Category Archives: media cannibal

a good yarn

I’ve taken up knitting again recently. People had tried to teach me a few times in the past, and it never stuck beyond the most basic stitch, but this year I’ve decided I want to get good at it. I’ve done my first simple cables. I’m figuring out the concepts behind lace. I need to pick up stitches for the sleeves of my first cardigan.

Partly it’s really exciting to have a visual art that makes me feel competent (I’ve never had the fortitude to train myself to draw tolerably; I have so much respect for people who do), but partly it’s really soothing. It comforts the same part of my brain that likes level grinding in video games: do this process. Keep doing it. Do it some more. Watch the incremental progress happen. The major difference is that when I’m done knitting, I have an actual item to show for it! So THAT’s rewarding.

Well, okay, there’s a second difference, too; video games tend to have more story going for them (though some people manage to put an awful lot of meaning into their lace). But I’m less drawn to the stories video games tell lately. It might be partly the violent backlash of the Angry Straight White Gamer Boy who tries to pee all over the territory hard enough that nobody else can have fun, but that’s not the major issue. The problem is that I’m losing interest in Lone Warrior and/or Ragtag Band of Misfits doing the Save the World gig. I don’t care about shooter guy.

It comes out in the stories I want to write, too, which is tough in spec fic; sci fi and fantasy novels handed a lot of those tropes to video games in the first place, after all. But I don’t want to tackle “saving the world” as a theme. I’m not sure I can suspend my disbelief enough for it at this point, when the real world’s threats are so multivalent and amorphous. Drake and Gabriel don’t save anything but each other. Erik and Jacob probably won’t manage any better. Jennie and Kane? “Each other and a hotrod spaceship,” maybe. Kit and Elias might manage to save a small community.

But mostly I like the smaller scale better, honestly. I want to write stories that happen at the level of individual emotions and destinies; the world doesn’t have to be scoured of all evil for people to find happiness. I want to take that one little thread and follow it as far as it goes.

Sometimes that’s all it takes to make something beautiful.

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music wishlist time

If I could make one wish for new musical releases and the world would have to bend to my will, I would wish for Tracy Grammer and New Model Army to release a split record where they covered each other’s songs. They would do such a fantastic job amping up both the bitter cynicism of “Hey Ho” and the epic mysticism of “The Mountain.” And I would love to hear what she did with the quiet, furious grief of “Someone Like Jesus” or the defiant anthem of “Ballad of Bodmin Pill.” I would wind up sitting in a dark room just listening to the whole thing and having capital-F Feelings all over the place. Like being a teenager again, except beautiful instead of sunk in pathetic misery.

If you’re listening, universe, please get on this.

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all roads lead to home

One of the writing projects I’m working on right now is a… well, “post-apocalyptic” is probably the best genre name. It’s set in a low-tech future whose survivors have lost access to oil or petroleum-derived products. So in the name of research, I’m now reading books from peak oil folks who are discussing how they picture such societies working, and where they’re documenting current attempts to live in ways that require less oil (this means a lot of localization, generally—reducing the need for people to transport themselves long distances, and reducing the need for them to import food and goods from all corners of the globe). It’s interesting, and scary, and sometimes a little thrilling, in a wistful sort of way.

Then for pleasure reading I’ve just finished Lifelode, by Jo Walton, which is something I wish more fantasy was; it’s thoughtful and imaginative and doesn’t rely on a formulaic quest saga structure. It’s a story about the nature of time and magic and love and gods and family. And it’s a story about keeping house as a sacred duty, and the fulfillment of doing the work your heart craves, whether or not that work is glamorous. (Mom, I think you’d really like it; I’ll bring my copy when I come out for Thanksgiving.) The scary note drops out there, and I’m just left thinking about shared kitchens and warm light and conversations with good friends, while the cold rain is locked safely outside.

It doesn’t help that it’s (late) autumn, which is always the time of year when my nesting instinct kicks in hard. I dream about having a home where I can grow vegetables, raise chickens, maybe even keep a couple of goats or sheep if I get really lucky with the land. Then I go on and sigh over properties for sale. Right here in King County, where Seattle is located, land is extremely expensive. But one county further north there are parcels with a house and an acre or two that cost less than a falling-down wreck on a postage stamp of concrete in the city. They’re so tempting.

Of course, if I got a house that far out, I would need to buy a car to be able to commute to my heart-of-the-city job, and the commute would eat huge amounts of my time in addition to all of the ongoing costs of car ownership. And if I didn’t have the job, I wouldn’t be able to pay a mortgage.

I suppose if it were easy, I would be doing it already.

I try not to romanticize the country life. I think I often fail. I know it’s hard labor to work the land, but a part of me is just so comforted by the direct cause-and-effect relationship between effort and reward. The ultra-short feedback loop between the work I do and the way it sustains me. I remember the vegetable garden we had when I was tiny, which had a bigger footprint than the house we lived in. I remember pressing bright autumn leaves between sheets of wax paper to hang them in windows. I remember Mom making calendar pages in a big artist’s notebook, using a ruler to make boxes for days along the bottom half and painting flowers from her garden on the top half in watercolors. I remember the one Yule I spent at Cauldron Farm in Massachusetts, the little farmhouse heated by the kitchen stove as the man of the house baked bread in its oven, the fridge with its jugs of milk from the farm’s own goats. I know it’s hard work. But isn’t anything worth doing?

I’m in a better position now than I was a year ago. I need to remind myself of that, when that kind of home seems far away. It feels like no progress, but there’s some money in the bank, and there’s a novel in the pipeline, and if I’m careful and diligent then one of these years I’ll pack up my cats and my kitchen and some friends. And I’ll take the road that’s waiting for me.

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reading standards

Well. Most of my corner of the internet is making noises about Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads this week. I’m trying not to panic too soon but I’m wary and not pleased; I really like Goodreads, and if it goes the way of Stanza or Shelfari I’m going to be really disappointed.

More than that, though, I’ve been kicking around an attempt to define my frustrations with reading in m/m. I was fussing at a friend earlier this week and suggested that maybe my standard needed to be “would I still read this if the characters weren’t gay?” …That’s not quite right, though. If the main characters in Alex Beecroft’s The Blessed Isle weren’t gay, what remained of their story probably wouldn’t draw me in. But I loved that book, devoured every sentence like a mouthful of the most elegantly crafted dessert. Her command of her prose is inspiring, and an utter delight to consume.

Other things I’ve picked up have been less thrilling. I tend to skip most contemporaries, in part because the setting doesn’t interest me, but also because if I never read another “omg, I’m gay? do I have to like musicals and interior decorating now?” passage—or even another “just so you know, being gay doesn’t mean I like musicals and interior decorating” passage—I won’t feel like I’m missing anything. Those passages always feel to me like hand-holding for straight people, coaxing them toward the shocking revelation that queers are real people with a variety of personalities and interests. I figured out that I wasn’t straight when I was 13. I’ve had two decades to come to terms with the fact that I’m still an individual rather than a template. I don’t want to read books that include the Meeting Your First Gay Person primer. I’m sure they do good things for some people, but I am not their audience.

…Which is not to say that my chosen spec fic genres are free of problems either. I love fantasy settings but I’ve seen too much d&d worldbuilding, too many cases of “of course gays are persecuted,” too many cases of “women make babies and stay out of public life, duh,” far too many cases of “religion exists to punish those horrible gay people,” and definitely too many cases of “oh no what are these strange feelings for a person of my sex that Nobody Has Ever Felt Before.” It all just feels so cookie-cutter after a while. Give me variety! Give me worlds that seem like interesting places to escape to. Give me queer heroes who have other struggles in their lives than “oh no queerness???” Give me stories where gay characters face an enemy other than homophobia: yes, we deal with that shit a lot, but it is not the only struggle in our lives.

As I write this out I’m coming to the conclusion that there’s a parallel here with straight fantasy’s rape-of-female-characters epidemic. Yes, true, this is a problem that many people in this demographic deal with. But writers: please stop acting like a female character’s sex, or a gay character’s sexual orientation, are the only possible reasons for them to be hurt or struggles for them to deal with. We’re still people. We still want to prove our theories and fight our dragons and find our treasure and discover our magical talents. We are not defined solely by the prejudices against us. Let us face other challenges.

There’s another tangent here about the importance of speculative fiction in suggesting that our society’s current prejudices are not universal, but I’m already wandering. I’ll save that bit for next time.

And if you have any recs for really strong queer spec fic that does the things I’m asking for—especially if you have recs for f/f that does this—I would absolutely love to hear them.

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trawling the wasteland

It seems like there’s a direct inverse relationship between how much I’m writing and how vividly I dream — like there’s a limited pool of imagination for me to draw from, and if I don’t use it up during the day then it will have to spill over when I’m asleep. Things have been terrible on the writing front lately, which means a few hours ago I was being hijacked into some kind of vigilante gang in either a steampunk Old West or else a post-apocalyptic wasteland; it’s hard to get dream-brains to concentrate on delineating those things clearly. I definitely remember the electrified katanas that the gang used to mark up the captives they wanted to recruit instead of kill (I got a really swank scar down one cheek). I remember that the first mission I did with them involved setting a trap for someone in a corral for their mutant livestock. I remember agonizing over where I was going to find a source for more shotgun shells before we headed out on our next mission.

I’m pretty sure I can blame that last bit on the fact that I’ve been playing Fallout 3 lately (yes, five years late — it took me a while to get over my reliance on turn-based systems). It’s neat stuff, and cool worldbuilding, with a gaping “no wait” in the middle that I keep coming back to. At character creation you can set the hero’s race and gender, so I made my Lone Wanderer a black woman. So far that has had zero effect on gameplay and only cosmetic effect on the game’s flavor — my in-game father has a black character model instead of the white version screencapped in the game wiki, and sometimes character dialogue addresses me with gendered terms. On the one hand, I really appreciate the ability to not get smacked in the face with bullshit, the ability to HAVE a hero who isn’t Generic White Soldier Dude. The fact that my black lady Wanderer gets taken seriously just as much as somebody else’s white man version. On the other hand, the history set up by the Fallout series makes this feel super weird.

See, Fallout takes place in an alternate universe that split off from ours in the 1950s, and clung to those social and stylistic norms despite its differing technological advances. The cultural upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s — with everything that meant for race and gender relations — never happened. All of the relics the player can find from the pre-war era, right up to the year 2077, feature fresh-faced gender-normative white kids. One of the songs that plays on the in-game radio is a 1948 recording called “Civilization” that is a classic riff on the “common sense from savages” style of racist comedy (“bingle bangle bungle, I’m so happy in the jungle, I refuse to go”). But despite having that all over the backdrop, it’s inexplicably absent in the foreground.

I don’t blame the developers for not wanting to tackle prejudice in a foregrounded way when they’re creating a work designed to entertain. I am a huge fan of escapist entertainment where the crap people do to each other constantly in real life is no longer an issue — I think it serves a hugely valuable purpose, and probably there should be more posts about that at some point. But when you start your worldbuilding with a historical era full of problems, whether it’s 1950s America or Victorian London or early imperial Rome, then you owe it to your audience and your craft to figure out why you’re not tackling that stuff. There are multiple right answers to that question, but leaving it blank doesn’t get you any points.

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