Looking back on things I’ve read

I’d honestly forgotten about the Hugo nominations until today. My notebook is looking a little sparse; I don’t know if I started forgetting to write things down when they impressed me, or if the end of the year was just so hectic that I fell far, far behind on actually reading and watching new work. It’s probably a combination.

(That said, with having read 105 books (or at least “things with ISBNs”) last year, plus a great number of short fiction magazines, I am pretty sure I can come up with a few nominations.)

Working fulltime (or fulltime-plus) is not making it easy, plus there’s been a little pet trouble so far this year, but overall I’m actually relatively happy with the amount of writing and submitting I’ve gotten done so far. Hoping it continues.

Interpretation

One of my favourite pairs of earrings is “Deciphering As Art“, by Elise Matthesen (whose other jewelry you can currently find on Etsy). They’re pretty simple; tiny squares of striated grey stone, with a grey fiber-optic bead dangling under them. They’re a beautiful, simple reminder of the process of taking something you’re actually presented with that  has a quality or a tendency,

I have been thinking about this a bit lately. I had a very long discussion about reconciling  Deadpool’s Rule (thank you, Foz Meadows) with calling out queerbaiting recently. The two points which came out of it were:

  • It’s reasonable to look at a character’s actions and interactions and draw the conclusion that said character is not straight without them explicitly naming themselves as such. (Deadpool’s Rule)
  • It’s reasonable to look at a creator (or creative team) that consistently refuses to give non-straight characters or interactions commensurate page time, screen time, and/or validation, and get frustrated and angry.
    (You might feel like you want to throw something at the interrelated shows which have a couple hundred episodes between them and have had canonically gay characters for nearly three years and have two married gay couples and still haven’t ever managed to have two guys kissing onscreen. Just as a for-instance.)

I generally assume interpretation of a character is going to be done in good faith. I may not agree with it, and in certain extremely rare cases[1] I may conclude that you are bringing some very specific preconceptions to the text, but I will assume it is being done in good faith. But just because you read a character as having a marginalized identity, it doesn’t mean you can’t want the work in which you found them in to do better.

Seeing something in a work that resonates with you doesn’t mean that the creator stood behind what you’re seeing. (It can! It often does! But it can also mean you’ve picked up on something the creator didn’t intend or didn’t want to showcase.) It doesn’t mean you’re endorsing the creator. And it’s okay to call out shortcomings, and to expect better.
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[1] Like the time someone told me I should keep in mind that Gregor Clegane had been bullied as a child for being the biggest and the strongest.

“Loob”, by Bob Leman

The proof is this: they are here, the Goster County dogs.

This is one of those moments where you really need to read the story in order to appreciate the line, which on the one hand I kind of tend to avoid–but on the other hand after four years of wanting a copy of Bob Leman’s collection Feesters in the Lake, I am looking like I will actually get a copy of Feesters in the Lake, and I am celebrating.

I’ve spoken about Bob Leman before. His writing, from what I’ve seen, is elegant and restrained. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call it understated, but his horror whispers, it does not shout.

You can read “Loob” in full at Weird Fiction Review.

Red and gold.

It astonishes me to realize that, for all that I adore the show The Flash, I’ve only mentioned it here a couple of times. So, in the name of breaking the week-long quiet streak that has resulted from travelling home, landing in a snowstorm, and shortly thereafter getting extremely sick, I am going to discuss the show that is currently my comfort watching.

When I started watching, I knew very little about the Flash. I knew that he was a speedster from DC comics; I knew that he worked with Superman sometimes; I knew that DC speedsters ran off something called the Speed Force, a kind of platonic ideal or Ur-speed that inhabits speedsters to a greater or lesser degree. And from cultural background radiation, I apparently knew that liquids floated as if they were in zero-G in the presence of the speed force, although I didn’t know I knew this until the light of my life showed me the promo trailer.

(Seriously. There’s more than a minute of this kid called Barry, and lines about being fast enough and having a good heart, and a man in a ball of lightning, and it’s all nagging faintly at me like I should recognize something, but what tips me off to it being a Flash trailer is the liquids in the lab getting all floaty.)

I also knew that I didn’t really like DC. I would take at least a look at any Vertigo comic, and I liked the Batman collection I had (which was actually a Joker collection), and I loved Kingdom Come. But overall the whole superheroes-as-gods thing didn’t hugely appeal.

But I watched the first episode of The Flash, and… okay, it had a bit of pilot-itis, and what looked like an extremely generic unrequited-love thing, but there was this kid. This really kind, hopeful kid. And as cool as his powers were he wasn’t in control of them so I wasn’t getting the “speed god will solve every problem” vibe. And… honestly, I came out of the first episode thinking “He’s like Peter Parker, except his job actually helps people.” And he didn’t have the ‘got powers, was painfully selfish until someone died’ thing going that Parker did, and…

He was hopeful. The whole show was hopeful, a four-colour major-key paen to saving people and supporting each other and powers as attribute embodiment and the ways tech is awesome and interesting and can be used to help people. He was… inspirational, I guess?

I gushed about this a little to the light of my life, and he pointed out to me that there was a reason Barry Allen had been chosen as an avatar of hope in DC comics. (Which was something else I didn’t know.)

This is, I think, discussed in greater detail with better construction and more coherence by Eric Burns-White (a guy who seems to have an excellent grasp of certain essentials of pulp-printed fiction, and is a hell of a lot more articulate than me), in his essay “My name is Eric Burns-White, and I have almost always hated Barry Allen.” Which I’m recommending as someone who adores the Barry Allen she’s seen to date, and can completely understand why the Barry Allen described would be an extremely annoying character.

Possibly useful information

Most people I know know the things I’m about to say, but I don’t know most people. And since I’ve mentioned a few of these things to people over the last week and they seemed to find it useful, I figured this was not a bad time to mention it.

The Hugos

The Hugo Awards are awards for excellence in fantasy and science fiction. They’re awarded every year, and they’re not a juried award. Everyone who has a Worldcon membership for last year, the current year, or the year to come can nominate works for the ballot. Everyone who has a Worldcon membership for the current year can vote on the final ballet.

I’m not saying voting is trivial; the cheapest membership is $50 this year, and it’ll go up at the end of the month, and that’s in American dollars. (In recent years, the Hugos have provided a content pack that contains samples or full copies of the nominated works, which helps take some of the sting out of the outlay.)

Submission Grinder

So I was talking to someone at a party and she mentioned that she wrote very short fiction, about a hundred words, but “no-one would publish that”. After I was done blinking, I told her about the Submission Grinder.

The Submission Grinder is an online tool where you can keep a record of your writing and the places you have submitted it to. It lets you search for markets by genre, rate of pay, simsum or reprint policy, award nomination… you get the idea. It’s free.

There is also Duotrope. My understanding is that it provides a substantially similar service, but is not free.

Writer Beware

When you sell something, you will get a contract. If you are uneasy about that contract, if you don’t understand something, if you’re not 100% clear on copyright, if (as I did) you completely misread a phrase and are trying to figure out what the hell it means, you can go look at Writer Beware.

(You can even email them to ask questions. I did.)

Adjectives

I hear that every writing advice blog post has to have something about adjectives in it, and this is heavily about writing, so I thought I would mention them. That’s all.

2016 has not been kind.

David G. Hartwell has died. He was an editor of great note.

I was at a panel where he was speaking last year. It was actually just back on the first of November, at the 2015 CanCon. It was a panel on reviews; how they should be done, what they are for.

I have notes. Most of them are fragmentary, and paraphrase what was actually said, but they are hopeful.

a note to look at Greg Cox’s advice on how to review the samurai vampire novel

“an ability to review the work by its standards

“the generosity of spirit to love the book by its own lights”

“convincing, intelligent, favourable reviews of unknown authors” (my notes say that one is a quote)

I am more upset than I would have expected to find myself.

People who knew him better than I are talking over at Making Light. I find I don’t have much I feel I could add.

Second Sunday.

We’re nearly a third of the way through January, and the Eastern Canadian in me is deeply confused. We’ve had about a week of winter all told, and today it was warm and raining and everything was getting washed off the lawns and streets and sidewalks.

(This is January-in-Ontario “warm”, which means “definitely above freezing” rather than “iced drinks and T-shirts!”, but still.)

It looks like it’ll be closer to normal over the next couple of weeks, but I’m more used to a month and a half of winter by this point in the year, so the back of my mind is remaining slightly confused by the fact that the snow showed up after the days started getting longer.

Mostly I’m hoping that there isn’t an ice storm coming. People are worrying a little about that, but it’s hard to tell where that is on the spectrum between “worrying because knowing they have a plan will make them feel better” and “worrying because it’s actually likely to be a problem”.

In other news, my goodness there are a lot of lovely things that can be nominated for the Hugos this year. I’m trying to pull a list together of stuff I particularly liked, but it’s a bit overwhelming. Still, it’s a goal.

A shining example to humanity.

Lately I’ve been… hmh. Rediscovering my fannish side, I suppose. Fallout 4 is coming out in 17 days (and 14 hours and 7 minutes and yes I think it is perfectly normal to have a countdown timer on my phone), and Hallowe’en is coming up sooner, and there is a local convention that has specifically mentioned costuming and there is also an okay to wear costumes at work.

Also the light of my life got me a PIP-Boy. So there’s that.

I am not a good costume-maker, for the record–my interest only tends to spike far-too-close to an event for me to comfortably have time to assemble something–but I am mucking about a bit with assorted paints applied to existing objects. What I am hoping for will be a very low-grade costume, no more remarkable than a sports jacket, but I hope it will be fun.

Oh. Shucks.

It’s kind of interesting, how many times black canids show up associated with death, and specifically the transition/boundary of death.

Off the top of my head, you’ve got Anubis who embalmed the dead and guided souls to the afterlife. (He also ) You’ve also got Cerberus, guarding the gates of the land of the dead.[1] But my favourite image in this regard–where my brain goes quickest, and what makes me smile–is Black Shuck. Black Shuck is an East Anglian creature of folklore; he’s a harbinger of death, and seeing him means you’re probably going to die soon.

Surprisingly enough, despite the less-than-friendly demeanour depicted in the image above, the stories mostly don’t seem to mean “soon” as in “as soon as he chews your leg off”. More of a “as soon as you have time for the full horror to sink in and to tell a few people” thing.

(That picture, by the way, is one I ran across around age six. I think I promptly adopted Black Shuck as the most awesome imaginary friend ever. You can do that kind of thing, when you’re six.)

To tangent briefly: the term Black Dog to refer to depression–as in the Black Dog Institute, or the “I had a black dog” animated video–was drawn from Churchill’s references to his bad moods as “a black dog on my back” (something akin to “getting up on the wrong side of the bed”), a colloquialism that also refers back to the black dogs of folklore.

I suspect black dogs have mostly been on my mind, however, because I recently reread Bob Leman’s “Loob“–in which the Goster County dogs are not friendly, not approachable, but ultimately a signifier that things may return to an idealised order, and are described as follows:

…almost a distinct breed, huge rangy dogs with blunt muzzles and smooth black pelts, who stood baleful guard over the farms of the county and patrolled the streets of the town with a forbidding, proprietary air.

It kinda fits.

[1] As to Norse mythology: I’m honestly not sure if Fenrir fits this mould or not. Canid, yes; associated with death, yes if you count the end of the world as a death; black, I really could not tell you. Garmr is a blood-stained watchdog that guards the gates of Hel, but again: could be lilac for all I know.[2]
[2] Probably isn’t lilac.