I Am the 1 Percent

On Goodreads, anyway.

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If you say so.

I’m still not entirely sure how they calculated this, though, and chances are they will never reveal their algorithm. They’re Amazon, remember? And I still remember how Amazon’s recommendations algorithm used to think, based solely on my age and gender, that I was a rabid fan of all things Barney the Purple Dinosaur. It’s a bit ironic that I called them out on this in one of my most-liked reviews. With a whopping four likes, it’s tied with my review of Garfield Minus Garfield.

But I won’t pretend that I’m not pleased with this bit of recognition for something that has become an important part of my literary life, so thank you for that, Otis & Elizabeth. I’ve long kept a private reading journal, and I enjoy having this platform where I can share (some of) my (hopefully properly filtered) thoughts with and connect with other book people.

And they have stats!! I love stats. They are so much fun to play with. (One of my favorite grad-school reading assignments was a book called How to Lie with Statistics.) I’m sure I knew before today that there were various personal Goodreads stats available to me, but this is the first time I clicked the little link at the top of my “My Books” page and looked around. Interesting stuff. And it’s given me some ideas for adjusting how I enter and maintain my data there in order to make the stats cleaner and more useful to me.

I’m also a little more committed now to clicking the like button without overthinking it. My brain is a huge fan of overthinking, so this will take some effort, but it will be worth it. I think.

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Drinking Tea Ironically

Recently I attended AnomalyCon in Denver. I think it’s one of the best sf/f cons out there, but for a raging introvert with crippling social anxiety, it’s still exhausting. As part of my recovery process, Monday morning I fixed myself a cup of tea. I selected one of my all-time Dryad favorites, ShadowCat. IMG_20160328_114948 Besides being a tea blend, ShadowCat is a member of the fabulous faeriepunk band Pandora Celtica

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At AnomalyCon 2016, we bade a fond farewell to Pandora Celtica at their final show. Though we can always hope for reunion gigs. And I totally want to copy Rubiee’s hair-color scheme.

and is also talented artist Chaz Kemp. Tuesday morning I selected Rubiee for my tea blend, but she does not pack the same ironic punch.

I should explain what I mean by that. One of the writing panels I chose to attend was titled “But Where Did This Chocolate Come From?” It was mainly about dealing with artifacts that wouldn’t normally exist in the world you’ve created for your characters. Like, say, chocolate in, say, a galaxy far, far away (not to mention long, long ago). But the topic wandered a bit (which is normal), and there was significant discussion of cultural appropriation and why it’s offensive. And since chocolate was already on the menu, talk soon turned to the inappropriate use of food words to describe the features and skin tones of people of color.

Fortunately for me, I don’t think I’ve made this particular mistake. I wish I could say it is because I am a paragon of cultural awareness, but no, it’s just that I’d always thought it was lazy writing. And it is lazy writing. I mean, if you describe a white person’s skin as being “peaches and cream” or “milky smooth,” you’ll come across as a hack who depends on clichés. (And just for the record, I sincerely doubt anybody wants their complexion described as “tofu.”) So why should “chocolate,” “café au lait,” and “caramel” be any better? But it turns out, it is so much more than that.

First of all, it’s dismissive, reductive language. It tries to describe a human being in terms of a consumable or a commodity. I think this was completely lost on a few of the audience members, one of whom staunchly defended “café au lait” as the only way to describe a certain shade of brown skin. I honestly think she felt it was better because it was in French. But it’s so not. Considering that France was a pretty big player in the colonial slave trade — which was fueled by these very commodities — the language choice just makes it that much worse.

One of the panelists, Delilah S. Dawson, also pointed out that this connection to slavery (which, I might add, is not a concept that has been completely relegated to the past) adds a layer of ick to using “almond-shaped” to describe Asian eyes. This is something I’ll admit I’d never even thought about before, so I’ll need to pay extra attention to that. Bearing this in mind, I will also pay attention to the use of wood colors (mahogany, ebony, and so forth), which is something we did not get around to discussing there. Sure, Stevie Wonder sings “Ebony and Ivory,” but that’s Stevie Wonder. He’s allowed. I’m not. And while the use of “ivory” there makes me squirm a little bit as my brain shoves mental images of mangled elephants in my face — and reminds me that my own piano does indeed have ivory keys — I understand that he is going for a specific contrast rooted in the properties of an actual physical object. Poetic license granted, Mr. Wonder.

But this also brings us back around to fetishization, this focus on a single physical aspect of somebody who should be a living, breathing character, not just some token non-white filler to tick off the diversity box on the ol’ character creation to-do list. “Oh, but I’m complimenting the character by giving him or her a desirable trait,” you might say. “Chocolate is sensuous. Coffee is stimulating. Mahogany is expensive.” But you are still talking about a person’s skin color. That’s it. Melanin content, pure and simple. It makes one wonder what happened to the days when a man sized up a woman’s intellect by staring at her boobs.

I feel I would be remiss if I did not go back to that one woman’s defense of “café au lait.” Remember how she insisted on the importance of describing that exact shade of brown? Yeah, I have a problem with that. Two problems, actually.

1. There is nothing precise about the color of café au lait. What color was the coffee before adding milk? How much milk was added? Me, I like a splash of coffee in my mug of milk. My café au lait likely differs radically from your café au lait. Other food words suffer from similar problems.

2. Why on earth do you need to describe anybody’s skin tone so precisely? Chances are that you don’t. In that case, the solution is simple: don’t do that. And if you really do need to get across the importance of a character’s skin color? Well, think long and hard about that why. That should suggest to you much more creative and germane ways to make your point. Instead of telling readers my skin is the color of birch bark or a raw chicken breast, perhaps you could explain my motivation for staying out of the sun and describe in graphic detail the horrific burns I sustained that one time, at band camp.

And if you don’t want to pause for a bit of mindfulness (NB: “mindful” and “politically correct” are not synonyms) before you proceed with your offensive descriptions, well, it’s certainly not my job to force you to do so. But Ms. Dawson summed a lot of this up well in a Twitter rant, and I encourage you to read it. TL;DR: “Write better shit.”

So, does this mean I’m going to stop drinking ShadowCat? No, but I’ll explain why. I am confident that Rubiee consulted her bandmate about his feelings as to being described as a black tea, chocolate, and raspberry beverage. And I am equally confident that Mr. Kemp was at least somewhat pleased at the thought of his drum kitty faerie persona being immortalized in this complex and flavorful blend that brings pleasure to his fans.

NaNoWriMo 2013 – Day 24

So right now my NaNovel is hovering around 22,000 words. Today being the 24th of November, that means I am way behind. Not quite so far behind that I can’t pull it off, but it’s discouraging. It may be more so for me because I am totally pantsing this thing and I have no idea what I’m doing. Political satire about the country’s presidential campaign process and reality TV? Yeah, I don’t answer my door or my phone during campaign season, and I don’t even own a TV.

Oddly enough, though, this story is starting to come together. I won’t kid myself, this NaNoWriMo is more of an exercise in world-building than anything else. I am doubtful that the novel format I’m working with right now could be successful, but I’m beginning to get a handle on what I’m hoping to accomplish. I envision a mockumentary web series that is sort of like a combination of American Idol, The Apprentice, and The Office, with a dash of Schoolhouse Rock thrown in for good measure. I will have to do some serious research on both reality TV and the political arena before I can fill in very many details, but at least now I don’t feel as directionless as I did three weeks ago.

How I Spent My Mile Hi Con: Saturday

By some miracle, I managed to wake up and make myself presentable in time to grab a bagel and some juice at the Kaffeeklatsch sponsored by Who Else! Books/Broadway Book Mall. I think I even managed a few coherent sentences for Dave Boop and MHC Toastmaster Ian Tregillis. Then I set about perusing the art show and melting my plastic in the dealers’ room.

After purchasing various books and baubles, I caught part of the Researching Fiction panel featuring S Jackson, TL Morganfield, R Owens, J Strickland, and J Van Pelt. They had some good suggestions for resources, time management, and avoiding info dumps. Of those three, I think the time management is the hardest for me to do effectively. I am constantly going off on tangents in my research. Sometimes that is beneficial, but I am getting better about focusing on the writing and inserting flags to alert me when I need to go back and hunt down specific information.

Then I spent the afternoon flitting in and out of panels between monitoring my bids in the art auction. Some highlights were an Hour with Author GoH Catherynne M Valente, The Much-Maligned Happy Ending Defended by Connie Willis, and Beyond Brass and Goggles (featuring S Chambers, Guy De Marco, J Heller, Sam Knight, and David Riley). I had been stressing out quite a bit over the fact that I don’t have much in the way of advanced scientific knowledge and was worried that it would reduce my credibility as a steampunk writer. It was nice to hear that the steampunk genre still has a pretty broad spectrum of what degree of scientific detail and feasibility is required. The key seems to be to pay attention to consistent world-building in the first place. There’s a reason steampunk is considered alternate history, after all.

I wrapped up my evening with Positions on Writing Sex, a panel featuring Paolo Bacigalupi, H Bell, AK Davis, R Owens, and C Valente. This was a fascinating discussion of what can be included in YA and New Adult fiction (pretty much anything these days), what makes a sex scene effective (or not), and what the sudden popularity of 50 Shades of Grey means for the genres of romance and erotica (not much, since it is neither). This discussion gave me a lot to think about, both as a writer and as a woman, so you may see another blog post on that from me before very long.

Tomorrow I plan to post my Sunday MHC recap, and then I’ll be hunkered down for NaNoWriMo, but I hope to post updates as I explore a completely alien world: Reality TV!

In the Cards

Last week a good friend (and fellow WriMo and book geek) did a Tarot reading for me. Yes, I’m a skeptic when it comes to “psychic powers” and “reading the future.” But I’ve long thought that Tarot readings, rune castings, and such things are excellent tools for introspection and for looking at things from a new angle. Even just doing a quick casting of the Norns for myself can take my thoughts in a whole new direction, but having somebody providing completely external insights proved to be highly valuable.

In this case, Tara pulled three cards that instantly made sense. But they (and Tara’s interpretation) encouraged me in a way no simple pep talk ever could. My knowledge of the Tarot deck is still pretty sketchy, so I won’t even try to identify the cards by name, and I’m sure any attempt I might make to describe the beautifully detailed images would be lame and unhelpful. But the first card, representing my past (this spring and early summer), indicated heavy burdens and struggles. The second card, representing my present, showed a veritable storm of internal activity, and the third card indicated that giving way to a period of visible productivity in the not-too-distant future.

Well, if you’ve been following my life since, oh, say April, you know what the first card is about. Plagues, ruptures, and blindness, followed by a restrictive recovery period. Yeah, not a whole lot of writing or editing got accomplished in my summer. And I’ve been berating myself for getting so far behind on what is probably the most important project I have going. But now that I’m in good enough shape to get to work, I need to be packing for a move.

But Tara’s reading told me to quit discounting all the mental work I’ve been putting in on this novel. It may seem that I have nothing to show for it, and much of it may seem completely unrelated (Star Trek? Really, Chris??), but I think Tara’s right, that all this work I’ve been doing in my head is worth something and will pay off once I’m ensconced in my lovely new home office. This packing time? This is when all the ideas rattling around in my brain get to chat with each other, compare notes, and make up their own stories. Then all I have to do is listen and type.

Chris the Dauntless

Last Thursday I attended a 3-hour writing workshop on characterization. David Corbett, author of The Art of Character, led it, and if his book is even half as good as his presentation, it’s well worth reading. David reinforced many of the things I have learned from other writing teachers, but he also gave me some new directions to explore. Such as fear.

David insists that a huge part of writing complex characters is getting to know yourself. He spoke about many facets of the self that are important to examine, but I think the one that intrigued me the most as a writer was fear. And a recent book club discussion of Divergent got me wondering: What would be in my fear landscape? Besides spiders. Lots of spiders.

Well, creepy-crawlies in general. Though it seems to have to do with how many legs a creature has. Anything with more than four legs just creeps me the hell out. And I hate sticky, suctiony things, so you can guess how I feel about octopuses. ::shudder:: My other big fear is of heights. I’m the only person I know of who has been reduced to tears by balcony seating. I also fear left-hand turns, suffocation, public speaking, and getting stuck while trying to get into or out of a dress. Which makes for one bizarre fear landscape. (I’ll let you picture it yourself. It’s too scary for me.)

As I was trying to think of my moments of greatest fear, though, it occurred to me that there are many times when I really should have been much more scared than I was. I have walked alone through central London in the middle of the night. During a war, no less. I probably should have been scared out of my wits. But would I have actually been in more danger if I had been in fear of everybody I encountered? Or was I just being incredibly stupid and naïve? There was also the time I almost died. The doctors still aren’t sure why I’m alive now. By all rights, I should have just keeled over instead of regaining consciousness and dialing 911. But I distinctly remember my inner dialogue at one point going something like this:

Me: Ohmigod, I’m going to die!

Myself: Oh, don’t be silly. Nobody dies of a dizzy spell!

And then they carted me off to the ER and informed my family (but not me) that I most likely would not live through the night. If they had told me what dire circumstances I was in, would I have been scared? I suspect not. After I proved them wrong by clinging to life for a few more days, they decided to try a treatment that was just as likely to kill me as to cure me. And I nonchalantly signed off on the order, daring them to do their worst.

So I think perhaps fear is an area where my judgment is sorely lacking. Am I Dauntless? Alas, no. Try serving me calamari that hasn’t been FUBAR (Fried Up Beyond All Recognition) and see what happens. But I see this as a way to better explore the characters I write. In addition to asking what they’re scared of, perhaps I should ask what they should be scared of. And then find out why they aren’t.

Writers’ Conference Tip #1

Pack your laptop’s power cord.

I am at Left Coast Crime 2013 (woohoo!) at the beautiful Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs, Colorado. And I left my power cord on my desk. At home. Far, far away. ::sigh:: Fortunately I have a little netbook with an awesome battery life. And I’m hoping I will be too busy with con stuff to be on the computer much, so don’t be surprised if I’m even quieter than usual. (I know, for a blogger, I’m kinda quiet.)

The con hasn’t officially started yet, but I’m having a great time already. I went to dinner with two other writers, so there was much shop talk. That’s really good for me, considering how long it’s been since I’ve been active in the writing community. We dined at the fabulous Walter’s Bistro, which is very near the resort. I had a blood orange cosmo and the pecan and herb encrusted salmon, and it was delicious! Don’t let the prices on the dinner menu scare you. We all ordered from the bar menu and were quite satisfied.

Well, I have folks to email, and I’m down to 6.5 hours of battery that has to last me until Sunday, so I’m going to sign off now. G’night!