Tag Archives: Writing

Don’t Tread On Us: Thoughts on WDSF and Tangent

I want to talk about Lightspeed’s Women Destroy Science Fiction! and Tangent Online’s review yesterday–in particular, Dave Truesdale’s “Closing Thoughts” and why it bothered me. But first, let’s talk about the issue itself.

In short: it’s amazing. I got to read it cover-to-cover ahead of time as part of the proofreading team (which I affectionately refer to as “Women Destroy Typos!”), and I think it’s one of the most outstanding anthologies I’ve read in years. It’s an important work made up of important works, a monumental achievement–not the least because Lightspeed went the extra mile and turned the whole project over to 109 very capable women. Women wrote, edited, illustrated, and created the issue at every level.

My personal favorite original story from WDSF is Amal El-Mohtar’s “The Lonely Sea in the Sky,” the tale of the discovery of an ocean of liquid diamonds on Neptune and how scientists harness its unique properties to create a teleportation device. The story traces what follows when people discover the sea is sentient and that the invention causes it to suffer. The story is exquisite in construction and execution, and thematically it sums up what’s at stake for women who write science fiction and some of the historical problems in the genre.

Take, for example, the words of the man who first demonstrates the teleportation device:

“One small step for man,” said Moor, and the crowd erupted in cheers.

Obviously it’s a reference to the moon landing, but in the story, El-Mohtar develops the earth as a symbol of the female body, alive and screaming as it is trod upon:

Hala, imagine if when we were children, we had seen a girl splayed out on the floor, spread-eagled, her every bone broken beneath the feet of boys jumping up and down on her as if she were solid ground. Imagine we could hear her screaming, begging them to stop, to let her go, but the boys could not, because she was nothing, she was the earth, she could not feel. But we could see her. We could hear her.

Taken together, these two quotes evoke images of fiction written during the Golden Age of SF, where men traipsed about accomplishing Big Things in a universe depopulated of women, making one giant leap for man upon the face of a sentient moon and ignoring her screams as something that could not possibly exist. The problem of these authors writing women out of stories reflects to some degree how female authors and readers have also been marginalized, treated as if they are part of the landscape and can be safely ignored underfoot as the men go on with their Important Work.

WDSF, as a project, aims to reverse that. Not only are women important, but they are vital. They are necessary as authors, editors, illustrators, and more. Look at what we are capable of, if given the chance!, we say on every page. The quality speaks for itself. SF as a genre is poorer when we are underrepresented or excluded.

Which brings me around to Dave Truesdale’s editorial “Closing Thoughts”. Instead of reviewing the actual WDSF issue as a whole and discussing the merits of how its constituent pieces come together, he spends several thousand words explaining why its very existence was unnecessary and wrong-headed to begin with. Says Truesdale:

Not once have I personally seen a smidgeon of racism or sexism at a convention, whether it be a local or regional con, a worldcon, a World Fantasy convention, a Campbell/Sturgeon awards banquet, or a Nebula Awards weekend. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but one might think that if racism or sexism is as deeply rooted in SF as some would like you to think, that after 40 years I would have seen or heard something personally.

Wiser minds than mine have done a great job taking apart why Truesdale’s comments are factually wrong and problematic, so I won’t get into the unfortunately abundant evidence contradicting his statements. I recommend you read what Natalie Luhrs, Amal El-Mohtar, Rachael Acks, and E. Catherine Tobler have to say in this area.

But I do want to point out what’s at stake here, and how Truesdale misses the point of the whole WDSF conversation. Instead of engaging with the work presented, he gaslights. He claims to understand our experiences better than we do. “There is no woman beneath my feet,” says Truesdale as he jumps and jumps on her broken body. She screams from the pages of WDSF, and he calls it “shrill,” and claims she’s exaggerating, and besides anything that happened to her was probably an accident or just the result of a random individual. He has not seen it, and therefore it doesn’t exist.

Does he really, genuinely not see her there, despite all 109 of us pointing our fingers and telling him so? Or does he hear her, and choose to ignore her anyway?

Amal El-Mohtar’s story deserves the last word on the subject of Truesdale:

“Imagine, Hala , that in the eye of one of these boys you see satisfaction. You see knowledge. You see that he knows he is making someone scream but it doesn’t bother him, it doesn’t matter, because he can get away with it. What would you do?”

What should we do?

I was quite upset after reading the review last night. I don’t think it’s right that this editor’s comments should steal the show and dominate this conversation, and just as we’re all celebrating its release. So I say let’s not let him do it. Read WDSF. Read it cover to cover. Talk about it. Read and engage in the conversation about Tangent, too, but don’t miss out on the really good stuff in the doing. No review is as important as the stories and essays in WDSF itself.

Don’t tread on us.

Guest Post at Penumbra: Linguistic Worldbuilding

Just a quick note for those who may be interested: I wrote a guest post over at Penumbra’s blog this week. It’s an overview on the topic of linguistic worldbuilding. I wrote it as an introduction for writers who perhaps haven’t given this much thought in the past.

I originally wrote a much more technical version getting into some more interesting and detailed linguistic aspects, but I think I’ll save that for another post. 🙂

All the Updates!

Yes, THAT Rachael K. Jones! (Photo credit: Penumbra)

Hello, hello, blogosphere! It’s been a couple months since my last update, and that’s because I’ve been busy with some exciting things!

The first big announcement: You probably guessed it from the photo above, but I made my first pro fiction sale a couple of weeks ago to Penumbra! My story, “Photon Girl Ascending,” is forthcoming in their May Superheroes-themed issue. I’m very excited about this, since it’s a big benchmark in my writing career, and I have been learning a lot in the process. I have also been invited to write a guest post for the Penumbra blog. I’ll be sure to link it for you when it goes live.

And if that wasn’t enough, a week later, I made my second pro sale to Daily Science Fiction! I haven’t yet gotten the scheduled release date for this story yet, but I’ll talk more about that when I have details. If you’d like, click over their site now and subscribe (it’s free!) to receive a story in your inbox every day.

I have much to say about both these stories, but I’ll say a few more words about them once they have been published, along with links so you can enjoy them firsthand.

I plan to do some more blogging in the near future, too, but probably won’t get back into a good schedule for another 3-4 weeks (because things are really busy right now). But when I return, it will be with a full blog tune-up, just in time for the one-year anniversary of this blog. I will be updating everything across the site and adding some new features (such as a bibliography!). I also have some interesting new stories to tell you, both fictional and factual.

What have you been up to in the past few weeks? What’s been happening on your blog?

Motley Microfiction: Abode of the Darned!

“Our unique corner of the afterlife was once part of our larger neighbor,” explained Damon, steering the New Arrivals Bus through Heck. “At first they considered the darnations typos, but over time we distinguished ourselves through mildly unpleasant torture of our clientele: rappists and pedophobes mostly, with your occasional grammar Nazi.

“Across our heckscape, the darned endure an eternity of daytime TV, Taco Bell, and N*Sync.”

Suddenly, a tire blew. “Dang it to H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks! Fu–” shouted Damon. He clapped his hands over his mouth.

Too late. A maw opened beneath the bus, and from it, the smell of fudge…

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The road to Heck is paved with good intentions…

It’s been a while since my last microfiction, huh? Well, here’s something a bit goofy to start off your week!

Language and linguistics is an area of special interest to me, as both a writer and a professional in the world of literacy. One thing I find particularly interesting is the way “bad words”– that is, profanity or taboo words — operate in cultures around the world.

For example, I remember when I was learning my first non-native language, and how much we children loooooved learning all the naughty words in Italian. We would spend whole lunch breaks with our Italian-to-English dictionaries hunting down all the words we weren’t supposed to say in English, but were somehow okay in Italian because no one knew what we were saying.

There is something about separating the sounds and meanings that takes the sting out of those words.

I rather wonder if that’s why we have words like “darn” and “heck”, surrogate words that let us communicate frustration and anger without the full extent of the ill-will behind the words. After all, it’s not a very nice thing to wish hell or damnation on anyone.

But what if the intention carried over, anyway? What if all we’ve done is to wish a place called Heck into existence, and proceeded to darn everyone to it? And what if it’s filled with Grammar Nazis? Oh, the horrors!

What is your opinion on taboo words, and the funny things we say to avoid them? Got a favorite example?

Privilege at the Classics Cafe

Imagine that you are a chef. You and a group of chef friends are going to dinner at a place called the Classics Cafe. This cafe is famous for its rotating schedule of internationally-renowned chefs who take turns each night preparing a menu for the diners.

Tonight, Chef Lovecraft is on the menu. You all order, receive your dishes, and begin to eat. You’re enjoying yourselves very much until your friend Bill, who happens to be a black man, exclaims, “Hey, there’s crap in my food!” He passes around his plate, and sure enough, you all see a small amount of feces buried underneath the smoked fish. Everyone checks their own plates, and it’s the strangest thing: only the people of color have been served crap along with their fish. So you call the waiter over, and he explains that Chef Lovecraft’s philosophy is to serve a little crap to his diners of color, and nothing can be done about it.

But you’re all hungry, and Lovecraft after all is a very famous chef, so you all discuss what to do. “The taste isn’t that bad,” says Bill, gamely putting on a smile as he takes another bite. “I think I can eat around it and enjoy the taste anyway.”

“I can’t,” says your friend Lisa, who is also black. “The taste and smell just overwhelm everything. It’s so distracting I can’t even concentrate on whatever it is people rave about when they eat Lovecraft. I’m going to have to pass.” She politely shoves the plate away and nibbles on bread the rest of the meal. The other people of color take various positions along this spectrum. Some decide to keep eating, and some decide to refrain.

Those of you whose dishes are perfectly edible then discuss how to proceed. Everyone can see the crap on your friends’ plates, but you can’t taste it the way they can. You care about these people, so you’re disgusted on their behalf, but you’re not really sure just exactly how bad it tastes for them, especially considering how wildly opinions vary within the group of people served the tainted plates.

Some of you decide to enjoy Lovecraft’s expertly prepared dish anyway after acknowledging the awfulness some of your friends experienced. You’re chefs, after all, and you’re trying to build your palates so you can be better chefs.

Others are a little more bothered, and keep pulling the conversation from the smoky flavor back to the crap, which irritates those who just want to talk about the fish. Your Uncle Stanley (who is boorish and inconsiderate, but hey, he’s family) is one of the latter. He exclaims, “That’s not crap–it’s chocolate! And if it weren’t for all the political correctness, we’d all be able to enjoy our meals, but some people just want to be victims and ruin it for the rest of us!”

A few are so upset by the crap in their own or friends’ food that they gather their things and leave, saying they’ll rejoin you for dinner next week. Your 17-year-old niece Julie takes the opportunity to leave with them, saying, “I don’t want to eat this boring old racist Lovecraft crap when I can just grab a cheeseburger at McKoontz’s across the street!”

Each week you return to the same restaurant with the same people to eat a meal prepared by a different famous chef. Sometimes everyone gets to enjoy the meal, but other times the featured chef singles out certain people at the table for a serving of crap. Sometimes it’s the people of color. Sometimes it’s your female friends, or those belonging to a certain religion or belief system. Some friends end up eating crap almost every time this happens, while others almost never get served crap.

The size of the portion, and how well-hidden it is, varies as well. On some weeks, even Uncle Stanley admits that the crap is there. Other times, you have only your friends’ word to go on that the food tastes like crap, because it’s been incorporated into a glaze and therefore isn’t visible to you.

One night, Chef Atwood is on the menu. She serves your table a delicious chocolate mousse that’s shaped like a large pile of crap, provoking a chorus of delighted laughter from everyone who’s been served crap up until then. Uncle Stanley, however, is outraged. “This is unacceptable! Back in my day, no self-respecting chef would serve the diners crap and call it food!”

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How do we, in good conscience, enjoy classic books and movies that contain oppressive and discriminatory elements in them? And how do we know where to draw the line between “acceptable” and “unacceptable” when those elements are directed at other people, but not at ourselves personally?

I’ve long struggled for words to explain the difference between seeing oppression and experiencing it. For example, I’m white. When I read classics that contain racist elements (such as those by the famously racist H. P. Lovecraft), the racism is never directed at me personally. I might find the racism tasteless, but I don’t experience the hurtfulness of it personally because the crap was not served to me.

I’m really troubled by the way this distinction can make me minimize other peoples’ pain. Because I only see the crap but don’t personally taste it, I’m inclined to downplay just how bad it tastes to those who have to eat it. It’s easy to shrug, write off the racism as a product of its time, and move on.

That’s a form of privilege. Specifically, the privilege to walk away. You see, I almost never encounter the subject of racism in my day-to-day life. I only have to think about it when someone else brings it up, or when I encounter it in media. Therefore, it doesn’t carry the same sort of sting for me as it does for someone whose daily life constantly makes their race an issue.

I have no idea what that must feel like. I can see the crap, but I can’t taste it. I can walk away from it.

But it’s different when the crap is served to me. When I run across sexism in a book or movie, I have a deep, visceral reaction to it. It completely derails my enjoyment of what I’m reading, and sometimes I find it very difficult to get past the flavor of the sexism to enjoy what good might be there. Sometimes I’ll compare notes with my male friends, and it always surprises me that even when they notice the sexism, they just don’t seem to understand how hurtful it is. They note it, then move past it.

They can’t taste the crap because it was only served to me.

So what can we do to be responsible readers, writers, and friends, given this problem?

As writers, we can commit to ending oppression by ensuring that we don’t single out readers for a special serving of crap. Given that we’re all products of our upbringing and our surrounding culture, this is an ongoing process and part of growing as a human being.

As readers and friends, we need to listen to each other and acknowledge when a friend gets served crap. There is no need to make excuses for the chef–he or she is the one who served it, not us or our friends.

We need to give people permission to make their own decisions on how to proceed with the meal. If someone is served crap, the diner is not obligated to eat around it, although some may graciously choose to do so. Sometimes, we will decide to enjoy the meal after helping the friend pick out the tainted parts. Other times, when the crap is especially bad, we may decide the best thing to do is to leave together. And other times, it means letting some eat and others pass without judgment on either side.

How do you handle dining at the Classics Cafe? How do you approach literature with problematic elements, and the people those elements are directed at hurting?

Motley Microfiction: Girls With Guns

The night’s broken by frenzied clack-clack-clacking. French Couture Barbie leads the charge, flanked by her lieutenants, Lifeguard Barbie and Olympic Skater Barbie.

And they’re all clutching little pink assault rifles in perfectly manicured hands.

They cover ground on painfully long legs, running on heels and tippy-toes. Long hair snaps like flags. Those eyes never blink, those smiles harden at the corners.

Schoolteacher Barbie floors the Dream Car. Riding shotgun, Astronaut Barbie operates the turret. Wheelchair Barbie lobs grenade after grenade from the periphery.

Stewardess Barbie, old and worn, hops along one-legged with a flamethrower and dares anyone to disrespect her.

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Last week, the Barbies descended on the Jones household.

It started when a friend of mine asked to leave something at our house for a mutual friend to pick up later. Much to my amusement, she carried in a couple large boxes full of Barbie dolls, still in their packaging.

So tell me, what would YOU do in a situation like this?

Jason’s approach was to build a tower of sparkly princess goodness out of them, which you can see on his blog here.

Me? I chose to write a commemorative drabble, of course!

While I find Barbies inherently funny as an adult (French Couture Barbie – LOL!), I wanted to capture a sense of dignity for the poor things in today’s story. They’re condemned to a frozen existence, always poised and smiling no matter what may really be going on beneath the surface.

I think they’re ripe for a revolution.

GI Joe better watch his back.

Motley Microfiction: Canny Maggie

Nessie’d goon belly-up in the Loch.

“Nessie’s deid!” cried the seven Alisdair lads.

“Dunderheids, haud yer wheesht!” said canny Maggie. “The tourists gonny be here soon. Take ‘er oot o’ the Loch.”

Malcom, nae one to footer about, flayed Nessie’s hide clear off. The Alisdair lads formed the lang neck while their seven sisters sewed them in. Maggie clouted ‘em, arse-first, into the watter, where they bobbed about like blootered choobs.

The lads took a maddy, neck and limbs flailin’ about. The bus arrived. The tourists, none th’wiser, took pictures o’ Malcom’s arse.

All’s fish that comes to the net!

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English: Apparently a sighting of the Loch Nes...
Nessie. The middle lump is Malcom’s arse! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Call this story the Loch Ness Monster meets Voltron: “I’ll form the long, skinny neck!” It pays when people work together for the common good, even if that good is duping tourists out of their money. They paid to see Nessie, dangit, so Nessie’d better make an appearance!

Really, though, this was just my excuse to browse websites chock full of Scottish dialect words. Can you figure them out without looking them up? Like every good dialect, there were a plethora of, well, “colorful” terms of a rude nature that I wish I could’ve found an excuse to use. Instead, though, you’re stuck with a tame rendition!

I do apologize to Scotland, however, for what is probably terrible usage of the words I did include. It’s so hard to write accurate dialogue for a dialect that I don’t already speak. I always love reading well-written regional accents, but I worry about being disrespectful if I try to recreate them myself.

For today’s piece, in addition to referencing some dialect dictionaries and checking on how the words are used in context, I spent some time reading the poems of famous Scottish poet Robert Burns to get the feel. Check out “Tam O’Shanter”, one of my personal favorites, if you enjoy poetry.

Do any of you writers out there like to write in a dialect from time to time? What do you do to ensure accuracy, and more importantly, what’s your favorite strategy for dealing with dead Loch Ness Monsters when YOU run across ’em?

Motley Microfiction: Revision History

When Danny turned eight, reality warped. All the dinosaurs un-extincted, schools imploded, and broccoli went AWOL, preserved in our minds only as a sense of relief at its absence.

By 2018, the year of his surprise World Cup victory, Danny’s army of naked babes overran everything: Hogwarts, Asgard, Gondor, Irkutsk, Canada, and Narnia. Even the Jedi Council obeyed him.

As we hated him, so we loved our god-king.

We know how he did it, of course. The problem’s the anonymity. Without knowing which Wikipedia articles he edited, we can’t be sure what changed, or even who existed before his coming.

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Fifa world cup org
Don’t YOU remember when Danny won the World Cup? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love Wikipedia. It’s one of the best worldwide collaborations to arise from the internet. By allowing anyone to edit while simultaneously enforcing and rewarding proper research and adherence to an academic standard, the Wikipedia has put together a body of knowledge that covers a breadth and depth that no single encyclopedia to date has managed.

Of course, the downside to  Wikipedia is how much we come to rely upon it for quick answers. It’s only a problem when we read an article that’s not so rigorously put together, and come to accept things that are either untrue or biased. Such implicit trust is not a wise habit, but it’s hard to resist when Wikipedia is just so dang convenient.

In today’s story, Danny literally has the ability to bend reality by editing Wikipedia articles. What lazy teen wouldn’t love that superpower? Of course, the world would look much weirder if shaped by the whims of a child in this way. We’d definitely have more awesome dinosaurs, and I’d imagine the plots of several movies and books would come true. Oh, well! Best to pack our bags for Hogwarts and enjoy the ride!

So you tell me: what would the world look like if you could change it by editing Wikipedia? What fictions would become fact, and what facts fiction? How would the past and future change? And what role would you write for yourself?

Anatomy of a Sentence: Countingducks

Anatomy of a human being
Put on your gloves and goggles: we’re going in! (Photo credit: PureBlackLove)

Anatomy: A Greek word meaning, “Cut ’em up!” In the spirit of this delightful medical word, I am happy to introduce a new feature on my blog: Anatomy of a Sentence. From time to time I will showcase beautiful writing I run across in books, podcasts, and around the blogosphere.

Why am I doing this, you ask?

Because I want to become a better writer, and I believe dissecting lovely sentences to see what makes them tick will help me become a more thoughtful wordsmith in my own right.

I also think these fine writers deserve to be noticed and appreciated. Given that, I will be using this feature as an excuse to read more of your blogs. If you’ve posted a piece of fiction on your blog that you’re particularly proud of, don’t hesitate to leave me a link so I can enjoy it and consider featuring a sentence from it in the future. (If you are shy, you can email me a link directly using the form on my “About” page).

Today we’re looking at a sentence from a favorite blogger of mine, Countingducks. It comes from a piece of flash fiction entitled, “A Flight of Fancy Beyond the Normal:”

One of those delicate messages from the stomach department, brought to my attention from some new bod in Tastbuds, informed me that a small snack involving a couple of sausages with a polite egg or two, a hint of beans, one or two mushrooms with a small supply of toast might just avert a full-blown attack of Hunger Pangs: the worst affliction known to sedentary man.

I love this sentence for many reasons. Firstly, I love the personification of the taste bud as a polite worker, the new guy who’s been tasked with the unfortunate job of informing the boss of an impending disaster. There’s a sense of hesitance to to voice. I can practically hear the polite little cough before he launches into the full catalogue of the “small” snack. It’s an example of a masterfully executed extended metaphor.

Which brings me to my second observation. This sentence makes fine use of escalation. Starting with the “small snack”, the list gets comically longer and longer until it’s clear that the snack’s anything but minuscule. And to cap off the hilarity, the “delicate” message which begins the sentence ends on a crescendo of melodrama when these Hunger Pangs are described as the “worst affliction known to man.” It’s a double-whammy of escalation that adds layers of drama to the situation.

Masterful! Hilarious! This kind of thing brings me surging to my feet in applause.

And now to the dissecting table for a closer look at the guts:

Sentence diagram. Click to embiggen me!
Sentence diagram. Click to embiggen me!

Oh boy, diagramming this one was a headache. The subordinate clauses! The detailed little prepositional phrases! Once you cut into this sentence, the organs just spill out all over the place. You can see the unsightly scribbling where I dropped my watch inside the patient and had to dig around to find it.

But take a moment to admire the complexity of this organism that Countingducks has bestowed upon us.

At its heart, the sentence says something like this: “One informed me that a snack might avert an attack of hunger pangs.” In the diagram, you can see how for Countingducks, this basic sentence serves as a skeleton on which to hang layer upon layer of detail. I think it succeeds for the reasons I pointed out before: a sense of escalation that does more to communicate the urgency of food cravings than the basic statement would do on its own.

For me, “escalation” is the big takeaway lesson. I resolve to keep this device in mind as I’m writing this week and see if I can’t bring a little of this brilliance into my own fiction. Perhaps you’ll give it a shot as well. Experiment with adding a sense of drama (or melodrama) using this technique. And hop on over to Countingducks’s blog to read this story in full – it’s delightful!

Motley Microfiction: Organic Groceries

Mold everywhere. Mold on the Monterey Jack. On the leftover General Tso.  Mold dissolving that lone Granny Smith in the crisper into putrid rot. And then the most painful loss: all that free-range bacon, forever consigned to the blue-green arms of the selfsame thief who’d stolen the rest of Mark’s supper.

His stomach rumbled, reminding him of his folly. He should’ve picked up groceries last week, but there’d been cleaning to do, and that bother with the police… well, best not to dwell on past mistakes. Mark grabbed his chloroform, machete, and cloth bags and set out for Whole Foods.

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Apples (Granny Smith variety pictured) are amo...
Granny Smith, but not THIS kind… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s late here, but I’m feeling the urge to get a story out for you to cap off your weekend or jump start your Monday. Sorry for the spotty posting schedule over the last couple of weeks. I’m still finding my feet with classes and homework this semester, and now I’ve landed a research assistant position (yay!) which means even less free time for me to do the things I love (boo!).

I’ve been writing in the meantime, and storing up quite a few stories that I can’t wait to share with you! My problem is making time to write up a thoughtful, researched post to go with each story, especially for the medical-themed ones. I absolutely detest the spread of misinformation, and I’m committed to making sure my scientific posts are as accurate as possible so that you don’t ever lose Jeopardy! because of me someday.

Say hi to Alex Trebek for me why you’re at it!

Today’s post is about a man with a well-rounded diet. He eats humans of all varieties! I had fun with the wordplay – thinking up foods that have people names that he would have stored in the fridge. Did I have you going for a minute there? 😉

How was your weekend, friends? What’s been going on in your neck of the woods while I’ve been glued to the textbooks?