Category Archives: Uncategorized

Argh!

Ok, ok.  I have tried to be calm.  I have tried to deal with the fact that a great many of my people are reacting in a completely irresponsible manner to the problems confronting us.  #Gamergate and the bullshit that surrounds it, the 4channers, the trolls; these people are nowhere near in the right.

But then I see the response to it, and it pisses me off.

“We Must Bulldoze What’s Left of the Nerdy White Man’s Internet” is the title of this post.  Can I now feel like I am being attacked?  Is it finally, at last, politically correct for me to point out that this article is designed to lump together all nerdy white men and call them assholes?  Or if I feel offended at that particular title, am I still being selfish?  Am I refusing to check my privilege?  After all, I am a white, heterosexual male.  It’s my job to keep my god damn privileged mouth shut while people talk about how evil people like me are if I can’t join in their hatred of me, right?

I’m calming down.  Caalllllming.  I am not, and in no way will I ever be, a supporter of the #gamergate bullshit.  I think the trolls on the internet basically enjoy being assholes, and I’m not down with their racist, sexist bullshit.  Mr. Broderick has every right to point out that this small but vocal portion of nerdy white male culture has issues, and needs to be eliminated.  75% of his article is great, and I agree with it.

Then he says this:

The ‘suffering nerd’ is dead

“Nerds,” as people have come to identify themselves, simply don’t exist anymore. We live in a world where 27 million people gather to watch an international video game tournament, where the third-highest-selling movie of all time is based on The Avengers comic books, and 6 million people tuned in to watch Game of Thrones. The concept of the suffering, ostracized nerd is quickly losing relevance.

Fuck you, Ryan Broderick.  I exist.

You want to know why some nerds are angry?  Because of bullshit like this.  You’re absolutely right that the rest of the world is starting to enjoy the things that my people have enjoyed for so long, and that’s great.  But you have to go one step further and say that the universal acceptance of this media means nerds don’t exist anymore.  This is exactly the sort of thing that makes nerds angry.

I work in the juvenile justice system, and I am here to tell you that offline, nerds are still getting their asses kicked in our schools.  Being a nerd still means you get laughed at in the hallways.  Oh, the jokes may not be about you liking comic books, but you’re still a nerd.  You still find intellectual pursuits more appealing than physical ones.  You would still rather join the Knowledge Bowl team than the one that plays football.  That makes other people feel just a little bit stupid when they’re around you, and they find they can improve their self-confidence by beating the shit out of you.  All you need to do to realize that nerds are still the subject of ridicule is watch an episode of Big Bang Theory, in which the good-looking worldly-but-average-intelligence woman teaches the four intelligent-but-socially-awkward men the facts of life, and in doing so the audience laughs, not with the nerds, but at them and their pathetic attempts to normalize.

There used to be a safe place for people like this to go.  It used to be that we could go find a gaming group, or a sci-fi con, and it would be filled with people like us.  People who life has beat the living shit out of, and who can and do empathize with us.  Only among such people did we feel safe, and at home.  But now that nerd culture has outrun the original nerds, and has embraced people from all walks of life, it becomes very difficult to for someone like me to be a nerd.  There’s very little actual bullying that goes on at a con, and it’s still a safe and welcoming environment, but it doesn’t feel that way, because it is no longer populated only by people like me.  That’s an emotional reaction on my part, not a realistic one, but it still exists.  And it exists as the product of me taking a face-full of urine from the football guys my sophomore year of high school.

On the whole, I am happy that nerd culture is expanding.  It has expanded my world, and it has brought me a great many friends I would not otherwise have.  But I fear it as well.  I fear that people will decide that people like me should no longer be a part of nerd culture.  I’ve been excluded from every other social group, and now that this one is filling up with people who are not like me, my reaction is to get nervous that, one day, they’ll decide I shouldn’t be a part of it.  Now, rationally I know that’s silly, but it doesn’t mean the traumatic experiences of my youth are just gone.  They’re not.  Those experiences are a part of who I am.

The very idea that Mr. Broderick puts forth – the one that says the word “nerd” really doesn’t have any meaning any more?  That idea terrifies the shit out of me.  Because people like me exist.  And if I don’t even get to be a nerd anymore, then I don’t know what I am.  All I know is, I’m getting kicked out of yet another social group.

I try, very hard, not to take the anger that I have over those things out on other people.  There are others like me, obviously, who have little such restraint.  But these assholes are a vocal minority of ostracized, suffering nerds.  And the response to them should not be to deny my existence.  Because, here’s the thing:  my traumatic childhood is over.  I now get a basically well-balanced life as an adult.  But there are teens right now who are going through the hell that I had to go through, and I want to make sure they know that they exist.  They matter.  And the fact that some of them are going to react very, very poorly to the extraordinarily negative shit they’re going through in no way means I’m going to take the lot of them and chuck them.  I’m not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, here.

We don’t need to bulldoze anything.  I’m fine if we want to build up a culture around the things we all love, together.  But just because the culture is being more inclusive doesn’t mean we should destroy the white, male people who started it.  It just means that more than white males need to be added in.  After all, I am certain there are both male and female people of all races who are feeling ostracized by the rest of the world.  And they exist, too.

Mr. Broderick has good intentions in his piece.  He’s right that the vocal minority of nerdy white males are making the rest of us look pretty bad, and maybe the rest of us should do something about that.  His basic direction there is good.

But he also refuses to acknowledge that I exist.

A Larger Perspective: In response to the response to Scott Aaronsen

Before you read this post, read this.

Let’s put the comment into context, first.  Few of the other commenter’s on Dr. Aaronsen’s comment take it in the context of the full conversation, so let me attempt to outline this one.  There was an MIT professor, a Prof. Lewin, who committed sexual harassment.  Well, was alleged, I don’t know the details, and that’s not the point.  The criminal defense attorney in me makes me qualify that, is all.  For purposes of this blog, we’re going to assume that Prof. Lewin was the most atrociously horrendous dirty old man who ever existed.

MIT, in response, stripped Prof. Lewin of his emeritus status and removed his videos from their OpenCourseWare site.

Dr. Aaronsen commented thusly:  I do not care if Prof. Lewin is evil.  He was an amazing teacher of physics.  Those videos are very good at instructing physics students.  Removing them punishes the students of MIT far more than it does Prof. Lewin.  Therefore, MIT should keep the videos.

This, of course, provoked a tizzy, and Dr. Aaronsen was accused of supporting sexual harassment.  One particularly vocal commenter, an “Amy,” commented:

Do you have any regular readers who are women? I scrolled through over 50 comments before seeing a woman’s name.

Why do you figure that is?

Dr. Aaronsen, in an effort to expand the discussion, took that not as the barbed rhetorical question it was, but rather as a genuine invite to open dialogue.  He responded, speaking of the problems women face getting into the STEM communities, and linking to an article about the failure of STEM classes to incorporate women more broadly, and the possible reasons why.  He also stated that he wasn’t trying to support Professor Lewin, but rather didn’t want the things Prof. Lewin had contributed to the students of MIT to go to waste.

What he received in response was more vitriol:

Also, you want credit for not being a supporter of keeping sexual harassers on payroll? Okay, but only if you’re going to give me credit for not being a supporter of brain tumors. I think I agree with the “baseline” comment above. Seriously, this is the kind of thinking that leads to divorces, where a guy wants applause for doing some (though not nearly half) of the house/kid-related work. I mean think about what you’re asking.

Dr. Aaronsen then posted the comment I linked to above, which he has since added clarification for.  I get what he’s going for, and he’s giving a very personal account, but it is a personal account from a very narrow perspective, so it hasn’t necessarily gone over well.

Now, as always, the battle lines appear to be drawn between nerds and feminists over whether or not the complaints of one invalidate the complaints of the other.  This is, to me, such a weird battle that I feel obliged to offer the larger perspective.  To do that, I’m going to thumbnail the two sides of the argument for us:

The perspective of aggressive nerds:

We’ve grown up in a culture that tells us our geekish ways are not sexually appealing.  We’ve further grown up watching men who were (a) stupid and (b) aggressive, receive a great deal of attention from women, while we have simmered in our own futile sexual rage.  While we do not, on the whole, believe that this justifies assaulting women, the fact is that we, too, feel like victims.  This feeling is intensified when the women who have rejected us sexually for our failure to be aggressive attack us for sexually harassing them.  We can’t win in this situation, they’ve put us in a corner, so we’re just going to be aggressive, because at least that gives us an outlet for all that rage.

The perspective (as I, a white male understand it), of women:

We’re getting raped out there.  The current culture that exists promotes aggression against women.  There are a whole bunch of women who are physically victimized.  We get that the nerds had it rough growing up, but boo-freaking-hoo.  Get over it, because your current aggression is totally childish, and it contributes to our danger levels.

So, here’s the thing:  Both of these perspectives are inherently logical.  I understand both of them.  They make sense.

The nerd perspective is one of inherent depression, lack of self-esteem, and immaturity, but it makes sense.  I get why it exists.  The more one is accused of contributing to sexual assault when one doesn’t even try to get laid for lack of self esteem, the more resentful one is likely to become.

The feminist perspective is one wherein the crimes of the few are attributable to the culture of the many, painting as many people as responsible for sexual assault as they can, and it makes sense.  The more people feel guilty for sexual assault, the more change there will be.

So where, Frog, is that broader perspective you promised?  Here it is:

At heart, down deep at its very root, the complaint of the feminist and the complaint of the nerd are the exact same.

Take a moment, because that statement probably pissed off just about everyone who read it.  Count to ten, then read on so I can justify myself to you.

The nerd complaint is based on a culture that elevates aggression to attraction.  We see, time and time again in the media, that “getting the girl” is a function of being the man of action, not science.  Confidence is one of the number-one factors in attracting a woman, a confidence most nerds have been taught not to have, because chicks just don’t dig nerds, right?  Men should pursue women, and if you don’t have the skills to do that, then don’t bother.  After all, any woman who would pursue a man is a slut, right?

Women are indoctrinated into this same culture, and as a result are, in fact, initially attracted to aggressive bozos more than quiet, bookish types.  After all, why can’t he just “be a man?”  In my years as a divorce and domestic violence attorney, I see this pattern repeat itself over and over again.

The result of this culture?  Well, let me point you to one of the great all-time nerd movies:  Revenge of the Nerds.  Remember this?  1980s flick, basically the first piece of media to ever celebrate being an awkward headcase.  I loved this movie growing up.  And at the end of the movie, our hero Lewis finally gets the cheerleader instead of the jock.  Romantic, right?  Do you remember how it happens?

He fucking rapes her.

That’s right.  He puts on a mask, pretends to be her boyfriend, and has sex with her.  She doesn’t know she’s boning him.  Do that in real life?  Rape.  But it’s fine, in the movie, because she likes it.  She likes being raped so much that she actually leaves that loser of a boyfriend and follows our hero, the nerd-rapist.  Why?  Because the way to get the girl is to be aggressive.  Sack up, nerd boy.

The nerd complaint, at its essence, is that finding a romantic and sexual output is impossible in a culture that (even while celebrating nerds) tells us that no woman should ever go for the quiet guy in the corner reading a D&D manual.  The women should go for the guys who take what they want.

The feminist complaint is based on a culture that justifies aggression with attraction.  There is a culture, perpetuated by men and women alike, in which men are trained to be aggressive in order to find sexual output.  This culture also perceives women as being attracted to such aggression, which in turn justifies the aggression itself.

Is this sounding familiar?  It should.

The problem, boiled down, for both parties is that we live in a culture that largely says attraction=aggression.  Nerds tell us they feel victimized cause they’re really shitty at being aggressive.  Women tell us they’ve victimized because men keep being aggressive.  We’ve got the same problem here, people.

But don’t take my word for it!  Let’s look to various dating advice sites:

Here’s a great article about what women should be looking for.  Let’s see if it says anything that nerds and feminists could unite against?

No woman wants a physical weakling – it’s against her nature. That doesn’t mean she won’t settle for slightly less than Herculean, but you’re a man dammit. She wants to feel that when she’s in your presence. She wants you to be intelligent and to practice self-control simply because you can.

We’re all still animals and women will always be attracted to the stronger men. She wants you to be strong not for the sake of being strong – she wants you to be strong for her. It brings her pleasure, makes her feel safe and turns her on. Do you honestly need more convincing?

How about WikiHow?  Surely a wiki site will give us better insite!

Be a guy who is in power.

Shit, ok.  Let’s get more scientific, then.  Psychology Today, come to the rescue!

During peak levels of fertility, they prefer more masculine and socially dominant men. In the literature these men are known as “cads.” Indeed, they tend to be sexy, with their narrow eyes and strong jaws — but they also tend to be flashy and exploitative of others. Even worse, these masculine men often embody the Dark Triad, a personality constellation that encompasses Machiavellianism, psycopathy, and narcissism. Typically, these men offer only short-term prospects.

Holy fuckballs.  Even you, Psychology Today?  Even you?

The fact of the matter is, this trend right here?  It’s the thing pissing off nerds.  Now, nerds fuck up when they blame women for it, and they fuck up again when they then nerdrage at women over it.

It’s not the fault of women that our culture does this indoctrination.  It’s not their fault that they were taught, since birth, that Prince Charming is the dude that slays the dragon, not really the dude who tallies the treasury with an abacus.  It is not, in short, their fault you can’t get laid.  That’s on our basic societal upbringing combined with your lack of maturity.

Women see these sexually frustrated and emotionally immature nerds and, instead of agreeing with their frustration at the underlying mechanisms of sexual aggression, they react only to the juvenile behavior that results from the frustration.

What’s the solution?  Well, it’s twofold.  My instructions proceed thusly:

1.  Nerds:  Shut the Fuck Up.  Seriously.  This whole rage thing?  It brings you no closer to actually getting laid, which means it’s a self-replicating problem.  A Von Neumman machine of virginity.  As soon as you calm down and sign up for an online dating service, you’ll do a hell of a lot better.  Those feminists you hate are actually crusading for a culture that will make you more attractive on the whole, not less, so if you’re not joining with them then at least get the hell out of the way.  Also, good news:  eventually, when your hormones calm down and your checkbook fattens, you are going to be more attractive than the jock, who’s going to either (a) become a nerd, or (b) down a 12-pack of Coors Light a day working the night shift at the fast food joint and inappropriately hitting on high-school girls.

2.  Women:  I see a lot of targeting at the big problems, but the more insidious, underlying mechanisms of sex and aggression are a more complicated problem.  The cultural shift you’re looking for should not only empower women (which it should), but it needs to disempower sexual aggressiveness.  Beating up the nerd may no longer be code for getting the girl.  Because if it is, that same aggressive trait that led the jock to wail on the nerd is going to tell him to wail on the girl, eventually.  We need a way to let both boys and girls that the guy with the abacus is actually much, much sexier.  How do we do that?  No idea.  But solve that problem, and we’ve united both of these factions against the true enemy:  douchebags.

On the Value of Surrender

On January 1st, 2014, I posted the following to my Facebook:

 

2011 wasn’t great, so on January 1, 2012 I was all “bring it on, New Year.”

2012 was worse, so on January 1, 2013, I was all “Woo! Done with that!”

2013 has been the worst year of my adult life. This year, my New Years resolution is to figure out how to stop the downward slide.

 

2013 was absolutely horrendous.  I called it the worst year of my adult life, and that’s not an exaggeration.  By the end of 2013, I was depressed, panicked, anxious, and stressed.  I was a complete wreck.  I don’t need to go over the laundry list of problems, but those of you who know me know how bad it got.

2011 wasn’t great.  And on New Years of 2012, I resolved to do everything I was doing, but better.  Harder.  And I doubled-down on everything I’d been doing.  Of course, as a result, I got twice the pain and trouble.  So in the beginning of 2013, what did I do?  I doubled down again.  I went at it harder, and by the end of 2013 I was absolutely destroyed.  Here’s some other samples of my posts from that point in time:

Last week, our website was DDOS’d into the ground.

This week, our pipes froze, then burst, and left our basement flooded in five inches of standing water.

These days, my job is less about being an attorney and more about being a repairman of some sort or another.

Someone kill me.

Until I read that, I’d forgotten it.  In fact, reading these old posts is actually triggering my old anxiety a little bit.  Just re-reading them, my heartbeat is accelerating and I’m starting to feel the old fear that my entire life is unravelling.

So that post?  The one where I said I was no longer going to declare the New Year a time when I was doubling down again?  It got a lot of sympathetic responses.  A lot of friends and family, a lot of you who are reading this right now, posted to tell me how they felt bad for me, or that I shouldn’t give up.

But that’s exactly what I did.  I gave up.  I stopped trying to make it work.  I stopped throwing myself into a meat grinder.  I stopped bashing that square peg into the round hole with a sledgehammer, desperately hoping to make something fit where it wouldn’t.

And I am so happy I did.

Less than three weeks after I posted that, I accepted this new position in Mason County.  I stopped trying to be a businessman (fun fact:  I am a shit businessman) and I started being a lawyer again.  I remembered that, underneath all the bullshit I was going through trying to breathe life into a dying business, there is something I can do that is worthwhile.  That I am good at.  As soon as I surrendered, it freed me to find a different life for myself.

2014 has been the biggest year of change since graduating law school.  It has changed where I live, it has changed how I work, and it has changed my financial status.  It has seen the publication of book 2, my first appearance at four cons in a year.  Esther and I have paid off nearly all of what was a stunning credit card debt amassed as a result of 2013.  2014 has seen me become a functioning landlord of my old home, has seen me return to the mountains I used to love in my youth.  I’ve taken up camping and hiking again, I’ve lost 80 pounds, and I am not battling depression and anxiety every day.

And now I look back at that post, that shift in my attitude that allowed me to do all this, and the number of people who reacted to it as though what I were saying was negative.  It makes me realize this:  we as a people do not appreciate the value of surrender.  There is a value in walking away from it.  Throwing good money after bad is stupid, but throwing time and energy into a bad situation is just as stupid.

There is a value in surrender.  And I never realized it until life broke me to the point where I had no choice but to surrender.  Within weeks of throwing up my hands my life turned for the better.

So just a thought:  if you’re in a bad situation, sometimes it’s better to surrender than to keep fighting.  It’s a lesson I learned the hard way.

2014 was a good year.  It was a landmark year, a year that forever altered the trajectory of my life.  I am sad to see it go.  I hope 2015 keeps me on the same path.

 

A winnar is me.

Winner-2014-Twitter-Profile

Esther is just behind me in this, but I figured I’d post my thingy to be all thingy now.

So, I won Nano.  And I feel cheesy even saying that.  “Win” is a word that usually refers to a competition.  It implies that I somehow accomplished something.  But as I said in an earlier post, all it means is that I shat out 50,000 words of a novel.  It’s by no means complete; I haven’t even written the final chapters yet.  I don’t have the rough draft of what I would call “a novel,” just most of one.  But still. I win.

Hooray?

This whole experience, to me, feels as through I just wasted a month.  Going into November, I could have been working on the revisions to book 3, a novel I’m actually proud of.  I could have been drafting short stories for the upcoming sequel to Beer Saves the World, or the new anthology for Campcon.  I could have been doing anything but mickey-mousing the plot of this ridiculous book in order to complete an artificial word count in an artificial period of time.

When are you going to get to read this novel?  Never, most likely.  It needs burning, and badly.  It’s 50,000 words, and almost all of them are crap.

So, I promised an update on my perspective by the end of the month, and here it is:  my perspective is largely unchanged.

Nano, I believe, can be a wonderful tool for those who have never completed a novel.  It offers a massive support structure, and a lot of assistance getting through those 50,000 words.  I am sure that, had I participated in Nano before publishing two novels, and before I signed a three-book deal with my publisher, I would have appreciated it for what it is able to do:  teach people that finishing a novel is possible.

That’s really step one to completing the novel.  Ass goes into chair, and typing begins.  And Nano does that, and for that it has value.

But I’m looking at the dreck I produced in my slapdash effort to make it to the end, and I’m realizing that Nano teaches you to complete the novel.  It does not teach you to make the novel worth a damn.  In fact, when the finish line (today) loomed near, I stopped doing any kind of creativity or quality control.  I work a full-time job, and completing Nano on top of that and going to Orycon meant I had to bear the hell down when it came to getting this thing done.  And the result is?  Nothing I would ever care that the public read.

So does Nano have value?  Absolutely.  But it has value for an author at a certain stage of their writing career–namely, the very beginning.  Does Nano have value to me now?  No.  I would go so far as to say that it has a negative impact on my writing now, as I could have been working on something good, but instead I did this.  Will I be participating in Nano 2015?  Hell no.  Been there, done that, got the “winner” logo to post on my blog, was offered the ability to purchase a t-shirt.

I left open the question, at the end of my last Nano post, as to whether or not Nano was a cancer on the indie publishing community.  That question remains open.  I say “cancer,” because I believe the analogy is accurate.  A cancer is a growth that uncontrollably grows, depleting the bodies resources for no function.  My Nano novel, which is still titleless, grew uncontrollably, and uselessly, and took the resources that could have otherwise been devoted to healthy writing pursuits.  I feel like it might be doing the same across the industry.

Still, it has value for beginners.  So if you love doing Nano, then good on you.  Enjoy it.  Post the graphic and call yourself a winner.  I have.  A winner is me.  But I’d prefer to be working on things I can be proud of, instead of being proud of that.

 

On Shirtgate, and the response thereto.

Let me begin by stating that this is Frog writing, not Esther, and my thoughts are not necessarily our thoughts.  This one is all me, she can respond if she so chooses.

The shirt thing is getting crazy.  There’s an inflationary thing the internet does, where one person has a thought that might make coherent sense, and it is taken to its completely irrational extreme within the space of, say, thirty seconds.

1.  That shirt was wildly inappropriate.

Come on, dude.  You’re going on television.  Have the sense to dress appropriately.  I’m not talking about the women, by the way; I’m simply talking about representing yourself as a professional while wearing a Hawaiian shirt.  Maybe it’s because I wear a suit to work every day, but really?  Hawaiian shirt?

That said, it’s not like he really needed to impress anyone with his attire.  He’d just led a team that landed on a comet.  That was pretty impressive, and I’m willing to give him a pass on bad taste.

2.  Sexual Objectification is, generally, wrong.

Can we agree to this?  That treating people as sex objects and nothing more is a bad thing?  Good.  And there’s no doubt that shirt screams I likes me some ass and titties.  It is one step away from simply glue-sticking the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition to one’s torso.  The shirt, therefore, was doubly wrong; tacky and misogynist.

3.  That said, the reaction to the shirt was over-the-top.

That shirt is undeniably tacky.  But so was the response to it.  I’m sorry, feminists, but there are better battles to pick.  A passing comment along the lines of “Wow, dude hit a comet.  Not a great shirt, but still, cool guy.” would have been about right.

That’s not what Rose Eveleth did.  Her tweet, in its entirety, reads “No no women are toooootally welcome in our community, just ask the dude in this shirt.”

That dude was not making any comments about women in the scientific community.  He wasn’t there to engage in this conversation.  And by referring to him as “the dude in this shirt,” she made it look as though his accomplishments were less important to her than the shirt.  Which leads me to my next point:

4.  Accomplishments do not justify misogyny.

Let’s start there.  I do not believe “landed on a comet” means “gets to be a dick.”  That said,

5.  Minimizing accomplishments does not lend itself well to the cause of feminism.

Here’s the problem:  It’s not that I support the shirt.  It’s that ranting about the shirt without at least tipping the hat to the purpose of the clip in which the shirt was worn just looks ignorant.  It gives the impression that you think your thing is more important than his thing.

His thing?  It’s pretty massive.  Referring to him as “the guy in this shirt” without even naming him?  It says more about you than it does about him.  Oh, sure, you’ve thrown some meat to the feminists who already agree with you, but what good has that done?  None.  At all.  Instead, you’ve given every cockbiting asshole out there all kinds of ammunition to use against you.  Bravo.

I don’t think that was the intent.  I think this was a quick tweet, minimized for character count, and sent on its way.  That’s all this is.  But being very careful about how you phrase such things is pretty important, because it gave the impression to many that it was the only thing in that clip you cared about.  And that clip?  It was about some shit that may damn well change the future of humanity.

In other words, nobody who wasn’t already a feminist was looking at the shirt.

And when you refer to him as “the guy in this shirt,” as though that shirt is what he’s known for, it makes you look like an idiot.
6.  As a result, #Shirtgate/#Shirtstorm has done more harm to feminism than good.

Look at all the feminist articles out there.  They are in damage control mode.  The one I linked at the top?  Pure DC.  Meanwhile, in conservative crazy land, the opponents of feminism are taking a victory lap.

7.  Maybe pick your battles next time.

In short, I think feminists had a point on this one.  This was a wildly inappropriate and offensive shirt.  But in bashing the guy, and not trying to be polite and informative, they hurt themselves.  They attacked someone for something in the zenith of his 15 minutes.  Not a good call.  Bad PR for feminism.

If you want to change the culture, you couldn’t have picked a worse way to do it.  Pick your battles better, next time.

Halfway through Nano

So, this weekend marks the midpoint of November.  It also marks the half-way point on my NaNoWriMo word count.  I’m recovering after Orycon, which set me back in my word count, but I’ve managed to make up ground this weekend.

So far, I’m learning some things from the experience.  I’ll try and condense it down, but there’s a lot of thoughts I have mulling about and I’m going to try to crystallize them here.  Before anyone jumps down my throat about what I’m about to say, I recognize that this is a hot-button issue amongst writers.  There are some who are die-hard fans of the practice, and others who wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.  NaNo is, undoubtedly, a force in the writing world, and there are many who take advantage of it and ride that wave to help them create something great.  There are many who think it interferes with greatness.

Me, I’m of two minds about it.  So here’s my musings, such as they are.

Positive Things I Have Learned:

1.  I can throw down some serious word count

Twice, now, I have topped 10,000 words in a day.  That’s over three average-length chapters for one of the Gift of Grace books; for my NaNo project, it’s about five chapters.  When I’m on a roll, the dam breaks and the words hit the page.  My word count is quickly approaching the 30k mark, and I have only really devoted two weekends to the pursuit.  By the time my four-day Thanksgiving expires, I will have stuck a fork in this thing easily.

2.  My non-collaborative work is pretty organic

Esther and I are working on two separate projects, and that means I’m free to take these characters and this world and run with it.  My characters pretty consistently surprise me with the crap they pull, and I have absolutely no idea how this whole thing is going to end.  I know it’s going to end in 20,000 words, give or take, but I don’t know how yet.  That’s a little terrifying, but it’s a lot of fun totally pants-ing something.

3.  The less revision you do to yourself in your zero draft, the better

This one I’ve preached many time, and so this is more of a confirmation than anything else.  I’ve said it before, but the absolute best piece of writing advice I’ve ever received is “Put Your Ass In the Chair and Keep Typing.”  I am, in fact, taking this opportunity to coin the following term:  PAIC, for PUT ASS IN CHAIR.

asschair

 NaNo, by enforcing a word count on me, has actually forced me to PAIC.  I’m not concerned about revisions; if I get to the end of this book, and it’s something that I feel like is worth pursuing, then I’ll go back and polish it.  Right now, I’m shitting out a word count as quickly as I possibly can.  Most of those words will, eventually, need to be changed, but the rough cuts of a story are taking shape very, very quickly.

I’ve been on a couple of teams for writing workshops, now.  This will probably be a blog post all its own, but I want to mention it here.  Twice, now, I’ve critiqued a Chapter One for someone, and in speaking that person have found out that they have ceased roughing out their story to focus on making sure they got Chapter 1 right.  This is pure lunacy, as what you decide to write in Chapter 14 may very well completely change what needs to happen in Chapter 1.  NaNo drives home the need to get your word count in first, revision later, and I really appreciate that because it is absolutely the correct way of doing things.

And now, the not-so-positive observations:

There’s a false sense of completion at the end of NaNo.

Get 50,000 words done, and you “win” NaNo.  Win.  There’s no competition, mind you, but you get to claim a “win.”  That’s all you need, is that word count.  Write 50,000 words? Then:

a_winner_is_you20110724-22047-1nd3wif

 

But remember when I said I was just shitting out word count as fast as I could?  I called that a good thing, and it is.  Revisions are pointless until you’ve got the whole thing roughed in, and you know what your story looks like front-to-back.  Getting the whole thing roughed out is absolutely the first step, the thing that enables your revisions to be worth a damn.

But I used the verb “shitting” very intentionally.  Doing this?  It is only step one.

Roughing a story is a hell of a lot more fun than revising it.  Word count is fabulous, really, and driving that word count home feels great.  It feels like you’re doing something.  But it is the most emotionally satisfying and least difficult part of the novel-drafting process.  Revision is an excruciating, tooth-pulling nightmare of a process, and it is absolutely necessary to complete your novel.  We use the terminology from the art of sculpture; “roughing” and “polishing.”  So let’s extend the metaphor a little bit.

Here is your novel at the end of the rough-draft process that NaNo gets you through:

unfinished

Note, if you will, that while you can basically tell what the statue is going to look like, it is by no means complete.  Michelangelo never finished this thing.  Now, because of that it’s currently worth a lot, but that only works if you get (1) really famous, and (2) dead.  If (God forbid) GRRM eats it before finishing Volume VII of Song of Ice and Fire, you can be damn sure that unfinished draft will be worth something to someone.  But your NaNo project?  Not so much.

Making the rough cuts on a statue is the easy part.  You take a big-ass, heavy chisel, and you get some stone the hell out of the way.  Woo!  The marble chips fly and shit is getting done.

But the art, the true beauty, isn’t achieved that way.  It’s achieved with fine-grained rasps and with pumice and cloth, polishing the stone into a perfect smoothness.  It’s meticulous, painstaking work, and hours can go by without a significant change to the statue as a whole.  But therein lies the true art:

David_von_MichelangeloSee the difference?

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and therein lies the problem.  There is this persistent feeling that, once you’ve got 50,000 words in a file, you have written a novel.  That’s so far from the truth it’s laughable.  Getting a rough draft done is great, but you haven’t written a novel until you’ve actually finished the revisions.  NaNo glorifies the easiest part of writing, and gives a hand-wave to the rest of it.

There is, at least, a hand-wave.  You can “sign a pledge” once you “win” to revise, but there’s no additional kudos given for someone who revises their novel.  No, that’s extra, a bonus.  Revision is treated by NaNo as an afterthought, when it is the real meat and substance about the art.  Can you imagine someone looking at Michelangelo after he’d roughed in a statue and saying “Wow, Mikey.  That’s amazing.  You Win!  We consider this complete.  You can, if you so choose, promise to polish it up a bit, but pretty much we think it’s great that you did this much.”  Of course not.  But that’s what NaNo has essentially done with thousands upon thousands of aspiring authors.  And this leads me to my final, earth-shattering conclusion:

NaNoWriMo may do some good, but is also responsible for a whole bunch of really terrible books on the market today.

Looking back at the time we spent struggling with the Friday Indie Review, it was God-Awful.  There was so much dreck that my eyeballs had to absorb.  Looking back, many of those novels were the products of NaNo.  50,000 words in a month, followed by a hand-wave at revision, and then a jump straight into publication.  Is it any wonder that they stank with the perfume of a thousand maggot-infested corpses?  Hell no.  I’m looking at what I’ve thrown on a page so far this month, and I’m not even willing to share the basic plot outline here.  It’s not very good, at the moment.  I would be ashamed to let it see the light of day in its current state.  And I’m pretty sure mine’s one of the better ones.

So I write this blog post.  Maybe, when I get to the end of the process, I’ll have some further revelations.  I see a lot of good coming from NaNo, but I also think there’s a chance it might be a cancer on the indie book industry.  The jury is still out on that one.

 

The Best Writing Advice I Ever Received, or This Article Is Full Of It

For a website supposedly devoted to helping writers become authors, they certainly have a really strange way of showing it.

In the summer of 2012, we had just submitted Grace Under Fire for consideration.  We attended Spocon, where the madness began.  There, I received the greatest piece of writing advice ever given to me.

For those of you who have never read anything by CJ Cherryh, you’ve done yourself a disfavor.  She’s a wonderful author, and absolutely one of the wisest people I have seen doing the con circuits.  She also brooks absolutely no bullshit, and is quick to the point of incendiary to refute it when she hears it.  I didn’t ask the question; someone in the audience did.  They asked “I always start novels, but I can never finish them.  How do you finish the novel?”

CJ cut the rest of the panel off, answering before any moderator had the chance to stop her.  She burst forth with the best piece of writing advice I have ever received, bar none.

Put your ass in the chair and keep typing.

That was it.  No other response could be given.  It was that simple.  Don’t stop writing.  Even if you think the ideas are bad, don’t stop.  Even when it seems like you’re up against a wall, don’t stop.  Put your ass in the chair and keep typing.  Do not worry about whether it sucks.  That’s what revision is there for.  You may end up changing everything but love of God, put your ass in the chair and keep typing.  It is, bar none, the only way to finish a novel.

So let’s look at what Ms. Weiland, who appears to make her living giving advice on writing instead of doing it, has to say.  Actually, Ms. Weiland’s most concise statement isn’t her own; she cribs it from Margaret Atwood’s article in Writer’s Digest:

You know when you’re not ready; you may be wrong about being ready, but you’re rarely wrong about being not ready. You keep trying, but you may wait a while between the tries. … I’ve had books that didn’t work out. I had to stop writing them. … It was depressing, but it wasn’t the end of the world. …sometimes you bash yourself against the wall and you get through it. But sometimes the wall is just a wall. There’s nothing to be done but go somewhere else.

Bullshit.

Here’s the thing:  stories aren’t magically ready to be written.  There is no divine muse out there, waiting to wave her magic wand and inspire you with the muddle-in-the-middle portion of your story.  There is only you.  You and a blank computer screen, a yawning void waiting for you to try to fill it.

So what should you do when you hit a wall?  Should you “go somewhere else?”  Hell no.  That wall is an artificial construct, it’s there because you put it there.  Only you can remove it, and there’s only one way to do that.  Put your ass in the chair and keep typing.  Don’t make weak-assed excuses to yourself like “I guess this story isn’t ready to be written yet.  Put your ass in the chair and start typing.  Find ways around.  Switch your perspective character, write from a different viewpoint.  Write the end and work backwards.  DO SOMETHING.  But don’t sit there and tell yourself that, because you’ve hit a wall, it’s time to work on something else.

I did that.  I did that for years.  Do you know how many novel-beginnings I’ve written?  ‘Cause I don’t.  I have absolutely no clue how many tattered remnants of a story litter the hard drives of my various computers.  It’s a lot, I’ll tell you that, but the one thing all of those novels have in common is this:  I gave myself an excuse to stop writing them.

You can make yourself feel better by blaming the story.  “This story isn’t ready to be written yet,” you can say, adopting the stance of the pretentious artiste whose work is a living thing.  But that’s a cop-out, and deep down you know it.  In any given project, you are going to hit a wall.  It is Going To Happen.  The moment you hit that wall, you’ve got a choice.  You can take the easy path, walk away, start a different novel that will also die on the vine, or you can follow the wisest writing advice I have ever heard from one of the greatest authors I have had the honor to share a panel with.

Ass.  Chair.  Write.  Now.

Orycon 36:

Just got back from Orycon 36.  Interesting con.

To begin with, Esther had to take a different car entirely.  She got last-minute notice of a job interview.  Now, as much as we’d like to blow off having a day job in favor of being rich and famous authors, we’re not exactly there yet.  So she had to pass her panels off to me (the ones she could) and head down later.

I opened Friday with a Dark Fairy Tales panel with The Duchess Herself.  Walking into that panel next to her was…um…interesting.  I’ll quote her blog on the subject directly:

 

I ambled across to the proper venue with another panelist, and discovered that the room contained nothing but three towering stacks of chairs.  We all just assumed that, this being a Dark Fairy Tales panel, the goblins had been there before us.

 

This panel was followed rapidly by one in which we (the whole room) collectively outlined a story.  This story ended up being about a lone mermaid, away from her home, pissing off Poseidon.  I’m honestly a little interested to see whether anyone writes that up or not.  Still, Jason Andrew managed to guide the rest of us poor lost souls into something of an outline format, and all walked away pretty happy.

I’m not going to go panel-by-panel through the con.  That would take forever, as I ran (yet another) marathon of panels in this one.

Also got to hang out with a lot of old friends.  Phyl Radford, Bob Brown, Joyce Reynolds-Ward, and a whole list of others.  Saw some old faces, saw some new faces.  Finally tasted Radioactive Sludge (thank you to the good folks from Radcon for that particular, uh, delicacy).

Our marketing technique was all kinds of fun this con.  We wrote a mini-adventure for Robert and Grace, one that falls in between books 1 and 2 of The Gift of Grace series.  They came in at around 1500 words each, and combined at 3,000ish.  It’s a story of our heroes’ attempt to seal a breach in the Weave coming through in two places at once.  (Robert’s is entitled “A Day at the Beach,” while Grace’s is entitled “A Walk in the Park.”)  We then put these on stories on brochures; I carried Robert’s brochure, and Esther carried Grace’s.

“Free Flash Fiction” works really well as a pitch for people to pick up someone’s marketing materials.  But then the fan would discover that they could hunt down the other spouse to receive the other half of the story.  Throughout the con, Esther and I were sought out by people who had read one perspective of the story, and not the other.  It became something of a scavenger hunt for authors, which is about as cool as things can possibly get.

What’s that?  You want to read “A Day at the Beach” and “A Walk in the Park?”  Better catch us at the upcoming Radcon, then, because these stories are exclusively available to people who find us at cons.  Until then, I guess you’re out of luck.

All in all, I have to say that Orycon was a hell of a lot of work, and a hell of a lot of fun.  The staff was fabulous, the room setup was confusing but not overly so, and the panels were, for the most part, engaging, varied, and interesting.  A big shout out to all the cool folks who made it happen, and we can’t wait for Orycon 37.

A Response to the Criticism of Scorpion

I am a genius.

When I was a child, I was called “gifted.”  My IQ was abnormally high, and I had the ability to master mathematical skills and language arts that exceeded most of my peers.  I still do.  Saying it sounds arrogant, sounds like I’m just a smug bastard, but it is simply true.  I am smarter than about 98% of the people I meet on any given day.  About one percent of those will be as smart as I am.  The last percent are those that have me beat.

Those are rough figures.

I say that not to belittle you, the reader.  Chances are, I’m smarter than you, just playing the odds.  And the very fact that I’ve said that has you a little miffed, because how dare I?  I don’t mean it to be insulting.  But there’s no way of saying it that makes it not insulting.  So there it is.

So, here’s what my childhood was like:  I was raised in a small farming community.  It’s got exactly one school district, and the children you enroll into kindergarten with are, more or less, the children you graduate high school with.

When I was first placed into kindergarten, I was an unruly child.  I don’t remember it vividly, save for one particular incident in which the teacher asked me to put down my copy of Madeleine L’Engel’s A Wrinkle in Time so that I could name a word that started with the letter “C.”  Did she not understand I was trying to figure out how a tesseract worked?  I mean, I’m reading a novel here.  I probably know three words that start with “C,” right?  There are at least that many on this page.  My teacher is an idiot for issuing me such a ridiculous question.  I threw my shoe at her to punish her for her stupidity and went on reading.

This didn’t end well for me.

The school was going to hold me back for a year.  Clearly I wasn’t prepared to be a kindergartener.  Try again next year.  But my mother, who was at the time a teacher, and several of her friends who had interacted with me off-hours, instead had me tested.  This test proved, definitively, that I was a genius.  The school then reversed its position.

Literally.

Instead of holding me back, Jennings Elementary school took the unprecedented step of moving me from kindergarten into first grade in the middle of the school year.  Why they did this was never explained to the children around me, or really to me.  I was just a first grader, all of a sudden.  Of course, first grade was still well underneath me, but at least there was busywork. When homework was passed out, I generally completed it and handed it back in before the bell rang, saving me from having to take it home.  I did this in front of every other child.  Then, when they asked me why I didn’t take my homework home, I would answer by telling them that it was easy, and I didn’t need to, and if you had problems with those questions then you were probably stupid.

And I said these things to children at least a year older than me, some more, who were already jealous of my grade promotion.

I got my ass handed to me.  School was a place to fear, and recess was an opportunity to hide, under bleachers and behind bushes, from the children who entertained themselves by beating the stuffing out of my arrogant butt.  Once on the playground, it was generally known that I was the target, the pariah.  I thought I was better than everyone, and so I should get beaten as hard as possible.

In the first grade, everyone knew why they hated me.  By the time high school rolled around, why they hated me had ceased to be relevant.  They hated me because that was a done thing.  Hate Peter.  In the locker rooms of junior high and high school gym, I was beaten down in the showers and peed on.  I stopped taking showers, and that led to the PE teacher trying to have me suspended.  Those teachers who weren’t Mom’s friends saw me as an object of nepotism, and worked as hard as they could to break me.  I graduated high school believing that, despite my many accomplishments, I was near worthless to society.

In large parts of America, this is how geniuses are treated.  Genius is not a thing to be celebrated, it is rather a burn-the-witch situation.  If someone dares to call themselves intelligent, everyone around them assumes they are putting on airs.  Admit it, when you read the first sentence of this blog post you wanted to laugh at my arrogance for even saying it.

Do you even understand how damaging it is to go through that?  I learned social skills as a survival mechanism, as a way to protect myself.  Underlying those skills are deep, deep fears that in any given social situation I’m a second and a half away from receiving a beating.  I’m 6’2″ and weigh over 350 lbs, and I still worry about getting an asskicking from just about everyone I meet.  And I will, for the rest of my life.

OK, I titled this piece as a response to some television critics, so let’s tie that in.

When I see a show like Scorpion on CBS, it’s an amazing experience.  There’s a lot of critics who are calling it Big Bang Theory, but unfunny.  It’s not.  Scorpion respects the genius.  It places genius on a pedestal.  Big Bang Theory laughs at how stupid smart people are.  BBT justifies all the beatings, all the mockery, and all the bile poured on me as a child.  It tells society that it’s OK to loathe smart people, because obviously they’re stupid.  I hate watching BBT.  Most of the other smart people I know hate watching BBT.  It’s a show of laughing at, not with.

Scorpion, though, is a show in which being a genius is a valuable thing.  It comes right out and tells us that it’s characters are geniuses, and that as geniuses they’ve had a rough time in their lives.  Now, this show is dealing with people in that 1% of the population smarter than me.  But even so, I found it really relatable.  It hit home on a very deep, basic level for me.  I was that kid.  I know what it’s like to not relate to the rest of the world.  I know what it’s like to have a conversation with someone and think how in the hell do you not get this, are you an idiot, and to spend almost my whole life holding back from calling someone stupid.  And failing.  And getting in trouble for it.

And Scorpion basically hits that nail on the head.  Its characters are flawed, but brilliant.  They need someone to “translate the world” for them, and this is something that most critics aren’t getting but is absolutely true.

Then I read a review like this, and I get to be traumatized all over again by another person being a bully.  But this time, it’s on the internet, and this time I have a blog, too, and so maybe I can step up and defend the show about smart kids.

“That guy over there? He’s a genius. You can tell he’s a genius by the way he’s constantly rude and dismissive to women. He pedantically and unceasingly lectures that woman he somehow was dating; he criticizes that waitress’s nail polish because yeah, she’s definitely doing that for his benefit and analysis.”

So, yes.  In the first couple minutes of the show, the main character does some things that, from a different perspective, seem misogenist.  He has the same sorts of interactions with men, though.  This isn’t a sexism thing, it’s a social skills problem.  Walter sees the world through the lens of rationality, and most of the things people do aren’t rational.  It drives him nuts, and he tends to point it out to people.

“He’s just such a genius, you see. It’s impossible for him to relate to anyone who’s not a genius, and obviously, at the genius club there is only room for one woman, so everyone else who’s not a genius — goats? Is that the opposite of a genius? Who can care? — will simply have to step aside. Genius coming through. Watch out for the genius. Genius here.”

Yes, I understand that you don’t like him.  He’s not likable.  That’s the point, and frankly the great tragedy behind his life.  He’s a brilliant guy who could benefit society, and for the large part society won’t let him.  Because to do so, they’d have to admit they weren’t as smart as him, and noone is going to do that.

And there’s four geniuses, one of whom is female.  By the way, she’s the badass mechanical engineer, but we’re leaving that part out.  This is a bit of a gender imbalance, although it feels like it makes sense.  Scorpion (the company) is really built to give the people who can’t relate to society a place to relate to each other.  And since the company is based on actual people that were hired by the actual Walter O’Brien, we can maybe forgive CBS for not having an exact male/female ratio here.

The characters mention their respective and collective IQs four times in the first 18 minutes of the show, which should tell you something: First, that they’re geniuses; second, that they’re incredibly insecure; third, that this show thinks you’re a huge, huge idiot; and fourth, this show is not interested in authentic human behavior.

Fair enough on some ham-handedness with the exposition there.  That was on the pilot, and they don’t really do this as much in the rest of the show.  But they are geniuses, and they are incredibly insecure.  They do not know, at any given time, where they stand with the person they’re talking to because they don’t understand why that person isn’t getting it.  And then they fall back to what is a perfectly rational (and insulting) argument:  I am clearly smarter than you, and therefore in any given situation you are more likely to be wrong and I am more likely to be right.  We disagree.  Therefore, rationality dictates that we play the probabilities and do what I say, because it is more likely to be right.

“[S]aid brainiacs enlist the help of a pouty diner waitress to help “translate” the world for them. She is of course inclined to help because she’s the mother of a genius, and these government-supported geniuses have promised to help her “reach” him. Indeed, who could be better qualified to help a child than some guy who saw him in a diner once and never spoke to him? Typical genius, always helping. The waitress is Katharine McPhee. I’d say McPhee plays the waitress, but … mostly she stands there in a waitress costume.”

Well, first off, that’s not true.  It’s true that McPhee is playing a character that doesn’t think on the level that the other characters do.  She’s not as brilliant as them.  Neither, by the way, is the Homeland Security Agent for whom these people all work.  That seems to get less of a mention in this review.

But both of those characters have an essential function in the show.  “Translating” the world, when I first heard the phrase, was a twist of words that got me demonstrably excited.  I’ve had friends who provided exactly this service to me throughout my life.  “Translators,” as I’ll call them from here on out, are people who don’t mind that I come off as superior and arrogant, and who therefore can stand to communicate directly with me.  It is from these people, throughout my life, that I’ve figured out how to act more or less like a human being.  When I heard that McPhee was being hired to “translate the world” I damn near jumped up and down clapping, because that’s exactly right.  Exactly right.

And let’s talk for a moment about the child.  Here’s a kid who has taken the salt and pepper shakers, the sweetener packets, and other condiments and improvised a chess board for himself to play with.  Alone.  Becuase noone around him understands what he’s doing.

This is actually a thing that I have done.  I did it in junior high, not second-grade, but it is a thing I have done.  And when someone would ask me what I was doing, I would respond by saying “nothin’,” because if they couldn’t clearly see what I was doing already then they weren’t worth talking to.

So when Walter, and later Syl, started playing chess against the kid using the improvised setup, that was amazing.  I imagined what it would have been like if, as a child, I had met someone who did that.  Someone who got it.  As one of those children, I can tell you right now, without a blink of hesitation, that noone in the world would have been more qualified to help me, even without saying a goddamn word.

Scorpion is a show about how much geniuses can do for the world.  It’s also a show about how much pain geniuses can feel in the world.  There’s a list of critics out there who don’t, can’t, and won’t get that.  Who think that simply labeling someone a genius is a mark of arrogance, as though it were not a biological fact that some brains process information more quickly than others.

I want Scorpion to be popular.  I want it desperately, if only becuase its popularity may save some other kid who’s on a path to an ass-beating from the damage I had to endure.  If the world recognizes that it’s hard for some of us to relate, then maybe the world will cut us a break every once in a while.  Maybe, just maybe, geniuses in backwater settings like mine will be encouraged, and nurtured, if there’s an awareness of the challenges faced by the so-called “gifted.”  Maybe more people decide, upon meeting a genius, to start to translate the world for them.

Maybe, just maybe, the world as a whole becomes a bit of a better place as a result.

NaNo Approacheth

We’ve tended to avoid participating in NaNoWriMo.

Here’s the thing; it’s a great program.  It gets words on paper, which is really what needs to happen for young writers to evolve.  It’s the sort of thing that sharpens one’s skills and progresses one towards their first published novel.  All of this is good, wonderful stuff.

It just hasn’t typically been for us.  We’ve got a couple of novels published, and more on the way.  We’re not exactly new authors, even if we are young.  And generally, in November, we’re in the middle of a revision on a novel.  That, by the way, remains true; we’re about a third of the way through our revisions on Falling From Grace.  So we’ve watched our friends participate, and we’ve stayed in our little cave, editing.

But this year, something’s different.

Really, that something is our location.  I took a job in Shelton, Washington last February.  Shelton’s a great little town with a lot of character, but I don’t actually know anyone who lives here.  I go to work, come home, jump on the computer.  Esther’s basically the same.  Our world has condensed down from a great social circle to the two of us and work, and that’s getting a little old.  Time to meet some new friends.

So, we’re sharpening up our…keyboards?  Wow, that phrase doesn’t work anymore.

We’re dusting off our laptops (from the accumulated dust of Campcon), flexing our fingers, and preparing to draft a 50,000 word novel, each, in a month.  Those drafts will then be stuck in a drawer in December; revisions on them will happen much, much later, as Falling From Grace needs to reassert its importance in December.

We’re looking forward to meeting new friends and taking on new challenges.  But it’s going to be a hell of a month.