Going Big, Going Home, and Missing the Point: The Casual Hatred of Fun

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Yesterday I tweeted this:

It’s not the first time I’ve tweeted that particular book cover, but it had been a while and it crossed my social media again, so I thought I’d make this point again: Don’t hold back. Have fun with your premise. People like fun.

A number of people have expressed doubt that this is a real book, but it is: The Angel Wore Fangs. If it sounds like a fun read, grab yourself a copy. Book seven of a series!

Now, you can glance at the stats on that tweet to see that it sort of blew up, 3700 RTs at the time I write this, and it’s only now slowing down. And my mentions have been flooded with quote tweets from people adding “Wow” or laughing smileys or whatever.

But some people have responded like fools.

First of all, if your first response to that back cover blurb is something along the lines of “And NY publishers won’t publish my books!” as though all mainstream publishing cares about is cheap trash when heartfelt human stories languish in rejection piles, I would suggest you’re learning the wrong lesson.

Simple fact: publishing is large and complex, putting out books for a variety of tastes. If an aspiring author is not writing light-hearted gonzo paranormal romance, the success of such a book has nothing to do with the lack of success Aspiring’s book has achieved. They’re in different markets, aiming for readers in a specific mood.

Instead of moaning, these Aspirings ought to be trying to learn something from it, like “Be fun.” And if “fun” is not your thing, then how about “people like fun.”

Even worse are the people who seem to think the author isn’t in on the joke. They call the description things like “train wreck” and talk as though the author is just piling random obsessions into a story without realizing it will make it funny. Guys, the author is in on the joke. Click the Amazon link above and read her bio. Assuming that she’s not making conscious choices about this is sexist bullshit. Unfortunately, it’s all too common, especially when the woman is writing paranormal romance.

My official stand on that blurb is that I think it’s amazing and hilarious and I’m a little envious. It makes me wish I were a romance fan because then I could write in the genre; the romance readership is HUGE. Instead, I’ve written nine novels, and not one of them has a decent romance in it. I’m stuck with the muse I’ve got.

What did make me happy, though, were the folks who took that blurb as inspiration. Reading that wild description seemed to give them permission to go a little wild with their own stories. At one point, someone tweeted that she wished she could have written that story herself, although it would have been “browner and queer-er.” I had to jump in to encourage her to do just that.

I spent much of last night and this morning skimming through my mentions, looking for people who seemed to need an encouraging word. I hope they go on to write their own.

And I’m sure that I helped Ms. Hill sell a few books. Hopefully, she’ll get a bunch of new readers out of it. (If you’re wondering, all those retweets have done nothing to sell my own books, but I wouldn’t expect them to.)

Anyway, I guess I should sum things up this way: “Fun! People like it.”

Tech Hell

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Fun things for Christmas: To video Giftmas morning and all the opening of the presents, only to have that video be borked beyond repair.

The SD card in the camera became full, so I downloaded it to the desktop, then deleted everything on the card. Immediately after, I got a message from PHOTO saying some files were corrupted and couldn’t be viewed.

Had I stopped the import before it was finished? (It LOOKED finished). Were the files recoverable from my SD card?

One $20 app later, I undeleted everything I could from the card and saved it to my drive. Unfortunately, none of the recovered files (I tried twice) are viewable. The video “type” is unrecognized (they’re avi files) and the jpeg photos “have no metadata.” Neither can be imported into my Photo library and neither can be viewed at all.

Late last night I made another small video to make sure it works. It does. I have no idea why or how I lost my Christmas video for 2016, but I suspect it’s my fault and this bullshit year keeps getting worse. Watch this be the year I keel over dead and because of my own stupidity my family doesn’t even have a record of our last Christmas (which is not a thing I can say to them but I’m thinking about it).

Anyway, that sucks. All advice on restoring those files gratefully received through LJ or social media.

“… to interfere for good.” Annual repost of my favorite version of A Christmas Carol

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Every year, I watch this version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL and post it:

If the embedding doesn’t work, here’s a link.

It’s under half an hour, and while it feels a little rushed, it’s also full of fantastic choices: dark colors, spooky ghosts, and both Ignorance and Want.

It’s fantastic. If you haven’t watched it before, check it out.

Randomness for 12/23

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1) Fear of a Feminist Future. Includes He-Man dystopia/post-apocalyptic mockery.

2) How the Web Became Unreadable.

3) A data-driven paper using corpus analysis on page layouts in comics over the decades.

4) A hostage negotiator’s tips to be more persuasive.

5) From the same site: How to make people like you, from an FBI behavioral analyst. I’m going to keep this on hand for that mystery novel I’ve been meaning to write.

6) The Complex Psychology of Why People Like Things. An excellent discussion of all sorts of topics, covering genre, originality, hate-watching, and more.

7) How “Bad Biology” is Killing Economics.

Three Things Make a Post

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If you subscribe to my Patreon, you’ve already seen this, but here’s one for everyone else:

1. Long time readers of my blog and/or social media will know what this picture means. I’ve reached another major goal in my current work-in-progress. The book is ONE MAN, which is the fantasy/crime novel I’ve been working on for OVER TWO YEARS. The goal is that I’ve incorporated my agent’s notes and I think the book is much stronger and therefore ready to send to publishers.

There will be new drafts later on, whether publishers bite or not, but for now it’s off the table.

That means I can spend the week leading up to Giftmas doing family stuff, cleaning, cooking, and otherwise refilling the well.

2. I took the wife and son to see ROGUE ONE (no spoilers) on Friday afternoon. I liked it more than they did, but I’m more inclined to forgive the clunky, awkward moments so I can have space ships and shoot-outs. We all watch Star Wars as generic but enjoyable mass media entertainment, not as a fannish fetish object. But it’s more my kind of thing than theirs.

And the clunkiness was there–hoo boy–along with the plot problems that come with the way the films have used The Force. They also struggled with the constraints of being a prequel to “A New Hope:” Darth Vader is there, but he’s not the main villain. They need their own antagonist who can lose at the end (see above re: generic but enjoyable mass media entertainment) and not outshine the villains in ANH, but still seem powerful and effective. They might have had a better film if they’d managed it.
Still, it’s an enjoyable diversion from holiday stress.

3. Speaking of Giftmas, I’ve dropped the Amazon ebook price of the first novel in my Great Way trilogy to $2.99. If you know someone who likes ebook adventure fantasy, you might want to grab it for them. Also, once you own the ebook, the audio book becomes super cheap. That, too, might make a nice gift.

And that’s it. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday, however you celebrate. And if you don’t celebrate at all, I hope your days are wonderful anyway.

Art Appreciation

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This analysis of the cover image Time Magazine used to name Trump their “Person of the Year” is fascinating, especially for someone like me, who’s not terribly visual.

I firmly believe that studying the way other art forms affect us improves my writing, although I’d be hard-pressed to explain why or how. (See also Every Frame a Painting and many other video essays on cinema.) This is one of the great benefits of the modern information age.

Discard Your Hair Shirts: Writers and Professional Jealousy

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You’ve already seen this is you’re part of my Patreon, but here it is for everyone else.

It’s pretty common lately to see writers telling each other to stop being jealous of other writers’ achievements. “Don’t pay attention to them; pay attention to yourself.” is the common wisdom.

Now, I’m not going to argue that people shouldn’t focus on the things they can control; that’s solid advice. But just because professional jealousy can be expressed in toxic ways doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to tell people their thoughts and feelings are bad and wrong.

Professional jealousy is perfectly normal.

Everyone feels it from time to time. Everyone has to learn to manage that twinge when they hear about another writer finding a great agent, landing a publishing deal, making a best-seller list, whatever.

That’s the key. Not “Stop doing jealousy.” It’s “Jealousy is normal; how will you deal with it?”

Let’s break it down.

1. You feel jealous of a friend’s success

* Let’s say a friend has reached some milestone in their career that eludes you, and you’re burning with jealousy. What should you do?
* Do not tell your friend you are jealous. Your emotional responses are for you to deal with. It’s not your friend’s job to manage it.
* Acknowledge your jealousy. If their milestone is not a goal you are aiming for, try to shrug it off. If they’ve reached a milestone that you hope to reach someday, tell yourself you will work harder and smarter so you can maybe manage it, too.
* Then let your jealousy go. Experience it, but don’t hold on.
* Congratulate your friend. Something good has happened to them, and you should acknowledge that sincerely without making it about you.
* Talk to a neutral third party if you can not let your jealous go. Say the words “I’m happy for [friend] but it hurts that I can not manage to do the same.” With luck, your neutral third party will commiserate and you’ll feel better.
* It doesn’t have to be fair. Your friend’s success might be due to hard work and clever marketing on their part, but then again, maybe not. Life isn’t fair. But that’s not your friend’s fault, so don’t burden them with it. Just keep writing.

2. You feel jealous of a stranger’s success.

* Do not tell the stranger you are jealous. That’s weird.
* Acknowledge your jealousy. We all have milestones we want to achieve, and it hurts to fall short. That’s natural.
* Let it go. If you can’t, talk to a neutral third party. Say the same words as above.
* It doesn’t matter if it’s unfair. It doesn’t matter if you think the successful stranger’s work is trite, stuff, precious, derivative, or whatever. It doesn’t matter if you think they suck.

3. You can’t let go.

If you get to the point that you can’t interact politely with your friends and colleagues because of your jealousy, you should find someone qualified to help. It’s no different from any emotion that causes you to act inappropriately.

4. You can use jealousy constructively.

No, really. It’s possible, despite the way some people talk about it. We can use it to goad ourselves into working harder, or daring to try risky things. It can also spur us to venture into new areas, like self-marketing or online crit groups or who knows what.

But what we can’t do is use jealousy to squelch the perfectly natural urge to judge our success by the successes of those around us, or to see their success as a target we would like to reach someday.

So stop telling people not to be jealous.

It doesn’t work anyway, because humans have emotions and emotions can’t be reasoned with. It’s not even a bad emotion. It just sometimes spurs bad behavior.

Better to use your jealousy as motivation.

And yeah, I get jealous all the time. I just don’t make a big deal of it.

What a Month in Portugal Taught Me about Home

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In the autumn of last year I spent a month in Portugal visiting my wife’s sister and her husband. We traveled from Lisbon to Porto to the Algarve to a bunch of little towns with fabulous old tourist trap castles. We loved it.

And travel broadens the mind.

Here’s what we learned about the Portuguese culture: motherfuckers will just lie to your face. Also, they couldn’t stand to be told what they couldn’t do, or to be criticized.

I talked about this with my brother-in-law and a few other expats at some length. The upshot:

  • The Portuguese people are extremely friendly, helpful, and polite.
  • They’re also very passive aggressive.
  • The desire to avoid conflict is so strong that people will straight up lie to your face: “We aren’t allowed/That doesn’t work that way/We ran out/” and so on. Anything to smooth things over.
  • They don’t even lie convincingly. Why bother, since no one will call them on it?
  • The person who “creates” conflict by pointing out another person’s misdeed is in the wrong.

For example, your friend asks you to meet for coffee at 11 am. You’re there on time, but they show up an hour late. The expectation is that you say nothing about having your time wasted, or being made to wait. If you complain, they get offended.

For example, a piece of tech you bought does not do what you were told it could do, so you return to the store. The person at the counter tells you no no, that’s impossible. You’re sure they’re wrong, but the other counter staff backs them up. As you’re leaving the tech-savvy employee who sold it to you in the first place spots you and you strike up a conversation. You repeat your problem to him and he takes you in the back room and tells you that you were right, here’s how that works. The staff at the counter, they just don’t know how to deal with it. You suggest going over to the staff to explain so they’ll get it right for the next customer. The tech-savvy employee shakes his head. Oh, no. No, we can’t do that.

For example, a co-worker breaks the rules of the office. You tell them to stop because they’re making work difficult. They become offended and insist they can do what they like. You lose your temper. Who does management pull aside and demand a written apology from? Not the co-worker.

On our first full day in Lisbon, my sister-in-law arranged for a tour of the city in a tuk-tuk. Our guide was a friendly, outgoing guy who never stopped smiling–until he parked his vehicle in a no-parking space, and a cop told him to move it. Hey, it’s not like the spot wasn’t clearly marked, but after he complied he was livid for five very long minutes, just furious at being told he couldn’t do something he wanted to do.

That’s the secondary effect of a culture where criticism or conflict is frowned upon: people do what they like because they don’t expect to be taken to task. Corruption in Portugal is worse than in any Western European state except Spain. The sidewalks of downtown Lisbon have metal posts to prevent drivers from hopping the curb.

And of course problems can’t be fixed because you can’t tell people they’re doing it wrong.

When I returned to the US, I was glad to be back. Not that Portugal wasn’t great; it was. It’s a beautiful country with a ton of history and great wine. I got to see family, visit new places, eat new (mostly mediocre) foods, and spend a ton of time with my son.

Still, it was good to be home where, when wait staff lied to me, they actually put some effort into it.

A year later, it suddenly occurred to me that the US is very like the Portuguese in one area: the way white Americans handle race. For years, I’ve been watching the way white people freak the fuck out when someone points out their racism but I hadn’t noticed the parallels until recently: The way people act as though criticism is the start of the offensive behavior and the reluctance of many to offer criticism. The anger that anyone would dare. The way people lie about it to themselves and everyone around them. And, when you add in the typically American way many white folks have tried to make discussions of race a matter of partisan political positioning, you get people doing all kinds of outright racist bullshit because they consider all criticism illegitimate.

It sucks and I don’t have a good solution except to not be Portuguese about the issue. Speak clearly and honestly. Use techniques that reduce racism. Be kind to yourself and the people who need you. Accept that changing culture is the work of generations and it won’t be easy.

The 2016 Presidential Election

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It’s the understatement of the year to say that the results of the November election were a surprise, and what passed for analysis in the immediate aftermath was not what you’d call insightful. Even now, a week later, people are still looking at the numbers and trying to figure out what happened. But as emotions have settled, some things have become clear. With this post, I’m going to talk about what seemed to have worked in this election and what didn’t.

What worked: Voter Suppression

There was no single cause of Trump’s victory, but any analysis that ignores the hard work the GOP did to reduce voter turnout–especially among black voters–is incomplete. With the repeal of the Voting Rights Act, states felt free to purge the rolls, demand expensive or difficult-to-acquire ID, reduce early voting opportunities, and create long lines that forced people to wait hours to vote.

That was the plan: conservatives have long said, quite openly, that they do better in elections when fewer people show up on election day. The North Carolina state GOP even put out a press release bragging about how many fewer black Americans voted. They didn’t call it suppression, but that’s what it was.

What worked: Gerrymandering

The GOP has 55% of the seats in the House of Representatives but received 49% of the votes. If they still hold state legislatures when districts are redrawn at the end of the decade, it’s likely to get worse. The US needs to give non-partisan experts the authority to draw those districts so the election results reflect the people’s will.

What didn’t work: The Hatch Act

After Trump won, there was some eye-rolling from media figures when Hillary Clinton came out to say that James Comey’s letters to Congress about the email scandal tipped the election, but both Republican and Democratic polling shows that it was true. People keep talking about how wrong the polling was, but many Trump voters didn’t make up their minds until the final week when Comey’s first letter came out. The second letter, which acknowledged that the first wasn’t necessary, had a stronger impact that the Clinton camp didn’t have time to counter. Voters didn’t pay attention to the details, they just heard the scandal discussed once again, and assumed all that smoke indicated some kind of fire.

The Hatch Act makes it illegal for government employees to use their positions to influence elections, but somehow I doubt Comey is going to face repercussions from a grateful, empowered GOP.

What worked: The Electoral College

But wait! you say, how could the Electoral College have worked when the candidate that received the most votes was (once again) shut out of the White House?

Well, the Electoral College is designed to give outsized power to rural, underpopulated states, which are mostly white. Votes in Wyoming have a greater impact than votes in California and New York, and that’s no accident.

People have been saying that Clinton lost because the Democrats misread the mood of the electorate  and that voters wanted change. The problem with that is the majority of voters chose Clinton and her promise to keep/improve upon Obamacare, fix student debt, appoint a center-left justice to the Supreme Court, and generally continue Obama’s policies. A majority of voters did not choose change. Unfortunately, because of the way they were distributed and the way some votes count for more than others, change is what they’re getting.

The Electoral College should have been abolished years ago.

What worked: Republican Downballot Efforts

One of the reasons I didn’t throw my support behind Sanders despite the fact that he was closer to me, politically speaking, than Clinton, was that he ignored downballot races until very late in the primaries.

But it turned out that even Clinton’s efforts weren’t enough. It wasn’t the Electoral College that gave Republicans all those victories in state legislatures and governorships.

A month ago, the media was full of reports that Trump signaled the destruction of the GOP. Instead, it was the Democrats who took the hit. Without a real feeling of unity and a grassroots movement to retake ground at all levels of government, the Democrats will be swimming against the current for decades, and I’m not sure how we get that from people who think that voting Sanders into the highest office would move a leftist agenda forward when the rest of the government is against him.

What didn’t work: Authenticity

I heard an interview with a Republican voter who just couldn’t throw her support to Clinton because she hadn’t apologized for using a private email server. Then Clinton apologized and the supporter (big surprise) decided it wasn’t good enough. It didn’t sound “authentic”.

One of the knocks against Clinton was that people said they didn’t know who she really is. She’s supposed to be inauthentic. Once that charge gets hung on you, there’s no shaking it. Any time Clinton opened up or spoke about what she believed in, people responded as though it was just another calculated gesture.

Authenticity is a bit like shame culture: other people decide if you have it or not. Fuck authenticity.

What worked: White Supremacy

Trump supporters will really hate this one, but it can’t be avoided.

One thing about the primaries: Trump was nowhere until he called Mexican immigrants rapists, and he cemented his popularity by saying the US should ban Muslims from entering the country. Once he started spouting that bigotry and, more importantly, refused to back down from them, he had the enthusiastic support of the most openly racist elements of the right, and some from the left, too.

See also this video:

It’s pretty clear that the main reason his initial supporters aligned behind a scammy Manhattan real estate huckster with multiple bankruptcies and affairs was because Trump was willing to say into a microphone what they themselves only had to courage to type into anonymous comment fields.

This is why his supporters considered him an honest candidate despite the avalanche of lies he told from the podium. He gave voice to their discontent and he reassured them that their discontent was not bigotry, even though it was.

Add to that the willingness of many other white folks to doubt, minimize, and deny bigotry even when it’s right in front of them, and you have a solid block willing to vote in their racial self-interest even while they (mostly) deny that’s what they’re doing. When others pointed out the bigotry, his supporters laughed it off as weak sauce attacks from political opponents trying to make them “feel bad.”

As I said above, there’s no one reason for Trump’s victory. We also have to consider our common hatred of our own government, our irrational admiration for the rich, sexism, and many more things besides. But I will not be one of those who doubts, minimizes, or denies.

What didn’t work: The Media

Holy shit, the fucking media.

What didn’t work: Me

This has been a weird and stressful week.

On the campaign trail, Trump swore he was going to gut Obamacare, which is the only reason I’m able to work full time on my books. Without the ACA, I have to go back to a corporate job somewhere, because the plan at my wife’s work won’t cut it.

Do I temp-to-hire, which has always been better for me than interviewing? Do I start contacting people asking if anyone knows of job openings?

Well, no, not yet. My wife wants me to wait until the end of the year.

I also have family out of the country. My wife would probably love to be with her sister, and I’ll bet it would be good for my kid, but can I sell enough books to make up for the loss of my wife’s wages in another nation? Yikes. Probably not.

More importantly, if he keeps his campaign promises a Trump administration will be a disaster for this country. That’s a big if, considering how often and easily he denies saying things he’s said. Who knows what he believes, if anything?

Still, it feels like my duty as a citizen to dive deep into politics, to read and write letters and make my voice heard. It feels essential. Other things, like revising my book or reading or doing whatever, feel like a distraction. My son turns 15 next month. What sort of country is he going to grow up in? What will the state of our society be when he steps into a polling booth in 2020?

The moral arc of the universe does not bend toward justice. It bends toward chaos and entropy, like all things. Only by putting in energy can we shift–even if only temporarily–our society toward justice. What I need to do is find a way to contribute my share of that energy while holding my life together.

Baby Bird Asks to be Pushed out of Nest

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Well, I just got back from the airport after putting my son on a plane. Actually, I hugged him goodbye at security, but you know, 2016. If I’d seen him actually walk down the ramp I would be okay right now, but with my uncertainty that he actually made it on the plane, plus the election, plus everything, I’m feeling sort of stressed.

This is one of the few times I’ve wished we all had cell phones.

But his plane took off more than an hour ago. We would have come home to an email or voice mail letting us know if things had gone wrong. We didn’t. That means it’s all fine, right?

Right.

I’m meeting friends for lunch, then I’m coming home with a six-pack of beer and I’m sacking out on the couch with Netflix until the results are in. I can’t hang on the news all day, it’s just too much. I’m feeling really stressed out today.

My kid is on the plane and he’s fine.

I voted for Clinton, and hopefully most of America did the same.

There is beer in my future and possibly also a large pizza.

The world is doing okay.

In case you’re wondering, my son is flying to Denver to spend two weeks with long-time friends of mine to learn AfterEffects and Photoshop. And while he would dump a bowl of ramen noodles over my head if he saw me refer to him as a “baby bird,” he did ask for this trip. I’m happy to give it to him, and incredibly grateful to my friends who have taken him in.

I miss him already.