The Borrowers and the Power of Internal Consistency

I love the series The Borrowers, by Mary Norton. It’s whimsical without being overly twee, it’s exciting, it’s clever, it’s Edwardian with a little modern edge. The illustrations, by Beth and Joe Krush, are clever, detailed, and delightful. How I love adventurous Arrietty and her nervous parents – especially her mother, Homily, who is the most timid member of the family and yet shows the most backbone when push comes to shove. This book and others in the series are children’s books that adults can enjoy – indeed, as I’ve grown older, I find more to love in them every year.

These books describe the lives and adventures of Arrietty, her mother (Homily), her father (Pod) and various other characters who come in and out of the story, both human and Borrower. The Borrowers are tiny, tiny people who live secret lives. They prefer old houses with no pets or children, where there is an abundance of both clutter and routine. They live secret lives, and they don’t grow food or hunt animals or make anything from scratch. They borrow. So when you lose little things – buttons, safety pins, that kind of thing – the Borrowers took it.

The Borrowers has many things going for it but one thing I’ve noticed is that The Borrowers completely commits to its premise and is completely internal consistent. There’s no cheating here. Great attention is paid to how the Borrowers move, how they transport objects, and how they live their lives. This means that even though the premise is outlandish, the reader can commit to it. If there WERE Borrowers, clearly they would be just like this. While each book in the series has a compelling plot, the plot is not what the reader remembers. The reader is more likely to recall that Arrietty’s room is made from a cigar box, and that Homily quite loses her head when she realized that Pod can borrow form a doll’s house when a child comes to stay in the old house where they live, and that Pod climbs curtains with the aid of a pin and “name tape” (a sort of decorative ribbon). Here’s some of the lines about their sitting room:

The walls had been papered with scraps of old letters out of waste paper baskets…On the walls, repeated in various colors, hung several portraits of Queen Victoria as a girl; these were postage stamps, borrowed by Pod some years ago from the stamp box on the desk in the morning room. There was a lacquer trinket box, padded inside and with the lid open which they used as a settle; and that useful stand-by – a chest of drawers made of match boxes.

The Borrowers is also an ode to the importance of creativity and change. The family experiences “a golden age” of Borrowing when they get access to the doll’s house, but it doesn’t make them happy (Pod in particular becomes terribly bored) and it leads them into terrible trouble. They feel safe in the old house, unlike their relatives who all “emigrated” and whose fates are unknown – but in the safe house there is also stagnation. Who will Arrietty marry? Will the Borrowers die out altogether? Taking risks jeopardizes their immediate safety but makes their long-term safety possible. It’s a cozy series about the value of not being too cozy.

There are several editions of course, and movie adaptations, but do get the version with the illustrations by Beth and Joe Krush. How can you resist?

An Interview With Matthew “Novastar” Carauddo

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This week’s interview is with Matthew “Novastar” Carauddo, founder of Saber Combat, which specializes in lightsaber classes and performances.

Tell us about your saber combat business – it involves shows, classes, and parties, right? Tell us about what you do!

There are many facets to the goals of, and the actions/work of SaberCombat.com.

One aspect of the work is regarding unique performances that run the entire gamut of staged work, including fight choreography, staging, sound editing/engineering, vocal recording, music, and–naturally–costumes and building LED saber props that are meant for hard strikes and punishment.

An example of one of SaberCombat.com’s projects is at this link–a complete re-enactment of the famous “Empire Strikes Back” saber fight scene between the two epic heroes we’ve grown to know and love:

A second aspect of SaberCombat’s contributions & work are more about workshops, birthday parties, and special events.  No two are alike as every event has its needs, desires, requirements, and circumstances.

Events can be as complicated as a corporate event with a performance and “saber workshop” for adults in mind:

…or, they can be much simpler (to a point)–as events designed for youth, birthday parties, or martial arts schools. Parents end up having MORE fun than the kids… SOMEtimes… 😉

A third aspect of SaberCombat is… helping OTHERS to do awesome saber combat / staged combat work, in the form of tutorial videos, the SaberCombat fight choreography system (DVD tutorials on the website), and classes.

How did you get the idea to run a saber combat business – and what was your first step in making it a reality?

To be perfectly honest, a lot of it simply occurred “over time”, and in some ways, was simply a subset of my fencing instruction and experience.  The site and business didn’t actually come from one, singular, resolute decision.

Taking a step backward in time, back in 2005, I was brewing upon an idea I had to do an entirely LIVE light saber performance, involving 10 performers all on stage at once, complete with sabers, sound editing, music, vocals, a general story & characters, dramatic staging, and of course… awesome fight choreography.

At the time, I was running a small saber fencing business, and my involvement with anything “Star Wars” was limited to a few video games, the films themselves, and being inspired by John Williams awesome music.  I didn’t even have any kind of “jedi costume”–never had any need.  🙂

But my sudden idea to do a 10 person fight required a lot of behind-the-scenes work, planning, money, initiative, research, and of course… even auditions & casting!  🙂  Also, initially, it was VERY difficult to get or build the appropriate props for actual staged combat, as… at the time (again ~2005/2006), the technology simply wasn’t present.

Nova - Palpy edited by Rosika

The 2006 performance of “Balance of Power” was a huge hit with viewers (Youtube was actually very new at the time!), and it emblazoned me to continue on to… see where the proverbial “rabbit hole” went… 🙂

Over due time, I actually ended up helping to further innovate LED saber props as part of a small “saber community” (which built props on their own, independent of large toy companies)… and even ended up designing some of the first custom “saber sound fonts” that were installed into more present-day sabers.  🙂

 

Examples of my sound font work can be found here:

More time passed, and I made a simple staged combat tutorial (care of numerous requests from fans & viewers) and released it as a single product for people to learn from.  A year passed, and I had greatly built upon my own basic system, and wanted to share more of it… so I paired up with a local martial artist to film some more in-depth tutorials to become a part of two DVDs–each with several videos entailing how to do high-level staged combat with the right kinds of tools, notation, drills, patterns, training, etc.

Shortly after that, the DVDs and work became so popular, SaberCombat.com went from being a site “solely to launch the DVDs” into something MUCH larger!  I’d taken my first step into a larger world.  🙂  Well… more like my 4th or 5th step, I suppose…

What’s the biggest challenge in your business?

Lately, the biggest challenges have been tenfold (unfortunately).  I’ve recently run into a lot of health issues–despite my lifestyle being fairly well revolved around fitness and staying in shape.  I’ve had to pour almost every dime I have (which isn’t much, sadly) into two MRIs recently, and… there isn’t much I can do right now except fight through extreme pain, shoulder issues, and so forth.

Finding the RIGHT people with the right work ethic, team spirit, dedication, and true desire to innovate has been very, very difficult!

But, I’m extremely hopeful, as… I HAVE worked with some REALLY great people–really talented individuals, such as my associate Gary Ripper (Ripper Sabers & Ripper Blades), who not only portrays “Darth Vader” in my “Empire Strikes Back” re-creation, but designs and sells some AMAZING acrylic & polycarbonate saber and sword prop blades, all hand-designed.  For more information, just look up “Ripper Sabers” on Facebook… you’ll know his incredible work when you see it.

Ultimately, challenge is a good thing.  If a hero in a film “quit” when things became overwhelming or difficult… he or she would NOT be much of hero, now would they?  🙂

You have a cyberpunk project in the works – tell us about your involvement with that!  What’s the series about, and what’s your role?

Ah, you’re resourceful, and… must be watching my “Novastar” Facebook page!  🙂  I can’t really say all that much about it right now, but here is a video which shows a different side of my work, as… I’m not just a “light saber guy”, my background is varied.  Performance, acting, writing, costuming work, vocal work and electronics fit into many ways of expressing art:

I have since grabbed myself a “long length” leather jacket (only $30–discount store) in order to help the costume & look work better, so… progress is being made.  Stay tuned for more later on!

It’s summer, it’s hot, kids are bored, mom is tired. What movie that ISN’T Star Wars should we watch?

Ironically, since you noted this possible cyberpunk project I may be involved in… instead of a film, how about a game?  An “old” one, but a great piece of work that won “Game of the Year” twice over, if I recall correctly.

The game is “Deus Ex” (2000), the original one created by Ion Storm, made for PCs.  It couldn’t be more than $10 now to buy, and it’s definitely one of THE best games I’ve ever played, winning on so many levels: excellent gameplay / skill trees / RPG elements, excellent music, excellent storyline, perfect ambiance, great characters… it’s the way a game is supposed to be made!  Not just “shoot everything in sight” like they seem to be doing these days.  🙂

Here is a short animation where I was able to voice the “J.C. Denton” character.  I’m hoping to do more with this, too:

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My only final thoughts would be… whatever your passions & dreams are–keep pursuing them.  I realize that this is cliche’, but here’s something important I will add to that…

The most difficult part about pursuing your dreams & passions is the fact that you are going AGAINST the grain.  Society will prefer to push you toward ITS desires, and let’s face it: when 1000 voices are telling you to “go left” when your heart tells you to “go right”… you question yourself, and sometimes–it’s MUCH easier to just stop listening to yourself.

You have to also do the WORK though, too.  🙂  Nothing good comes without dedication, consistency, and weathering the proverbial storms & tsunamis that life often casts your way.  When the storms come–you mustn’t stay there, you must fight THROUGH them, and as the old quote goes… “keep going”.

“When you’re going through Hell… keep going.”  –Churchill

Hawkeye Vol. 4: A Great Conclusion to a Great Run

I’d like to thank Hawkeye Vol. 4 (Rio Bravo) for making me cry at the public pool. No, really. The other moms didn’t think it was weird at all. Jeez.

Since 2012, Matt Fraction and artist David Aja have been writing a Hawkeye comic for Marvel. This comic tells the story of “What Hawkeye does when he’s not Avenging.” Hawkeyes, AKA Clint Barton, adopts a dog, he trains his protege, Young Avenger Kate Bishop, (she gets several issues of her own drawn by Annie Wu), he fights with his ex, he drinks too much, and he gets beat up a ton. What makes this run so great is that Clint, on his off hours, isn’t trying to save the world – he’s trying to save his apartment building, and getting his ass royally kicked in the process.

This run is never gimmicky, but it’s often experimental and meta. There’s an issue (#3) in which Clint decides to sort his trick arrows. For complex reason, he and Kate find themselves in a car chase with one bag of arrows – Kate grabbed the un-labeled trick arrows on her way out the door. Hilarity,. mayhem, and a lon, long payoff joke ensure. There’s an episode in which a great deal is communicated via sign language, and an episode in which Clint dreams that he’s a character in a kids’ TV show. Above all, there’s an issue that takes place entirely from the point of view of the dog (Lucky, known to fans as Pizza Dog). In this issue( #11), people talk over Pizza’s Dog’s head, but the only words we see are ones Pizza Dog knows (I was impressed by “Collar stays.” How, I wondered, would the dog know what collar stays are? He doesn’t, bu the words are legible because he knows “Collar” and “stay.”)

Here’s a short and incomplete list of reasons I love this run – the last volume just came out and I can’t urge you enough to run out and buy all four and have a glorious binge. I didn’t even like Hawkeye before this run. It’s a jewel among comics.

  1. Pizza Dog.
  2. Everything else on here should be Pizza Dog.
  3. The Russian Gansters who inexplicably say, “Bro, bro” all the time. In Hawkeye’s dream, Hawkeye is a dog and the Gangsters are wolves who say, “Dog, dog.”
  4. Clint’s brother Barney.
  5. Kate Bishop. LOVE HER. LOVE HER ARC.
  6. The humor.
  7. The heartwarming stuff
  8. Everyone in the apartment and how they use Clint’s TV because he broke the satellite dish (with an arrow)
  9. Boomerang arrow.

As is so tragically often the case, io9 says things much better than I do in their post “6 Reasons Why Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye is One of Marvel’s Greatest Comics” by James Whitbrook. So go read that, and then read Hawkeye. Or skip to Hawkeye. Because Pizza Dog, Bro.

Between the Lines Book Club: Truly Weird Adaptations of Crime and Punishment

between the lines book club logo

In Sacramento, CA? Join us for an in-person discussion of Crime and Punishment tomorrow (Aug 22, 2015) at 10:30 AM at Arden Dimick Library!

Unlike some other classics, there’s no single iconic adaptation of Crime and Punishment, although there are a few movies and once might sound Law and Order as an adaptation that’s very long-running. While there may be no adaptation that is iconic, there are several that are just plain weird. Here’s some of the bizarre things people have done with the novel:

Proving that everything is better with Batman: Crime and Punishment Batman comic!

This spoof, from the collection Masterpiece Comics, tells the story of Crime and Punishment with Batman as the main character. In this version, Batman decides to take the law into his own hands – murder and angst ensue.

Teen Angst: Crime and Punishment in Suburbia (Film, 2000)

This movie has a 21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It tells the tale of a teen girl who is attacked by her stepfather and plots to kill him with the help of the school quarterback. When she’s accused of the murder, the weird outcast high school kid with a crush is the only one she can turn to. This seems to be a love it or hate it movie.

Because Les Miserables wasn’t depressing enough:

Crime and Punishment is being made into a musical. I’m just going to drop this here and back slowly away.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/01/crime-and-punishment-musical-moscow-stage

http://russia-news.us/news/culture/dostoyevsky/

Wednesday Videos: WWI and the Birth of Modern Fantasy

WednesdayVideoAnd now for something completely different…a video that includes me!  I gave this presentation, “The War that Launched a Genre: WWI and the Birth of Modern Fantasy” at Sacramento Public Library.  I had a great time, and you can tell that I thought the topic was “really interesting” because I seem to have said so about once every five minutes. The presentation includes discussion of “The Battle of Dorking”, H.G. Wells, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, modernism, C.S. Lewis, and, of course, Tolkien.

Warning: it’s long, and if you take a drink every time I say “really interesting” you’ll be unconscious in the first thirty minutes.

Why I Care About the Sad Puppy Hugo Mess

Worldcon starts this week and I sure wish I were there – hello friends at Worldcon! Hug David Tennant for me if you see him! Seriously, last year at this time my entire Facebook feed was all my friends hugging David Tennant and oh lord, the envy, it burns.

This is, of course, the year of the Sad Puppies, and I want to talk about why this issue matters to me, why I feel passionately about it, and why I would hope that people I perceive as my friends would feel just as passionately as I do. I see the Sad Puppies as a problem not only because they have hurt and angered a lot of Hugo fans this year, but because they are part of a larger pattern of pushback against traditionally marginalized groups who are moving into the mainstream in a variety of fields.

The Hugo Awards are science fiction awards that are voted on by fans. Fans have to pay a fee (currently $40) to vote. It’s a normal practice for individuals to put out a blog post suggesting that their followers consider certain works. In 2015, two groups, the self-named Sad Puppies, led by Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen, and the Rabid Puppies led by Vox Day, conducted an effort to stuff the ballot with a specific slate of nominees (a move which was legal but unprecedented in scale and coordination for the Hugos).

The Sad Puppies have two major complaints about the state of science fiction awards today:

  1. The Sad Puppies feel that their preferred sub-genre (hard military space opera, adventure) is no longer the cool genre. In particular, they feel that “fun” science fiction/fantasy (SFF) has been replaced with “Social Justice Warrior” approved, cerebral, experimental, and political SFF on ballots that are monopolized by a leftist science fiction fan elite. The Sad Puppies view the science fiction of the 1960s, 1970’s and 1980s as an era of “fun” science fiction (a nostalgia that ignores the presence of more cerebral and experimental genre fiction during each of those decades). They feel that not only is their preferred brand of fiction disappearing, but that it is being co-opted by different social and political viewpoints. In his blog, Sad Puppy co-founder Brad Torgersen writes:

A few decades ago, if you saw a lovely spaceship on a book cover, with a gorgeous planet in the background, you could be pretty sure you were going to get a rousing space adventure featuring starships and distant, amazing worlds. If you saw a barbarian swinging an axe? You were going to get a rousing fantasy epic with broad-chested heroes who slay monsters, and run off with beautiful women. Battle-armored interstellar jump troops shooting up alien invaders? Yup. A gritty military SF war story, where the humans defeat the odds and save the Earth. And so on, and so forth.

These days, you can’t be sure.

The book has a spaceship on the cover, but is it really going to be a story about space exploration and pioneering derring-do? Or is the story merely about racial prejudice and exploitation, with interplanetary or interstellar trappings?

There’s a sword-swinger on the cover, but is it really about knights battling dragons? Or are the dragons suddenly the good guys, and the sword-swingers are the oppressive colonizers of Dragon Land?

A planet, framed by a galactic backdrop. Could it be an actual bona fide space opera? Heroes and princesses and laser blasters? No, wait. It’s about sexism and the oppression of women.

Finally, a book with a painting of a person wearing a mechanized suit of armor! Holding a rifle! War story ahoy! Nope, wait. It’s actually about gay and transgender issues.

Or it could be about the evils of capitalism and the despotism of the wealthy.

Do you see what I am trying to say here?

Our once reliable packaging has too often defrauded our readership. It’s as true with the Hugos as it is with the larger genre as a whole. Our readers wanted Nutty Nuggets because (for decades) Nutty Nuggets is what we gave them. Maybe some differences here and there, but nothing so outrageously different as to make our readers look at the cover and say, “What the hell is this crap??”

Regardless of whether Torgersen’s perceptions about science fiction in years past is accurate, his concern is not that science fiction has changed, but that the people he perceives as being published are representing world views that he is at best not interested in and at worst hostile to – and those world views are being presented in the mainstream market, instead of discreetly shelved as LGBT fiction, or Women’s Studies. In the words of Geek Girl contributor Heather Thayer,

The Puppies are a problem not because they prefer a certain sub-genre, but because instead of simply advocating for this sub-genre, they complain about what they view as the encroachment on their territory by people who are different from them and have a different point of view.

  1. As a group of mostly white, conservative men, the Puppies feel they are no longer the cool kids in science fiction. They feel they are shunned for their perceived religious and political views, and that this not only subjects them to discrimination at conventions but also ensures that their work will not win awards. Larry Correia, in a frustrating but admirably polite exchange with George R.R. Martin, talks about being nominated for a Hugo and then feeling unpopular at Worldcon:

So I mostly hung out with the Barflies, because they were cool. But I can hang out with Barflies at fifty other cons where I’m not assumed to be the second coming of Hitler because the Internet said so. And while I hung out with them, I got to hear how many of them were shunned for various reasons too.

Then I went to the award ceremony, and the parties, and the various schmoozefests, and I discovered that the Hugo Awards were like one great big In Joke. And the cool kids told their cool stories to the other cool kids, and lorded it over those who weren’t part of the In Joke. Honestly, it reminded me of high school, and I was the poor fat kid who had inadvertently pissed off the mean girls.

Listen, people like the Sad Puppies come and go. In a few years, no one will care about them. But they are still a problem. The reason the Sad Puppies are a problem is that they are part of a pattern of push-back that happens when women (and people of color, and LGBT people, and other traditionally marginalized groups) are perceived as moving into white male spaces. This is happening in, among other places, the science fiction community, gaming, science and technology fields, and the Atheist/Skeptic community. Some people welcome the increase of diversity in these spaces. But some people say, “HEY! This is the place where I am finally on top of the social heap! Who are all these people coming in and acting like they are my actual peers? I’m losing status! I’m losing privilege! I’m being crowded out of the pool!”

Of course, the frustrating thing about this is that most people will adamantly deny that they are misogynistic/homophobic/racist. I’d actually rather deal with someone like Vox Day of the Rabid Puppies, who is transparently racist, sexist, and homophobic, than someone like Larry Correia, who complains that people dislike him because of his beliefs without wondering if maybe the problem is that his beliefs are oppressive and offensive to much of the human race. Correia and Torgensen are adamant that they are neither racist nor homophobic nor misogynistic, while referring to the 2014 Hugo’s slate as “affirmative action.” (For the record, I’m a huge fan of almost everything and everyone who won a Hugo in 2014. Here’s the list.)

Most people who push back against minorities won’t state their bigotry as openly as Rabid Puppy Vox Day, who is somewhat infamous for making incendiary comments about various groups. Instead, they will voice more coded complaints, but ones that are clearly based in their fear of losing privilege and status. For instance:

  • Cons are overrun by fake geek girls. All these women who keep coming to conventions now aren’t true geeks.
  • Women complain about harassment over every little thing. I don’t see why they are so easily offended.
  • All the awards/panel spots/publishing contracts are given out to people who don’t look like me; it’s a plot because their work is clearly not as good as mine.

The mistake these people make is in believing that they are entitled to something. No one is entitled to an award, or a contract, or a seat on a panel. The Sad Puppies and people like them are so used to a playing field that favors them that if other people get on the field they think it’s unfair when it’s actually just a tiny hint of parity. Heather Thayer points out that the 2014 Hugo slate that attracted the wrath of the Sad Puppies is hardly monopolized by minority writers:

I agree that the winners were diverse, but was the slate “dominated” by diverse writers, or was there simply a fair representation of all writers (including white males)?

Let’s look at it:

The Novel category was two women and four white men.

Novella (won by a white male) was again two women and four white men.

Novelette (won by a white woman) was two women, an Asian man and two white males

Short story: Asian male, two women, and one white male.  Okay, that one is “dominated” by diverse people, but nothing out of whack with demographics.

Of course, I cannot comment on LGBT diversity based on a picture, but looking at who the white males are for most of the categories, I think I can safely say that the slate was not overrun by gay white men.  And oh yeah, if a person is a gay woman of color, that doesn’t count as three – that’s just one diverse person.

The point is that the Sad Puppies BELIEVED that the 2014 list was “dominated” by diversity.  But it wasn’t.  It was simply “diverse” – including plenty of white male (or space opera) representation. In fact, both Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen were nominated, so they certainly had someone to vote for.

Evidence suggests that these people are not victims in terms of professional success. Larry Correia, for instance, made the New York Times Bestseller List in 2010 and 2011, and was nominated for a Hugo in 2014. George R.R. Martin, in his conversation with Larry Correia, did an epic takedown of the notion that marginalized people have suddenly taken over. But what if previously marginalized voices did take over? What if Larry had to say, legitimately, “No one reads my books anymore?” Well, that would be too bad. I’ve heard good things about Correia’s writing (I’m completely unfamiliar with Day and Torgersen’s writing). But tastes change, the market fluctuates, and no one has to buy anyone else’s’ book. No one is entitled to market success. Which is why being a writer can kind of suck.

So why not just ignore the Sad Puppies? Because the Sad Puppies are part of a bigger picture and sometimes that picture is ugly at best and deadly at worst. The Sad Puppies are part of a culture that includes Gamer Gate (a separate movement) and its followers who use trolling, harassment, doxxing, swatting, and death and rape threats in an attempt to intimidate people, usually women, to stop talking about sexism in the gaming industry. The Puppies, while not affiliated with Men’s Rights Activism, are also part of a culture of threatened privilege and entitlement that make MRA groups popular. At best, this is a culture that discourages women, people of color, and people who identify as LGBTQIA from participating in fandom (and the sciences, as well as other professional and fan communities). At worst, this larger culture is physically dangerous. Women, LGBTQIA people, and people of color are victims of discrimination, harassment, and violence on a regular and highly disproportionate basis, at cons, online, at home, and in the workplace. This shit is real.

The Sad Puppies aren’t advocating violence in any way – all they want (this year) is for their slate to win a bunch of awards. But they are part of a culture that is both enraging and terrifying. There are serious consequences when a privileged group furthers an agenda of exclusion, paranoia, and victimhood because they see that their privilege ebbing away. I take their campaign personally because the Sad Puppies have attempted to make me feel unwelcome in a space (science fiction fandom) that is my home. I don’t mind sharing my home but I do mind being told I can only live in a corner. The Sad Puppies have embarrassed a community that has worked hard to battle bias and hate speech and harassment within its own ranks. They have contributed to the alienation of multiple groups of creatively diverse people who have wonderful things to share. They have contributed to a culture of fear and bigotry in a community that has been fighting so hard to become more welcoming and equitable.

I don’t know what to do about the Sad Puppies, but here’s what I do know – please don’t say that you don’t care. You should care. Keep a sense of proportion – in immediate terms, the Sad Puppy debacle is not an issue of life or death in the same sense that, say, reform of the justice system is a matter of life or death. But I do believe, strongly, that the Sad Puppies’ efforts to hijack the Hugo’s contribute to a culture which is actively, violently dangerous to women, to people of color, and to people who identify as LGBTQIA. The pushback reflected in Sad Puppies, the sense of fear and victimization because of a perceived loss of privilege, is the same pushback we see in so many violent crimes and institutionalized injustices. The Sad Puppies are a tiny, whiny drop in a bucket – but it’s our bucket, SFF community, so it’s our job to deal with it.

Full disclosure: As if I didn’t already have enough reasons to dislike Vox Day he attacked the other webpage I write for (Smart Bitches, Trashy Books) because he felt we were acting as “thought police” for objecting to a romance novel in which the heroine (a Jewess, saved through faith in Christ) falls for a Nazi concentration camp commandant being nominated for an award. So there’s that. Honestly this is the least of my reasons to dislike him, but if it comes up, hey, you heard it here first.

Con-volution is Coming!

I’m attending Con-volution 2015 again this year and I couldn’t be more excited. This is a mid-sized convention and one of the friendliest out there. If you are a convention pro, I recommend the convention for it’s focus on encouraging artistic and professional development. If you are new to conventions, I encourage you to attend this because you won’t find a more warm, friendly, welcoming crowd anywhere. The theme of Con-volution this year is “Legion of Fandom”, and it celebrates the amazing diversity of our community in terms of who we are and what we love!  Come hang out with me and a whole lot of people who are much cooler than I, including but not limited to:

Brianna Wu

Frank Wu

Jackie Kashian

Balogun Ojetade

Also attending are a ton of my personal colleagues and friends, including but again not limited to Jaym Gates, Steve Mix, Emerain Rich, and Marie Brennan.

Con-volution will be held Oct 2-4 2015, at the Hyatt Regency, SFO.

Between the Lines Book Club: Five Themes from Crime and Punishment

between the lines book club logoBetween the Lines Book Club is meeting on Aug 22, 2015 at Arden Dimick Library in Sacramento, CA to discuss Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. We meet at 10:30 AM and coffee is provided.

To get you in the mood, here are some themes to pay attention to when reading the book:

1. Guilt and Morality

Is it ever ok to kill someone? Is it ever OK to hurt another person? What about hurting yourself? If you commit a crime, do you have to atone? How?

These issues are explored through the central crime of murder but also through prostitution, child abuse, suicide, and political crimes. Dostoyevsky spent eight years in a labor camp in Siberia for reading banned books so he had a very high stake in matters of deciding what is and isn’t a crime and how people should pay for it.

2. Being in one’s “right mind”

How does being insane (or drunk) affect your culpability? Are you responsible for things you do when not “in your right mind”?

3. Free Will.

A lot of coincidences happen in this book, they aren’t the result of lazy plotting. Are the characters ruled by choice or by fate?

4. Poverty

Dostoyevsky spent much of his childhood living on the grounds of an institution for the poor (his father was a doctor there). As an adult, he struggled with poverty all his life. The characters are largely driven by money and yet the central crime is not. As litcharts.com puts it, speaking of Raskolnikov:

His rehabilitation will come through a spiritual and ethical rebirth, and not through a monetary windfall. He did not kill for money, and he cannot be reformed by money.

5. Family

Family means different things to different people, but for all of the characters family is a driving force. Who feels hostile to their family? Do they act out of love or obligation? When do family relationships motivate people to be “good” and when do they motivate people to do bad things?

Other themes to watch for: suffering, religion, education.

An Interview with Emerian Rich!

Emerian and I became friends at local coventions where I had to admire her hair and her eye make-up, which is amazing art! Turns out she’s also a tireless blogger, a prolific author, and a dynamic speaker! I asked Emerain to talk to us about the many hat she wears and how she finds time to juggle her many, many projects.

You have a lot of balls in the air – Horror Addicts, Regency Romance, SEARCH Magazine– tell us a little bit about your various projects.

Man, we could be here all day. My personality type is one that gets bored easily and I’m quite hyper, so to feed my “have to do something new” monster, I get myself involved in all sorts of stuff. I’m also OCD so let’s do this in a format I’m more comfortable with.

  • Horror Writer: I love writing my vampires in Night’s Knights Vampire Series, but I also have become a fan of short horror. It was hard to get involved in the short story game because my head just naturally thinks in novel length, but when I realized that shorts take a different sort of talent, a small idea, well crafted, the challenge was set. Now I enjoy the experiment of a horror short and when someone asks me to be in an anthology, I jump at the chance to stretch my short story muscles!

 

  • Horror Hostess: I started HorrorAddicts.net as a podcast to tide my vampire fans over until the next book, but it has become its own entity. With 10+ staff, we operate a podcast, blog, and now publishing house. Sometimes it seems very overwhelming, but it is so rewarding, that I must keep it going. This has also increased my voice acting jobs and opened my career up to new possibilities such as MC’ing and interviewing.

 

  • Romance Writer: Although it’s no secret, a lot of people don’t know I also write romance under the name Emmy Z. Madrigal. My Sweet Dreams Musical Romance Series started it all. It’s centered on older teens who are music lovers, including pop stars and the whole Jazz music scene. The spin off Anime Girl is targeted to twenty-somethings and is more of a chicklit type read about an Anime artist who falls in love at an Anime con. My most recent romance sale is a Regency romance called Lord Harrington’s Lost Doe. It’s more of an Austen-like novella with a rain-tormented estate, a lost girl, and the dark, tall, and grumpy Lord that finds her. Lost Doe should be released within the next year.

 

animegirlcoverfinal-copy

 

 

  • SEARCH Magazine Editorial Director: This is my newest baby and I am having fun learning all the new things the magazine can teach me. I’m also loving the new relationship it gives me with my writing staff. Writers are great people with vivid imaginations and I love seeing what they will bring me next!

Your newest baby is SEARCH Magazine (disclosure – I write for it). How did you get involved with this project, and what can readers expect from the magazine?

I was approached by the publisher to help her launch this local San Francisco Bay Area magazine. I loved the idea and jumped at the chance to add one more feather in my hat. I’ve directed many publishing projects, but this is the first mainstream publication. Her vision of bringing new and innovative ideas to our area really hit a chord with me. I love her slant on arts, entertainment, and her passion for growing local businesses along the way. If your readers would like to check out the magazine, they can get a free eCopy online at: searchmagazine.net

 

cover of SEARCH magazine

With so many projects happening at once, do you have any time management tips for us?

My answer to the first question shows that I like to segment my projects into boxes. So here we go with some bulleted tips that help me accomplish the impossible:

  • Become a note taker and list maker. Take a few minutes in the morning of each day to sort what is urgent and what can wait.

 

  • Try to get through as much as you can in one sitting, but make sure to give yourself realistic goals and breaks.

 

  • Make rules about social media. When you do it, when you don’t. We all need to do it, but it can end up gobbling up a lot of your time.

 

  • Above all…make sure everything you are doing is either working toward a goal, or enjoyable for you to do. If a project isn’t fun for you, honor commitments that you’ve already made, but then cut ties or figure out another way to contribute that is less irritating to you. The more enjoyable the work, the easier it will go.

If people want to start reading your work, where do you suggest they start?

At my main website, emzbox.com, they can find everything I do. I have horror, vampires, modern romance, regency romance, a little scifi and now a mainstream magazine. There’s a little bit for everyone. If they are looking for a good book to start off with, I would suggest Artistic License. It’s about a woman who inherits a house where everything she paints, comes alive.

cover of Artistic Liscence

It’s summer and I’m headed to the beach (in my dreams). What book NOT written by you should I put in my beach bag, and why?

I’m reading a great Pride and Prejudice variation by my favorite variation writer, Kara Louise. It’s called Pirates and Prejudice and it features Darcy becoming a pirate. A lot of time is spent on the ship, surrounded by water and beaches. Darcy being taught how to talk like a pirate is hilarious, even my husband enjoyed that bit. It’s a must read.

Book Review: Five Reasons Liberty’s World Blew My Mind

1404076-2Liberty’s World is a science fiction novel by Lee Killough that I read in high school (freshman year, y’all). The plot, in a nutshell, is that a ship of colonists makes an emergency landing on a planet that they hope to settle on. Because eh ship is damaged, they HAVE to settle on this planet, or die in space. Unfortunately, the planet is inhabited. Liberty, a member of the crew, has to make peace with the planet’s residents or find some alternative home for the colonists. It’s a short book, not high concept, but it blew my mind in some simple but powerful ways. Here’s how:

1. The heroine is mixed race and refers frequently to her “Hispanic and amerind” ancestry.

The cover is not whitewashed. Even today this is unusual, and in 1985 it was a revelation. This is probably the first science fiction I read that prominently featured a woman of color.

2. The heroine is not sexy and her story does not involve romance.

Confession – despite probable anatomical differences, I’ve always shipped Liberty and Ishda. However, their story is not presented as a romantic one. Liberty is not presented in a sexual light. She’s a fully realized character but she’s not here to be a hottie or pick up a guy. It was thrilling to read a story in which a woman was not defined by her sexuality.

3. It’s economical.

The whole book, in it’s paperback 1985 edition, is 237 pages long, yet it manages to do am impressive amount of world-building without clunky or lengthy exposition and it manages to develop the characters of Liberty and Ishda in some depth (other characters are barely sketched in). It’s refreshing in a world of epics and massive series to see this depth of culture and world building in such a small space. New writers take note – this book is tight.

4. Liberty is active but not an action star.

Nor is she a maternal figure. She’s basically a really, really smart person with excellent survival instincts. When she does fight, it’s a good model for a small person with no combat skills (me) – she goes nuts. She bites, kicks, scratches, and goes for the eyes – whatever it takes.

5. This is an action book about intelligence and diplomacy.

The colonist’s situation is so dire that it feels like an action book. The pace is so fast, and there are so many smaller scenes of action, that it feels like an action book. But Unlike one of my other 1980’s female SF heroes, Liberty can’t solve her problems by “nuking the site from orbit” (love you, Ripley from Aliens!). She has to solve her problems and the problems of her people through diplomacy – which has a poignant edge since among her people she’s never fit in and hasn’t mastered diplomacy at all. She’s not intuitively a political thinker but with survival on the line she figures shit out – and her lack of social skills with humans actually helps a little bit, because she has fewer preconceptions and judgments when presented with the other.

So many other great things to say about this book – aliens look pretty alien, their culture is neither vilified nor sentimentalized, and the first two sentences of the book are genius, very, very quickly and powerfully conveying the trapped sensation of being on a spacecraft that can’t sustain itself and has nowhere to go. The success of the book rests largely on those first two sentences, which demonstrate the predicament of the colonists. That keeps their predicament in our minds even though we don’t spend much time with them. This book is a master class in tight, emotionally engaging structure.

Between the Lines Book Club: Four Fun Facts About Fyodor Dostoyevsky

between the lines book club logoWelcome once again to Between the Lines Book Club! This month we are reading Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. You can join us in person on August 22, 2015 at Arden Dimick Library, Sacramento, CA at 10:30AM.

There is a huge amount of detailed information about Dostoyevsky online, but here are four facts about his life:

1. He had epilepsy

According to Charge.org, a health website for people with epilepsy, Dostoyevsky had a rare form of temporal lobe epilepsy called “static epilepsy”. He documented 102 seizures during the course of his life. Many of his fictional characters have the same condition. In The Idiot, Prince Myshkin describes a seizure:

‘He was thinking, incidentally, that there was a moment or two in his epileptic condition almost before the fit itself (if it occurred in waking hours) when suddenly amid the sadness, spiritual darkness and depression, his brain seemed to catch fire at brief moments….His sensation of being alive and his awareness increased tenfold at those moments which flashed by like lightning.  His mind and heart were flooded by a dazzling light.  All his agitation, doubts and worries, seemed composed in a twinkling, culminating in a great calm, full of understanding…but these moments, these glimmerings were still but a premonition of that final second (never more than a second) with which the seizure itself began.  That second was, of course, unbearable.’

Fyodor as a young man in 1847

2. He was arrested, scheduled to be executed, and exiled to Siberia for reading and circulating banned essays.

Dostoyevsky spent four months in prison waiting to be sentenced and was condemned to death. According to Wikipedia:

They sentenced the members of the circle to death by firing squad, and the prisoners were taken to Semyonov Place in St Petersburg on 23 December 1849 where they were split into three-man groups. Dostoyevsky was the third in the second row; next to him stood Pleshcheyev and Durov. The execution was stayed when a cart delivered a letter from the Tsar commuting the sentence.

Dostoyevsky spent the next eight years in a Siberian prison camp where we was shackled constantly and forbidden to read anything except the bible. Sometimes he was sent to the hospital where he was able to read Dickens and newspapers. His novel, The House of the Dead, written after his release, was the first published Russian novel about prison.

The New Testament that Dostoyevsky took to prison

3. He was unlucky in love until he met Anna Grigoryevna Dostoyevskaya, who became his second wife.

His first wife was Maria Dmitrievna. The marriage was unhappy. She died in 1864. In 1863 he met Polina Suslova, with whom he had a mad affair. After Maria died, Dostoyevsky proposed to Polina but she turned him down. He finally met Anna, who was a fan of his work, seems to have been a fairly stable emotional person, and was smart enough to take over the family finances so that he could not continue to game away all the money he possessed.

Dostoyseky was infirm, neurotic, poor, and a gambling addict, so he wasn’t much of a catch, but he sure knew how to sneak in a proposal. Again, from Wikipedia:

As described in the Memoirs, Dostoyevsky shared with Anna the plot of an imaginary new novel, as if he needed her advice on female psychology.[5] In his story an old painter made a proposal to young girl whose name was Anya. Dostoyevsky asked if it was possible for a girl so young and different in personality to fall in love with the painter. Anna answered that it was quite possible. Then he told Anna: “Put yourself in her place for a moment. Imagine I am the painter, I confessed to you and asked you to be my wife. What would you answer?” Anna said: “I would answer that I love you and I will love you forever”.

Anna Grigoryevna Dostoyevskaya

4. He was famous during his lifetime.

His funeral was huge – anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 mourners attended.

Guest Post: Heather Thayer Reports From San Diego Comic-Con

Logo of SDCCThe biggest joy of attending San Diego Comic-Con is that I usually get to bring at least one person with me. This year I took three kids (see my post here: Surviving SDCC With Kids). I also took my friend Heather, and if you are wondering why it’s taken so long for another post about SDCC to come out, I suspect she just woke up! I have never seen another person more thrilled about SDCC and it was a highlight of the trip for me to see her excitement. Here’s Heather’s report!

I went to San Diego Comic Con and It Was AWESOME

I don’t know what possessed her to make such a generous offer, but last year Carrie asked me if I would be interested in going to San Diego Comic Con (SDCC). It has always been a dream of mine to go, although I was worried because I don’t like crowds or standing in line. But hey, given the offer I agreed that I wanted to go as a “bucket list” sort of thing. Carrie warned me that there were a lot of “ifs” before it would be possible, but as winter finished and spring began, I started getting jazzed about the idea. I tried for my own badge and failed, so it wasn’t looking good, but then Carrie got badges, stuff happened, some family issues got resolved and suddenly, with only weeks to spare, I got the email from Carrie that we were a go.

The Schedule

The first thing to know about SDCC is that the schedule is insane. At any given time there are tons of interesting panels, autographs to get, offsite events, gaming tables, cosplay to look at, movies and shows constantly playing and a stupendously huge exhibition hall with merchandise, art, giveaways, and events.

Choices Choices-2

As soon as the panel schedule was posted in early July, I pored through it picking items that I was interested in seeing, but knowing that I’d be lucky to catch even a fifth of what I had selected. Early on I realized that I didn’t have the stamina to camp out overnight to get into the famous Hall H – the colossal hall where the biggest panels are held. The hall holds 6,500 people and the line usually starts the night before, serpentining across a plaza outside. While it was a disappointment to give up the Hall H experience, I decided that there was plenty else to see and do. I picked one or two things per day that I really wanted to attend and other than that decided to take things as they came. I was particularly interested in some of the “how to” panels about creating characters, writing tips, insider perspectives on script development and costume design. I planned to be perfectly happy attending such panels for three days in addition to catching a panel or two on some of my favorite shows. And I think I would have been happy, if that had been how things turned out.

Serendipity

The first day came, I took the train into town (I was staying in Carlsbad with family friends), easily found Carrie and her be-winged daughter, we went right in and were handed our badges with no delay and there we were – inside SDCC — crowds of people being directed by armies of volunteers, people in cosplay and long lines, celebrities and fans. After an interesting writing panel in the morning, Carrie and I split up and I decided to get the lay of the land. I wandered outside – in part because I wanted to get a picture of the famous Hall H line. As I walked by the Hall H entrance, volunteers were there announcing that there was no line for the Hall and there was seating available. Alrighty then! I went in. I saw Bill Murray, then the Hunger Games: Mockingjay panel (I saw Catching Fire six times in the theater, so I’m a bit of a fan), the Doctor Who panel (I paid to go see the 50th Anniversary show simulcast in the theaters, so I’m a bit of a fan) and then the Con Man panel – the crowd-sourced web series created by Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion (I contributed a substantial amount to the campaign, so I’m a bit of a fan). For me, that final panel was the culmination of everything awesome since all of my favorite geek icons were there Chris Hardwick! Seth Green! Wil Wheaton! Felicia Day! And then this happened and everyone in Hall H cried.

Best. Day. Ever.

The other days were not quite as exciting, but every day I was able to see panels on shows that are my absolute favorites. On Saturday morning Carrie and her husband and I went to an offsite event for Orphan Black (we are HUGE fans – Orphan Black was our cosplay).

That's Heather as 'Alison' and me as 'Cosima as Alison'!

That’s Heather as ‘Alison’ and me as ‘Cosima as Alison’!

I was vaguely hoping that one of the actors might show up, so I was delighted when almost the entire cast was there. I was also able to see the Outlander panel on Saturday, so now I can die happy. And on Friday was able to ask J Michael Straczynski a question about Sense8. Me, talking to J Michael Straczynski about a show I love! How cool is that?

The Vibe

There were lots of people, but SDCC has line management and crowd control down to a science, so it never felt crushing. All of the people there want to be there and are interested in fun, geeky things, so the energy is uplifting. The spaces are vast, so with people spread out in the different rooms, waiting in various lines, prowling the Exhibition Hall, or outside the Convention Center at offsite events – there are few times when one finds oneself in a crush. The two primary exceptions were in the Exhibition Hall, which was crowded and loud and overwhelming; and trying to get onto the trolley at the end of the day – an exercise that made the Tokyo subway seem orderly and spacious. Besides, it was a pleasure to just stroll, looking at the people and the terrific cosplay.  I’ve never seen so many Boba Fetts and Lady Siths in my life.

Exhibition Hall

A fair amount of time is spent in lines – if there is a panel you really want to see the trick is to get into the room a few panels ahead of time. I saw The Man in the High Castle and Vikings panels this way – panels that I enjoyed that I otherwise wouldn’t have attended. Most of the medium and large rooms have lines that snake around the Convention Center, crossing hallways and eventually ending up outside under tents on the terrace. The lines are orderly and well-marked, and unless movement is imminent, most people sit down and wait, which actually turned out to be some of the most interesting times of the trip.

Autograph Line

I am not the most outgoing person in the world, but it was easy to talk to people in line and in the halls because no matter what they looked like (Suburban housewife? Gangbanger? Hacker dude? Thor?) they were all there because they shared an interest in geeky things and simply saying “what are you in line to see?” could start off an intense conversation about this genre that we all love. What a refreshing thing to be able to fangirl and not worry that the other person didn’t know what I was talking about! The other great way to start a conversation was to ask a cosplayer how they created a certain prop or effect – anyone who put so much effort into a costume was always delighted to have someone notice.

Cosplay4

Madame, you are KILLING IT. Kudos!

The Verdict

I don’t think I’ve ever had quite as much fun in three days as my three days at SDCC: exciting, overwhelming, fun, interesting. I came away inspired to be more creative and to spend more time on my writing. I may need to take cosplay to the next level – Halloween is right around the corner. I was expecting crowds and hassle and some interesting moments, but instead it was energy and excitement and fascination. I can’t wait to go again.

Guest Post: The Top Three Harry Potter Characters, By a Young Fan

IMG_3073Today we have an unexpected guest post from a young Harry Potter Fan with things to show and tell! Here she is:

My Top Three Harry Potter Characters

I’m not counting Harry because he’s such an obvious choice! Read the books first, because the books are like twenty times better than the movies. And, the books are super long, so if you watch the movies first, then when you read the books you’ll say “I already know what happens!  And this is so long!  I’m just going to stop reading this!” And you’ll miss out on all the cool stuff that they left out of the movies because the people who made the movies were stupid.

#1. Dobby

Dobby is a house elf and Dobby tries to save Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Chab of secrets. Later, at the end, Harry finds a way to free Dobby by tricking Dobby’s master into giving him a sock. It works because Dobby can only be free if his master presents him with clothes. I like him better in the movies because they add in more cute and adorable things for him to say.

#2. Hermione

Hermione is on this list because she is a POWERFUL FEMALE CHARACTER YAY!

#3. Luna Lovegood

She’s here because she doesn’t care what anybody thinks about her. She’s really fun because you never know what to expect from her.

 

Do you have favorite characters? You can collect all your favorite characters, including these three, by buying my mini-figs!

They are $1 each with the exception of Hagrid who is $2 because he is large! Shipping charges may apply. You can order a mini-fig by emailing my mom at geekgirlinlove123@gmail.com. Place your order today!

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