what I have been watching

December 10, 2020

The Great British Baking Show. Yes, I know, I’m late to the party on this one. What I find really soothing about it is the tent is full of a dozen+ plus people who all have different British accents. It reminds me of living in the dorm my college year abroad in York. The one thing I want to bake after watching it is pavlova. Stay tuned.

The Queen’s Gambit. Oh yes. It overturns so many tropes and is ultimately celebratory of community and competence. And visually stylish, which we all know I’m a sucker for.

The Mandalorian. A million yesses. I confess to being a bit lukewarm (no pun intended) about it during season 1 because of my ingrained suspicions of nostalgia and fan service in storytelling, and this show really knows how to push those buttons. Season 2 perhaps even more than season 1, so why am I buying into it more than I did before? Is it just because it’s pushing my specific buttons rather than generic fan buttons? Like, you want to win me over forever, Katee Sackhoff’s live-action Bo-Katan is definitely the way to do it. But also Frog Lady and her beautiful family. (Baby Yoda, stop eating other people’s babies, it’s not cool.) I’ve always loved the aliens in Star Wars and how they clearly have their own cultures and concerns that are fully integrated in the larger galaxy, and I want more, please.

But I think there’s story here, and it’s developing. The relationship between Din Djarin and Baby Yoda (yes, I know he has a name, don’t care) is becoming profound. It’s adding to Star Wars lore, and not just strip mining it. Like, asking if the Empire is still the Empire if there’s no Emperor but just scattered warlords. Asking how communities build themselves back after the war. Giving us insight into alien worlds and lives. It’s doing the thing Star Wars is really good at, which is combining aesthetics from multiple genres and making it work. So many more thoughts, I could ramble on for a long time. I’m re-watching Rebels simultaneously with this and imagining all the ways Mandalorian could just seamlessly turn into a live-action Rebels sequel. I would be totally okay with that.

What else? I feel like I watched something else but now I can’t remember what…

 

 

update

December 7, 2020

That novella I wrote over the summer, with that big pile of rough drafts I keep talking about? That I haven’t looked at? I finally looked at it, and there’s a reason I’ve been dragging my feet on it. It’s terrible. Slow, boring, going through the motions, no zing.

But I know how to fix it, so I’m gonna try to do that. It involves moving chapter three to the beginning, starting with the dead body instead of waiting for twenty pages to get to the dead body. Then have the characters actually work to solve the mystery instead of spending the whole thing talking about solving it. So that’s my work for the next month settled.

Sometimes this gig is very aggravating.

 

gift ideas

December 3, 2020

It’s that time of year — holiday gift giving. Last month I had the horrifying realization that I usually do a lot of my holiday shopping when I travel, looking for special unique gifts that I could never find anywhere else.

I haven’t done any traveling this year. Welp.

I’ll manage, and I’ve found some solutions. I’m especially trying to shop locally, with small businesses and independent artisans. I’ve not placed a single order with Amazon.

In the interest of spreading the joy of creative holiday shopping, would like to pass on a couple of totally self-serving gift ideas: books! If you have readers in your life, there are a ton of possibilities.

Fairwood Press is a small independent press that publishes lots of great books and authors — including me! There are still copies available of the signed, limited edition hardcover of my novella Paranormal Bromance. Lots of other books as well.

Another suggestion: magazine subscriptions. One gift, but new reading all year long. And you can support authors by supporting the places that publish their stories. Some ideas:

Lightspeed Magazine

Asimov’s Science Fiction

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Uncanny

A lot of people have pointed out that this pandemic would have looked a whole lot different twenty years ago, before a robust internet, video chatting and streaming media and all that. Add online shopping to the list.

 

all Star Wars all the time

November 30, 2020

Star Wars is my comfort viewing and I’ve been deep into it the last couple of weeks — basically since season 2 of The Mandalorian started. (Loving it! I thought both Bo-Katan and Ahsoka were perfect.) I’m on my third watch-through of Rebels. And I’ve dug out some of my old comics.

I’m having so many thoughts I could talk about, but here’s the one for today.

This is Nomi Sunrider from Tales of the Jedi, by Tom Veitch, which takes place hundreds of years before the films, basically when the Jedi Order is at the height of its power. (We come to realize that the version of Jedi Order we see in the prequel films is a shadow of its former self and nearly powerless. We can talk about that another time.) She was one of the earliest visualizations of a woman Jedi and I love her to pieces.

I particularly love this cover by Hugh Fleming, and when I first got this issue, back in the mid-90’s, I had a thought that this would make a fabulous costume. And that’s as far as I ever got thinking about that, because I didn’t even know where to start with it. I was intimidated. So I never did it.

Looking at this now? I know exactly how to make this costume. Exactly what fabric to get to make the cloak and tunic — I even have patterns already in my stash. How to do the belt and vambraces, and who to call for help in making her lightsaber hilt.

And that’s what 20 years of costuming experience has earned me. What once seemed too difficult now seems not just simple, but exciting. I’m gonna do it, guys. It may be that no one will know who I’m cosplaying, but it’ll make me happy.

If I could go back in time with one message to my younger self, it might be: have patience. You need to practice a lot to get good at things. You’ll make mistakes but that’s okay. Don’t be afraid. Just keep practicing.

Yeah.

 

Thanksgiving 2020

November 26, 2020

I’m in my pj’s drinking tea and watching the very earnest pared-down Macy’s parade which is super surreal, but I’m glad they didn’t cancel it, just like I’m glad we had virtual conventions when we couldn’t have them live. It’s all so strange but people are trying so hard and I appreciate that.

I’m grateful that I’ve been able to spend this difficult year in my comfortable home. I’m grateful for my work, my career, my friends, my family, and on and on. This year more than ever.

Happy Thanksgiving.

cloying moppets

November 24, 2020

I’ve been thinking about cloying moppets recently. This is my label for the child characters that frequently show up in action-adventure/genre films, usually as an overly-sentimental way to force the audience’s sympathy or make our hard-bitten heroes learn the True Meaning of Family or whatever. The presence of a cloying moppet doesn’t automatically mean the story will become saccharine and intolerable, but often it does. If not handled well, the trope is manipulative — it’s there for the reaction it hopes to evoke in the audience, not because it makes sense for the story.

Two of the most egregious examples I’ve reviewed here are in Elysium and Terminator: Salvation. In those, the moppets possess hilariously unrealistic levels of cuteness and feel shoe-horned in. It’s as if the makers didn’t trust their stories enough and felt there needed to be an extra emotional string to tug on. Newt in Aliens may be the ur-model of cloying moppet, but I think that one works because she’s frequently the smartest one in the room, and Ripley’s bond with her isn’t forced — Ripley immediately goes into mama bear mode with her, which is realistic and understandable, versus the stories where some wide-eyed waif has to win over a muscle-bound brute. I loved what Iron Man 3 did with the trope, which was have the characters deconstruct the trope even as they’re playing it out (and also age up the kid, Harley, so he’s barely a moppet at all). Laura in Logan is definitely a cloying moppet, but there’s a lot of interesting story around her and she isn’t the reason I dislike that film, which I think is two hours of missed opportunities.

Which brings me to this awkward realization: Baby Groot and Baby Yoda are cloying moppets.

They’re designed to be adorable, with their gigantic shiny black eyes. A merchandiser’s dream, really. Part of the adorableness is how incongruous they are against the back drops of their dangerous worlds, alongside characters who in normal circumstances no one would ever trust with a small child. Gah, cloying moppet is one of my least favorite tropes, how can these two versions of it be so amazing! Is it just because they’re not human, so I’m able to think of them more as like, puppies, not actually in need of more developed characterization? Except I don’t think that’s it.

There’s something they have, that Newt has, that the good versions of this trope have and the bad versions don’t, and that’s agency. They make decisions. They impact the story their own actions, and not simply by forcing character development on the protagonist.

That’s what it all keeps coming back to, isn’t it? Make good characters, and then make sure those characters have an impact on the story they’re in.

 

state of the desk, again

November 20, 2020

Another update on the big pile of rough drafts I dumped on myself in August:

  • Two of the short stories have sold. The third is back to an editor after a request for a revision and I’m waiting to hear the verdict.
  • The novel is revised and with my agent.
  • The screenplay is still resting. I might be ready to look at it again soon.
  • I haven’t touched the novella yet, but that may be next on the list.

Progress, slow but noticeable.

I wrote a new short story this week. And I’ve started a new novel, but I’m doing this one a little different: it’s for fun. (I mean, they’re all for fun — I really enjoy writing things. But this one doesn’t have a deadline and I haven’t really told anyone about it and it’s outside of my usual list of things I’m working on.) I’m poking at it when I feel like it. I’m just seeing what happens. Just about everything I’ve done with it so far has been on my tablet, away from my desk, and I’m having a really good time not writing it at my desk computer. We’ll see what happens.

It’s, like, writing vacation.

 

side project!

November 17, 2020

One of the side projects I got to work on recently: I was asked to write the introduction for a new limited edition of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, published by Suntup Editions, with art by Vanessa Lemen. This is going to be a really good-looking book, I think.

I’m not going to lie, I usually post about stuff I do because I want you to go buy it. In this case, though, the edition appears to be already sold out.

I love getting to do cool things like this. In the SF&F writing community, people often talk about whether there’s any tangible benefit from winning awards besides the shiny of the award, and I usually argue that there is, and this is a good example — an opportunity like this is a direct result of winning the Philip K. Dick Award a couple of years back. 

 

Here’s your infrequent reminder that I put out an infrequent e-newsletter, and I decided that it was a good idea to publish one in the direct aftermath of the most important presidential election of my lifetime. Because in 2020, timing is a fool’s game.

You can see it here, and subscribe if you like.

I’m told that e-newsletters are one of the most important and effective marketing tools a writer can use, but I haven’t really figured out how to make it all work yet. It is a nice way to consolidate news, and this one is a pretty good summary of the work I did in 2020. Enjoy!

 

 

hurrah!

November 9, 2020

Last week lasted ten years and I stayed off the internet for a good part of it, especially Tuesday night when everyone on social media was losing their minds.

But it was a good week, as it turns out. Biden and Harris won and it’s going to feel so good to get some sanity back. Like so many others I let out a breath I might have been holding for four years. We still have a lot of work to do — as a country we’re still on the edge. But we’ve maybe got our balance back and are no longer windmilling our arms trying not to fall over.

Also, the U.S. has elected its first woman vice president, and that still hasn’t really sunk in. Might not until January. I can’t wait.