NH: Live Free unless you want to do something we don’t approve of

23 04 2014
Pot vs. Booze

click image for citations and more info

In July of 2013, New Hampshire, the state where I live, signed into law a bill which allows seriously ill New Hampshire residents to use marijuana for medical purposes. (Here’s an overview of the law)  So, if you can be certified to be in serious medical misery, you can get permission to use pot to ease your pain. But some folks will be dead long before the legislature gets off its collective duff and makes the medicine available.

They have yet to issue ID cards. In the meantime, it’s still illegal for you to seek help for your suffering. And it will be 2015 before the dispensaries open. All because of bickering about how to make sure the “wrong” people don’t get hold of any of the drug and use it for the “wrong” reason. Oh, and they specifically refused to include PTSD among its qualifying medical conditions, because, well, screw you.

In other words, they are prolonging the suffering of people urgently in need and excluding people who they think aren’t suffering enough because they are afraid somebody might possibly get away with having fun.

This in a state that blithely earns a big part of its revenue from sales of alcohol, which without question does far more damage every year to people’s lives and health than marijuana ever could. And let’s not forget all that revenue from gambling (also a proven scourge, especially on the poor) and tobacco, another proven health hazard. So, what’s the big deal with marijuana?

Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with what’s rational or what makes medical sense. Alcohol, tobacco and gambling have been socially acceptable and even romanticized in the entertainment media for years. Marijuana has been condemned and propagandized against for about a century, for reasons that have more to do with politics and economics than public health. (An in-depth history of hemp and why it was criminalized is here)  Generations who grew up with the propaganda are having a very hard time accepting that most of what they were told about marijuana was wrong, especially since it came from trusted sources, like the government, schools and parents.

Aside from the jaw-dropping inconsistency and irrationality of State lawmakers, I have a personal stake in this. I’m among those who might possibly benefit from this bill, except that, like folks with PTSD, I’m not suffering hard enough.

I have chronic insomnia. And before you smirk, read on. I’ve lived with it for more than 20 years and I’ve tried every trick, tea, tincture and treatment that there is. I’ve been to half a dozen doctors, all of whom were unable to help, finally admitting that the medical community just doesn’t understand this sort of sleep disorder very well.

So you think, insomnia. Big deal. Right?

Yes, big deal. Here’s Harvard Medical’s take on the health problems of insufficient sleep.  I’d love to get enough sleep. But some nights I lay awake, get up, lay down. try again, repeat, for quite literally hours. If I’m lucky, on a good night, I get maybe six hours. Rarely, for some reason utterly unknown to me, I’ll sleep a full eight (but only in segments, never all the way through) and my god, what a difference it makes! I feel so good! Like I could take on the world.

Commonly, it is more like three to four hours, and on occasion, none at all.

I’m exhausted during the day, I get drowsy behind the wheel, I can’t think straight and I’m irrationally emotional. You know, all the stuff you’d expect from going weeks without a decent night’s sleep.

Then, thanks to the generosity of compassionate friends, I tried marijuana. Illegally, of course, because only some states are enlightened enough to allow people to make their own choices about what to put into their bodies (although it’s perfectly legal to drink yourself into a stupor every night).

It was wonderful. I did just a pinch at bedtime, and although at first I still lay awake a lot, I didn’t have the awful anxiety that goes along with “Damn, I’ve got to get to sleep; why can’t I sleep?” which in turn keeps me awake in a vicious cycle. Before I knew it, I was drifting off.

I never used it during the day, only when it looked like I was going to have one of those nights. At first that was nearly every night. But lately I’ve started to notice that there are more nights when I feel drowsy at bedtime and don’t need that single hit. It’s lovely! And when I do find myself still wide awake an hour after going to bed, I have a quick and reliable solution.

FallingAsleep

But it’s still illegal. I hate having to break the law, and have others also breaking the law out of compassion for my situation. How much worse is it for people in chronic pain, with debilitating diseases facing each day too sick to function? I have no patience for stupid laws and stupid lawmakers who make criminals out of people who just want relief, who want to feel a small piece of what healthy people enjoy.

“Live Free or Die.”  What irony.





The Twin Black Demons of Chaos in Print

14 04 2014

With the release of Roberta Gregory’s True Cat Toons, the world can now know the story of Azathoth and Yog-Sothoth.
Cat Toons Cover

Roberta collects stories of remarkable cats (of course, we who have been owned by cats know that all of them are remarkable) and has brought her many years of cartooning experience to the project of illustrating them. Her drawings capture the essence of these cats and their people beautifully. She has been posting many of these to her website, bringing them to life. Her first collection, Real Cat Toons, consisted mainly of stories of her own cat, Pushkin. Her new book is full of the wonderful stories others have shared with her. Some poignant, some funny, all capture the real-life behavior of cats and their people.

NotDogBed

Says Roberta, “Everyone living with a cat (or several) is an amateur cat behavioral scientist who, I have found, is usually eager to share their insights with the world.”

AmusedDemonsNow she has released of book containing some of the classics from her website, as well as material never before published, including the story of my demons.

Born in Los Angeles in 1953, Roberta has been writing stories and drawing pictures pretty much all her life. Her father, Robert Gregory (who died in December 2003) used to write Donald Duck and other Disney comics while she was a small child at home. “From an early age I would draw dogs and cats and horses and write dialogue balloons above their heads, and then staple little comic books together and sell them to my family members, bless them!”

In college, Roberta threw herself into the feminist movement. She experimented with various styles, publishing in the college paper, and created “Feminist Funnies” in 1974. That year she sold her first story to the underground comic book, Wimmen’s Comix, Issue #4 (published by Last Gasp of San Francisco). She expanded the comic strip into a comic book of her own, Dynamite Damsels. “I think this officially made me the first woman to solo publish a regulation-sized comic book, but I don’t think I knew it at the time.”

She continued to write and publish comics, taking on an assortment of diverse and ambitious projects. (Check ‘em out; some still available.) 1991 saw the first issue of Naughty Bits, her long-running comic book series, which introduced the character of Bitchy Bitch.

BitchyBitchy Bitch … has become my most well-known creation, and the character of mine that the most readers seem able to identify with! She has taken many incarnations, from appearing in the comic book, to stage productions, to a weekly strip, and even a cloth doll (which is, unfortunately, no longer available) and from 2001-2003, Bitchy starred in the “Life’s a Bitch” animated cartoon on Comedy Network in Canada and Oxygen Network in the US.”

True Cat Toons is her latest project, one that I have had the honor of contributing to. From the book:

It began when the daughter of the farmers we buy our milk from came up to me holding a small, black kitten.

GraceAzi“Isn’t he adorable? Our cat had four of them, and they need a home.” I admired the kitten, but I already had 5 cats. The last thing I needed was two more little mouths to feed. Plus the vet bills, the stress of integrating them into the household — no, no, I could not bear the thought, the unspeakable horror of it!

But Grace was a good salesperson. She thrust the small thing at me. “Here, hold him!”

That’s when I saw it; those feet, those marvelous feet. Double paws, front and back. Then he looked up me and opened his mouth.

“Me!”

The demon sultan had spoken.

It turned out he had a brother, also black, also with the same huge double feet. Kittens are always better in pairs; they keep each other company. AskingForTrouble

Thus begins the tale of how I came to be possessed by two demons.  Roberta took my story and a few photos I supplied, and absolutely nailed it. I was thrilled. I think you’ll get a kick out of it, too, and with the other stories of Purrrzac, Tredgekatten, Inkwell, and the rest. A treasure for any catlover, because these funny and heartwarming tales are true.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Me and my twin black demons of chaos, fully grown but every bits as adorably evil as they were as kittens.





Codswallop

31 03 2014

This is Codswallop. No, not what she said; claiming that she said it. Click on the image to find out why.

This is Codswallop. No, not what she said; claiming that she said it. Click on the image to find out why.

Sometimes there’s word that splendidly captures what it is you are trying to express. I was reading something that had me in a slow boil of mixed nausea and outrage. It prattled on with inflated self-importance, laying out a trail of utter arse-gravy with the expectation that I was going to nod and murmur, “How true!” I was supposed to take this bucket of delusional idiocy and embrace it as a brilliant revelation. I was speechless and writhing in my seat.

“Codswallop!” I exclaimed. My son looked up from his laptop curiously, sliding his headphones back from one ear.

“Codswallop,” I repeated. “This is utter codswallop.”

He nodded. “That’s a good word,” he said, sliding the earpiece back into place and returning to what he was doing.

And I thought, yes, it’s a very good word. It really sounds like what it means. It sounds like a load of loose dung hitting the bricks. There’s a feel to it like being hit with a cold, dead fish. It rolls out of the mouth in a most satisfying way. We need a word like codswallop to describe that with which we are confronted all too often.

Like so many marvelous things, we get this word from the Brits, who aren’t sure quite where it came from although they have a few, somewhat unlikely guesses. Whether it arose from the script of a 1959 UK TV series, or evolved as a slang term for an insipid soft drink, or came out of a rite of initiation not unlike Python’s fish slapping dance, “codswallop” has entered the vernacular to mean nonsense.

But by its very nature, “codswallop” feels like a much stronger term than merely nonsense. Nonsense can be harmless and fun. Children’s book are filled with nonsense, among the cream of which is Dr. Seuss. Collapsible frinks and Ofts who weigh minus one pound are good fun. I would not call the work of Dr. Suess codswallop.

No, there is an implication of something contemptible. Offensive nonsense. Distasteful, repulsive nonsense. Creationist rants against evolution are codswallop. The fabricated claims of Fox Network “News” commentators are codswallop (so are the fabricated claims of what Fox has reported – see image above). Campaign speeches are largely codswallop. Much of what bubbles and burps up onto your screen in a random search of the Internet is codswallop. (And on Facebook; again, see image above, which showed up in my Facebook feed. Doesn’t the lunatic fringe say enough stupid things without having to make them up?) “Codswallop” is a splendidly expressive alternative to “Bullshit” that you can use in a mixed audience.

Human beings have long been immersed in codswallop. We can’t help it. Our very excellent brain is skilled at reasoning, at pattern recognition, at imagining possible answers to complex problems and concocting plausible justifications for the things we believe. Unfortunately, without some means to fact-check what our bulging cortex comes up with, we end up with a great deal of faulty reasoning, patterns that aren’t really there, wrong answers and fond delusions. Codswallop. Fortunately, we have a way to separate the truth from the codswallop. We have developed critical thinking and the scientific method. And if we only taught two things in school, those two should be it. Armed with those tools, nearly everything else can be figured out.

Having armed my boys with critical thinking skills and a basic understanding of science (not to mention a firmly anchored moral compass), I feel no fear letting them loose in that seething pit of codswallop, the Internet. Because, aside from the porn and poop, there is a rich wealth of knowledge and information out there, different people and cultures to connect with, games to play, glorious dreams and clever creations to discover. It’s the hive mind, the connected uber-brain of humanity, and we are loading it up as fast as we can with everything there is to know. We are laboring to get all our great literature online, all our scientific knowledge, arts, music, and innumerable commentaries thereon and analyses thereof. I am unceasingly amazed and filled with joy at the ease with which I can do research, verify facts, and identify codswallop.

Never before have we had so easily at hand the means to ferret out the truth in any given controversy. And yet, bafflingly, so many of us choose not to do it.

Ironic though it may be, now more than ever, we need a word like “codswallop”.





Meditations on where I’d rather be

26 03 2014

"Please sir, my manuscript, I've worked so hard--" "Get in line Mr. Smith, there are 40,000 authors ahead of you."

“Please sir, my manuscript, I’ve worked so hard–” “Get in line Mr. Smith, there are 40,000 authors ahead of you.”

I am looking out the window at the frozen mud and dirty snow. A blue jay’s feathers ruffle in the cold wind. We are a week past the spring equinox but winter feels as solidly in place now as it did a month ago.

My chest spasms with the residual cough from a cold that knocked me flat for several days. It’s tough to work up the will to do much of anything beyond the essentials. Much less the ugly tedium of a task I loathe. I have a book to promote. I should be researching reviewers, pushing for readings and signings at bookstores and libraries. There are promotional opportunities out there that I ought to be pushing myself into. Advice is often confusing and contradictory (“You should never pay for reviews” as opposed to “There’s this fantastic service which doesn’t cost much and look at all these great reviews I’ve gotten!”). There are books and articles I ought to be reading on how to succeed. The thought makes me ill with debilitating lassitude.

So I crawl back into bed and hide.

I have published a book. It has been a reasonable success, considering it was put out by a small press that does very little to promote its authors, relying on the authors to do the promotion (see paragraph above). People have gone out of their way to say kind things about it. I should be pleased. Unfortunately I let myself indulge in this Capraesque dream that Archimedes Nesselrode would somehow become a phenomena through word of mouth, that sales would outstrip my wildest dreams and I’d be famous overnight. Dream big, reach for the stars, smack into reality and fall on your face.

But take heart — I have published a book which has enjoyed modest success. My publisher is looking over a second book, Awake Chimera, which I hope he will decide to pick up. A third book, Eloise and Avalon, is about to go out to beta readers for its first round of critiques. Waiting in a folder in my laptop are eleven other books, and rough drafts of half again more.  Eloquent evidence of my lifelong preference for writing over the dull, crushing misery of publication and promotion.

Lying in bed, a cat curled up next to me, purring, I think about all the work I ought to be doing in order to compete with the ocean of other books and authors out there. Hundreds of thousands of books, their ranks swelled by the growing legions of the self-published, all clamoring for reader attention. The competition is unimaginably intense. I have a choice. I can spend my time doing things I loathe, dreading each day as I claw my way through the literary mosh pit, spending money I don’t have to do what other authors do to get that edge and make those connections.

Or I can settle for obscurity. Take walks with the dogs, deal with the daily chores, plan hiking trips in the White Mountains, watch the birds at the feeders. Let my mind focus on stories and ideas. Let myself slip into the mind of a character and conjure worlds far away from this one. Create the Capraesque realities where the hopes and struggles of worthy people blossom into marvelous triumphs, sometimes just on a tiny scale, but that makes them no less wonderful.

I’ve made that choice repeatedly over the years, but I always feel guilty about it, because ours is such a success-oriented society. We count our worth by fame and income. Admiration goes to those who struggle and sacrifice and push themselves, who are smarter than the rest, more ambitious, clever, competitive and full of drive (and, let’s face it, just plain lucky). We are admonished to Keep Trying and Never Give Up. There is no greater shame than to be a Failure. Not Good Enough. A Loser. It’s always your own fault if you are. You failed, you didn’t try hard enough, you didn’t make the most of your opportunities. You are nobody, nothing, just ordinary, run-of-the-mill, small potatoes. Unworthy.

What a dreadful, miserable way for a society to be! In order for there to be winners, there have to be losers. A lot of losers. All treated with contempt for not being a part of the winning elite. By glorifying this elite we automatically condemn the vast majority of humanity. But the system is rigged. We set up five chairs in a football stadium filled with people. Even if every single person in the stadium tries equally hard, there are still only going to be five people sitting in chairs when the music stops. Five blessed people who are granted society’s permission to feel good about themselves while all the rest are dismissed with a shrug, advised to try harder next time.

So once again I give myself permission to steal away into the worlds of my fiction. I may be a writer that nobody’s ever heard of outside my own small circle, but why shouldn’t that be good enough? I am surrounded by people nobody’s ever heard of either outside of their own small circles. Each one of us has a right to a sense of self-worth and dignity, because if we all didn’t do our small, ordinary, insignificant part, there would be no context for the famous. There would be no “everybody” to have heard of them.

In the utopian society I imagine in Eloise and Avalon, there are no celebrities, no VIPs, no positions of privilege. Do you repair the streets and the plumbing? You aren’t a nobody. You are the somebody that everyone depends on. If you are good at cooperating and helping others, you are considered a success. Competitiveness is considered a character flaw. Inferior cultures waste their resources in struggles to trump one another, impoverishing the masses to heap riches and glory on the few. Efficient, advanced societies freely share their skills, information, wealth and credit for effort. Leaders and those who excel in their chosen endeavors are respected for their abilities, but not at the cost of respect for the rest. Ordinary is not a pejorative term.

We all have the places we’d rather be: The garden, the kitchen, the mountains, the lake. Right now I’d rather be just about anywhere that isn’t below freezing with a chill wind. But I’ll settle for here, with my laptop and my cat (trying, inevitably, to lay across my keyboard) crafting words and imagining worlds. Maybe I ought to be doing something else, but to hell with it. When I’m dead I won’t give a damn how much fame I’ve achieved, or not. Right now I’m alive and it makes more sense to be happy than to allow myself to be forced into misery trying to measure up to some capricious societal definition of worth.

Instead of reading that essay on how to leverage social media to promote my work, I’m a million miles and tens of thousands of years away, in the Eden monastery, with Eloise as she teaches the Thalesian philosopher monks the Old Earth names for the flowers in their gardens.

And that, I think, is a pretty fine place to be. It is, after all, why I became a writer in the first place.





Why I am not a Vegetarian

11 03 2014

veg murder

Being an unashamed Progressive Socialist Liberal type, I have a great many like-minded friends in my social circles. Among them are a fair quantity of vegans/vegetarians who have made their dietary choice on the grounds that, as they put it, “Meat is murder.” I understand their reasoning. I simply don’t agree with it.

It would be nice if that were the end of it, and we could agree to disagree without rancor. Unfortunately, as with many choices made on moral grounds, the folks making the choice feel that they are duty-bound to evangelize. Like religious folks convinced they have a moral obligation to impose their beliefs on the rest of the world, this creates a good deal of social dissonance.

I suppose I am guilty of the same thing. I believe in social equality for assorted “minorities”, such as gays, non-whites, and atheists. (actually, non-whites are rapidly out-growing their minority status, although they still lack a proportional share of power and opportunity). I approve of imposing on others my view that, for example, a dark-skinned person should not be denied a job because the employer does not like dark-skinned people. I believe I am working for the cause of justice by insisting that all citizens conform to my sense of what justice is in this case.

No doubt the proponents of anti-abortion laws, and even anti-gay laws, feel the same way. Similarly, animal rights advocates are driven by conscience to decry the horror of killing animals for meat. There is not much difference between an anti-abortionist waving photos of dead fetuses around in an attempt to ram home their point, and animal rights advocates waving around photos of animal suffering.

For the record, I am of the opinion that if you don’t approve of abortion, don’t have one, if you don’t approve of gay marriage don’t get gay married, and if you don’t approve of eating meat, by all means go cruise the produce aisle. But in a very real way, that is just slippery slope thinking sliding down to If you don’t approve of slavery, don’t own one.

So, what is a conscientious Progressive Socialist Liberal type to do? Throw up their hands and say, “Oh, it’s all relative, and defining moral laws is futile.”? I don’t think so. I think a very sound argument can be made for the very real and substantive difference between If you don’t approve of gay marriage don’t get gay married, and if you don’t approve of slavery, don’t own one.

It has to do with suffering. At rock bottom (and with only a few aberrant exceptions) all living things share in common that they wish to avoid suffering. If there is a universally acknowledgeable evil, it is misery. The reason those photos being waved around by the antis and the advocates are effective is because they depict suffering, and we all react to that (again, with only a few aberrant exceptions). This gives us a foundation off of which to work.

There is very little evidence that gay marriage causes any suffering (putting aside the anguish of those who disapprove of it), and substantial evidence that it does a great deal of good. Slavery, on the other hand, causes an immense amount of unambiguous suffering, and very limited good. So there.

Now, to return to the issue of vegetarianism. The eating of meat, something which our species evolved to do, has undeniable benefits in terms of nutrition. The moderate consumption of cooked meat is healthy and can be quite pleasurable. However, our means of supplying meat for human (and pet) consumption is appalling. Animal rights advocates do not exaggerate the amount of suffering that goes into factory farming. A direct deduction is then made: Because animals suffer, we should not eat meat. That, I contend, is not a valid conclusion.

What we should change is the way in which we raise and harvest meat animals. Suffering should be eliminated as much as possible. An animal should be allowed to grow, flourish, experience joy, and if possible, pass on its genes before it dies. That seems fundamental. In the natural world, that is about the best a creature can expect. There is no expectation of living to a ripe old age, and most creatures can expect to be killed by another creature for food at some point. This is the bargain Nature has struck with Life, and it has worked quite well for as long as Life has been around.

If the taking of life is an issue, then harvesting carrots is as much murder as butchering chickens. What makes the life of an animal more important that the life of a plant? Perhaps because it is conscious; an animal can feel pain and a carrot does not (as far as we know). Then that is the issue, not its life. We are back to suffering. If its death is quick and painless, then killing an animal is no more immoral than picking lettuce.

It could be argued that depriving a creature of life is depriving it of experiencing happiness. But how many cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens would be born if we did not ultimately expect to eat them? Granted, we could harvest their wool, eggs, milk, and so forth without killing them. Some would still be raised and given the opportunity to experience life. But their numbers would be much fewer. Is it better never to be born at all, than to experience a short but pleasant life? Is it more moral to allow pigs to go extinct, or to revert to a feral state where wild predators will do the killing instead?

Yes, we need to change our eating habits and expectations. Meat should not be cheap and plentiful. Its price should reflect the true cost of raising it humanely. Our farming methods should be sustainable and compassionate. Refusing to buy meat and produce derived from factory farming and destructive practices can help bring about change. I support that heartily.

But I am still going to eat meat. When we hatch a brood of chickens, we are going to collect and kill the roosters and they are going into the stew pot. Prior to this, they will have grown up pecking and scratching around the yard, being chickens, enjoying a life they would not have otherwise had if we did not raise chickens. If a farmer raises up pigs or cattle, lets them muck about in the sun until they come of age, breathing and playing and eating and otherwise enjoying life, then quickly and painlessly ends their lives, I will buy the meat he offers for sale.

There. Having logically gone over my reasons, I would hope that idealistic vegetarians no longer suffer under the misapprehension that my disagreement with them is simply a matter of willful ignorance or indifference to the plight of animals. My awareness is quite adequately raised, thank you. You may fancy yourself righteously superior to me if it pleases you. In that, you have much company among the religious zealots who smugly consider themselves saved while I will burn in Hell.

As for the rest of you, who grant the same respect to me that I grant to you even though we might disagree, let’s see if we can unite our efforts in other ways to reduce the suffering of all creatures. Goodness knows there’s plenty of it out there.





An Inconvenient Future

24 02 2014

Tiresomely classic, traditional titillation

Tiresomely classic, traditional titillation

Riding back from the Boskone convention in Boston, I got into a conversation with a writing colleague about NESFA (the New England Science Fiction Association) which puts on the convention, and the culture behind the con.  Those with long memories in the scene remember the Great Schism, during which a cosmic convergence of bad judgement and unfortunate circumstances led to Boskone being essentially Banned from Argo, or at least every respectable hotel in Boston.  To make an epic story short,  Boskone sobered up.  But elements of Boskone refused to stodgify, and Arisia was spawned.  In the years since, Arisia has characterized the progressive, partying, cosplay and gaming, wide-open new frontiers convention, and Boskone has come to symbolize traditional, serious, literary Science Fiction, discouraging parties, costumes, and only reluctantly letting vendors other than booksellers into the dealer’s area.

Arisia has exploded into a huge monster that sold out memberships this year and essentially takes over the hotel with 24 hour programming and a staggeringly broad range of panel topics and events.  Boskone is positively austere by comparison.  To be fair, the weather might have had something to do with it, but the difference in attendee traffic this year was stark.  Panel topics were much more limited, and discussions were often characterized by the phrase, “I can remember 50 years ago during the classic era of Sci Fi when…”

A distinct parallel exists between the NESFA and the greater SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America, although it does extend its membership to Fantasy and Horror writers as well) which has been racked with controversy over accusations of sexism, primarily as manifested in its choice of cover art.   The serious writing (and consuming) of Science Fiction has been historically dominated by Straight White Males, who naturally favor minimally clad busty Barbies in their artwork.  As diversity spreads in the community, it has been suggested that maybe this sort of titillation is no longer appropriate.  In fact, many folks, particularly women, are pretty sick of it.

The reaction in the SFWA bastion was predictable.   Like Straight White Males everywhere who see their traditions threatened, they began beating their chests and hooting with derision.  Who do these loud-mouthed broads think they are, stirring up trouble and challenging classic SF tropes?   Heck, they were happy to welcome women into the time-honored profession as long as the ladies knew their place.  Had to respect the way things were always done, not question authority, and for pete’s sake, don’t have a conniption over some harmless groping in the elevator.  Be flattered that you’re pretty enough for that august professional to want to grab a piece of your sugar.

In the latest embarrassingly apish display, we have insider Sean P. Fodera snarking at multi-talented, Hugo-award winning author Mary Robinette Kowal via a comment on sff.net (this write-up on The Daily Dot has the wretched details).  An outspoken and staunch critic of sexism in the industry, Kowal was accused by Fodera of hypocrisy because of photographs she posted on her website of her wearing a “diaphanous white outfit, posing on a beach.”   He went on to tag her as “phony”, Incompetent” and “arrogant.”

Diaphanous?First of all, Kowal has a perfect right to pose in whatever outfit she chooses, including knock-offs from Lady Gaga if the fancy takes her.  That doesn’t justify sexual harassment or make her a “phony” for demanding respect for herself and all other professional women.  But what makes Fodera’s rant particularly pathetic is its utter groundlessness.  The white dress in question was not only modest but about as transparent as the NSA.  Not particularly provocative unless you’re a Victorian prude shocked at the sight of an unclothed ankle.

While Kowal was VP of the SFWA, she dared to call out the perpetrators of incessant sexual harassment, much of it against her, and that made her a target.  Bad choice of target, though, considering the amount of respect Kowal has among members of the greater writing and publishing community.  The president of Broad Universe, an organization of women writers and publishers in the genre, wrote a piece that pretty much sums up the general response, that these nasty tactics are  “disgusting and unacceptable.”  Unfortunately, they are also completely understandable.

Consider what is happening in national politics.  Once women were property, their lives and bodies subject to male agendas.   Similarly, non-whites were kept in their place, and any gay who dared come out of the closet could be bashed right back into it again.   All that has been changing.  The Straight White Male elite is seeing their power base eroding, their privileges questioned, their traditions challenged.  The Other is demanding a place in the sandbox and a share of the toys.  They want to change the rules, innovate, and discover their own way of building sandcastles.  Whether it’s right-wing Republicans or SFWA reactionaries, the Establishment feels it was there first, it’s their sandbox and their toys, and they aren’t going to give them up without a long and bitter fight.  Classic SF or Traditional American Values, by God, the Old Guard will fight to the death to defend it from the forces that seek to destroy it.

It’s rather sad, actually.  Those poor bastards, digging in and flinging offal at their attackers as they defend the ramparts.  Conservative, traditional, sober Boskone continues to shrink, and Arisia grows wilder, crazier, and more colorful every year.  That’s how life works.  That’s the nature of democracy and diversity: Women, and the rich rainbow of ethnicities, genders and cultures, huge and rich, full of new ideas and inspiration.  Yes, and disorderly, loud, uncontrolled and unpredictable.  No wonder the Establishment feels appalled and threatened.

But even as they dig in deeper, enlightened members from within their own ranks work to welcome the inevitable change.  Jim Kelly, SFWA insider, award-winning writer of classic SF, and confirmed Straight White Male, sees the irony of writers who spent careers imagining the future complaining about the future they actually got.   He is among those who are working from the inside “to bring our organization into the Twenty-first Century.”

I wish Jim and those like him every success.  Those who ignore the future are doomed to be trampled by it.

[Fodera, by the way, has since posted a long-winded and somewhat defensive apology to Kowal, but an apology nonetheless, which she graciously accepted.]





How the Deuce did I get to be a Romance Writer?

9 02 2014

21214ValentinesEvent

This coming Wednesday I will be at the Public Library in Portsmouth, NH doing a program with four other Broad Universe authors. The theme of our presentation is “An evening with the authors: Valentine’s Day edition.” It’s one of a series of appearances being organized by the New England Chapter of Broad Universe.

I joined Broad Universe back in the days when I was virtually unpublished. My website was a lonely little corner of the Internet, rarely visited. My novels and most of my short stories occupied disk space, little more. I hadn’t started my gig with the Concord Monitor, and the idea of attending a big city convention terrified me. I had no idea how to go about breaking into one of the most competitive and crowded industries there is, the Writing Biz.

Broad Universe is an international organization of women writers of speculative fiction, which runs the gamut of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and all the shades of color in between. Members include big names and small, seasoned professionals and emerging unknowns. They organize parties, readings, and dealer’s tables at conventions, and events such as the one I’m appearing at on Wednesday. I must say, they made the difference in my career. Now my website is a busy place, I’ve had a whole host of short stories published and anthologized, I’m producing a monthly podcast, and hallelujah, my first published novel is loose upon the world.

When I joined BU I thought of myself as primarily a Science Fiction writer. Most of my work is based on real world science. Elder Light has the feel of epic fantasy, but there is nary a magic sword, crystal, wizard or elf in it. (Neither is it space opera, no rocket ships or aliens, but that’s another rant.) The manuscripts I currently have in the cue to be scowled at critically by potential publishers are both SF. My four most recently published short stories are SF. Yet here I am at a Valentine’s Day event, flogging a book which is classed as romantic fantasy. (I’m actually in good company — Phoebe Wray, who writes hard SF, will be sharing the stage with me.)

I realized that not only is Archimedes Nesselrode a romantic novel, but “Unbranded”, the short story I have coming out in NH Pulp’s Love Free or Die anthology (due for release in the merry month of May) is romance. I am in danger of becoming known for writing love stories.

Well, perhaps it’s a fair cop. The vast majority of my fiction does involve love stories, or at least relationship issues of some kind. All of them are quirky; some of them downright strange. A few of my love interests aren’t even human. There are speculative fiction elements in most of them. But not all of them. They aren’t quite literary, but don’t follow formulae. Damn it, trying to characterize my work is like trying to nail down Jello.

I guess I don’t really care how my work gets labeled as long as it gets read. I do worry though about disappointing all those folks who loved Archimedes Nesselrode and now are clamoring “for the next one.” Except for Elder Light, I don’t write series. Most of my books stand alone. And each is not quite like the others. Except for the romance angle. Alien world romance. Time travel SF romance. Real world quirky romance. Creepy Lovecraftian romance. Even in Elder Light, there’s that love angle, many of them in fact, among different characters over time.

I suppose it all boils down to my writing style: Un-dark and anti-dystopian, with touches of humor and a good deal of warmth. Technology is never more than a supporting character, so even my SF isn’t particularly hard. I want to stir folks up a bit and make them think, but not by skewering them viciously in the tender parts. I like gentle, I like thoughtful, I like fun, and my characters drive the story. I guess perhaps all that makes me a Romantic in the classic sense, but with a little more Science and a little less Drama.

Heck, I just write stories.  Call them whatever you like. As long as they get published, read, and appreciated, the labels don’t mean a thing.








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