Category Archives: everything else

This category means, “I didn’t know where to put this post.”

Doctor Who: Invasion of the Ant People

From my collection of dollhouse pictures, I bring you . . .

Picture of dollhouse living room invaded by ants

A living room full of ants. Because . . .

Picture of an ant invasion featuring a Dalek and the Jon Pertwee Doctor.

The Third Doctor dropped a bag of flour, and apparently his Dalek housemate didn’t notice.

Tisk, tisk.


Hate speech not welcome

At my kid’s school, there’s an assembly every Monday morning. A student is given the honor of reading the school expectations, which are posted conspicuously:

I use respectful language. I am in the right place at the right time. I keep my body in my personal space. I move safely on school grounds. I care for school property in a responsible way. I am considerate and respectful of others.

And there’s a sign (from the Safe Schools Coalition) that I see when I walk in the door of the school. It says,

“Degrading racial, ethnic, sexist or homophobic remarks not welcome here. RESPECT the differences.”

The message simple and clear. Our community tries hard to follow it. The call for consideration and respect protects everybody. The sign on the door makes a call out to groups that are protected from hate speech because of historic and continuing oppression. We don’t do a perfect job, but when something goes awry, we are much better equipped to handle the situation because we are all on the same page.

There is broad-based agreement at our school that these are legitimate social expectations, for practical reasons. None of us want our kids to come in from recess with bloody noses and scraped knees.

Until recently, I would have thought there was broad-based agreement within the science fiction and fantasy community as well. However, recent dramas have shown this is not so. There are a sizable number of people who think it’s perfectly fine to make degrading racial, ethnic, sexist or homophobic remarks — but that it’s not okay for a community to try to stop them. There is also a backlash against people the extreme right wing are calling “Social Justice Warriors.”

This by itself is not so surprising to me. What’s surprising is that middle-of-the-road people seem to be going along with them to some extent. Why?

Well, for one thing, the phrase “political correctness” has made a comeback. That phrase is vague and muddles the conversation about what is okay to say and what isn’t. (In a recent post, I suggested there was a reason for that: the millions of dollars that conservative philanthropies have thrown into think tanks and other propaganda efforts.)

The phrase “political correctness” also hides a critical distinction between the kinds of people who use it and the reasons they use it. Some people use it maliciously and nefariously, to cover up or defend hate speech. Others use it sincerely, out of frustration that they don’t feel free to express opinions that do not rise to the level of harrassing, discriminatory, or hate speech.

There’s a need for the science fiction and fantasy community to come up with clear expectations for speech and fair consequences if they are violated. And these expectations should treat hate speech differently than other kinds. I’m not talking censorship here. I’m talking about a community setting standards for itself.

What happens if we don’t? Well, at the moment, somebody’s job is at stake (Irene Gallo) over some comments that she made. Here are the comments:

There are two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, misogynist, and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.

Her employer, the major SF/F publisher Tor, is being financially threatened by a boycott if she is not fired. The reasoning behind the call for firing is that conservatives have been fired for their public comments, so she should too.

But what’s not mentioned is that some of the firings conservatives are complaining about involved degrading racial, ethnic, sexist or homophobic remarks. If that’s not even mentioned, then as a community how can we possibly set consequences that most people think are fair?

We’re now in a situation that’s bad for everyone, including Tor. If she’s fired, Tor will face a boycott from the left. If she’s not fired, Tor will face a boycott from the extreme right.

Tor’s response was perhaps the best they could do under the circumstances to appease both groups. But there’s something that bugs me. A lot.

In short, we seek out and publish a diverse and wide ranging group of books. We are in the business of finding great stories and promoting literature and are not about promoting a political agenda

There’s that little political correctness complaint again. What political agenda is he talking about? Gallo criticized the Puppies for being openly racist, misogynist, and homophobic. So her political agenda is what?

More important, though, the political agenda of the Puppies is off limits for discussion here. I kind of get that Tor would want to avoid a discussion that would alienate many of its customers. But the discussion needs to happen somewhere, or rather, in as many venues as possible. And it needs to include an acknowledgement that hate speech is not welcome.

As a community, science fiction and fantasy authors, readers, and editors can and should set standards for discourse. The work on that has already begun, but it looks like there’s a long way to go.

For Further Reading 

A balanced post about complaints of political correctness by blogger and cartoonist Amptoons, “Chait Criticizes Exactly The Kind Of Speech We Should Want More Of”.) This post also has an excellent list of links at the end.

From blogger Julian Sanchez, a post from a leftist about the mistakes the left is making when it comes to political correctness, “Chait Speech.”

From the ADA Initiative website, a post about anti-harassment speech that is being done, “Conference anti-harassment work in SF&F, 2014 edition: N. K. Jemisin’s speech, Hugo battles, Frenkel saga & more”.

A blog post by Laura “Tegan” Gjovaag about the Puppies, “The ongoing Hugo mess comes to haunt me again. . .” This is coming from a fan perspective and is written in lively prose.

Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) anti-harassment policies and social media policies on discriminatory speech.

And finally, the Safe Schools Coalition, which created the “Respect the Differences” Sign.



Getting to the ending

Well, it’s been a year since I started my project on documenting the fanfiction workshop I taught in my son’s fourth/fifth grade class. I got distracted by the end of the school year and never came back to it.

There’s a lovely irony in the place I got stuck: “Getting to the ending.” Endings are, apparently, difficult.

The main thing I told the kids is that there are no hard and fast rules, but people have an intuitive sense of when something is ended or not. The main question to ask is, “Does it feel finished?”

I gave them three general options:

  1. Solve the problem or mystery or find the treasure
  2. Have the character fail to solve the problem or mystery
  3. Leave the solving of the problem or finding of the mystery to the future, but add a resolution

I also provided some examples by reading ending sentences out of various books and asking the kids why they felt a sense of completion.

From that small amount of guidance, most students were able to generate an ending. Some were stuck, and we worked with them individually, offering suggestions if needed. But in keeping with the rest of the course, I kept adult visions of “the proper story” out of it.  Once they felt the story had a sense of completion, it was done.

Next up: revision!

Learning the actual history of the U.S. colonies

I’ve been interested in genealogy and family history for a while now. I like to learn more than the names and dates — I like their stories, and the “why” of where they moved, what religion they were, etc. And there is a LOT of information online. I can trace some branches of the family back to the 1600s. (One problem with that is there are “non-parental events” — that is, kids who have been assigned by history to the wrong parents, whether by adultery or adoption or who knows what all. Errors are bound to multiply as you go back in time. All the same, I feel attached to these ancestors.)

Anyway, about a month ago I got interested in some of the names in my family tree. In one set of great-great-great grandparents and their ancestors, I saw names like Zenos or Zenas, Electa, Hannibal, Sylvanus, Israel, Abraham, Sarah, Tryphena . . . there are Hebrew names, Greek names, New Testament names, names of emporers, and even full names of two U.S. Presidents. How on earth did these names get in my family tree?

I was able to trace some of those families back by their paternal lines to arrival in the early U.S. colonies. Then I looked up the history of their churches and the towns they lived in, and ultimately the history of Protestant sects from 1630 to 1840.

Found out some fascinating tidbits! I’ll list a couple of them here, with the caveat that I learned all this from surfing the Web, which is notoriously unreliable. Most of this came from Wikipedia and the rest from random places.

1. The first two Puritan colonies were very different. The Mayflower Pilgrims were separatists — they wanted to break completely with the Church of England. The Massachusetts Bay Colony wanted to reform it instead. Both established theocracies, which survived at first only because there was a civil war distracting the King of England. Power and influence of these two colonies waned as England settled its civil war and took a greater role in colony governance, more Europeans moved to the U.S. (giving people a chance to flee the Puritan colonies), and  ultimately England revoked the charter of one or the other or both.

2. Puritans had Hebrew names and modeled their theocracies after laws in the Hebrew Bible. They identified strongly with the persecution of the Jews, since they had been persecuted as well.

3. Puritans were from the beginning very invested in democracy — that is, of the male members of the church.

4. By the 1690s, the influence of the Puritans had waned, but a lot of the beliefs and traditions carried on in other religions until at least the 1840s. This is where it gets super interesting, though — there were no less than three revival movements, called “Great Awakenings,” where everything got turned on its head. They took place in approximately the 1730s, the 1790s, and the 1820s (give or take a couple of decades).

With that context in mind, here are a couple family stories.

John Mathew Noah came to the U.S. in colonial times as an indentured servant and eventually worked his way up to being fairly wealthy. He left Massachusetts for Ohio in the early 1800s, where he participated in the founding of a church called Bethesda.

Like Puritan churches, it had covenants to enforce church attendance and personal behavior. A decade or so later, the church was rocked by the Third Great Awakening and a schism developed. Some members wanted to keep the covenants, and some, including John Noah, wanted to throw them out entirely.

The notes of church meetings were kept, so I got to read an account of the schism, which was fascinating! There were a series of votes that kept getting overturned, and eventually, John Noah and ten to seventeen others were excluded from the church. He went on to help found a second church in another town. Meanwhile . . .

. . . his daughter, Margaret Haynes Noah, and her husband joined the Mormon Church, along with several other members of the Bethesda church. Her husband was . . .

. . .  Charles Hulet, a descendent of Puritans, including the Hathorne family, and a distant relation of the leader of the Salem Witch Trials and of Nathaniel Hawthorne. His father, Sylvanus Hulet, had fought in the Revolutionary War, then disappeared from historical records for seven years and emerged married to . . .

. . .  Mary Ann Lewis, whose parentage has not been traced, aside from a family story that her grandmother was a Native American named Running Deer and her grandfather was a white man referred to as Charles Sq**man (that’s a derogatory term that was used for whites who married Native Americans). This history, connected to the fact that the LDS church had a focus on converting Native Americans, adds up to something, but I can’t for the life of me tell what!

Here are the names that Charles Hulet and Margaret Ann Noah, my great-great-great-great grandparents (if I counted right!) gave their children: Anna Maria, Melvina, Catherine, Electa Fidelia, Sylvanus Cyrus, Elizabeth, Jane, Sarah, Dorcus, Tabitha, and Warren.

I see so many recurring patterns. Idealism, the desire to throw out all the old rules, restlessness, the willingness to pick up and move your entire family for the sake of religion, and interest in new forms of government. The desire for theocracy and the desire for its opposite.

That’s just one small segment of my family. This is the family of my great-great-great grandparent and beyond, and she (Catherine Hulet) is only one of thirty-two great-great-great grandparents. (If I counted right!) It contains so much drama and so many different kinds of people!

Folks, the history of the U.S. is so much stranger and more complicated than we could ever imagine.

Skeptical about “Skeptic” this month

Every month we get Scientific American in the mail and I devour it. This month’s has three intriguing articles: one on meditation, one on a human-powered helicopter (!!!!!), and one about the relationship between democracy and peace.

That third article, “Can democracy lead to perpetual peace?” is part of the magazine’s regular “Skeptic” column. Its focus is “Viewing the world with a rational eye” and I usually see it debunking pseudo-science. This month the author, Michael Shermer, is covering a scientific theory that democracies might be less warlike. He goes over various ins and outs and studies and articles, including the Polity Project and a recent article by political scientist Havard Hegre, and then gives his own theory:

“I propose human nature itself and our propensity to prefer the elements of democracy. Peace is a pleasant by-product.”

But something’s missing from this analysis, related to one of the most important scientific concepts: correlation is not causation. Shermer covers the possibility that  greater democracy leads to more peace and the possibility that there is a third factor, but doesn’t consider the possibility that peace leads to democracy, and war leads to authoritarian forms of governments.

That’s my personal theory, after looking at ancient Mesopotamia. It turns out that democracy didn’t begin with the Greeks — decisions were once made by an assembly on a town and city level. The secular leader of a town and city gradually took on more and more power, until that leader became a king, and then a god-in-the-flesh. This happened over thousands of years. And what prompted this increase of power?

I theorize that it was war. There’s an interesting story in the Enuma Elish, a creation myth from the city of Babylon in the 18th century BCE. The goddess Tiamat incites a civil war among the gods, and a young god, Marduk, is asked to fight her. The price? Supremacy over the assembly of gods.

Here is an excerpt from the Enuma Elish, adapted from a translation in The Babylonian Genesis by Alexander Heidel (pp 31-32).

Tiamat, our bearer, hates us. She held a meeting and raged furiously. All the gods went over to her. . . They had a meeting and planned the conflict . . . I sent Anu, but he could not face her. Nudimmud also was afraid and turned back. Then Marduk, the wisest of the gods, your son, came forward. His heart prompted him to face Tiamat. He opened his mouth and said to me: “If I am indeed to be your avenger, to vanquish Tiamat and to keep you alive, convene the assembly and proclaim my lot supreme.

Marduk’s rise to power  has striking parallels in the actual political situation of around the same time: Hammurabi became king of Babylon, was drawn into some defensive wars, and then went on the offense, eventually conquering and uniting all of Mesopotamia under one rule.

That looks to me like a clear example of war leading to authoritarian rule. Another, more recent example, might be the Patriot Act passed toward the beginning of the Iraq war. It limits our constitutional freedoms to such a degree that only war could have made it possible.

I don’t know if my theory is right or not. But I am surprised to see it omitted from the column. Maybe it’s because U.S. citizens have been so inundated with the concept that the U.S., as a democratic entity, can export its democracy and thereby bring peace throughout the world. (Never mind that we are becoming less democratic and bringing more war than peace.)  Maybe that kind of thinking is creating a blind spot even for the skeptical columnist who views the world with a rational eye.

I do love the title, though. Perpetual peace. That would be nice.

happy sumerian couple

Readers, I owe you some posts!

The other day I was looking at my page views and saw that somebody had been looking at my posts on persuasive writing for activists. I promised a post a week and got through half . . . then stopped. Same thing with the fanfiction workshop. Sorry! I realize I need to finish these. I do get distracted. If you’re somebody who’s interested, and waiting on, either one of these, shoot me a comment. That’ll help motivate me. Thank you!

Hello readers!

Hello readers! I keep seeing more blogger followers appear and I’m very grateful for your interest. I’d love to visit your blogs and introduce myself but I’m working like crazy to finish up past projects before the kids’ school year ends, so I haven’t been a very social blogger. But I’d love it if you stopped by and said hello. Cheers!

What do small publishers and indy bookstores have in common?

Q: What do small publishers and indy bookstores have in common?

A: They’re making hardly any money. It’s a labor of love.

I knew that intellectually before, but now I really know it. Having finally self-published my book, I now understand all the time and effort that goes into it. You have to sell a lot of copies to recoup the cost. And how do you sell those copies? By spending even more money to promote the book. And time. Lots and lots of time. It’s definitely deepened my respect for small publishers.

Small bookstores are struggling too. I miss A Woman’s Place bookstore in Salt Lake City and Red and Black Books in Seattle. A Woman’s place hosted my first reading, and Red and Black Books hosted a reading AND introduced me to Octavia Butler, an author I would not have found on my own. I remember that when I went in to give the reading, I saw a paperback book of hers sitting on a spinner, looking shiny and new and fun.

The small bookstores that survive, like Ravenna Third Place Books near my home, have to sell both used and new books because the profit margins on new books are so small. Third Place also had to add a restaurant and pub. Don’t get me wrong: I love going to the restaurant and pub. I’m just saying that’s what it takes to break even as an independent bookstore.

Enter the writers struggling to break into publishing. We don’t just have to write excellent and desirable books; we also have to convince a publisher that they won’t be taking a loss by putting out our books. We must also somehow convince a publisher we’re worth the risk. That’s the part I didn’t understand all the time I kept trying (and failing) to sell my book to a publisher.

What’s a writer to do?

You don’t need me to answer that question. Everybody and their dog is going to answer that question for you: there’s that one story about the guy who made a million bucks selling books out of the back of his car. (Of course, that’s not going to be the reality for most writers, but never mind that.)

Let me ask a different question:

What can writers do in order to make the publishing and bookselling world more hospitable to authors? I’m talking big picture, can we forget about our piece of pie for a second and find out how to make that pie bigger for everybody?

Yes indeed! We need to band together and support the small presses and independent bookstores we eventually hope will support us. So without further ado, here are a couple publishers and independent bookstores that make my five-star list.

Small Presses

Calyx – for supporting women’s writing

Aqueduct Press – for supporting speculative fiction and women’s writing

Book View Cafe – awesome midlist authors who banded together to sell ebooks


Ravenna Third Place Books – my neighborhood bookstore and new-mom refuge

Elliott Bay Books – Seattle’s best-known

Powells Books – I seriously take trips to Portland specifically to spend all day (or days) at this “City of Books”

Got a small press or independent bookstore you’re crazy about? Add a comment.

– Kristin

The way I read books

Right now I’m reading Tea with the Black Dragon by R.A. MacAvoy. I last read this book twenty-some years ago, and it marked a turning point in my understanding of the way I read books.

I devour books. I understood that part already. I charge straight through and often miss key plot points or character points. I rarely know what a character looks like.

It takes me a minute to get into them. Often, I read the first couple pages two or even three times before I understand the character and setting.

If I get excited about what’s happening, I skip ahead on the page.

A successful reading experience, then, usually involves repeated efforts to refocus my attention at first. That’s one of the things I like about reading: it puts me in a good frame of mind. Once I’ve settled in, I’m in the world, one hundred percent.

But here’s what’s interesting: I don’t see the world visually. I don’t make a mental picture of the characters or the setting. I see it in some other way I can’t explain.

And that’s where Tea with the Black Dragon changed my understanding of myself as a reader. As I got into the book, I heard the characters, plain as day.

Does anybody else have this experience?


Mentally ill people are not broken

Mentally ill people are not broken.

And mental illness is not . . .

  • a moral failing
  • contagious
  • best treated through medication only
  • best treated through jail
  • a problem of the individual
  • impossible to treat
  • somebody else’s problem

Rather, mentally ill people are just people, like you and me, who have a medically diagnosable illness. Like cancer. Only we’re not as kind to them as we are to people with cancer.

Mental illness is . . .

  • a mismatch between the abilities of a person to cope and the demands of a society that is becoming increasingly hostile to basic human needs
  • an illness that probably affects you, a family member, or a close friend
  • and therefore, a problem that affects whole families and communities, not just the person with the illness
  • super common! About in four adults in the U.S. suffers from it in any given year
  • worsened by overwork, poor sleep habits, and inadequate diet
  • treatable through a combination of medication and counseling
  • an opportunity for growth

This is stuff everybody should know. I wish we taught it in high school. Because early intervention can make a huge difference! Here are a couple of links to helpful pages on the American Psychiatric Association web site.

Warning Signs of Mental Illness

Healthy Minds, Healthy Lives

Another cool site is the National Alliance on Mental Illness.


– Kristin