One year later, Pulse nightclub massacre is still a punch in the gut

“Our hearts are in Orlando.”

“Our hearts are in Orlando.”

One year ago, on June 12, 2016, a killer snuck a gun into a busy gay night club on Latino night and opened fire, killing 49 people and wounding many others. In the immediate aftermath Republican politicians expressed sympathy for the victims, insist that even though a gay club was targeted during Pride month that it wasn’t actually an anti-gay hate crime, and then days later voted down gay rights protections. Those politicians weren’t the only ones to try to claim that the act wasn’t an anti-gay crime. We’ve had people gin up evidence (which has been thoroughly debunked) that the killer was secretly gay himself. We’ve had people and politicians try to claim the killer was part of an organized Islamic terrorist organization, and that has been thoroughly debunked as well.

The killer’s own father said that his son had been ranting for weeks about how angry he was to see gay men kissing each other in public. He spent weeks using a fake profile on a gay hook-up app quizzing gay men to determine which gay club would have the biggest crowd and which night of the week it would be busiest. It was an anti-gay hate crime. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t also terrorism, because that’s what all hate crimes are: the intent is to instill terror in the targeted community by singling out individuals for bashing or worse.

I wrote shortly after the massacre to explain why this crime hit me so hard even though I live on the other side of the continent and don’t personally know anyone killed. My whole life I’ve lived with the fear and knowledge that there are people who hate queers enough to attack me and kill me, but I haven’t often had to think of that hatred being a danger to those around me. The killer’s father isn’t the only one who talked about what had enraged his son. Others who knew the killer have talked about his increasingly angry outbursts about gay people. Seeing two men kiss made him go kill 49 people in a busy gay nightclub during Pride month.

It’s one thing to know that bigots hate me enough to kill me. It’s much worse to be shown that some hate me enough to commit a massacre.

And it’s upsetting to know that some people who claim to be friends—and relatives who have said they love me—are unable or unwilling to understand that this killer’s actions are a symptom of society’s messed up attitudes about queer people and about guns.

That is what people who claim this is just one lone nut, or that it isn’t really about queer people, or that there is nothing society can do that will make these crimes less likely to happen are actually saying.

One year later, it’s still a gut punch.

It leaves one wondering what we can do.

  1. There are organizations you can donate to: Scissor Sisters and MDNR honor Pulse victims with ‘Swerlk’ lyric video: Proceeds from the song’s sales and royalties will be donated to the Contigo Fund which, “offers financial support to organizations working to heal, educate and empower LGBTQ and Latinx individuals, immigrants and people of color, as well as those working to end all forms of bigotry in Central Florida”.
  2. We can attend memorials: Thousands Expected At Pulse Memorial Events In Orlando.
  3. You can commit to acts of kindness and urge others to: Elected officials on Monday announced that June 12 officially would be dedicated as “Orlando United Day — A Day of Love and Kindness.”.
  4. We can remember the victims: Orlando Sentinel Marks One-Year Anniversary of Pulse Nightclub Massacre: In print, a special 16-page section; online, free access for all.
  5. We can try to help the healing process: Faces of healing, one year after the Pulse Nightclub massacre.

Mostly, please just recognize that this was a hate crime, fueled by our society’s abhorrence of gay people and helped by our irrational obsession with prioritizing gun rights over human rights. It wasn’t an act of anti-american terrorism. It wasn’t merely the actions of one disturbed individual. It is a symptom of very American dysfunction. It is a hate crime, and all hate crimes are meant to instill terror in the hearts of the targeted community. If you are a straight person who still insists this wasn’t an anti-gay hate crime, please answer this question honestly: was this crime a gut punch of terror for you? Was it?

I have been relieved that most of the coverage of this crime focused on the victims. Too often the coverage of mass shootings focus so much on the perpetrator that it’s as if he’s a hero, instead of a despicable excuse for a human being. I think I have managed, despite writing about this incident many times, never mention to the name of the killer. Instead, we need to honor the memories of those slain: Orlando nightclub shooting: Read about the victims.

Victims killed in Pulse in Orlando this last weekend.

Victims killed in Pulse in Orlando June 6, 2016. (Click to embiggen) (Facebook/AP/Reuters/Rex)

Edited to Add: Several people have written very eloquently about the day:

Commentary: Pulse, and the Beautiful, Sad, Joyful Tradition of Queer Grief

I Couldn’t Write About The Pulse Attack Until Today

A Letter to My Queer Family After Orlando

Sunday Update 6/11/2017: More words and pictures

I’ve mentioned before that I collect images and memes and such as potential illustrations for Friday Links posts or political commentary, and I’m always collecting more than I wind up using. So every now and then I’m going to do a post like this where I just publish a bunch.

“The Stonewall Riots were started by trans women of colour and no one is allowed to forget that.”

“The Stonewall Riots were started by trans women of colour and no one is allowed to forget that.” (Click to embiggen)

“Love is a terrible thing to hate.”

“Love is a terrible thing to hate.”

“Who lies more?” Please stop repeating the lies that all of them do it. One end of the political spectrum fails fact checks far more often than the other.

“Who lies more?” Please stop repeating the lies that all of them do it. One end of the political spectrum fails fact checks far more often than the other.(Click to embiggen)

“Percentage of Death-Row Exonerations by Contributing Factor.” Gee, several of those categories constitute official malfeasance.

“Percentage of Death-Row Exonerations by Contributing Factor.” Gee, several of those categories constitute official malfeasance. (Click to embiggen)

This is what “Make America Great Again” meant to far too many of Donald's supporters (and staff, and Donald himself, to be honest).

This is what “Make America Great Again” meant to far too many of Donald’s supporters (and staff, and Donald himself, to be honest). (Click to embiggen)

“When I find myself in tweets of trouble, Mother Russia comes to me, speaking words of wisdom... covfefe!”

“When I find myself in tweets of trouble, Mother Russia comes to me, speaking words of wisdom… covfefe!”

“You only gave us rights because we gave you riots. Queer Power”

“You only gave us rights because we gave you riots. Queer Power” (Click to embiggen)

“We kept fighting after Stonewall. We're still fighting the AIDS Crisis. We kept fighting after Anita Bryant. We kept fighting after Jesse Helms. The struggle is far from over. I'll keep fighting. Will you?”

“We kept fighting after Stonewall. We’re still fighting the AIDS Crisis. We kept fighting after Anita Bryant. We kept fighting after Jesse Helms. The struggle is far from over. I’ll keep fighting. Will you?”

“Pride 2017”

“Pride 2017”

Weekend Update 6/10/2017: Holy Wensleydale, Batman!

Gromit and Wallace © Aardman Animations

Yesterday’s weekly round up of links did not include a Farewells section, and it should have. With this morning’s news, I have to include another farewell.


Peter Sallis, Who Voiced Wallace From ‘Wallace And Gromit,’ Dead At 96

Peter Sallis, Voice of ‘Wallace and Gromit’ Cartoons, Dies at 96

Adam West, TV’s ‘Batman,’ Dies at 88

Adam West, beloved actor and star of Batman TV series, dies at 88

Adam West as Batman from the TV series © Greenway Productions and 20th Century Fox Television

Adam West as Batman from the TV series © Greenway Productions and 20th Century Fox Television

When Batman the tv series came on the air in January 1966 I was immediately hooked! What 5 year old wouldn’t be? Sure, the show was campy to the point of ludicrousness, but there was Batman played with a droll unflappability by Adam West. He was smart, brave, and always ready to stop the bad guy. The fact that he and Robin were running around in tights all the time added to their appeal, as well, though I didn’t really understand my fascination with their costumes until I was older, watching it in re-runs.

It has been said in many interviews, including by West himself, that the reason why he got the role among the actors who were screen tested for it was because he was the only one who could deliver the dialog with a straight face. The series’ incredible blockbuster success typecast West, making it difficult for him to get work, but he eventually embraced the role, eventually calling his version of the Caped Crusader the Bright Knight (as opposed to the Dark Knight of later incarnations).

And while I appreciate some of the other versions of Batman, five-year-old me looked up to West’s Batman as a hero who stood for justice and compassion, who was willing to risk everything for others, and always ready to answer the call. It was West’s commitment to the role that made that version of Batman real. You’ve answered your final bat-signal, Adam West. Rest in peace, and thank you.

Friday Links (Wonder Woman’s the hero we need edition)

“Clark, my country is all women. To us, it's not 'gay marriage,' it's just marriage.”

“Clark, my country is all women. To us, it’s not ‘gay marriage,’ it’s just marriage.”

It’s Friday. The second Friday in Pride Month. And the news in the real world continues to be both depressing and frightening. So, if you haven’t yet, I highly recommend you go see Wonder Woman, because no matter who you are, it should make you feel empowered (well, unless you’re an alt-right/neo-nazi/MRA jerk with enough self awareness to recognize what the bad guys believe). Seriously.

Anyway, here are the links I found interesting this week, sorted into categories.

Links of the Week

Why I cried through the fight scenes in ‘Wonder Woman’.

Man who mowed lawn with tornado behind him says he ‘was keeping an eye on it’.

Mary Poppins sequel: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Dick Van Dyke connection.

This week in awful news

We Have Already Forgotten Yesterday’s Mass Shooting in Orlando.

Orlando Awning Factory Shooting Left 2 Teens Parentless.

Friend: Orlando victim feared workplace shooter would seek revenge over firing.

News for queers and our allies:

Philly Unveils New Pride Flag with Black and Brown Stripes.

Families of Pulse Victims Urge Churches to Toll Bells.

Scissor Sisters and MNDR Release New Track ‘Swerlk’ as Pulse Shooting Anniversary Approaches. (Video below)

Remembering the History of the UpStairs Lounge.

For Pride Month Shameless Fancies made these flags.

Sometimes You Just Outlast It .

Being Gay vs. Being Southern: A False Choice.

Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters: Why there is still a need for Black LGBTQ Pride events.

This week in Wonder Woman

How ‘Wonder Woman’ Brought Colors to the DC Universe.

Is David Edelstein’s Wonder Woman Review Just Asking For It?
Wonder Woman Review: Gal Gadot Did Not Give Me a Hard Enough Boner.
Great satire of the horrible Edielstein review…

Blood Tribe actor from Alberta speaks Blackfoot language in Wonder Woman movie.

Why It Matters That DC Comics Confirmed Wonder Woman’s Bisexuality.

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculation!

John Scalzi and Annalee Newitz Say Sci-Fi is Always Political.

Why Doctor Who Season 10 is the perfect palate cleanser for the current political climate.

Oldest Fossils of Homo Sapiens Found in Morocco, Altering History of Our Species.

VHS Tapes: How Archivists Are Working To Save Them.

Scientists discover plants have ‘brains’ that decide when to sprout.

Ravens Remember People Who Have Wronged Them, Study Says.

Fossil mushroom discovered from the era of the dinosaurs.

This week in Writing

A Simple Trick for Better Self-Editing .

This week in Words

The order of the definitions may not mean what you think – Dictionary Facts and Trivia.

Culture war news:

Scott Lively Celebrates After Judge Condemns His ‘Crackpot Bigotry’.

North Carolina woman admits leading 30 parishioners in beating of gay church member to expel his ‘demons’.

This Week Regarding the Lying Liar:

Is Trump’s blocking of some Twitter users unconstitutional? A lot of people think the first amendment is only about personal expression and the press, but the first amendment also guarantees citizens the right to petition their government; Trump has turned his personal twitter account into an official policy communication conduit and some would argue a public forum.

Making Ignorance Great Again.

The $110 billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia is fake news.

How Donald Trump Shifted Kids-Cancer Charity Money Into His Business.

Trump campaign’s ‘Pittsburgh, not Paris’ rally draws ‘dozens’.

This week in Politics:

John McCain’s questions to James Comey did not make sense.

This Week in Racists, White Nationalists, and other deplorables

Kids Are Quoting Trump To Bully Their Classmates And Teachers Don’t Know What To Do About It.

Things I wrote:

Weekend Update 5/3/2017: Heroes come in all genders.

Dancing my plot with a playlist.

Is that a light at the end of the tunnel, or an oncoming train?

The meaning of everything—more adventures in dictionaries.



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

Robbie Williams – Angels (One Love Manchester):

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

The meaning of everything—more adventures in dictionaries

The most recent edition of the full OED. Please note that this isn't 20 copies of the same book; it takes these 20 volumes to add up to one dictionary!

The most recent edition of the full OED. Please note that this isn’t 20 copies of the same book; it takes these 20 volumes to add up to one dictionary!

I’ve mentioned many times that my childhood was spread over ten elementary schools in four different states thanks to my dad’s employment in the petroleum industry. Those ten schools varied a lot, but one thing all of them had in common was a library; and one of the things each of those libraries had in common was a big dictionary. They didn’t all have the exact same dictionary, but there was always at least one large hardbound dictionary, frequently on display on a stand or lectern.

I distinctly remember the library at the elementary school in Kimball, Nebraska keeping its dictionary on a pedestal that was too tall for me to reach the book, and it had a sign that said it was off-limits to anyone below fourth grade. When I asked why, I was told that it was too heavy for us smaller kids to lift, that it was printed on extremely thin paper which was easily torn, and besides, us lower grade kids couldn’t really understand it. I argued, of course, which got me nowhere. In fact, a note about my bad attitude was sent home to my parents. Surprisingly, my dad wasn’t angry at me about that, and seemed to actually take my side (though he didn’t go so far as to do anything about it).

I was apparently so offended at the notion that I, as a second-grader, couldn’t understand a dictionary, that I ranted about it at Sunday School. Which eventually led the wife of the pastor at the church we were attending to give me a dictionary of my own. It was an old desk dictionary whose cover was held on by a lot of layers of black book tape, but it was mine. My parents didn’t have a dictionary in the house before then (though over the next few years we acquired a couple more).

But to get back to those big dictionaries in the library, all of them said “Webster’s” on the cover, often in gold printing. A large number of them were probably various printings of Merriam-Webster’s New International Dictionary second edition. But because the original dictionaries edited by Noah Webster had fallen into the public domain by 1889, other publishers have been using the name in the title of their dictionaries. So some of them were probably from other publishers.

I was in the fifth grade when I learned the latter fact: that just because a dictionary’s cover said “Webster’s” didn’t mean it actually was Webster’s. But at the same time I also learned about the Oxford English Dictionary. The teacher in question was deeply enamored with the OED, having started using it at libraries while he was studying in the United Kingdom, and hoped someday to own his own copy. He told us that the dictionar was so big it couldn’t be published in one book, but was split into multiple volumes, like an encyclopedia, and cost thousands of dollars. I remember specifically him explaining that it was about 30 volumes.

I learned later that the last bit was completely wrong. At the time this teacher was studying abroad, the second edition of the OED hadn’t yet been printed. The second edition is 20 volumes, whereas the first was originally ten volumes, with only three supplemental volumes having been published by the time the teacher was back in the U.S. and teaching us in the tiny town of Roosevelt, Utah. I don’t know if he truly didn’t remember how many volumes it was (which suggests that he may have used it at a library only once or twice), or if he was exaggerating for effect (giving this teacher’s personality, either was likely), but he was incorrect about the number of volumes.

Still the image of thirteen big hardback books being necessary to contain all the text of a dictionary was pretty magical. And ever since I’d learned of its existence, I too, dreamed of a day when I would have a copy of the OED of my own. It is definitely a dream, because the retail price of the full twenty volume set is usually listed at $1295 – though you can usually find it being offered at just under a thousand. I found a set in a used bookstore once… locked up in a glass case and being offered for even more than that. It wasn’t the 20-volume second edition (first published in 1989) but the old 10 volume set from 1928.

The Compact Oxford is not an abridged dictionary. It contains all of the text of the full 20-volume set)

The Compact Oxford is not an abridged dictionary. It contains all of the text of the full 20-volume set (me included for scale).

Given those prices (and once you learn how much work goes into producing a high quality dictionary {many years, dozens of editors, hundreds of readers scouring old books}, you’ll understand why the price tag is so high), I had to content myself with various abridged versions for several years. Until my husband surprised me on one birthday with the Compact Oxford English Dictionary. The Compact Oxford is a very clever book: it contains the full text of the twenty volume dictionary in a single book. They do that by printing on each page of this oversized book tiny images of pages of the dictionary—nine pages of the large dictionary on each page of the Compact. The resulting text is so small that you need a strong magnifier to read the text. So it’s a little weird… but also very cool. At least in a geeky way.

Each of the blocks of text you can see is a page worth of three-column text printed very small.

Each of the blocks of text you can see is a page worth of three-column text printed very small.

I’d heard about the Compact Oxford long before I’d seen one. Sometime in the early 90s a co-worker mentioned that there was a one-volume version that they sold with a magnifying glass, but that’s all the details I had at the time. I didn’t realize that they were publishing a bunch of miniature images of full pages, nor did I understand just how tiny the type really was. I had been been quite happy with my copy of The Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus: American Edition because it is a big, hefty dictionary, almost the size of some of my other unabridged dictionaries, and it had those painstaking word histories that the Oxford is famous for. Then one birthday my husband hauls out a giant present and sets it in front of me. I thought it was a computer of something at first, until I tried to lift it. It was way too heavy for the size. Under the wrapping paper as a big box with the words “The Compact Oxford Dictionary” and “Includes Magnifier.” I was speechless. He was grinning ear-to-ear, of course. It came with more than a magnifier (and a velvet bag to keep the magnifier in). There is a secondary book with instructions on how to use the big book, a protective holder that the two books can slide into—you can put the holder on the shelf, read the spine of the dictionary, and tilt it out easily enough. The holder is substantial enough that even on a shelf with a whole bunch of equally ginormous books (such as six other unabridged dictionaries from other publishers) and it will hold the space open for the book. Which I realized is most useful when you got to put the book back.

Getting the light just right is often a challenge.

Getting the light just right is often a challenge.

Being the kind of nerdy collector I am, getting this book has kicked off another obsession: trying to find the perfect magnifier. A regular magnifying glass that you might pick up for home use only magnifies about 2x or 3x, and that’s just not enough to read the tiny print. The one that came with the book is a 4x magnifier, which is adequate. In the years since I got the dictionary, I’ve found a couple of 5x that work better, though sometimes getting the light right is tricky. There have been many times I’ve slid the magnifier around with one hand while shining a flashlight with the other, finding the perfect angle to light up the words without creating a glare on the part I’m trying to read. It works best with a table big enough that you can lay the dictionary flat while you’re reading.

I’m more than occasionally asked by people why I need more than one dictionary–often with the admonishment, “You know, you can look words up online.” The free online dictionaries give you a fraction of the information about each word that even a $30 collegiate dictionary will provide, is the short answer. And most don’t have the word histories—telling you what year the first use of a particular meaning of the word appeared in print. There is also something to be learned by comparing the definitions in different dictionaries. Which people who aren’t word nerds don’t understand. Then, of course, for some of my dictionaries, there’s that Old Book smell. And you just can’t get that from an online reference.

It is true that more often I look things up in the electronic Shorter Oxford that I bought for both my Mac and iPad/iPhone, simply because it’s more convenient, and I’m usually not needing all of the extra information. (And the purchased app contains more information that the free online sources!)

But the real reason that someone who will suggest looking things up online instead of cracking open a dictionary will never understand is that the dictionaries aren’t just to “look it up” and go. Books have always been magical portals for me. They take me to far away places, or fabulous worlds, or just the mind and heart of another person. That’s true of both fiction and non-fiction. Dictionaries and encyclopedias aren’t just references to me. I love to read them. I love to browse from entry to entry, going down metaphorical rabbit holes as, while I’m reading about one word, a reference is made to a derivation of another word, or a different word that shares a similar root (I love the phrase some dictionaries use, “more at xxxx”!), and going off to read that, which leads to another, and another…

The whole world is contained in a good dictionary. Not just language and meaning, but history and culture (yes, the good and the bad). Finding all of that isn’t something you get just be reading an entry or two. You have to wander and browse and get lost among the words.

It’s an adventure!

I stole the title of this blog post from the very excellent book, The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester. It’s a wonderful read about the decades-long obsession of many people to create the definitive English dictionary. You should also check out his related book, Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. They’re both great!

If you want a good, but affordable version of the Oxford Dictionary (technically small enough to fit in a pocket), it can be had: The Oxford Color Dictionary. It’s not just a dictionary about colors; they put the word color in the title because all of the main headings in the book are printed in a nice blue, which isn’t just meant to make it pretty. As I said it is technically a pocket dictionary. The pages are very small and the font is smallish. They use of color for the words and black text for the definitions, etymologies, et al. It really makes it easy to find the words you want. And it’s cheap! There’s also a companion Color Thesaurus.

Fumble fingers again…

Not quite ready…

Sorry, the Save Draft button and the Publish button are too close together on the interface, and sometimes while I’m working on a blog post, particularly a longer one where I save many times, I accidentally click publish without realizing it.

The real post is available here!

Is that a light at the end of the tunnel, or an oncoming train?

When I set my goals for this year, I pledged to do monthly updates, since the years I’ve done that has resulted in better results than years I haven’t. The crazy wrinkle this year was that we knew that sometime after May 8th the new owners of the old building would give us a final move out notice, but that we couldn’t actually move until after Michael’s surgery and recovery was complete, which made it difficult to find a place to move to, since no one was willing to hold a place for more than a few weeks.

The last time I posted about the goals was at the end of March, when Michael was only a bit over a week into the recovery. My specific tasks for April were:

  • Pack and move!
  • Pack and move.
  • Squeeze some writing time in somehow.
  • Remember to have fun at NorWesCon (whether we attend the whole weekend or not).
  • Write at least two blog posts about things I like.

Once we finally had a lease signed in mid-April, that meant that my goals for the rest of April and all of May were:

  • Pack and move!
  • Move and unpack.
  • Clean out the old place.
  • Try to keep squeezing writing time in.

We’ve still got a lot of unpacking to do, but we’ve moved, so yay!

I got some writing in, but most of it was blogging. I did a lot of blog writing on the bus and during lunch at work. Having a slightly longer bus ride in (and being too far out to walk home, so I’m busing both ways) gives me a bit more time to write on the bus. Which is nice, though I’m finding it harder to get myself to write scenes on the phone than blog posts. I’m not sure why.

We didn’t attend NorWesCon, other than to show up at dinner time on Saturday evening, have dinner with our gang then run up to one of the hotel rooms to watch Doctor Who. But it was a great break during the first weekend that we were actually moving into a place, rather than packing and trying to find a place.

I’ve already written more about the packing, moving, hauling, cleaning, and so on than anyone cares to read, so let’s move on.

The big goals remain, though this is probably a good time to revisit them.

Don’t get mad, get busy. My tasks are: write about things I love; listen to music and audiobooks more and podcasts less; spend at least half of my lunch break writing; set specific monthly writing/editing goals in each check-in; write at least one blog post a month about organizations we can donate to that are fighting the good fight.

Reduce, pack, and prioritize. Now you might think this big goal could be marked “done” for the year, since we’ve moved, but it just needs to be rephrased: Unpack, reduce, and prioritize. We tried to purge a lot of things during the packing, but as we unpack we keep finding things that we realize should have been pitched rather than packed. And though the new place is a couple hundred square feet bigger than the old, we have a lot less storage. So, a lot of work to do here, still.

Take care of us. It’s important to remember to take rests, not to let ourselves stress about things, and so on.

Submit and publish. Initial task was to organize how I’m going to find calls for submission and set reasonable targets for the novel revision/finalization. I have thus far totally failed to get organized regarding submissions. Nearly half the year is gone and I’ve only submitted to two places. I have consolidated all of my notes for the revisions, and now that we’ve moved I can get back to that.

So June is going to be a reset month, now that the big disruption is over. My specific tasks for the month are:

  • Get back into the rhythm of editing the novel.
  • Write at least two blog posts about things I like, rather than rants or commentaries.
  • Get the iris bulbs, monitors, and other things that we want to give away handed off to people who said they wanted them.
  • Go through the rest of the Christmas decoration bins and finish that purge.
  • Write something that isn’t in one of the novels.

Dancing my plot with a playlist

“Music is like breathing—I don't get tired of breathing, and don't get tired of music.” —Ray Charles

“Music is like breathing—I don’t get tired of breathing, and don’t get tired of music.” —Ray Charles

I often listen to music while I’m writing. But I don’t just listen to random music; I make special playlists for certain characters or projects. My oldest playlist (rather uncreatively named “Writing”) was created in 2003, when iTunes first became available for Windows1.

A friend recently commented that a lot of my playlists re-use songs. He’s right, particularly since many of the lists I’ve been sharing lately are based on some of my writing lists2. That’s because I assign some songs to particular characters. Or I assign some songs to particular character combinations. For instance, I use the Matt Goss song, “Evil” if I’m working on a story or section of one of the fantasy novels when the characters of Madame Valentina and the Zombie Lord figure prominently; because the song’s lyrics sound like something that Madame Valentina would say to her former friend and comrade-in-arms about why they are no longer friends. Other songs represent something a bit more abstract and just wind up in lots of playlists.

I listened to music while writing long before having a program that could play pre-programmed lists. And I even had playlists, of a sort. I used to make myself mix tapes3 on cassette. Like the playlists now, they were often meant as sort of a soundtrack for a project I was working on at the time. Before I had that technology, I used to like to listen to certain albums on vinyl while I wrote4. But more often I listened to the radio, where I had no control on what music would come up.

I’ve had multiple friends comment that they can’t write at all while listening to music that has lyrics. They can only write to music if the music is only instrumental. They mention this because they are confused when the vast majority of my writing playlists are made up of songs (often dance, pop, or rock songs, but queercore, baroque pop6, and broadway style musicals7 figure heavily as well) that have lyrics. I attribute this ability to two things. First, the fact that back when I was 11 years old9 and such I listened to the radio while I wrote. But another factor is familiarity. I usually only put songs that I know relatively well into the playlists, which means I don’t have to spend a lot of brain power parsing the lyrics when I hear it.

But even when I put new songs that I have only just discovered into the playlist they quickly become familiar. Because—and this is something I only realized recently is different than the way these friends use writing playlists—I don’t just listen to the playlist while I’ve actually writing. I listen to the playlist to get me in the mood to write a story. By which I don’t mean I sit quietly listening to the playlist hoping that I’ll eventually feel like picking up the keyboard and getting to work. No, I listen to the playlist during the day at the office, or while riding the bus to work, or while walking home, and so on.

I mentioned above that some songs function as themes for some of my characters or certain relationships, but I also have some songs that are essentially theme songs for specific subplots, or story arcs, or even specific plot twists. It’s not that I sit down and think, “Okay, this moment here needs a song,” it’s more that I’ll hear a song and find that when I listen to it it makes me think about that bit of the story. So I add the song to one of my existing writing lists; or I take subsets of several existing writing lists plus this song that hasn’t been in one of the lists before, and put together a new one. Which is another reasons that some of my lists repeat songs in other lists.

I know that I’m not the only person who uses inspirational playlists this way. But clearly the idea of listening to a writing playlist other than when you’re writing isn’t an obvious one. And it is true that sometimes I find, while I’m actually writing, that I need to switch to something other than the new writing playlist I’ve been listening to recently. There are times when I’m focused more on the words than the story. But that doesn’t happen often.

I think that might be another difference. I’ve always had a little trouble understanding why some people get so hung up on what to write next. Particularly when they describe struggling to find exactly the right word, or that a particular sentence kept coming out awkward. Because writing isn’t about showing off your gigantic vocabulary. It’s storytelling. And you can tell any story, even a new and unique one that is yours and yours alone many ways. This is sort of an extension of an idea that Stanley Fish talks about in his excellent book, How to Write a Sentence. Fish argues that the basic tool of the trade of a writer is the sentence, not the word, because words don’t take on their exact meaning until they are put in the context of a sentence, right?

The important part of a story aren’t specific sequences of words or astonishing turns of phrase. The story is about the characters confronting a problem, how they react to it, how they grow (or fail to) as they endure the slings and arrows of the tale. It’s about how the reader feels about those things. It’s about how the reader is moved by the events, what those events mean to the characters, and the state of each character as they reach their final fates.

That’s why lyrics shouldn’t distract you. Because good songs speak to your emotions. And emotions and events are what you need to be focusing on while writing your story. The words are just how you get there. They aren’t the end, they’re the means.

Put on your headphones, queue up some music that makes your heart and soul want to dance. Then, start writing.


1. That’s right, I used iTunes for three years before I owned my first iPod.

2. I very very occasionally publish lists of the songs on my blog. I slightly more often zip up all the songs in a list and share the file with friends who express interest.

3. Other people made mix tapes to get to people they were romantically interested in or already dating as a way to express their feelings. I assembled tapes of songs for myself.

4. Once I had my own record player, I could put a stack of vinyl albums on the spindle, and it would play one side of each album one after the other. It only held three albums5, but it was a way to build a very primitive sort of playlist.

5. The big stereo in the living room could hold five or six albums in a queue!

6. For instance, Rufus Wainwright or John Grant.

7. Yes, I’m the kind of queer man who listens to musicals! So sue me!8

8. It almost goes without saying that I appeared in musicals in school, but the truly frightening thing is that I’ve written a musical!

9. I decided to become a writer when I was four or five years old, after Mom responded to my question about where books come from. I wrote my first “book” when I was six. I learned to type at age 10, and wrote a lot of short stories on my mom’s Easter Pink Smith-Corona Silent Super typewriter until, just before my twelfth birthday, my paternal grandmother gave me her 1952 Remington Let-R-Riter. I owned my own typewriter! And I went crazy with the writing.

Weekend Update 6/3/2017: Heroes come in all genders

Jane Curtin anchoring Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live.

Jane Curtin anchoring Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live.

Yesterday’s weekly round up of links had only one story on Wonder Woman: the fact that is had an extremely positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes (among all superhero movies of all time, second only to The Incredibles.) I didn’t include any stories about the man-babies who are complaining: Conservatives Cry Misogynist Tears Over All-Female “Wonder Woman” Show. So Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas announced a couple of “No Guys Allowed” showings at two of it’s theatres, one in Austin, one in Brooklyn. And a bunch of entitled douches got upset. This kicked of a string of responses. My favorite is: Austin Mayor Responds To Man Angry About ‘Wonder Woman’ Screening. I love that the mayor’s response begins, “I am writing to alert you that your email account has been hacked by an unfortunate and unusually hostile individual. Please remedy your account’s security right away, lest this person’s uninformed and sexist rantings give you a bad name. After all, we men have to look out for each other!”

Michael and I saw the movie last night at a theatre near our new place and the movie is very good. It’s a lot of fun. Wonder Woman is heroic and human and uplifting and… it’s really good. Go see it! You don’t have to just take my word for it: ‘Wonder Woman’ Review: Gal Gadot Lights Up The Screen In Comic-Book Gem That’s Funny But Not Campy. And it looks like audiences are happy: ‘Wonder Woman’ Breaks Glass Ceiling For Female Directors With $97M+ Debut; Earns ‘A’ CinemaScore.

And let’s talk about some real-life heroes. I had a bunch of stories yesterday about last week’s hate crime/white nationalist terror attack on a Portland train. The quick sum-up, an angry man started yelling at two teen-age women of color on the train, three guys tried to intervene, the angry man stabbed all three guys, two of whom died at the scene. Angry man is in custody and at his arraignment was screaming white nationalist slogans. People have donated a lot of money to funds to help the families of the two men who died and help cover the medical expense of the survivor. I covered all of that, yesterday.

Today we have: Portland stabbing victim Micah Fletcher calls out “white savior complex” in response to attack. Fletcher doesn’t want us to forget that the victims in these crimes are not the guys who try to stand up for the targets of hatred, but the people initially targeted:

“We need to remember that this is about those little girls. I want you to imagine that for a second, being a little girl on that MAX.This man is screaming at you. His face is a pile of knives. His body is a gun. Everything about him is cocked, loaded and ready to kill you. There is a history here with this. You can feel that this has happened before, and the only thing that was different was the names and faces. And then a stranger, two strangers, three strangers come to your aid. They try to help you. And that pile of knives just throws itself at them. Kills them.”
—Micah Fletcher

And while people like Micah are standing up, others are not: Trump misses opportunity to reassure U.S. Muslims after Portland attack and Will Donald Trump Ever Say the Words ‘White Supremacist Terrorism’?

The Google Doodle honoring Gilbert Baker, creator of the Pride Flag.

The Google Doodle honoring Gilbert Baker, creator of the Pride Flag.

It’s June! Queer Pride Month. Did you see yesterday’s Google Doodle: Google honors Gilbert Baker, late rainbow flag designer. And you really should go here and watch how the artist made the doodle. It’s cool! Gilbert Baker’s 66th Birthday.

Speaking of Pride Month: Netflix And FilmRise Separately Acquire Transgender-Themed Documentary Films. One of the documentaries is The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson; Johnson was one of the trans heroes at the original Stonewall Riots, and is often credited with being the actual person who threw the first brick that night.

Friday Links (crayons of all kinds editions)

“We are all a little broken. But last time I checked, broken crayons still color the same.”

“We are all a little broken. But last time I checked, broken crayons still color the same.”

We had an extremely productive holiday weekend, getting a lot of errands and unpacking done. There’s still a lot to do. I hoped to continue the work weeknights this week, but we had another impossible deadline at work this week, which meant I worked really long hours Tuesday, Wednesday, and a bit of Thursday. That also means that this week’s collections of links may be a bit smaller than usual.

Anyway, here are the links I found interesting this week, sorted into categories.

Links of the Week

The stolen childhoods of Kashmir in pencil and crayon.

Cat is summoned for jury duty in Boston; court rejects owners’ appeal to disqualify him.

Barack Obama beats Donald Trump as Gallup’s ‘Most Admired Man of 2016’.

Let’s talk about crayons!

In case you missed it a couple of months ago: Color us sad: Crayola is retiring the dandelion crayon.

Retiring Crayola Crayon makes farewell stop in Little Rock.

And now the replacement: Discovered in a Lab, a New Superblue Will Be Unleashed Upon the World as a Crayola Crayon.

This week in hate crimes

Suspect in Portland Hate Crime Murders is a Known White Supremacist.

Portland mayor says MAX attack an act of terrorism. Yes: white, christian terrorism inspired by the Deplorable One

Young father run down, killed in Grays Harbor County campground confrontation. Let me correct that headline: it was not a confrontation, it was a hate crime

Suspect in hit-and-run that killed Quinault tribal member charged with manslaughter, vehicular assault.

The Portland Heroes Who Stood Up To Hate.

Portland MAX hero’s last words: ‘Tell everyone on this train I love them’.

‘Never seen anything like this’: Inside Indonesia’s LGBT crackdown.

White Calif. Man Charged With Hate Crime After Stabbing Black Man With Machete: Report.

This Week in Restoring Our Faith in Humanity

Muslim groups raise nearly $500,000 for families of ‘Portland heroes’ – It only took 5 hours to shatter their initial $60,000 goal.

News for queers and our allies:

Mom of genderqueer teen writes touching email to college student about photo shoot.

Gay Pride Celebrations Worldwide to Honor Orlando, One Year After Pulse Nightclub Attack.

Rainbow Playbills Take Over Broadway as Fourth Annual Playbill Pride Kicks Off.

What Not To Do, When Calling Yourself a Transgender Ally.


‘Boy Erased’ is a heartbreaking memoir about the journey of self-acceptance.

Federal Appeals Court Rules In Favor Of Transgender Student.



Bright spots on our moon could be frost, says NASA.

Video: Astronaut shows the proper way to eat pudding in space.

Jupiter, Saturn and Venus Will All Be on Display in June.

Dinosaur embryo returned to China, but many fossils fall victim to illegal trade and poor protection.

It turns out that we may have more than five basic tastes.

Draper’s Genetically Modified Cyborg DragonflEye Takes Flight.

‘Scrappy’ skeleton hints earliest primates hung out in trees.

One of Crispr’s Creators Faces Her Fears.

Scientists Created Artificial Nanoparticles That Can Communicate With Each Other.

Complex Brain Evolution In Vertebrates Likely Began With Two Simple Parts, Not Three.

A third detection of gravitational waves is changing our understanding of black holes.

Scientists Have Discovered a Brand New Type of Neuron.

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculation!

Queer Fantasy Roots: The Changing Role of Amazons.

Us Versus Them, or What Happens When SF Fandom Can’t See Past Its Own Blinders.

‘Wonder Woman’ Lassos Best Rotten Tomatoes Score of Any DC or Marvel Movie.

This Week in Tech

Why I can’t/won’t point to Facebook blog posts.

John Gruber agrees and gives more points: F–k Facebook.

Culture war news:

Washington State Blocked a Black Woman From Selling Legal Pot Because Her Spouse Is in Priso.

House Overwhelmingly Supports Bill Subjecting Teen Sexters to 15 Years in Federal Prison.

Let’s talk about Native American Voter Suppression.

This Week Regarding the Lying Liar:

Hacks, Leaks, and Tweets: Everything We Now Know About the Attack on the 2016 Election.


No, the “grown-ups” won’t save us: A favorite Beltway fantasy bites the dust again.

This Week in Racists, White Nationalists, and other deplorables

“March Against Sharia” Intended for Portland Is Headed for Seattle Instead.

A Few Things Got Left Out of The Daily Caller’s Report on Confederate Monument Rally – Daily Caller hired white supremacist to cover demonstration by white supremacists.

I Met the White Nationalist Who Says Trump Made Him Rough Up a Protester.

More Than An Occasional Crank: 2,012 Times the Center for Immigration Studies Circulated White Nationalist Content.


Frank Deford, NPR’s Longtime Philosopher Of Sports, Dies At 78.

Frank Deford’s Wicked Grace.

Pierce Brosnan Writes Tribute to Roger Moore: ‘We Fell in Love With a Magnificent Actor’.

In Unmourned Departures:

In Panama, many indifferent to former dictator Noriega’s death; relatives of Noriega’s victims many will never know what happened to the presumed dead.

Things I wrote:

Weekend Update 5/27/2012: Elected bullies behaving badly.

It used to be called Decoration Day… (or, Memorial for Grandma).

While we’re on the subject of Memorial Day….

Achievement unlocked: No Shuttling Weekend! (And we can haz library?).

Weather shifts, linguistic relativity, and the search for the perfect writing beverage.

Odd, strange, eccentric — more adventures in dictionaries.


Mary Lambert – Know Your Name “Yes, I did make the nerdy queer version of “Bad Blood”.”:

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

Martin Garrix & Troye Sivan – There For You (Official Video):

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

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