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Rites of Passage

The marker of half-a-century is less than a month away now, and I found myself the amused recipient of one of modern America’s rites of passage today.

Yes, I have received my first junk mail from AARP, trying to convince me to part with my hard-earned cash to pay for their dubious goals. Never mind that I fully expect to be working for at least another fifteen years, most likely more than that. Never mind that I keep looking at the approaching milestone and wondering where the hell all that time went because despite my various issues (and their issues, and theirs) I still feel little different than I did in my early 20s. Maybe a bit more secure in myself, but other than that I don’t exactly feel middle-aged, much less approaching old. (Yeah, I know, these days 50 isn’t old. It’s definitely well into middle-aged, though).

Which in turn reminded me that modern rites of passage kind of suck. It makes a coming of age piece set in modern times much harder, just because there really isn’t a big challenge that people can use to say that after successfully completing it you’re an adult. Instead you get a series of stuttering bits and pieces. Driving age, legal sex, legal drinking, voting age… It’s all over the place. Young adults here are apparently perfectly capable of having sex, voting, dying for their country, and starting a family… but not of drinking anything alcoholic. In other modern cultures there are equally “interesting” disjointed transitions.

What there isn’t, unless you’re fortunate enough to have the kind of family that teaches these things, is a partial shouldering of responsibility that allows someone approaching the child-to-adult transition to practice adult tasks with the supervision of someone who’s already passed the rites and knows the path.

The transition from “adult” to “elder” is even more blurred, possibly because it wasn’t until relatively recently that large numbers of adults survived into old age. There were still markers: the last child married, or failing that, an adult. Gray hair. Menopause (the sooner that finishes, the happier I’ll be. No more monthly mess). The first grandchild – which in my case will be the first of my siblings becoming a grandparent because I haven’t spawned and don’t plan to (too many genetic time bombs, plus I’d be a dreadful parent).

Of course, a big part of the reason we humans invent rites of passage is because we as a species suck at recognizing gradual transitions. We’re great with patterns, and not bad at distinguishing whether or not this is like that. But give us a slow process where over the course of somewhere between fifteen and twenty years that tiny baby becomes an adult ready to make babies of his or her own, we have as a species a definite need to find some kind of marker and say, “Here. Past this point this person is no longer a child.”

Human cultures are littered with arbitrary markers like this (they’re arbitrary because what is child and what is adult doesn’t change appreciably overnight, but our cultures insist on making it so. Same with a lot of other absolutes.) which of course give writers the opportunity to play with them.

So, Author, kindly cease sending me cultural markers that say I’m getting old. I’m bloody well not. Not where it matters.

Skeletons From The Writer’s Closet by Christopher M. Chupik

Skeletons From The Writer’s Closet

by Christopher M. Chupik

 

Sarah was joking that this should have been done Halloween week because one’s juvenilia is always scary to look back on. I recently decided to look into my old green file folder and see if I’ve grown as a writer. All spelling and grammar mistakes are reproduced faithfully.

My oldest surviving work of fiction is a school workbook repurposed into my illustrated saga Dinosaur: The Lost Land (Frist of 7!). According to the inside jacket, it was published by Bookworm Publishing 1987. Yes, that’s right. I was a pioneering indie author! Mind you, Bookworm went under not long after putting this book out, so maybe I shouldn’t brag so much.

The eight-page epic begins thusly:

“It was the ICE-AGE. The NARWANTY tribe was looking for a new home. They have found an ISLAND in the South Pacific. It was surrounded by fog.”

The Narwanty settle on this fog-bound island only to find it inhabited by dinosaurs:

” ‘LOOK, Theres a WERID thing comeing!’ It was a Tyrannosaurus Rex! It was 22 meters long and 40 feet tall!”

See how I cleverly got around the fact that cavemen and dinosaurs lived millions of years apart? Eat your heart out, Michael Crichton. The mash-up of eras is skillfully illustrated by the symbolism of rendering the T-Rex’s measurements in both Imperial and Metric. Also, the shifting of tenses conveys the temporal dislocation of the Narwanty. Honest.

After several dinosaur vs. caveman clashes, the tribe settles down and a sequel is threatened. I think I did a few more Dinosaur Island stories, but most of those are lost now. Perhaps that’s for the best.

Next stop on my tragical history tour is a short story I wrote in junior high based on the legend of the Beast of Le Gevaudan. I suspect I must have already read some of the Solomon Kane stories by Robert E Howard because the protagonist is a German monster hunter named Josef Siegfried armed with sword, musket and bullwhip. He never uses the bullwhip. Siegfried quickly discovers that the Beast is actually a werewolf:

“Karl said that all wolves and men were the children of Fenric and that werewolves were Fenrics closest relations. Fenric created werewolves to become the masters of the world in the final days before the world’s end.”

That’s quite some cosmology I had going there, though I mangle mythology terribly. Why would a wolf from Norse myth create the human race, wolves, and werewolves? No idea. Later, the hunters encounter the werewolf:

“You stupid, stupid human” he said in German. Then the man leapt into the air at Josef. During the flight the man’s features twisted and transformed into the features of a wolf.”

Clearly, dialogue was not my strong point. Neither was sentence structure. But at least I had developed some sense of energy and action. And it set the stage for the kind of stories I like to write now.

Last stop is my Biology 20 Major Assignment from 1995. For it, I decided to write a piece of Hard SF about an interstellar flight to Alpha Centauri and the life-bearing planet the astronauts find. I certainly did not lack for ambition.

In The Odyssey/Falstaff Report: A speculation on the future of space travel, I lay out a history of early concepts for interstellar travel, including graphics of Orion and Daedalus. I also have a graphic of the Odyssey and it’s Clippers (based on the old Delta Clipper rocket concept). For graphics rendered with a crappy mid-90s drawing program I think they look pretty decent. I wish I could share them here. I have a crew list (several classmates and teachers included as in-jokes). There’s even a helpful timeline:

“2012 – An alliance of the North American Trade Bloc, European Union, Japan, South Africa and three other nations begin work on Project Lightsail, a program of interstellar exploration.”

Optimistic, isn’t it? If you had told the 18 year-old me that the space program would be on life-support by the real 2012, I would have cried. I lay out the Odyssey mission in detail, going into the physics of the laser-propelled lightsail and the 25-year flight to Alpha Centauri. I even took the long-term effects of zero-G into account with a drug called Gravitol (I googled this and found the name and idea was also used in the TSR Buck Rogers XXVC game which was out back in the early ’90s. Did I crib it? Seems possible). Finally, I get to the planet Falstaff (Not sure why I named the planets after Shakespearean characters, seemed cool at the time I guess). Falstaff is roughly similar to Cambrian Era Earth, with most organisms confined to the seas:

“The alphanauts discovered through submersible probes vast herds of armored fish known as sea-tanks that swim through the murky waters of the deep sea, hunting for silt dwelling worms that are occasionally exposed. Another predator is the spitting-worm, a large invertibrate that kills its victims with a poisonous mucus that contains digestive enzymes that help the worm devour its prey.”

I must admit, some run-on sentences and odd terminology (“herds” of fish?) aside, it holds up not too badly. However, the biology aspects, which were the whole reason for the story, don’t take up a huge amount of the report. That didn’t stop me from getting a 30/30 for my assignment. My teacher wrote on the last page: “You have gone far above and beyond what was required.” And that remains my favorite comment from a teacher ever.

I may laugh at some of it now, but I can see my progression as an author. It’s said that you have to write a million words of crap before you can get to the good stuff. I’d like to think I’m finally at that point.

So, what have you got hidden away in your secret files? Confess!

Thinking of Houston

Let me begin with a simple hope that all our friends and readers in the path of Harvey are all right. The images coming from the impacted areas have been both inspiring and terrifying. There will be time later to dissect whether enough was done to prepare the area for what would happen. For now, if you are the praying kind, offer up a prayer or three for everyone impacted by the storm. If you have the means, donations are being accepted as well. Right now, approximately 8,000 people are sheltering in the Houston Convention Center — which had been set up for 5,000 — and more are showing up as I type this. Patients have been evacuated from the hospitals. Here in the DFW area, shelters have been set up as well and are filling up. There are any number of people needing help now and who will need it in the future.

As a writer, part of my brain looks at what is happening and files it away for later inspiration. There has been a little bit of almost anything a writer could hope for in the aftermath of Harvey. Videos of rescues by helicopter and boats, by neighbors and strangers who are pitching together to do the right thing. There are examples of politicians cutting through the red tape so doctors from out-of-state can come here and legally practice medicine and assist with those needing medical attention. Other regulations concerning repair and building of utilities have been waved so the companies can move in as soon as the flood waters recede to start rebuilding. We have example after example of how local and state official should — and should not — respond in a disaster.

But we also have examples of some of the, shall we say, less smart behavior we, as humans, tend to exhibit in the face of danger. There is a video of a fellow trying to swim down a freeway in Houston. He swam for a ways and then turned around, only to be greeted by a Houston police officer who basically told him not to be so stupid again. Then there was the guy who, despite everyone lining the freeway and yelling for him to stop, the water was too deep, who was determined to drive his pickup through the high water. When his truck started floating — yes, floating — down the highway, he climbed out the window. Instead of swimming to safety, he moved to the font of the truck and tried to push it backwards. When that didn’t work, he still didn’t swim to safety. He returned to the bar of his truck to save his glasses. He tried to save stuff that had been in the bed of his truck. His truck that was now in 10 to 12 feet of water. Yes, he did finally decide to get out of the water but he could have died in an attempt to save a truck that he never should have driven into the water in the first place.

All this is a roundabout way of saying there is inspiration around us all the time but, if you want to see just about any and every aspect of the human condition, look at how we react during a crisis. Most of all, keep all the communities impacted by Harvey and its aftermath in your thoughts. It is going to take months, if not years, for some of the communities to recover.

The long view

 

panorama

Because David Gerrold was as good at predicting the imminent doom of my career as everything else he does, I’m busy planting the orchard on the little farm we’ve bought since that prediction. Just in case that doom finally arrives at the right address and gets delivered I want trees. I don’t understand it – Australia Post is actually remarkably reliable. You’d think they could manage a bit of doom. Mind you it’s not just Australia post. The US postal service seems to have failed him on Larry Correia’s doom. All it seems to have done is make us buy real estate. Is that what the Puppy-Kickers meant by ‘I hope they buy the farm’?

Anyway, if it all does go pear-shaped, I’ll have the pears to match. Well, I’ll have pears, apples, figs, grapes, cherries, peaches, nectarines, grapefruit, lemons, apricots and advocado pears (fruit-trees for the farm are what I asked for as birthday presents, and got)… not to mention the Banana Passionfruit. Er…

orchard planting 010

Well I’ll hopefully have them in a few years’ time. With the Chestnut trees, I should be long dead before they get up to full production. I’ve spent most of my adult life planting trees, especially fruit trees, that I have known I was going to leave behind. I’d like to have to enjoyed them, and others may chop them down – but I usually manage the long view. Someone needs to plant for the future.

We’ll probably have the banana passionfruit earlier.

I’ve nurtured it and several plants through several years in pots, waiting for enough of this kind of doom to allow us to buy our own place. It’s taken some vision, a lot of faith in my ability to write books popular enough to sell, to ride the storms of the industry. It’s part of the long view.

An orchard – pretty much like a novel, or a career as writer, really requires (for most of us, anyway) the long view. I suppose if you were rich enough, there are short-cuts – short cuts based on someone else’s long view, because you might be able to have fully grown trees delivered, someone had to grow them. But the real answer is that it’s something that rarely happens (or happens well, anyway) by accident and almost never fast. And it’s not just ‘plant it and forget it, and come back in 10 years’ either. You have to prep the ground, plant the right things in the right place, nurture, prune, water, AND exercise patience. Here you have to keep the wildlife from demolishing your plants, let alone your fruit. You can make a horse’s butt out of it and still do well, or get something at least. With the best laid plans, and hard work, it can all still go wrong, of course. The best chance, however, comes from the most effort, the most foresight, and the longest vision.

Which has a lot in common with writing (and possibly life). Look, our industry is in strife because it lacks the long view. You have editors buying the equivalent of tropical fruit to try and grow in Nebraska – because they happen to like tropical fruit. You have authors given no support (the equivalent of tossing an apple core in and hoping for a tree.) You have poor quality pruning (editing) and little or no watering (money). And of course there are vermin trying to destroy authors for little more than petty spite. There’s a lot of very short term thinking – the ten year view, let alone the hundred year view is not a feature that I have noticed. That’s what separates humans from most of the animals – we don’t need instincts to prepare for winter, we can figure it out. Inevitably, of course, some alarmists have to capitalize on this ability! And some sheep follow them.

Still, for most of us that long view is both what sustains us and saves us.

It’s been, to the day, 19 years since my first book was bought – probably the biggest birthday present I’ve ever had.

The long view back is quite different. It will be with your book too.

Cheers. I am off to drink a glass of wine and have special dinner.

 

On Old Protagonists, and a Brand New Book

Peter’s got a brand new book out: a fantasy featuring an old man (by medieval standards.) Owain, the old King’s Champion, has outlived his swordbrother, his wife, and most of his friends… but is still going to prove to the enemies of his kingdom why you should fear an old man in a profession where most die young.

Several of his beta readers (including his wife) noted that they really appreciated a quest undertaken by a old man who defeats youth and enthusiasm with cunning and experience, instead of yet another plucky coming of age story with wise old mentor who dies. (Campbell’s Hero’s Journey was descriptive, not prescriptive!)

Thinking about it, some of the protagonists I really love and hold up to re-reading are older, with their own scars and deep backstory. Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga has Aral and Cordelia. Her Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls feature an old man and a widow, respectively. Elizabeth Moon’s Remnant Population was an utter delight with Ofelia, who was too old to care what people thought anymore. And lately, I’ve been reading some Raymond Chandler, who definitely has world-weary protagonists who had all the wide-eyed shiny rubbed off a long time ago.

What books with older protagonists do you enjoy?

Bet you’ll enjoy this one!

King's Champion
King’s Champion

After decades of peace, war is threatening the Kingdom of Avranche. Its old foes are stirring, in a new alliance with darker powers. Black wings bring death and torture in the night.

Owain, former King’s Champion, hears rumors of sorcery. Visiting the grave of his sword brother, he stumbles into a deadly raid, and uncovers coded orders for a larger plot.

The kingdom’s enemies know Owain is now their greatest danger. He must race against time to find and deal with them… before they deal with him!

Get King’s Champion here, at Amazon.com!

It’s not zero sums

This is a blast from the past, but it’s still applicable even if the central tantrum has been long forgotten. I’m afraid I’ve been sick, and am thus a girl of very little brain this morning in search of hunny… And perhaps tea to put it in.

Hear, O fellow authors, and consider this. Writing is not a competition. There is not a scarcity of readers, and although there has been for lo, these many years an artificial scarcity of of reading material, that drought is coming to an end with the Age of Indie. So why do we hear fearsome cries from certain throats, proclaiming that those who are elders in the field should step aside and let them in?

The young person who has been most noticed for this recently (although it is not a new lament), has apologized. “Shepherd apologised for upsetting writers and readers alike, explaining that she had “only ever meant to raise the issue of how hard it is for new writers to get noticed and how publishing is much more of a zero sum game than people often think” However, it remains that she thinks publishing is a zero sum game.

I had to look that up. I’d heard it before, of course, and from context knew more or less what it meant, but for the writing of this article, I needed to research, to make certain that what I was saying was accurate. So, here: “The theory of von Neumann and Morgenstern is most complete for the class of games called two-person zero-sum games, i.e. games with only two players in which one player wins what the other player loses.” However, this is palpably inaccurate when it comes to writing. There are far more than two players involved, and the success of one writer does not predicate the loss of another.

By the success of JK Rowling, there are more readers, rather, for us the authorial sort to lure into reading of our books. What we must do to win is not to shove aside those who have succeeded, demanding our turn in the game, but to write engaging books readers will not only read themselves, but recommend enthusiastically to others. You will note I have removed the publisher from this equation. At one time, there was a bottleneck, for the publisher can only afford to publish so many titles, and to promote so many (a fraction of those they do publish) authors. That bottleneck is breaking open, and as independent authors our reach is spreading. My books, published by the very small imprint that they are, can be ordered from any bookstore, and when I look online, they are available at least in webstores of the largest book retailers.

In order to win this game we play, it’s not the other writers we need to defeat, it is ourselves. For fear of rejection, for laziness in not wanting to promote and market one’s own book, for lack of confidence in getting the best cover and editing we can, we shoot ourselves in the foot, and do not succeed. I venture to say that the Shepherd person has not succeeded because of Rowling’s success, but her own shortcomings. Like a child in a game, she has pitched aside the board, and now pouts petulantly, blaming her loss not on her own lack of skill, but her opponent.

The readers are out there, I say again. Writers, if you can offer them a good product in the form of a story with meat on its bones, with engaging characters, well-constructed plot, and emotional appeal, you will win. If your story is not selling, or selling too slowly for your tastes, inspect the product you are offering, and ask yourself questions.

The oft-discussed post demanding “I want an end to the default of binary gender in science fiction stories.” is an excellent example of another writer who feels that it is failing in a field do to discrimination against itself. In this case, not by another writer, although certainly it seems to feel it is hard-done by those who view its views as odd. No, it wants more stories with its viewpoint in them. Lovely, dear. Go write them. If they sell, wonderful! If not, do not go around moaning that you are being discriminated against because you are an it/she/alienbeing. Again, that is not how the game is played. Appeal to the readers, and you have won. Make them yawn, or repel them, and you lose.

When I started mulling this post over in my head, waiting for it to gel and be ready, someone mentioned the calls for Stephen King to retire. I went to look as part of my research, and found that rather than calling for him to step aside and let other writers in, the cry seemed to be that his writing had gone downhill, and he should stop. Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to have made a dent in Mr. King’s presence, as this took place over a decade ago, and I believe (I don’t personally read him, but as a librarian was very aware of how much shelf space he occupied, and how many requests we had for his books) that he has another book coming out this year. You see, no matter what the critics think, it is the readers who matter. They are the ones who buy the books, and that is what wins the game.

Readers win, with good books they want to read, and authors win, with sales. Publishers who care about giving the readers what they want (coffBaencoff) win, and publishers who care only about pushing their agenda (see blog address for ‘it’ above) lose. Zero sum? No, more like exponential growth, and I don’t see a limiting factor, yet… Want to feel like you are winning? write more!

*flailing and tantrums, divers alarums*

Amanda just reminded me today’s my day. Mrs. Dave is in the middle of a five week course in Virginia Beach, and I’m playing single dad, and we’re out of bananas. And apples. It’s that bad, ’round here. Not excusing, just summing up.

 

Referring to the title, we’ve been seeing a lot of unprofessional behavior from all quarters recently. What have you learned to do, or bot do, recently, about how to behave as a professional writer? I’ve been watching some authors do everything they can to drastically cut down their potential market. That just seems … ill-advised to me.

Blast From the Past: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes

I swear I’m going through that time of life: I’m ridiculously scatterbrained, keep losing track of time, and I’m having hell’s own time remembering to get the essentials done. So, I’m reposting an old post. I’m also too bloody fuzzy-headed to do it properly so you’re getting it pasted from the original. That said, read on and enjoy.

Who will guard the guards themselves? It’s a question that’s never asked by those who want to prevent the “wrong” people from being published, or protect people from reading something that will upset them (as in the case of the idiot fad for “warnings” on everything – although in at least some of the fanfic communities I frequent… well, intermit, because I’m not there that often… it’s being turned into a joke because as often as not canon characters get included in the warnings. I’ve yet to figure out if that’s serious or not, but it’s funny as hell).

Sharon Lee has some good comments about the whole question, although she looks at it rather differently than I do (and let’s just ignore some of the rather political things she clearly hasn’t realized aren’t things everyone thinks). Her points about the many different things people can get out of fiction and the fact that there is a reader who is interpreting every word in the light of his own experiences and potentially putting his “bad thinks” into what he’s seeing (not to mention – hopefully – many many readers per author, all of them doing this… it rather limits the amount of bad-thinkness a given author can slide in there to be overridden by the reader bad-thinks).

I’m completely in agreement that no author should be prevented from writing because of her opinion. Why? Times change. Every author will reflect at least some factors from her time because she can’t help being a creature of her time. She, like the rest of us, is not isolated. Her perspective is affected by her life, by all the people she’s known, and by her experiences. All of that is affected by the time in which she lives. We have to look at the common beliefs of her time and her culture before we can say whether or not she was bound by those beliefs or reached beyond them – and we also have to realize that in her time and culture things that we consider normal may well have been unthinkable. Literally unthinkable because there was nothing providing the scaffolding that would allow those thoughts to exist (Orwellian touch, but quite true: if someone has no concept of freedom, he can’t think about it. He can only think about changes to his state of servitude that will make it more or less bearable).

Similarly, I totally agree about the whole warnings thing being idiotic. We already have a de facto ratings system for fiction. If they’re in the children’s section they’re probably about things that kids will enjoy reading about, and they’re probably using language that’s appropriate to a young child. The teen section will have different topics, and more sophisticated language (just don’t get too close to the teen paranormal romance section. The vampires there sparkle). Some places split even further when they categorize books, and of course, the rest of the store or library categorizes by subject so if the thought of romance gives you hives you can always avoid that part of the store. Or library (honestly, I’m still mourning the bookstores deciding to move horror back into the general – or sometimes SFF section. I keep finding it when I don’t want it. When it had the nice big labeled section I could avoid it unless I was in the mood for being creeped out).

All of it comes back to the question of who guards the guardians. If certain people are to be prevented from being published because they’re horrible people or their writing is so wrong and icky as to justify this, who makes that decision and who verifies that the decision is not being made on the biases of the decision-maker? I’ve had arguments… erm… spirited discussions with people who could not understand that allowing someone to ban books they thought were horrible, evil, and wrong also allowed whoever was in that position to ban books they thought were wonderful and good. Because the power in question is “to ban books”. The decision on which books to ban is done by individual or committee (if committee the tendency is for that which offends nobody to proliferate, where individual you’ll get what the individual likes/approves of – even if all the censors are honest and doing their best to be unbiased).

Of course, you can take the position of turtles – or guards – all the way down, and have someone to watch the person who’s watching the guard. And someone else to watch that person. And so on. It gets unwieldy fast, and the result is a kind of giant circle-jerk where everyone is watching everyone else for missteps – and that’s the good scenario. The bad one is more like your Communist regime with informers making up between a fifth and a quarter of the population and filling the secret police archives with reports of how Johnny’s mom makes him capitalist lunches with – horrors! – bananas.

The alternative is one that’s already happening in fanfic communities around the Internets: authors typically try to make their description/blurb as accurate as possible, try to give the piece an accurate rating (Fanfiction.net has ratings from G through M and discourages explicit material, other places allow it but give it a separate rating), and an accurate “genre” (trust me, fanfic “genre” is quite a different beastie from what bookstores and libraries use). Between that, the number of reviews (because people tend not to review a piece they don’t like, they just drop it and go on – I don’t think I’ve seen more than a handful of negative reviews but there are loads of positive ones), pieces people want to read bubble to the top of lists quite quickly and the rest… don’t.

Which, while pretty much uncontrolled (the Fanfiction.net admins periodically go through the site deleting explicit material and anything else they think is against the terms of service), makes it fairly easy for people to find things they want to read and avoid things they don’t. Coincidentally enough, this also answers the complaints of those who lament the absence of gatekeepers in indie publishing: any system like this (which isn’t that different from Amazon’s rankings and tags) allows the pieces that readers like to become visible and effectively buries the pieces readers don’t want to touch with a ten foot iPhone holder – and at the same time, turns the whole issue with guarding the guards on its head: you don’t need to appoint special guards if everyone watches out for their own turf by ranking the things they like.

Scary thought, yes? Someone should write a book about that…

That Which Divides by Christopher Nuttall

That Which Divides  by Christopher Nuttall

 

A house divided against itself cannot stand.

-Abraham Lincoln

One does not join a community by loudly and obnoxiously demanding entrance.  One joins by sharing the community’s goals and working with others to achieve them.

-Jay Maynard

I was actually planning something along the lines of this essay before the kerfuffle over the Google Memo hit the internet, for reasons I will explain shortly.  And while this essay isn’t primarily about the memo – it has more to do with fandom and diversity in general – it does touch on some very important points.

Last weekend, my wife, son and I attended the Nine Worlds Geekfest in London.  For me, it was a chance to meet up with some of my publishers and friends, as well as buying a considerable number of books.  And I came away from the convention with curiously mixed feelings.

Nine Worlds talked – a lot – about inclusivity and diversity.  And I am all in favour of making conventions as accessible as possible.  A fan in a wheelchair is still a fan and a decently-run convention will make provisions for that fan to attend panels or visit the vendors, insofar as it is reasonably possible.  And yet, I couldn’t help feeling – as I read the anti-harassment policy and studied the ‘chosen pronoun’ badges – that they might have gone a little too far. Indeed, some of their policies struck me as ones that could be easily abused by bad actors.

I was particularly dismayed to note that the ‘bathroom wars’ in the US had spread to London, with the most accessible toilets on the vendor’s floor designated as ‘gender-neutral.’  People were specifically warned not to question people using the toilets, whatever gender they appeared to be.  Fans who wanted to use a specifically male or female toilet had to go up or down a level, something that might have caused problems for disabled fans.  These toilets were not designed to be gender-neutral and the prospects for everything from accidental flashing to outright sexual harassment were evidently not taken into account.  My wife – who comes from a very conservative country – stated that she would not be comfortable using a mixed toilet and I find it hard to believe she was the only one.  Furthermore, it would be difficult for someone who was being sexually harassed to use such a toilet to escape their harasser.  Who has the liability then?

A further oddity was a stall being devoted to a bookseller that specialised in LGBT books aimed at young children, placed in the main vendors hall (while at least one small press and a gaming workshop was placed on the second floor, out of sight).  While I did pick up a copy of Interstellar Cinderella for my niece, I do question the selection of that particular bookseller instead of another SF/Fantasy publisher.  (I actually assumed that the con hadn’t had many applicants from publishers or booksellers, but this was apparently incorrect.)  Why was this bookseller chosen when its links to fandom are very limited?

At this point, I’m sure a few readers are wondering what’s my point.  Indulge me for a moment longer.

The problem with ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ programs – however well-intentioned – is that they call attention to differences, rather than celebrating what we have in common.  I don’t care if the person sitting next to me at a panel is male or female, black or white, straight or gay or bi or transgender or whatever.  It makes no difference to me.  Why should it?  As a fan, I should not discourage anyone from fandom.  Saying ‘you can’t join our club because you’re a [whatever]’ is both cruel and stupid.

But, like it or not, humans draw lines between groups of people.  It’s how we’re wired, like it or not.  And the more people talk about differences between groups of people, the easier it becomes to fall into the trap of dislike, distrust, suspicion and even outright hated.  Worse, as I have discussed earlier, the bad actors in a particular group will be used to characterise the rest of that group.  This is not fair, but it will happen.  Humans are more inclined to remember the bad than the good.

It is neither fair nor right to deny someone the chance to visit a convention or join a club because they are [insert inherent attribute here].  But one might reasonably ask just how far a convention or a club should move away from its base to accommodate them, particularly when doing so runs the risk of alienating older fans.

The Google Memo is neither a screed – despite some media outlets insisting that it is – nor is it particularly well-written.  But it does call attention to a problem within Google – the belief, justified or not, that corporate managers are putting social justice causes ahead of practicality and meritocracy.  The fact that some outlets state that nearly a third of Google’s employees – or at least the ones surveyed – agree with the memo suggests that this is not an uncommon belief.  Indeed, given the simple fact that very few people believe that ‘confidential’ responses remain confidential in a corporate environment, it is quite possible that the total number of employees who agree is actually much higher.  This shouldn’t surprise anyone, after 2016.  Trump’s victory surprised the pollsters because, at least in part, people were reluctant to come out and say they were going to vote for Donald Trump.  The social cost was too high.

And while I cannot prove it, I would bet good money that most of the employees who agreed with the memo work in the ‘hard science’ departments.

Google has, in many ways, the same problem as many other institutions, from the media to the military.  The people who make policy are divorced from the realities of life on the sharp end (or shop floor or whatever.)  Worse, the number of ‘core’ workers is actually quite small, relative to the overall workforce.  The policy-makers can therefore blabber endlessly about diversity and social justice, while the people who do the actual work grow increasingly frustrated because their jobs are being made harder.  A computer doesn’t care if the person writing the program is male or female.  It does care about their code actually running smoothly, once it is uploaded.  And the ‘core’ workers know this because it is their life.

The suspicion that people are hired and promoted for anything but demonstrated competence is poisonous.  If it is not actually true, employees will still act on the assumption that it is true; if it is true, the good employees will not put forward their best because they will believe, rightly, that there’s no hope of rising up the ladder either.  Google may or may not have been within its legal rights to fire the memo-writer, but firing him does not inspire confidence in upper management.  There was not (so far) any solid attempt to prove the memo-writer wrong.  Instead, the writer was punished for daring to offer an opinion that went against the grain.

People – particularly men – respect demonstrated competence.  A person with a solid track record will not inspire too much resentment, regardless of his skin colour (etc, etc), when he is promoted.  But a person who does not do good work – particularly someone who creates extra work for his workmates – will be widely disliked.  And if he gets promoted, it will not be long before the muttering starts or employees start looking for new jobs.  People who know their own worth very well – and people with solid track records do – are not the sort of people who will willingly stick around when they feel disrespected and/or that upper management is intent on ruining its own business.

The average fan, I think, does not care about the ethnic, racial, sexual, religious or whatever makeup of fandom.  Why should he?

But, at the same time, he doesn’t want fandom to change to the point it becomes unrecognisable.  We are not forced to be science-fiction and fantasy fans.  We are fans because we love it!  We want to read books and see movies and chat endlessly about tiny details that baffle outside observers.  We don’t want to be lectured, we don’t want to be told that we’re horrible people, we don’t want to have our faces constantly rubbed in the fact that people who had nothing to do with us were awful, once upon a time, to people who also had nothing to do with us.

We are happy – more than happy – to include people who want to join.  But why would we want people who want to divide and change us?

And why would they want to join?

A Change in Plans

A quick note before I get into today’s post. The series on formatting will continue next week. I want a little more time working with some of the programs I’m going to discuss before blogging about them. Sorry for the delay but I wanted to be comfortable with the programs before not only reviewing them but, in at least one instance, recommending them.

As for today, well, the title says it all.

Last week, I released Nocturnal Rebellion. It is the fifth book in the Nocturnal Lives series and the sixth title overall. This was the first series I started and Nocturnal Origins was the second book I published. To say this series and its characters have held a special place in my writer’s heart is to put it mildly. Because of that, I expected a few days, maybe more, of mourning after Rebellion’s release. Why? Because Rebellion brings an end to the current story arc and I’m not sure where the story will go from there — or when the next installment will happen.

Okay, that’s not quite right. I have a glimmer of a spark of an idea about where to go next but that’s it. Knowing Mac and company won’t be part of my regular writing schedule for a while is, well, odd.

Normally, I take a week or so away from writing after a book release to do some promotion and to simply get my head cleared of that book and ready for the next project. That’s when I try to catch up on my reading, reorganize my office — okay, cleaning it and getting it ready for whatever I’m about to start writing — sleeping and gaming. It is also when I catch up on those projects around the house that I put on hold while I got the last book ready for press.

This time, however, it didn’t happen like that. I took a day. A single day. Then I dug into my office, clearing away all the notes and research used during Rebellion’s writing. Once that was accomplished, I sat down and over the course of the next two days, made notes on the projects that have been floating around in my mind, those I knew I needed to get done in the next six months or so as well as others that, it seemed, had been lurking just below the surface until I finished Rebellion.

By the time I was finished, I had notes on 12 separate titles. 12. What the bleep?!? Fortunately for my sanity, not all of them are novels. More fortunately, some were for titles I’d already planned and, in a couple of occasions, are projects I’ve already gotten very rough drafts completed for — the next in the Honor and Duty series as well as the next in the Sword of the Gods series. What I hadn’t expected doing this were the several standalone titles that cropped up or the additional titles I hadn’t planned in the Eerie Side of the Tracks, including a novel that hit me out of nowhere but that I’m very excited to write.

So what’s the change, you ask.

First, and least important, is the fact I sat down and actually made notes on more than the current work in progress. I very rarely do that. While I’m not a pantser, I most definitely am not a plotter either. I’ve always fallen somewhere in-between. Whether this indicates a change in my process or not, I don’t know. I’ll admit, the prospect of my process changing is a bit scary. But it’s happened before and I adapted. I’ll do so again.

The second change is in the publishing schedule. Again, it’s no biggie. That is the joy of being an indie. I can shuffle my schedule as needed. But, in this case, there is no shuffling needed. I simply added more titles to it. In a way, that’s reassuring. It is also daunting because it means I can’t goof off and say “I don’t know what to write”. And yes, there was a teen-like whine with that quote.

The change is the obvious one. For the first time in more than five years, I don’t have a story with Mac in the hopper. Part of me mourns that. But it was time for this particular story arc to come to an end. Yet, even as I write this post, I know Myrtle the Evil Muse is thinking about what to do with our band of heroes next. She’s already teased (okay, tormented) me with a scene with a panicked Mac discovering she’s pregnant and wondering the best way to potty train the baby of two people who shift into jaguars. Do you buy stock in diapers or kitty litter? Do you buy teething rings or scratching posts?

You see why I call my muse evil?

Crap!

Even as I sit here typing in this post, I hear Myrtle cackling madly. It’s not enough that she inflicted me with a book that wants to be written NOW! I feel a new series coming on. In case you’re wondering, it’s a bit like feeling a headache coming on. Why? Because Myrtle isn’t subtle. She comes racing in with her combat boots and bullhorn.

Seriously, the change I refer to in the title is more of a mental change than anything else. I noticed something as I wrote my last couple of books. I was allowing myself to be distracted by the internet, by gaming, etc. I know the reasons why but knowing them doesn’t always mean I do anything about them. So, I made the decision to change one very basic and yet important part of my writing. I have switched machines. My PC laptop no longer is my work machine. I’ll still use it for a couple of post-edit functions because it has a larger screen and some of the programs I use after I finish a manuscript. But the actual writing now happens on the MacBook Air. So far, it has been a very positive change. It is as though my subconscious understand that when I’m on the Mac, it is “work”. the PC is “play”. We’ll see how long that lasts.

I’m not recommending everyone go out and buy a laptop or desktop that is a totally different OS from what you have now. What I do recommend is that you review how you write and be honest with yourself about whether you are allowing yourself to become distracted too easily. I know authors who have machines without internet connectivity that they use to write on. Others don’t put games or social media apps on their work machines. I finally am starting to understand why.

The other thing I’ve done is blocked off several hours in the morning and then in the afternoon where I don’t go online. I don’t check email and I don’t go to Facebook or similar sites. This is “work” time. That has helped as well.

In other words, I am practicing what I preach — I am treating my writing like my business. I’m still looking at ways to get better, both with time management and with promotion. Boy do I need to get better at promotion. How about you? What can you do to improve your productivity? What techniques are you using that seem to help?