Saturday, November 03, 2018

adventures in unpopular opinions

When I was 17 or so I made some critical remarks about our school paper. Specifically that it had a history of typos and factual errors—names misspelled, listing students' ages/grades wrong, etc. Nothing I said was inaccurate but I happened to say it in the hearing of some other students who worked on the paper and they forever after hated me for that. And I felt bad about it for years after.

Fast-forward ten years and I say some critical things about a certain fan club—granted, I was trying to be funny, and not succeeding—and naturally one of the people in a position to be offended got wind of it, got offended, and tried to whip up a mob against me. I fired back at him, he stomped off in a huff, he has never forgiven me. I still feel bad about that, but resentful too, because the remarks I made were still accurate, intended to be light-hearted, but because someone chose to be offended and vindictive there's always been a rift there.

Fast forward another ten years, I'm on a panel with a guy I don't know, never met/heard of before, talking about race. I think I'm saying everything right but I'm not using his preferred jargon and/or scourging the people he came there to scourge and/or committing the sin of speaking while White, I'm still not sure. I get publicly stoned on the Internet by a bunch of people who never met me and only heard one side of the story. I didn't even bother to tell my side of the story because I'm old enough to know that people will believe what they want to believe based on their need to defend their own egos.

What's the moral of this story? Speak your truth, and speak it boldly. People are going to hear your message strained through their own filter, and respond accordingly. It's got very little to do with you, so think before you speak and stand by your words.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Review: Sacred Lies on Facebook Watch

There's a line early in Facebook Watch's Sacred Lies when the FBI shrink says to the traumatized and distrustful heroine, "I'm interested in why people do terrible things to each other in the name of religion."

If you pick up on that statement as the show's whole premise, you'll be a lot happier than if you come to it expecting a teen drama or a horror story, although it uses tropes from both those genres to tell its story.

I binge-watched the whole show over the past few days. I know, I'm as shocked as you are. Initially I thought the hook was somewhat gratuitous (handless girl arrested for murder!) until I learned that the series was based on a book which was a retelling of the Grimms' tale 'The Handless Maiden."

I'm always on board for a Grimms' retelling because they are so relentlessly dark, even beneath the slather of Christian piety. This one has a miller (accidentally) bargaining his daughter away to the devil, and then hacking off her hands rather than take her place as the devil's victim. But she's so pious and forgiving God makes her hands grow back after seven years.

So far the only happy ending in sight for the show is Minnow's own search for self-actualization. Incredibly, the show seems to be aiming for a PG-13 rating despite the horrific things going on off-screen—sexual abuse, animal abuse, forced marriage, self-harm, torture and manipulation in the name of religion—these things are discussed or alluded to with glancing matter-of-factness and no one using language stronger than "crap." Frankly, the subject matter is sensational enough that any attempts to make it "grittier" would push it into exploitation.

I mean you've got girls in prison, many of whom have been sexually abused, most of them with physical scars, and our heroine is in shock from having her world burnt down and adapting to a challenging new disability. I've read at least one review condemning the handling of that disability—the camera lingering over all the everyday objects that are designed for five-finger use, the jokes and questions by the other inmates, Minnow's rage over what was done to her. To those critics I say, leave your agenda at the door, dude—the girl's in shock; her reactions and those of the people around her are nothing less than accurate and worthy of attention.

And while we're on the subject of representation, I kept noticing the diversity in this show. The FBI shrink is black, the local sheriff appears to be a First Nations woman (and gay), Minnow's cell mate is an indeterminate shade of not-white (?)with probable lesbian-leanings, and all the secondary characters in the prison are a Russell Stover assortment of races, sexualities, and religions. And although Minnow makes the remark that she's not used to being around "so many different people" it's merely a facet of her world expanding; she's long suspected that the world she grew up in was a false one, and she's eager to broaden her horizons.

What is a plot point (slight spoiler here, although you see it coming way early) is that Minnow's cult is racist—they claim black people have dark skin because God burnt out their souls—and when she falls in love with Jude, a young black man, the cultists lose their shit. But I like the way this plot point is handled: the discovery of their relationship moves the plot forward, but it also furthers everyone's character development; nobody makes any big speeches about it or "learns" anything from it, there's no "very special" episode, it's just a thread woven into the whole. Other critics have harped on this lack of "learning moments," as it were—for instance wanting more "exploration" about how low-income white folk tend to be racist—but I really didn't see a need. The writers treat their audience as intelligent enough to infer and keep up.

It's not perfect. The dialogue is a touch didactic at times, although this is clearly for the audience's benefit because the show has a lot of psychological concepts to unpack; frequently the FBI psychologist serves as the narrative voice of this dark fairy tale but actor Kevin Carroll carries off the dialogue so naturally that I found myself intrigued in much the same way as when I was watching Mindhunter.

The show is plugged as drama/horror on IMDB, which is accurate enough if you consider human evil horrific, as I do. But as I watched this the horror was mixed with sadness and anger, mostly at the self-servingness of institutions and structures that consume women and girls. I've seen enough religious fanaticism to believe I could all-too-easily find myself in the same situation as Minnow, especially with the direction the country has taken lately.

For a deeper exploration of the themes of the story, this review of the book is excellent, and from what I can tell applies to the TV series as well.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

reading: Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Took me a few tries to get into it, because I wasn't in love with Oryx and Crake. While that one was an undeniably strong piece of work it also came across as William Gibson lite, with a couple of absolutely toxic male lead characters that I could hardly stand to let in my head.

Much easier for me to read about about Toby and Ren, partly because they're women and partly because they're just nicer people, although the cyberpunk lite aspects are still there, and Atwood's cutesy corporate names (pigoon, rakunk, ANooYoo) are even more grating the longer I'm familiar with them. I appreciate this is supposed to be satire but I don't feel it's particularly successful.

I'm deep enough in now (about 60%) that the political machinations of the Gardeners are starting to be revealed, the intrigue is getting intriguier and the stakes proportionately higher. The mastery of scene and character are, as always, superb. Even though I know what's going to happen the sense of impending doom keeps ratcheting up my anxiety level so that I keep having to put the book down, and then dash back to it a few minutes later.

I've been talking with my friend Rob lately about tone and theme in sci-fi, trends over the decades, what makes a book seem dated vs the current style. Again comparing Gibson and Atwood it seems that the former is more idea-driven sf and the latter more psychological, although I'm not sure that's exactly true. Gibson's work is highly psychological (Neuromancer is a tale of addiction and self-loathing hung on a fairly pedestrian neo-noir framework) and I'll add him to my very short list of male writers who write convincing female characters. However, Gibson's early work seems decidedly more full of masculine energy than Atwood's. Or am I projecting? Pattern Recognition is one of my favorite books ever, and it's written from the POV of a single chick.

Do we assess the masculine/feminine energy of a book slanted heavily toward which and how many pronouns are used?

One very useful thing about my reading this book right now is its structure. Alternating but restricted POV's between two characters, with lots of flashbacks. I'm doing something similar in Curious Weather, between Boz & Trace's plotlines, with Miss Fairweather's flashbacks sprinkled in-between. I've been worried about how it reads, but reading Year of the Flood I quickly got used to the changeovers and I'm having no problem keeping up. Reassuring.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Review of A Stupid Place

Just watched A Quiet Place, and despite the undeniable quality of production and the acting, there are so many gaffes and gaps in common sense that by halfway through I was completely disengaged and pissed off.





Writers take note: never get so enamored with a McGuffin that you allow it to blind you to all common sense.

Monday, May 14, 2018

thoughts while watching American Mary for the eighth time

If this Soska sisters had wanted to be really subversive they would have ended the movie with Billy and Mary living happily in Berlin or Argentina as legit club owners at the heart of the underground scene. Sure, some aspects of the movie could have been better fleshed out—Mary's sense of betrayal when she catches Billy getting a blowjob, for instance, or Ruby's husband's controlling streak, or the question of whether Billy actually understood where Mary was coming from in terms of her damage or if he merely had a death wish. Letting Mary come out the other side of her trauma and find some balance—even if it meant she got away with her crimes—would have been more disturbing and satisfying than killing the monster at the end. The ending was the only cheap move in the film.

Friday, May 11, 2018

in case you were wondering

I have deactivated my Facebook account. I had become fed up with what a friend of mine called "the constant horrible buzzing." It was making me ugly.

I haven't deleted the account, I've just been turning it off for a week at a time. I might try checking back once a week unless that gets out of control. Those of you who are actual friends know how to reach me, and a couple have, which is why I'm writing this. I don't want anyone to worry.

I'm making myself read more. Even writing a bit. Trying to reestablish good habits. I might even start blogging again.

Monday, April 23, 2018


I've said it before and I'll say it again: fans are assholes. Not all of them; not even the majority of them. But inevitably there's a bad one in every batch and they give the rest a bad name. There's nothing like giving up an evening, uncompensated, to go and provide free entertainment for a lot of mouth-breathers, only to have them approach you later for the express purpose of informing you that you did it wrong. That you were reading too fast or not loudly enough. Or your pronunciation of a certain word was wrong. Or your writing is too Victorian (dude, seriously?). I wish I were exaggerating but it happens Every. Fucking. Time.

I'm done. I'm not doing another appearance where I'm not getting paid or selling stuff. Bimbos of the Death Sun portrayed Appin Dungannon as an egomaniacal asshole, but you have to develop rhino hide and a toxic personalty to hold your own against the placid slug consumers who think writer equals whore and you exist only to spoon-feed their fantasies.

I was raised that if someone invited you to dinner you ate what was put in front of you, without comment, and thanked the host for their efforts. I don't need praise but I'm done showing up to be insulted.

EDITED when I was in a calmer mood: I fully expect there will be people who read this post and think, "What an ungrateful cow, she's a writer, she's supposed to be glad people read her stuff and make herself available to fans and give advice to beginning writers and blah blah blah."

Sorry, but no. There are, in my opinion, several misconceptions in that viewpoint. Neal Stephenson wrote an excellent dissection of why writers should spend their time writing instead of attending conventions, and he is a much more eloquent and gracious person than I am; I recommend going and reading his piece instead of mine.

However, because I'm a narcissist and because part of being a writer is the hope that I can make myself understood, I'm going to try to explain where I'm coming from with my annoyance.

Primarily, my job is to write the book, and talk about the book in such a way that will encourage sales. I make no apologies for being a fan of my own work; I wouldn't have stuck it out through the years that it took to finish The Curse of Jacob Tracy if I didn't love the characters. So I love to talk about them with like-minded people.

To a certain extent, because I love the craft of writing, I also enjoy talking about it with like-minded folk. Where things start to get weird is where newbie writers come up and start demanding advice or help that they could get from literally tens of thousands of books and websites devoted to that subject. I am, of course, glad to talk about my experience, but there's nothing particularly special about my experience and it won't help anyone else in their particular situation.

I've run into this attitude from fans and other writers alike, that because I've "made it,"* I'm obligated to donate my time and attention to anyone who demands it. I find that mind-boggling.

Another thing I find surreal about public appearances are the number of readers who want to get close to authors just to tell them what they did wrong in the book. I'm not even talking about myself here, I'm thinking of people cussing out Charlaine Harris because Sookie ended up with the wrong guy. What is she supposed to go, call up the publisher and go, "Hey, we better recall all those copies, somebody didn't like the way I handled that character"? It's done, folks. Fait accompli. If you don't like it, go and find something you do like.

And by the way, the purpose of the online review is NOT to give feedback to the author, it's to let other readers know if they will enjoy the book or not.

There's another, unusual aspect to my public appearances that I'm going to address here, because it sometimes becomes awkward. I almost always go to shows in costume, for two reasons—one, a slightly gothy Victorian dress both draws the eye and telegraphs the mood of my fiction. People who are attracted to the scenery of my table—creepy western banner, occult paraphernalia, lady in a feathered hat—are probably going to enjoy the book I wrote.

The other reason I dress up is to create some distance between author-Holly and real-life Holly. I would hope that most attendees I meet at a show realize it's marketing, not reality. But there's an element of projection that goes on at fan conventions, which, even though I'm aware of it, still takes me by surprise. This element of Hey that creator stroked my inner fetish I now own a piece of them they must service me. I make it sound a little more sinister than it usually is, because most people would not act on such impulses of ownership in a prosecutable way, but some will. And many do it in small intrusive ways without realizing it.

Like, Hey can I have your email so I can send you some questions/my short story/a picture I drew of you.

And, I have this idea for a weird western too, how about I dictate it to you, you can write it and we'll split the profits. Or, Can I have a list of your research sources so I can write a book to compete with yours. 

And, Hey, I'm a photographer, will you come model for me? (Nota bene: the correct way to ask this question is, Do you model? and if the answer is no, then leave it alone.)

I'm not saying anything that hasn't been said before. Just be careful out there.

*Incidentally I have not "made it" as a writer. I still work a day job, and probably will for the rest of my life. I had one book come out three years ago and it didn't even make enough to pay off my student loans. Not by a third. I'm struggling to finish the sequel because my day job is so demanding that I come home every day mentally exhausted from making complex decisions. I know many, many artists/writers who are in the same boat. I met a couple of guys this spring who won a freakin' Eisner award for one of their graphic novels, they are working on the sequel to a big-name fantasy project beloved by fans everywhere, and they still work full-time as baristas.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

actual costs of historical costuming

I'm feeling the need to tell on myself a bit here, because once again it's convention season, and every year, every con worth its salt proposes a "costuming on a budget" panel, and I'm always strung out between wanting to help and a fatalistic sense that it's a lost cause.