Conundrum

Sometimes I forget that I’m reading websites from the UK and headlines about the BBC get real confusing.

That Doesn’t Speak Too Highly of God

Alleged pastor Robert Henderson – appearing on the television program of longtime grifter Jim Bakker – attributed Donald Trump’s repeated courtroom defeats to Satan’s influence in the “Courts of Heaven.”

Henderson said God can do whatever he wants, but sometimes needs a little prayer boost now and then. A little kick to get him through the day. God doesn’t have cigarettes in Heaven? Do these people even hear themselves speak?

I’m far beyond being shocked at their hypocrisy or greed, but their inability to adhere to a basically coherent fictional story world is galling. If you read this narrative in a book, you’d toss it in the trash for lack of consistency. This crew needs an editor, or better yet, an army of red pens.

Click it: Christian Pastor: Satan Infiltrated the ‘Courts of Heaven’ to Block Trump’s Reelection

5 things I’ve Learned Halfway Through A Year Long Portrait Project

In this article, Seattle-based photographer Casey Cosley shares what he learned six months into a year-long project in which he challenged himself to take a photograph portrait of a different person every single day.

Cool project and motivational lessons. You can also follow his Instagram.

Click it: 5 things I’ve Learned Halfway Through A Year Long Portrait Project

 

Because If There’s One Thing America Loves, It’s Science! 

Laura Ingraham insisted Wednesday that any new executive orders and restrictions pitched as helping to contain the coronavirus pandemic should receive full scrutiny from legislators and the public.

“Before Americans are forced to accept new restrictions on their freedom or even be shamed or beaten up for not complying with these mandates, shouldn’t state legislatures hold hearings? We must insist on all of this, demand to see all of the science behind the lockdowns, social distancing and the masks.”

Click it: Ingraham tells Americans they must ‘demand to see all of the science’ behind lockdowns, distancing and masks

The sad reality is that this is what Americans would like science to work on.

 

Society is Creating a New Crop of Alpha Women Who Are Unable to Love

Goddammit. Being unable to love is *my* thing. Stupid alpha women.

Alpha Women

Click it: Society is Creating a New Crop of Alpha Women Who Are Unable to Love

Why The Golden Ratio Is Better Than The Rule Of Thirds

Fine art photographer Jon Sparkman wrote a great introduction to how the Golden Ratio (or Fibonacci Circle) can help you compose your drawings or photographs. Fascinating stuff. You have to wonder how many artists knew of this composition technique and which understood it instinctively.

Photo by Jon Sparkman

Click it: Why The Golden Ratio Is Better Than The Rule Of Thirds

TFW You’re So Racist You Shoot Another White Cop

An Arkansas cop who threatened to shoot Black Lives Matter protesters has been arrested for shooting and killing a fellow officer.

Calvin Salyers allegedly told a superior that if any Black Lives Matter protesters came to his house he’d shoot them through the door.  A few days later, when fellow officer Scott Hutton knocked on Salyers’ front door, Salyers discharged his weapon through the door, fatally wounding Hutton.

Salyers had been admonished that firing a weapon at someone without identifying or even seeing them would be a bad thing, so he claims his gun went off accidentally as he transferred the weapon from his right hand to his left, because that’s a thing that happens. Salyers has yet to explain why he thought BLM protesters would come to his house.

Click it: Cop who threatened to kill protesters shoots, kills colleague who knocked on door, affidavit says

The Children of the Corn Were More Efficient

 

As a concept, the Iowa caucuses are well past their expiration date, but that doesn’t stop our corporate media from cherrypicking metrics to create scenarios that will encourage clicks and buttress a candidate preferred by their corporate owners.

A generous reading of even the preliminary votes suggested a tie between Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg in the final delegate count, which is the number that matters. From the start, Sanders led the first alignment count and final alignment count in pure votes, which are the numbers that should matter.

Nonetheless, since Tuesday morning, the media has portrayed Buttigieg as the winner of the caucuses, because he held a few more state delegate equivalents than Sanders. The state delegates represent the voters from the precinct level at the state convention, where the delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be chosen. Or something like that.

The state delegate count is an essentially meaningless interim measure between the numbers that matter: the popular vote and the national delegate count. However, by picking and publicizing the one metric in which Buttigieg leads, the corporate media chose its own winner of the Iowa caucus, a nonthreatening mediocre white guy who is much more likely to weigh in on the side of their owners’ interests. This gave Buttigieg a massive amount of free media exposure, including multiple interviews across morning news/talk shows, and bragging rights leading up to New Hampshire’s primary.

As of this morning, three days after the caucus, Sanders has increased his lead in the popular votes and caught up in the state delegate count. Buttigieg has won 550 state delegates and Sanders has won 547. Interestingly, the New York Times is no longer reporting how many national delegates each candidate has earned. Color me cynical, but I’d guess the numbers would show Sanders in the lead.

How the NYT displayed the results:

Tuesday morning:

Thursday morning:

Click it: How Corporate Media Make Pete Look Like He’s Winning

Click it: Iowa Caucus Results 2020 (New York Times)

The Case For (and Against) Fan Fiction

Almost every writer I know has written their fan version of a favorite character, cast, or show, myself included. Even my snobbiest writer friends have a story in mind for Batman or the Star Wars Universe or Dorothy Gale, even if they’d never deign to write it down. It comes with the territory. Few writers can turn off their inner thieves when ensconced in a story they love. What they should have done was…

There’s a whole cottage industry around fan fic. Corporate tolerance for fan stories and films comes and goes, but even the piggiest suits seem aware that non-monetized fan fiction is good for their ecosystem. The more people talking about their properties – for free! – the better. You don’t want to piss off your hardest-core fans right before a multi-million four-quadrant movie is about to be released, and big corps can still be shamed if it looks like they’re picking on some fan writing stories for no compensation.

Fan fiction is oft dismissed as inferior to “real writing” but there’s certainly plenty of poorly written original fiction to go around. There’s no inherent reason your short story based on a minor character from Game of Thrones can’t be well written.

And really, isn’t most modern pop culture writing fan fic? Go to any comic store – the writers and artists of Superman, Batman, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Captain America? All fan fic writers. The people who wrote the last four Star Wars movies and the Star Trek reboot? Highly paid fan fic, clearly, but fan fic nonetheless, as most of the men who created those characters are dead. (Hang in there, George Lucas!)

The reality is, some writers do get lucky and get the chance to play in their fantasy sandbox. Why celebrate them but pick on the writer posting Riverdale homages on their blog?

Some would argue that fan fiction is intellectual theft, that fans shouldn’t assume ownership of characters and situations they didn’t create, even if they don’t sell their work. On the other hand, some believe that work belongs to the fans, because without fans, where would these characters be? People blast J.K. Rowling for revisiting and expanding on situations from her Harry Potter novels – such as her belated outing of Dumbledore – but think nothing of people not named J.K. Rowling writing copious volumes of fan fiction, including slash fic.

So – to fan fic? Or not to fan fic? I have mixed thoughts on the matter. To answer in full, I will require two hats.

The good guy hat.

From one perspective, there are only two questions to consider when approaching fan fiction: Does it bring you joy? Are you hurting anyone?

If it makes you happy to write stories about Spider-Man or Ghostbusters, have at it. Life is too short to refrain from an activity that makes you happy. Truly. Write that Lupin/Snape slash fic and crank one out after.

Maybe fan fiction isn’t your main drive, but nonetheless, you have a story in your head. Mine is a third Tim Burton Batman film with Fairuza Balk as Harley Quinn. See? We all have one.

So, write it down. If you don’t want to write a full script, blast out a synopsis one afternoon, if for no other reason than to get the story out of your head so there’s room for the next one.

You can’t make money from your fan fiction. That’s stealing. But if you’re writing for yourself or posting stories for free on your blog or a fan site, and you’re not hurting anyone by doing so, and if it brings you joy, write all the fan fiction you want. No one can tell you otherwise.

The bad guy hat.

But why on earth would you want to?

I suppose fan fiction is fun and has it’s place (see above re: most writers think about it), but the choice is creatively limiting, not to mention a professional dead-end.

Those writers I mentioned who get to play in the superhero sandboxes? They all cut their teeth in some other way – prose fiction, spec scripts, indie comics, student films. Anyone hired to work on a corporate property has an original portfolio of work. Guaranteed. The people in the Gotham writing room didn’t get their jobs because they posted great Batman stories on their blog.

For 99.9 percent of us, fan fiction will not get us hired. You can’t share your stories properly. You will never publish them in a book. Few people will take you seriously as a writer. If the owners of the characters come up with an idea similar to yours, good luck doing something about it.

So my advice is for you not to devote too much time to fan fiction. Instead, take your creativity and focus it on something unique. The world needs newer and better stories, and fewer stories that repeat something written 30 years ago, which itself was a reimagining of something created 40 years before that. The boys who created Superman didn’t spend their afternoons writing and drawing Robin Hood comics. They created Superman.

I know it’s tempting – I have literally dreamed about re-writing Buffy Season 6 – but my advice is to resist. Figure out what you love about your favorite stories and create something with those qualities. I love powerful women, magic, sarcasm, and melancholy endings, and I can create my own characters and situations to explore those, without Buffy and Angel, and it will be mine.

You might feel stuck. You might feel like you need the creative crutch of working in a familiar universe. After all, you don’t need to describe Batman in any detail or waste pages on his origin or develop his motivation. It’s all there in the name: BATMAN! And your fan-fic readers would probably be bored if you covered too much ground they already knew by heart. You can jump right to the violence.

Creating new work can be harder, but take the leap anyway. Do you love Dr. Who? Time travel, romance, crazy villains, high stakes threats, a bit of silliness? Write about those things, but with your own creations. It’s not as hard as you might think.

Here’s a simple way to create new characters. Once you’ve identified what you love about a character – time travel, romance, etc. – make a list of all the other qualities that don’t matter so much: their name, physical appearance, personality, friends, what they drive, where they live, etc. Just the facts, not the fun stuff. Once you have that list, go down each item and describe its opposite.

Do you wish your favorite male character was genderfluid, your favorite white character was Asian, a straight character was queer? Do that. Give your character three kids instead of a companion, a hearse instead of a police box, a gruff exterior instead of goofy innocence. Give them a name that doesn’t sound anything like the original.

When you’re done, you’ll own that version of your favorite character. You can write whatever kind of stories you wish, worrying only about the continuity you established yourself. There are no stories you can’t tell with your own original characters. Banish the phrase “But My Favorite Character wouldn’t do that!” from your repertoire. You’ll probably think of new ideas as you write. You’ll change more character traits, introduce new cast members, arrange them in different combinations. New plots will come to mind. The more you free your creativity to work for you, the faster it will flow.

Even more, you can do what you like with your work. You can publish your novel, make an audio book, record a radio play, turn it into a comic. Whatever you want and can afford to do. You own it, and you’ll reap any revenues to be gained from it.

Maybe money isn’t your thing. A lot of writers say they just want to tell their stories and don’t care if they get paid. I don’t get it, but chacun son gout. But regardless of financial considerations, there’s pride in creation and ownership that you won’t experience if you don’t try to do your own thing.

Doing your own thing is important, and that brings me to my last and most heartfelt point.

As Mr. Rogers said, there’s only one you. You are the culmination of years of unique experience that no one will ever repeat in exactly the same way. Anne Lamott says if you survived childhood, you have enough material for fiction to last a lifetime, but you won’t be able to fully use that experience with characters and situations that someone else created. Your stories need as much of you in them as possible. What you know, what you care about, and what you want to say.

So create your own worlds. Take what you like about many different influences and create your new idea. Write a fan fic if it makes you happy, but don’t bury the rest of your light under the bushel of a corporate logo. You’ve got so much more in you and I hope you’ll let it out.

Obligatory Book Post

I have the bad habit of buying way more books than I read, with more coming into the house during a year than I could possibly read in that same time. (This is actually a subset of my habit of spending more money than I have, but I’ll not digress…)

I’m sure this habit is strange to no one reading this (in part because I’m sure that, indeed, no one is reading this). My goal this year is to get a handle on the to-be-read shelves, which now number four, if I don’t count the entirely separate and just as large shelf for to-be-read story magazines. I can’t stop myself buying The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction every other month, plus assorted literary zines. I like the pretty ones.

Since January 1, I’ve finished 16 books from the TBR shelf and added only three, two of which were birthday gifts. This represents heroic restraint on my part and I puffed my chest out a little as I wrote that.

What I’m reading

Nothing current, so don’t look for reviews of any hot new releases here. Some books on the TBR shelf are at least four years old, and there are a lot of used books on there.

Oldest book – Approaching Oblivion by Harlan Ellison. Bought used at Balticon last spring. Fantastic collection and eerily prescient. Ellison had an eye for bigotry and little faith it would be wiped out in any possible near future. He’s at his best deconstructing those for whom he feels the most contempt. I miss that angry savage genius. I need to read more of his books.

Most recent book – just guessing, but probably American Hippo by Sarah Gailey, published May 2018 and also purchased at last year’s Balticon. Charming spec fic about an American south infested with feral hippos, pinging off the actual historical fact that some politician thought it would be a great idea to breed hippos in America for food. It never happened, goddammit. Light reading, maybe a little predictable, but the characters are fun and they ride hippos like horses. The book’s goofy delight can not be understated.

Best book – Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. A filthy cousin to Bastard Out of Carolina, populated with Appalachian meth heads living in shacks instead of southern alcoholics in trailers. I haven’t seen the movie, so the book held its secrets and surprises. Alternatively nasty and beautiful, clearly written with love for its characters, even the meth dealers who’ll cut your head off if you look at them sideways.

Favorite book – The Cripple of Innishmaan by Martin McDonagh. Close runner-up to Winter’s Bone for best, but some of the characters are a little too quirky/cutesy, and I felt like McDonagh was writing for the audience laugh rather than what felt true to life or real for the characters. On the other hand, I’m not native Irish, so what do I know? The disabled boy in the title is by turns loved and lonely. Mostly he’s picked on and tired of being treated like an invalid. When word goes round that a Hollywood movie is being filmed nearby, he takes drastic measures to get transport, hoping he’ll be cast as local color and perhaps be taken all the way to America. The characters’ sense of longing for something better than their small village life rang true. Not as good a script as McDonagh’s In Bruges, but lots of good stuff.

Worst book – Catacombs of Terror by Stanley Donwood. I picked this up for $2 at an Ollie’s because I like pulp trash once in a while, but this wasn’t worth the hour on the stationary bike it took to read it. I wasn’t expecting a novel of consequence, but this lacked any sense of wit or lyricism. A hard-boiled detective novel can hide a lot of sins behind a few pithy observations and luxurious cynicism, or go all in with off-the-wall lunacy (such as Warren Ellis’ Crooked Little Vein, which I loved.) But this was an empty egg carton of a novel. It’s hard to believe the writer could muster up enough enthusiasm to write something so bland. Was there nothing on TV that night?

Most disappointing – a tie. What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund had an intriguing title but barely dipped below surface observations in what amounted to the writer’s somewhat rambling thoughts on the topic. About 70 pages of writing spread out over 400 pages. Lots of pictures, if you like that sort of thing. Also, The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh. A fascinating premise – a fiction writer living in a police state is interrogated about the gruesome content of his short stories and their similarities to a number of bizarre child murders occurring in his town – slowed down by farcical characters and a plot twist that felt like a cop-out. Its tense encounters are undermined by its sense of ridiculousness, and it was difficult to tell McDonagh’s intentions. Imagine The Usual Suspects broken up here and there by Monty Python sketches. I expected something Kafka-esque and wasn’t ready for The Pillowman.

Most embarrassing – IDW’s reprint volume of the Planet of the Apes magazine from the 1970s. Not because I’m embarrassed to read Planet of the Apes comics, which I’m not because monkeys are awesome, but because it was soooooo bad. Every sentence ends with three !!! The human character hates apes!!! Until he doesn’t!!! And then he really does again!!! Why can’t they be brothers??!! Oy.

Honorable mentions – The Locked Room by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (I’ll be looking for the others in this series of mysteries); Brat Pack by Rick Veitch (glad to see this collected); Apt Pupil by Steven King (pulp trash, but tightly written and sufficiently disturbing. As good as I remembered).