Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Pain of Special Needs in Mad Max: Fury Road (Some Spoilers)

For this discussion I'm going to use "special needs" to refer to people with an array of physical and mental problems. There is no term I'm wholly comfortable with that collects things so ranging. "Disability" doesn't even cover it for me, and is sometimes more uncomfortable. But know that preference of terminology changes from person to person. This is always easier talking person-to-person, where you can tailor to what makes individuals comfortable.

You probably don't know Nathan Jones. He was a professional wrestler who quit because, at 6'11" (2.1 meters), travel became incredibly painful. He didn't fit in an airplane seat or on any motel mattress, and good luck driving a rental car from town to town with legs that long. He quit WWE in 2003 and went into film. To date, I don't think I've seen him in a film that acknowledged his size could be a problem in life. He tends to play villains, because it's easier for average people to see giants as powerful and dangerous.

He plays Rictus Erectus in Max Mad: Fury Road. He lumbers through the movie with very few lines. When he speaks, it sounds like the character has a learning disorder. That's typical of giant villains.

Since he has no individual agency, always acting in obeisance to his murderous father (Immortan Joe), his only further characterization is a breathing apparatus strapped to his back and plugged to his nose. He chases heroes, overpowering any he gets his hands on because Dad told him to. Late in the movie, a hero finally manages to stab Jones's breathing machine. Jones crumples, possibly suffocating, and my whole theater laughed.

I mean, the whole theater laughed except me. But my lungs are probably what'll kill me, so I'm biased.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

My 2015 Convention Schedule

Since I keep getting questions about where people can find me this year, I'm sharing my convention schedule. I'll be traveling to four cons in four states. This ignores Boskone from February, which was more of a snow day than a convention anyway.

June 26-28
4th Street Fantasy
Minneapolis, Minnesota

July 9-12
Burlington, Massachusetts (no, not Vermont)

July 24-26
Baltimore, Maryland

November 5-8
World Fantasy
Saratoga Springs, New York

Originally I'd intended to hit WorldCon in Washington, but my health isn't up to traveling that far across the country. Some day, West Coast. I'd also love to do a Canadian convention eventually...

If you'll be attending any of these, or in the area, feel free to drop me a line! I'm happy to meet people who are normally states away from me.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Siren Call - #fridayflash

Devenna held the garage shutters open as bombers zipped overhead. Old Man Moa drove their only taxi inside, and idled for half a minute before turning it off. The air raid siren was too loud for Devenna to ask Moa about his passengers; the codger had fit six corpses in his cab, one sitting up front, five others packed into the back with creative use of the footwells.

The siren was too loud to ask Moa what he'd done. A bomb rocked uptown, its voice loud enough to be heard over the siren, and the old cabbie ignored it and began removing the bodies, laying them out on the cracked concrete floor. Devenna could only help him. Together they carried a woman who was missing half her head, but whose wound was wrapped in the yellow blanket Moa wore on winter drives. Comfort covered cruelty.

When all six passengers were laid to rest on the floor, Devenna handed Moa a rag for his face. He had grit and gore stuck in his gray beard, and in the wrinkles of his leathery forehead, yet he cleaned the faces of the dead before his own. Somewhere, another bomb tried to speak up over the siren, and then both voices went silent. Maybe the foreigners had hit the siren's source. Devenna had never thought about where the city kept that sort of thing.

Moa blinked through the window, and the spirals of smoke still rising from uptown. It was like he heard something in the new silence. Devenna strained to listen, and heard the old man wheezing.

To Devenna's disgust, the old man huffed a deep breath and climbed back into his taxi. Devenna stepped in, barring him from closing the door.

Moa rubbed his eyes. "There are more bodies every hour. Foreign monsters won't stop shelling."

"Then leave them." Devenna made an obscene gesture at the city through the garage shutters. "Come hide out in the shop with me. The dead aren't paying you fares."

"They've paid enough. They deserve proper burial."

Devenna grabbed the old man's shirt and shook him. He felt so light, like there were just bones inside his clothes. "Stay. You'll be killed."

Moa narrowed his bloodshot eyes up into Devenna's face. "The meaning of life is not to live forever."

"Life has no meaning!"

"I'm sure yours doesn't."

As though the world punctuated his sentence, the air raid siren resumed. Devenna tried to argue and couldn't hear himself, and Moa jerked the cab door closed. He drove off down Seven, making the left that took you towards uptown.

It was their only cab. The garage was on the outskirts, a lousy target the foreigners might still hit. They could hit anywhere. Devenna remained with the passengers on the concrete floor, regarding the woman who had a stained blanket instead of a face. Either because Moa was wrong or because he could do nothing else, he left her to go out back and begin digging graves.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Guest Post: Peter Newman on Turning The Vagrant from Serial to Novel

Today I'm happy to present to you one of Friday Flash's original stars: Peter Newman. Peter is co-host of the lovely Tea & Jeopardy podcast, and author of The Vagrant, which was just released by Harper Voyager. While I was privileged with early glimpses of the story in its formative days as a serial, it's developed into something very different. Peter is a heck of a writer and has some insights to share from his journey into publishing. -John

The Vagrant turned up one day when I was trying to write some flash fiction. I didn’t really have much of an idea what was going to happen immediately but I went with it. It was slow going, excavating little ideas that were floating around in the darker parts of my brain.

I quickly began to realise that I wasn’t actually writing a piece of flash fiction, I was in fact writing a serial. Part One quickly became Part Two, Part Three… then Part Ten, and onwards. As the episodes went on, various things settled into place, like the fact it was going to be written in the present tense. At first I wrote it in the past tense but found myself drifting in and out by accident. As an inexperienced writer, I took that to mean that I wasn’t very good at writing consistently but I now see that I was trying to find the right way to tell the story and had to experiment for a while before getting comfortable.

Writing the Vagrant each week was a strange experience. I now had the primary character and the world was taking shape. I’d known from early on where the story was going but the path to get there always descended into the mists. I was writing the serial in thousand word chunks but those thousand words often took a long time to find.

It’s worth adding that at this time I had a lot of support from the Friday Flash community, and people took time out to comment on what I was doing. A lot of this was essentially cheerleading (which I needed then and I still need now) but there was also criticism in there too (positive and negative) and I came to cherish those comments.

Twenty five episodes later and I realised that I wasn’t writing a serial either. I was in fact writing a novel.

Transitioning from one to the other was an interesting process. There were some advantages. For example, a serial format keeps things punchy, with lots of cliff clangers and crisis points to keep the reader motivated. However, there were also drawbacks. I had no chapters! And the rhythms of a novel are different. Some scenes had to be reworked and sewn together, others expanded significantly. The other thing I found was that I still had to write slow. I continued writing in thousand word chunks. Any more, and the quality of the work suffered.

But for all of that, the core style didn’t change and the Vagrant carried on the same way he always had.

As I approached the end of the book, I realised that I wasn’t just writing a novel, I was writing a series. I’d always planned The Vagrant to be a stand-alone novel but as I moved into the closing chapters, ideas for a sequel began to blossom. That sequel is written and currently with my editor.

And now find I have ideas for a new book in that world. I very much hope I get the chance to plunge into the mists once again. And if I do, I’ll keep following the Vagrant for as long as he’s happy to lead me.

The point I want to make here is that sometimes (rarely!), you wake up with a story fully formed in your mind, or a killer concept that screams for you to start writing. Sometimes you just get a spark that needs to be followed. And sometimes, if you let it, the story will take care of itself.

with it. It was slow going, excavating little ideas that were floating around in the darker parts of my brain.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Sold Two Stories!

Part of why I've been so quiet for the last couple months is intense writing and editing work. I've had my fingers in so many different projects that I'm not sure how to begin counting them all. But today I'm happy to announce two: I've sold "Bones at the Door" to Fireside Fiction, and a special reprint of "Alligators by Twitter" to The Sockdolager!

"Bones at the Door" is a Horror Comedy about a little girl's relationship with the local flesh-eating monster. It's one of the best structured stories I've ever written, and I have to thank Max Cantor for giving it a thoughtful critique that showed me how to finish it. I can't wait to show it to you all.

"Alligators by Twitter" was my first-ever pro sale, and is the Twitter feed of a man whose house is invaded by suspiciously intelligent alligators. He really wants to trend before he gets eaten. The way we use Twitter has changed since the original publication, and editor Paul Starr helped me update the story just enough that there are some new laughs.

Both publication dates are pending, but I'll be sure to announce when they're available. Hopefully I'll have more good news in the near future. I'm about to dive back into a novel.

One sneak announcement, though: this Wednesday I'll host a guest-post by my old #fridayflash buddy Peter Newman, whose debut novel just came out from Harper Collins! I'm so proud of Peter and look forward to him telling you about The Vagrant.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Daredevil Wishlist

A wonderful thing happened while watching Daredevil. Stuck in bed with bronchitis, too wiped to even sit up and read (my poor copy of Grace of Kings...), the show was exactly what I needed. There's so much worthwhile about it that I actively hoped certain characters from the comics wouldn't show up, and certain stories wouldn't play out, because of how cracking they would be as the focus of later seasons.

And lo, Netflix's Daredevil restrained itself. The season is about the feud of Murdoch and Wilson Fisk, The Lawyer Vs. The Mobster, with a few side characters fleshed out. Mostly side-characters are introduced with unlimited potential: the best buddy Foggy Nelson, Karen Page with a checkered past, the Night Nurse willing to treat heroes without exposing their identities. It's a great season of television as well as a cracking origin story, and at the end I had a wishlist of things for future seasons.

We'll get to that wishlist in a paragraph, but be forewarned: we're about to spoil the crap out of the show. If you like superheroes, you ought to give Daredevil a shot. The list of what could be coming will be waiting when you're ready. But if you're caught up, or if you don't care about spoilers*, let's dig in.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

March Attacks!

I didn't know this picture was being taken.

March escaped a couple weeks ago, and I barely noticed. There was food poisoning, and a wedding to plan (not mine, I was a mere taskmaster). I was so wrapped up in editing thirteen different short stories for submission, and beta reading two novels and an additional three short stories, that if it weren't for #NaNoReMo, I wouldn't have noticed us spilling into April.

Then again, we got snow flurries on Easter. Yesterday when I stepped outside to grill, I saw my breath and the cold flashed my face with dry-burns. So maybe the world doesn't know it's April yet, either.

I've been criminally negligent on #NaNoReMo posts. I'd wanted to run two more about The Color Purple, and one on my disappointment with Siddhartha, but blogs got eaten in the avalanche. Let today serve as a tardy wrap-up.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Color Purple: I can't read it, but I can hear it - #NaNoReMo

A funny thing happened in Alice Walker's The Color Purple. While I have trouble reading it sometimes, I can hear it perfectly.

It's novel written mostly in a dialect of the 1930's U.S. South, adhering to a different grammar than those dominant in modern style guides. Deep as the chapters get, the sentences are largely simple. We start the novel in such dire situations that the simplicity increases the empathy for what our narrator is living through. Consider the opening of the second chapter:

"Dear God,

My mama dead. She die screaming and cussing. She scream at me. She cuss at me. I'm. I can't move fast enough. By time I git back from the well, the water be warm. By time I git the ray ready the food be cold. By time I git all the children ready for school it be dinner time. He don't say nothing. He set there by the bed holding her hand and cryin, talking about don't leave me, don't go."

Unless you've read a lot of dire fiction lately, that is a situation that begs for interest and empathy. Interest in what killed her mother, and who the "he" at the end is. Her father? Lover? An older brother?

I've read very little fiction written in this dialect. Even now, every couple of pages I'll get micro-pauses, as I rearrange the words and parse them into the way I typically use language. Sometimes I savor her manner of phrasing, but more often I'm trying to wrap my head around this written syntax.

The funny thing? I can hear it just fine.

On an experiment, I picked up the audiobook. I listened for an hour while driving on errands and never had a single micro-pause for comprehension. Part was the skill of the narrator (my copy is actually read by the author herself), but I've heard people speak this way for most of my life. Out loud, in the mouth of a fluent speaker who can use inflections, it's smoother than poetry to my ears.

Returning to the hardcover, much more of the book reads familiar. It feels like elementary school, as I associate things I've heard growing up with things on the page for the first time. My problem is that while I've heard people speak this way, I've seldom read them write their words down. There's a gross pressure in literature to homogenize and cater to style guides. I recall two professors instructing our class that, even though Mark Twain was very good at writing phonetically and in dialect, we should never try it. It was too confusing to readers.

Well it's too confusing because readers never read it. If you're exposed to different approaches to prose, they become more natural to you. It's the same phenomenon that causes so many amateur critics to deride present tense storytelling. I was on their side as a teenager because I read it so rarely that it came across as stilted - its rareness made me read it that way. As I got older and read more, the uncanny quality went away.

It's also why I'm optimistic on the generation growing up now with tweets and text messages. There is some data to suggest they comprehend standard-grammared testing better kids without phones because they've played with language more, and even if they haven't consciously regarded it, it's unconsciously part of them.

Would challenges like reading The Color Purple, Trainspotting, A Clockwork Orange yield similar benefits? 200 pages in, and I think The Color Purple has equal (if not greater) merit to being taught in high schools as Twain's Adventure of Huckleberry Finn. If you're going to test teens with language outside of their box, it's a book as deep as any other in this paragraph. There's so much to chew... But that should come in a later post.

For now, I am a damned glad that I picked this book. Doubly glad I found Walker's audio.

Monday, March 2, 2015

#NaNoReMo - National Novel Reading Month

It's March, which means it's National Novel Reading Month. This is an annual tradition encouraging people to read the classic novels they've been putting off, because everybody has a few. As it is, I have a dozen on my shelf that I've owned for an embarrassingly long time. War and Peace is a personal shame of mine.

Readers define classics for themselves. A Tale of Two Cities and Peter Pan are part of the English canon, but Ian Fleming's James Bond novels are classics of Spy fiction. Ursula K. Leguin's A Wizard of Earthsea is a Speculative Fiction classic. If you perceive a book as a classic that you haven't gotten to yet, that's all that matters.

I've picked two books this year. The first is Alice Walker's The Color Purple, something I've heard about since high school but never sat down with. Walker has a reputation for confronting thorny issues of social hierarchy, and in The Color Purple, targets the life of a young woman in the South in the 1930's. Even the sample chapters ache with insight and historic weight.

It's a shame I overlooked this in school since History class gave me such a scant idea of African American experiences; for all I knew, they sprang into being around the Civil War, then disappeared until the Civil Rights movement. Over the years I picked up the general liberal sensitivity to issues without contextual understanding, and so avoided the enormous gaps in my knowledge. In that way, Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns and watching 12 Years a Slave were necessary kicks in the ass.

If I finish with reasonable time and keep up with other reading, then my second book will be Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha. There's a certain hopscotch of cultures involved: I'm an American in 2015 preparing to read a German in 1922 writing his idea of an Indian's spiritual journey around 500 BCE. The filters are part of the appeal.

I bought my copy in 2007, and it's one of the four books I've owned the longest without reading. At my grandfather's funeral, my cousin Palmer said the book changed his life. Even if he's much younger and thus easier to change the life of, he's a smart guy, and I felt deeper shame for not giving the book a shot yet.

If you're going through a classic this month, please comment so I can add your blog, tumblr or Twitter to the master list!

Danielle La Paglia is reading J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan
Sonia Lal will be joining me for Alice Walker's The Color Purple
Ally Atherton
will also be joining me for The Color Purple
Chuck Allen will be joining me for Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha
Helen Howell is reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus
David G Shrock is also reading Frankenstein
Katherine Hajer is reading Jane Austen's Persuasion
Charles Ross Dillon is reading Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame 
Cindy Vaskova is reading Algernon Blackwood's The Willows
Dorothy Lang is reading Art Spiegelmann's Maus

Monday, February 23, 2015

Bathroom Monologues Movie Awards 2014

It's almost March 2015, so of course we're all talking about the best movies of 2014. Naturally I disagree with some of the Oscar winners. More naturally, I don't understand what some of the categories mean. But nothing shall dissuade me from telling a sizable democratic body of people who devote swaths of their lives to film that their mass conclusions were wrong. So here we go.

The Too Little/Too Late Award
Going to the movie I missed by several years,
but have now seen and wish I'd been on the bandwagon for at the time 
Memories (title short film in the 1995 collection, Memories)

The Raddest Scene Award
Going to the raddest scene in a motion picture
The end of Whiplash
honorable mentions: Happy New Year in Snowpiercer,
Xavier-on-Xavier in X-Men: Days of Future Past

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Something Physical Books Can't Do

Debate can be such a wonderful waste of passion.
A couple months ago I discovered something physical books can't do. Yangsze Choo tweeted out that her debut novel, The Ghost Bride, was on sale for two bucks on the Kindle. Immediately I mentally scrolled through every conversation I'd had about the book, and through every person who'd seemed interested in its premise of a posthumous marriage being realized in Fantasy. Then, I started gifting copies to people. Two bucks per copy of a great novel, delivered instantly over thousands of miles, to people I held dear. It was something physical books have never offered.
Books Vs. eBooks is a wretched argument that won't actually sway consumer practices. People who grew up with physical books and enjoy the feel of pages and smell of paper won't find a substitute in e-readers. Meanwhile, kids growing up with tablets won't have the same attachment. Tablets and phones take less space, are more convenient for traveling, and have more functions than my doorstop copy of the Riverside Chaucer. Both forms have appeals, and the appeals differ between readers. Fighting between loyalists of the two forms is worse than futile, a miserable distraction from the love of reading, and of each other.
The afternoon of instantly gifting Ghost Bride was revelatory. I even signed up for a Barnes & Noble account just to gift a price-matched copy to a friend with a Nook. This was a beautiful new function I'd previously only experienced with digital videogames. Why? Because if a copy of State of Decay was 50% off on Steam, yes I'd want it, but I wouldn't buy it for myself. Meanwhile if a friend was going through a bad break-up and loved zombies? Yes, I'd be very likely to gift the game to him. That's the kind of impulse buyer I am. I don't grab the candy bar through the checkout line for myself, and I'm not alone.
It cemented itself into my heart when one friend IM'd me that she'd torn through the book. She was struggling with clinical depression and hadn't read any book to completion in a year. It was a loss for humanity, because until her problems, she was the absolute best kind of reader, enthusiastic to consume, discuss and share, with broad tastes and minimal cynicism. Health took that from her, and she was thousands of miles away, so I could never be there for her the way you'd want to be for a good friend.
And then, after finishing my two-dollar gift, she was sifting through the digital storefront for more things to read. Screw it, pun intended: her love of reading was reKindled.
I'll still browse bookstores. Yet eBooks appeal partially because my friends are global, and the neighborhood we chat in is the internet. Now I could tweet about my Ghost Bride buying kick, only to have Choo herself give me a personal message to relay my friend whose work she'd loved.
This is more exciting than Amazon's Paper White, or new screen tech that will mimic the texture of low grain paper as you swipe. This is a sharable future that appeals to me as not just a customer, nor as a reader, but as a friend. Cynically, it's a great way to get more money out of people like me. And I'll thank you for the privilege.

Monday, February 9, 2015

You Will Never Be My Friend (Request)

I get a lot of random Friend Requests on Goodreads. I'm a Librarian, and I have a few lightning rod reviews, so people find me. Generally I'll accept because I love reading reviews from new perspectives, or of niches of prose that I'm not exposed to. I've got friends who gobble classics, manga, memoir, and Epic Fantasy, helping point me to what I might have missed, or challenge my own prejudices.

Sometimes, though, I cross someone like the guy who friended me last week. His name is withheld because he's got enough anger in his life.
Right around when I accepted, he posted a tirade review against Stephen King's The Stand. I love The Stand; it's a landmark achievement in Epic Urban Fantasy. "M-O-O-N" is a reference I keep going back to, and the uncut edition's epilogue is intensely unnerving. This fellow hated the pacing, the unbelievable plot elements, and mostly, the act of being alive while reading it. It was unfortunate in its bile and lacking the perspective-challenging insight that I need out of a negative review. Still, not a sin.
Then he posted a review ripping apart Andy Weir's The Martian. I'd just read that, too, and was curious for his dissent, but more than half his review was quoting people who'd liked it and questioning how they could have read the same book. His argument that "funny isn't a personality" deeply bothered me, as I found the narrator's humor incredibly refreshing (I've slightly misquoted so he can't be google-stalked).
Yesterday he posted a 1-star review of Hamlet
Now look: Hamlet is the only Shakespeare I unequivocally enjoy. I dislike plenty of popular and important works. You can't be a writer without having taste clash.

But to have hated The Stand, The Martian, and Hamlet all in such a short period of time was alarming. That's a wide range of promising fiction to hate.
When I checked his profile, I found he hadn't given any books more than two stars so far this year. My knee-jerk response was to worry he had some psychological problems.

Then I saw he'd self-published two books of his own. He was an author on Goodreads there, at least in part, to promote his own work.
Sometimes, unfriending is the kindest recourse.
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