Archive by Author

Reflection

11 Sep

I’m not sure if this is a Diva-type post.  Whether we should go on with regular content, or not post at all today.  Other people will say things more eloquently, have more worthwhile rememberances of, as Verlyn Klinkenborg called it, “that sudden Tuesday” than I could ever cobble together.  Some people are shutting off the news today, and I’ll quite possibly be one of them.

I will leave this here, for those who wish to reflect.  It’s a poem by John M. Ford called “110 Stories,” and while it’s not easy to take in, it is probably the most powerful response to September 11th I’ve ever read.

How Not to Be a Jerk on Public Transportation

8 Sep

or, “one of these days, falconesse is gonna smite someone.”

1.  Put the backpack on the floor.  Are you carrying one of those big-ass hiking kits that extends two feet above your head and could see you through six weeks trekking across Europe without needing to resupply?  Is it the equivalent of lugging someone piggyback along with you?  And every time you move you’re knocking your fellow travelers over like human bowling pins?

Shrug the damned thing off and put it at your feet.  Yes, even if you’re only going a couple of stops.  Take thirty seconds to readjust when you get off the train.

2.  Your purse is not a person.  If the train is full, get your Gucci bag off the seat so someone else can sit down.  I see you not making eye contact and hoping that fellow passengers will stand rather than disturb you.  You’re one person in a three-seat bench.  Share.

3.  Offer the pregnant lady/elderly person/dude on crutches your seat.  It is not ONLY the responsibility of the person in the designated handicapped seat to be polite.  Don’t wait for someone else to be nice.  Just… be nice.  Another thing to keep in mind, if you’re waiting for the person in the handicapped seat to get up — just because someone looks like they’d be okay standing for a while doesn’t mean they are.  Some disabilities aren’t ones you can see.  So if you are someone capable of standing, make the offer.  It might not always be accepted, but the gesture is usually appreciated.

4.  Move all the way into the car.  Getting two steps inside the door and stopping means everyone getting on behind you has to maneuver around you.  Maybe you’re just going one stop, but chances are any five people behind you could say the same.  Move in.  Make room.

5.  LET PEOPLE GET OFF THE TRAIN BEFORE YOU GET ON.  /wharrgarbl.  This doesn’t just apply to trains, but to busy coffee shops and elevators, too.  Trying to shove your way aboard gums everything up.  Wait ten seconds.  You’ll get fewer elbows in your ribs that way.

I’m guessing I’m preaching to the choir for most of our readers, but if ever there’s a day you see headlines like Boston Woman Carried Off Train Shouting About Goddamned Elephant-Sized Backpacks, well, you probably know who it’s about.

Dear Divas

30 Aug

Since our posts here at the Divas are all over the map in terms of subjects, and because some of us are potty-mouthed and irreverent, we get some pretty awesome search terms from time to time.

Today, I found this question nestled within the stats, and thought hey, this person deserves an answer:

what to do if you discover your child is writing smut

Well, anonymous internet person who landed here by a terrible google search, I can help!

First of all, let’s talk semantics.  “Smut” is a great word.  It’s even fun to say.  Go on, speak it aloud.  You know you want to.  You can even sing it a little if you like.  But neat as it is, there’s a negative connotation to it, too, isn’t there?

babushka cat 2009-12
Oh look, Betty.  Mildred’s reading those smutty books again.

It sounds dirty.  Shameful.  And, since we’re being honest here at the Divas, it makes the person saying (or typing) it sound kind of prudish.  It’s a word you whisper in horror, nose wrinkled in distaste, especially when you can’t bring yourself to say “sex.”  Or worse, “porn.

I admit, I’m hopping to some pretty big conclusions here.  Maybe you just didn’t want to wade through the scads of X-rated search results that would come up if you said “My fourteen year-old wrote about Elrond giving Legolas a blowjob.”

If that’s the case, this next bit isn’t for you.

Sex is not shameful.  Writing about sex isn’t shameful.  Our bodies are pretty awesome things, and, much as parents might want to shield their kids from it, teenagers are acutely aware of its existence.  You can blame movies and music TV all you like, but when puberty kicks in, their hormones are going OMFG THIS IS GREAT.  (And, an aside here:  you have had that talk with them, right?  It might be embarrassing and awkward and omg-mom-ewwwww, but as @officergleason said when I asked him to proofread this post: “parents should talk to their kids about sex, sexuality, porn and the difficult things as they need to.  And they need to more reguarly than anyone would like to admit.”)

Writing stories with romance and sex is practically a rite of passage for teenagers these days, especially the crowd who devours books like they’re candy.

It’s another way of exploring their sexuality.  They’re probably also sneaking peeks at someone’s older brother’s copies of Hustler and staying up late to watch themselves some Skinemax.  Or they’re being really daring and finding the interesting corners of the internet.

Which, of course, might be how you discovered said smut, if you were looking at the Darling Offspring’s recent history.

I’m going to continue on with the assumptions here, and guess you’ve found some good old-fashioned fanfiction.  You might recognize some of the characters from your kid’s favorite books/movies/tv shows/anime, only they’re doing things that were never in the books.  Those characters are very likely performing some hair-raising bedroom acrobatics with one another.  Harry and Draco!  Snape and Tonks!  Arwen, Galadriel and Frodo!

Or.

Any of those characters plus someone you’re pretty sure wasn’t part of the cast.  Only, this invader seems to be suddenly more important that Harry/Frodo/Bella.  Did a randomly kickass woman join up with the sausage-fest that is the Fellowship of the Ring?  And all the men and hobbits are fighting to be her One True Love?  Does she carry the ring for Frodo for a while before slipping off into the bushes for smutty-times with Legolas?

That’s what we call a self-insert.  Your offspring has made him/herself a character in the story.

Sorry, Mildred, but that’s your kid fondling the Horn of Gondor.   I’ll give you a moment to collect yourself.

Which, I guess brings us back to the question:

What should you do if you discover your child is writing smut?

My first instinct here is this:

  • Close the file and walk away.  You probably weren’t meant to see that.  Your son or daughter might be passing this around to his or her friends and sharing it with the denizens of the internet, but mom and dad reading it?  That’s about as squicky for them as it was for you when you first read “And then Lupin’s soft rosebud lips encircled Snape’s engorged purple love-tool…” in Junior’s handwriting.

If you still feel the need to talk to them about it, there are a couple of things I want you to think about.

First, does your kid have an expectation of privacy in the place where you found this story?  As in, when you bought them that laptop, did you tell them you’d be checking their browser history and reading their emails while they were at school?  Or if you found a hard-copy version, was it stashed somewhere that you’d have to go digging around to uncover?  The extent to which you allow your children their privacy is, frankly, none of my business.  While on the one hand, I think it’s a parent’s responsibility to make sure their kids aren’t doing things online that can endanger them, I am also a staunch believer in personal space, and the respecting thereof.  Where that line falls in your household is your call.  But if your kid expected that wherever you found their story was someplace parent-free, be ready for some upset words and a good bout of yelling.

Also.  They’re probably not going to stop writing it; they’re just going to hide it better.  Not that I think keeping your mouth shut so you can keep on monitoring their Friendface account without their knowledge is a good solution.  But just sayin’ — if you start breezily with “Oh, I borrowed your computer to find a chocolate chip cookie recipe and came across This Shocking Thing,” chances are the next time you start up their machine, you’ll either find it password-protected or they’ll have buried the smut in a folder you’ll never ever find.  Likewise with “I went into your desk to borrow a pen and found Edward and Jacob: Forever Fangs.”  It’ll get moved out of the desk and into somewhere even more secret.

If you’re still dead-set on Having a Talk…

  • Figure out what your concerns are.  What is it that truly bothers you about this piece of writing?  Why?  If you’re going to wave around a printout and essentially say “OMG TEH PR0NZ,” you’re not going to get very far.  It’s, uh.  Probably a little late for a birds-and-bees talk, but it could be a good time for those other puberty-related chats you might want to have with your kids.  Y’know, the ones I don’t really know about from the parenting side since I only have cats, and none of them have working bits.
  • Deliver your concerns calmly.  Ask questions.
  • Listen.  You might get some eyerolling or angry/embarrassed silence.  Chances are, your kid had an idea for a story — one that happened to involve teh sex — and wrote it down.  No deeper, hidden meanings there.  But if you’ve twigged onto something that truly needs talking about, have a conversation.  Don’t judge, be supportive.

Stuff that is cause for concern: if you think it’s not fiction after all, and that the story is about your child or one of their friends being harmed, or inflicting harm on another person, it is perfectly valid to talk to them about it.

That said, hoooooold up a second.  There is a… sub-genre?  Trope?  in fan-fiction, one that to a fanfic outsider can look awfully disturbing.  You’re going to find stories where one character is treated horribly by another so that the love-interest can come to the rescue.  The villains are essentially turned up to eleven.  Sometimes the love-interest is the one inflicting the pain.  A closer examination of that trope is a whole other post, but the short form, the tl;dr form, is this:  almost always, one character either saves another, or turns the evil-doer around.  It might creep you the hell out.  You might be thinking, “but things don’t happen like that.”  Or, “that character needs to go to the police, not back to their abuser.”

Again, I will say this:  chances are, your kid knows that.  And in the real world, would come straight to you or another trusted adult if something happened.  However, I don’t think it’d be entirely amiss for you to check in on that point if you’re not sure.  Nine times out of ten, ninety-nine out of a hundred, nine hundred ninety-nine out of a thousand, you will be preaching to the choir.

Those fears assuaged, think about it this way:  your child is not huffing paint or sacrificing squirrels to dark gods.  They’re writing stories about sex they probably aren’t actually having.

They’re writing.  Call me biased, but that’s a damned good hobby to have.  Someday it might even turn into a career.  Hell, there are people who get paid to write stories set in other people’s already-established universes.  Go to your local bookstore and browse through the sf/f section.  See those rows and rows of Star Wars and Star Trek novels?  Those are officially sanctioned fanfics.

And if they stray out of fanfic but keep writing smut?  There’s good money in that, too.  After you’ve checked out the media tie-in books, turn around and look at the romance section.  Look at the imprints with names like “Blaze” and “Spice” and “Bow-chicka-wow-wow.”

Okay, I might have made one of those up.

What I’m saying is, your kid is flexing some literary muscles.  Sure, right now they’re playing in someone else’s world, with someone else’s characters, but while they’re doing that, they’re learning about what makes a good story.  They’re figuring out plot and setting and dialogue.  Yes, even porny plots.  This isn’t a bad thing, or a sign of a troubled kid.

If you take no other comfort from this post, I’ll leave you with this:

Hey, at least they’ll pass English.

The Universe is Noisy

15 Aug

If you’ve never dabbled in the awesome that is TEDTalks, you, my friend, are missing out.

Essentially, it’s smart people lecturing on any number of subjects, up on the internet for free.  The purpose is to spread ideas and spark curiosity.  I often wish I had the time and the money to go back to college — not even necessarily for another degree, but just to learn.  So a whole website where I can learn interesting things?  Yes please!

Two examples:

Janna Levin:  “The Sound the Universe Makes”

“Adam Savage’s obsessions”

Go forth, browse and learn stuff, then come back and share the neat things you’ve found!

Food. From a Truck.

8 Aug

I always thought getting lunch from a truck was a terrible idea.  Like asking for food poisoning bad.  I mean, how clean can the equipment be?  How fresh the food?  It seemed like salmonella waiting to happen, and thus I thought myself wise for avoiding a thing that I didn’t even have access to, anyway, since there weren’t very many food trucks in Boston to start with.

Then Tyler Florence came along.

The only reality shows I’ll watch are food-based ones.  Make a bunch of people compete in a kitchen and I’m there.  Add to that my favorite Food Network personality (okay, maybe second-favorite.  Alton Brown might win for sheer geeky awesomeness), and well, even though The Great Food Truck Race was based around a serving-style that made my stomach do anticipatory flip-flops, I had to watch at least once.

It didn’t help that, when he caught me sheepishly, guiltily watching the first episode, my husband sat down and watched it with me.  And joined me in our living room the next week for the second episode.  And the next, and the next.

Over the course of the competition, my “dear god it must be crawling with e coli” assumptions melted away.  The food these contestants were making looked good.  Looked tasty and — if not always healthy for you (I’m lookin’ at you, Grill ‘Em All) — at least made with fresh ingredients by people who knew how to cook.

When the race was over, I was kind of sad that Boston didn’t have any food trucks.

Then, this past spring, as I left the train station and began my trek to work, I noticed a little white box truck.  On the way home that evening, the heavenly smell of rosemary fries wafted past.  It wasn’t long before I was slowing down as I walked past, craning my neck to read the Clover Food Truck’s menu board.

They served popovers in the morning.

Popovers.

If you’ve never had them, hie thee to your Betty Crocker cookbook now and find the recipe.  They’re incredibly tasty and easy to make, though I usually only have them at, say, Thanksgiving dinner if my aunt makes a batch.  The popovers did it.  I overcame my oh-god-it-might-kill-me fear and ordered one.  With a cup of coffee.

Both were pretty damned heavenly.  And not only that, but they opened up another location right near my office.

I did not die.  In fact, I’m pretty hooked on their breakfast menu, and their soy BLTs (seriously SO GOOD) are a regular lunch staple for me.

I’ve become a convert.

And season two of The Great Food Truck Race starts this month.  With a team from Boston!

A Note on Worldbuilding

26 Jul

Remember the book?  (Ooooh, the book.  Grrrr, the book.)

Two months on and I’m still not finished with it.  I’m closer to the end now, maybe a hundred pages away.  Most of my progress has only happened because I decided it was better if I started skimming.

Two hundred pages of that and I haven’t missed a damned thing, plot-wise.

Because there hasn’t been much plot.

Plenty of character development… for people I suspect are mostly side-characters we’ll never see again once this bit of the arc is over.  Our Hero becomes fascinated with one companion in particular:  a man from another culture whose methods of communication are vastly different.

And here’s where the problems begin.

“Teach me,” says Our Hero.

“‘kay,” says his companion.

Then, for the better part of two hundred pages, we get to sit in on the lessons. It gets tedious very quickly.  Even though the conversations are different, the misunderstandings become repetitive.  We learn — over and over and over — about the nuances in the companion’s communication style.  We get lessons in his culture.  Eventually, after a battle scene that finally inches the plot along, and a 70-page side trip into more worldbuilding (I shit you not), Our Hero follows his companion back to his home country for even more worldbuilding.

And no.  Gorram.  Progression.

Here.  Let me show you how a character can learn another language without it taking up half the goddamned story:

See that?  Three minutes, and Antonio Banderas has solved the problem of “Oh shit, do we have to read subtitles for the next hour and a half, or have everything run through a translator?”

While I will commend the writer of this book (grrrr) on the detailed and intricate world he’s created, and will freely admit that he can string sentences together and create colorful characters, that’s about the best I’ve got.  When it comes to story, we’ve simply been wallowing.

Writers:  know your worlds.  It’s essential that you understand the rules governing the places you create.

However.

Your readers don’t need to know every last excruciating detail.  Reveal only what is necessary.  Don’t dump it out all at once or spend chapters and chapters teaching the protagonist about the society while nothing else happens plot-wise.

Let’s say your hero spends time with the River People.  Their boats are swift and sturdy, and eventually the hero will escape from the villain in one.  If you’re devoting thousands of words to how the boats are built, or why they’re shaped a certain way, that knowledge had better come into play later on.  A few paragraphs?  Fine.  Sure.  It’s a neat tidbit and a bit of flavor about the world.  But chapter after chapter?  Showing the hero selecting the tree from which to carve the boat?  Showing him carving it out and boiling the pitch to make it water-tight?  If it has no bearing on the plot, ask yourself if you’re not simply wasting the readers’ time.

For a good example of a character learning about a new culture, take a look at Daenerys Targaryen in A Game of Thrones.  She’s married off to Khal Drogo and has to pick up the Dothraki language and its culture as she goes along.  We sit in on some of her lessons with Doreah, but they always move the plot along.  Her handmaidens, Irri and Jhiqui, fill in interesting things Dany needs to know while other things are going on.  When Dany learns she has to eat a stallion’s heart in front of the Dothraki, she does — and the action has a noticeable bearing on the story.

Venture with me, if you will, back to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books.  I’ve complained bitterly about the plot stalling for several books, but hark back to the early titles with me, and think about when Rand and the Two Rivers folk spend time with the Aiel.  They tromp all over decorum, embarrass themselves and have misunderstandings that are sometimes comic, sometimes serious.  They spend plenty of time with no bloody idea what the Aiel are on about, or how to interpret their words and actions.  But while all that’s happening, Rand is moving towards becoming the Car’a’carn.  Egwene is learning the strength and self-resilience that will not only make the Wise Women accept her enough to teach her how to control her Talent for Dreaming, but the things she learns in the Wastes will eventually help her become the goddamned Amyrlin Seat a few books on.

In this book?  (Oh, this book. Grrr, this book.)  I’m seeing none of that.  Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe in the next 100 pages or so, I’ll find out why the agonizing details of all the lessons were so damned important.  Maybe because I’ve been skimming, I’ve missed Our Hero’s Huge Epiphany.  (Spoiler: I haven’t.  I was actually watching for one.  It’s not there.)

Eight hundred pages in.  Out of that, I’d guess two hundred pages are actual plot, and that’s if I’m being generous.

I don’t think there’s a golden ratio of worldbuilding to character development to story.  If there is, I certainly don’t think I’m the person to declare what it might be.  Still, devoting less than a quarter of your time to your plot is probably doing it wrong.

Build your world.  Love it.  Know its ins and outs.  But be careful not to overwhelm your readers with it.  Those keen little tidbits can always be published as extras for your fans, whether as neat bonus stuff on your website, or in an eventual compendium if you’ve got an epic on your hands.

Pop into the comments and talk to me!  What stories have you read where the worldbuilding was done well?  Have you read anything where the setting dragged down the plot?

On the Borders Closings

22 Jul

Last week, Borders’ last-ditch efforts to remain open fell through, and on Thursday, the bankruptcy judge overseeing the case approved the Borders Group’s plan to liquidate.  Which means, sadly, that the majority of the 399 remaining stores will close, and close to 11,000 bookstore employees will lose their jobs.  A handful of stores might get picked up by Books-a-Million, but Borders as we knew it will be gone by September.

I’ve stated before:  any loss of a bookstore is tragic.  While I haven’t seen people jumping with glee about the Borders news, anyone who does is an asshat.  Analyzing what went wrong is fine — I’m guessing the rise and fall of Borders will be a college course someday.  But if you meet anyone who thinks it’s awesome that they’re gone, find a heavy book and hit them with it for me.

With the liquidation sales beginning, I find myself torn when talking about it with others.  I can understand the desire to go to a closing store and show some support while (bonus!) getting books for cheap.  I also wonder if that might not be money better spent at a new venue.  At the next-closest local bookstore, or in some other locally owned and operated establishment — a bakery or a print shop or a store filled with knick-knacks.  If we don’t support them now, they might not stick around.

If you’re losing your local Borders, my condolences to you.  Every store is its own unique community, and what you found there might not be easily replicated at the bookstore the next town over.  Still, I urge you to keep your sales flowing into bricks-and-mortar stores.  If you’re not sure what’s nearby, the search function at IndieBound is excellent.  Should the next-closest store be impossibly far away, a gentle reminder that most indies support online ordering these days.  Sure, you can’t put toothpaste and a Three-Wolf Moon tee shirt on the same order, but you’re supporting a small business.

And, if the loss of Borders is driving you to make the switch from dead-tree books to e-books, remember that you can purchase Google ebooks through your friendly indie bookstore, too, and download them onto any device except the Kindle.  I’m happy to point you at bookstores who sell Google ebooks, if you’re curious.

Do you have a Borders near you?  How does the closing affect you and your future book-buying?