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The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal Below are 10 entries, after skipping 10 most recent ones in the "The Ferrett" journal:

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January 18th, 2016
09:09 am

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In Which I Sell The Impossible Story To Uncanny Magazine!

I have three distinct personalities as a writer: scribbly-guy, edity-guy, and marketroid. I don’t let the three talk to each other.

Scribbly-guy just writes. I don’t really know where the stories come from; I just get a weird first sentence and I roll with it.  Likewise, Edity-guy doesn’t question the submissions he’s getting: he’s got a story on his desk, and it’s time for him to make it better.

Mr. Marketroid, the part of me that actually has to go out and find a place to buy these stories, gets the final product and weeps.

And no story made him weep harder than “Rooms Formed of Neurons and Sex,” because it’s a story about a phone sex operator who falls in love with a BDSM-obsessed brain in a jar. Not only is this story extremely sexually explicit, not only do the words “brain in a jar” appear unironically and repeatedly throughout the work, but it is also 6,400 words, roughly 1,500 words more than most story markets will take.  (For the record, this whole post clocks in at a hair over 300 words.)

Yet after years of reworking, the fine editors at Uncanny Magazine just sent me back the contract, so “Rooms Formed Of Neurons And Sex” will appear in a future issue of Uncanny.  Which is awesome, because every short story writer has a couple of markets they long to be published in, and Uncanny Magazine has been knocking it out of the park lately with kick-ass stories from some of the authors I admire most.

It’s not out yet, obvs; the wheels of publishing grind slow and fine, and they’re committed with stories through February.  I’ll letcha know when this absolutely psychotic weirdie of a story will be available for your perusal.

But I sold it! And you’ll see it. In a place where I’m in great company.  And soon you’ll be able to put your eyes on Lydia and the Naughty Nurse Hotline and how she comes to fall in love with, yes, a brain in a goddamned jar.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/520416.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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January 15th, 2016
10:10 am

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My Book FLEX is $2.99 As Part Of B&N’s “First In Series” Sale!

Looking for some awesome sci-fi and fantasy series? Well, Barnes and Noble is trying to lure you in to reading pure awesomeness – and so as part of that, they’ve discounted Flex on the Nook to $2.99 to get you started!  (And don’t forget the sequel The Flux, which is currently out, and Fix – which isn’t even up for presale, but will be arriving in September of 2016.  I’m a series, you see.)

(You can also start on some awesome series like Mirror Empire, which I’m currently reading, and Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter, which has been highly recommended to me.)

Anyway, my book’s on sale for a short time, so I’d go purchase it post-haste, were I you.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/520120.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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January 14th, 2016
10:04 am

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Utilizing Condom-Based Logic: Surprisingly Useful.

Look. You’re telling me Google’s developing self-driving cars, but condoms remain mired in old-school technology?  We all know that condoms are a) necessary and b) suck; shouldn’t someone have created a better, more pleasurable, condom by now?

As it turns out, people are trying. And the government’s insane standards of safety are making it more difficult.

That article I linked to is one of the most educational I’ve ever read – it debunks some of the “lambskin condoms are unsafe!” discussions I’ve had in the kink community.  (Short version: the government mandates a label that says, “Not to be used for prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). To help reduce the risk of catching or spreading many STDs, use only latex condoms.” And that label is based on outmoded tests created when we were most ignorant on how HIV was transmitted.)

Yet here’s the thing about condoms:  is it better to have a condom with a 99% protection record that people only use 70% of the time, or is it better to have a condom with a 97% protection record that people use 99% of the time?

Because that’s an ugly truth about condoms: so many people hate ’em, they refuse to use ’em.  (Even though, yes, they should.)  And if we’re judging safety by real-world standards, it’s a very legitimate concern to say, “Yes, latex condoms are very safe, but also uncomfortable enough that maaaaaybe it’s better to develop a slightly riskier condom that people will use more consistently.”

It’s a weird math there.  But it adds up.

And I used that math the other day, because one of the lasting effects of my triple-bypass emergency heart surgery is that I have to take a medication called Welchol. It comes in a packet, and it’s this gritty sand with a saccharine lemony aftertaste that is just awful to drink. But the doctor says it’s the best.

After months of not taking Welchol on the road because it’ll make you retch to drink it with straight water and it’ll ruin any cup you put it in, I thought:

Is it better to have a less effective medication that I take every day, or a better medication that I struggle to take four days out of seven?

I called the doctor and we changed my prescription to a pill.

And now that I’m aware of it, I use that condom-logic a lot: yeah, it’d be better if I worked out for forty-five minutes at a shot – but if I commit to that, then I get around to it maybe once a week. Whereas if I commit to a twenty-minute workout, I can do that three or four times a week.

With condom logic, I take my own foibles into account and stop asking, “What would be best in a vacuum?” and instead ask, “What would I be more realistically likely to do on a regular basis?”  And if there’s a less effective alternative that you know you’d use more often, then stop trying to hold yourself to this gold standard that you’ve proven you’re unable to achieve consistently, and go for the bronze standard you can hit all the time.

Because here’s the weird thing about bronze standards: Used to be that I worked out three times a week for fifteen minutes.  Now, on average, I’m working out four times a week for twenty.  You make that stuff a regular part of your habits, and there’s a good chance they stick and grow.

Which, of course, is not to say that you should excuse the non-usage of condoms, or missing heart medications, or couch-based exercise programs.  But something’s almost always better than nothing.  And you see that in New Years’ Resolutions, which at this stage of the year are often crumbling away because people vowed “I WILL LOSE FIFTY POUNDS!1!1!!1!” after years of vowing to lose fifty pounds and never keeping it off – instead of vowing something more reasonable, like “I’ll stop buying Frappuccinos from Starbucks on the way home.”

Look. It’d be nice if you lost fifty pounds and slid into your teenaged swimsuit and then went to the high school reunion to swan your figure around. But maybe losing fifteen pounds and getting a little more jogging in is what you’re capable of.  And doing the condom logic won’t make your life as good as, yes, the gold standard would, but if you have yet to win the gold after years of trying maybe you should see what you can realistically accomplish to less fanfare.

But seriously, kids. Use condoms.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/519905.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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January 13th, 2016
10:14 am

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Some Complex Thoughts On David Bowie And Consent

I was never a David Bowie fan – but one of the strange pleasures of a great man dying is that you get introduced to him again all over.  My Twitter-feed lit up with all of the wonderful things David Bowie did, from performing at the Berlin Wall to calling MTV out on not playing black artists to pointing out his best music to me…

…and to having sex with a fifteen-year-old girl in what’s undeniably a case of statutory rape.

Now, it’s been widely reported that the girl in question was thirteen when Bowie had sex with her – a claim my friend Bart Calendar, a former rock journalist, has thoroughly debunked.  (Short version: Lori Maddox was American and born in November of 1958 and had sex with Bowie on his second tour in America in September 1974.  The age of thirteen may have been given by Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, who is not necessarily a treasure trove of accurate information.)

(EDIT: The dates I gave initially were incorrect, and have been explained in greater depth here.)

If you believe those facts are wrong, I encourage you to go over to Bart’s journal and argue with him; I admit I’m not familiar with Bowie.  But Bart’s been unerringly correct on rock and roll trivia for the decade I’ve known him, so I have no reason to dispute his version of events here.  If you want to discuss that, go argue with the man who could change my mind, not me.

Still, “She was fifteen” isn’t much of a defense.  That’s still three years under the legal age limit where the sex act took place, and in any case a man in his mid-twenties having sex with a teenager is at best kinda skeezy. It’s illegal, and it’s creeptastic.

So given that I’m notably big on consent, you’d think that I’d be calling in SJW airstrikes on Bowie’s legacy right now – as, in fact, many people are doing.  Bowie undeniably violated consent by having sex with someone too young to legally give consent.

Yet years later, in her mid-fifties, as a fully grown woman, she’s still happy with the decision.

And I think of the first time I ever made out with a girl.  I was blackout drunk – the only reason I had vague memories of the act the next day was because she left my neck ringed with hickies.  I know I didn’t initiate, because back then it wouldn’t have even occurred to me that a girl would like me.

That girl did sexual things with me when I was legally and morally unable to give consent.

Yet when I woke to discover those murky hangover dreams I’d had were real, I pumped the fist.  We dated that whole summer.  She took my virginity.  I still think of her fondly.

Now, that starts to seem like a fond argument for date rape – “Why, I had this wonderful experience while I was blackout drunk, so initiating sex with unconscious people is a good thing!” And I’m not gonna let people go down that path.  So let me be very clear here:

Having sex with people who are unable to give consent is bad, and you should never do it.  Much of “having people unable to give consent” is illegal – as was the case with David Bowie and his fifteen-year-old lover.  And when it’s not flat-out illegal, making the move on someone who’s too drunk to move, as I was, is skeezetastic.

The reason for that is because bad outcomes happen frequently when someone breaks someone else’s consent.  Yes, I am happy that I was taken advantage of by my first girlfriend – but there’s a lot of date-raped people, both men and women, who were traumatized by being fucked when they had little choice in the matter.  A lot of fifteen-year-old girls were pressured into unwanted sex by predators who’d honed their act simply because they knew teenagers were easier prey.

Consent matters, and for a good reason.

Yet in the rush to perpetuate the (very good) idea of consent, I think people often come to fetishize consent – coming to believe that breaking consent automatically equals horrific outcomes.  If David Bowie broke consent, then he must be an Evil Man.  If my girlfriend gave me highly visible hickies when I was all but passed out, she must be an Evil Woman.

Yet what we forget is that the ultimate judgment of consent has to be, “Was the person happy with what happened?”  And Lorrie Maddox, who still loves Bowie after all these years, clearly is.  And while I disagree with some of Bart’s post, this statement stood out strongly:

“If we want to create a society where women are given the benefit of the doubt and believe them when they say they are raped, the flip side of that is giving them the benefit of the doubt and believing them when they say they were not raped.”

The fact is, “consent” is merely a best practices, and not a guarantee of good results.  As someone who goes to kink conventions where consent-friendly BDSM is firmly in effect, I have seen very intense scenes where consent was practiced as thoroughly as possible every step of the way and yet the participants still wound up traumatized.  I’ve also seen, like me, people who’ve made sexual decisions while blind drunk that they were super-happy with.

Good consent does not guarantee good outcome.  Bad consent does not guarantee bad outcome.

Which is why ultimately, the gold standard of consent has to be “People were satisfied.”  And life’s frequently messy, and it’s not fun to say “This was executed hazardously, and could have hurt people, but things turned out well,” but…

It happens.

And if someone’s happy with the outcome, years later, when they’ve had literally a lifetime to consider it, we should respect that.

Which isn’t to say these acts of breaking consent shouldn’t be illegal, or roundly criticized. They should be. Sure, maybe someone drove home drunk without killing anyone, but that doesn’t make drunk driving an awesome thing to do.  Drunk driving is illegal not because every drunk driver kills a person, but because their risk of hurting someone goes way up. It’s too dangerous to chance.

And I think that life is, also, too messy to label people Good or Evil.  David Bowie clearly lucked out with this one woman, but who knows what else he did?  Maybe new allegations will surface in the wake of his death.  Maybe we’ll find out he did some pretty scummy things.  Then again, I think every celebrity did scummy things because every human does scummy things, and I think it’s very rare that one evil act obliterates all the good they did in their life, just as I think it’s very rare that one good act obliterates all the evil they did.

(Your mileage may vary. I acknowledge that. I allow for it.)

David Bowie’s not my hero, as mentioned.  But I think in this one widely-touted case, he made a mistake that turned out all right.  And it’s okay to live with that unsettling paradox that he did a bad thing warring with but it turned out all right without having to justify the act as something we should laud.

Every hero has a few sins. And while I suspect David Bowie fucked a lot of underaged girls on his tours, I also suspect most of them were okay with the decision – as opposed to, say, Bill Cosby, whose victims were clearly unhappy with the outcome.

In the end, I think it’s good to promote models of consent.  And it’s good to call out people who violate models of consent.  But if we get so caught up on the model that we actively ignore people saying, “No, wait, this was actually a positive event in my life” after they’ve had literally decades to ponder its effect, then I think we’ve abandoned some essential principle of humanity in the pursuit of an ideal.

Life’s messy.  Sometimes things go okay when they shouldn’t have.

We should be able to sit quietly with those moments without abandoning the pursuit of a better world.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/519643.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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January 12th, 2016
10:02 am

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How Frank Zappa Saved My Life

I didn’t get many visitors in the hospital after my first suicide attempt.  I was mostly too embarrassed to see my friends.

But two of the coolest guys I knew showed up, Andy and Mark, and they gave me precisely what I needed – to show up and shoot the shit with me.  I felt like a broken doll, but needed to be treated like a human being, and they kept the solicitous “…You okay?” questions to a minimum.

They were the first to make me laugh.

And I remember very clearly when they didn’t make me laugh.  Because Mark said there was a Zappa song that referenced me, and Andy put a hand on his arm and said, “Come on, man, don’t reference that, he’s not ready.” And I asked what song, and they demurred me, saying they’d tell me later.

A couple of weeks later that summer, when I got out of the hospital, I asked them to play whatever that song was for me.  And they bobbed their heads, embarrassed, and got out the tape and played the first Frank Zappa song I ever heard:

“Suicide Chump.”

You say there ain’t no use in livin’
It’s all a waste of time
‘N you wanna throw your life away, well
People that’s just fine
Go ahead on ‘n get it over with then
Find you a bridge ‘n take a jump
Just make sure you do it right the first time
‘Cause nothin’s worse than a Suicide Chump

They watched my face, horrified –

And I burst out in laughter.  Who the hell would say that?

“What else did he write?” I asked, thinking that Zappa was a guy like Tom Lehrer – all clever lyrics embossed over bog-standard tunes.  And they grinned and said, “Oh, you’re in for it,” because they knew what I didn’t – that song was among the most uninteresting tunes in the Zappa archive, a simple blues riff.  They knew that Zappa had complex polyrhythms that would get wedged in your brain for days but be impossible to play.

They unveiled You Are What You Is to me, and the top of my head blew off.

The thing about Zappa is that he was fearless in every direction – he’d make fun of anything.  (His first album notably pierced the hypocrisy of the hippie movement, in 1966.)  He hit conservatives and liberals with the same incisive glee, and nothing was sacred.

Yet he did so with a cold intellect.  He’d go dumb on purpose, sliding into dippiness because it amused him, but always Zappa would retreat to that high ground of thoughtfulness and he would not abandon it.

But he was also fearless musically, striding boldly into every territory to grab orchestral music from over here and doo-wop music from there and a snatch of heavy metal and then weld them all together with complexity that made his musicians have to do actual work.  He’d snag the most talented drummers and guitarists and keyboardists of his generation, and they would have to work ten-hour days to figure out how to play what he wrote.  Touring with Zappa became like graduating Juilliard – you couldn’t do it without a magnificent set of skills.

Yet for all that, his music never felt as studied as the prog rock movement, which often felt like they were doing crazily-hard stuff just to show that they could do it.  Zappa’s work, with rare exceptions such as The Black Page, felt organic – yes, the diabolical stuff was in there, but felt like it had a purpose.  It was singable.

And so Zappa saved my life.

Because Zappa showed me it was okay to be weird, so long as I kept observing.  He followed his dream so recklessly that he didn’t really give a crap about his fans, or the record companies, or even his musicians – he just wanted to explore whatever was interesting to him.

What interested Zappa was dissection.  He liked looking at things.  He liked tinkering with both ideas and notes.  I liked tinkering with ideas and words.  He liked changing styles, and I liked changing styles.  He hated pretentiousness for the sake of looking good for other people, treasuring honest exploration –

So that’s what I set out to be.

Zappa told me it was okay for me to be me, and maybe even Zappa wouldn’t approve of me, but that was okay.  The core message of Zappa was that he was living for his own amusement, and he didn’t give a fuck what you thought because he enjoyed what he did –

Which gave me permission to be weird.  And not the kind of performative weird I saw so much in high school, that Hey, look at how kooky I am guys, do I make you laugh? but the actual weird that comes from looking at things that nobody thinks should be cool and hugging them to your chest.

To this day, it’s hard to describe what I like musically.  I’m all over the map.  People hate my mix tapes.  Because I’ve got so many loves and they don’t have much in common except they called to me.  (It’s also why I have such a hard time whenever someone asks me what my literary influences are.)

And there were a couple of times I was tempted to commit suicide from then on, back when I was young and still working through what would eventually come to be known as my Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I thought of Zappa: Do you want to be a suicide chump?

I eventually came to realize that some significant portion of my suicides were, indeed, performative.  (The other portion was needing a vacation, which I came to realize suicide was not.)  And if Zappa wouldn’t feel sorry for me, then others wouldn’t, and if I was going to make a show out of my death then why would I do that for such an unappreciative audience?

Zappa’s one of the major reasons I’m here today.

And I think of David Bowie dying, and I see all the outpouring of love for him because for so many people, he was the first person who told them, “You can be yourself.”  They saw someone blazing their own path fearlessly, and they realized they could create their own life.  And to have that inspiration go away so suddenly, so unexpectedly, made them remember how much of their life was only possible because one person had been so unimaginably brave.

Their sorrow calls to mine.  Their grief is fresh; I lost my hero twenty-three years ago, in 1993.  I know this because I have a Frank Zappa print in my bathroom, right over the toilet – I’m pretty sure he’d have laughed at that – that marks his demise.  I think of him almost every day.

And in a sense, it’s good that Zappa’s gone.  He was already getting cranky, and I suspect he would have become insufferable in his later life – maybe he would have remained a hero, maybe his humor would have boiled away to leave him with nothing but arrogance and he would pucker into some Richard Dawkins-shaped asshole on Twitter.

But I don’t know. Zappa evolved a lot. It was exciting to see where he’d go.

And Bowie is gone, and Zappa is gone, and all our heroes must march into the sky eventually.  It’s a day of mourning for those beautiful freaks who found a different hero.

But we all marched down the same path, basically.  You and I, Bowie fans, we both had that moment where a man shook us by the shoulders and said, You don’t have to be this.  And pointed down a more limitless direction.

You.  Me.  Zappa.  Bowie.  We’re all part of the spectrum.

We all became our own heroes.  At least a little bit.

That bravery serves everybody, in time.

So be weird. Be bold. Be as big as your heroes, even if they’re gone. That’s what they would have wanted of you, and it’s the blessing I wish upon you, on a day that still feels a little colder and emptier than it should.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/519272.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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January 8th, 2016
10:08 am

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How Many Brilliant GMs Have We Lost To This Writing Biz?

After months of playing evil vampires, I have agreed to step back up again and become DM for my gaming group.  They’ve been asking me to.  We stopped right in the middle of a very exciting plot twist in my Numenera campaign, and I know vaguely where it’s going…

I hope I won’t punk out on them this time.

But it’s hard to GM these days, because as it turns out my GM headspace lives right in the middle of my novel-writing headspace.  I plot my novel in my empty spaces: when I’m walking the dog, I’m marking out the beats for this epic soup-making action sequence I’ve got planned. When I’m driving long distances, I have conversations in-character, mapping out dialogue paths through the epic soup-making action sequence.  When I’m in the shower, I’m envisioning the tiny details of soup-making – what the bowl feels like in my hands, trying to master the little tidal shifts in a five-gallon pot.

All that primes the pump so when I eventually sit down to write that epic soup-making action sequence, it’s as good as I can make it.

(NOTE: You may think I’m kidding. I’m not. I am actually writing an epic soup-making action sequence.  Well, consomme, to be precise.)

Anyway, the issue is that most of the good bits of my novel are created when I’m not staring at a screen… and the same can be said for my GMing.  I plot out campaigns on my walks, on my drives, in the showers.

Switching modes doesn’t work. I can really only novel-plot or GM-plot.  Not both.

So my campaigns have suffered for some time now, ever since I’ve started writing (and selling) novels. I don’t have this problem with short stories; short stories don’t require me to keep an entire world juggled in my head the way that both games and novels do.  When I wrote short stories, I could switch modes easily, because short stories aren’t exactly easy but they are compact.

The thing is, I’ve gamed with Cat Valente, author of the Fairyland books, and I know that she’d make an awesome GM… but she also has the same issue of “novels vs. GMing, novels win.”  Mike Underwood, who writes the Genrenauts series, experiences the same problem.

In my ideal world, GMing would be its own financial career path, where the really good GMs were stars – maybe not Brad Pitt-level stars, but MC Lars-level stars where they have 20k followers and earn a nice living off of merch and video streams.  And in that world, novelists would have a lot of overlap of skills – no, you don’t get to control the characters precisely, but there’s a lot of related talents in worldbuilding and character tension and plotting and motivation that get hauled out when you’re a top-tier GM.

And I wonder how many novelists could run awesome long-term campaigns – not the one-shots you occasionally get at ConFusion, but those epic months-long games where you have character development and get hooked into the world because you’re both in it and changing it.

I dunno.  I know the world often loses me as a DM.  And I’m sad I never got to sit in a Cat Valente campaign.  And I’m sad that GMing isn’t more valued, because god damn there’s a lot of great sci-fi and fantasy writers I’d love to see behind the screen.

 

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/519143.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(20 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

09:50 am

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Read One Of My Favorite Stories, Over At Apex Magazine!

Riding Atlas” is one of the weirdest stories I’ve ever written, in a career of writing weird fucking stories.  And I’ve had some people call this one “weirdly erotic,” which I didn’t exactly intend, but I guess you write about anything bodily-intimate and people respond.

Hey, I’m happy to be a springboard for all kinks.

Anyway, “Riding Atlas” is over at Apex now, and it starts like this:

They were naked, now, on a dirty mattress.

“Neither of you have eaten or drunk anything for twenty-four hours?” Ryan asked, hauling equipment into the room: sloshing plastic buckets, packs of hypodermic needles, coils of tubing, straps. “And no drugs in your system? This is a pure trip. Just two bloods commingling. Any impurities stop Atlas from getting inside you.”

Stewart didn’t answer. He was too distracted by all the naked couples. The attic’s flooring was covered with bodies, lying belly to swollen belly on bedbug-blackened box-springs. Their arms were thrust out above their heads, ears resting on their biceps; they clasped hands like lovers, their circulatory systems knitted into a single bloodstream.

Stewart felt his arms itch where the needles would be inserted, anticipation and fear churning into a sour mix in his gut. But Tina was ready, as she always was for things like this. She’d dragged him here, telling him they had to do this now, before they outlawed consanguination just like they’d outlawed LSD….

Go read the rest. If you can.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/518719.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(7 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

January 7th, 2016
09:42 am

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Trust Your Gut Instinct.

If you’re out on a date, and get that flutter of “STRANGER DANGER” jolting its way through your nerves, then you need to pay attention to that and cut this date off right away. Because your natural instincts know better than you do, and it’s time to start acting on those hunches.

You know when you’re in trouble. You just don’t know you know.

And if you’re out on a date and feel unloved, and your instincts tell you the best way to solve this is to have a crazy breakdown in public so her protective instincts will kick in and you’ll know how much she adores you, then it’s time to huddle up against a wall and tell her you can’t do this! Follow those impulses! You –

Wait. That’s bad advice?

Okay, I’m gonna level with you: About half of you need to pay attention to your instincts, because you folks do have good instincts, and you’re not listening when the alarm systems start blaring “ABUSER.” Chances are good you had such good instincts that an abuser in your distant past muffled them to make you more compliant, and it’s time to start listening.

But the other half have terrible instincts that make them feel all warm and fuzzy when someone subtly mistreats them with a feisty round of negging, or have instincts that tell them to do horrible selfish things when they feel bad, or even have instincts that make them homing missiles for the worst and most self-destructive relationships.

So you know what? As usual, universal advice fucks over a lot of people.

Here’s the truth: if you’re not sure yet, pay attention to your instincts. Write ’em down, if you need to. Then go along with ’em and see what happens.

You might be the sort of person whose instincts get them out of jams, in which case, hell yeah, follow those instincts! Pay more attention! Activate those instinct-sensors! Lift instinct-weights until you have the confidence to speak the fuck up when something triggers the DANGER WILL ROBINSON part of your brain!

Or you might be the kind of person who, like me, has Darwin-destruction instincts that lead them to walk into blazing bonfires of drama – in which case you need to put a ball-gag on those instincts, and work overtime to develop artificial habits that compensate for this anti-consigliere in your brain who consistently advises you into ruin.

And after you’ve done that for a while, you might find that you have really good instincts for some things and really terrible instincts for others, at which point, shit, you gotta break it down and determine which category you’re in before following or running away from those subliminal impulses.

The point is that all advice is two-sided, and can wreck you if you listen to the wrong advice. “Speak up!” you say to a shy person, but the local friendless Donald Trump fan just heard you and he’s gonna talk louder now because clearly nobody’s listening. “Learn to trust people!” you say to someone who shoves everyone away, but the person who falls in love with the checkout clerk has heard you and they’re now justifying quitting their job to move in with someone on the second date. “Be yourself!” you say to the person who spends all his time quashing himself down to fit in, but Mister “I don’t bathe because that’s robbing me of my germ resistance” is giving you a thumbs-up from his reeking seat on the subway.

It’s not about getting advice. It’s about getting the right advice.

Learn to listen properly, man. And that’s literally the best advice I can give you.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/518458.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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January 6th, 2016
05:20 pm

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A Brief Discussion Of Star Wars Costumes.

So I was thinking about the lack of imagination in the prequels versus the Force Awakens.  And some of that’s evident in the costumes.

Because I just saw a picture of Obi-Wan… and he’s wearing basically the same outfit in the prequels that he wears in A New Hope.  Which implies that Obi-Wan basically has dressed the same for, well, his entire fucking life.  He retreated to Tatooine as part of a secret mission, wearing what are clearly fucking Jedi robes in retrospect, and Lucas didn’t care because, well, the characters weren’t what he cared about.

How ridiculous is it that someone would wear the same outfit for seventy years if he wasn’t some sort of bizarre cartoon character or performer?  Especially if he went into hiding?

Whereas Han Solo is wearing his smuggler’s outfit in The Force Awakens – except on each rewatch, it seems a little more ridiculous.  He’s supposed to be a little sad for going back to his old smuggler days – and I think of a fashion show I watched that said, “People wear what they wore when they felt the most sexy.” And a lot of that show, which was devoted to helping people dress better, was about making them realize that it was a little sad to wear that outfit that no longer suited you.

He looks a little itchy in that outfit.  And it’s the exact same outfit, down to the belt buckle. Which makes us happy as Star Wars fans, but the script itself seems to indicate that being a smuggler really doesn’t suit Han any more – he just doesn’t know what to do with himself, and is trying to recreate his old magic by dressing up in a costume and hoping that hey, the good feelings will return.

Leia, you may note, is wearing a different outfit.  That’s because Leia’s a little wiser.

As is, I think, this movie.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/518363.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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10:27 am

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How Many Stories Does A Character Have To Tell?

When we got out of Star Wars, my daughter was ablaze with all the things she wanted to see in the Star Wars Universe.  “We don’t know how {$CHARACTER} got Darth Vader’s helmet,” she said.  “I bet that’s an interesting tale. And how did {$CHARACTER} get ahold of that lightsaber?  Wow, how did that happen?”

I was quiet, because she was so excited.  But deep down, I was thinking, That’s just logistics.  Those aren’t stories. 

And last night I watched Creed, the latest movie in the Rocky series, for the second time – and it’s amazing how much more attention to pay to sequels and reboots when you’re writing the third book in a series.  Now, whenever I watch a sequel, I have that tickle in the back of my head, knowing that if sales hold up maybe they’ll ask for a fourth book in the ‘Mancer series.

 

And while I love Rocky with all my heart, every Rocky fan knows that there’s only two really good movies in the original series – the first Rocky, where our lovable lunk becomes a contender, and the third Rocky, where he suffers from PTSD after being beaten out of his comfort zone.  (And arguably Rocky Balboa, which feels more like a fond coda than a series finisher.)

The other movies exist.  Things happened in them.  But they don’t stick in the fans’ minds because what happens in those films are retreads.  Rocky II is basically Rocky I, except with a slightly happier ending.  Rocky IV is Rocky III, except with an even more cartoonish villain.

Rocky learns the same lesson in II that he does in I.  Rocky learns the same lesson in IV that he did in III.

There’s only so many significant lessons a man can learn in life.

And I think of Batman, and how many thousands of comics devoted to Batman stories have been written, and most of them were fine – they existed, Batman beat a villain, and they slid into the massive vat of Batman stories to be quietly forgotten.  They were exciting at the time, but Batman either didn’t learn a lesson beyond Here’s How To Beat The Riddler This Time, or he learned a lesson very much like what he’d learned before – Batman Will Always Be Alone, or Batman Needs His Allies, or Batman Must Not Kill.

Stories that didn’t tell us anything new.

So we liked them when we were reading them, but they didn’t stick.

There are a handful of great Batman stories, and it’s not surprising that those are the ones the movies gravitate towards – Batman is crippled and must work his way back to greatness.  Batman encounters a man who tries to seduce him into abandoning his world view.  Batman battles old age as he struggles to remain relevant.  And, of course, Batman’s origin.

Those are the real stories.

And the trick is, Batman can’t have too many of these significant lessons, because then Batman stops being Batman.  If Batman learns that killing is, actually, more efficient, then he’s suddenly not the guy we can market on lunch boxes. If Batman learns that channelling his great wealth into social programs is more efficient, then Batman as we know him is over.

Truth is, most characters have only a handful of lessons they can be taught before they become something so different, they evolve into people who weren’t what we were drawn to.

Yet audiences want to hear stories about the people they love.  They want to warm their hands by Batman, and Rocky, and Sherlock Holmes, and all the other great characters, and publishers want to make money, so they ask authors, “Hey, can you have them do something so the fans can tag along with this person for a while?”

So what you get are what I call potboiler tales – they exist because you’re happy to go back to see Spidey fighting Doc Ock again, but they’re just going to shuffle deck chairs around.  Maybe Spidey will have lost a power or two, but he’s lost them before.  Maybe Aunt May will be in trouble again, but that old biddy’s always been his boat anchor.  Maybe Spidey will, once again, have some mundane commitment he’s missing out on while he saves the day, and will pay the price in his personal life for being a hero.

Again; nothing we haven’t seen before.  And we’ll give Spidey new villains, and more events, and maybe a new girlfriend…

And once every decade or two, an author will stumble upon a tale that does teach Spidey a lesson we haven’t seen before, something fitting and new, and fans will talk about how brilliant it was, and it’ll revitalize interest in Spidey in a way that no crossover or revolving-door-death ever will.

That will be the next of Spidey’s significant stories.  It’ll take its place in the pantheon.

And slowly, that will become another one of the Lessons Spidey Must Learn, and we’ll see the same endless churning of Spidey stories except that’ll be incorporated into the repertoire.

There’s nothing wrong with potboiler tales, naturally.  I read a billion of ’em when I was a kid, and they did me just fine.  And they’ll probably show {$CHARACTER} getting Darth Vader’s helmet, and they’ll bolt in some character arc somehow, and it’ll be a good story that will satisfy people who already liked Star Wars.

Yet as an author, I note that people respond to the significant stories much better.  They’ll watch Rocky II.  They’ll remember Rocky III.  They’ll watch Star Trek III, but they’ll remember Star Trek II.

But as an author, at this point, I want only the significant stories.  I want the ones where a character goes into the tale as one person, and comes out as another person entirely.  And my point is that even the great characters only have a couple of those significant tales they can live through before they’re done evolving.

(And in some cases companies don’t want the significant tales to be written, because in the end with Star Wars the big changes have to happen on-screen, and you can’t have Rey’s big moments taking place on paper when the celluloid is what grabs the big bucks.)

My wife likes reading the potboilers.  I support her in this.  Yet I think in her heart of hearts, she’s searching for the next great significant story.  One will provide nutrition to get you through the day; the other is a meal.

And I think that if you’re a writer, you can poison yourself on potboilers when it comes time to tell your own original stories.  In general, the potboilers work for people who already liked this stuff.   And stealing too many techniques from the potboilers risks telling a story that doesn’t have enough muscle to grab people by the lapel and lift them off the ground.

When you’re writing a tale, maybe consider whether this is potboilerish or significant for your main characters.  Ask if this is the critical incident in their lives.

And if it’s not, maybe figure out what would be.  Because god damn, people thirst for that significance, even if they don’t necessarily know they want it.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/518102.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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