand loyalty at that age, they’d have a customer for life.  Now the bombardment of ads seems to be killing off sales, and social media has definitely turned marketers directionless.  I watch writers all the time who send out a tweet that says “Buy my book.”  They send it out multiple times because that’s the old marketing guidance — repetition, just like a commercial.  Not only does it not work, they run the risk of getting hammered or reported as a spammer.

Now we have advertising masquerading as news articles:

Now the new rage is “native advertising,” which is to say advertising wearing the uniform of journalism, mimicking the storytelling aesthetic of the host site.

One of the dangers of that is that it may destroy the news magazines.  They’re already suffering problems from readers being able to trust them, and having something that looks like news writing may destroy that trust.  Once trust is destroyed, it’s darn near impossible to get back.

And the advertising will continue to spread.  I think in the future publishers may start plopping advertising in books.  Like you’re reading along in your ereader, and it forces you to look at this ad and acknowledge before you can move along.  Just like on websites that dim the pages and make you click ‘cancel’ on the ad before you can go on (National Geographic, do you hear me?). Of course, if the advertising does come into books, the publishers still won’t reduce the costs for the consumer.

We can’t even tune into TV shows any more without obtrusive advertising dancing across the screen. What’s going to be the impact if this happens in books?  What would your reaction be if you saw advertising dancing across the page of your book?

Horror: Confronting Demons or Titillation?


The Washington Post featured an article by a film critic who hates horror films.  I’ll admit it — I don’t like them either.  The reason is that they tend to be so gory, and I don’t like blood and guts spilling out.  Even when I’m reading a book, I’ll stop at the point where the bad guy sticks a knife into a character and pulls out her guts while she’s still alive (and yes, that was in a book).

I did go through a time in college when I read horror novels.  They were very popular for a while, probably because of Stephen King.  I remember one book that was about a church cover up over unpublished books of the Bible and what really happened when Jesus was crucified (doesn’t that sound like The Da Vinci Code?).  It disturbing, but it wasn’t a gore fest.  Here’s the link, and I am really surprised I found it!

Then the slasher films started coming out, and they became an instant hit.  Then, the films were done very cheaply, so the studios made huge profits.  Scientists are studying why these are such attraction:

“The going theory is that these are fears that we have, and that what horror movies allow us to do is to either come to terms with them or to overcome them,” says Keith Oatley, a novelist and psychologist who has researched extensively the effects of fiction on the human psyche.

“You know that children have fears. After they fear strangers, then they tend to fear ghosts and things under the bed and so on. So it’s a kind of elaboration on that idea that what movies do is to externalize these fears in a way that we can take part in them . . . We’ve confronted these demons.”

I read that from the article, and I could almost see how slasher films could do that.  When I in Girl Scouts, I was told how if you thought about Bloody Mary, she would come and kill you in the night.  That scared me for years.  Maybe that was why I ventured into horror when I was in college, because I could control the scariness with a book.

But there’s a problem with the films.  Most of the victims are women, and I don’t see how killing women is confronting those demons.  So much so that Josh Whedon, who is known for his women characters, described in a documentary on Buffy the Vampire Slayer that he wrote the opening about this blond girl who looks like the horror victim and ends up being not what she seems.

I think, even as a teenager, it didn’t get past me that there was something wrong with how the women were treated, as if their purpose was to be a victim.  I dislike gore to this day, but I find the almost dismissive quality of the way women are treated worse.  It’s hard because I see the same trends in some types of books, as well as on crime TV shows.  Several years ago, a commercial was aired on the radio in Washington DC rush hour for a PBS crime movie.  The subject for thirty seconds was describing the woman victim.

We are better than this.

When Internet Lists Strike Back


I’ve spent the week in baby steps trying to fix some of my time management habits.  I’d like to write fiction full time in the future, and one of the things I need to get my act together on is time management. The time to figure it out is NOT when I’m greeted with a huge change my own business.

My work has suffered from too many diverse demands.  We’ve had people leave, so manager looks around for a place to plop what they did.  Guess who gets it?  A lot of the new things don’t fit in with anything else, so grouping like things together doesn’t fit together real well. I figure if I can tame this beast of chaos, it can only help me in the long run.

I’ve spent a lot of time wandering the internet in search of time management tips and whatnot.  The Internet is very good at lists because they’re easy to read and write.  But they’ve morphed into this terrible monster.  They lecture.  There’s several sites I’ve run into where it feels like the author gets out the soapbox and proceeds to inform us that we’re doing everything wrong.  All you need to do is follow his steps, and everything will start working properly.

Except that it doesn’t.  How do you work with something when the whole process around you is dysfunctional to start with and your stuck at the mercy of it?

The lists look nice because it feels like you can check them off or that they can be scanned easily.  They started in magazines, and exploded on the internet.  Truthfully, I blame marketing.  Two years ago I was hunting around trying to find things that would help me market to potential readers, and I went the list route.  Every reputable blog on social media talked about using lists.  The result is that we’re getting reduced to the bullet point.

Bring back real substance!

Short Fiction Meme


I love to read.  When I was growing up, I’d make frequent trips to the library and come back with a stack of thick hardbacks.  Then my mother would steal them because she liked to read too.  At the bookstore though, one of the places I always visited was the anthology section.  Sci Fi Signal has a meme about short fiction, so I couldn’t resist.  Please feel free to steal the questions and answer them yourself!

Do you read short fiction, and if so how large a portion of your reading time is devoted to short fiction?

Yes, I read short fiction.  I couldn’t tell you what my reading time is, though.  It’s just folded up into reading.

From where do you partake of short fiction? Online zines? Electronic media? Print collections?

All of the above.  One of the most fun things was going to a con and finding all these small press anthologies like 13 Mermaids with glorious covers that promised good stories inside.  It made me think, “How do I get invited to one of these?”

If you do read short fiction do you mostly stick to genre fiction or are you an equal opportunity short fiction aficionado?

I roam around different genres primarily.  I’m afraid I don’t particularly enjoy literary stories.

What about the format appeals to you?

I like that they can be a little more experimental.  A novel has to fit within certain perimeters, like genre and structure.  I read a short story called “26 Monkeys, Also to the Abyss” (in Circus: Fantasy Under the Big Tent), and it was comprised of very short scenes that took place over an extended period.  It made for a haunting story.  But in a novel?  In the longer form, it would have been choppy and gotten tiresome.

I also like being able to scan through an anthology and pick what catches my eye.  I don’t have to start at the beginning, and I don’t have to read the whole thing right away.

Are there drawbacks to the format that affect your enjoyment of short fiction?

Format, no.  But I have been disappointed to pick up an entire magazine or anthology of short fiction and have no women writers and no women characters.

What is your assessment of the current state of short fiction and the short fiction market?

I think ePublishing has given us wonderful opportunities, but it’s also brought out the worst.  I reviewed an anthology of short stories for an author.  The stories were fantasy, and were world building light.  From the comments by the author in the back, his critique group told him description was boring and instead of making it interesting, he removed it — and all the world building.  Then he noted that every magazine he’d sent the stories to had rejected them and he didn’t know why — but was publishing them anyway. I started thinking, “And I’m getting your slush pile rejects?”  I want writers to give me give good stories, not just try to make money off me in desperation.

Do you find it important to try to keep up with the latest stories being released?

I liked to read, but frankly, if I tried to read everything, I’d never have time to write!

What stories, classic or contemporary, would you recommend that most adequately capture your feelings about short fiction and/or highlight what the format can do?

“26 Monkeys, Also to the Abyss,” which I mentioned above.  “Sleep with One Eye Open,” is a wonderful story about a woman coming to terms with who she is in a post-apocalyptic world.  It’s long out of print, but I liked the way it brought details into the story in a way I still struggle a lot with.  I also really enjoyed the early Sword and Sorceress anthologies.  Marian Zimmer Bradley looked for stories about women, which is still sorely lacking in fiction today.  Unfortunately, the later books in this series suffers from having a small clique of writers, so I feel like I’m getting stories I’ve already read.

Looking Back at Robotech


I started out science fiction with Star Trek and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.  Then Robotech came.  It wasn’t my first introduction to anime.  That was Speed Racer.  But Robotech was something special.  As a cartoon, it did some things that other cartoons did.  The first was a storyline more befitting a TV show or a novel, not a cartoon.  One of the most shocking things for me at the time was seeing Roy Fokker die, because that just didn’t happen in cartoon land.  Or for that matter, most shows don’t kill off what appears to be a major character unexpectedly like that.

The characters were all fresh and real and complex.  The show had a messy romance between Rick, Lisa, and Minimei, and everyone kept doing stupid things that people do out of love. And it was all interspersed with action.  The storyline encompassed three different generation of characters.

After it initially aired in the U.S., it disappeared for a while.  Came out on video, but it was like two 30 minute episodes per tape, and was quite expensive.  Then it disappeared again and came out DVD.

The stories are still great, but I had trouble with the military aspect.  I think I would have been okay with Rick Hunter’s relationship with a senior officer in his chain of command.  It’s not really supposed to happen, but things like that do anyway.  You put people together in war, and war changes everyone in unexpected ways.

But the writers didn’t seem to have much knowledge of the military whatsoever.  They randomly mixed Army rank with Navy rank and had promotions go from enlisted to officer.  I’m not a stickler for accuracy, but this just felt like no one bothered to even try to understand military rank.  For such a good show, it was disappointing that they didn’t take time to make it feel like they knew what they were talking about.

More Representation for Women in Fiction


I recently bought an issue of a fiction magazine from Barnes and Noble.  It had eight stories in it.  The stories were all written with men, and they all had male main characters.  One had a woman character who was involved in the crime.  I went to a con and picked an anthology that had eleven stories written by male writers.  None of them had women characters.

Julie Crisp over at Tor.com UK says that women aren’t submitting to some of the genres.  The discussion is interesting, too, and I believe all of it is true in some form or another.  Obviously, the percentages of women writers contributing are affecting the selections, though I would be curious to see what would happen if submissions were done anonymously.  But women writers, get your writing out there.  If you want to see stories by women and with women, you have to write them.

 

Happily Ever After — Or Not. Life Happens


I think everyone grew up watching Disney cartoons.  Always a beautiful princess who got swept off her feet by a handsome prince and lived “Happily Ever After.”  Sasha Emmons shows us what life might look like afterward for these princesses.

This reminded me of a friend who was perpetually looking for the “Happily Ever After” she read about in romance novels.  Of course, life happened, again and again, and got in the way of that.  She ended up not getting even the happy part, and she might have been okay if she wasn’t looking from someone to rescue her from all her problems.

The message the media still sends out — we see it in film, in magazines, and on the cover of books — is that women just need to be beautiful and that will solve everyone’s problems.  We can’t all look like airbrushed models.  Nor can we all stay 20 forever.

Life happens.

No Wonder Woman Film Yet


Cover for Wonder Woman.  Amazon. Hero. Icon.
Is this an awesome cover?

Wonder Woman was a presence in my family when I was growing up.  My father had one of those big collections of comic books.  One was Flash Gordon and the other was Wonder Woman.  It had all the comics from the early days of Wonder Woman.  I remember it was a big yellow book.  It probably had a spiffy paper cover, but that disappeared pretty fast.

It was, of course, made into a TV series with Lynda Carter, starting first in WWII, and then when it moved networks, Wonder Woman’s alter ego worked for a spy organization.

But a movie?  We’ve never had one.  Both Batman and Superman have had at least two remakes.  And I look at all the reasons the executives give, and it sounds like they’re not being honest with themselves.

They don’t think a movie with a woman lead will sell, and they don’t want to invest in it.

There’s been dearth of movies with female leads in them.  When Hunger Games came out and was so successful, everyone started talking about having more movies with characters like that.

Hollywood always rushes out after a blockbuster and tries to duplicate it.  How many films did they make with women characters like Katniss?

Crickets.

There’s been some films that have been hugely successful, but Hollywood still doesn’t warm up much to having women in action roles.

Maybe it’s because it feels too risky.  Movies cost a lot of money, and Hollywood tends to want to play it safe.  This is what I don’t like about marketing.  Everyone goes from what’s the quick sell, and they don’t want to take chances.  Chances are where the big pay offs can be.  People are saying, “Give us a Wonder Woman movie!”  Seriously, is this riskier than making the recent Lone Ranger movie, which didn’t do well?