Absent With Leave

Normally I remember to mention this more than 24 hours before I depart, but: I’m going on vacation. :-D

My husband and I are going to Venice for a few days, followed by a cruise to Barcelona, stopping in Dubrovnik (home of many locations you might recognize from Game of Thrones — I’m looking forward to taking photos), Kotor, Corfu, Naples (saw Pompeii last time, so we’re gonna go to Herculaneum, eeeeee), Rome (bring on the Etruscan necropolis!), Florence, Monte Carlo, and St. Tropez. Three weeks door-to-door, and most of it the lovely laid-back relaxing kind of vacation you get when you’re on a cruise ship.

I will not have internet access for most of that time, so if you send me an email, don’t expect a very rapid reply. :-) When I get back, I hope to have some exciting publishing-related news to share with you all . . . .

Puppy Post-Mortem

So the Hugo Awards have been handed out, and the result is: fandom as a whole said in almost every instance that it would rather see No Award than a Puppy candidate win. I’ve heard the factoid bandied about that No Award has been given five times in the previous history of the Hugos; this Worldcon added five more to that total, in Novella, Short Story, Related Work, and both Editor categories, all of which contained no candidates not from one or both slates.

I’m okay with this, and in fact I’m one of the people who voted No Award with a liberal hand. I did this primarily as a way of registering my opposition to slate tactics (regardless of who uses them); in most cases, though, it was also an accurate reflection of my feelings on the nominees. In the work categories (as opposed to the personal categories) in particular, the items on offer were just . . . not that good. The best of them was moderately entertaining, but not, in my opinion, Hugo-worthy. Did the fact that they came from slates incline me to look more critically than I might have otherwise? Perhaps. But I’ll note that I also voted No Award in a category that wasn’t all Puppies, because I honestly didn’t think there was anything on the ballot, Puppy or otherwise, that really deserved the rocket.

Of course some of the Puppies are declaring victory, because they set this up as a situation where any outcome could be spun as a win. Their candidates win? Victory! Proof that there’s a cabal that has been unfairly locking Their People out, and the voters really just want good old fashioned fun! Their candidates don’t win? Victory! Proof that there’s a cabal which is unfairly locking Their People out, just like the Puppies have claimed!

Quite apart from the risibility of the entire “cabal” notion in the first place, I think there are two key items which undercut that narrative. The first is the success of Guardians of the Galaxy, which (if you look at the raw numbers) almost certainly would have gotten on the ballot anyway without Puppy support, and which held a commanding lead over all of its competitors through all passes of voting. In other words: people are happy to vote for good old fashioned fun, when they think it’s good. The second is the success of The Three-Body Problem, which several Puppy standard-bearers said they would totally have put on the slate if they’d thought of it in time. Again: evidence that people are not a priori conspiring against the kind of books Puppies like, just because of politics. Good books will win out, where “good” is defined as “sufficiently pleasing to a sufficiently large percentage of Hugo voters, according to whatever complicated set of criteria each voter uses to judge whether they are pleased.”

I want to make special note of three people: Larry Correia, Marko Kloos, and Matthew David Surridge. All of them were on the slates; all of them withdrew from the ballot early enough that the next item up could be added in their place. Correia’s withdrawal added The Goblin Emperor, which ran a close second to The Three-Body Problem in the voting stages. Kloos’ withdrawal added The Three-Body Problem itself — the book that ultimately won. The same goes for Matthew David Surridge and Best Fan Writer, putting Mixon (the eventual victor) on the ballot. I think it says quite a bit about the effect of the slates on nominations that the works they initially crowded out did so well when it came time to actually vote, and I want to thank all three of those men for withdrawing.

Going forward? Well, I haven’t heard yet whether the “E Pluribus Hugo” proposal fared well during the business meeting; I hope it did. I have heard rumors that next year’s Official Puppy Organizer intends to approach it more as a recommended reading list than a slate; I hope that pans out as described. In the meanwhile, I’m trying to keep track of things (and read more widely) for nominations next time around. I will be paying particular attention to those individuals from the slates whose work struck me as worthy in its own right, and nominating them for 2016 if they keep it up. It’s my way of compensating for all my No Award rankings this year: a small thing, maybe, but better than nothing.

Writing Excuses Three-fer

If you’re a writer and you’re not familiar with the Writing Excuses podcast, you’re missing out. It’s a weekly show with Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, Dan Wells, and Brandon Sanderson, on a wide-ranging variety of topics related to the writing of fiction. And if you remember me complaining during my Hugo Packet binge about how looooooooong most of the podcasts were? The tag line for Writing Excuses is “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” That last part is a lie (they are that smart), and the length is sometimes more like 15-20 minutes — but these are episodes you can listen to pretty easily, without having to set aside a cross-country trip or something to get through more than one.

They also have guests from time to time. So while Mary and I were in Salt Lake City during our tour, we got together with Howard and Dan (Brandon was absent) to record a few eps for later use. Three, to be precise, all of which have now gone live:

Recording those was a lot of fun. Like doing a panel, but more condensed. In and out before you run out of things to day — in many cases long before I ran out, but that’s a good thing, as it means I stayed energized and engaged the whole time. And if you like the general tenor of those episodes, you’ll like Writing Excuses: it’s like that all the time, except with Brandon Sanderson substituted in for me. :-) (And if you don’t like listening to podcasts, check out the comment thread; there’s a dedicated fellow who puts together transcripts a little while after each episode airs.)

The Fitbit Effect

[If you are the sort of person for whom reading a discussion of fitness and weight is going to be detrimental to your state of mind, you may want to skip this post.]

I’ve been seeing the “ten thousand steps” thing around lately — the idea that your health can be improved by the relatively simple tactic of getting off your butt and walking more. I doubt there’s anything magic in 10K specifically, of course; it’s just a nice round number that’s easy to remember. The underlying point seems reasonably valid, though, in that we have a growing body of evidence to show that sitting for large stretches of time is not very good for you, and our species evolved on the assumption that we’d be spending a lot of time in motion.

One of the places where I saw the 10K thing added the statistic that a particularly sedentary person may walk only 1-3K steps per day. This made me wonder: how many steps do I walk on an average day? After all, I have a desk job, and my office is about twenty feet down the hall from my bedroom, so I was guessing the number wouldn’t be particularly high — but I didn’t really know. I’ve had a pedometer app on my phone for quite some time, but since I carry my phone in my purse, it doesn’t count the steps I take around the house when my purse is on the floor. Furthermore, at one point I decided to test its accuracy by mentally counting my steps on the way home from the post office, and checking it against my phone’s count. I didn’t expect the app to be terribly accurate . . . but it was off by such an appallingly large margin (roughly 50%, if memory serves) that I decided to go ahead and get a Fitbit. (Charge HR, for anybody who’s curious.)

The Fitbit isn’t perfectly accurate, either. If I’m carrying something in my hands or moving especially slowly (ergo not swinging my arm), it may not register the step. Conversely, it’s been known to count the movements I make while brushing my teeth as “steps.” I figure those two things come out in the wash — and besides, as one review I looked at pointed out, the real function of a Fitbit is not as a pedometer, but as a motivator.

And in that regard? It works brilliantly.

Continue reading

Done.

I have finished my eighteenth (!) novel. Final tally, for those who have been following the dance of the yo-yo: 56,583 words, which means it ultimately fell about 3.5K short of goal. It will need some expansion during the revision stage, but that’s okay.

Yes, that wordcount is closer to the YA range than the adult range. More news on this front when I have any to report — but don’t hold your breath.

Now, I go to sleep.

Eeeeeeeeeeeek!!!! Or, how many people actually scream?

A couple of hours ago I asked on Twitter how women react when they see something terrible. My proximate reason for asking was that I’ve discovered Netflix has Murder, She Wrote available streaming; in watching it, I’ve been reminded of the standard-issue scream uttered by women in TV and movies when they find a dead body. You know the one: hands to the cheeks, mouth and eyes wide in horror, a high-pitched and wordless shriek coming from her mouth.

It’s always seemed weird to me because I don’t do that. Okay, to be fair, I’ve never come across a dead body. But I have accidentally lit myself on fire — my clothing, anyway — and my reaction at the time was to bellow “FUCK!” at the top of my lungs while beating at the flames with my other sleeve until they went out. The top of my lungs . . . but not the top of my range. Same thing when my husband accidentally kicked my badly-sprained toe, causing me no small amount of pain. I don’t scream so much as yell, often with a great deal of profanity.

So I posted on Twitter because I wanted to know: how many women out there do scream at such things? Is it the majority, and I’m a weird outlier, or is that just a convention of media that doesn’t happen so much in real life? Twitter anecdata thus far suggests a moderately even split; there are definitely women who do the high-pitched wordless shriek thing, but not an overwhelming majority by any means. (Also, at least one guy has testified to uttering a scream of his own when subjected to sudden pain.) It seems the trope isn’t unfounded, then, but it’s also not universal. Which, because I’m an anthropologist at heart, means I’m now wondering whether that reaction has become less common over time (as women are no longer socialized in the same way as thirty or fifty years ago) and whether our media depictions have changed as well.

I have no idea. But it’s interesting to think about, because the standard-issue scream has always felt so very fake to me.

a belated (but not too late!) plug for Helsinki 2017

I’ve been meaning to make this post for ages; please forgive me for the delay.

I wanted to take a moment to promote the Helsinki 2017 bid for the World Science Fiction Convention. Why? Lots of reasons, really — starting with the fact that for something which bills itself as the World Science Fiction Convention, it spends an awful lot of its time in the U.S. and occasionally Canada, every so often venturing overseas to Britain, and almost never anywhere else. There are other countries with SF/F fandom, many of which are really enthusiastic and friendly and eager to be a part of the broader genre world. Second, I have a good friend (Crystal Huff) involved with the Helsinki bid, and everything she’s told me about Finnish fandom is absolutely wonderful. I have not the slightest doubt that if they host Worldcon two years from now, they’ll do a splendid job. And third, Wendy Shaffer spent the entire month of June posting Finnish heavy metal videos to encourage you to vote for Helsinki. And who can argue with that?

If you’ve already voted, of course, this post comes far too late. If you haven’t, though, there’s still time! Email ballots will be accepted until 23:59 Pacific Daylight Time on Monday, August 10th (i.e. about twenty-four and a half hours from when I’m typing this post), and if you know somebody willing to carry your ballot to Sasquan for you, those will be accepted at the con itself. Instructions for how to vote are here. There are four bids for 2017: Helsinki, Japan, Montreal, and Washington D.C. With all due love and respect for the D.C folks, it would be lovely to see the con go farther afield than that.

Admittedly, there is a price tag on voting. You need to have a supporting membership for Sasquan this year, and you need to buy an advance supporting membership for 2017 (which will be valid no matter which bid wins). Even if you don’t think you can go to Helsinki or Shizuoka or Montreal, though (or for that matter, D.C.), that still gives you Hugo voting rights, so you get more for your buck than just a voice in site selection. If you can spare the $40 and want to participate in the process, you still have time. Give it a look!

The Traditional Mid-Book Yo-Yo

As some of you know or have guessed, I’m writing a book on spec this summer — a Sekrit Projekt. It’s going pretty well, though right now I’m kind of wondering if I can fit the remaining plot into my remaining projected wordcount.

Earlier today, I was freaking out a bit because I didn’t have remotely enough plot to fill out the wordcount, and the book was going to run short.

Now, if you’re a normal person, you probably assume this means I thought up some additional plot in between then and now. You would be wrong. Before I freaked out about insufficient plot, I was convinced I had too much plot. And before that, I knew I didn’t have enough, not by a long shot. Because I’m at That Stage of the process: the Traditional Mid-Book Yo-Yo.

It happens every time. This is the seventeenth novel I’ve written, and so I know quite well that because I am not the sort of person who outlines rigorously, I have to eyeball the amount of material necessary to get from where I am to the target length. (The only time I can think of when this didn’t happen to me was with In Ashes Lie. I knew a quarter of the way into that book that there was no way in hell it would fit into 110K: I emailed my editor, and she gave me permission to run over, so long as I warned her if it was headed north of 180K. So that one didn’t have a target; it was as long as it needed to be, which turned out to be 143K.) As I draw near, I have to keep checking in with my brain and gauging whether any adjustments are necessary. And I’m constantly changing my mind.

But at least I know that. Which means I can take the yo-yo in stride, trusting that I’ll be able to tell if I’m really going to miss my mark in either direction. And since this book is a spec project, it isn’t the end of the world if I do miss: the worst that happens is I have to look for ways to flesh the book out during revision, or I don’t manage to complete it before my self-imposed deadline. Either of which is fine, if annoying.

I think I’ll be in the target range, though. I usually manage.

Deviation from the Norm

Tonight I read an article in the New York Times about how lots of business set their thermostats according to a formula devised in the 1960s, which assumed the average office worker was a 40-year-old, 154-pound man. Because of the differences in base metabolic rate between men and women, not to mention different standards of seasonal clothing, this results in countless women bundling up every summer to avoid freezing at work.

What struck me about the article was the way it framed its topic. “Women get cold more easily,” it tells us. It could just have well said “Men overheat more easily.” A small linguistic difference — but not an insignificant one. Saying that women get cold more easily defines the male average as the norm, and women as deficient in their ability to warm themselves. Phrasing it the other way around defines the female average as the norm, and men as deficient in their ability to cool themselves.

I get a lot of this in my daily life, because I am definitely at the warm end of the spectrum. In fact, a little while ago one of my friends made a comment about how I have a very narrow range of temperatures at which I can be comfortable. I retorted that this was not true: it’s just that half of my range is considered completely unacceptable by society at large, so nobody ever sees it. Long before we get anywhere near my upper limit, everybody else is pleading for a window to be opened because they’re dying of heat. (They should try working in my office. It’s upstairs, with a western facing, in a townhouse with no air-conditioning and three skylights. On a warm summer day, it isn’t uncommon for the temperature at my desk to approach ninety degrees Fahrenheit. I don’t claim to enjoy that temperature — but almost every person of my acquaintance would flee for their life.)

The article was mostly even-handed, pointing out that it would be more energy-efficient in summer to raise the temperature a little, not to mention more considerate of female employees, and that a lot of offices have setups that completely warp temperature control anyway, with cubicles and partitions stopping airflow and thermostats in different rooms from the areas they regulate. But still, the bias was ingrained in the language, even as it was pointing out how bias is ingrained in the culture. If we want to avoid the latter, we need to notice the former.

Preserving Fire

I recently read an article about a museum exhibit in Boston that initially allowed visitors to try on a Japanese kimono. Protesters decried this as racist, exoticizing, Orientalist — and in response, the museum changed the policy, leaving the kimono where people could touch it, but not allowing anyone to wear it.

What struck me in the article was this:

But the reaction to the exhibition from Japan — where the decline in popularity of the kimono as a form of dress is a national concern — was one of puzzlement and sadness. Many Japanese commentators expressed regret that fewer people would get to experience wearing a kimono.

It’s a useful reminder that the American perspective is not universal, and that the identities we construct here (the protestors were not Japanese, but Asian-American) carry their own political baggage that doesn’t necessarily mesh with other parts of the world. It also raises questions of how we should weigh competing concerns: at what point does a movement to oppose colonialism in the United States become, in and of itself, a colonial insistence on making other countries adhere to our standards of proper behavior? If people in Japan are okay with Americans trying on a kimono, should Asian-Americans be standing in the way of that?

It also comes back to the issue of “tradition” and its role in society. I was a folklore major in college and grad school, and since folklore is often defined in ways that put “tradition” at the heart of the field, that means I read a lot of definitions for what tradition is. My favorite, by far, was completely non-technical in origin (it’s a quotation from the composer Gustav Mahler), but I felt it got to the heart of the issue in a way that technical definitions don’t:

Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.

“Kimono,” as we think of them now, are the fossilized relics of nineteenth century fashion, the domain of specialists who have learned all the rules and can steer clueless modern people through them like dolls. It’s as if a “dress” in Western society meant a corseted garment worn with a lobster tail bustle, made out of fabric that matches the color and pattern aesthetics of 1870, and god help you if you mistakenly wear a day dress to an evening dinner, or a riding dress when you intend to go for a walk in the park.

If that was what a “dress” was in 2015, it would be going the way of the dodo.

So people in Japan are trying to figure out how to preserve fire, instead of worshipping ashes. Part of that means relaxing the rules, so that you no longer have to do things exactly the way they were done in 1870 Japan. Different fabrics, different patterns, different ways of tying obi. Treating kimono like clothing, rather than a symbol of national identity that has to be kept under glass like a dead butterfly. Uniqlo, a Japanese clothing chain, is selling yukata in their American stores, because they want Americans to buy them. (I got one the other day. It isn’t just a bathrobe calling itself a yukata; it comes with an obi and instructions for how to tie it. Though it doesn’t tell you that it’ll look better if you put a towel around your waist to flatten out that curve before you get dressed.) And it isn’t just kimono: when I went to the wedding of an Indian friend from high school, I felt wildly out of place in my appropriate-for-a-Western-wedding dress. All her law school friends, most of whom were not Indian, were there in sari, because she’d offered to pick some up for them when she went to India to buy her own wedding gear. Sari are still going pretty strong because they’re adapting, developing different styles within the broad space of the concept, rather than remaining what they were in the days before the Raj.

There aren’t any easy answers for this. I own a sari now, one I bought in India with the help of a female relative of that high school friend. She not only helped me pick it out, she ran me all over town to make sure I got a blouse and underskirt to match it, and all the right jewelry, too. She’s totally cool with me wearing a sari. But Random Stranger #948 on the street? Might view it differently. Just like those Asian-American protestors thought the museum exhibit was racist cultural appropriation, while people back in Japan made sad faces over Americans not experiencing the beauty of the kimono. People don’t always agree, and you can’t explain to every person you pass on the street that you have the following reasons for believing it’s okay.

There’s one thing I can do, though. This Kickstarter aims to bring a kimono show to New York Fashion Week. The people organizing it seek the recognition of kimono as “a universal formal wear that is beyond cultural and ethnic boundaries.” To me, the key word there is boundaries. Kimono have been fenced in — like an exotic animal at a zoo, for outsider to goggle at and locals to say “yeah, remember when those were all over the place?” I don’t think the exhibit is about erasing the origin of kimono, forgetting their Japanese connections. It’s about knocking down the fence, letting the concept back into our social ecosystem. Letting it adapt to its new environment.

I’m backing the Kickstarter. And I’m thinking a lot of thinky thoughts.