Stuck in the middle…

“Hey you! Yes you! Why you no payin’ attention, lame-brain? You listen up! I slappa you around the head. I said-something’s wrong wid dis writing pizza da…”
“Ah shuddupa your face.”
My hind-brain is a nasty fake 1950’s mob mamma.
And yeah, she knows better than me. Gives me lots of slaps, for disrespect. And for stupid. She’s right though. Because the story does talk to you, and tells you when it’s not right. At least it does to me anyway –and sometimes in the oddest of accents. What the accents are often trying to do – to me, is tell me what is missing. When a book sticks for me – and I’m not talking about fatigue, poverty stress, or real life intervening, I’m talking great story… I’M STUCK it’s telling me something. Typically for me happens around 40-50K in (and sometimes at 20K) – so many times… you’d think I’d learn, which is what I have tried to do and share.

I am a plotter. I’ve had a whole book in my head before I start in detail, a good many times. Not always of course, but more than a few times. It’s only typing speed and sudden Mamma intervention that stop it.

It usually is at least one of the following problems: 1) The plot and story are opaque, or one-dimensional; 2) The plot is waffling; 3) The story is bigger and hinges on something else; 4) The gap between scenes is bigger than I thought.

Everyone’s mileage differs. I can only tell you my recipes which sometimes work for me.

A) Reread the story. It’s usually a lot better when you see it in one short chunk, rather than spread over months, and sometimes deficiencies leap out at you.
B) Get someone else to read the story – if they’re getting it, great.
C) Explain the story to someone – this works amazingly well for me as it makes me put into words to explain feelings and thoughts, and makes me define characters.
D) Look at the ‘whys’ – why characters do things. Motivation is often what I find wrong.

The above almost always sort out 1) and 2), with the exception of the dimensionality. That’s inevitably an issue – for me, with POV. Adding a Point of View character has solved my problems over and over. I’m just naturally mean, I hate doing it.

3) and 4) are often ‘back to the drawing board’ for me. I’ve had to do this thrice now, twice with success. What I do is to make myself a vast sheet of paper, and map all the incidents/scenes onto it in time order. Um, and I did each POV in different colors. This may not work for you! I felt pretty silly doing it, but I did spot that one color was very occasional, and it was lacking in motive – and when I added a motive and the effects thereof I had a miles stronger story that tried to write itself.

So? How do you find best to respond to your inner ‘this is not right’ voice?

The final tally for the month was AMW 105 (I’m pleased) and The Forlorn 5.

On a tangent: In the latest bit of scuttlebutt from the increasingly odd world of traditional publishing – – they’re gnawing their own vitals again, in the latest purity witch-hunt. No I’m neither surprised nor sympathetic nor even doubt that something happened, although I still prefer trial by the normal processes, instead of condemnation by internet. Me, I opine that this is yet another example of the result giving absolute power to the publishers. While it is currently fashionable to pose it as yet another white man being a predator or at least a PITA, abuse is often more often caused by too much power than anything else. It also didn’t come from nowhere. It came from authors being willing to put up with shit, and in some cases to reward it (let’s not pee about here. I suspect quite a few authors owe their success to what amounts to trade – their bodies and favors in exchange for success. Without any trouble I can think of one known lesbian author-agent relationship and one heterosexual publisher-author relationship. Of course that could just be a wonderful meeting of minds, and borne out of the trust established. Yeah. Maybe. And maybe like the casting couch in the movie world it never ever happened, and not one of the now outraged ‘victims’ set out to use sex or coquettery to get their goal, or were rewarded for doing so.). Power corrupts and absolute power –which was an accurate assessment of the old status quo — sure did a wonderful job. The fact that happened at what is known to be a far-out feminist con, in the middle of a discussion about Marx and China Meiville with one of the close friends of the Tor powerbrokers, with enough nannies for an 19th century English country house is enough to make it all seem a surreal farce set in alternate universe. With any luck they’ll continue to digest themselves, in a rapidly decreasing pool of readers. There is real harassment out there (mostly, methinks by the powerful, or historically so) but I think this will end up hurting those real victims, because all of this will be grandstand and over-swing-the-pendulum for the benefit of the victimization-farming crowd. When the over-swing swings back, as it will, the real victims will get screwed (probably literally) again.

When I dared ask just what he’d actually done – not that I doubted that something was done, or care what they do to their once Teflon overlords, just curious as to what the line was now (it’s a highly flexible one, it seems.) I was told that the victim didn’t have to say, because having to say made them reluctant to do so, and that false accusations were rare, and that the moderator was ‘disappointed’ in the way I was thinking. I have to laugh. Alas. I’m afraid more disappointment is in order, because I don’t do group-think-bandwagon. Fortunately, the only humans I worry about disappointing is me, Barbs and the kids, and find disappointing this sort of bloke quite a compliment. I’ve met genuine sexual harassment before, and I won’t put up with it, not to me or anyone else I can help, but this strikes Dumbo-the-disappointing here as replacing one problem with another. Shrug. It’ll end in tears, and I’m somewhat sorry for the poor people (and it will be both sexes) who won’t get the problem fixed.


  1. I’m with you there. When the word “harassment” has become corrupted to cover everything from “lady” to “sleep with me or I won’t publish your novel”, it’s no longer sufficient to say someone was harassed. Many of the people who are angry about this particular incident today are the Boys and Girls Who’ve Cried Wolf for years over ridiculous incidents. If they want me to be upset today, I’m gonna have to see some actual wolf tracks.

    1. Yes. The problem to me is a real problem (and I’ve seen women tormenting insecure guys too, secure in the knowledge that the victim was too unfamiliar with their behavior to deal with it, knowing that if it provoked a physical or verbal response they could squall and he would be automatically the labelled ‘perp’.Sometimes it is inept courtship, and sometimes it’s just enjoying bullying) which is serious and should be dealt with, gets swamped in increasingly trivial and sometimes outright false (revenge/slighting or just group hatred) stuff. The borders of what harrassment is are so subjective and badly defined (we all recognise it in the heartland) that he was standing too close (definition of too close being up to the accuser), or he was looking at my breasts (possible. Or the accuser just thought the person was, because they’re self-concious, or wearing a top they feel is a bit revealing). As most of this this handled through HR and HR is almost always all female these days, and very good at PC, there isn’t what I’d call a reasonable cut off point. It will go to the ridiculous – it’s already getting there, and then the pendulum will swing back very hard. So: in the end the guy/girl who got ‘sleep with me or I won’t publish your novel’ (and if you believe it only happens to women, and that women (and men) won’t do it to men you’re an idiot) will end up without support. Well done, PC plonkers.

  2. My favorite phrase from the link is “join the conversation briefly and do the thing that was reported.”

    Unless I am seriously misreading the piece, whatever the “thing” was, it took place in a room full of people, as part of an ongoing conversation, and evidently was not noticed by other people in the room, since the author had to explain to the host of the party what had happened.

    Drinks are mentioned, which implies that it was a party, not a seminar. The editor is described as one who works for another publishing house, which would imply that the man has no direct authority over the author.

    My interest, as they say, is piqued as to what exactly happened under those circumstances.

    1. The trouble is the word ‘harass’ – to annoy/attack PERSISTANTLY – has been hijacked to no longer mean ‘persistant’. There are lots of other ways to describe a verbal sexual insult, or physical sexual pass or assault or sexual extortion but none that carry the same PC penalty. Look, groping on crowded Japanese trains was common, so a crowd is not an absolute count out, but yeah… I have to wonder what a woman whose own profile describes her as shall we say sexually very ‘broad’ could find that traumatising.

  3. I noticed the exact same thing over at the Passive Guys blog, people jumping all over anybody asking what he did. It was pointed out that for legal reasons the ‘victim’ may have been advised to not give details, okay I can buy that, but don’t expect me to condemn somebody for something just on your say-so, especially when you won’t even say what I should be condemning him for.

    As for false accusations being rare, well lets just say that if close to a majority is rare, I would hate to see what it would be like if they were common.
    Somebody finally came out and stated that we shouldn’t be asking such questions because it wasn’t the accuser’s conduct that was being questioned. At which point I had to point out that actually yes it was, both the accuser’s and the accussee’s conduct should be under question. Because one of them is wrong and should be punished (I realize this will never happen to an accuser in this situation, no matter how blatantly they lie, or how badly they damage the acussee’s reputation. Which is why the line about false accusations being rare is so ridiculous) Otherwise it is convicting someone without bothering to look at (or even require there to be any) evidence, last I checked America was created in part to prevent such from happening.

      1. I have never been to one either, I was referring to sexual harassment accusation in society in general, not specifically at cons.

      2. Misha – and herein lies the collateral damage FAR exceeding the gains. Cons are great for new writers – you can meet and make good friends with mentors and people who know what’s going on where. You can genuinely -without sleeping with or putting up with abuse from – learn a lot about editors tastes face -to-face that you can’t elsewhere. Some of the panels can be informative, many can be fun. Mixing face-to-face with people with similar interests is great – you don’t have to explain ever reference to sf! It can be stimulating and leave you with con crud and a head full of snot and ideas.

        Most of fandom/writers are not terribly socially ept. We’re not good at subtle signals. We’re also, by 99.5% at least mark NOT nasty sexual predators. (yes, sex happens, and yes some some people are looking for it. Mostly they find each other). The end result is that a lot of decent folk who would love a con, and benefit from it, are going to be frightened off. Most of those frightened off will be male. Work out what this will do for attendance (because a lot of hetero women won’t go either, because they like male company) and just who ‘wins’ by this.

        Set clear measurable, reasonable guidlines. And take intent into account FFS.

    1. Yes, look, the point in protecting victim is a good one, BUT if you are going to do that through anonymity or not having to say what they’re claiming happened… then the accused needs the same until found guilty – and not by HR! (for obvious reasons) Protecting the victim – be it of rape or whatever should really be ‘you have nothing to be ashamed of. He/she has. And there, still, innocent until proven guilty, IMO. And false accusations, well, what would happen to the innocent accused if they stuck?

  4. After reading the post by another SFWA officer (or maybe former officer, I don’t remember right now) about the incident and why she hadn’t named the “offender” before then since she knew who it was and this person had a reputation for doing this sort of thing, all I could do was shake my head. Most of the post went on about how this person worked for her publisher, how he’d been nice to her, how he’d never done that to her, etc., etc., etc. But then, she named the editor at the end of the piece — again, condemning him without giving details. All very much like what they did to Resnick and Malzberg. The editor might very well have done the harassment, but give me enough to judge for myself. Don’t condemn him in public without the facts.

    And this is just the beginning. I saw a post on Facebook last night from a female author lamenting about how horrible LibertyCon had been and basically alluding to the “harassment” suffered. Of course, no details other than she had to write it all up for the concom. Welcome to round whatever of trial by social media I guess.

        1. Ah. Well, you looked lovely in the photographs Cedar posted. Should I say it twice so you can trot along to the mandated (shouldn’t that be persondated) reporter? 😉

    1. Any harassment suffered at LibertyCon was almost certainly a matter of exposure to such gauche concepts as responsibility for the silly things one says. I have never met a larger group of more unconditionally welcoming people in my life. This weekend was like coming home. If LibertyCon-goers have a fault, it lies in forthright outspokenness. I wish more people had that problem.

  5. Too bad. I was sorta hoping to find out what all the hubbub was about, myself. I’ll just bet whatever the offense was it was verbal and, and we should all be able to come back with at least a minimum counter-retort, as in “so’s your mamma.”

    I almost (but not really) feel sorry for all these precious snowflakes who clearly never walked into an auto repair shop or equivalent with a girlie calendar prominently displayed and learned that the proper response to wolf-whistles was a tip of the head (or a middle finger, depending.)

    1. But that would be sooooo demeaning and they might sprain that poor finger (rolls eyes).

      I’m so tired of all this PC crap and of members of my own gender doing their best to at least metaphorically castrate males in our society. I’m confident enough in myself not to be upset when when a man holds the door for me or comments on how nice I look. If a man gets inappropriate, I know how to respond — verbally or more “directly”.

      1. I’ve never been one for aggressive response–by the time I’ve finished giving people the benefit of the doubt, they’ve escalated and I’ve lost ground. And dignity, and room to swing–but heavens, have we forgotten the basic technique of saying, “Isn’t that your wife over there?”

    2. In the auto repair shop there would not be lovely and very patriarchal reporting and support nanny system to nurture them. So, oddly, they just pretend they’re dealing with lower life forms and ignore it. I’m sure the result has left them scarred for life. The woman is not exactly a fair young virgin just out of a very protective home – so what could be so injurious as to need constant comforting I have to wonder at myself.

  6. Very disappointing attitude over there.

    The moderator makes a point of saying:

    “This is not a court of law and the issue under discussion is the reporting of the alleged incident and how it happened, with tips for others on how to do it, should it happen to them.”

    He is so commented to this just being a discussion of how to report harashment that he deleting comments from “The Wife of Another Accused” whose name would suggest what their perpesctive might be but you can be sure because the comment has been deleted.

    Oh and by the way.

    “The person Elise reported for harassment is James Frenkel.”

    Thus We can learn the right way to report harasment and also have all you right thinking people denouncing the miserable scum.

    1. At times like this, I hear the Boomtown Rats singing “Guilty ‘Til Proven Guilty”.

      Martin L. Shoemaker

      1. Yep. And, unfortunately, so typical of too many in the field right now. I also love the one commenter — may be more but I got tired reading the comments — who was upset that Wikipedia had removed the harassment allegation from the editor’s page. Of course, they had no problem putting the notation up there based only on what they’d been hearing on social media.

        I’m not saying the harassment didn’t occur. My problem is with the guilty til proven innocent mindset I’m seeing way too much of from this group of vocal folks in the field.

        1. Yes. If you want me to condemn a crime, tell me what that crime was. Don’t expect me to hate on command.

          In the future, everybody will be Emmanuel Goldstein for 15 minutes. At least if these people get to write the future…

          Martin L. Shoemaker

          1. Ah, but that is wrong thinking. You condemn the accused but don’t dare ask for details because that is condemning the accuser.

            1. I’ll take wrong thinking over unthinking every single time. The Powers That Be want you to be unthinking, because that makes you compliant.

              Martin L. Shoemaker

              1. See what you’ve done now with all your wrong thinking, evidence requiring questioning of the victim, non denouncation of the harraser!

                John Scalzi says: “You know what, since all y’all appear to be entirely unable to avoid dragging to thread to where I said it should not go, I’m just going to go ahead and close it down now. It’s requiring too much effort on my part, which I don’t want to give at the moment. Feel free to be disappointed in yourselves.”

                This is why we can’t have nice things and polite conversasions
                (i.e. cyber lynchings)

                You should be ashamed of yourselves.

                1. The words “star chamber” and “McCarthy” come to mind. They seem to come to mind a lot lately…

                  Martin L. Shoemaker

                2. AH! another ‘disappointed’ in people not following the prescribed dictat! So I’ll stop you talking. That’ll FIX you, you uppity lot. I TOLD you what to think! Yeah… one of the things that gives me hope for the human race is that some will not let the self-declared elite think for them. And the part that frightens me, is that some still go along with your bandwagon.

        2. I’ve heard rumors abt. Frenkel for years. Never met him. Because I heard rumors from several ppl, I assumed true. But considering the same ppl denounce most baen males, MacArthur might confuse hetero male with dangerous. So, their fuss achieved something. I’m now willing to give Mr Frenkel the benefit of the doubt.

            1. It’s not even the accuser, a person about whom I know nothing. It’s the pitchfork-wielding mob with the track record of spurious accusations. They have taken the accusers post and turned it into a kangaroo court.

              Should she have known that would happen? Maybe. I dunno. But I think it was inevitable, given their recent behavior.

              1. The accuser is a well-known activist, decribed as a friend of the blog I pointed you to, moving in those circles – none of whom ever run with or have incited the kangaroo court mob or in an internet lynching.

    2. If the original post and topic over there had really been just about how to report harassment and nothing more, I would have expected the comment naming James Frankel to have been deleted for “derailing” and “dragging” the conversation off-topic. True, he was being named (often by the same commenter, from what I saw) in comment threads at other blogs not long after that, but still…

      1. I’ll admit I had little problem with the post from the woman at the center of this issue. She simply reported how to go about reporting if you’ve been harassed as well as giving a little background into what had happened with her. She didn’t name the other person involved. She did what she should have done — she reported him to the proper people.

        My problem comes with the others who piled on and condemned the editor, many who weren’t present when the alleged harassment took place. Mind you, it doesn’t surprise me. Not when you look at who is doing it. These are the same folks who condemned Resnick and Malzberg and who forced the editor from her position with the SFWA Bulletin.

        Scalzi’s response of shutting down the thread because folks dared asked for both sides of the story or dared say there was a lack of objectivity doesn’t surprise me either. If you aren’t apologizing for being male and not actively pro-feminist, you have no standing. At least that’s how it seems to me.

        1. I’ll admit I had little problem with most of the original post, too, but the level of description about the incident did seem a bit odd to me. A post simply about how to report an incident of harassment wouldn’t need that much detail of her actual incident, I’d have suggested, and while she didn’t name the editor involved, there was enough detail to expect people’s curiosity to get sparked and to let the commenter who did name him know who the author was talking about. To me, it felt like laying out clues to a mystery, then expecting people not to try and solve it.

          Can’t argue with your second and third paragraphs. I think you nailed it in both, Amanda.

        2. You know, looking at Australian politics, there is a lesson to learned – which I think Scalzi and Hines etc will get delivered. Julia Gillard came to be PM in a bit of a backstab move, but actually the support for a woman PM was very high, her approval rating -at the start -exceptional. I think most women and a lot of men felt it was a good thing to have a woman PM. Gradually that approval slid, and slid, and slid. So she played the sexism card… BOUNCE. Her approval and her party’s approval leapt up -nowhere near the start, but higher. But the approval slide went on, because economics are not looking too flash…And then she played it again. Bounce. slide… play sexism again. small bounce. slide… again…. bounce 1% among female voters. AND MINUS 9 among male – the approval rating went down by 8% as a result. And the slide continued taking her and her companions into oblivion – so they got rid of her, just the way she backstabbed the previous PM. Here is the cracker-point – her personal approval with women – after she’d been kicked out, remained high – 80% thought she’d done a good job, but obviously some of those didn’t think she was best for the job (she had all the women who were ever going to support her, still there, IMO) – as her total approval was in the low 30’s… which means, yes, she had divided her electorate and lost almost ALL of the male support. What was particularly telling -for those sf grandees who hitched their cart to the same kind of wagon, was that the party support had fallen considerably lower that hers into the 20’s In other words, that female support did not translate into supporting her male allies. Work out what happens to those authors when – not if – the same process takes place.

      2. Oh I think was an intentional grandstanding to raise the issue and get me lots of kudos from my friendies, and let’s kill so-and-so’s career in the process. The advice could be given far better and far more usefully and in a less threatening to the victim fashion, if that had simply been the purpose. ie.’If the incident happens, report it to the following people/organisation, with witnesses if possible. It will not be acted on unless you attach your name, but you will be protected and looked after if you do so. I’ve done it and can vouch for this, and will happily talk you through the process if you need advice, my e-address is.’ There. Done. Hell, he might deserve it, but if it was coming from just an ordinary author/fan with no connections and no particular history of being part of the frequent accuser brigade, it would be easier to accept that. And allowing mention of the name just makes it look grandstanding stitch-up to me.

    3. Ah. Enter group-think – the right thinking people – and the trial by internet, no evidence, fair process, possible resitution for the damage done should it prove wrong, just guilty because we say so! Now, where is it that trials used to be conducted like this? And blitz on any dissent. Yes, what an example!

  7. In general, conventions are a safe place to be — so long as not everybody is drunk, and everybody is clear about looking out for each other, adhering to some kind of semblance of standards while in public, etc.

    Conventions become unsafe whenever enough people decide that they are too good to look out for the safety and wellbeing of anybody (including themselves), or if everybody is so sure that everybody else is too good to need looking after or protecting from.

    So basically, if you have a convention crowd that is grateful for the con and understands something about how fragile one can be, and that you always have to make sure that nothing really bad happens or the spell will break…
    well, that’s a safe convention.

    Wiscon is apparently a smug convention that makes a big show of keeping people safe. But it would seem that this is all security kabuki, and no actual swivelling of the heads of the usual self-appointed protectors of convention normality (ie, the vast majority of congoers who are not young, stupid, and attending a con for the first time).

    Of course, it could also be that there’s a lot of second-guessing and bad listening to instincts at that con, or indeed in a lot of that segment of fandom. I’ve seen people bend over backward not to believe obvious trouble brewing in an attempt to be modern and progressive and not narrowminded. Personally, I’ve found that my instincts about someone being up to no good have always been a good guide and are increasingly on the money, and that narrowminded people are right more often than I’d like them to be. The times I haven’t listened enough, that’s been a bad plan.

    But yes, I don’t think most women doubt that sexual harassment can happen in a crowded room without being noticed by anyone but the victim. This is why a really quick, loud slap is so handy — you don’t have time to second-guess your response, and the slapping sound attracts attention to the jerkus. Punching or running is better in an isolated place, but the slap vs. fresh is for the benefit and warning of all others present.

    1. BTW, I don’t know if anyone’s pointed this out anywhere, but Madison is a very, very, very politically correct place, and has been so for years. So if there’s to be a lot of PC behavior at any convention, that’s likely where it’s going to be, IMO. (I know nothing of the particulars, but I do know *that*.)

  8. Dave, your insightful comments about sexual harassment aside, I think the advice you gave for how to get yourself unstuck if your plotline has stalled out is excellent. (I just wanted you to know.)

    I plan to use a few of these ideas very soon . . . mind you, I also have the other things going on that you mentioned (writerly “poverty awareness,” in your terms — love that term! — fatigue, stress and overstress, etc.). But I see it this way: I can’t do anything about the stuff stressing me out right now as most of it is Bad Life Stuff. But I *can* do something about perhaps getting myself unstuck, as I came up against a major roadblock in one of my MSS as a character is acting wholly _other_ than she should, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why.

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