Here is a thing.
The other day, I read a story making the rounds. British actress pretended to be the Queen to comfort a boy with Down's Syndrome who was dying of cancer. Much of the commentary was along the lines of how awesome Helen Mirren was for doing this.
The world is evil.
But we have the ability to make it less so.
Go out, fight evil. You know how to do it. It's built into almost all of us. It doesn't take a sword, or a cape, just a heart. Just a moment.
Well, no, I lie, in the name of being encouraging. The world is evil. It is twisted. As Terry Pratchett said, it runs on suffering and it does not care. Iit is overwhelmingly large and we are very small.
But we care. We can make it less so. And there are so very many of us. A moment is a good place to start. And every moment is a victory.
(Thinking anything else is the evil speaking.)
And you've already given so many, maybe without even noticing. Well done, you. Keep up the good work. You make the world less evil.
Sexism, Novels and Me
My thoughts are all jumbled up. And my old friends are going to think I have a chip on my shoulder (and maybe I do).
There's been a lot going around SFF blog communities about the ingrained sexism. I guess it's SFF's year for it. In the past it's been racism; it's been sexism in games (it's always sexism in games), it's rape culture, it's an election year.
This year: Publishing and sexism, extraspecial focus on SFF.
Yeah, it's a thing. So is racism. Blame the business, if you want. Blame the need to appeal to the most people to get the best profit margin, if you want.
And people are talking about it. They're talking about it and that's good.
But I hate that whenever a white man talks about racism or sexism or both, the conversation stops being about the problems and starts being about how awesome that man is. Even if the post is perfectly fine, the comments– oh, the comments. Thank you, thank you, great job, we need more men like you, oh thank you. This, this, I would have said this if I'd thought about it, this, thank you. You've nailed it. Congratulations.
(And I think: It's thanking somebody for announcing that it's bad to trip people.)
And my thoughts are all jumbled up. Because sexism is a thing. Sexism influences what people take seriously and what people dismiss. It influences what they think other people will want to read. It influences how they describe something. It influences how they interpret something.
And I'm happy anytime anybody exhorts others to rise above their biases.
But there's always a way out, you know? When readers, inspired by one of these conversations, swap the names of favorite women authors, I wonder about the authors who never get into the mainstream because they don't even make it past the agents. Because anywhere, any conversation, people will casually throw out the idea that anything actually good enough will be published (and published by the publishers they approve of).
After all, there are plenty of books published that buck the sexism status quo and they're all really good .
(But everybody knows that when the ladies make it past sexism they're the best of the best, right?)
I would like each of these bloggers who go post about Sexism! It's a Thing and We Should Stop It– I'd like them to find an author none of their readers have ever heard of, and I'd like them to fight sexism (or racism or whatever) by promoting an author who might have been overlooked by the mainstream of SFF publishers because of her gender (or her name or her race) or because her book doesn't conform to institutionalized genre gender standards. Yeah, there are women authors out there whose books pass the Bechdel Test. Find a new one, because there aren't enough.
And yeah, it might take a little more time and energy than an exhortation to the masses upon the 'ol blog platform. It's going to be putting their most precious commodity where their mouth is.
But they all seem so very genuine. I really think they can do this.
I’ve finished playing two more Hidden Object games in the past couple weeks (one last night) and I wanted to get down a few brief thoughts.
City of Cyan was the worst attempt at a story I’ve ever seen. It started out with a bit of potential but had absolutely hideous voice acting that just didn’t stop. That should have been my first clue. I don’t even remember the puzzles because the attempt a story was just nightmarish. The protagonist would wonder aloud why she was doing ridiculous things, comment on stuff that didn’t make sense– and there was a lot more than some hidden object scenes that made no sense. Flee far away.
I have another game in the series, Meteorite, that I will probably also play. Because I have it. If it is also really awful, maybe I’ll do a detailed blogging of my playthrough just so I feel like I got my money’s worth.
The next game I played (started and finished last night) was Dark Parables:Curse of Briar Rose. Because I’d felt so burned by City of Cyan I started with the worst site reviews on Briar Rose and then hesitantly picked it up.
It was fine. It had a lot of Hidden Object scenes, except they were Fragmented Objects instead, where you find broken pieces of some object you need to open a gate. I’d heard about that before and I think I like it; I like the feeling of cleaning up a location. The music was mildly atmospheric and the story was presented in a way I suspect is ideal for a hacked-out HO game.
Basically, in the beginning I was given a kind of silly motivation by a voiceover. And then… that’s basically it, save for what I put together looking at the scenes. There were a few inscriptions here and there. My viewpoint character never spoke. I can see now why the ‘Mystery’ framework is so popular for HO games. Being allowed to tell myself the story through the scenes I encountered was just splendid. Sometimes I built up suspense for myself that didn’t pan out (“what’s in that chained and locked cabinet in the princess’s room? Oh, her Mom’s Scepter, that’s all”) but when any possible plot point turned out to be just another use of the primary game mechanics, I… didn’t mind. Right now I have a vague story in the back of my head about what happened to Briar Rose and her family and it’s… pleasant. It’s not as good as a great story told to me but it’s significantly better than a terrible story.
It also managed to convey an excellent sense of pacing. I remember Drawn doing this well (but not how it did it) and Awakening had a little of it and City of Cyan not at all. In Dark Parables’ case, it worked because there were several elements of a few collection-based progress locks scattered throughout the game. As I acquired the pieces to complete the locks, so I got closer to the end of the game. It definitely contributed to a mild sense of urgency that kept me up much later than I’d planned to finish the game.
It wasn’t a perfect game by any means: the final puzzle was a new mechanic (always bad), I only tolerated the reuse of the same scenes for new HO collections, and some of the evocative locations were lessened by a truly silly map layout and the utter randomness of what was hidden behind progress locks. A little rearrangement could have done wonders for the self-narrated story.
But if it’s a choice between City of Cyan and Curse of Briar Rose, run, do not walk toward Dark Parables.
Amazon has announced the Kindle Worlds program, wherein they will acquire the licenses to various IPs, and then publish for profit genuine fanfiction using that IP. They currently have Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girls and Pretty Little Liars, all from the same IP owner. They will sell it and pay royalties to the fanfic author and the IP holder. There’s links and stuff below.But I also wanted to collect some of my thoughts posted in various places into one location. Sorry if it seems disorganized.
I feel…. a little unhappy about this.
(On how it’s different from current tie-in work) It’s shotgun approach. Star Wars and Star Trek novelizations are commissioned and read and approved individually. Amazon is going to publish everything that checks the ‘Vampire Diaries’ checkbox and the ‘Yes it complies with your list of requirements’ checkbox and then only cull the ones that get complaints or that their automated systems flag as questionable. There’s going to be guidelines for what’s acceptable, of course (and porn won’t be). The difference is that if I wanted to write a Star Wars novel I’d have to write a proposal and get the proposal in the right hands and get the proposal approved and then I’d write it and they’d copy-edit it and promote it and sell it and so forth. If I want to write a Gossip Girls novel, all I have to do is write it and then pull the trigger myself when the Kindle Worlds system goes live. The unhappy-causing part of that is when you consider it on a major scale. When you consider all the old tv-shows licensed by Netflix and Amazon Prime may also soon be available for commercial fanfiction, and when you consider that when you reward a behavior more people engage in it, and when you consider what Amazon Self-Publishing alone did to the book marketplace. Whether or not it affects me or anybody or any story I care about, within the Amazon marketplace and among the fanfiction and self-published community the effect is going to be phenomenal.
We already lose great writers of original work to TV and teaching and other better forms of income. Fanfiction has a vast reach. Some old readers won’t pay. Many new ones will. Suddenly there’s less and less fiction that isn’t, in one way or another, hugely mainstreamed. And so much ends up belonging to the corporations, rather than the individual creators.
I’m not prophesying DOOM TO LITERATURE, for reference. I’m complaining about increased corporate control (and demand for profit margins) over what is published, along with professional authors with mouths to feed leaving their own work for better paying jobs. That isn’t a new phenomenon but if you’ve never had a world you enjoyed abandoned because the author wanted to write for TV or movies where the money was better, you are lucky.
I’ve encountered more authors than I can count who are published by Big Corporations and have had series they’ve been writing cancelled or suspended indefinitely because the series wasn’t selling enough to meet the profit margins required by the company. But ‘selling enough’ is variable depending on the overhead; a big company requires a lot more sales to justify a product than a small one. I don’t want to get into it about whether Big Publishing is All Bad (because I don’t think it is) but they do exert a lot of semi-arbitrary influence over what their writers produce. With this move by Amazon, especially if they can get a lot more old properties, a lot of writers who aren’t already in the corporate-influence sphere (other than using Amazon as a platform) are going to move into it. It won’t be the same relationship, but– even though the fanfiction author retains copyright over any individual original elements of the fanfiction, they can’t ever take those elements outside of Amazon. Things like that. Plus, well, golden handcuffs. Definitely not the end of Literature As We Know It, and it might even have good ramifications for the professional-caliber indie authors who stick it out, as they might stand out better in a smaller marketplace. My unhappiness is for the individual authors who find themselves under even more pressure to stop writing something that they love and their fans love because they just can’t justify doing that rather than something else any more, whether those are indie authors or midlisters under the big houses.I do think this is probably going to hurt not-for-profit fanfiction of those licensed properties since Amazon is not a fan of competition.
And it isn’t that I strongly value original world-building particularly. I value authors not being angry and bitter because they were pressured to give up doing something they loved, or to write something they’re not enthusiastic about because they need to earn a living. I value things I love not being abandoned, too.
I don’t mind normal fanfiction; a strong fanfiction community is a great sign that you’ve not only arrived, you’re established. It’s just the paying for fanfiction suddenly attracts professionals and wannabe professionals who want to be paid, while solidifying the grasp of corporate control over entertainment. Fanfiction seriously has huge reach and a number of youngish authors got their start in fanfiction and then when they did produce original works, that start helped them succeed. So fanfiction has been influencing the market long before 50 Shades appeared, in a more subtle way. This is just going to change things in the most overt way yet.
Full disclosure: I toyed with making Nightlights a Bleach AU. It started out as Nightlights but was inspired by some things I liked about Bleach, after all. And if I just changed a few names and terms, whoa, INSTANT HUGE AUDIENCE. I didn’t, because…. it was a little too manipulative for me. But I did consider it. Because the vast audience available to fanfiction authors writing for Big Properties is very tempting. (It’s true that fanfiction suffers even more from the All The Shitty Indies phenomenon. But it was still tempting.)
Links and commentary on links:
http://www.forbeck.com/2013/05/22/kindle-worlds-worlds-burning/ Thoughts of a professional tie-in writer.
A bright side is that this could totally resurrect beloved but dead properties. Possibly as zombies, admittedly. But if they get licenses for all sorts of dead properties, people can bring what they’ve loved back to life and prove there’s money in it (if there is) and then the rights holder can take their ideas and sell them to everybody as a new movie/tvshow. I mean, none of it will be canon until the rights-holder says so. Why not sign up your dead IPs for it? Crowdsourcing! I mean, do you have some kind of ideals about what that rotting carcass of an IP should be that trump free money?
http://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/05/22/amazons-kindle-worlds-instant-thoughts/ Thoughts of a highly successful SF writer.
Amazon (and maybe other companies who think in terms of publishing platforms) wants to disconnect the writer as person from the product (yes, product) they create. Crowdsourcing content. Content creators. We want your ideas, but we don’t want you.
And finally: I know that old school fanfiction has a strong not-for-profit ethos. I think this evolved because that was, well, illegal. Even if it’s settled into the general mindset, I have low expectations that any philosophy can stand up to MONEY, unless there’s also money behind the philosophy. I don’t think the old school tradition alone is going to stop this from happening to old school IPs.
And now, well, new comment game: Hey, are you a writer? What IP would you write commercial fanfiction for? What IP would you give up your current project to write commercial fanfiction for? You can bet I’m thinking about that… Because you know, we don’t have a family income right now and Nightlights and Matchbox Girls aren’t doing so well…
I have a garden!
It's two plots. One was at the house when we arrived and is really awkwardly shaped: 8×9 feet or so. I used to grow pumpkins and squash in it but this year my husband asked me very nicely to skip the pumpkins. I was okay with this because last year I expanded my repertoire from tomatoes/pumpkins/zucchini to snow peas and beans and broccoli and I wanted to expand on last year's successes.
I'm also usually a container gardener. I have a lot of largish containers (5-8 gallons, I think) and I usually grow tomatoes in them. But this year instead of having a container we turned last year's auxiliary bed (which hosted the cauliflower/broccoli experiments) into an intensive 4×8 raised bed. So far all my containers are empty. We'll see if this lasts.
I also have a pallet I, uh, found in a parking lot unattended. I have some herbs and lettuce in that.
So this is what I have and plan to have: 1.5 8 foot rows of snow peas. Several teepees of pole beans. A couple square feet of bush beans. 3 cauliflower and cabbage plants (grown from starts because I planted too late last year). Various forms of lettuce. Radishes. Carrots (I forgot, some carrots are in a pot, but that's for my son.) Zucchini and summer squash. I have 3 tomato plants, and an eggplant coming from Territorial Seed. And I have a fair amount of basil and other herbs planted here and there, in the pallet and the cement blocks edging the raised bed. (Lemon verbena, 5 kinds of basil, marjoram, dill, chives, French tarragon, thyme, green onions, if you're curious.)
I'm very excited and I'm hoping to have a great harvest this year.
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