Monday, September 27, 2004

spooky cat

Either my cat is ill, or he's seeing things.

Yesterday, Sunday afternoon, I was in the bedroom, at my desk, typing, writing, doing something, and I hear this sort of sliding muffled thump in the living room--very light, like a pillow falling over or something. Before I can even wonder what it is, my cat, Rudy, comes tearing around the corner like his tail is on fire, and dives under the bed.

Now, Rudy likes to run around a bit, but usually he only runs for cover if he's done something bad, so I figure he knocked something over. I go in the living room. Nothing seems out of place. The vertical blinds over the patio doors are closed, and one of them is swinging gently--not enough to make any noise.

I don't see Rudy for the rest of the afternoon, but I was working so I didn't think much of it. About five hours later, we were having dinner and Scott said, "Where's the cat?" and I realized he was still under the bed.

We called and made kissy noises until Rudy emerged--slowly and with his ears laid back. I realized he hadn't come around begging for food, either, at his usual feeding time two hours earlier. "Maybe he's sick," Scott suggested.

Sick or not, Rudy was clearly freaked by something. He wouldn't come close to the dining table where we sat--he just hunkered there staring at the patio doors, with his ears pivoting around and his eyes all big and black. "Something branded into that short-term memory of yours, didn't it?" Scott said. He opened the blinds, at which Rudy got rather upset and backed away, circled around and sat down, watching again. His fur was all standing up.

Mind you, I've had a number of cats, and Rudy is one of the steadier ones. He's a little jumpy about loud noises, but neither of us humans could hear anything. I suggested perhaps there was some vermin in the walls he could hear. Scott thinks he's just ill, but he doesn't seem feverish, and anyway he never goes outside, so it's doubtful he's caught anything; neither of us has been sick.

This staring-at-the-wall thing was freaking us both out. Not two days earlier, Scott and I had been discussing ghosts--he's got some truly disturbing stories to tell--and I blythely said there couldn't be anything in our apartment; if there were, Rudy would know.

Well, Rudy knows something, now. Don't know what it is, yet. Not sure I want to. I suspect, rationally, that a bird flew into the glass door and made the thump I heard. But last night I dreamed of cold hands landing on the back of my neck whenever I went into the kitchen.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

sticky and smiling

Cookbooks are like porn for me. Lemons are aphrodesiacs. I've been jonesing for something tangy-sweet for the better part of a week, which is awkward because I've also put on a couple pounds and I need to watch it. Maybe if I'd just make the damn lemon dessert I'd stop snacking on other stuff.

So, how about.... Warm Lemon Pudding Cakes with Marbled Raspberry Cream? Or, Lemon Custard Sponge Cakes? Or my mom's creation, Lemon Blueberry Coffeecake?

Thing is, I'm lazy, and desserts with lemon tend to be complex--prepping the lemons in the first place, as well as separating, beating, and cooking the eggs. Furthermore, I've been an absolute starch fiend for the last month, and I need to cut back. Grr. These pudding cakes have relatively little sugar in them--they're mostly eggs and cream. And lemon, of course. Mmmm....

Thursday, September 16, 2004

congrats, Joy

Hey, notice in the last post how I mentioned Joy Remy, a writing colleague from Critters, and said she was going places? Turns out Joy won a 2nd place showing in Writers of the Future (you know, the Hubbard machine). Here's part of the email she sent me.


Here's a link to the award page for Writers of the Future Volume XX [...] If you follow the 2004 link "Click Here to See the Event" you'll get a tour of the Writer's of the Future Workshop and Award Presentation Ceremony Thing.

In the ninth frame (the lineup of 8 dressed-in-black-tie winners) I'm second to the right.


Volume XX of Writers of the Future will be out in a few weeks, or you can order it from Amazon. Joy's story is titled, "Sleep Sweetly, Junie Carter."

I'm horribly jealous, of course. :-P

put some chili on it

Couple weeks ago, on Critters, I read a story by this chick named Joy Remy. I'm naming her here because you will probably see her name again, elsewhere. This babe can write.

Anyway, her lastest oeuvre to pass through Critters was a sort of cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic Little Red Riding Hood. Think of Little Red making her way through the Thunderdome, sans Mel Gibson, and you've got the idea. I thought it was a decent premise, but she'd left out too much exposition and it wasn't clear what she was getting at. I told her so. She thanked me.

Couple days ago I was still thinking about the story and wrote to ask her what she was doing with it. She said she'd sent it off to some zine and sent me the revised copy. It was much improved. Still not her best, in my opinion, but a big leap forward.

And I got to thinking. Two things.

First, Joy whipped that story out, hung it out for a temperature reading, sliced out the dry bits, rubbed in some spices, and slung it out to the lions, all in less than two weeks. That's impressive, to me, that sort of approach to a story as a commodity to be completed and marketed, with no whining about inspiration and perfection. I guess I still have some Mark Walters residue clogging up my works.

Second, and related, not long ago my husband told me, "You don't want to please people enough. You'd rather have the story perfect, and tell it your way, than entertain your readers."

He's right, there. I have an inability to compromise (consider the Quinn-is-a-killer-get-over-it beef), and I beat myself up too much. Scott says, "There's no reason you can't make it good, and fulfill your vision, you just need to throw in some tasty stuff to keep your audience amused. It's like the Sonic drive-in commercial: it may be a very important piece, but you won't make the sale unless you put some chili on it."

Should it bother me that that makes so much sense?

Monday, September 13, 2004

ow

Being as how it was the first Sunday I'd had off in four months, I went to tai chi class. This means I was back to the regular routine of kung fu followed by tai chi, for a grand total of about 3 1/2 hours of martial arts. Kung fu is great exercise, it really is. But tai chi is a completely different way of moving. Done properly, it gives you the same point-of-exhaustion workout as lifting weights verrrry verrrry sloooowly.

I got out of bed all right, got to work feeling no more than a little stiff, but as the day wears on I'm having more and more trouble standing up from my chair.

People who think tai chi is a wimpy martial art are idiots.

Feels good to be a little achy. I've missed this feeling.

Friday, September 10, 2004

two things, in brief

One: I pulled myself together and submitted Escaping Ariston to Mundania Press yesterday. They are a small press that publishes "very high quality" genre fiction, including some of Piers Anthony's lesser-known works. Not sure how I feel about the submission or being published by them: Part of me wants the New York experience with the big promotions, reviews, advances, etc. The more practical part of me knows that new writers don't get that stuff, particularly not a hack like me. Mundania has a good reputation and seems to turn out a quality product; I think the important thing for me is to get the book in print and get off my own duff to market it.

At the same time, I'm nervous. Most of us (myself included) have a perception of micro-presses only turning out the dreck of friends and relatives, but Mundania only accepts "1%" of submissions, and the samples I saw seem pretty solid. What if I don't make the cut? What if that story's not as good as I think it is, and I'm too close to see it? What if the editors at Mundania turn squeamish at the profession of my heroine? What if they simply don't have money to publish me, as I've been told before? I should hear back from them in three or four months.

Two: For the curious, I have posted Holly's Rules of Action Sequences on my regular site. Someday soon I intend to restructure my site to provide better navigation and more emphasis on my writing.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

back in black

I love fall. I loooooove it. Today I am wearing my new black pants and a black retro stretchy top with boat neck and buckle detail.

Last night I finished my black frothy-goth costume, or at least enough to wear. The tulle skirt is done, although I may shorten it slightly to show off the fishnet stockings. (Note to ladies: never buy cheap fishnet stockings. Victoria's Secret sells the good-quality ones: they don't bag and they don't catch on stuff. They feel slick and cool and secure.) The black velveteen corset is done, complete with buttons down the front and ribbon lacing down the back. I made myself a wide lace choker to go with. Scott said I looked very cute. *curtsy*

I also have plans to make a black taffeta jacket based on my 1880 dinner jacket, but I need something to line/face it with. I'm thinking purple, to go with the purple lace on the cuffs.

Oh, picked up some really cool crinkly black ribbon, about 3/8 in wide. Debating what to put it on. Will probably use it to bind the edges of the jacket.

And I have lost three pounds. Feel free to hate me.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

an ethics lesson

As many of you know, my latest short story, "Galatea" is about the early development of my recurring character and alter-ego, Quinn Taylor: career woman, adult genomorph survivor, professional assassin. Yes, I am a narcissist. That's not what we're here to discuss.

"Galatea" is about a pivotal moment in Quinn's development. It details a series of incidents that lead up to Quinn's deciding to do assassinations for hire. Reactions to the story have been mixed. Usually those who dislike it have a bad reaction to Quinn's "amorality" about killing.

I received a crit on the story late Sunday, from a man who found the story "very disturbing" and wasted a lot of keystrokes telling me how Quinn was unsympathetic, which for some reason made her unrealistic, and how this made the plot not hold together. Well, I guess if you're reading a character-driven story and the character develops in a direction you're not comfortable going-- I guess you're going to have a hard time with the conflict feeling resolved when the protagonist finds a sense of fulfillment in being a good killer (although for some reason it was okay when Mel Gibson did it in Lethal Weapon).

I've encountered this before. A woman in my real-life writers' group got all huffy when Quinn killed a foot soldier while attempting to escape capture. My critiquer noted in the margin: "A story CANNOT feature an anti-hero of questionable morals unless the story somehow deals with said character's rehabilitation. This guy was just a working stiff doing his job. I have now lost all interest in what happens to Ms. Protagonist."

Uh-huh. Can we distinguish between fiction and reality, people?

I chalk this attitude up to naiveté: the willful belief that only sickos kill, and being a murderer means one must be completely amoral and/or sadistic and/or divorced from reality.

None of these things are necessary. I believe that humans are naturally combative. We must be brainwashed to believe that killing is wrong, in order to function as a civilized society. When men go into combat training, they don't have to be taught how to kill, beyond a few pointers in efficiency: they only have to be stripped of the programming that tells them they mustn't kill. That's why small children take to this deprogramming more readily. Terrorist groups like to start training their recruits as soon as they're old enough to walk, because little kids are inherently combative and feral. The author of Lord of the Flies understood this. I have always felt that Orson Scott Card was coy about it in Ender's Game; he tacked on a mushy ending to make it more palatable.

I wrote Quinn the way I did precisely because I was tired of all these "criminals with a heart of gold"--or worse, "good guys" who can waste anybody they want because they have a badge. I could go to the video store and find a hundred videos about hyper-violent cops or law enforcement people. I could go to the bookstore and find a hundred fantasy novels in which the protagonist is a thief or a soldier-for-hire. Someone tell me, why is it okay to lie and cheat and steal and f*ck around and kill bad guys, but killing for money is over the line?

Don't get me wrong. I have no desire to kill anyone. I have never been in a physical fight in my adult life, and I don't go around looking for trouble. But I'm pretty sure most of us could do it if backed into a corner. And that's not what I'm talking about here, anyway. I'm talking about fiction, but in order to write decent fiction you have to have a realistic idea of what human beings are capable of. I've read true-life accounts of mobsters and soldiers that would curl your hair. Most of us have a stereotypical perception of the mob hit-man who will waste somebody and then go sit down to dinner with his family. It's not a cliché. It's a fact. I once read an account of a Nazi soldier who shot a room full of Jews and then sat down next to the mass grave to bounce his toddler on his knee.

Tell yourself it's self-defence. Tell yourself it's about idealism. Tell yourself that the other person is subhuman, or defective, or evil. It does not change the simple one-to-one equation of one human being killing another.

I wanted Quinn Taylor to be a survivor, a working stiff, an all-about-mine kind of person. She has no interest in saving the universe; she has a very clear-eyed idea about what it means to kill someone, and she understands that life is capricious and humans are predatory. Quinn kills because she CAN do it; she does it well, and doing it provides for her livelihood. That doesn't make her, or me, a sociopath. Callous, yes, but not demented. And the irony of it is, Quinn is in all other respects an upstanding citizen. She doesn't smoke, drink, or use drugs; she's kind to lame ducks and underdogs, she doesn't engage in casual sex or steal or even cuss, and she pays her taxes. There's just that one little loophole in her ethical fiber.

Uncomfortable yet? I've got one better for you.

The American Psychiatric Association recognizes that a person can engage in sociopathic behavior without having the sociopathic disconnect, and the DSM-V specifically mentions career criminals as having this trait. In other words, the perpetrator recognizes that what s/he does is wrong or socially unacceptable, but does it anyway because the chance for personal benefit outweighs the risk of punishment.

Guess what? Pirating music uses the same logic. In terms of moral bankruptcy, every user of Kazaa is no different than a contract killer. Think about how you excuse yourself for stealing music off the net, and you'll have a glimmer of understanding how a professional can excuse murder.