Why Poly Gets A Bad Rap

When teenagers start dating for the first time, nobody takes them seriously.  This is a mercy.
The first dates invariably involve a rush of Twu Wuv and promises to last forever and poetry so awful as to rival the Vogons.  Then it collapses into Drama as the first breakups show up and then some horrible bitch/bastard is dating YOUR Twu Wuv, and there’s gossip and fights and broken friendships galore.
Thankfully, because we know How Monogamy Works, we tolerate this startlingly stupid behavior because we know the vast majority of them will get their shit sorted out eventually and learn to date like (mostly) human beings.  This is, we think, a teenaged thing.
Except it isn’t.  If you’ve ever known the reclusive guy who gets his first relationship at age 21, you know the Twu Wuv and the ear-raking poetry and the plans of Future Forever are not an age thing, but a First Love thing.  When you’re feeling such intense emotions, surely this soul-strummingly beauteous thing must translate into results.
It’s a vital lesson that depressives in particular learn over and over in life: the intensity of the emotions you feel does not necessarily affect the real world.
Unfortunately, the time most people discover polyamory is when they’re in the early twenties – and while you’d think we’d have all learned our lesson from the monogamous dating scene, no, we have yet another set of embarrassing experiences to go through before we attain wisdom.  Poly has its own set of “just starting out” dumb behaviors, including the This Triad Is Forever promises, the I Can Date Infinite People And Keep Them All Happy fallacy, the Polyamory Is The One True Way smugness…
Problem is, while society looks at the first monogamous relationships and goes, “Well, that’s just teenaged silliness,” they look at the first polyamorous relationships and goes, “These are adults!  They should know better!”  But they shouldn’t.  Doesn’t matter how many advice books you read, it’s different when the rubber touches road and you’re in the driver’s seat, rocked by new high emotions and pushed around by bizarre fears.
So people look at the twenty-something poly premiere disasters and go, “Well, that’s how poly is.”  But it isn’t.  That’s how your first poly is, and it’s certainly how some people continue to do poly (much like how some people never quite seem to emerge from the high school method of dating), but most people learn to do a much safer, saner way of poly if they’re in it for the long run.
So poly gets a bad rap because our stupidity is on display.  It’s like Luke vs. Han; if all you knew about Luke was him in Return of the Jedi, showing up all bad-ass in his black outfit ready to kick Jabba’s ass, you’d think he was the greatest hero since Han Solo.  But no, you saw him back in his whiny teenager days, so Luke’s forever a dumb farm kid.  I bet if we saw Han Solo stealing credits from his mother’s purse and getting “hammered” on Bartles and Jaymes Wine Coolers, we’d be thinking what an idiot he was.
In short: Poly gets a bad rap because a) we go through a public phase of evolution where we learn vital lessons and look like idiots, b) at a time when we “should” know better, and c) society doesn’t excuse such shenanigans as part of a healthy monogamous evolution.
So the next time you see some young idiot gushing about how monogamy is outdated and poly’s the true way, just cringe and move on; he’ll probably be more embarrassed than you are in ten years. Hopefully.

How I Got From First To Final Draft On "Sauerkraut Station"

“Rewriting is writing,” goes the old saying, but so much of writing advice focuses on first drafts.  I don’t think there’s nearly enough discussion on how to get from first to final draft… And yet that process is critical for most professional writers.
I once asked my Clarion teacher, Neil Gaiman, how close he came on the first draft.  “I’d say 95% there,” he answered, and my heart stopped.  Seeing the stricken look on my face as I realized he tossed off 95% of award-winning stories the first draft, he quickly added, “Oh, no, Ferrett!  That five percent takes all the time.  It is, as Mark Twain says, the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
Inspired by Jake Kerr’s post on his herculean efforts to get the science right in his own Nebula novelette “The Old Equations,” I’m presenting the first draft of my Nebula-nominated novelette “Sauerkraut Station” as a Word document, with sixty-plus comments explaining what was changed, and why.  After writing this, I finished one more draft before presenting it to my online writing group, The Wind-Tossed Coalition, who gave me much useful feedback.  I wrote two more drafts, taking about three months between rewritings, and then gave it to my real-life writing group, the Cajun Sushi Hamsters — which was the big test, since the group includes Geoff Landis, who is a NASA scientist who would doubtlessly call me on my bullshit science.  (Which he did.  I even listened to some of it.)
Since the Hamsters gave it a thumbs-up on the whole, I did a final draft, at which point it had ballooned to 20,000 words.  I then 10% Solutioned it down savagely to 17,000 words and started sending it around.
Ann Leckie, the editor at Giganotosaurus, bought it and asked for minor changes before publication — mostly around my inaccurate descriptions of sauerkraut (which I actually hate) and the removal of a small scene she considered too melodramatic and out-of-tone for the rest of the novelette. From there, it was straight to publication.
So that’s five drafts from start to finish… And while the bones of the story have remained absolutely the same, the way the scenes have changed in tone and effectiveness are, I think, quite worthwhile for someone looking to separate lightning from lightning bugs.
I’ve added several notes as to why things were changed, to show you some of my thought processes along the way.
I strongly urge you to read the finalized story first at http://giganotosaurus.org/2011/11/01/sauerkraut-station/, as I’ll be assuming you’ve read it.  Then download the Word document to compare and contrast.  I’m happy to answer any questions about why things were changed, if there’s an interest; leave a comment here or contact me at theferrett@theferrett.com.

Late Night Blathering On Pick-Up Artists

On my drive out to Connecticut, I was listening to a Neil Strauss book on Pick-Up Artists.  I always find that sort of mentality bizarrely science-fictionesque; here are these nerds who’ve mastered the arts of neurolinguistic programming to get over their fear of women.  And like most good science-fictionly things, the core of the Pick-Up Artists rest at this bizarre nexus of scientific theory and culture and morality.
I couldn’t help but think of “peacocking” over the past two days, though.
The theory behind “peacocking” is that you want to dress in an outlandish manner of some sort – giving women an easy excuse to talk to you, if they want to.  All they have to do is comment upon your crazy tie, and wham, you can walk them down the lines of anchoring and negging into your boudoir.
The thing is, like much of the Pick-Up Artists’ theory, though, it’s absolutely true.  Because I am peacocking now, whether I think of it that way or not.  I’m wearing a slick hat, a bright Hawaiian shirt, and I have this elaborate henna all over my hand.
At least five women have started up conversations with me in the past thirty-six hours.
Now, it’s probably some coincidence that they’ve all been women, but the whole Pick-Up Artist thing makes me wonder whether I could have leveraged some of those tenuous connections into bedroom shenanigans instead of awkward small talk.  And the answer is: probably.  Not because their talking to me meant OH TAKE ME YOU PUDGY STUDMUFFIN, but because I’m reasonably confident in my chances if I’m feeling attractive and flirty and given an option to chat.
I don’t have a spectacular need, though.  It’s cool for me just to meet people and say hello and walk away.
I dunno.  The whole Pick-Up Artist thing strikes so many chords simply because I have had, by many men’s standards, a wildly successful sexual history, and a lot of what they say resonates as, “I do that!  Without thinking about it, but I do that!”  One of the main lessons of the PUA crowd is that women actually want to have crazy, no-strings sex a lot of the time, often just as badly as men, but there’s so many societal restrictions around what women should want that men wind up having to reassure women that they won’t think less of them.
And I think one of the reasons I’ve been as successful in quote-unquote “seducing” women as I have is that I don’t think less of anyone for having sex.  I think people should have as much sex or as little as they want, and I don’t think of women as slutty for desiring it.  And upon some PUA consideration, that attitude gets me a surprisingly long way.
(The other attitude is that I don’t care if we have sex.  I mean, it’d be nice, but unlike many so-called “nice guys,” if you just wanna hang around and talk, I like that just as much.  Unless a lot of guys, who view women as a disappointment if they don’t put out, which I find more than a little reprehensible.  Which is why I have a problem of thinking of “Hey, if you want, I’m cool, or we can just play dominoes” as “a seduction technique.”)
The Pick-Up Artist thing has a potential to be a way of giving lonely nerds a pathway to find out how to be comfortable with women – which it is, on some levels – but as usual, some idiots take it to extremes and start treating women as something to be conquered.  which is just masking another form of insecurity – let’s sex up everyone just to see if we can!
Meanwhile, I’m in a hotel room in Connecticut, working alone on a Saturday night.  Could I use some company?  Sure I could.  But it’s okay to be alone, guys.  All those other women won’t fill the empty loneliness inside.  Trust me on that one.

Favorite Opening Lines?

Looky here!  What do we have?  My new henna, as done by my glorious girlfriend Bec!
Henna... Or sympathetic magic(k)?
It’s a little light, as henna tends to be on its first days before it takes root in the skin and darkens… But clever symbolism-interpreters may notice the Hugo rocket taking off towards a nebula.  What sympathetic magick could this be, one asks?  Well, by some strange coincidence, my Nebula-nominated novelette “Sauerkraut Station” is also eligible for the Hugos – so if you’re registered for WorldCon, have read Sauerkraut Station, and would like to nominate it, perhaps you should.
(It’s also really pretty.  I didn’t do it just to shill for the Hugos, I just think Bec does wonderful work and I like wearing her on my skin.  I’m told most people have already voted for the Hugos, even though I certainly haven’t, being lazy that way.)
However, in other news, one of my writers’ groups started tossing around their favorite first lines in fiction.  I love first lines, because there are so many ways to catch a reader’s attention – even if first lines aren’t necessarily the key to a great book.  (A Wrinkle In Time, I was shocked to find, actually begins with that hoary old chestnut “It was a dark and stormy night.”  Fortunately, the rest of the book gets way better.)
My favorite first line for a story is probably from Kij Johnson’s “Spar“:
In the tiny lifeboat, she and the alien fuck endlessly, relentlessly.
That’s a beautiful, brutal opening – it’s got a delightful, almost poetic rhythm to it, but there’s very little poetry – a stark portrayal of desperation.  The story fleshes out the relevant details, in perhaps more description of alien flesh than one might want, but it’s certainly the kind of thing that makes you want to find out what the fuck is happening.
Though my friend Lara Herndon suggested a great novel opening, from Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:
It was a pleasure to burn.
In six words, Bradbury’s inverted the usual terror that comes with fire, converting destruction into glory.  What makes that sentence tick is the word “pleasure,” with all of its implications of lazy Sundays and slowly-savored Scotches, a luxury you can stretch out into – the word “delight” or “fun” or “enjoyment” wouldn’t have carried it.  This is an opening sentence that is carried on the back of one perfectly-chosen word – as Bradbury is wont to do.
So, I ask you, writers and readers alike: what’s your favorite opening sentence, and why? If you’re a writer, breaking down the appeal of this first line is kind of a neat exercise.  Speak in the comments!  I’m on a ten-hour cross-country drive today, and I need all of the distraction I can get!

My Raison D'Etre: Why I Blog Honestly

So my friend Kat blogged today about appearing competent on the Internet.  She, like many, is cautious about what personal details she puts out on the net, because as a semi-public figure she doesn’t want to come across as whiny or idiotic.  As she says, “Here’s the thing about the Internet: it’s public, and it’s permanent….So I behave like I know that people are watching me, and most of the time that’s fine.”
Then she muses upon the things we lose by only blogging about the things that look good.
I don’t blog about the things that look good.
I air my worst aspects simply for the reasons she mentions: if I don’t write honestly about what I’m going through, people will think that they’re alone.  So I go to great pains to exhume some of my worst moments and put them out there for public consumption.
As a chronic depressive, I think it’s important to send the message to my fellow sufferers that yes, you can have this level of crazy pent in your head and still find a way to function.
As a writer, I think it’s important to send the message that even someone at my level of career gets a lot of rejections, and getting here took a lot of ass-in-seat writing.
As a polyamorous married man, I think it’s important to send the message that a lot of married couples deal with jealousy and squabbling and still manage to love each other very much.
These are all noble goals, and yet Kat’s fears are well-known.  Opening veins in public spaces comes with a cost, and that cost is pretty awkward sometimes.
Because writing is a static thing, and you are (I hope) an evolving person.  There are essays I wrote back in 2003 that I’d be embarrassed to admit to today.  I’ve evolved considerably in how I feel about race, about politics, about feminism – and yet the ignorant shit I wrote almost a decade ago is still on the record.
You don’t escape that.  People, by and large, don’t accept that semi-public figures can change their minds.  And so I know people who’ve read an awful essay I wrote five years ago, and think, “What a thoughtless sexist asshole,” and that’s who I am to them now and forever.  There are places where my name is reviled for stances I’d no longer take, and in many cases have actively backed off from.  People have actively tried to talk my girlfriends out of dating me, because they know what a jerk I am – they know this from a handful of essays they’ve read, but that’s enough to know I’m toxic enough that anyone who dates me must have no self-respect.
Which is fine.  But that’s what happens.  Write once, read forever.
For every person who gets what I’m trying to do, there are an equal number of people who have written me off as a drama queen.  They see my blog as a way of screaming for attention, rather than as a method of sharing.  And for every nice comment I get, there are the links I stumble across where people I’ve never met discuss their mutual loathing of me.
And then there are the days where people have gotten so used to me discussing my feelings in a public space that they forget that this is a very scary thing to do, and I’ll post something somewhere, and a long debate will break out on the intimate details of my personal life – as if my life were a football game.  That’s always a little unsettling.
Then there’s the cost of dating.  Being with me means being in the public circle.  Some of my lovers want more time on-stage, some want less time on-stage, and all of them want to be presented in the way they deem ideal… so The Blog is always an issue in relationships, a quiet thing to be constantly negotiated.
This is not to say that I haven’t done some good.  But the danger of talking about yourself as though you haven’t got your shit entirely together is that many will see you as a walking train wreck.  One post can cause years of trouble.  Some people never forgive for one post… Even if that post was written badly on a stressful day and you didn’t say what you meant.
I blog openly because I believe being honest about my inner turmoil makes it easier for people to see that even quote-unquote “successful” people can still have issues, and work past them.  Otherwise, all you see are the results, and you come to think that the people Up There can’t possibly have anything in common with you.  (Not that I’m a huge celebrity, but I’ve had some accomplishments.)
Most days, I’ll stand behind that approach.  But some days, if I’d known what would be involved, I might not have gone down this path.
It’s a performance that I can no longer step away from.  This blog and I are me, and if I deleted my public presence, there would still be forum threads in spaces going, “What the hell did that attention-seeking idiot do now?  I guess he’s trying to make people feel sorry for him.”
I deal.  It’s not for everyone.
In fact, I think it’s not for most.