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"New futures from old horizons." Author of off-kilter sci fi/fantasy books. Fond of apocalyptic and fantastical things. Known for phuquerie. I bite. On Amazon.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Canadian Facts: An Unrelated Diversion

Hello hello!

Today I have an unrelated diversion, inspired by our upstairs neighbours. While the Canadian goose, beaver, and moose are all famous and well-recognized symbols of Canada, one of our most common species--which comes in all genders and ethnicities--has not often been catalogued. I present to you--the Common Hoser.

Common Hoser (Acer vulgaris)

The Common Hoser, once believed to be a faltering breed, is still alive and well in most of Canada. Its range is extremely broad, encompassing the entire country, even northern and coastal extremities. Most specimens observed in the wild are male, but females have been recorded. Age ranges run between approximately 10 years old (juvenile hoser larva) and 90 years old (ancient hoser; often called a "coot").  Working at gas stations, on gas rigs, fishing boats, on construction sites, and on farms, the Common Hoser presents a wide array of skin tones and apparent origins. However, the breed can be distinguished from others by its leathery skin, which is uniformly so regardless of occupation or apparent origin.

There is nothing it cannot fix with duct tape.

Its food groups include the following: Molson or Beer beer, maple syrup, smokes, bacon, and Timmy's. It has been observed to partake in marijuana as well from time to time. Young hosers are often more adventurous and omnivorous in their diet, but all examples of the species demonstrate a clear predilection for fried foods.

It has seven plaid shirts in his closet, and an eighth, which is the formal plaid. While other invasive species, such as the Common Hipster, and the more elusive Lumberjack, also favour this attire, the Common Hoser wears its preferred coat with a certain grease-stained and frayed, paint-splattered aplomb which indicates its species from a distance.

The minute October arrives, its parka is surgically attached to his skin and is not shed until May. Even if it's actually too warm for the coat, they'll wear that parka.

The normal volume range of the Common Hoser is approximately 60-100 Decibels, and the cries of the Common Hoser ("Fuckin' Eh! Yeah, Man!") can be heard for over 2 km in fair weather.

The breeding period of the Common Hoser coincides with hockey season, a sacred mating ritual for many Canadians. Hosers, however, swarm in ever-increasing numbers during this period, and only recede somewhat in spring.

At present, in deep winter, the Common Hoser is invaluable for its ability to keep basic services running for other species and subspecies of Canadians. Hosers--you are loud and sometimes irritating, but we salute you.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Feminist Fist-Fighting: How Teardown Culture Hurts Activism

Hello hello!

So this has to be one of the hardest entries I've ever had to write. First of all--how does one criticize teardown culture without it sounding like tone-policing or idea-policing? That's tricky. So, a disclaimer.

You are entitled to think whatever you'd like and say whatever you'd like, whether you are a feminist or not. However, no-one is immune from criticism. That said, all criticism should be taken in context of power structures--if you are criticizing someone who is less powerful or privileged than you are, you may want to rethink your stance. Having more privilege means your words will carry more weight. Be kind, and do not silence others. 

That paragraph is extremely important, and I'd like anything else said here to be taken with that context. After all, punching up is a lot harder than punching down, and it's oh-so-tempting and easy to take potshots at someone because what they say has made you uncomfortable. Or because they criticized someone you like--even if that person is in the wrong. (For the record, I can't help still loving Amanda Palmer...but I won't defend some of the dumb shit that's fallen out when she's opened her mouth.)

With that said, we kind of need to do something about this intra-feminist teardown culture thing.

What is teardown culture?

I've noticed that there have been a lot of articles lately about various feminists insulting other feminists. Now, obviously, people aren't perfect and their actions merit criticism. I love Amanda Palmer, but she's done some decidedly stupid and bad things. Apologized for them as well, but they did still happen. Criticism and critique are part of a healthy culture, so it's fine to leave room for them to happen.

What makes me uneasy is when I see people on my friendlist saying that "feminists are stupid because ___" (lately, Feminists Are Stupid Because they didn't like a man's shirt.) The most common one is that feminists focus too much on the small things, "microaggressions", rather than "big things". The problem with that is simple--small things add up to the big things, and microaggressions in conversations prevent dialogue about said big things. If you have a conversation and someone is undermining you constantly, framing things so that you look unreasonable and hysterical (hysteria itself is basically the most sexist diagnosis ever), the conversation about 'big issues' can't even happen. It's particularly bad when feminists do this to other feminists.

 I'm really, profoundly uncomfortable with Annie Lennox saying these kinds of bad things about Beyonce. As a white woman, people are going to listen to her more. Sinead O'Connor also tore a strip off Miley Cyrus a good long time ago, and as an older and more respected artist, people wrote Miley off as a dumb young teenager. (Admittedly, her response was incredibly tasteless and referred to O'Connor's bipolar disorder.) There are important discussions, and then there are things like what Lennox said, and those comments don't help. There are all kinds of arguments, and the people who get listened to are usually the white, able, rich, cis ones. You don't have to like it, but it's a fact--and it's demonstrated by things like arrest rates.

This wolf is displeased about racism too.

Calling people out is not a bad thing, but disowning them is bad

Believe it or not, people have different approaches to feminism, and that doesn't make their feminism bad. Someone might be more upset or more negative in tone; someone might have a focus on misogynoir, and another person might have a focus on trans rights for the disabled. None of these are wrong or inferior just because they involve a personal focus. Ideally, feminism should be intersectional and acknowledge many areas of inequality.

That said...not everyone is "there" yet. I personally ignored disability issues for a long time because I had some pretty unpleasant misperceptions about disabilities, both mental and physical. Then I met some people with various disabilities and ability challenges, and learned that they were not only gifted in certain ways, but really normal. However, if you'd asked me about this issue years ago, I probably would have said something ignorant and tasteless without meaning to.

Yes, people can be frustrating and disgusting and cruel--but they can also learn to do better. Sometimes a lesson won't register the first time, but will sink in later.

But...but...they might have less privilege, but they said something stupid! On the internet!

I've been there. Lots of times. Take a deep breath. Take another one, until you stop seeing red. Walk away from the computer. Now decide whether you really want to bump the person's comment so others can see it, regardless of your brilliant response. Type your brilliant response in another window or a chat program so you can get the poison out without looking like an impulsive idiot.

It's also worth remembering that people use the internet to vent, and can say things that are problematic on one level but emotionally justified on another. However, telling them to shut up and not vent can lead to more problems...especially because some people are often silenced in social situations. Women (and people who present as female) get it a lot, for example.

This is why tone policing is not actually just a fake problem. People do try to vent and explain their feelings, and sometimes end up being angry--even saying pretty unpleasant things. But when those are said in a safe space, particularly, calling them out on those comments may be the worst thing that you could possibly do. White feminists (yo) tend to get particularly upset when people say things that sound awful about, say, white people, cis people, men, etc, etc--but it's really important to put one's own feelings to the side and try to listen to the person's feelings. The reason someone says something that can be problematic is often rooted in bad experiences, particularly when the people they're talking about the majority culture.

So, to borrow an example from the links above, you might see a trans* or queer person ranting about cis scum. Not only is it not your job to tell them that "not all non-trans and non-queer people are like that", it's worth asking them if anything happened to them recently, and asking if they're okay. These rants never come out of the blue--and said person might well have had a friend beaten up in an alleyway recently for being a "tr---y".

The other thing is to remember that if someone's ranting about how men can be awful, how white people don't care, etc, etc--remember--it's not about you.  If you feel it's about you, ask the person in private. Failing that, take steps to make sure you aren't one of the people being targeted--i.e., try to listen instead of overreacting, for a start.

Okay, but this person--or public figure--is genuinely doing something wrong. Wat do?

Focus on actions rather than personal traits. Research things before you post them. Try not to pick a side obviously, if you can avoid it. Keep someone's feelings and perspective in context--what could have happened to them in life that made them think a certain way? Your positive experiences might have been someone else's trauma, or just unpleasant life events.

Sometimes, it's also just not worth commenting. I saw a discussion about how #BlackLivesMatter had been hijacked to #AllLivesMatter on Twitter; the person supporting #AllLivesMatter (which is what you'd call a derailing) identified themselves as black, gay, and HIV+. The person calling them out appeared to be male and was also black. Clearly, this complicates the issue, but the fact remains that #AllLivesMatter has derailed some of the conversation specifically about violence against African Americans. I could have chimed in...but my own perspective wouldn't have contributed enough to the conversation, and might have silenced its participants.

This is basically how feminism feels a lot of the time.

I'm incredibly triggered right now and I really, really need to address this! I'm upset!

Been there. Get out of that conversation and seek a friend or do some self-care activities. You won't be able to express your hurt feelings well in this state, and it may result in more trauma. Ultimately, you are more important than the person on the internet, but exploding on them could hurt you as well. You don't deserve that. Find a cat/dog/stuffed animal/scrap of fabric/wall/comfort item to stroke or lean against, get a drink of water, and close the window. Then delete your search history so you don't obsessively go back to the conversation and hurt yourself.

Seriously, dude, that was not cool. I need to call this person out. 

Okay, but be moderate and try to be as kind as you can. See above re: the learning process and the fact that people can be hurt. Sometimes, ignoring people is safest for your sanity, but if it's just not an option, try to focus on facts and avoid talking about personal faults. You'll look good and you might inform the people who are reading the comments but not saying anything. And avoiding a knee-jerk reaction is a good way to dodge a possibly day-ruining flamewar.

Above all, don't give into the temptation to say, "You're not a real feminist/activist/etc!" Even if you're thinking it, there is no possible way that will end well. We need to work together instead of competing in the Oppression Olympics ("I know you've had it bad, but (x) has had it worse! And I've had it worse than (x)!") or trying to play Who's a Better Feminist. Women (and feminine or queer-presenting people) are criticized more harshly than men. Men who stick up for these issues will generally be less harshly criticized because of the way power is structured here. That's good in terms of helping to signal boost things, but it's not as good on a micro level. Sometimes a person will get treated as an expert because of their social position rather than their skills.   That means that people who do have these advantages--such as, again, being white--should be careful and try not to abuse them.

Even Kyle needs to punch people sometimes.

Okay, fine. Any last words?

Remember that people's words are informed by their lives. I'm pro-choice, but if someone is personally against abortion--as in, they are meh about the right to choose but couldn't bear to have an abortion themselves--it's not my job to try to convince them that having an abortion would be okay for them. Again, I can't stress enough that any online debates and discussions need to be informed by sensitivity to social privileges. Not being able to see someone's face or real name can soften the lines of privilege, but they don't disappear completely.

Basically, what it boils down to is this: Don't be a dick. Especially when the person you want to criticize has less societal power than you do. Also, don't pull a Benjanun Sriduangkaew.

*A quick note about language used in this post before we wrap up--I know the words "stupid" and "dumb" are sometimes seen as problematic because of the implications about low intelligence, etc, etc. Because they're in common use and the context is in debate, I've left them in the post. Let me know if you object to this or have questions/comments on the issue.*

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Sunday, 30 November 2014

More Breaking News: Blog Tour! New Release!

Hello hello!

So, another promo-y post because there's more fun stuff to announce. First, the Euphoria/Dysphoria blog tour with my coauthor Nic Wilson is kicking off soon! 

Check out each blog on the day of the tour to hang out for exclusive flash fiction, recipes based on the book (mmm...rats...delicious!), and to hang out with us in the comments. You don't want to miss this one. 

December 1
Roxanne’s Realm

December 2
Sapphyria's Book Reviews

December 3
The Creatively Green Write at Home Mom

December 4
Lisa’s World of Books

December 5
Deal Sharing Aunt

December 8
Anya Breton Author's Blog

December 9
The Reader's Hollow

December 10
Share My Destiny

December 11
Paranormal Romance and Authors That Rock

December 11
CBY Book Club

December 12

December 15
Fang-tastic Books

And that's not all. Look what else is finally out! 

You can grab your copy right here. It's got all the diversity and queer representation you can expect from my books--i.e., PoC are front and centre--in a love story set long after the apocalypse. An apocalypse that might sound familiar if you've read The Underlighters. Is that a hint? It might be. Check back for info on the blog tour for this baby, too! There will definitely be prizes.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Descripturbation: How to (and How Not to) Describe Characters

Hello hello!

Today I'm going to talk about one of the thorniest and most often-ridiculed issues in writing--character descriptions. Some authors describe every pimple, dimple, dent, and wrinkle of lace; some basically avoid description at all, which can leave readers feeling as though the characters are no more than wooden silhouettes with "Protagonist's Name Here" taped to them.

So, what does too much detail look like? 

Women's clothes often get the brunt of this. The men's clothes in the same works are often less elaborate, but have a look at the paragraph below.

"Her blue paisley dress had delicate puce and chartreuse ribbons on the puffed sleeves. The layered chiffon skirt was hooped, and numerous petticoats trimmed in yellow lace spilled out from beneath its voluminous edges."

Now, that's ugly, in many ways. There are too many adjectives, some passive voice, and the actual dress combination is pretty hideous. But fancy steampunk/Victorian dresses are easy to ridicule. What does overdescription with a male character in a more contemporary setting look like?

"His perfect nose was Euclidean and his brow was high and fair. He had deeply-set brown eyes with smooth lids, and his eyes twinkled under dark brows and short black lashes. His mouth was slender-lipped and his smile, very wide. His dimples dotted golden cheeks and the creases of his grin reached almost to his dark sideburns. Slick, anthracite hair that had been gelled into perfection flopped insouciantly off to the side.

His neck was slim but strong and his golden skin showed through the opening of his blue and white plaid button-down shirt, a real second-hand item, not a designer look-alike. His Gotye t-shirt had stylized doves and hands opening on it, and his jeans--which were fashionably worn and ripped, but had obviously been broken in--had a dove embroidered on the pocket as well. I stared at his Converse sneakers and fell in love."

As a friend said, "I just think it's kinda awesome that someone who writes so well can just as easily write so BADLY at the drop of a hat."

These two paragraphs are excessively detailed, to an irritating extent, because whatever else was happening in the scene stops DEAD to let the description show itself out.

"His brown eyes sparkled as he grinned at me. He ruffled his slick black hair and leaned back, his band t-shirt peeking through a plaid button-up."

This rewrite is a bit simpler, but it still gets the feeling across without stopping the action dead. It also makes the description more active, contextualizing his eyes and hair with expressions and an action.

What about insufficient detail?

My personal prejudice is that "less is more", but if a story is full of lush descriptions elsewhere, it's probably okay to let yourself go in the character descriptions. For first drafts, it's also okay to go a bit bananas--you can always cut things later. For those of us who write fantasy and sci fi, there are extra challenges, because the books exist in unique universes.

That said, it's often a good idea to trust the reader. They can imagine things, they know how tropes work, and it's okay to skim over descriptions a bit when referring to something that should be ordinary. Wastebaskets, for example, or toilets. Focus on what's different, not just what's the same. For both characters and the setting, it's often wise to add bits of description throughout the book, sprinkling them in. Using relative descriptions can also be helpful in keeping the reader immersed. One of the best things you can do is make a description active, so that the character interacts with their environment rather than being set apart from it. Here's an example.

"She smiled and stretched her long, tanned limbs. She was tall and stringy, and her grey-streaked black hair gleamed like steel in the light of the twin suns."

We know she's on an alien planet--possibly one with low gravity--and that she's an older woman already. It's not a lot, but it can go a long way. But that's the easy stuff--what about specific character description issues?

Source. This is a great resource.

How do we describe diversity without having to say, 'this character is black or Japanese'?

The best thing you can do is get yourself a colour palette of skin tones. Dark skin comes in many, many shades--there are some incredible resources to explain some of those shades.

"Her reddish-brown skin glowed in the sun, and she squinted, her full lips curving into a smile. She unholstered her pulse rifle and trained it on the scruff-rat leisurely, then fired."

Now, you could describe her skin as 'chocolate' coloured, but that kind of description has really fallen out of use. The problem with food-like descriptions is that it's othering and a bit creepy when all protagonists are edible. It's fine in small doses--and I've seen black authors use "almond eyes and chocolate skin" as descriptors, and "creamy" or "milky" skin do get used to describe white characters, but Asian characters don't have "teriyaki or sesame skin" and Latino characters don't have "corn tortilla" skin, Nor do, say, First Nations people have "pemmican complexions". The problem is that people are sometimes unaware that the way they describe others is fetishizing (which makes a person into an object) or just plain absurd.

When it comes to describing eye shape and colour, "almond" eyes are used a lot for Asian characters, but this has become contentious and annoying for the same reason mentioned above. The jury's out on good ways to describe monolids and epicanthic folds, but mentioning 'angled' eyes, 'crinkled' eyes, 'smooth' lids, deeply-set, or teardrop-shaped eyes are all possible choices. It's better to talk to someone from the ethnic background you're trying to describe if you're not sure. As always, research is your friend.

Any final words?

We'll all make mistakes. That's life, and that's writing. Experiment and do research, and run things by friends who can mock you safely (without being too mean) if you're worried that something sounds ridiculous. And, of course, there's always asking your editor or beta readers.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Monday, 24 November 2014

Breaking News: Cover Reveals! New Releases! A Street Team!

Hello hello!

So it's been a while since this happened, but I finally have a post that's related to--gasp--my writing and work. Nic Wilson is a cool science fiction writer whose work has been on my blog a couple of times, and perhaps unsurprisingly, we've become pretty good friends. We even teamed up to write a book. Katie de Long, collaborator and instigator, was also involved. Together, we crafted exactly what you'd expect.

Buy the thing here! 

Execution above or extinction below... 

Survival is hard enough in the poverty-stricken streets of the Lower Blocks, and this woman is far from the first to flee the Engineers who oversee the City. But now Christine's a target: hunted by the aristocracy, her future uncertain, and past laid bare. And a person with Christine's powers can't afford to be caught. 

Humanity built the Foundation to elevate themselves from the poisoned earth, but Christine and Ilsa must choose whether to descend to hell below, or remain in hell above.

Please note, Euphoria/Dysphoria contains a lesbian romance, graphic violence, and some disturbing material. It is intended for mature readers.

But that's not all. After the Garden will also be launching soon.

Memories of another life and lover guide her, but are they even hers? She is a Bearer—keeper of past lifetimes and gifted with strange talents. Ember must find her answers away from safe Longquan Village, snared instead in the sensuality and dangers of The City. Hidden among spider farmers and slaves, prostitutes and weavers, a nest of people like her are waiting.

A powerful man outside The City raises his forces, determined to hunt down the ‘demons’ who could taint his followers. Threatened from without and within, can the Bearers even trust each other? 

And there's still more. A couple of blog tours will be coming up in the next few months to celebrate the launches of these books, and you know what that means--Rafflecopters! Swag and loot! Not only will I have some signed paperbacks, I'll have things like exclusive book-based jewelry, both featuring cover art and jewelry I've created, bookmarks, and even weirder bits of loot! Sure, some of it will be on offer for contests, but street team members will have special perks. In addition to the treasures, you can count on cover previews, snippets, advance notice of sales and new releases, and superb ways to waste your time on Facebook at work with other fans!

Curious? All you need to do is click here. Once I see that you've requested to join, you'll be in!

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!