Archive | August 2019

Set our hearts at liberty — more confessions of a queer ex-evangelical

“The problem with (some) christians: That they think they are bing that guy (points to Jesus being lashed and tortured) whilst behaving like those guys (points to the roman soldiers beating Jesus).”

“The problem with (some) christians: That they think they are being that guy (points to Jesus being lashed and tortured) whilst behaving like those guys (points to the roman soldiers beating Jesus).”

Marriage, as we know, is a blessed arrangement. We also know that it’s an ancient tradition. Except, of course, exactly what that arrangement was and how it was arranged has been a constantly changing thing for all of human history. For instance, in some of the Ancient Greek city-states the tradition of male line inheritance required that if a man of property died without a son, a surviving daughter or granddaughter of child-bearing age would be forced to marry her closest male relative and that husband would then become the heir. Many societies didn’t merely allow a man to hve more than one wife—it was expected! There were fewer societies that allowed a woman to have more than one husband, but those existed, too. Even if we restrict ourselves to the Judeo-Christian traditions, remember that the Biblical King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.

Most European traditions didn’t assume monogamy was part of marriage until something between the 6th and 9th Centuries AD. Christian teachings didn’t start treating marriage as a sacrament until the 16th Century AD (despite that oft-quoted verse about “what god has joined together”). The same sort of people who quote that verse while demanding that secular law follow their tradition ignore the parts of the New Testament where the Apostle Paul condemned marriage as a waste of time, and only grudgingly said that if a man found himself so burning with lust it distracted from evangelizing should he marry.

The modern notion of marriage being about two people who fall in love and decided to pledge themselves to each other didn’t really become common until the 1700s. Now, it’s true that songs and poems and such from the 12th Century on waxed rhapsodic about courtly love, but it was considered the exception, rather than the rule.

All of these facts contradict what I was told about marriage growing up in Southern Baptist churches. Marriage, according to them, was a sacred institution that had existed unchanged since the beginning of time. And it had always been about a man and a woman who love each other and commit to a lifetime together. And once married, no matter what the circumstances, the two are bound together in love and divine grace, et cetera.

And they really did mean no matter the circumstance. I sat through more than one sermon where the pastor said that even if you make a mistake and marry the person god didn’t want you to, once you exchange your vows before god, that person is now the right person.

Despite the above, as far as I know, every single Baptist church we had ever been a member of had at least one married couple in which at least one member had been married to someone else before, been divorced, and had now re-married. And most people in the church treated the second marriage as just as sacred and eternal as the ideal they kept talking about. The usual hand-waving was the god forgives everyone who repents, and therefore if someone has committed the sin of divorce, but now has sincerely repented and pledged to make it work this time, well, god’s going to bless that.

Of course, before many members of a congregation were willing to go to that step, the divorced person would have to suffer for a while. They had to have a moving tale of the pain and heartache and regret they went through to show the sincerity, you see. Because someone had to be to blame, right? And if someone is to blame, then they must be punished. Like the women in this story: For Evangelical Women, Getting a Divorce Often Means Taking All the Blame.

That idea, that divorce is always wrong, doesn’t just hurt women who are in bad marriages. It also hurts children. I’ve written more than once about how my father was physically and emotionally abusive. When my mom shared her pain and fear with people at church, the answer was always the same: if she had enough faith, god would change dad.

No matter what evidence was presented.

When I was 10, my dad beat me on a Sunday afternoon with a broom handle while calling me the worst names imaginable. By the time he was done not only was I covered in bruises and contusions and worse, I had a broken collar bone. I had to be taken to the emergency room. Later that week—while my arm was still in a sling, I was bruised everywhere, and stitches visible on my face—our pastor looked me in the eyes and told me that if I would just be obedient and act the way my father wanted, Dad wouldn’t have to be so strict. Keep in mind, Dad had sworn off religion a few months before I was born. He refused to set foot in church and wasn’t the slightest bit friendly or welcoming when the pastor visited our home. Yet still, because of their theology about marriage and the husband’s role as master of the home, anything bad that happened to the rest of us was our fault.

I don’t know everything the pastor said to Mom, because I was taken away by one of the church ladies (who scolded me some more for upsetting my father so much he did this to me) while the pastor talked to Mom in private. But Mom came out of the meeting convinced that it was her fault. If she just had enough faith and loved Dad enough he wouldn’t be this way.

Somehow that doesn’t seem like the wise plan of a loving god, you know?

What brought all of this to mind today is this odd little bit of news I came across: Hate Group NOM Allows Web Domain To Expire. The National Organization for Marriage was at the forefront of the battle against gay civil unions, marriage equality, gay adoption rights, and several related fights for years. They poured millions of dollars into ad campaigns to defeat gay rights initiatives and so forth. They have insisted again and again that they don’t hate gay people—they are just defending traditional marriage.

The kind of traditional marriage that says a woman must stick to her husband even if he beats her and their children severely, for instance.

The organization still exists, and its president, Brian Brown, is still sending out fear-mongering email blasts to supporters begging for money. The last time the IRS got them to partially disclose their donors (they have been under investigate for many years because they never file complete paperwork or comply with court orders to disclose campaign spending) their donations (and the number of donors) had dropped off significantly. NOM used to be an umbrella organization for at least 8 different “education and advocacy” funds and a bunch of Political Action Committees, now all but two of those have been shut down. Apparently last year each of those two remaining entities reported income of less than $50,000.

I’m hoping that the website lapsing is a sign this hate group is gasping out its dying breaths. Joe Jervis, who runs the Joe.My.God gay news blog, reports: “I’ve put in the required whopping $12 bid to snap up the domain, which will redirect to JMG if I’m successful.”

If you can’t muster the empathy to tell an abused child or an abused spouse that being a victim isn’t their fault, you don’t know what “love they neighbor” means. And you can’t claim to be following a loving god while doing and saying hateful things about whole categories of people.


The title comes from the hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” by Charles Wesley, #2 in the 1956 Baptist Hymnal. All of the Baptist Churches I was ever a member of used the 1956 edition of the Baptist Hymnal. The next major update didn’t happen until 1991, by which point I was out of the closet and officially declared myself a former Baptist.

Tuesday Tidbit 8/20/2019: Closeted politician tries to co-opt us to dodge his anti-gay past

Aaron Schock was photographed in April 2019 schmoozing with gay men at Coachella... and making out with one of them and putting his hand down the guy's pants. So much for the claims he isn't gay...

Aaron Schock was photographed in April 2019 schmoozing with gay men at Coachella… and making out with one of them and putting his hand down the guy’s pants. So much for the claims he isn’t gay…

I was out of town Friday and Saturday dealing with family things, and then when I was back Sunday I needed to get the errands I usually do on Saturday finished Sunday morning, then get ready for the second Seahawks pre-season game in the late Sunday afternoon. So though I really wanted to post links to the following stories as a Weekend Update, I just didn’t have time. So this is an update to stories that I’ve linked to and commented upon extensively before that have had some new developments. Some of those developments aren’t that new, but I missed them when they came out.

I have written so many times about the self-loathing closet case former anti-gay Congress-person Aaron Shock. Seriously. Many time. Many, many, MANY times. Among all of these stories about this self-loathing closet case who voted for numerous laws in congress that hurt his fellow queers, we also had to deal with his violation of campaign finance law, which eventually let him to not seek re-election and focus on trying to get out of the criminal prosecution. Which, damn it, he mostly did evade.

Then, as a former anti-gay congressperson with a lot of personal life connections that indicated he was a flaming hypocrite, he started turning up on a bunch of news sites. The stories had a sad semblance: people would post pictures or videos of the easily recognized former congressman hanging out at gay events, or kissing and groping other men at gay events, or shoving money into the g-strings of gay male strippers at gay event, and the other people hanging out with the self-loathing closet case who had inflicted immeasurable damage on other gay people would get called out about hanging out with the evil guy, and they’d try to explain how they didn’t know who he was…

It was just a mess.

Recently, there have been indications that the self-loathing closet case wanted to come out and regenerate his political career. It began a couple months ago with a story I missed: Aaron Schock: ‘We Each Have Our Own Journey’. There are some follow up stories at Kenneth In the 212 that fill in some of the blanks, but the short version is: a guy messaged Schock to commiserate about how Schock’s antics at the festival above were covered in the news (and to hit on him). They wound up having a text conversation.

Then, some weeks later for no apparent reason, the guy shared screen caps.

Turns out, the second guy had been asked to “leak” the conversation by Schock himself. Leaking it in June didn’t have much of an effect. Until earlier this month, when some other news sites found that post and started reporting it. And most gay bloggers and news sites who covered the story it did not comment very favorably on Schock’s poor little rich Republican spin on coming out.

So the purposed of the “leaked” text conversation was to see if the blogosphere would react sympathetically to the idea that, hey, his perfect anti-gay voting record in Congress and all those speeches about homosexuals being abominations and employers should have the right to fire someone even if they only suspect they are gay all happened before he came out of the closet. Therefore, we shouldn’t hold it against him.

He was trying really hard to imply that it wasn’t just that he was in the closet, but he actually didn’t know he was gay back then. Of course, we know that is false because of the time a reporter found him having sex in a shower with his supposed roommate, among other things. Because that stuff is out there, I think he knows he can’t explicitly claim that he just didn’t know he was gay.

None of us are buying the closet as an excuse. So then he backtracked and claimed the guy didn’t have permission to share the screen caps after all…

…and then, this happened: Homocon Columnist: Unhinged, Intolerant Gay Leftists Are Committing A “Digital Lynching” Of Aaron Schock. That’s right, we’re the bad guys. I should note that I have not linked to the angry columnist’s op ed piece directly, but rather to an excerpt with commentary from Joe.My.God. As Joe notes, the writer of the op-ed has previously written about how unfair it is that most gay men won’t date or have sex with trump-supporting gay men. Boo-hoo!

Note that this op-ed just casually refers to Schock as gay and out as if it is old news. And Schock started sharing the op-ed the same day it came out. So it appears that this is Schock’s new tactic for coming out. To get someone else to whine about the pain that somehow we have caused Schock and his family.

We caused?

If Aaron Schock’s family feels humiliated because of photos like the ones at the top of this post and the comments that many of us out queer people have made about them, that is entirely Aaron’s fault. None of us force him to kiss that guy. None of us forced him to shove his hands down that guy’s pants. None of us forced him to go to a gay bar and put money in a stripper’s g-string.

None of us forced him to run for Congress. None of us forced him to vote against every gay rights bill that came up while he was there. None of us forced him to sponsor bills to take rights away from gays while he was there. None of us forced him to make those speeches. That was all on him.

We also didn’t force him to illegally transfer campaign funds to his personal accounts. We didn’t force him to submit false mileage reimbursement forms to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. We didn’t force him to take his boy toy on trips paid for by the taxpayer and his campaign donors by pretending said boy toy (who kept posing in official photos with Aaron) was the campaign photographer. (Hint: the photographer should be behind the camera, but standing next to the congressman like one of the congress spouses.) All of that is on him.

And to both Schock and Mr Polumbo (who wrote that whiney op-ed): it’s not the fact that we have different politics that makes us unwilling to embrace you within our community. Nor is it merely that you voted for Trump. It’s your willingness to support racist, misogynist, homophobic policies. It’s your votes to take rights away from queer people. It’s your willingness to support an administration that is implementing genocidal policies at the border, taking medical care away from your fellow citizens, taking rights away from queer and trans people, transferring massive amounts of wealth from working class people to billionaire, and encouraging white nationalists to terrorize your fellow citizens.

The fact that you can do all of those things while also being a member of one of the marginalized communities that is a feeling the pain of these things you support is just the cherry on top of this horrible, disgusting dish you are offering up.

We’re not the unhinged ones. The fact that you can’t see how unhinged the policies you support are disgusts us.

One last thing: before anyone brings up the tired old saw about outing people, go read this: Aaron Schock and the Politics of Outing – A blogger was banned from Twitter after posting shots from a video allegedly featuring former congressman Aaron Schock. The deeper debate should be around sexuality and hypocrisy.

Aaron Schock is a public figure and was an elected official who actively caused measurable harm to my community. I have both a Constitutional and moral right to comment upon his actions. And I believe that all journalists bear an ethical imperative to report about hypocritical activities of all elected officials.

A Hugo of Our Own

A close up of the Hugo award won by Archive of Our Own this week.

A close up of the Hugo award won by Archive of Our Own this week.

I watched the livestream of the Hugo Awards ceremony broadcast from DublinCon yesterday. When the feed wasn’t glitching or having other problems, it was great. And I got to squee live on twitter about some of the wins. The ceremony flowed well, the setting was nice. The music choices were good, and the co-presenters Afua Richardson and Michael Scott did a lovely job. More than a couple of moments brought tears to my eyes. There was also a lot of laughter. So, good ceremony, and as I indicated when I talked about trying to finalize my ballot, we had so, so many excellent nominees in every category that no matter who won I was going to be happy.

Before I comment further (just in case you haven’t seen the list elsewhere), here are the winners.

2019 Hugo Award Winners:

Best Novel: The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal

Best Novella: Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells

Best Novelette: “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again,” by Zen Cho

Best Short Story: “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” by Alix E. Harrow

Best Series: Wayfarers, by Becky Chambers

Best Related Work: Archive of Our Own, a project of the Organization for Transformative Works

Best Graphic Story: Monstress, Volume 3: Haven, written by Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: The Good Place: “Janet(s)”

Best Professional Editor, Long Form: Navah Wolfe

Best Professional Editor, Short Form: Gardner Dozois

Best Professional Artist: Charles Vess

Best Art Book: The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition, illustrated by Charles Vess, written by Ursula K. Le Guin

Best Semiprozine: Uncanny Magazine

Best Fanzine: Lady Business

Best Fancast: Our Opinions Are Correct

Best Fan Writer: Foz Meadows

Best Fan Artist: Likhain (Mia Sereno)

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: Jeannette Ng

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book: Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi

The full voting statistics have also been posted and can be read here.


In seven of the categories this year, the nominee I had at number one on my own ballot got the Hugo. So that was fun! In three of the categories my second choice won.

I’m particularly pleased the Archive of Our Own, which is an enormous fanfiction repository, won in the Related Works category. I do have one quibble with some of my fellow members of AO3 (as we call it): you are not a Hugo Award-winner author. No matter how many of thousands of words of your fiction is in the Archive. Just as authors whose work was published in Uncanny Magazine this last year aren’t Hugo winners by dent of Uncanny winning the award; they are authors who have been published in an award-winning zine. Another way to look at it: Camestros Felapton compared the AO3 entity to a library: “It’s the library that’s being nominated, which includes its contents but which is not the same as its contents.” (emphasis added).

Yes, all of us who support, use, and contribute to Archive of Our Own should take pride in this win. But don’t go slapping a Hugo logo on your fanfic, all right?

I haven’t yet seen anyone grousing about AO3 winning. I saw a bit of that “Ew! Fanfic! ICKY!” when it was nominated. I saw more people trying to disguise their fear of fanfic cooties with arguments about why the Archive itself is not a “Work” in the sense necessary for the award. I think a number of us have already shown that it meets the definition.

One thing that I thought was more than slightly amusing elseweb was that one of the same people I saw arguing that AO3 wasn’t a “related work” was also upset about the Fan Writer category including people who get paid for some of their writing. There seems to be some sort of cognitive dissonance going on there.

Anyway, not only did AO3 win, but it won by a huge margin! Which means that a heck of a lot of Hugo voters thought it deserved the award.

What the AO3 win means to me is that a lot of fans value fanfic and the fanfic community. Which probably oughtn’t to surprise is, since the Hugos are a fan-voted award and this is a category that frequently goes to fannish writing. But because people who dislike fanfic are so very vocal and persistent in their criticism, it’s easy to get the impression that fanfic isn’t popular. Just as the many critics of certain sci fi movies we could name makes us forget that millions of people had to buy tickets to said movie in order for it to make the amount of money it did.

It’s a variant of the True Fan Fallacy. The argument is that the wrong kind of fans like it. And to them I say, “Shove off!” The rest of us are here to talk about what we love and to, you know, actually love this stuff that we all claim to love. Because we’re fans—a noun derived from the word fanatic, because we are filled with sometimes excessive enthusiasm.

I am so happy for all the winners. I am even more happy that we had so many awesome stories to choose from this year. I really do wish we could give a rocket to all of them.

Friday Five (that never works edition)

Here it is, Friday once more!

All the usual busy-ness at work, but I’ve got a three-day weekend and will be visiting family, so that’s a good thing.

So, welcome to the Friday Five. This week I bring you: the top five stories of the week, five stories of interest to the queer community, five stories about haters and their ilk, five stories the impeachable one, and five videos (plus things I wrote and notable obituaries).

Stories of the Week:

Dystopia, With a Dose of Sudden Death.

NASA discovers “cloaked” black hole from earliest days of the universe.

Humans Are Gone In ‘Hollow Kingdom,’ So It’s Up To The Crows.

An Appeals Court Ruled That, Yes, Sleep And Soap Count As “Safe And Sanitary” Conditions For Detained Immigrant Kids.

Marine kidnapped as baby in Lakewood reunites with rescuing FBI agent.

This Week in News for Queers and Allies:

Gay diver Eric Blevins wins world masters title with his husband cheering him on.

LGBTQ Creators Are Suing YouTube For Discrimination.

N.C. exec. order stops pipeline to ‘conversion’ therapy.

Marcel Proust’s Lost Gay Love Stories to Finally Be Published .

Jake Shears on LGBTQ Acceptance in Music, Homophobia in the Industry and How Pop Is Changing.

This Week in Homophobes and Other Deplorables:

Family Research Council giddy over Trump plan to discriminate against LGBTQ taxpayers.

The New Hate Pastors – How a new class of religious zealots is going viral—and already tearing itself apart.

Seattle synagogues in Rainier Valley target of racist flyers – More than a dozen of these flyers have been posted outside religious organizations in the past month, said the Anti-Defamation League of the Pacific Northwest.

City Council Crowd Erupts in Laughter When ‘Straight Pride’ Organizer Says ‘We’re a Totally Peaceful Racist Group’.

Ohio man posted about mass shootings, attacking Planned Parenthood and federal agents, authorities say.

This Week in the Impeachable One and Other Deplorable People:

Surrogate Angels of Death – What to make of the First Lady holding the motherless child and youngest survivor of the El Paso massacre.

Trump has made more than 12,000 false or misleading claims.

‘Casually Tweeting Out National Secrets’: Internet Stunned as Trump Tweets About Previously Unknown US Nukes.

Lou Dobbs says ICE employee ‘is within his rights’ to plow his car into peaceful protestors.

Trump Launches Maniacal Tweetstorm After Devastating Fox News Poll Shows His Numbers Near All-Time Worst.

In Memoriam:

With no family left, El Paso man opened wife’s funeral to public. Up to 1,000 are now expected. You may need a kleenex when you read this.

Things I wrote:

Weekend Update 8/10/2019: the Coward’s Way Out.

Tuesday Tidbit 08/13/2019: Domestic terror is a feature, not a bug, of the Trump machine.

That’s not a plothole….

Most writing advice is free, but the value varies.

Videos!

‘Tariff Man’ Donald Trump Doesn’t Want To Be The Grinch Who Stole Christmas:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Trump Freaks Out About the Possibility of A Recession: A Closer Look:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Mayor Pete Eats His Way Through Iowa, While Hickenlooper Looks For The Exit:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Full Frontal Investigates: The Case of Jerry Falwell, Jr., the Pool Boy, Michael Cohen, & Tom Arnold:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

All About Shirtless Chris Evans 2019 (America’s Ass Endgame 4k):

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Most writing advice is free, but the value varies

“Writing Advice 5¢ - the Expert is In”

We’re all experts…

I made my first professional sale to a science fiction ‘zine (Worlds of If) forty-four years ago. And I was ecstatic, because I had only been submitting to professional ‘zines for two years, and I had already made a sale! I was on my way, right?!? Except I didn’t make another sale until thirteen years later. So maybe I didn’t quite know what I was doing, just yet. And for the next ten-ish years, I only managed to sell stories to fanzines and semi-prozines. Which seemed like more proof that I wasn’t quite a pro.

Except…

My primary source of income since 1988 has been writing. Most of that has been technical writing (and related jobs) in the software industry, but I find it really hard to discount the fact that the word “writer” has been part of my official job description for a bit over 31 years. So my day job and my hobby job for more than three decades has been “writer” — so maybe I have some idea of how to put words together? Plus, for more than two decades I was the editor of a semi-prozine that produced at least three issues a year for those two decades. Which were offered for sale and purchased in sufficient quantities to cover the cost of printing.

So maybe, just maybe, I have some correct notions about what it takes for a story to appeal to an audience, right?

But here’s something I am absolutely certain of: I can’t teach you how to write. I can tell you how I do it (the parts I understand—there’s a whole lot going on in everyone’s subconscious that remains ineffable). I can tell you techniques that work for me. But only you can figure out how you can write.

And that’s true of everyone. No one, no matter how accomplished, can tell you how to write. I love reading or hearing about how other people go about writing. I like attending panels and seminars and the occasional online class from other writers. So I’m not saying don’t take anyone’s advice or class, just remember that in the end you are the person who is telling your stories. So only you can figure out which things people suggest work for you, and which don’t.

A lot of advice gets repeated regularly, and it seems sound. When you’re feeling anxious about writing, it can be comforting to have these rules to fall back on. But these pieces of advice can be stumbling blocks or worse. For example, one frequently repeated piece of advice is to cut out the adverbs. “Search for words ending in ‘ly’ and delete them!” So take out things like terribly and gently and carefully and slowly. Supposedly this makes your writing clearer. It also makes your writing duller. Some adverbs are superfluous. But like every other kind of word (nouns, verbs, adjectives), sometimes they are exactly right.

Then there is that tired old chestnut, “Show, don’t tell.” I’ve written before about how that advice is more wrong than it is right. In a nutshell: the extreme version of the advice leads you to remove all exposition from your story and exclude people who don’t share all your (unconscious) cultural assumptions. For a writer of science fiction or fantasy, that makes it impossible to put the reader into a world that is different than our own. Better advice is to paint pictures with your words. Anton Chekov said it thusly: “Don’t tell me the moon was shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” So use exposition when necessary, but make sure it isn’t flat and boring.

Said is a perfectly good verb. So is snarled, whispered, replied, asked, shouted, demanded, muttered and retorted. So that advice about never using any verb other than said as a dialog tag is another one that is well-meaning, but not completely right. Now, it is true that a writer can go overboard with the dialog tags. I was cringing mightily during a recent audio book where the author seemed to take the flip side of the advice and never used said at all. Among the horrible tags he did use were: extrapolated, polled, nodded, puffed, interrogated, and the absolute worst: all-caps-ed. This is another one where the truth is somewhere in between. Don’t go bananas with the synonyms for said and asked, but don’t stick to only those two, either.

Also, sometimes you don’t have to use dialog tags at all. You can describe what the character is doing: He pursed his lips. “Do you want my honest opinion?” Or if you are telling the story from a particular character’s point of you, you can describe their thoughts or feelings: Sarah wanted to hug him. “You have no idea how much I needed to hear that today!” But again, you need to figure out what works for you. I have a bad habit in first drafts of putting a she/he/they nodded on about half the dialog entries. I think it’s because I nod when people talk to me (which is hilarious when I do it on conference calls!). But when I read the draft later—especially aloud to my writer’s group—it sounds like everyone in my story is constantly bobbing their heads wildly and can really distract from the scene!

Some people insist that you absolutely must write every day on your project or you aren’t a real writer. Bull. Yeah, some people write like that. And if that works for you, great. But some of us need to take days off. My day job involves writing and editing, so some days when I get home my brain is burned out, and I don’t get much if any writing done. And don’t tell me to get up super early and write before I go to work. I’m not a morning person, and frankly if I tried I have no doubt that some days I would be much less than good at my job. And I like my work. Work pays the bills! And I like eating. If writing every single day works for you, great, do it. But don’t feel like a failure if some days you just have to do something else to recharge the mental batteries.

There are two very common bits of writing advice that I do fully endorse:

  • A writer writes. You can skip days, but you can’t skip writing altogether. If you feel stuck, force yourself to write a single word. Just one. Then, look at it, and decide what the next one is. If that’s what it takes, just make yourself put one word after another until you have a sentence, and then another and another.
  • A writer reads. Read other people’s work regularly. Read things you love. Every now and then, read stuff from a genre you don’t like. Or a style of writing that you usually don’t take to. Not all the time, but make sure you are expanding your reading horizons, regularly.

Other than that, I just have to ask: why are you still reading this post! Go! Write something! The world needs your story. And no one can tell your story except you.

Delete delete delete

Fumble fingers struck again.

Now the post is finished and up: Most writing advice is free, but the value varies

That’s not a plothole…

Plot hole. I do not think it means what you think it means.

A classic…

Frequently when people are trying to explain why they don’t like a particular movie, series episode, or book, they will refer to a plothole. They will express great frustration about this problem in the story. And they will get angry at you if you don’t agree with them that this plothole was a horrible mistake that made the whole story worthless. I get it. When I really dislike a movie or book I find it hard to believe that other people—particularly my friends who have common interests—find any redeeming qualities in it. Now there is an entire other essay’s worth of discussion about how different people feel that different parts of a story are important than others; that’s not what I want to talk about today.

A lot of people use the term plothole incorrectly. And the people who are most likely to use it incorrectly are also the people that believe that a plothole trumps every other aspect of the story. So, what is a plot hole?

Plothole A gap, inconsistency, or contradiction in a storyline that breaks the flow of logic established by the story’s plot.

As a writer, plotholes are the bane of my existence. When I find a contradiction in my story, it sometimes makes me want to tear my hair out. Sometimes a plothole isn’t very difficult to fix, once you find it. But others do indeed make the entire story fall apart. The existence of that latter type is why some people think that anything labeled plothole completely invalidates the story.

There are many other kinds of gaps which people confuse with plotholes. Those include:

  1. things an individual reader/viewer wish didn’t happen,
  2. character actions that contradict the version of the character the individual reader/viewer has constructed outside canon,
  3. things that contradict the political/moral preferences of the individual reader/viewer,
  4. things the author(s) intentionally plant to foreshadow something that will explain everything in a future chapter/episode/sequel,
  5. things the author(s) didn’t think they needed to explicitly explain because they thought you had critical thinking skills,

Let’s tackle these:

Things you wish didn’t happen. I have great sympathy for this issue. There are almost always things that I wish didn’t happen in any story I read or watch. Characters you wished to live are killed, or characters you thought should get together don’t, or a villain you thought should suffer more doesn’t. It can be very upsetting when a part of the story you care about doesn’t go the way you want. But that isn’t the same thing as an actual plot contradiction. And if it makes you feel any better, often the author is just as upset about the direction a story goes as you are. Seriously. When I was writing the first draft of one of my books, there was one scene where I was bawling my eye out while typing, because I didn’t want that character to die, sacrificing himself so his daughters could be saved, but everything in his story had led to that moment, so that’s what I wrote.

Character doesn’t behave the way you think they ought. When a story grabs us, we usually find ourselves identifying with many of the characters. And we’ll imagine a version of the character based on what we see in the early stages of the story. When we don’t realize is that we are also basing the character on things that aren’t actually in the story, but that appeal to us. Sometimes we overlook hints of things in the character’s personality that are less pleasing to us. So when that particular aspect of the character’s personality become a major plot point, we yell “out of character!” and “that contradicts everything we know about them.” Sorry, no it contradicts things you imagined into the character, not what was actually in the story. A subset of this problem is that sometimes we forget that humans are impulsive and make decisions based on emotion and hunches. Humans make mistakes. No one in real life is 100 percent consistent, so we shouldn’t expect fictional characters to be, either.

Things that contradict your political/moral preferences. One of my favorite movies is a silly comedy released in 1991 called Soapdish. The story contains, among other things, a supporting character played by Carrie Fischer that is my favorite thing she’s ever done outside of Star Wars. I laugh myself to tears every time I watch it… except it has one problem. A major running sub-plot is resolved in a quite transphobic way. Even in 1991 I was a bit troubled by it. More recently, I have to brace myself for it, and I no longer recommend to movie to people without a content warning. But, despite that thing being problematic, it isn’t a plothole. It is perfectly consistent with the rest of the story. Do I wish it didn’t happen? Oh, yeah. Do I enjoy the movie less because of it, again, yes. In this case, I’m able to enjoy the rest of the movie despite this problematic bit. I understand perfectly if other people can’t. But, it isn’t a plothole. It’s a failing of the narrative and demonstrates that some of the characters are a bit less open-minded that I would like.

Things that the author plans to explain later. For example, in one of my works in progress, one of the protagonists is a shapeshifter. But they don’t advertise the fact. At different points in the story, their hair (color and other qualities) is described in different ways, because their hair changes slightly with their mood. It looks like an inconsistency early on, but it is eventually explained by the end of the book (and there is one big hint in the opening chapter). Other dangling unfinished bits you notice at the very end may be intended for a sequel. If the unfinished bit doesn’t invalidate the resolution of the main plot, then it isn’t a plothole.

The author thought your critical thinking skills would fill in the gap. Not everything has to be spelled out. For one thing, trying to do so would add hundred of thousands of words to any book. The author has to make some judgement calls about things the readers will figure out, and things that need to be explained. The author will never guess correctly for every single reader. If, when you explain your plothole to a friend, and they immediately say, “Oh, I just figured that Y happened because of X,” you’re probably dealing with something the author thought you would figure out on your own.

Any of these reasons, of course, are a valid reason for you to dislike a particular story, movie, show, or book. But it does not mean the authors left a big plothole in the middle of the narrative road. And it doesn’t mean that the story is inherently, objectively bad.

Tuesday Tidbit 08/13/2019: Domestic terror is a feature, not a bug, of the Trump machine

If you don't understand that trump is fanning the racist, ant-semeitic flames on purpose, I don't know how to commuincate with you.

If you don’t understand that trump is fanning the racist, ant-semeitic flames on purpose, I don’t know how to commuincate with you.

There have already been so many stories about mass shooters, would-be mass shooters, and related domestic terrorists that they’re going to overwhelm the Friday Five. So I’m going to post them now with a bit of commentary.

Here’s the data on white supremacist terrorism the Trump administration has been ‘unable or unwilling’ to give to Congress. “Alleged white supremacists were responsible for all race-based domestic terrorism incidents in 2018, according to a government document distributed earlier this year to state, local and federal law enforcement.”

Second suspect wanted for stolen AR-15, tactical vest from Macon co. school turns himself in. So, the tactical vest and assault rifle were on school grounds in the first place because of the repeated idiotic “a good guy with a gun” arguments. (If you don’t understand why it is idiotic: first, can you shoot a bullet out of the air with a gun? No, you cannot. Second, responsible gun owners will all tell you that you never shoot into an area where you might hit innocent people. Which is why for most mass shootings where there were licensed conceal-carry people there, no one could safely take a shot at the shooter. And in a significant number of the few cases where a “good guy with a gun” tried to take out the shooter, bystanders got hit, instead.)

‘I’m the Shooter’: El Paso Suspect Confessed to Targeting Mexicans, Police Say. See, no “alleged” about it. It was racially motivated.

Trump Cultist Arrested For Death Threat Against AOC. He’s a convicted felon who is forbidden from owning guns… but he had a bunch and ammo to go with them.

An armed man who caused panic at a Walmart in Missouri said it was a ‘social experiment,’ police say. Doing something to cause a public alarm is, itself, a crime in most states, including his. Even in open carry states, waving a gun around in a threatening manner is a crime. I hope he get serious jail time.

A Vegas Man Was Arrested For Plotting A White Supremacist Attack On An LGBTQ Bar And Synagogue – Conor Climo told FBI agents he hated blacks, Jewish people, and members of the LGBTQ community, and was planning attacks that involved explosives or snipers. Such a fine person [/sarcasm]

Don’t just take my word for it: After El Paso, We Can No Longer Ignore Trump’s Role in Inspiring Mass Shootings.

Op-Ed: Why do Trump’s supporters deny the racism that seems so evident to Democrats?. Short version: most of them are the kind of racists who insist they don’t have a racist bone in their bodies…

Pining for Commander WASP and his sidekick, Biff; or, your sf/f golden age not the only one

The May 14, 1921 cover of Argosy All-Story Weekly,  illustration by P. J. Monahan

The May 14, 1921 cover of Argosy All-Story Weekly, illustration by P. J. Monahan

Once again while I was merrily surfing to some of my favorite web sites (when I should have been writing), I came across a link to a ridiculous and judgmental comment on the state of science fiction. More specifically, it was intended as an indictment of the reading tastes of “fans these days” while nostalgically lamenting that the genre is no longer defined solely by Heinlein’s juvenile novels and Niven’s hard SF novels. This is a complaint that I’ve written about more than a few times, but these guys keep finding new ways to make their really bad arguments, and I just can’t sit idly by while the misrepresent both the genre that I love, and the people who love it. This particular person, unlike some of the folks who have inspired me to write on this topic before is not my age or older. He’s young enough that all of those Heinlein juveniles were written more than a decade before his birth, and the Niven books he thinks are definitive were written when he was in diapers and such.

I realize that this means he’s still old enough to look down his nose at fans in their 20s and dismiss them as clueless kids.

Anyway, I’m not linking to the diatribe for reasons. I do think that it is very telling that he cites Hidden Figures as an example of what’s wrong with modern sci fi (never mind that it is historical non-fiction). When I first saw the screen cap of what he said, I had to do some research to figure out who he was. I’d never heard of him. And in the course of doing that, I found that this is a topic he has ranted about many times. And in those longer rants, he asserts again and again not just that he thinks the writings of Heinlein and Niven are the best (which he is perfectly free to believe), but that they defined science fiction—and specifically that Heinlein is the origin of the genre.

Mary Shelly, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne (and others) may have a bone to pick with that assertion.

He also talks a lot about how the perfect protagonist for science fiction stories in Heinlein’s “competent man.”

I get it. I literally grew up on Heinlein. I’ve mentioned that my mom is one of the biggest fans of Heinlein’s stories from the 50s who as ever walked the earth. From the time I was an infant until I was old enough to read myself, Mom would read to me from whatever book she had checked out from the library or picked up at the used bookstore. I read every Heinlein book I could get my hands on during the late 60s, 70s, and into the 80s. And yeah, as a teen-ager in the 1970s, I started reading Larry Niven’s books—not as enthusiastically; I admit I was a bit more taken with Asimov, LeGuin, Pournelle, L’Engle, and Bradbury during those years. But I still liked Niven.

It’s true that Heinlein and Niven were very influential writers who inspired many fans to become writers themselves, and so on. But science fiction wasn’t just those two authors even at that time, and there was a lot of science fiction that existed before either of them wrote their first story.

Also, a lot of their stories haven’t aged particularly well. It happens. It’s called the passage of time. The text may be the same, but we, as people, change over time. Society changes. Our understanding of what certain things about society mean changes.

The image I included above is an illustration for a novel called The Blind Spot, written by Austin Hall and Homer Eon Flint. It was serialized in a number of issues of Argosy All-Story Weekly beginning in May of 1921. It was eventually published in book form in 1951 (it took so long because one of the authors died shortly after publication, and it just took a long time to sort out who had legal right to agree to a re-print), at which point the Forward was written by Forrest J Ackerman, who had been at one time the literary agent of such classic sci fi luminaries as Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and A.E. Van Vogt. At the second ever Worldcon (Chicon I, 1940) at the very first Masquerade ever held at a Worldcon, the second place costume was a person dressed as one of the characters from The Blind Spot. As late as the 1950s, sci fi writers, editors, and reviewers were referring to The Blind Spot as one of the honored classics of science fiction.

By the 1990s, the opinion had changed considerably. The Blind Spot is available on Project Gutenberg. I gave it a whirl. I mean, all those famous sci fi writers of the 1940s and 50s said it was fabulous, right?

Writing styles have changed over the years, so part of why it is difficult to slog through it is just how slow the action is and how dense some parts of the prose are. But, first, it isn’t science fiction. The titular Blind Spot is a place where periodically a magic hole opens to another world. Now, a lot of science fiction does include portals or gateways that aren’t always explained, but the other side of the portal is a temple in this other world, and various people, some of them immortal, hang out in this temple because of prophecies about the opening of the temple and how people who go through it will ascend to god-like powers and so forth. The plot involves necromancy, spirit writing, an immortal queen, the transmutation of people into spirits, and a mystical intelligent flame that enforces the sacred law.

In the pulp era they didn’t have the same kind of rigid genre definitions we’re used to today, so a weird tale like this with elements of magic and psychic powers and a hint at Lovecraftian horror was common. But that’s the thing. This is a story that for several decades was held up as a defining example of the genre. Yet by the 1990s it was being described as a “beloved book devoid of all merit.”

Because we changed. What we are willing to suspend our disbelief for in 2019 is considerably different than the expectations of readers in 1921. Their are spots in the opening chapters of this book when many paragraphs are spent describing how a couple of characters take a train through San Francisco, cross the bay in a ferry, take another train in Oakland, then hire a cab. Modern readers expect if you’re spending that many paragraphs talking about transit that it will eventually figure into the plot, right?

I sincerely doubt that the guy who is upset that the sci fi field doesn’t look like the way he remembers those Heinlein juveniles would think that The Blind Spot is fabulous. Although, given some of his comments about what he perceives as being wrong in what modern fans like, he might like some of the casual racism.

Even in the 50s, science fiction protagonists weren’t confined solely to blond-haired, blue-eyed lantern-jawed Anglo-Saxon Protestant heroes who always beat the bad guys and got the girl. Certainly by the time Niven was writing his most famous books, the genre was more diverse than that.

It’s okay to have personal preferences, but science fiction is supposed to be about leaping into the future. You can’t do that if you have fossilized your brain in the past.

Weekend Update 8/10/2019: the Coward’s Way Out

©2019 Walt Handelsman, The Times-Picayune, The Advocate

I had planned to lead of this weekend’s commentary on stories that either broke after I composted this week’s Friday Five or where new information about a previously linked story had come to light with a story about documents related to Jeffrey Epstein’s case this week. And it’s a very informative story: Huge cache of records details how Jeffrey Epstein and madam lured girls into depraved world.

And then this morning the world woke to this news: Jeffrey Epstein Found Dead in Cell in Apparent Suicide. Reminder: Epstein is under arrest on charges of sex trafficing—specifically recruiting underage girls to provide sex for himself and a large group of clients over many years. Several years ago he got out of most of the charges of a similar case with a deal offered by a former prosecutor (who later became Trump’s Labor Secretary, and then resigned when this new information came to light).

There are conspiracy theories being thrown around how this isn’t a suicide but rather a murder to silence him before he could be pushed into a plea deal where he testified against his rich and powerful clients. One reason I don’t buy that is because Epstein’s death doesn’t stop the rest of the criminal case going forward: Epstein: How he died and what it means for his accusers and also Epstein’s Victims Will Continue to Pursue Justice, Lawyer Says.

And I want to unpack that further than those articles do. A number of possible co-conspirators have already been identified. Charges are likely to be pursued against them. And those charges are not solely dependent on flipping Epstein. Remember, the feds have thousands of photographs seized from just one of Epstein’s properties of people having sex with the underage girls. One of the many tools that the feds had in their back pocket on this case is that possessing those photos constituted a crime in and of themself, even if Epstein wiggled out of the trafficing charges.

However, even though we haven’t seen the photos (and I sure as heck don’t want to personally), the description vague description entered into the court records, coupled with that fact that for some years financial experts have suspected that Epstein’s income may be the result of blackmailing rich people, the logical conclusion is that those photos were the blackmail. The photos constitute proof that certain recognizable people had sex with those girls. That, plus the flight records and other details we already know about at least some of the rich and powerful who hung out with Epstein will add up to enough to charge some of those people.

So killing Epstein isn’t enough. Not by a long shot.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t something fishy about his death: Epstein had been taken off suicide watch before killing himself, source says.

But there are other fishy things besides a conspiracy to silence him. There are plenty of people who think he deserves to die for doing all of that to all of those girls.

The other issue that keeps coming up related to this case, which the political cartoon I linked to above sort of gets at: when the Epstein case came to light, all over social media I kept seeing conservative, Trump-supporting people angrily or snarkily confronting people they perceived as liberal when referencing this case with variants of: “when it turns out the [prominent Democrat X] is one of the clients, you’ll feel differently.”

Let put that to rest: no, no I won’t. If those men took advantage of Epstein’s “parties” and “retreats” to have sex with those girls, then I want them to go to prison. It doesn’t matter if they were a senator, or congressman, or governor who served in the party I usually vote for. It doesn’t matter if they were a president that I voted for twice. I expect them to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

I do think it very telling that the first thing that comes to mind for many Trump supporters is to assume that we will stop caring about criminal activity when we find out the criminal is someone whose politics we support. It’s not a revelation, we have thousands of examples in the last three years alone of how they refuse to believe, make excuses, or otherwise look the other way when the crimes Trump and his cronies comes to light. It’s just one more piece of evidence that they are happy about horrible crimes when they are being committed against certain types of people.

I could keep going, but I’m going to circle back to this: I don’t think Epstein was murdered. His whole life was built around his jet-setting lifestyle that gave him the access, power, and money to indulge his sick desires. Every indicator is that his wealth is the result of a complex illegal scheme of some sort, which the information in the possession of both federal and state prosecutors will put an end to, and once everything is sorted out, he would probably be penniless. The only futures left to him were:

  • the rest of his life behind bars
  • many years behind bars, then a life of near poverty

So, he took the coward’s way out.


Edited to add:

This is interesting! Epstein’s Pals Just Lost Any Chance of Having Penthouse Evidence Tossed by the Courts — Here’s Why. Just to be clear, they mean evidence seized during the raid on Epstein’s New York Penthouse. This has nothing to do with the porn magazine. Anyway, because it was seized on his property before he died, he is the only person who had standing to petition the courts to disallow it in trials. So…

%d bloggers like this: