The 2017 Cleveland RV Show: 15,000 Steps And A Bunch Of Videos

So Cleveland has a gigantic indoor center for conventions – so large it has a Ferris Wheel, which you can actually miss seeing within the IX center’s vast expanse.

Which means when they park five hundred RVs in there, you’ve got room to wander.

And the RV show is our favorite attraction of the year, because it’s this wonderful tension: people want to have their home with them, but they’ve also got to drive this fershlugginer thing, and also afford it.  And the designers have to make each one unique enough that someone else will buy this RV over the 200 others with the exact same dimensions.

So there’s a lot of people trying to do a lot with a 20″x8″ room.  Bumpouts have become standard, where you have a portion of the room on extensible hydraulics that slides out to one side.  You’ve got attempts to make RVs into two-floor monstrosities that can still fit under a bridge, usually by giving you a claustrophobically flattened upper floor. And you’ve got chandeliers, and fireplaces, and mantelpieces….

But anyway!  I documented this extravaganza so that you could see it!  First, we have the ridiculously stupid blurry video I took to intro this (trust me, the rest of the videos are better-quality):

And then, just to sample what the lower-end RVs look like that can be videoed, here’s the $17,000 RV.  (There are $10,000 RVs, but you can’t really get good footage inside of them because there’s only about five feet to move around in.)

But even small RVs often come with big amenities – as you can see, this RV has a second floor, a ceiling fan, a walk-in shower, and fine woodworking:

The 2017 RV show!

And fireplaces and wall-mounted TVs are basically de rigeur now:

The 2017 RV show!

Along with some other unique extras:

The 2017 RV show!

Aaaand, of course, THE STAIRCASE (which is slightly unusual, as most of these have ladders and not staircases):

But if you wanna see a $50,000 RV, which is not quite top-of-the-line but definitely upscale, then you get this.

Realize, however, that both the $17k and the $50k are towed RVs, so you have to pay not just for the RV itself, but for the truck to drive it around, which is usually another $50k or so. Also, RVs have pretty much zero resale value, deteriorating by 60% the second you drive it off the lot, and you’re lucky if you get an RV that lasts for ten years without repairs so big you might as well buy another RV – so you really have to view this as an expense if you’re planning on driving around.

(Although every bank plan assumes you’ll be taking out a 20-year loan. I wouldn’t.)

Now, every year at the RV show brings a couple of weird extras that eventually become commonplace. When we started going, fireplaces were something rare enough to “ooh” and “aah” over; now they’re just part of even the lowest-scale models. (They’re technically space heaters with a fireplace cover, but still.) Then big-screen TVs. There’s an RV arms race, and it gets better every year.

Gini and I couldn’t decide which of this year’s two major additions were more ludicrous: the drop-down front porch:

The 2017 RV show!

Or the walk-in closet (which, yes, in an RV is still big enough to walk into):

The 2017 RV show!

And if you think the walk-in closet isn’t that big, you’re not used to RV crunches, where everything is tiny. This won our personal “smallest sink” award, but it’s not that much smaller than a lot of sinks in the RVs:

The 2017 RV show!

Though if you want the quote-unquote “big” models, you gotta go to the “Class A” models, which are the ones you don’t hook up to a car. Those get pricey quick, because the chassis to carry these things get ridiculous – and they also subtly encourage drunk driving:

The 2017 RV show!

But if you wanna see the $120,000 version, well, here it is:

Thoughts On Recording An Audiobook For My Mother.

Back in August of 2015, I told my legally-blind mother that I would record my book Flex for her so she could hear it.  Yes, it’s available as an audiobook already, but we didn’t know that it would be at the time I promised it to her – and besides, she’d get to hear me read it to her.

I am only vaguely ashamed to say that I finished the project last night.

I say “vaguely ashamed,” because holy crap was this a lot of work. I probably spent six hours trying to make the opening prologue audio-book perfect – not a stutter or a mispronunciation in earshot, clipping all the uhs and pauses out with Audacity, stopping and restarting whenever the damn dog barked, which was all the time.

And I’m told that I do a damned fine reading – but that process stressed me out so much that I avoided it, because it was going to take me 240 hours to do this perfectly and when I read the next chapter I was hyperaware of every word I spoke and so I screwed up more, and so….

In December, I finally said, “Okay.  I’m gonna read it to Mom like I’d read it cold to a room full of people.  I’m good at reading, and she’s my Mom, so if she hears the dog bark or my chair creak, well, maybe that’ll sound more like her son did it.”

And even then it was another 24 hours worth of work, sitting down and reading and editing and listening and chopping out the most egregious mistakes.

Audiobooks are crazy work, man.  Maybe if you’re a professional, with professional recording techniques, it gets easier – it could be that people read through with zero mistakes.  But I’m not that person, and it’s my book, so I figure if I can’t read my own words through perfectly the first time, I’d have problems with everyone.  Which means that audiobooks must be a constant stream of tiny edits, endless nigglywork.

And I kept thinking about what The Little Red Reviewer said about my public reading style:

I’ve been lucky enough to see Ferrett Steinmetz at Conventions and attend his readings. My friends, if you ever find yourself in the same city as Ferrett, get yourself in the same room with him in the hopes you will hear him read his work. The man has an amazing voice.  At first it seems he’s reading slowly. But no, those are deliberate, planned pauses. Those are moments in which the words he is saying (and not just the sound, but the words and the meaning and the weight) sink in. He’s doing you a favor – giving you time to absorb and digest what you are hearing.  While I was reading Fix I heard Ferrett’s voice reading it to me.  Slower than I usually read, a kindly and sympathetic voice encouraged me to slow down to experience the full effect of getting kicked in the feels in nearly every chapter. Thanks Ferrett, for making my cry for like an hour while finishing this book!

Yet I guess I don’t read that slowly, as the professional version of the book is 11 hours and 43 minutes, and my book is about twelve and a half.  (I misremembered it as ten hours total, which panicked me – how slow was I reading?)  If I’d been studious about going through and clipping out every excessively-long pause, I’d probably cut another 5-10 minutes out of it.

(Because it’s better to go too slow.  When I see other authors reading, the most common mistake is to blitz through it so fast that you don’t leave the audience time to process.  I’ve seen some very funny chapters mangled because the author told the joke and then accidentally stomped on the laughter by racing ahead to the next line.)

But I did like the ability to put my own spin on the takes.  Having listened to it, I think I did a good job at keeping things listenable – and I love the way my microphone makes my voice sound.  I learned to overpronounce a little, because when you’re dealing with the foreign vocabulary of a fantasy book you want to Make It Quite Clear What Is Being Said – and by the end, I learned do things with slight intakes of breath and with pushing the volume and tempo at exciting times.

The real issue was voices.  My mother will now have the debatable joy of listening to me try on two separate accents for Kit the donut-loving detective before I finally settle on a third riotously different tone.  I thought I differentiated Paul and Valentine a lot more when I spoke, but that turned out to be mostly internal – which isn’t a problem for some audio narrators, who do everyone mostly the same and use the writer-handles of “Paul said” to clear them, but I like a little more acting in mine.  (For the record, in my head Valentine always sounds a little vexed, and a little astonished.)

But she will have it.  I may post an audio excerpt on here so you can hear what I’m like when I read – or I may do an audio production of my favorite short story “‘Run,’ Bakri Says” – which was read quite wonderfully by Mur Lafferty (who has a book I’m interested in coming out soon), but I think it’d be interesting to compare our approach if I did it right.

Anyway.  It is done.  I just need to figure out what format she needs it in.  And if she decides she wants to hear The Flux, well, I’ll get to that too.  A lot sooner.

I’ve learned so much in doing this.

I Found The Perfect Actress To Play Valentine, Except She’s A Tattoo Artist

So those of you who’ve read my books Flex, the Flux, and Fix will know that the beating heart of the tale is one Valentine DiGriz – the kinky, outspoken videogamemancer whose pixellated superviolence saves wimpy Paul on any number of occasions.  She’s both pretty and sexy, she’s quote-unquote “overweight” and yet is unashamed of her body, she dresses stylishly…

So when people ask me, “So if you could have any actress play Valentine, who would it be?”, the answer has traditionally been, “No one I know of.”   Unfortunately, most of the actresses with the right frame to play Valentine are comedians, and come off as a little goofy for the role.  (Though, I mean, Valentine gets off all the best one-liners in the books, so on the off-chance that Melissa McCarthy has dropped by my blog, hey, email me.)

But I did find the perfect person to play Valentine, even though I’m pretty sure she has no acting skills.  This would be Kelly Doty, the should-have-won artist who got screwed out of the finale on Ink Master, Season 8:

Unfortunately, the videoclips I can find don’t quite show off Kelly’s range of sarcasm, which mostly comes off when she’s dealing with the other tattoo artists.  But if you love Valentine and you’re like, “This woman isn’t snarky enough!”, well, Kelly’s mastery of the dry shot is well in-pocket when it comes to critiquing the other drama queens at Ink Master.  (Nor can I find videos that show off her astonishing array of outfits.)

Now, there’s the small issue that she’s not an actress.  But that’s counterbalanced by the fact that nobody is currently beating down my door to make a movie about my trilogy (though there’s some faint glimmers of hope deep in Hollywood), so if I’m casting my imaginary dream girl then I guess I can surpass the imaginary hurdles needed to take a tattoo artist into an actress.

Anyway.  You wanna know who I’d want to get to play Valentine?  Someone like Kelly Doty.

A World Full Of Mean Kittens

Ever see a two-year-old pet a kitty? It is not a pleasant experience for the kitty. The kid staggers over, beaming; the kitty, if it has any experience with small children, generally attempts to flee.

And the kid, full of friendship and good will, whacks the cat on the head repeatedly in their clumsy version of “petting.” Depending on the cat’s temperament, the cat will either scratch or flee. In either case, the kid is often heartbroken.

At which point the child is presented with an optional lesson to be learned: They can understand that their version of “petting” is not actually what the kitty wants…

Or they can decide the kitty is MEAN to them because they petted, and yet the kitty rejected their friendship!

Wise parents will help shape this lesson for their children, of course. But if the kid doesn’t figure it out eventually, the world is gonna be full of very mean kittens.

And I see that behavior a lot in life, particularly among men seeking the company of women. Like the two-year-old, they’ve watched what other men do and have picked up on some elements of how social interactions work, but not the critical subtleties that would convey kindness.

Then they go out and act like what they think is a “nice” guy, except they’re actually whackin’ kittens in the face.

And when the women inevitably reject their “kind” advances, they don’t stop to think, “Wait, maybe what I’m doing isn’t what the people I’m trying to date actually want.” They generally double down, bitching that they did everything they were supposed to, and these dumb bitches don’t know when a guy is doing good things for them, and it never really occurs to them that when they’re secretly thinking of women as dumb bitches that maaaaaybe that’s a sign that women shouldn’t actually date them, but by then it’s too late.

They live in a world full of mean kittens.

Which isn’t to say that some cats don’t scratch, of course. There are some genuinely hissy felines out there. But in that case, the lesson to be learned is generally “Cats don’t exist to be petted for your convenience,” and wise people realize that “getting to pet every cat you liked” is not something you were ever guaranteed in life.

The rest of them throw tantrums. Kind of like a two-year-old.

What The Mentally Ill Need To Learn From Carrie Fisher And Her Dog.

Carrie Fisher had a therapy dog named Gary. The dog went with her everywhere – on the red carpets, on interviews with Stephen Colbert and Good Morning America, on the set of the new Star Wars movie.

Gary the Dog became such an icon that people forgot that Gary was first and foremost a coping tool.

So if you’re not mentally ill, let’s talk about how brave Carrie Fisher was to use that dog. And if you are, let’s talk about how smart she was to use Gary.

Because if you have mental illness, bringing a therapy dog out in public (and consequently having to continually explain the dog to strangers) feels like you’re walking big sign in front of you all the time – a bulldog manifestation of “I AM CRAZY.”

There’s a huge amount of bravery in saying to the world, “I cannot cope like you do. Take this away, and I’ll collapse under the pressure. So you’re going to have to deal with the weirdness of putting another chair on the interview stage for my dog, because that’s the only way I can deal with the weirdness of you.”

Because if you’re at all mentally ill, you know that people continually question your coping techniques, even if they’re much quieter than a dog prancing about your ankles. Well-meaning people ask whether you really need to take all those medications, or whether it’s good for you to leave the party when it’s just getting started, and yes, they know you have tried {therapy of the week} but you probably didn’t try hard enough, it worked for me, why don’t you give this new thing a shot?

And that #1 hit, “Are you sure you really need to cope at all?” Maybe you’re not really mentally ill. Maybe if you threw away all the crutches, you’d miraculously gain the strength to walk.

So for Carrie Fisher, that dog was a help – but also a firm sign saying, “MY MENTAL ILLNESS IS NOT NEGOTIABLE. MY COPING STRATEGIES ARE NOT NEGOTIABLE.” She had learned what she needed to cope with stressful situations – and if the rest of the world didn’t understand them, fuck them.

(Carrie also swore a lot, God bless her heart. If you don’t think she’d tell you to fuck off, go Google images of her giving people the finger. They’re adorable.)

And that willpower is hard, yo. Admitting you’re weak takes an amazing strength. It would have been so much easier for Carrie to keep the dog in her trailer, and try to power through the bad times to seem “normal,” and probably break down more. The dog wouldn’t have been a continual bone (heh) of gossip among the celebrity rags, who used it as yet another piece of evidence that Carrie was nuts, nobody wanted to work with her, she was always about to go crazy.

(Even though Carrie was one of the best and uncredited script doctors of the 80s and 90s. Liked Hook? That was her. Sister Act? The Wedding Singer? Those too. Liked her dialogue in the Star Wars movies? There are scanned pages where you can see her marking up the script, and they’re far better for it. She only quit because she found the work unsatisfying. When she needed to keep it together, she did. She just didn’t hide the breakdowns.)

So if you’re not mentally ill, you have to realize the immense pressure that we’re under to hide who we are. Even mentioning that we need to cope is usually a sign for people to take a step back. Even if that unusual coping strategy makes us smarter and more capable than a quote-unquote “normal” person. (As it clearly did for Carrie.)

If you’re mentally ill, trotting Gary around is courageous in the way that you have to be to function.

Because I can already hear people saying, “Well, that’s Star Wars. She was on the runway for the biggest film in the world. I need to cope to go to a New Year’s Party. That’s… different.”

And I can guarantee you that Carrie Fisher would take you by the shoulders and shake you gently and tell you to do whatever it damn well takes.

Because the lesson of Carrie and Gary is that you are more important than the feedback. When you’ve finally done all the hard work and figured out what works for you, make that happen. Do not be afraid. Protect yourself with a dog, or the right therapy, or the right meditative techniques… and if your friends and co-workers don’t get how you need to take a calm-down break in order to get through the day, then be as brave as Carrie.

The world will not make space for your coping techniques. You must be your own Rebel Princess, saving yourself, widening the spaces so you and your coping techniques can squeeze through.

She was a big star, and some people thought she was a flake for needing a damn dog everywhere, and she did it anyway. And that dog allowed her to do things like star in more Star Wars pictures, and do PR tours for her books, and go on interviews. The dog widened her life so she could do things she couldn’t do without loyal, lovable, slack-tongued Gary.

Carrie understood that truth: She could be confined to the spaces where she could act normal. Or she could be weird and go everywhere she wanted to go.

Be Carrie Fisher.

Be unashamed.

(And if you’re wondering, as I was, Carrie Fisher’s daughter is now looking after Gary. He’ll be all right.)

(EDIT: The marked-up page from ESB was revealed as a hoax this morning (they were actually directorial edits) – but considering that Carrie Fisher did rewrite dialogue on Return of the Jedi, the overall point stands.

(Also, there’s some debate about the legal distinctions between types of assistance animals. Those are relevant in legal situations, and good to know if you plan on getting an animal for assistance, but not relevant to my larger point of “Do what you need to in order to cope, and don’t be ashamed of it.”)

One Voice, In A Dream

My Uncle Tommy died over a decade ago.  He was basically my brother; I confided everything in him.  And as I’ve learned with grief, you never really heal, you just reroute around the damage.

Last night, I was dreaming I was a teenager again for some reason, lost on the road in some grand adventure with a bunch of friends, and we had to call home.

I called home, and heard Tommy’s voice.

He said hello.

And that voice was so real, that memory so vivid, I half-woke from the dream, which stopped being about the grand adventure and turned into a meta-question of how could I talk to Tommy again.  Even then I knew it was faked, that Tommy was gone, but my memories had been so achingly vivid that everything in my sleeping brain tried to hear him the way I needed to remember him again.

I was up at 7:00 but I kept pushing my head back into the pillow, desperately clinging to thin dreams in the hopes I could hear Tommy say hello to me again, because I’ve been starving for years of that man and a taste of my Uncle’s casual friendship was enough to awake that painful separation.

I’m sleepy now, and slightly energized.  I feel vaguely blessed, even though I know I merely stumbled across some portion of my brain that knew how to recreate Tommy’s voice within me.

But I’m glad.

Somewhere within me, I still carry my Uncle’s voice.  Maybe it’ll come to me again in a time of need.

I can hope.



Maybe You Should Try Not Being So Much Yourself.

When I was a teenager, I bathed maybe once a week. I also didn’t believe in combing my hair. And my junk continually itched, so I’d have to reach down and scratch my balls from time to time, which – I am reluctant to say – I’d do in class.

I could not understand why I was so alone in high school.

And if life was a movie, what I would have learned after a whacky adventure was that I just needed to be more myself! Stay true to me, and friendships will follow.

Whereas the truth was that I stunk like a velour-clad hobo. And according to the social mores of the school, I’d marked myself as a weirdo.

Fortunately, as time went by, I paid attention to the signs. When I asked, “Why am I so alone?” I made note of the things that the bullies made fun of me for – and my unwashed hair and self-crotch-grabbing were top on the list.

After months of loneliness, I started to think, “….Maybe this is something that people care about.”

Because I wasn’t dodging showers thanks to some moral commitment – I just didn’t think it was all that important. My hair was uncombed because I never noticed anyone’s hair, so why would I notice mine? And while yeah, my balls itched, I wasn’t on a crusade to make people care about public testicular manipulation. I was itchy, so I scratched.

I couldn’t see how these irrelevant things mattered to anyone.

Out of sheer curiosity, I performed a scientific experiment: for a semester, I’d do these stupid things and see what happened. So I started to comb my hair. (Being me, I flipped to “combing my hair obsessively,” to the point where people made fun of me for my nervous habit of combing my hair, but hey, at least that was an improvement.) I showered more often – which had the unexpected benefit of making my junk itch less. And when I had to scratch the jimmies, I went into the bathroom like, apparently, normal people did.

You know what happened?

I discovered that people cared about really stupid things.

I won’t say I became the belle of the ball, but the average kids in the school went from “actively mocking me” to “ignoring me” – which, let me tell you, is a major upgrade when you’re getting bullied.

The science teachers taught me how old scientists had discovered tiny, invisible creatures called bacteria that nobody could see, but caused huge changes in life. I sympathized. Because in my Great Washing Experiment, I had discovered that there were invisible rules – things I utterly did not care about myself, but apparently made other people act in wildly different methods.

I came to realize that my personality was, in large part, an unconscious negotiation. Showing up in Cheeto-stained clothes told people something about how I was going to interact with them. They reacted accordingly.

If I paid attention to these invisible rules, I could change what people thought of me.

And as time went by, I discovered these rules weren’t “invisible” so much as “invisible to me.” My Mom had yelled at me to shower. My Dad had told me to stop scratching myself. But I had written all of these warnings off because I didn’t think they should make a difference to people, and so I’d just quietly erased the knowledge.

Over and over and over again.

So I quietly began renegotiating my personality – what did other people care about that I didn’t? It turns out that they didn’t like me changing the topic to something more interesting all that much. Nor did they like it when I raised my voice when I got excited.

Did I want to give up raising my voice when I got excited?

What elements were me, and what elements were negotiable?

“Who I was” became a careful dance. Because some things I didn’t care about – taking ten minutes to shower every morning felt like wasted time, but it really made my life better, so I went for it. Yet other things I did care about – I liked D&D, dammit, and if talking about my noble paladin Delvin Goodheart made me a nerd, then maybe I was a nerd.

I had to calculate costs for these invisible rules. People judged me by my clothing – should I put in the effort to learn how to dress really well, or should I do the bare minimum not to be shunned? (I dressed in nothing but black T-shirts and jeans for years because picking out the “right” clothing stressed me out – but that was enough to be acceptable in most places.)

I learned when you could get away with a good dick joke and when to let the opportunity slide – usually through paying attention to awkward silences and going, “Oh, that’s probably bad, isn’t it?” I learned what sorts of conversations made people uncomfortable, and what made them welcome.

I learned that paying attention was a skill. Those invisible rules? You had to look for them. People often didn’t tell you how you’d fucked up – you had to watch for the tensed shoulders, the glance to one side that said I am hunting for an escape from you.

Slowly, I became someone who was actually kind of liked. I’d become the sort of person who not only got invited to parties, but was actually welcomed at them.

And other unwashed nerds started to envy me. They’d corner me, telling me how I didn’t know what it was like, I was never really a nerd, I mean, look, people like you.

And I’d reply, “I know you think my personality is something inherent – but I used to be a nut-grabbing, unwashed outcast. You can get here from there, man – I know because I did it. And maybe it all starts from believing that there are low-cost ways you can change yourself positively to make a difference with other people. You jus have to pay attention.”

“Nah,” they’d say. “Some people just have it. And others don’t.”

And I want to tell them about the invisible rules. I want to tell them how yes, the way they stand too close to me makes a difference, and the way they arrogantly cut me off in mid-sentence makes a difference, and the way they forgot to wear deodorant this morning makes a difference. I want to tell them that yes, I know you don’t think it should make a difference, but there’s a distinction between the way you want the world to work and the way it does right now, and the sooner you can adjust to at least being aware of all these silly social customs, even if you never actually follow them, the sooner your life will start to change for the better.

But I remember me, back in the day. I remember Mom yelling at me that I had to comb my hair, and me going, “Who cares about that?”

A lot of people, as it turns out. And if I’d chosen not to comb my hair because I believed that my wild mane was important to who I was, and I had strode out to my eighth-grade class knowing that some people would think less of me for it, then that would have been an acceptable cost.

But I didn’t. Like these nerds haranguing me about my personality, I walked out with uncombed hair because I didn’t care, and because of that I blithely assumed that nobody else *could* care.

Alas. The world has an ugly way of teaching you lessons, even if you never learn them.