A Milestone, Marked. A Novel, Completed.

My main goal before the end of the year was to complete the rewrite on my novel “The Upterlife.”  This was tricksy, because someone I trust had informed me that the third act was good and exciting and well-characterized, but completely not keeping with the themes of what I’d established before.  “It’s like the first two thirds are the Wizard of Oz,” he opined, “And then in the last third, Dorothy wanders into the Land of Schnozz.”
This was very valuable advice, as it turns out.  I’m prone, particularly on large-scale projects, to just grab for whatever works when I’m trying to knit myself a plot – and that’s not good enough.  A story of novel length needs to answer the question it raises in the beginning, and so this person’s advice was incredibly useful when I was attempting to fix the other novel I was working on, where I also tossed out a nonfunctional third act.  (And what I replaced it with was really, really good – I’m quite happy with it.)
So I sketched out a new and more thematically apropos third act, and then I set to work actually writing it.  Which turned out to be 50,000 words of rather difficult writing, and then a lot of massaging to try to make the facts and tone of the old opening match up with the new last act.
What I’ve got is good.
It’s not great yet, and I don’t know that it will be.  This is the curse of an author; the book I wrote before going back to this is so much better, because I applied all the lessons I learned.  But what I have here is a complete novel, with character arcs and an ending and everything, and it’s a good way to end the year.
I feel drained, as one does when one completes a novel.  I have given birth, and my labor has taken over a month.  But I hit my self-imposed deadline, and tomorrow I will begin the process of nagging my wife into reading it in a timely fashion, and start tweaking all the little bits.  (When I write quick and fast like this, everyone “looks” to indicate emotion, and they make the same stable of hand gestures.  A major portion of Making Things Better involves coming up with body language that’s not taken from stock Hanna-Barbera cartoons.)
It is done.  I did what I set out to do.  This is the last entry of 2013, and it is of triumph.
Go me.

So It's The End Of The Year. I Should Make Resolutions, Right?

Last year, I made several New Year’s Resolutions, and then two weeks later had a triple-bypass.  I assure you, a triple-bypass will knock all other priorities out of your head.  So let us discuss the 2014 resolutions:
Goal #1: Nominate Stories For The Nebula Awards.
When award seasons come around, I never nominate anything.  This makes me feel bad.
Yet I never feel well-read enough to nominate.  I read what my friends have written, of course, but that feels uncomfortably log-rolly; I’m never sure whether they’re worthy of being nominated because my friends are damn talented (which they are!) or because they’re my friends.  And yet I have the ability to have a say in which tales get one of the highest honors in science fiction, and I’m just leaving it on the ground?
That feels ridiculous.  And so we create a subsidiary goal:
Goal #2: Read And Review At Least Three Stories A Week. 
I started the “Story A Day” review, which was actually fantastically useful – it put me in touch with great writers and interesting techniques.  And then I let it drop.
I think a story a day is a bit much, but a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule works a bit better.  And so I hope to do that, and if I do enough of that, then that’s twelve tales a month.  Not as good as, say, Rachel Swirsky, who I think of as pretty much the omnipotent goddess of short fiction (she seemingly reads everything), but enough to get me a sample of the field.
Goal #3: Get Back To My Hamsters. 
The schedules have been brutal, but I do miss critiquing with Cleveland’s supergroup of sci-fi, the Cajun Sushi Hamsters.  I need to get back to digging into short stories, and reconnecting with the local writer-buddies.  They’re smart.  I am lessened without their company.
Goal #4: Get Up A Bank Of Podcasts. 
I’ve recorded one podcast already, but have two more bubbling in my head – I just need to find the time to record them, which is surprisingly time-consuming.  I’d like to have at least twenty podcasts done by this time next year.  (And, presumably, released into the wild, but that’s a little embarrassing.)
Goal #5: Write Letters To The Troops.
I’ll just cut and copy last year’s resolution here, except that I’ll plan to do it later in the year.  I need to schedule when; that’s part of the goal.
Goal #6: Get Back To Eating Fruit and Fish.
I’ve eaten like crap over the holidays, and I need to ensure heart attack #2 isn’t in the pipeline.  Time to get back to five-times-a-week fruit blasts in the form of smoothies, and eating salmon/tuna at least three times a week.
Goal #7: Get Kinkier Social. 
The flip side to the Cajun Sushi Hamsters is the local SMART parties, where the kinksters of Cleveland reside.  Gini and I have turned a little hermitish in the wake of the Big Event, and haven’t been to a dungeon event in months.
Which is not to say the dungeons are all crazy sex-stuff – actually, a significant part of it is spent on the couches in the lobby, catching up with the lovely folks in the community.  In many cases, that’s actually the best part.  And I’ve fallen away from many of those folks, so I hope to attend at least one SMART party a month and get hugs from some of the nicest people in Cleveland.

So What Should My New Years' Resolutions Be?

I’m open to suggestions, mang. Bring ’em on.

Why "If You Say Something Stupid, You'll Get Fired" May Not Be A Good Thing

I really don’t want to type the words “The Duck Dynasty guy” anywhere into a blog post ever… but bear with me.   It’s necessary.
So when the Duck Dynasty guy got fired from his show for saying staggeringly insensitive things about black people and gays, my liberal Twitter-feed crowed about how proper this all was.  “You say something stupid, people will fire you,” they cried.  “That’s how it works, conservatives!”
Yet when Phil Robertson got un-fired because the show was too popular to cancel, I saw none of my liberal buddies telling me, “Yeah!  That’s how it works!”  Nor do I recall my pals being nearly as enthusiastic about the shellacking the Dixie Chicks took when they said they were embarrassed by President Bush and they fell off the Billboard chart.
What I saw of the whole Duck Dynasty thing involved a fair amount of gloating liberals treating “backlash” as though it was a wonderful and healthy sign the system was working. If a public figure says something stupid, they’ll get firedWhich is as it should be.  What a grand feedback system! 
Except that Jenny McCarthy has propagated not just stupid, but actively deadly science for years, and she’s co-host on the View.  Ronald Reagan infamously said that “Trees cause more pollution than cars do.”  So let’s be honest: you don’t get fired for saying something dumb.
You get fired for saying something unpopular.
And, as Duck Dynasty’s continued existence demonstrates, that’s not at all the same thing.
Anyone who’s grown up in high school knows that “popular” is a pretty sketchy fucking way to judge people.  I’m actually really nervous about using “popular” as a method of deciding who gets to stay on the air, because within my lifetime you had newscasters who could get fired for making unpopular statements like, “I’m gay, and I don’t think it’s wrong to be gay.”  Not long before that, you had people who could get fired for saying, “I think it’s good that whites and blacks can marry.”
And when I’m down at the cardiac rehab ward watching mainstream “Good Morning, America,” I think of how many unpopular statements would get these shining faces removed quickly from this all-American, appealing show: What if one of them went on the record as being polyamorous, and thinking that growing up in a polyamorous household was good for a kid?  They’d be yanked faster than good ol’ Phil, and we wouldn’t see them back.  And I’m pretty sure if one of these sunny newscasters said, “Hey, I believe the Jews deserve a safe home, but look at all the human rights abuses they heap on Palestinians,” you would see The Hook shooting out from backstage before they finished that sentence.
My point is that the pendulum is swinging now towards being sympathetic towards blacks and gay rights.  That’s a good thing.  But the pendulum itself is remarkably creepy.  If enough people in America decide you’re icky, for whatever damn reason they choose, you will not get to speak on the air.  For every “Fuck yeah, Phil the duck guy is having his ugly viewpoint punished!” moment you have, there are literally thousands of transgendered people and minorities and alt-sexualities and political philosophies you will never see on mainstream television because, hey, that talk makes people nervous.
Meanwhile, if you’ve got a lovable old beardy guy who appeals to the religious and happens to tell you that blacks had it pretty good in the days of segregation, well, he’s gonna get to stay right where he is.
That popularity contest swings a bitter blade in both directions, my friend.
And no, there’s not a really good way around that.  The First Amendment guarantees you the right to speak, but it guarantees you neither a platform nor shielding from the backlash. Networks are about ratings, and people don’t want to tune in to be made to feel uncomfortable.  The alternative’s mandating that people watch things they find abhorrent.  The best you can do is hope to find a fun way to wrap these unpopular viewpoints up in such a good show that it turns into must-see TV – the same way that Will and Grace and The Real World quietly introduced generations of isolated teenagers to gay people.
(Or you purposely speak unpopular things and take the hit, as Lenny Bruce did in the 1960s.  Which is why you can’t make a blanket statement like, “Well, saying unpopular things is stupid!”  Sometimes, you speak truth to power, knowing you’re going to get hurt for it, to make way for future generations.)
Regardless, my point is this: sometimes, you’ll win that popularity contest, and the things you hate will get voted down.  That may even be a positive outcome, if it discourages people from perpetuating harmful opinions.  But thinking that the popularity contest itself is an untrammelled goodness simply because you happened to win this time around?
No.  As a culture, we all get to vote on who gets to speak and not be punished for it.  And sometimes, that will not be you.
I think that should be a little disturbing to anyone, honestly.  It may be the American way.  It may be the only way.  But that doesn’t mean it’s a beautiful process, man.

Where Does The Boob Tree Grow?

A female pal of mine told me that she once got a message from a guy that said, “You look like you hit every branch when you fell out of the boob tree.”
I feel like I should be horrified for my friend, getting hideously bad pick-up messages like this.  Instead, I’m now deep in sci-fi writer mode, trying to figure out what kind of environment could cause the Boob Tree to flourish.  What sort of genetic malfeasance could create a tree filled with breasts?  Would the boobs on the Boob Tree dispense pollen or milk, or some mixture of the both of them?  Would the pollinators be horny men, running like idiots with mouths dribbling milk-pollen, eagerly suckling from branch to branch?
Wouldn’t they need a vagina tree ultimately?
And so here I am, trying to determine not just what ecosystem would cause the Boob Tree to flourish, but what sort of culture would emerge from the fabled Boob Trees of Florence, where their cheese is widely hailed but deeply suspect and no child goes hungry.  A place where getting fresh lumber is a deeply messy task filled with splattering.  A place where autumn is downright dangerous, as the now-useless boobs drop off the trees like coconuts, braining the innocent and requiring the poor groundskeepers of Florence to shovel up the large piles of decaying mammary tissue and feed them to the pigs.
As a writer, people ask me where I get my ideas.  I ask how how I get them to stop coming.