"@sambowne What are you up to this summer? Defcon?"
"@sambowne You sir, are a Bad Influence. Or you would be if I paid any attention to your advice."
"Been here one day and already agreed to write an article for HAPS-ED. It always HAPpens... haps2013"
This is a narrow shawl, pretty fast to knit. You’ll want to start with a stretchy or provisional cast-on, to facilitate putting the border on.
Here’s the first chart:
How cool a world is it, when you can put ‘publish novella’ on your to-do list and check it off before you’ve finished your coffee? Admittedly, it was a large coffee.
Anyway, for those of you wanting another Osyth ‘fix’ at the end of the semester, Unite and Conquer is now available from Smashwords for the princely sum of $0.99. You should be able to read it over a cup of coffee, if it’s a large coffee.
I’d be editing my novella ‘Unite and Conquer’ into Kindle format. I just got permission to use Chris Hadley’s painting, ‘The Cat Jury’ on its cover! When I saw these wonderful, eerie cats, I knew they were the ones from Magister Baristes’ house. They have just the right attitude. We’re not talking snuggly puffballs here…
Things being as they are, formatting will have to wait a while. Here’s the teaser, though:
They all suspected he was abusing his graduate student — but only the cats saw what she did about it.
I have a guest blog post up at Toni Sweeney’s ‘My blog.’ Drop over and check it out!
And many thanks, Toni!
My chorus is singing excerpts from Les Miz, so revolution is on my mind for about a half-hour every Tuesday night. The rest of the time, I do what I usually do — which includes scoping out enough academic news that of course I ran into Rebecca Schuman’s Thesis Hatement and some of the articles discussing it.
My take on the issue would be worse than useless, since I’m an older, tenured science professor who never aspired to anything other than the small-college teaching position I now happily hold. But as I read the article, tunes from Les Miz started floating through my head. I thought about the meeting I had been in the day before, in which one of my humanities colleagues did what I take for granted from humanities faculty — questioned an institutional sacred cow — and I wondered mightily. ‘How is it safe,’ I wondered, ‘for a country to fill itself with unemployed humanities PhDs? Aren’t savants and intelligentsia just the sort of people who cause trouble for the ruling classes, whenever they are allowed to plot and mutter in the hidden corners of society?’
Well, I’ve thought this sort of stuff before and been wrong before. A few years ago I was thinking the same thing about unemployed middle managers. ‘Is it safe for the bosses,’ I thought then, ‘to have a large class of unemployed, angry, educated people who know how to work Excel, use Linked-in, and manage a database? Won’t unions of the unemployed spring up and overturn the status quo?’ I am always expecting things to overturn the status quo, and they never do.
We’re ineffective that way. I think it’s something in our water.
But I don’t have to put up with ineffective American academics when I can make up effective ones in my novels. In the work in progress, my protagonist is just an undergraduate student at the University of Selanto. She doesn’t know anything about the life of a freelance magician outside those walls, or what kind of trouble the disaffected, underemployed, and overeducated may cause. Neither do I — yet. But I’ll find out.
I wish I had any hope that real-life events would overtake me. I’m not a fast writer, folks; there’s still time!
I’m not a huge fan of the chocolate-chip cookie, but every now and then I want one. My local drugstore had an amazing sale the other day, with a box of cookies at about half the price of the name brand, so I picked some up. You know the rest of the story; when I dove into them they were perfectly serviceable cookies, but only had about 2 chips per cookie. Which was not what I wanted when I purchased chocolate-chip cookies.
What got me comparing cookies to smut? This week a friend of mine, a writer, announced her intention to write good smut. None of this ‘Fifty Shades of Gray’ stuff, she declared. She was going to write good stuff, with character development and plot; and immediately my mind flashed back to that box of cookies and my depressing search for chocolate chips in a wide, flat, doughy expanse of … character development and plot?
At one time I read a lot of smut. I didn’t search it out; I was searching for Harry Potter fan fiction, but I certainly didn’t filter out the NC-17 stuff that popped up on my fan fiction.net screen. And I developed the chocolate-chip cookie theory of smut.
In this theory, a cookie either is a chocolate-chip cookie or it’s a sugar cookie. A good sugar cookie is a wonderful thing, and almost all the books on my shelves are sugar cookies. Not a chip in a carload. But put one chocolate chip into the cookie, and it becomes a chocolate-chip cookie; either a good one, with lots of chips, or a bad one, with not enough chips. Every mouthful one takes after finding that first chip will be judged on whether it contains chips or not.
And that’s where I think the traditional concept of ‘good smut’ falls apart. It’s a holdover from a time when any smut was thought to be a bad thing, and smut could only be justified at all if it was embedded in something that would hold the reader’s interest without the smut. Does anybody really need to maintain that fiction any more? Perhaps the people who would are off in the lounge, reading Playboy for its articles.
Now, someone could argue that mine is an immature approach to sex and smut, and they might well be right. A grown-up, they would say, has integrated a healthy sex life into the rest of his or her activities. It’s only our culture’s censorious approach to sex that makes us react to it so strongly that everything else pales into insignificance once our propensities are inflamed.
To which I would say, so what? Today’s readers are today’s readers, for good or ill. There may be a utopia out there in which sex is just one more healthy avenue of human interrelationship, but it’s in the future. The most ultraliberal of us still react pretty strongly to any attempt to integrate sexual attraction into our workplaces or hobbies. We assume that inflaming the propensities is a game-changer. So why pretend it isn’t, when we pick up a novel?
I’ll stretch my metaphor out further, though, and suggest what might make good smut. Not a regular sugar cookie of a novel studded with sex scenes; no, a real prime chocolate-chip cookie not only has big juicy chips in abundance, but they’ve melted out into the cookie dough between them. The entire cookie is permeated with their salacious decadence. They echo in every mouthful, and you never for one bite forget what you’re eating. So for those of us who aspire to write good smut, shouldn’t the plot, descriptions and characterization be almost as sexy as the sex scenes?
For myself, I’ll stick to the smut-eating asterisks. Because I know my limits, and the last thing I want to create is a two-chip cookie.
I’ve posted a few times on the persistence of Victorian Morals in girls’ fantasy, and how they lead to characters who do the self-sacrifice thing even absent any supernatural justification. So I was pretty interested to come across a YA fantasy heroine whose ethics were not based on Victorian religious assumptions, and who unreflectingly did things that made me think “Wow, really?”
I was even more surprised to find this in a book set in 1800s England. In a character who is the local minister’s daughter.
To begin with, it has a heroine who in spite of being the minister’s daughter never thinks once about god, jesus, or religion. She’s moral and self-sacrificing enough — she intends to spend her life looking after her sister to atone for her sins — but those sins have no religious context. The moral tension in this book comes from conflicting loyalties. Is the heroine more loyal to humans or to the Old Ones that inhabit the swamp? Virtue steers her onto one path, inclination steers her toward the other, and she judges herself wicked because of her inclinations.
Well, this is a trope we’ve seen before, isn’t it. Of course the heroine’s inclinations will turn out to be right in the end, and the spirits of nature will be revealed as better than the humans who lord it over them. So I was prepared for this to be one more sweetly pretty ecofable in which animism is shown to be better than christianity. But it didn’t quite fit into that mold, mainly because of the absence of christianity. Which left the heroine to choose between animism and a very strange, unsettling human ethics.
For instance, witches. The mere possession of red hair and lack of an alibi condemn one bit player as a witch, and everyone agrees that she must hang. When her innocence becomes obvious after her death, well, that is sad, isn’t it. I think the heroine muses on that for oh, about twelve seconds, as she walks past the dangling body.
The Old Ones, as well, are to be killed, though in their cases the trials are optional. It’s hard to explain how this plays into the story without major spoilers, but suffice it to say that when I got to that part I said ‘She DID? REALLY? WOW.’ And the heroine did not. Share my amazement and shock, that is. Once again, she gave about twelve seconds’ thought to something I was still trying to close my dropped jaw on a week later.
So, wow. Absolutely not Victorian morals, in an 1800s England minister’s daughter. I got what I was asking for, sort of, and it’s given me something to chew on all right.
The thing I can’t figure out, though, is whether the author did this on purpose. Because what I experienced as a cold-shock subversion of moral tropes could just as easily be seen as an unreflective transplantation of Buffy-style “sometimes they just need killin’ ” morals into a historical setting — sort of like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Just because I’m steeped in Victorian childrens’ literature doesn’t mean that every author I read shares my preoccupations.
In the end, though, doesn’t matter. I like the dissonance between what I expected and what I got when I read Chime, the unapologetic presentation of a different moral system. And truly, if it’s presented without apology because the author never thought of apologizing for it, isn’t that exactly the essence of an alternative moral system?