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35 posts from March 2006

March 31, 2006

Strunk and Light II: Just Stop It!

... continued from yesterday ...

II. Just Stop It! Cliché already!
atop: especially “perched atop”. It’s been a good 200 years since anyone really used this in conversation or in anything other than fiction and poetry. It’s archaic and therefore pretentious and doesn’t belong in the written language anymore. Just say “on top of”.
save: for "except for", e.g.: I told no one about the gold, save my best friend. Same as “atop”. Would you ever use this word when speaking or writing an email? I hope not (‘cause if you would, you’d be pretentious.) just use “except for”.
to don and to doff: for “to put on” and "to take off" as in I donned my parka, I doffed my hat. See the two above entries, you pretentious bad writer you. You don’t don shit. Come on!
deft (esp. in criticism): currently the most overused word in America, by my unofficial survey. Here are some alternatives: skillful, sensitive, adroit, adept, subtle, dexterous, precise, neat, clever, able.
to battle disease: why can’t people “fight” or “contest” or “defy” or “stand up to” or “wrestle with” or “contend with” cancer? Why do people always “battle” diseases? It’s not really even a verb.
tiny: especially with reference to one’s children, as in “my tiny daughter” (which I’ve seen five different writers use recently, because apparently a tiny daughter is more moving than a small one). What ever happened to “small”? It’s like reverse Starbucks, where the smallest size is called “tall” so there’s basically nowhere to go but fake-talian. “Tiny” is actually smaller than “small”, and yet people are using “tiny” instead of “small” so there’s no way to get any smaller without using adverbs (really, really tiny.) Try using “small” first, then, when small doesn’t do it, go on down to “miniscule” or “microscopic” or “miniature” or “petite” or “diminutive.” Yeah.
to grace the cover of: a magazine or book. You can just “be on” or “appear on” the cover of something. Your presence on the cover of something isn’t always a grace.
slim volume: especially if it’s poetry. You might not have gotten the memo, but poetry is permitted to appear in “books” now. And when was the last time you saw a book of poetry (that wasn’t an anthology or collection) that wasn’t “slim”? I’ve also seen “slender” gaining ground on the volume front. What ever happened to “thin”, “narrow”, “short”, “brief”, “trim”, “slight” or “lean”? Or just not mentioning the thickness of the book? By the way, there’s also a version of this for unpublished poetry as well: “a slim sheaf of poems”. Why are manuscripts of poetry always “sheafs”? Why can’t they be just, plain “manuscripts”? Or how about “stacks”, “bundles”, “bunches” or “piles”? And why do people always have only “slim” sheafs of their own poetry? Could it be because they’re such cliché-beset poets that they have to throw most of their poems out?
a wealth of: as in a wealth of information. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still relatively evocative, if only because we live in a capitalistic society where wealth is a metaphor for everything not covered by militaristic metaphors. But it’s overused now. Really. Just say “a lot of” or something.

Next time on Strunk and Light: What's the point of saying it?

March 30, 2006

Strunk and Light I: Think About It

"Strunk and Light" is a list of my pet cliché peeves that I keep as a part of my own writing practice. I find that once I've listed something in Strunk and Light, I'm much, much less likely to use it unthinkingly in the generative flow of new writing. It keeps me thinking about language in a much more precise and awake manner. I also gave a list to my students when I was teaching. They took it without commentary, because they were students. However, I expect people who are not my students to disagree. Go ahead! Just remember, this is just my opinion of what is overused or clichéd. The list is long, so I'll be posting it in several segments over the next few days.

Words and expressions go in and out of fashion, just like accessories. Word trends last longer than clothing trends, but they work in exactly the same way: someone goes looking for something distinctive to wear on the page, and finds a word or expression that has such a good effect that all the hipsters in the immediate vicinity pick up on it. Soon the word-accessory is the latest thing in writing, the thing that marks its user as a member of the avant garde. The moment the generality of writers realizes this, the word-accessory’s usefulness – as a hip-defining element, and as a fresh, revealing expression – is gone.

Unfortunately, it takes the generality of writers forever to realize this themselves, so its use drags on and on, becoming more and more degraded until you find it tainting every other page on the bookshelves at Walmart. The thing about word-accessories is that they creep into your wardrobe through your half-conscious mind, and often, you don’t even know you’re wearing them. Be aware. Start your own list.


I. Think about it.
to root through: think about it. What exactly is it about a root (tree root for example) that suggests searching through filing cabinets, or your purse? Why did the noun “root” get turned into such a verb? The original metaphor here is suggested by animals digging through roots for food. Think of a pig snuffling around tree roots after truffles. Think about Roto-rooter. Is this really the image you want to convey?
to throw one’s head back and laugh: try it. Right now. Throw your head back and laugh. It’s actually kind of hard to really laugh in that position—your windpipe has a tendency to get cut off. This is a very affected gesture, the kind that flirting women make in bars. It’s demonstrative of “I’m bursting out in delighted laughter,” and not a natural gesture. Also a cliché that bluff, hearty men in genre fiction fall into. Use advisedly, or not at all.
to slip: being used in place of “put on” as in I slipped into a pair of jeans. This term is supposed to refer to the action of sliding, being slippery, being quick and stealthy, but is now used for all actions that refer to putting clothes on. Not all putting on of clothes is slippy. You shouldn’t slip into jeans – they take time and are awkward to get into. One leg, two legs, pull up, zipper, button. You should slip into something more comfortable—maybe something with no fasteners (please!) Actually, this is also being used in place of “to go” as in She slipped out of the room or The sun slipped behind a cloud. The verb “to go” is nearly invisible and you should use it unless you can find a good reason not to.
"I found myself ...": the only time you should use this is if the character has multiple personality disorder and has just switched personalities mid-action. When you go and do something, you don’t “find yourself” doing it. You already knew you were doing it because, well, you’re doing it. This is a construction people use to avoid having to explain their characters’ motivations (also known as bad writing.) How did your protagonist end up doing this morally ambiguous thing? I dunno, he just found himself doing it. (Yes, yes, I know, sometimes you just zone out. But really, don’t use it.)
shock of hair: no, really, what is a “shock of hair”? is it a brush that sticks up? Or is it wild and wooly, a ‘fro? Or is it long and straight? Or is it dyed? Is a mohawk a shock of hair? A bowl cut? Is a tonsure? What do you see when you hear “shock of hair”? What do your readers see? What’s the origin of this word? Do you know? Are you sure?
helmet of hair: is overused and not really very accurate or detailed enough. Does it mean the surface of the hair is smooth like a helmet, or that the cut is shaped like a helmet, or that the hair is big enough to look the size of a helmet? (Plus, just, yuck.)
fist: as in, carrying something in your fist. Think about it. What is a fist? It’s a tightly closed hand, used for punching or strong gestures. The connotation of “fist” is violence, tension. You only hold something in a “fist” if the hand is closed tightly, and if you want to indicate violence or tension. Don’t use it just ‘cause everyone else does. (this goes double for “tiny fist” or “meaty fist,” and if you’re gonna “clutch” something, don’t you dare do it in your fist!)
to carve out: when used metaphorically. I just read recently that manga has “carved out a parallel market”. Uh, how do you carve out a market? “To carve” means to shape a form by removing material with a sharp instrument. “To carve out” means to remove material to make a hollow space. The metaphoric expression is an extension of to carve out a niche, a niche being actually an empty space in an otherwise solid structure. But the term is now being used, unthinkingly, to mean “to create”. “To create” usually means to put material together where there was no material before—so it’s almost the opposite of “to carve out” (which means to remove material.) This stupidity means the metaphor is dead. Don’t use the expression at all.
to negotiate: as in: He negotiated the sharp switchbacks of the mountain path. Think about this one, It’s a metaphor: negotiation is a give and take process between two parties who have different agendas. Things are offered and turned down and taken back and modified. There’s a back and forth. “Negotiating” sharp switchbacks means that your way is difficult and you have to try to move forward, and move back, and try again a different way. It’s a metaphor for a slow, difficult, back-and-forth process. Nowadays, though, it’s being used directly to mean “to move through” or “to manage”. The metaphor is dead. Don’t use it.
to navigate: used similarly to “negotiate” to mean moving through a psychological or social terrain. This is originally from Latin: “ship” and “to lead”, and means, at its base, to direct a ship’s movements. This is an obvious metaphor for any kind of movement through a space that requires skill. However, it’s terribly overused, to the point that it’s time for a new metaphor or expression. Try something else.

... in our next installment, things you can stop saying now ... please ...

March 29, 2006

Multiracial Article Trajectory

Hmmm ... I guess some things just strike a nerve.

Following a trackback to its source, I discovered that my article on multiraciality was picked up by The Chicago Sun-Times and printed on Feb. 5. I've put a link to it below, but don't bother going there unless you have a paid account. They'll charge you $2.95 for the article -- and the article they printed has all the bad words removed (they even removed the word "spokes-assed" from the phrase "spokes-assed by Ward Connerly", rendering the sentence slightly inaccurate.) If you want to read it, go to the pop and politics version below.

Here's the trajectory:
1. I posted it to Other magazine's blog under the title What Are the Strengths of Interracial Families?
2. It got picked up by pop and politics, where I posted a slightly revised version (the definitive version) titled The Multi-racial Dream, which isn't entirely right, either ("multiracial" isn't hyphenated.)
3. It got picked up by The Chicago Sun-Times, under the lame-ass title The beige people can't save America.
4. Addicted to Race had me comment on it in their podcast.

I'm assuming that's going to be it, but let me know if it shows up anywhere else.

It would be fascinating to follow its actual trajectory around the web. I found the Chicago Sun-Times thing by searching my top ten search strings on my blog. Most of the search strings were topics I've covered in blog entries so far, but one was "Claire Light multiracial", which surprised me. So I followed it back to a discussion board where someone posted the Sun-Times article. Bounce, bounce, bounce. Did information bounce this much before the web? Obviously not, but word-of-mouth did.

You never know who's talking about you, or what you've done, but on the internet, you can usually find out. It used to be your ears itched. Nowadays, your trackbacks ping. I wish I knew how to follow things and map them. It would be cool, for instance, to follow the multiple trajectories of John Scalzi's "Being Poor" post, written after Katrina, when people were scrambling for ways to express their sadness and outrage. Within a day he had dozens of trackbacks and hundreds of comments. Within a week the piece was being printed in newspapers all over the country, and people were criticizing him, and parodying him, and riffing off of him. For a few weeks, "Being Poor" was everywhere. I'd love to see where all it went.

Does anyone have any idea how to do this?

New Blog

Yes, I know, it's not like I don't have enough to do, what with this blog, and the great amerkin novel I'm writing, and packing to moobe, and my identity theft business taping shredded documents together, and trying to find a life partner/inseminator I can stand for more than two consecutive minutes, buuuuuut ...

I've started a new blog! Yes!

This one is called "atlas(t)" and it's about one of my continuous obsessions (or rather two of them): mapping and taxonomy. Mapping being not just geographical mapping, but conceptual mapping -- using a spatial metaphor to organize ideas, or whatever -- and artists' maps. And writing about mapping and jography. Taxonomy being any system of hierarchical (or other system) of organizing or naming ... uh ... things, which includes, but is soooo not restricted to, internet and computer taxonomies.

That's a lot, but basically it's about putting up pretty pictures and trying to say smart things about them. Some of my entries are gonna be me analyzing maps, so be wooooorned.

Please check it out and let me know what you think about the "design" 'n' stuff so far.

March 28, 2006


Plus, why viruses? What's the point?

I mean, it's not like it's really revolutionary or anything. It's a bunch of maladjusted white, educated, middle/upper middle class GenX and after guys sticking it to a larger bunch of less tech-savvy, and therefore possibly better socially adjusted mainly white, educated, middle/upper middle class women and men of a variety of generations, a few of whom might constitute "the man", but most of whom are the better paid version of "the masses".

It's like the guys who hang out on street corners and sexually harrass women -- any women. The best response they can hope for is a humiliating put down, but they keep doing it because any response from a woman is better than none, and they get some twisted sense of power from being able to ruin a woman's day (or minute, more like.)

Do virus perpetrators know this? Do they know that they're the cyber equivalent of street corner sexual harrassers?

Pakking Nightmare

How did I collect so much shit in the space of a year and a half?

I have two boxes of paper stacks that I didn't bother to sort before my last move. They remain unsorted and will probably pass into my next apartment in the same boxes. We moved a lot when I was growing up, and, sometime around the time I was seven, my parents stopped unpacking certain boxes (of books, mainly, and paperwork.) So every move thereafter we had to cart around boxes that had been unopened for three, six, eleven, twenty years. Every move there were more and more such boxes. What do they represent?

I think it's time for a bonfire.

March 27, 2006

Carl Brandon Gets Busy

The Carl Brandon Society has kicked into high gear.

CBS is an organization ('s been around for about six years or so) that just got really organized, by getting its own 501(c)(3) tax exempt status as a nonprofit. CBS's mission is to promote speculative fiction by and about people of color, and is organized, of course, mainly by writers of color who write speculative stuffs (sci-fi, fantasy, horror, magical realism, 'n' other stuffs.)

The origin of the name is pretty neat. (Let's see if I get this right ... thus are myths and urban legends made: I'm telling this from my memory of what CBS founders told me.) Back in the '60's (?) science fiction writer Terry Carr (who is white) began writing to fanzines as the fictional African American sci-fi fan Carl Brandon. Because African Americans were so not in evidence at cons back then, this was rather revolutionary. Soon, fans were "Carl Brandon spotting" at cons, seeing him here and there and reporting their Carl Brandon sightings. Even six years ago, people of color were still rare at cons (and are still, but ever less so), so when CBS had their first caucus/conclave (at Wiscon, of course) they decided to name themselves after the elusive, and nonexistent, Carl Brandon. Now, correct me if I'm wrong!

In the past CBS has put together a terrific annual (for only two consecutive years, but what years they were!) listing of speculative literature published in those years by people of color. They also have an annual panel at Wiscon. This past year, however, has seen some organizin' down Carl Brandon way. At Wiscon 2006 they will be presenting their first annual awards: the "Kindred" award, to people writing (well) about people of color in speculative fiction, and the "Parallax" award, to people of color writing speculatively.

In response to the death of Octavia Butler, CBS has created the The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fund to send a serious writer of color writing speculative fiction to one of the Clarion workshops. And just this week Carl Brandon's blog has started posting in earnest.

Here's one of the results, an essay by Vandana Singh called "On The Importance of Imaginative Literature". Singh says (what is apparent to all CBS members but bears repeated utterings outside our particular cross-hatch):

Both science fiction and fantasy provide us with powerful metaphors for how we live. Take aliens in science fiction or monsters in fantasy. Are they not a metaphor for the Other? The Other can be anyone different from ourselves --- a person of another caste, class, nationality, race --- or an animal, or an alien. How do we deal with the Other --- do we attack it in fear, worship it for the same reason, accept it on its own terms, bend it to our will? Imaginative literature confronts some of these questions in a way that reaches the deepest parts of our being. Imaginative literature ultimately enables us to face ourselves.

Hear, hear. And here's looking for more such pointers from the CBS blog.

If you'd like to support CBS's terrific work, go here to make a donation to the awards, the Octavia Butler scholarship, or to the organization in general.

Competence = Liberal?

Yet another young neo-con is exposed for incompetence.

They're running through rabid 24-year-olds like it's goin' out of style. When is the Bush administration going to realize that no competent, intelligent young person will buy its bullshit? Or, at the very least, realize that if there's incompetence in the Bush administration, the liberals will find it out. Jesus! Do your due diligence already, people!

March 26, 2006

Multiraciality 101

This is cross-posted at Other magazine's staff blog.

Other magazine staffer Gregory Dicum linked to this article on his website in the Other magazine blog last week. It's an overview of the situation of multiraciality in the United States today, general attitudes, and multiracials' response to general attitudes. Check it out.

It's a solid overview, but, once you've read it, I want to add some arguments/complications. The article was written in 2003 and, in the short space between then and now, some things may have changed. (I also realize that he may not have addressed some of my concerns simply because they fell outside the scope of his article.)

Dicum identifies a number of responses to multiraciality:
1. multiraciality will end race and racial divisions -- an approach typified by Interracial Voice
2. multiracials create a solid, fixed "multiracial" identity that is other than the monoracial identities from which they derive -- an approach typified, according to Dicum, by "The Hapa Movement".
3. the mobile paradox/code switching at will -- an approach impossible to codify in an organization

Firstly, I'd like to add some critical distance in the discussion of each of these approaches.

As I noted in my othermag/blog post on interracial families, the "multiraciality will end race" approach is extremely problematic. The Interracial Voice community that typifies this approach supports the politics of Ward Connerly, who helped end affirmative action at a number of universities all over the country, and tried to outlaw the collection of racial data in California -- including data on the race of people drawn into the justice system, and data on the race of people treated for certain diseases. (He failed, thank gods.) The idea of using multiraciality to end racial divisions is compelling. But because, according to the Interracial Voice community, multiracials will inevitably end race, they declare racial abolition a fait accompli. Often these advocates claim that the vestiges of racism we still find in our country are caused by identity politics, rather than identity politics being a response to lingering racism. I think these attitudes need to be noted in any discussion of this approach.

Regarding "hapa nation": the idea that a discrete "third" or other multiracial identity can, or should be created (and I dispute that that's what the "hapa movement" is about below) needs to be critically examined. Dicum touches on the absurdity of creating an ethnic identity out of ethnic diversity. He doesn't, however, discuss how creating yet another racial or ethnic identity for multiracials actually reifies multiracial outsider status, as well as the racial taxonomy that gave rise to it. A new "multiracial" or (especially) "hapa" racial category would let a lot of racists off the hook, offering them a new group of "people of color" to interact with; a group they might find to be more comfortable than monoracial people of color. This would create yet another model minority to buffer the privileged from the underprivileged. In this discussion, therefore, it would be not just be useful, but crucial to measure the amount of energy and resources that would be expended creating and acquiring recognition for a new racial category against the energy and resources used to combat racism and ignorance from the vantage point of multiple identities.

Regarding the "mobile paradox" approach, where multiracials take on whatever identity is most convenient in a given situation (also known as "code switching", which you might have heard used by African Americans to refer to changing their idiom depending upon their context), Dicum gives as examples a person inventing identities, or falsely agreeing with the wrong identities attributed to her by strangers. While lying about your identity can be fun for some and makes for amusing stories (always amusing at the ignorant stranger's expense) I'd really like to hear more discussion about why no one should be forced into a false position apropos his identity.

To be direct: I don't want to lie about who or what I am. I've had to fight so hard, for so long, to have my self-definition recognized and validated -- even by friends and sometimes even by family -- that I am not eager to give up that hard-won identity to my own whims, much less those of strangers. The mobile paradox is not always (and for some of us, not ever) the "playground of identities" that Dicum makes it out to be. It is often absolutely necessary for social survival to be able to take on a particular fixed identity that makes converse between you and those around you possible, and then to switch that identity for the next context. It may be empowering for some to view this situation as a playground, but beyond the playful level of sociable small talk, if you want to make friends, be lovers, get a job, or become politically effective, you can't build your house on sand.

Recognizing and performing the reality of an ambiguous racial identity will always, at some point, become deadly serious. It is in the shallow interactions with boorish, questioning strangers that multiracials practice their responses and rehearse identities. Some, like Dicum apparently, use these situations to relieve tension. This is perfectly legitimate, if condescending to strangers (who risk being condescended to by intruding on others.) Others (like me) don't, because the underlying seriousness is always present, and because we (or at least I) believe that it is better, or more instructive, or more honest, or more just, to simply refuse to allow myself to be engaged by strangers about my race. Rather than being forced into some position -- true or false -- by a stranger, I force that stranger to deal with me and my racial ambiguity without my cooperation. This is, in fact, a fourth distinct approach, but one which, by its very nature, is impossible to codify as a trend, or even to discuss with those who use it, unless they choose on their own (like I have here) to address it.

(Note: the term "mobile paradox" itself encodes a problematic atttitude: discomfort with ambiguity. If racial categories really were unmixable, then code switching would be a paradox. But racial categories are not unmixable, and code switching is not a paradox. You can be two things at once, or three, or four.)

Secondly, what Dicum calls "the Hapa Movement" or "Hapa Nation" (with a capitalized "hapa") may not actually exist. I was closely involved with Hapa Issues Forum between 1999 and 2002. At that time, and I think, still, Hapa Issues Forum (HIF) was the only national organization created around the Asian/Pacific Islander part of multiracial identities. (There has been, starting in the mid-nineties, an increasing number of API or hapa-based multiracial groups on campuses. Some are started by HIF, some start themselves and join HIF as a chapter, and some maintain their independence. There have also been a few community-based hapa orgs. As far as I know, all of these are now fallow.)

The need for "hapa", as opposed to general, non-API-specific multiraciality, arose from the fact that mixed race Asians/Pacific Islanders in the US (mainland, of course) were only a small proportion of the overall multiracial population. Many of those hapas who joined multiracial organizations found their voices and concerns overwhelmed by the majority, who were black/white. Black/white multiraciality is fraught with the history of slavery, the "one drop rule" and the severe stigma of being of African descent in our society. API multiraciality doesn't always contend with these issues, and furthermore, has to deal with immigrant, colonization, and foreign language/culture issues. Not falling into the black/white dichotomy meant hapas had little to contribute to the largest discussions, and that few had anything to contribute to hapa discussions. So creating a space around not just multiraciality but primarily around API multiraciality privileged the API aspect for the first time. It also gave hapas a power base from which to negotiate entrée and membership into Asian and Asian American groups who often dismissed them -- a very important consideration.

All of this is to say that the promotion of the term "hapa" wasn't necessarily a group effort to create a "third" or other identity separate from the monoracial identities from which hapas derive. It was rather a term that needed to be invented: 1) to distinguish the issues around API multiraciality from general multiracial, or black/white multiracial issues, and 2) to honor and distinguish API multiracials within their monoracial API communities.

The "hapa" in "hapa community" is not capitalized because "hapa" is a noun, adjective, or complement, and not a proper noun, nationality, or ethnic designation; "hapa" is grammatically like "white" or "black", and not like "African" or "Asian". The "hapa movement" is not called such by most of those involved, because of our awareness that there was no common mission among all hapas, and that the word "hapa" needs to be protected as something that anyone can use without declaring a political stance. (Naturally, this means that some hapas do capitalize it, and use it as an ethnic designation.) Rather, those involved called it the "hapa community", recognizing that a community shares certain things while tolerating a great deal of difference.

That is what the organization of Hapa Issues Forum was about: not a new, monolithic "hapa" identity, but rather creating a space for discussion around issues of multiraciality. At the time that I was involved, the very idea of the organization was to protect every participant from being coerced into a particular stance by someone else's racial agenda. Wei Ming Dariotis, whom Dicum quotes in the "hapa nation" segment of his article, has dedicated her career to examining this issue, and her ideas should be listened to. But her "new hapa identity" approach is different from mine, and when I helped her run the San Francisco chapter of Hapa Issues Forum, there was plenty of room for both of our approaches therein.

Additionally, in the past three years or so, the community (adults and families) chapters of HIF seem to have collapsed or gone fallow, while the energy and emphasis has returned to the student chapters. When adults and parents do take an interest in multiracial organizing, it seems more often to be with general multiracial organizations, which (with the coming of age of post-1965 Immigration Act hapas) are much more diverse now than they were 15 years ago. This would seem to argue for the failure of the idea of a discrete hapa identity, if that was ever a ruling idea.

March 25, 2006

Mulling, Packing

... ... mulling ... ... ... ...

-|- packing -|-





-------............................\throwing the ball/........|||

b e i n g o n t h e i n t e r n e t



March 24, 2006

Don't Shoot the Puppy

This has got to be the funniest thing I've seen all week, including my cat, Charlie, playing fetch. It's a game, called "Don't Shoot the Puppy", whose object is to ... not shoot the puppy. If you do anything, move the cursor, click on anything, you'll shoot the puppy. So you have to do nothing. NOTHING! Amazing. My patience lasted two minutes and 25 seconds. See what the internet hath wrought?

March 23, 2006

Simultaneous Submissions

I'm just gonna say this, and disagree with me if you must:

Editors who don't accept simultaneous submissions hate writers. They hate us!

Now there are editors (famously, Howard Junker of Zyzzyva) who turn around submissions in two weeks. They can go 'head and not accept simultaneous submissions. They can get finicky about formatting. They can ask for a bio of exactly 25 words, no more, no less, and a two-page CV, and a package of peppermint candies with each submission. Heck, they can go to raves, candy flip, get naked, and talk to hot chicks about their "aura". As far as I'm concerned, any editor who can turn submissions around in less than a month has hella leeway.

However, most of the journals I've noted that don't take sim subs have a 3-6 month turnaround time. Not surprisingly, the journals that do take sim subs also have a 3-6 month turnaround time, and usually actually return somewhere in the 4 - 5 month range. Even when I receive stories back that were clearly screened by an undergrad grunt on slush dooty (all hail undergrad grunts on slush dooty! I was one!), it often takes 3 months. That means it could conceivably take up to a year for two journals to tell you "no". At best speed, it would take a year for four to six journals to tell you no.

Do you know how many journals are read for the annual "Best American" and "Pushcart Prize"? Me neither, but I do know that about seventy journals have had stories in the "Best American" and "Pushcart Prize" in the last three years. If you want a career, if you want to be noticed, you'll send to those journals first. Now, let's be generous to the editors and say that these journals are all so varied and different (*hack*, *cough*) that my story could only conceivably fit into forty of them. Forty journals. Four "no's" a year. I'm bad at math. You tell me how long it'll take to find out that everyone thinks my story sucks. Of course, most of those journals do accept sim subs. I wonder why that is.

Maybe it's because most journals are aware that most writers aren't mind readers (I'm holding out for the possibility that some are) and don't know what exact editorial direction this editor will take issue 56 in this time, so they should just cut the writers some slack already, and let them post to a bunch of journals whose next issue's editorial focus they can't foresee ... you know, just in case somebody likes their story. Or maybe it's because, deep down, they know that even the conscientious writers (like me ... sometimes) who actually do read samplings from all (... most ... the majority) of the journals they submit to, might not actually be able to see any difference in editorial direction, cuz the "editorial direction" wasn't so much transfused into the editorial process as it was vaguely waved over the proofs, much in the way that nutrients are waved over twinkies, or humanity was waved over the Bush administration.

I know that self-delusion is the engine of the literary industry. I know that, to produce even competent, much less brilliant work, writers have to convince themselves, against all evidence, that what they're doing matters. Having been an editor myself, I recognize that editors, even though they get a lot more daily validation (in the form of fawning supplicants), are also subject to this process of self-delusion. But let's get real for a moment. There are seventy journals out there, popping out puppies one to four times a year, seventy journals deemed important by the literary establishment. That's not counting the other hundred or more deemed somewhere by someone of at least passing credibility to be the cutting-edge, neglected instrument of literary fate.

You don't really expect us writers to read all of these, do you?

It's a peculiarity of this industry, certainly, but the producers of literary work benefit from experiencing the work of others to a certain extent, just like all other industries. But beyond that limited extent, the very producers of literary work will produce quality (and quantity) only in inverse proportion to the amount of time, energy and attention that they give to keeping up with the field. This is not just a matter of time economics. It's also a matter of crap economics. A lot of crap gets published in journals; crap of a certain trend stamp. The more of it you read, the more it gets impressed upon the part of your mind responsible for shaping, forming, and flavoring your stories. So, the more journalcrap you read, the more journalcrap you produce. Editors, as a body, like flocks of birds, break at an invisible signal and start off in a different direction; the viewer and even the scientist cannot tell you what sets them off. So the writer who has permitted his brain to be shaped by prevailing trends is left waving his fins in the air, and gasping through his rapidly drying gills.

I know that those no-sim-subs journals can justify it by saying that they only want writers who are really committed to or interested in their journal. But there are only about three journals at a time that I'm really committed to or interested in, and they're none of them yours. Most writers would, if they could but be honest, tell you the same thing. Anyway, I tend to think that writers should be spending their time, interest, and commitment writing and making their stories as good as they can be, not waiting ... for five months ... to hear back from an undergrad grunt on slush dooty. Any writer who really commits to making a story good wants to see her baby published -- ideally in the best journal, but any reputable journal that doesn't clash with her vision will do. Writers are funny that way.

Now if you're The New Yorker, if the simple crook of your finger can invest a pedant with semi-divinity, you can do whatever the hell you want. I stutter in your presence. (Can I also -- stutteringly -- note here that The New Yorker's claims its turnaround time as 8 weeks?)

But if you're almost anyjournal else, get over yourself. If you sat on a piece for five months without a word to the writer and it's yanked out from under you by another, more time-conscious journal, you have only yourself to blame. If a story is soooo goddamn good (or sooo perfectly embodies the hottest trend) that you're in danger of losing it to a rival, you goddamn well needed to move faster on it. You could have, at any time, come down from your high throne, shot that simultaneous submitter an email, and said, "Hey, I'm considering your piece but can't make a firm decision for another two months. Will you hold the piece for me?" If they don't simultaneously cream and fall all over themselves, they're Norman Mailer and you don't want their story anyway.

Damn. Did I just abort my career?

March 22, 2006

Tonight's FiLm FeSt offerings

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Tonight at the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival I'm gonna see American Fusion (with Esai Morales!) at 6:45 and Linda Linda Linda at 9 ish.

American Fusion is about ... well, here's the blurb:

Winner of the Audience Award at the Hawaii International Film Festival, AMERICAN FUSION delicately blends the sweetness of a middle-aged love story with the irreverent, envelope-pushing comedy of a Farrelly Brothers movie. In his first feature, director Frank Lin manages to challenge ethnic stereotypes and examine the burdens of cultural and familial expectations, all while grounding the film with a whole lot of heart.

Sylvia Chang (20:30:40, SFIAAFF ‘05) plays Yvonne, a divorcee in her forties who thinks she’s missed her chance at finding true happiness. Though she earns a paycheck as a writer, Yvonne’s real job is to keep watch over her crazy family, which includes her “twixster” hip-hopped son (co-writer Randall Park), a hot-headed brother (Collin Chou, THE MATRIX trilogy) who can’t get his wife pregnant, and a feisty, disapproving mother (scene-stealing Lang Yun) who’s about to undergo back surgery.

When a writing assignment brings Yvonne in close contact with Jose (NYPD BLUE’s Esai Morales), a handsome Mexican American dentist, Yvonne wonders how she can juggle her duty to her misfit family with the desire to let go and fall in love. Featuring a stellar cast that includes the last appearance by the late Pat Morita and cameos by James Hong, Eddie Shin and Fabio, AMERICAN FUSION is just like your family. Only funnier.

Okay, now Linda Linda Linda:

They say all-girl-rock-band movies are a specialist taste, but Nobuhiro Yamashita is here to prove them wrong. Yamashita (director of RAMBLERS and NO ONE’S ARK (SFIAAFF '03), both small classics of deadpan slacker comedy) starts from a plausible situation—a band in Shibazaki High School breaks up over “musical differences”—and gives it a wonderfully improbable twist. The band’s co-founder Kei decides to cobble together a scratch band of her own (she calls it “Paran Maum”) to compete in an inter-school music ompetition, and recruits Korean exchange student Son (the incomparable Bae Du-Na, from SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE) as her new vocalist, unfazed by the fact that Son doesn’t yet speak Japanese, let alone sing it. They have just three days to master a set of songs by the Blue Hearts, Japan’s best-loved punk band of the 1980s (“Linda Linda” was their greatest hit) and everything that can go wrong does.

Armed with a score by ex-Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha and a guest appearance by The Ramones (really?), Yamashita crosses the molehills of high-school rivalries with the mountains of punk belligerence to produce a joyously entertaining movie. It’s also, by the way, the smartest response by far to the wave of enthusiasm for all things Korean that is currently gripping Japanese pop culture.

Okay, who's in? There might be tickets left, and if not, there are still rush tickets (but you have to get there early.) Strongly encourage everybody to get out there tonight and see some moobies! Tomorrow's closing night!

March 21, 2006

Octavia E. Butler Scholarship

The Carl Brandon Society, an organization for writers of color in science fiction, fantasy and horror genres, has just announced their new Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fund. The scholarship will send writers of color to one of the annual Clarion workshops.

Intended to bring talented writers into professionalism in the field, the Clarion writers workshop program has been called a "boot camp" for writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror. It lasts six weeks. Each week, you get a different instructor, who is a well-known writer or editor in the field (my year at Clarion West we got Nancy Kress, Kathy Goonan, Liz Hand, China Mieville, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and ... drumroll, please ... Chip Delany.) Each week, each of the 17 workshoppers turns in a story. That's six stories in six weeks that you write, 96 stories in six weeks that you read and critique. It's exhausting. It breaks up marriages. It's a sinkhole for gossip and misbehavior. It forces you into a state of ecstatic depletion, like the last few miles of a marathon, in which your inner critic gets bludgeoned to death, and your inner professional is born. It's amazing.

The original Clarion writers workshop, which Octavia herself attended, is now defunct, but so influential was it, that it has spawned three successors: the new Clarion in Michigan, Clarion West in Seattle (which I attended in 2003), and Clarion South in Australia. Octavia taught at both of the American successors. So it's appropriate that the Carl Brandon Society is using this opportunity to honor her. It's especially appropriate given how few writers of color there are in the field, and how incredibly high an impact Octavia had -- even before you read her books -- simply as a figurehead, as a black woman in a white male field. Many, if not most, of the SF/F/H writers of color I know started writing at least in part influenced by Octavia.

Please consider making a donation to this fund if Octavia meant something to you and you'd like to honor her in a substantial way. Thanks!

Hear fuckin' hear

I, too, "wish that it will be my generation that decides to be the grown-ups and takes the hit with things like Social Security and the national debt and what have you. I wouldn't mind waiting until 75 to collect a Social Security check, if it means not saddling my kids with ridiculous Social Security-related taxes; even better, I wouldn't mind converting my Social Security benefit into something that wasn't so obviously a pyramid scheme based on gulling the young for my advantage. Likewise, I wouldn't mind paying a little more in taxes now to work down the national debt to reasonable levels so my kid and her kids don't have to pay for the stupid wastefulness that's been happening for the last several years and today, plus all the interest the debt on that stupid wastefulness will accrue.

Yes, it would suck to have to clean up other people's messes. But from a moral and economic point of view, it would suck worse to refuse to clean it up and to leave it for the next generation. Taking responsibility for things is what makes people grown-ups, and why as far as I can see grown-ups are mighty thin on the ground in Washington. The Bush folks are excellent, even primal examples of people who are not grown-ups economically or morally, but to be clear there seems to be a bipartisan lack of grown-ups in government right about now. It's not just the Bushies who are the problem here."

March 20, 2006

Rezzies 'n' Fellies

MacDowell Colony (New Hampshire) ................REJECTED!

but with a very nice letter.

Mars Description II

I spent yesterday with my friend Jaime in his studio, reading through the novel and making notes (I'm still not done!) and I found this description of Mars, which comes in the first half of the book but which I added near the end of writing the first draft. So it's pretty much the latest description of Mars that I have, which is sort of an end parenthesis to the earliest description of Mars that I posted earlier. Compare and contrast, if you'd like.

(Note: this is Leonard Lord, about a year after the last description. He's just climbed Olympus Mons, the biggest volcano in the solar system.)

I had never been this high off of the ground, this far up. I've never been 16 miles high before. It seems like it should be a euphemism for something. It was nearly impossible to encompass. This was the view I came to Mars for. I had imagined that the bubble ships would be like real ships, approaching a goal slowly, so that for days you could see the shore approaching and approaching, and when you landed, you had the prospect of an unbroken line of land to breach, coming ever nearer, resolving itself slowly into trees, and brakes, and huts, and Indians in canoes ... details. I had thought -- imagined -- that approaching Mars would be something like that, that first we would see a star. Then, more and more, a ball of rock, like Earth, only redder and more strange. Halfway through the trip it would be like the moon to us: something with features we could see, barely, with much squinting, Then the slowing approach, as to a strange shore, with the disc of the planet growing larger and larger and more and more like a world to us, until we were no longer approaching it but in it, and the features on the ground resolved themselves into cities, then individual houses, then the tops of men's heads. I was really looking forward to this, to seeing what a world looked like from so far above, watching a world resolve itself out of a star.

As you know, I was cheated of this view. That is, until the past weeks, when I went up Olympus. The crater is only 75 miles across so it comes to a point and that point, if you think about it, is about as high in the air as I would have been when the details of the planet started to become clear to me on my imaginary ship. It is not quite the same thing, but it is so close that I feel that I have arrived again-or perhaps I have arrived finally, for I feel that something here belongs to me. I have earned something.

What does it look like? Oh Freddy, I've been avoiding the question, for it is nearly impossible to describe. How can you explain being on a planet and yet standing above it as well? You will be thinking of our trip through the Donner Pass (ill-fated trip as it was) and the views we had of the Plains, but it is so much more than that. From the top of Olympus I could not only see the entire disc of the planet 360 degrees around me, but I could also see the curve of the surface. We have never seen this, you and I. We've stood on mountain tops and taken measurements against the next mountain top and proven to our satisfaction that the Earth is, indeed, a sphere, but we have never seen the floor of the Earth curving, like the ball it is. On Olympus I saw the planet I stood on -- the ground beneath my feet that held me aloft -- I saw it curving beneath me.

Directly over our heads was a bank of clouds. As we climbed, we'd seen these collecting every morning and then dissipating in the afternoon. The cloudbank was thick enough to filter the sun and the top surface of our outer clothing was cooler than I'd ever felt it since I arrived on Mars. Also, the glare of the suns rays around our eyes was lessened. The very air seemed clearer. Thus, I had a better view of the world than I had had since I arrived. I could see the variations in pink and orange and brown and grey on the ground now. I could see the patterns of the wind shifting the bright yellow and white/salmon dusts across the desert floor. Here was a patch of dunes, like the rippling of burned skin, but much more regular and smooth and beautiful. The waved shadows on the dunes' dark sides grew shorter quickly as the sun rose to its zenith. There was a bare ground of rocks and gravels, the rocks looking more and then less black as I stared at them, trying to make out what their exact color was. They were volcanic rock, no doubt, as all the bedrock in this region is, but pocked with air bubbles, broken and jagged and occasionally reaching for the sky, laid bare -- today only -- who knows about tomorrow -- by the fickle, bright dust that went to play elsewhere for awhile, perhaps forever. And over there, if I turned entirely away, a river of lava, looking exactly like molasses spilled onto a countertop and left by a lazy housewife to harden. There are river flows such as these leaking from this mountain's every pore; this was, perhaps is still, a volcano, but a volcano of a might and power that we have no idea of on Earth. For eons this volcano has been bubbling and spitting and overflowing, with no soul to see it, hear it, or to fear for its life. Fire. Fire!


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Hey all, I'm a little late with this but it's San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival time! Yee haw!

On Saturday I saw two films:

Sentenced Home, a documentary about Cambodian American refugees who had been convicted of felonies, had served their time, and as a result of a 1996 law, are now being deported. A very affecting story. Strongly recommend it. If you get the chance to see it in theaters, definitely jump on it!

Later, I saw Conventioneers, an outspokenly political feature film which threatened to be simplistic but actually failed to do so! Here's the blurb: "A red-state/blue-state romance dramatizing the shifting allegiances of fictional characters against the backdrop of the actual 2004 Republican National Convention. Audacious filmmaking and unpredictable, even unsettling, performances capture the excitement of an event that gripped New York City. 2006 Independent Spirit Award winner." It's true! The piece is filmed documentary-style (but not structured like a documentary) and incorporates a lot of real footage from the 2004 Repub convention. It doesn't apologize for being liberal, or attempt some sort of silly Hollywood-style "balance". And people get to be truly evil in this flick, which I always love.

It'll be playing again tonight (Monday) at the Kabuki in San Francisco at 9 PM. Highly recommended if you can make it. By the way, the only Asian American connection is the writer/director.

And check out the other offerings this week at the film festival. It's running in San Francisco through Thursday, and there will be further screenings in Berkeley and San Jose.

March 18, 2006

Residencies 'n' Fellowships

I've been in an extremely bad mood for the past four months or so (oh, you didn't notice? ... shut up!) and here's why:

Hedgebrook (Washington state) .....................................REJECTED!
Kimmel Harding Nelson (Nebraska) ................................REJECTED!
Millay Colony (New York) ..............................................REJECTED!
Ledig House Art Omi International (New York) .................REJECTED!
Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center(Massachusetts) ... waiting ... waiting ...
Axton Fellowship University of Louisville (Kentucky) ... waiting ... waiting ...
Ragdale Foundation (Lake Forest, IL) ... waiting ... waiting ...
MacDowell Colony (New Hampshire) ... waiting ... waiting ...
Jentel Artist Residency Program (Sheridan, Wyoming)......REJECTED!
Colgate University Olive B. O'Connor Fellowship (New York) ... waiting ... waiting ...
Deep Springs Writer in Res (California) .........................REJECTED!
Anderson Center (Minnesota) .......................................REJECTED!
Norton Island Residency Program ... waiting ... waiting ...
University of Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing ... waiting ... waiting ...
Steinbeck Fellowship (San Jose State) ... waiting ... waiting ...
McCullers Center (Georgia) ... Still. Need. To apply.
Sacatar Foundation (Bahia, Brazil) ... Still. Need. To apply.
Albee Foundation Residency (Montauk, New York) ... Still. Need. To apply.
Island Institute (Alaska) ... Still. Need. To apply.
Caldera (Blue Lake Oregon) ... Still. Need. To apply.
Headlands Center for the Arts (Bay Area) ... Still. Need. To apply.
Julia and David White artists colony (Costa Rica) ... Still. Need. To apply.
Kerouac Project of Orlando (Florida) ... Still. Need. To apply.
Hidden River Arts (Delaware) ... Still. Need. To apply.
American Academy of Berlin ... Still. Need. To apply.
Yaddo (New York) MISSED OUT!!!
Edelstein Keller Fellowship at University of Minnesota CAN'T APPLY THIS YEAR FOR SOME REASON I'VE FORGOTTEN!
Emory University Creative Writing Fellowship CAN'T APPLY THIS YEAR FOR SOME REASON I'VE FORGOTTEN!
NEA Creative Writing Fellowships NO WAY IN HELL I'M GONNA GET THIS!
Philip Roth Creative Writing Residency at Bucknell CAN'T APPLY THIS YEAR FOR SOME REASON I'VE FORGOTTEN!

I was considering including links to each website, but your Google finger isn't broken, and I don't like you that much.

March 17, 2006

Free Books!

A short time ago I read somewhere (the blogosphere is verily large) about these online bookswap services. So I checked out Paperback Swap and was pleased. Mightily.

It's very very very very cool. You sign up and then post (by ISBN) the books you have (not just paperbacks) that you don't want anymore. If somebody wants one, they request it and the system sends you a book wrapper. You download and print the wrapper, wrap up the book, send it to the person (at your expense) and, when it arrives in good condition, the receiver registers the book online as received. Then you get one credit.

One credit means you get to request one book. So you go into the system and see if someone has a book that you want. If they do, you order it and a few days later, it arrives at your door. You go online and register it as received. If no one has the book, then you put it on your wishlist, and the moment someone posts that book, you get a notification.

When you sign up and post your first books, you get three credits. So far I've gotten four books and sent two. Very happy!

It makes so much sense that it's doomed, doomed! Why hasn't such a thing always existed? There must be a Platonic Ideal of a Paperback Swap existing somewhere in the sky. A thousand years from now, the world will be dominated by the religion of the Pfapeerbukshwop, whose main holiday (coinciding with winter solstice) is ritualized by the exchange of small bundles of tree pulp (trees were a form of plant-life that went extinct in the 22nd century.)

We have RSS!

Whatever that means. Typepad already has an RSS feed, but I added a new one through Feedburner so I can track stuff, which means that now I can feed you the entire entry and not make you click through. Do be kind and resubscribe :)

The link is on the left hand bar at the bottom.


March 16, 2006

Elegies to Octavia (Continually Updated)

I've been collecting these since she died. The visceral experiences caused by reading her books are amazing. Please post any writing on Octavia in the comments, or send them to me and I'll update the post itself with a quote.

I am sad beyond words. Stunned. One of our most perceptive and talented, brave writers has crossed over, but what a gift she has left us. Such a fine and broad body of work for us to remember and explore. I've learned so much about myself simply from entering her words on the page ... Octavia's impact on my life is personal, deep, and I have heard the same from so many other readers who felt that their lives had literally changed after experiencing her work ... There is so much I could say, but I would just invite you all to revisit her work and pass it on to a new friend, pass it on to a growing reader. --Sheree Renée Thomas

I remember when someone mentioned to me that Samuel R. Delany, the author of the award-winning novel Dahlgren, happened to be black. I was as stunned as a young, African-American, science-fiction-loving geek could be. All my close friends were big into science fiction, and not all of us were such pootbutts that outside of a library we spent our time cowering from gangbangers, though that was often the case. Science fiction explained our weird-ass dysfunctional lives better than any social realism, but I don't think any of us thought we should or could write science fiction about our lives ... So when I first heard of Octavia Butler, it was like hearing about a black hockey player. -- Jervey Tervalon

Summer 1995, was a wild summer because it ended a chapter of my life thanks to a tropical storm and two hurricanes passing through, the last one trashing the boat I lived aboard and forcing my family to move to Ohio ... that night I lay huddled up in a sleeping bag and a flashlight reading "Wild Seed" as the Hurricane battered the house we stayed in, and I made it all the way to the eye of the hurricane having not paid a single bit of attention to what was going on on the other side of a brick wall several inches away from me. -- Tobias Buckell

At the time in the workshop, I was writing a story about an Efik woman in Nigeria who learned to fly. The story was set in the 1920's. This character was mean, selfish, promiscuous, strong willed and quite frankly, she disturbed me. When I read Wild Seed, I practically cried. There, in the book's pages, living in a remote Nigerian village long ago was Anyanwu, complex, Nigerian and mythical. It was after reading that book that I went through my own "transition" and started to call myself a writer of science fiction and fantasy. -- Nnedimma Okorafor Mbachu

I sensed a deep loneliness in Octavia, but also humor, vast intelligence, and a level of investment in her craft that was simply phenomenal ... What does it take to be a writer of such depth and courage?  I say, the capacity to dig into your own wounds, to fold yourself, concentrate yourself so purely into the work that your own life is eclipsed in comparison.  To live in the penumbra of your own work.  There are costs to this ...  -- Steven Barnes

"People really need to think what it's like to have all of society arrayed against you," she once said. But her work went far beyond simply mourning the victim. She showed us why repulsion cannot be avoided, why we often resemble what we hate, and why it is sometimes our best qualities that prevent us from accepting the differences of others. Her ability to both understand the outsider perspective better than others and then to invert it, places Butler above her science-fiction-writing peers. She is a disturbing and important writer... -- Tyler Cowen

I haven't read any of her books, but yet, I find myself sitting in front of the computer almost in tears...I thought I had time! I thought I had time to get to know her style, form a critique, maybe see her at a speech and then maybe walk up to her, pages in shaky hand, mouth dry, and ask her to look over my stuff ... it's just not fair, goddamn it, each new generation of radical women of color writers must learn the lessons, fight the fights, write our souls, without the mentorship of the very people that inspired us and gave us strength to write in the first place. -- brownfemipower at Women Of Color blog

My clearest memory of her is from a BayCon in the 1980s in San Jose. I had recently read C. S. Friedman's In Conquest Born, and thought it a mildly enjoyable first novel. Butler came by the table where I was selling books and said, in her distinctively beautiful gravelly voice, "That's the most racist book I ever read."
"Really?" I said. "Why?" (After all, everyone in it was white.)
"Because," she said, "the whole culture is built on valuing people by how they look."
*zap* *pow* *right to the heart of things*. -- Laurie Toby Edison & Debbie Notkin

I don't think many in the field ever realized how transformative she was ... Whenever people run that line about the period "before cyberpunk" being fallow and tame, I shake my head and realize how much farther we have to go. When Butler wrote about the effects of misused power on individuals, she blew those boys out of the water on every single page. She could be truly scary, in a way that splendidly illuminated this truly scary world. -- Scott Westerfeld

There was nowhere she wasn't willing to take you. She had a particular fascination with relationships of dominance and submission, master and slave, predator and prey. Though she always positioned herself on the side of the victims, she frequently focused on complicity, portraying such interactions as complicated and intimate. One cannot be eaten or raped without being touched. There was sometimes a narcotized pleasure built in on one side of the relationship or both. -- Karen Joy Fowler

I can't describe the look on her face but I know it well. Every woman I have loved and admired is capable of that look: the one that says "that's not good enough" and "I know you can do better," in a single glance. The perfect balance of disappointment and optimism that makes you understand it's only *you* selling yourself short. Then she said it out loud so I knew she REALLY meant it. "That's too bad," she said. "I'd like to see what else you can do." Sometimes I wonder why those words didn't crush me. Of course they were never intended to: she hit my "challenge" button with a vengeance. -- Eddie at "The Write Grrrl" blog

I’m sure most of us know the statistics of her career — the awards she won for her novels and stories, the fact that she was the only science fiction writer to win a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “genuis grant.” But she was so much more than that. She often said that a lot of her work wasn’t science fiction. “You could call it ‘save-the-world fiction,’ but it clearly doesn’t save anything,” she said. “It just calls people’s attention to the fact that so much needs to be done, and obviously the people who are running this country don’t care.” -- Leslie Howle (and check out this link for other remembrances of Octavia.)

She was wickedly funny in a dry way that you could miss if you weren't paying attention. She was unfailingly courteous and kind. I think Brad Denton (2nd week) found us a little wild at times, Nalo (3rd week) found us almost sufficiently wild, and Connie Willis (4th week) would holler at us, in her fifth-grade-teacher voice, to "Settle Down!" -- but we didn't pull anything with Octavia, I can tell you. Not because we imagined that she would chide us (she wouldn't have) nor because we thought she might be wounded (ha! like we could wound her!), but because her dignity filled the room. You had the sense of what a crime it was to waste this life, to waste whatever God had given you. -- Benjamin Rosenbaum  (and check out this link for other remembrances of Octavia.)

Blessed with an I.Q., grades and S.A.T. scores good enough to get me into any college in the country, but unable to solve three-dimensional emotional issues with a one-dimensional 17-year-old mind, I found myself in a dark corner, in a basement, on a dingy yellow couch waiting to conduct what I’ll refer to now as a “business deal”.  ... As I sat there looking around the room and waiting, I noticed a small paperback book on a wobbly wooden table in the corner.  The cover had been ripped off and the pages were tattered and worn.  I started reading and before I knew it, I had followed Dana Franklin back into the early 1800’s – the book was Kindred and the author was Octavia Butler.  And there in that moment, I found a greater purpose – and what was, for me, a higher calling. -- D. Lee Hatchett

(And here again is my own blog entry about her.)

March 15, 2006

First Mars Description

In honor of Google Mars -- or rather, my excitement about Google Mars, which has not abated since yesterday -- I am posting my first description of Mars in my novel, written 3.5 years ago. It's been revised a bit since then, but I'm not sure where the original description got to, so I'll just give the latest version. Maybe Google Mars will change my view! Maybe Mars will become more beautiful, or sharp, as we go along! We'll see ...

This is from the first letter home written by Leonard Lord, a newcomer to the Martian gold-mining colony. If he sounds a bit poky and pedantic, it's because he's writing in 1899, and he's 40-something years old, so he actually learned to write in the 1870s:

But do not delude yourself any longer, Freddy, Mars is ugly. There is none of the strange beauty here that you've described in your Earth deserts. Perhaps I would have found your Earth deserts ugly, too, but it seems that beauty, the beauty you find in the world, Freddy, is dependent upon a contradiction between the familiar and the strange. The same blue sky, but larger. The same life, but differently shaped. There is none of that here, no blue sky, no greenery, no movement, no life. Here it is red, dusty, and dead. This much you knew already. But I can't convey to you in words, reports, or even descriptions how red, dusty and empty of life this place is. It is so red there is no yellow. It is so red it begrudges us blue. But such a red! It is rust-red, not a satisfying bloody scarlet, or any other shade of red one thinks of. One can't help but associate the color with decay. Picturesque decay perhaps. Even the sky is red - a pale, watered-down version of the red of the ground. Pink like a cooked salmon - no, paler, the background color is a dirty white, like clouds on an overcast day. All the colors on this planet are the colors of dirt and decay back on Earth. This is how I see it. This is how all the adults see it, although some seem to be getting used to it. The children born here - I wonder - will they learn to see freshness in a dirty white sky?

And there are dust storms frequently during this season I am told, without rhyme, reason or warning. There was one yesterday, to complement my mood. A red-out for fifteen hours around New Georgia town. The transports were brought in, and all outside activity ceased. The storm was like a rust-red cap around the New Georgia bubbles. Although the impression of the planet is already red - the very dust motes in the still air tinting everything with brick and rust color - still, the dust storm brought an intensity of red that I hadn't thought possible, as if the dust itself were a source of light and its furious stream through the air the holding up of a red lantern emitting decay and deadening. The already deathly-looking skin of the settlers turned to putty in the storm. I had never before realized how much we depend upon the sight and movement of blood under our translucent skin for the appearance of life. In this redness we look like so much plastic material, animated by stubbornness and not divinity. My second day here. Welcome to Mars!

And the lack of life - after years of reading, hearing and imagining your descriptions of the Southwestern American deserts, I had learned to expect from these dry, dusty rednesses a hawk or lizard or scorpion, or sudden extrusion of bush. Some occasional burnt green. A movement, animated corners, anything. But there is nothing. They say even the Sahara Desert contains life but here - nothing. Not a plant, not a creature - nothing. Were I to plunge into the outside and survive the cold and the boiling blood and the quick suffocation, I could find myself in a place void of disease, mosquito bites, malaria, cholera, tiger attacks, flies, snakebite, spiderwebs. Even death is missing. Never more than an indifferent naturalist, I would not have imagined that I would notice the absence of fossils, much less miss them. But every rock is smooth with the absence of life. I still have that rock you brought me from the center of the Painted Desert that proved that it was once a living seabed. I am tempted to drop it to the ground here, to see if I can sow this volcanic valley with the death of life and therefore bereave it of the death of no-life.

March 14, 2006

More Mars!

Sorry about the overexcitement earlier. Actually, no I'm not. So there.

I just remembered that I found out about a month ago that Oliver Morton, the guy who wrote Mapping Mars, has a blog . (He also has a posse, but I'm not making stickers, so forget it.) I'm a Janey-come-very-lately to this news, of course. The blog's on hiatus right now. But there's so much back-blog that I can't really complain (although you can ... about the punning and the hysteria, both.)

Yay, Mars people!

Google Mars!!!

Oh My Fucking God! Google Mars!




Okay, why am I so excited? Because my novel takes place on Mars, of course!

re: novel ... It's still in-progress. I've completed the first draft, and am currently agog at all the research I still have to do and wondering how I can get out of it. Plus, I just took a two+ month break and am now reading the damn thing through from start to finish. Fun, but also boring, since there are parts that I've read through several times already.

I wish Google Mars had been around three and a half years ago, when I was really writing my Mars descriptions. It woulda saved me some stress, and my parents some money (they gave me a Mars globe for Christmas a few years ago.) See, it's really hard to visualize Mars for yourself, from scratch, so to speak, because the images we have of Mars, although of high quality, are either satellite images, like these, or they're ground-level images from the rovers, like this. That is to say, they're either bird's eye views (actually, cartographer's eye views), or dog's eye views.

There are no man's eye views, that is to say, there aren't the kinds of views that people would get if they were on Mars; because people wouldn't be content to roll around inside a crater, or orbit the planet ad dusty nauseum. People would land as soon as poss, and get themselves up to a high place -- a mountain, a crater rim, a mesa, and do the broad-view-before-me thing. People would bring along a twin engine and buzz the canyons and circle the peaks. People wouldn't walk across flat deserts; and if they did, they'd look up every so often. People would go play on the dunes, and hike across the polar ice, probably finding some way to slide across it.

Three years ago I had to buy and download what maps and photos were available at Discovery stores and on the NASA Mars website, which, don't get me wrong, has always been cool, if only because it's basically the only game in town. Then the rovers landed and the NASA site got very, very cool, and all these geeks were hired, and even the ones who weren't hired started getting excited and doing animations and all kinds of cool stuff. But NASA, as experienced as it was at PR, was piling up so much data so quickly that they had to have some problems getting it across in a streamlined way.

I mean, go check out the site. Can you easily find, for example, a recent panorama view from a crater? Can you find an interactive map of the area each rover has covered? Can you, without blockages or frustration, get a smooth view of Mars? I can't. It took me two hours one day to find the animation I wanted. Of course, I could be just stoopid. (Don't hate me, NASA! I love your Mars site! I'm just sayin'!)

So here's Google Mars, with its simple, simple interactive map, and its easy, easy way of accessing information about features on the map. One click, two clicks, and you can find out more than you wanted to know about any feature, plus see photos, plus see animations if there are any.

I mean, check this out. Talk about buzzing canyons in a twin engine!

Ima go play now.

March 12, 2006

US Gov Helps Identity Thieves UPDATED

I annoy the lovely people down at 24 Hour Fitness mightily. The company issues membership cards you have to present to enter the gym. However, the membership card has no photo on it, so you have to present a photo ID as well. This annoys me. Mightily. Why don't they issue you a membership card with a photo on it, so you don't need to present a photo ID?

When I enter the gym, I make a huge drama out of having to show my drivers license as well as my membership card. While I'm doing this, they tell me that they'd be thrilled to photocopy my drivers license and stick it into a clear plastic pouch for me along with my membership card, so that I don't have to fish out my wallet every time.

Nowadays, I just say no, thank you, but occasionally I'll still bother to explain to them that:
1. Identity Theft is the US's fastest growing crime,
2. The information contained on my drivers license (or on a photocopy thereof) is all an identity thief needs to steal my identity for a multitude of purposes,
3. The whole point of photocopying my drivers license is to make it more easily accessible to me, which necessarily means it's more easily accessible to a pickpocket,
4. I've lost my gym membership card (which has my name and gym membership barcode on it and nothing else) twice and suffered no ill effects and I'd like to keep it that way.

I could also tell them (but never do) that 24 Hour Fitness's consumer base is in the 18-29-year-old and the 30-39-year-old groups (I belong, of course, to the latter. Yes, I know, you'd never have guessed). These are, respectively, the most, and second most identity thieved demographic groups. I could also point out that San Francisco is the seventh most identity-stealin' city in the country. (Data from here.) But I don't need to, because after two or three such encounters with me, any given staff member is apt to just roll their eyes and wave me in. Thus I get through my life, and, so far, my identity has never been stolen.

Too bad you can't do the same at border control.

You see, the US gov, that bevy of brains, has finally gotten around to adding RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips to the passports they're issuing, an action mandated by law in those rational days of 2002. RFID chips, which store all the information printed on your passports, are remotely readable, which means that anyone possessing the right technology can read the information in your passport as you walk by, without opening, or even touching your passport. It also means that anyone with the right technology can "eavesdrop" on the government reading your passport remotely. Basically, once your info is put on an RFID chip, you have no more control over who gets at it -- and neither does the government.

Right now the chips are only in diplomats' IDs (and that's scary enough!), but they'll be adding them to regular customers'-- I mean citizens' in October. In the Netherlands, a private company has already succeeded in hacking into Dutch passports, causing a bit of a ruckus. (You'd think there'd be a ruckus here, too, but then you'd think the same thing about hackable voting machines after 2000 and 2004, or about our president lying to us so that he could have his war ... and guess what? No ruckus.) My passport is good for the rest of the decade or so, but after that, will I have to bare my info to a world that is already four or five years more sophisticated at stealing it?

So, what to do? Some German hackers, concerned about the RFID tags in consumer products, developed an RFID-zapper, which deactivates any RFID tags it finds in the vicinity. But presumably, zapping your passport will only render it invalid. At the moment, all you can really do is protest. Here's an article with the names of organizations in the US and UK actively protesting the use of biometrics in such a manner.

I also might do some digging and see if I can find out what rights we have with regard to our passports, and if it's possible to refuse to allow our information to be put on an RFID chip and still get issued a passport. Does anyone out there know the law regarding passport rights?

(Information via boing boing and wikipedia.)

I just saw this on the Making Light blog: this guy decided to test the theory that thieves could apply for your credit card using an application you tore up and threw in the trash. And yes, indeed, thieves can, even if you have them send the card to a different address and use a cell phone number for your contact number. Scary.

Oh, great. Thanks to Jose's tip in the comments below, I just read that RFID chips can carry viruses, although they don't spread from chip to chip, but rather attack the database. I agree with Jose that tech is the tech of da fewchoor, but, like lasic surgery, you should let other people do it first, and then wait twenty years, before forcing everyone to have it.

March 10, 2006

An Idea for Booksellers

Today John Scalzi briefly discusses his attitude about genre fiction vs. lit fiction.

This quote got me thinkin':

The boundaries between genres will exist as long as they help to sell books. I think that's fine, but I think booksellers also need to help train readers to accept there is more out there than their favorite genres (publishers too, although to a lesser extent ...

How would a bookseller go about training a reader to read outside the immediate genre? Well, I have a modest suggestion: Amazonify the physical bookstore.

Indy booksellers already have shelf-talkers, those cards they stick to the bottom edge of a shelf (usually written by staff) telling you that this particular book is particularly worth reading. (They have these in wine stores, too, for which I am eternally grateful.) The shelf-talker gives a brief description of the book and also, if possible, a sort of overview of the type of book you're getting.

Well, why not add an "if you like this book, you'll love _______" shelf talker to the best-sellers? Say, for example, you put an amazon talker underneath Dan Brown's Davinci Code, saying people who like that book will love: Eco's The Name of the Rose, Kostova's The Historian, or Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Or you could put an amazon talker under Frey's A Million Little Pieces saying people who liked that will love: Bukowski's Post Office, Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, and Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

The key here is:
1) to find one solid point of comparison between the original book and the recommended books, not to try to find books that are truly alike. For example, the recommended books for Davinci Code are all mysteries set in lush, romantic, partly-hidden milieus. The recommended books for A Million Little Pieces are memoirs of difficult times in the author's life.
2) to make sure that the recommended books cross over into other genres.
3) to make sure that the recommended books are better than the original book.

Then you give a discount: if you buy one book on an amazon talker list, you get the second book from the same list half off. Or maybe just all books on an amazon talker list are 30% off.

I would love it if a bookseller did this. I'd much rather see this in a bookstore than on amazon. It would make going to bookstores more fun.

Oh, and I have one more suggestion: you know those book clubs some bookstores run? Well, rather than have one book per month, have two, and select two books that have something solid and interesting in common, but are from different genres.

March 09, 2006

Ethnic Enclave dying? Who cares?

Hyphen magazine's blog reported recently that San Francisco's Japantown is up for sale. The commercial center of SF J-town is mostly owned by one company, Kintetsu of Japan. Their holdings comprise two malls and two hotels, and there's also an AMC movie theater nearby. The malls house around forty small, Japanese American-owned businesses. Kintetsu is offloading the malls and hotels and AMC is selling the theater ... and the Asian American community feels its center is threatened.

Okay, yawn, who cares, right? I mean we're at war, fer godssake. Plus, you didn't even know San Francisco had a Japantown. Obviously it was pretty much dead already if you didn't know about it. So really, why should you care?

Well, it's not a quick answer. To understand it, you have to know something of the history. You see, SF J-town is only ... already ... a hundred years old. After the earthquake and fire of 1906 leveled San Francisco's Western Addition, a 30-some-block Japantown sprang up like weeds in the cracks. The usually celebrated Federal Housing Act of 1934, an attempt to offer Depression-impoverished whites a new chance, also identified racial districts and made housing loans available to minorities only in their specific ethnic enclaves, encouraging geographical racial segregation. So in the first half of the century, the new influx of Japanese American immigrants found its locus in this district.

In 1942, the SF "Little Tokyo" community was cleared when Japanese Americans on the west coast were rounded up and sent to internment camps. Here's not the place to write about the cultural and personal devastation wrought by this chapter of history. Suffice it to say the JA community never fully recovered. The Western Addition's multicultural Fillmore District, which included Japantown in the north, received a huge influx of African Americans migrating from the South to industrial jobs on the West Coast during WWII; many of them took over areas vacated by interned Japanese. After the war, the Fillmore corridor was largely African American to the south (and thriving at that) and Japanese American to the north.

Thriving or not, the urban renewal projects of the 1950's began a systematic clearing of both the Af-Am and JA sections of the Fillmore, often using eminent domain, which left formerly thriving community members propertyless. Especially when Geary Street was widened into an 8-lane street right at its intersection with Fillmore Street, a huge geographical barrier was driven (literally) between the JAs and Af-Ams. Subsequent organizing in the 1960s slowed the "slum clearances" in J-town, and later investment by the Japanese government and Japanese businesses brought Japanese-American-centered commercial development to the area.

The Asian American Movement of the late 60s and early 70s (modeled after the Af Am civil rights movement) was the background for much of this community organizing. The children of interned JAs who grew up knowing nothing about internment were rediscovering this history and creating a treasury of information, documentation, and cultural expression about Asian American history and identity. In 1971 the city-sponsored Japanese American Community and Cultural Center of Northern California was founded, giving the community a cultural locus and putting the official seal of approval on Japanese American community continuity. By this time, however, most of the JAs had moved out of J-town. J-town became more of a cultural and commercial center than a residential one.

During this time of JA consolidation, the African American community was being displaced by wave after wave of clearings pushing them farther south, into the Bayview district, or containing them in smaller and smaller areas of the Tenderloin and the Fillmore. The still-thriving segment of the African American community moved to the suburbs, especially across the Bay, and the rest were contained in housing-project-heavy areas.

Have a looky here now:


This map shows income levels in San Francisco from the 2000 Census. The darker the green, the poorer the area. The two darkest green values form what is roughly a large "Y" shape on the right half of the map. The upper right tip of the right arm of the Y is Chinatown. Below that , on the diagonal, is the African American and Vietnamese immigrant-heavy Tenderloin (above Market St.) and the South of Market warehouse district (below Market). The trunk of the Y is the Latino-dominated Mission District. the square to the bottom right (off the Y) is the Potrero Hill Projects (Af Am heavy). And the left-hand arm of the Y is the Af Am dominated Fillmore District discussed above. (The poorest, darkest green areas aren't showing up on this map because they are to the south of here.)

Now go back to the tip of the left arm of the Y, where that big Fillmore rectangle of dark green is. It is bounded in the north by Geary Blvd., and just north of Geary is a medium green, medium-income strip, two blocks deep and about ten blocks long, pressured on three sides by the white and tan of upper-income communities, and on one side by the dark greens of the impoverished. Guess what that is. Right, that's Japantown.

What I'm trying to get at is that J-town is that thing, that geographical model minority buffer zone set up between more affluent white communities and impoverished black communities. When you look at Asian American enclaves all over the US, you'll see that they are geographically, literally, buffers between black and white, poor and rich. This was apparent from New Orleans' 30-year-old Vietnamese American community, which was destroyed in Katrina (Wendy Cheng writes about this in issue 8 of Hyphen magazine and you can access maps of racial concentrations here), and it is apparent in every major American city.

When you look at the destruction of traditional Asian American enclaves all over the US, you'll see that they are inevitably inner city or centrally located areas that are being pressured either by financial districts (as is San Francisco's Chinatown) or by wealthy residential areas (as is San Francisco's Japantown). The population of major ports of entry has reached a critical mass. At this point, people care less about their neighborhood being buffered from poor and dark people, and more about having a place to live in at all. Thus, the middle-income, middle class, middle race zone gets pushed out because they can afford (barely) to go elsewhere. Only the wealthy and the destitute (who will be out on the street otherwise, and often end up there anyway) can stay.

Now that we know where the money is, let's look at where the Asians are:


Remember while you look at this: the darker the green, the more Asians. The darkest greens are in the upper right and the lower left. The upper right is Chinatown, where impoverished new Chinese immigrants go, and below that the Tenderloin where impoverished Southeast Asian immigrants abound. The lower left is the outer Richmond, which is heavily middle-class East Asian immigrants, 1.5's and second generation. The dark olives are in the Tenderloin (poor, immigrant Vietnamese) and the heavily middle-class East Asian Richmond and Sunset (lower and upper left).

By the time you get to medium green, you're down below thirty percent Asian. Funny, isn't it? You can still see the little strip of J-town (the little strip of medium green in the center, right where it says "Geary Blvd.") but this time it's not because it's a buffer economic class between rich and poor, but rather because it's a strip of bridge connecting the working class immigrant Asian communities of downtown (right) with the middle class immigrant and second generation Asian communities of the Avenues (left).

(Note: the big divide between upper and lower on the left is Golden Gate Park. There are several arteries through the park, and if you were driving downtown you'd want to go north first, then take Geary through Japantown, into the financial district. It's quicker than going through the hills on the lower center.)

J-town has become a connective corridor.

Before doing this analysis that you see here, I didn't realize that J-town was geographically a bridge between poor, crammed ethnic enclave and wealthy, nominally ethnic suburb, but I was aware that it was exactly that culturally. For years, the pan-ethnic Asian Pacific American community of San Francisco has been using J-town as a center of organizing and meeting for a number of reasons. By virtue of its geographical centrality, it's easily accessible from all points of the city. It's pleasantly middle-class, not cramped and dirty and drearily poor like Chinatown. You can find parking there. Plus you can go there to be entertained. There are bars, restaurants, shops galore, a movie theater -- there even used to be a bowling alley.

But it's not just geographical. Because of the history -- the clearing of the Japanese Americans and their partial return; the city-approved cultural and commercial centers -- J-town has become a kind of cultural/commercial/organizing center for the entire Asian Pacific American community of San Francisco. The J-town merchants have close ties to Asian American organizers and will let us organize cultural events in their commercial spaces. There are several nonprofit cultural organizations with their own spaces in J-town, who produce their own events, activities and classes, and who will offer space to other non-profits for the same purpose. In J-town I've organized and participated in: creative writing classes, a low-income teen web design class, multiracial advocacy meetings, readings, film screenings, dance performances, language classes, bilingual newpaper redaction, zine workshops, panel discussions, angry community town hall meetings, 9/11 vigils, days of remembrance, and on and on. And that's not to mention the karaoke.

Being an in-between class/race, Asian American communities have been pushed hither and yon throughout the last century and a half, now serving as scapegoat, now serving as protection. We have adapted and adapted. Since the late 60s, one of our methods of adaptation has been to form nonprofits which turn the locus of the community culture from a geographical space into a virtual space -- located in the idea of the organization rather than in a particular storefront or building. The internet revolution took this one step further, by placing the idea of the organization online. Asian Americans took to online organizing like fish to water, mainly because we were already organized abstractly, virtually ... because our history in this country has not been a history of owning the ground beneath our feet.

But adapting to geographical containment in this manner is not enough. We stay alive by compromising with racist government policies, but we thrive when we can come together in the flesh. When we have a geographical space to go to, we have an actual connection to people not directly involved in online/virtual organizing, which is necessarily a province of the thriving middle-class, latter generations. Since Asian American organizers were driven out of Chinatown in the 70s by rising rents and evictions, we've lost touch with the poorest immigrants of our communities. But through J-town, which has big Asian grocery chains, big Asian language bookstores, and even Asian-style dollar stores, we can at least connect physically, if only passingly, with all of the Asians, of all classes and ethnicities, in San Francisco. And they, brought near the centers of cultural organizing, have the opportunity to connect with us.

J-town, pushed by the city to become a buffer zone between poor African American Fillmore, and rich, white American Western Addition/Marina, made of itself a bridge between classes. Now that real estate pressure in the city is such that buffer zones are no longer needed or wanted, the city will allow -- or even push -- J-town to die. The destruction of Japantown's commercial center, through a laissez faire policy from the city, would result in a loss of this opportunity for different classes and generations of Asian Americans to connect physically. Whites don't need J-town anymore, but J-town still needs J-town. Because J-town, for a century now, has offered much much more than merely a space for the people who actually live or conduct business there. It's become a center of pride and identity for a community that is still almost entirely ignored by mainstream America at its upper levels, still stereotyped and mocked at its middle levels, and still excluded and disadvantaged at its lowest levels. Asian America still needs to do its thing, and as long as that is the case, we need J-town.

(Check out all this data on American Factfinder, an extremely cool website with maps and data breakdowns of the US Census.)

March 08, 2006

Midnight Magic

Last night Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfeld, husband-and-wifeness, did a little reading/signing at Borderlands. Poor Justine was sick as a dog (and once again, I ask you, what is sick about dogs? Woof!) but managed to say quite a lot, if not with her usual effervescence. And Scott, doing her reading for her, managed a few lines of Australian accent (oh yes), which offended no one. Then a (small) bunch o' us went to Ti Couz afterwards for crepes and, in my case, a really good seafood salad and chardonnay (yes) and white bread (double yes).

They were on world tour specifically promoting their latest books, Justine's second in her Magic or Madness trilogy, Magic Lessons, and Scott's third (and final?) in his Midnighters trilogy Blue Noon. (In Scott's case, though, since he has several series going at once, "latest book" is a matter of which month you're talking about.) I was thrilled to finally get my hands on Magic Lessons, which I've been waiting for ever since I picked up Magic or Madness at Wiscon last year, and read the whole thing in my hotel room right then and there.

MorM, though Justine's first novel, suffered from no lack of confidence or authority in voice. I was particularly impressed to see how much coldness Justine allowed into the telling. The lollipop-voiced warmth -- the one that quickly creates a comfortable world of easily-accessed rules -- which narrates most YA fantasy novels, is missing here. I understand the need for lollipop-voice and accessible world-building, especially in YA. The readers want to feel part of the world, like they understand it and belong to it (this applies to adults and children alike.) A writer who creates this sort of welcoming, cocooning world builds in a permanent audience for herself.

Real danger, real coldness outside, real darkness and confusion and despair and bewilderment risks alienating a readership that already experiences too much of these, and is turning to books for escape and comfort. And yet real human complexity -- even within the highly structured and artificial confines of YA fantasy -- is impossible without a visceral sense of jeopardy.

The first book, Magic or Madness, tells the story of Reason, a young witch who inherits magic from both grandfather and grandmother. (The beginning of book two hints that her father may have contributed something, too, but I'm not yet far enough into it to know.) Her young single mother, Serafina, has raised her to fear her grandmother, yet Serafina herself is descending into madness. Over the course of the book, Reason discovers that the possessor of magic must either use it and die young when the magic runs out, or not use it and go mad. A nice, cold, hard choice. Plus, there's a really evil bad guy who's genuinely scary and not a little seductive. (Actually, he's very much like a pimp, and we all know it's hard out here for a pimp.) Busy as I am (not!) I'm going to have to schedule in a ML date so I can get into it properly. None of this eking out little chapters each night for me!

Scott's trilogy Midnighters comes to a close with Blue Noon. The first Midnighters book, The Secret Hour, did actually have a great deal of the warmth and cocooning of a typical YA fantasy. (Let me just state here for the record that I'm as susceptible to this as anyone.) It's the story of five high schoolers in a small town in Oklahoma who, by virtue of being born at exactly midnight, have the ability to enter the secret 25th hour of the day, when the rest of the world is frozen and scary monsters come out. It's a trick handling five points of view (or really, four, one of the teens doesn't really get his own pov), not to mention coordinating five different talents (each of the teens has his/her own "talent" in the secret hour, which they have to learn how to use collaboratively.)

As I said, book one invites you into a private world where the ground rules are fairly straightforward (for a fantasy), and where you get to identify with each protagonist in turn and feel part of the ... well, clique. The cocoon effect is (probably) necessary for something that has the potential to become this complicated. At the transition between first and second book, however, is where YA writers frequently fail. Having created a warm, welcoming world, and having already once defeated their designated evil in the first book, it's difficult to break open that world again and up the scale of evil. Once the evil has been defeated, or at least, postponed, it's hard to recreate the urgency, the sense of jeopardy. Too often, the enemy becomes slightly laughable.

This is where Scott really shows his mettle as a writer. In Midnighters two, Touching Darkness, Scott doesn't really try to make the monsters bigger and badder. Instead, he turns the jeopardy inward, inserting a dangerous ally as well as an intermediate human enemy, that renders the black and white morality of the first book much more ambiguous. Book two ends *MILD SPOILER* with one protagonist betraying another in an utterly ethically compromised situation, and yet another protagonist joining the dark side.

Book three, Blue Noon, which I just finished a couple of days ago, therefore doesn't need to up the ante again. Although *MILD SPOILER* the dark side protagonist has been rescued and rejoins the clique, he brings some of the beast with him. It's sexy, which is a sudden change for these books, which were romantic and intense, but not hot before this. It's also central to the plot. On the jeopardy front, Scott manages to up the ethical compromise even more, by introducing the intermediate human enemy's perspective (which is, let's face it, the purpose of an IHE.) Worse, the IHE has a point. The book ends with *MILD SPOILER* a major sacrifice (again, GOOD, because who wants the trilogy resolution to be easy?) and a sort of trailing off in the direction of the tv series that Scott's blog hints will be made of the books.

All in all, with these two, award-winning (yes!) writers, you're getting more than just good solid YA. You're getting people who really understand the form and can layer it, make the form effective. YA, if you're like me, is the apotheosis of reading, if not of writing. My reading addiction/obsession really started around second grade when I got into my first YA and found out that not only could I get great stories that way, but I could also get a lot of information about the world with major spoonsful of sugar. (check out Scott's novels Peeps and So Yesterday for examples of such.) Hie ye to a bookstore and get your read on!

(Plus, check out their blogs -- links up top with their names -- for info on where they'll be on their tour, which they are on now. Touring. World tour. Yes.)

March 07, 2006

Five Elements for Writers

I've been wanting to post some of my ideas about how to approach writing in this blog, so now's a good time to start. This particular piece about "the five elements of writing" has a particular impetus:

My friend Robin Jensen, also a writer, has recently completed her studies in Chinese medicine. She's developing a ... program? ... process? ... a something new to help writers who are blocked or stalled to get themselves more into balance so that they can work. I'm lucky enough to be her guinea pig.

Her process is based upon the five elements of traditional Chinese culture: wood, fire, earth, water and metal. Over the course of several sessions, she takes you (or me, in this case) through each of the elements, explaining their principles, doing body work with pressure points and oils, and showing you movements designed to activate the organs that correspond to those elements. The intention is to help you understand how each element operates in your life, and assist you in developing an approach to unlocking the energy of that element.

If you're starting to itch, just understand that I'm an atheist who doesn't believe in hocus-pocus. I've lived in California for several years, I drink Chardonnay, and I've tried yoga, but all with an ironic sneer. (Come to think of it, that's pretty San Francisco in itself, but whatever.) When I hear the word "spirituality", I reach for my Compleat Orwell. (Just kidding. There is no Compleat Orwell.)

On the other hand, "soul" isn't one of the big four -- along with mind, body, and heart -- because we're all dupes of the Vatican, Bob Jones grads, or Tom Cruise's latest impregnee. The spirit, whatever the fuck that means, needs tending, and it doesn't really matter how you do it ... or if you believe while you do it. You can be feeling indefinably shriveled (and cynical and atheist) and go and have someone put juniper oil on your ankle and take you on a trance-like journey through the glycerin-flooded basement of your subconscious to the sounds of a drum-circle --- and emerge feeling more refreshed than you have in months. What is that? Placebo effect? Who cares?

In any event, working through the five elements (and I'll write more about that when we've completed the course) reminded me of a writing lesson I developed a few years ago in my "teaching creative writing" class at San Francisco State. I later used this when I started teaching. The purpose of the five elements writing system is to break down the work of writing -- or just the work of writing a particular piece -- into a point-by-point system that will enable the writer to get past her euphoria/despair waltz and into the job of analyzing her piece with a serious eye. I used the five elements as a basis for workshopping: my students were not permitted to evaluate each other's work ("this is good", "this works", "this doesn't work", "I like", "I don't like", etc.). Instead I asked them to identify things in the piece that addressed each of these elements, locate the elements in the piece.

Here it is:


• FIRE is the power, energy or heat in a piece of writing, that which takes it from being inert language to being animate, or alive. This is the great indefinable. We all know what a living piece of writing is. It’s our task here to try to figure out where the Fire comes from, to offer it a conduit, to invite it in, let it spread to infuse the whole piece.

• EARTH is where the piece is grounded, the world of the piece. Earth is the physics and metaphysics, the setting (time and place) and culture of the piece. If the piece of writing is a game being played out, Earth is the playing field, the rules within which the game is played. It is up to the writer to determine these rules, to create this world. The writing must remain consistently on the same piece of Earth.

• METAL is the structure of the piece, built upon its Earth. It's the bones that create the shape of the piece's body, the steel girders that give it its form. In fiction this relates to the narrative arc, but not merely that. In poetry this may refer to a traditional form, but it may also mean where the piece chooses to reveal what, where the moment of opening out happens, etc. In playwriting, Metal is generally more apparent, but also refers to the internal structure of dialogue, beats, etc. Metal must be flexible but strong enough to hold the house up.

• WATER is the flow or progressive motion of the piece, its drive. Often in poetry, but also in prose and drama, it can take the form of a rhythm. Water moves the reader through the piece, keeps the reader reading. It can be the logical flow from one scene to the next – rising action – or the natural flow of conversation in a dialogue. It can be the reader wanting to know what happens next, following a trail of images, or riding on the coursing of fluent language.

• WOOD is the human element, what causes us to write, or theorize, or read, or gossip. Think of this not as the dead wood of planks and logs, but the sap-filled wood of a living tree. Wood is the spirit of inquiry about human life that is at the bottom of and rises up through every human endeavor. In a finished piece of writing it is called theme but it is not merely theme. It can be expressed as a question which the piece of writing seeks to answer.

As you can see from the diagram, these elements do not work discretely, but rather flow into one another in constructive and destructive cycles. This is somewhat perpendicular to the usual way we're taught to think about writing. Any one craft point draws from more than one element. Take narrative voice, for example. Which person (1st, 2nd or 3rd) you choose can be a metal (structural) issue if the change in person affects how the story is revealed, or a water (flow) issue if the change in person affects the flow of language or how the story is told. It can also be a wood (inquiry) issue, if your purpose is to experiment, for example, with second person.

The five elements succeeded in getting my students to, as Apple says, "think different", but the learning curve was too steep because none of them were familiar with the five elements. So first they had to learn the five elements system, then they had to learn what it meant. Not good. So I eventually got rid of the diagram and the Chinese elements and changed the system to "The LIMES System", LIMES being an easy-to-remember acronym of the renamed elements (especially once I got them to bite into a lime wedge in class), which were:

Life (fire)
Inquiry (wood)
Movement (water)
Earth (earth)
Structure (metal)

I was sad to lose the five Chinese elements, because, for those already familiar with the system, adding another layer onto it only created more resonance. As a writer, I love existing categorical and taxonomic systems. They're fascinating and reveal so much about how the culture that created them thinks about the world. They also contain a lot of wisdom about how to break down areas of thought to make it possible to think through them at a human scope. At some point I want to develop a characterization lesson based on the breakdown of twelve personality types represented by the zodiac -- and I'd like to differentiate (if possible) between the types of the Chinese zodiac and the Western one -- a project for another time, maybe.

Writers, please let me know what you think about all of this (if you've made it this far). And keep an eye out. As soon as Robin's website is up I'll be linking to it.

March 06, 2006

Multiracial Rant

Hey, that was quick! I did the podcast with Carmen Kerckhove of "Addicted to Race" last week and it's already been posted on the "Addicted to Race" site. (It's about halfway through the podcast.) I was originally supposed to rant alone about the subject of a ranty article I wrote recently, but writing the article had de-ranted me. So I asked Carmen to interview me instead. (Plus, I get to talk about porn! Pron!)

As usual, my voice sounded weird to me and it took a while for me to recognize it as my own. I did an exercise on writing "voice" with my high school students two years ago, where I brought in a tape recorder and had everyone read into it. Then I played it back and had everyone respond to how their recorded voices sounded to them. Almost no one liked their voice and most wrote that the reason was that their voices sounded either higher or lower than they had thought they were. No one said their voice was thinner, or richer, or dorkier than they thought. Just higher or lower.

That seems to carry a lot of meaning. The pitch of your voice, that is. Some of the students connected a higher pitch with less confidence and were surprised that they sounded so wimpy; or a lower pitch with masculinity or aggression and were surprised that they sounded so.

This is all by way of saying, I wasn't surprised at the pitch of my voice. I've done a lot of public readings in the past two years and so I've done a lot of rehearsing at home with a tape recorder. I'm not surprised by how my rehearsed voice sounds. I am surprised, though, at how dorky I sound. And I had no idea I said "um" so often.

March 02, 2006

Call for Submissions: Asian American Anthology

Peeps, please don't ask me questions about this in the comments section! All I know is what I posted below. I'm just passing the word on! Good luck!
Call for tangible, earthy, edgy poetry by Asian American female ethnic writers to include poets with Middle Eastern heritage and Pacific Islanders. Editor thrilled by vibrant, diverse voices and subjects, special surprises in approaching the page, and how you beat the drum of language.

Please use the following submission guidelines:
(1) Send up to three poems. The manuscript should total no more than seven pages. Each poem must be 20 lines or more.
(2) Poems should be typed in Times New Roman, 12-point font on white paper.
(3) All margins should be set at 1.25.
(4) Please include your name, address, phone number, and a working email address on EACH poem submitted. The email address is very important so that we can correspond if necessary.
(5) Include a biography of no more than 50 words on a separate page. (Biographies are subject to revision by editor for space considerations.)
(6) Include a short statement of your heritage as an Asian American poet.
(7) Be sure to include a stamped self-addressed envelope for response. Submissions without the required SASE cannot be considered. If you are living abroad, please be sure that your SASE has return U.S. postage.
(8) Submissions must be postmarked no later than December 31, 2006 (early submissions are very much appreciated and strongly urged). 
(9) Simultaneous submissions will not be accepted.
(10) All work must be original, written in English, and unpublished unless submitting previously published work by special invitation. Translations not acceptedfor this anthology.
(11) Decisions will be made and notifications sent by the end of June 2007. Please do not request status until after 15 July 2007.
(12) If you wish to be notified of receipt of your submission, include a stamped, self-addressed postcard (U.S. Postage only).
Please mail submissions to:
Asian American Anthology
c/o Anne Marie Fowler
P.O. Box 9543
Cheyenne, WY 82003
No email submissions will be accepted. However, questions about this project can be emailed to:annemariefowler@hotmail.com. Please indicate “anthology” in the subject line to avoid deletion of your email.

San Francisco Events I'm Going To

For those of you in the San Francisco Bay Area interested in expanding your horizons ;) I'll be at these events in the coming week. Hope to see some of you there ...

R. Zamora (Zack) Linmark made a big splash in the nineties with his novel Rolling the Rs, a coming-of-age-as-a-gay-Pinoy-in-Hawaii story told in pidgin. Very, very funny and much worth reading. Anyway, Zack's coming off a long period of residencies during which he developed his poetry-writing muscles. He's just produced a collection of poetry called Primetime Apparitions. Marianne Villanueva came out with her collection of short stories The Mayor of the Roses last year. I'm ashamed to say I've only read two of the stories (both excellent) -- the two she submitted to me at Hyphen magazine, one of which we published in Hyphen's Issue 7. (I also published a poem of Zack's in Hyphen's Issue 2, by way of full disclosure.) Marianne and Zack will be reading from their latest books in San Francisco on Saturday: at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts gallery space, on Saturday Mar. 4, 2- 4 PM in the Education Resource Room, which is just off the main gallery.

Those of you who know your Asian American history will know about the International Hotel, which was the locus of a fierce, decade-long fight to preserve a dying ethnic enclave in the heart of San Francisco. The fight was lost, but the encroaching financial district won only a pyrrhic victory, and nearly 30 years after the fall of the I-Hotel, a new building stands in its place, housing a community cultural center. Next week the Manilatown Center will host a reading for International Women's day featuring Michelle Bautista, Evelie Delfino Sáles Posch, Janet Stickmon, and Annabelle Udo (Editor of Rewind Magazine, a Bay Area club/music magazine published in the early 90s). 868 Kearny Street (at Jackson) in San Francisco.

Two more of my Wiscon/online friends will be doing a signing at science fiction/fantasy/horror bookstore Borderlands next week. Husband and wife matched-pair, Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfeld, both YA (young adult fiction) writers (Scott is also an adult SF writer and Justine also an academic who writes about SF) will be signing their latest books: Magic Lessons the second of Justine's trilogy that began with Magic or Madness, and Midnighters: Blue Noon, the final book in his Midnighters trilogy. Really fun reads, both of them (I have Blue Noon sitting on my desk, just begging to be read, ya know. Tuesday 7 March 2006, 7 PM at Borderland Books, 866 Valencia St in San Francisco

A Podcast! A Podcast, I say!

I'm really, really excited about all the new technology. It's sooo kewl! Makes it possible for me to work my way through the different media (please don't ask me to use the non-word "mediums". It hurts) on a purely amateur basis. Frex, last September I got to read part of a story on the radio (I'm in the last five minutes of the show)! Now I'm bloggin'! And next week, I will be cast to pod!

Carmen Van Kerckhove and Jen Chau (both multiracial) have teamed up in the past few years to produce several vital projects dealing with multiracial and interracial relationship issues including New Demographic (a diversity training company that does more than just spin your wheels and reinforce positive stereotypes), Mixed Media Watch (a blog about media representations of mixed race people), and Swirl, Inc. (a nonprofit Jen started in New York City to address multiracial issues.)

Their relevant project here is Addicted to Race, a regular podcast on multiracial and interracial relationship issues. They do rants and interviews, and have guest commentary, and in Episode 15, they have what must be one of the last interviews with the late Octavia Butler. These two really keep their eye on the ball (well, it's their job), so if you have any interest in a non-traditional take on race issues, subscribe to Addicted to Race.

In any case, with regard to their eye on the ballage, Carmen and Jen caught my Pop and Politics article on the falsehood of the dream of ending race through fucking interracially until everyone is kinda brown. So Carmen interviewed me by phone yesterday on the subject and the thing will be part of their podcast sometime next week. I'll let y'all know when. Until then, do check out their other stuff. Much worth a look!

March 01, 2006

War and The Ghost Brigades

John Scalzi has just published another military/space opera/science fiction novel, called The Ghost Brigades (link is in the post title). I just got it, read it in two days, and am here to tell ya alllll about it ;)

Scalzi has written in his blog about the lack of "gateway science fiction" in this generation's literarily ambitious SF writers. Gateway SF is, of course, work that introduces non-SF readers to the tropes and rewards of SF without over-geeking them, challenging their literary protocols too much, or in other ways turning them off. Well, what he's written in The Ghost Brigades is textbook "gateway".

This is the second in the trilogy beginning with Old Man's War, although the term "trilogy" is misleading since this one doesn't follow the same protagonist. Call it a "triptych". The Ghost Brigades expands the universe of Old Man's War and renders it more morally ambiguous. It also name-checks the great predecessors of military/space opera/SF and freely steals from them, making them more accessible (not that Ender's Game needs to be any more accessible. That's good gateway, too, come to think of it. Go read it now.)

Both Old Man's War and Ghost Brigades take place in a world in which humans are at war with almost every other one of the 600-odd alien species within their reach. It's all over real estate, which makes me feel right at home, since I live in San Francisco. Readers of literary fiction will be shocked to find no moralizing about war whatsoever in either book; your nearest recent lit fic release dealing with soldiers or war would be poorly reviewed at best, and ostracized at worst, if it didn't lay on some weak-ass, lefty-pandering agony about how War Is Bad. But it's good to be reminded that it's a tenet of lit fic alone that unsuccessful agony is better than no agony at all.

Scalzi lays on no agony at all, except for a few interludes between a father-once-removed and his lost little girl. It's small, it's personal, and hell yeah, it's sentimental. Did I mention this is science fiction? Sentimental, too, is the view of the soldiers and the view of battle. The battle scenes are all exciting, and all end with the sad death of somebody, or the bittersweet rescue of somebody, or, at the very least, with a smart-ass joke. The battle scenes also all advance the plot, as real battle scenes are wont (and very directly intended) to do.

You'll sense a little hostility from me here about lit fic's handling of war. Yeah. You gotta see me in the context of someone who grew up schooled (in school and in movie theaters) by the baby boomer producers of such-like as Going After Cacciato, The Things They Carried, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, The Deer Hunter, etc. Oh wait, you're all in that context too. Yes, I, too, roll my eyes when talk wafts up about "the greatest generation" and "just war", just as I was taught to do, but all sentimentality aside, there's war, and then there's war.

War makes the man is the traditional narrative. War is a crucible in which character is formed, that is to say, war is the best way to achieve not merely maturity, but triumphal maturity. After the horrors described by the English poets of WWI, it was difficult to keep this proposition pure in literature, so it passed on to popular culture. Enter space opera or military SF, a genre that emerged between the world wars and drew its sentiment from the glorifying tradition of war lit. Space opera loved the excitement of battles, the coolness of state of the art weaponry, loved muscles flexing and people achieving the impossible. The idea was kept alive in a "degraded" form, while "higher" lit debated the morality of war.

The view of war I received growing up was one from the point of view of the grunt soldier in an unjust, imperialist war. The Vietnam War was the first time in history that working class/middle class infantrymen had a literary/cultural voice to talk about war (and thank you, G.I. Bill.) Before that, there were plenty of unjust imperialist wars, only they were even harsher on foot soldiers than Vietnam. Imagine what the tradition of war literature would be today if the Crimean War had had a Tim O'Brien. But that's not the tradition of war literature. Traditional war lit came from a completely different point of view, that of the class from which officers and staff were drawn, the class with an overview and a realistic sense of what was at stake ... for them. Faulting Tennyson for not hating imperialism enough to say "fuck that Light Brigade anyway! They shouldn't have been there in the first place!" is missing the point.

Our generation is traumatized (yes, traumatized) by unjust wars. We have never seen, nor heard of, a just war in our lifetimes. We've seen popular revolutions and, as often as not, it's our own soldiers who stomp on them, while we're told that the rebels are babykillers. We swallow this in discomfort, helpless. But there are times when wars are just and times when wars are just necessary. This planet is crowded, resources and room are scarce. We contend for these through war, and this is not going to change any time soon. Pursuing a just war grows increasingly unlikely the more power a nation accrues (we're about all out of just war at this point), but the idea of war must remain fluid, even if we were to be become such a gentle giant that we no longer pursued war on our own behalf.

In the same way that playing house teaches children adult roles and gives them a safe way to learn conflict resolution, so does popular culture give adults a heads up on ways to feel about and react to possible future situations. Science fiction in particular does this, that is practically its stated goal. Since the sixties, SF writers have been taking this goal more and more seriously, and bringing more and more sophisticated means to the effort. In the past ten years (or more) SF has gotten the jump on lit fic both in ways and means and in topical relevance. (Look at who the "cutting edge" lit fic authors are: Lethem, Vollman, Chabon, Saunders, Bender, etc. But I'm not gonna argue this right now.)

It's possible now to think that the lit fic audience might have softened towards genre, or perhaps even ingested some of genre's protocols. It's possible to think that the hip-quotient of simplistic genre narrative means that a critical mass of "high art" thinkers is ready to use genre as a jumping off point for a culture-wide review of archetypes. It's possible to think that old, grand archetypes of war, which were and remain important to the fluidity of our conceptions of human aggression and human conflict, need to be brought back to a public consciousness primed for debate. So it's time for a re-entry of space opera, which never really left in any case.

(Or do you think it's a coincidence that the most popular and successful space opera of all time, Star Wars, came out two years after the end of the Vietnam war?)

Okay, does Scalzi's Ghost Brigades hit all of these notes? Hell no, nor is it intended to. In fact, where the book does fail, in my view, is in trying to introduce a conscious discussion of the merits of war -- or rather, of the merits of how the war in the novel is being pursued. (Fortunately, this does not ruin the overall effect of the storytelling.) The book, like classic space opera, does not work on one's conceptions of war at a conscious level. And yes, this was intended (read Scalzi's blog.) The virtue of Scalzi's update is precisely this conscious intention, a conscious decision not to be pressured by snobbery to attempt something that doesn't belong in a space opera -- but also a decision to allow the book's third person narrator: 1) a consciousness of the tradition which the book carries forward and 2) a decisively relaxed voice that does not belabor or struggle over the inevitable genre updates (woman officers, frex.)

Are you going to be satisfied with the book's views on war? Of course not, nor should you be. You should simply be letting yourself enjoy the action, oohing and aahing over how cool the guns are, and then walk-of-shaming back to your public debate with a broken bra-strap, realizing that the seductiveness of war isn't so much evil as human.

The book has been getting good reviews around the internet and is a SciFi Channel "Essential Book", possibly for some the reasons just stated above. It's everything you ever wanted to know about space opera, but were too afraid of the massive, groaning shelves of mass-market paperbacks to ask. You know you loved the original "Star Wars" movies, don't deny it. Well, this is smarter, but just as fun. No, it's not the latest Philip Roth, but, you know, we already have one of those. Check it out.

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