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So, Best Editor, Long Form. I’ve been hearing a lot about this category this year. Honestly, when I’m wearing my reader hat, it’s a category I don’t often vote in because I have no idea what any of the editors have done unless someone’s told me. I’ve also noticed it’s a category that tends to be on the low end of the nominating ballot numbers, probably for similar reasons. If you are an industry professional or pay close attention, you can probably make some informed decisions. Otherwise, it’s a big shrug.

(The conspiracy theories that spring up around this category, by the way, are impressive for their baroque twists and utter venom. It’s one hell of a rabbit hole.)

I also think it’s unlikely for Best Editor to get dropped as a category any time soon, since there’s been pretty strong support for it in the WSFS meeting every time it’s been brought up.

And no, Best Novel doesn’t really act as an award for editors. The editor’s name doesn’t get put on the nomination, and the editor sure ain’t the one who picks up the little rocket statue if they win and give a speech. We generally only hear about who edited a novel if the author thanks their editor or the editor mentions it later.

I think the easiest way to make the category more accessible to the people voting (if not people nominating) is if the finalists for Best Editor, Long Form had the titles for two or three of the books they edited that were released in the last year listed by their name. Because of course, the weird thing about being an editor is that probably what they were working on during the nominating period isn’t even out yet, and certainly isn’t the reason anyone nominated them. Thank the lag time in publishing for that one.

I also think it’d be a good idea if the finalists for Best Editor, Short Form had the title of their magazine or anthology by their name. For some reason, I thought this was already the case until I double checked. Probably because short form editors tend to be much more easily identifiable with their publication, be it a magazine or anthology. And I would argue that giving an award to a magazine or anthology is a bit different from giving it particularly to the editor; when you’re putting an award on a magazine as a whole, that’s not just the head editor, it’s really an award for the entire team, down to the slush readers and whoever does the ebook layout conversion. Sort of like the difference between a Best Director award and Best Picture award.

I’ve also heard it proposed that we should have some kind of “before and after” work example for the editors, but I don’t think that would quite work. A big part of the editing job is acquiring the work to begin with—seeing something that they think readers will love and often fighting to get it published. To a certain extent, we’re awarding the editors for having good taste and finding things for us to read.

Because this isn’t “best copy editor.” A before and after wouldn’t be a few pages of a word document with a bunch of tracked changes. For example, if you wanted some kind of before and after of my own novel (Hunger Makes the Wolf) what you’d end up with is two complete versions of the novel to compare, plus a set of notes that I took off an editing phone call—and to be honest, as a writer I would not feel terribly comfortable with people being given those things for several reasons.

So I think the best way to make the category more accessible and meaningful would be to at least link the names of the editors with examples of what they’ve edited. Preferably, what they feel are the titles that best exemplify their work that got published in the last year. (In an ideal situation that would mirror the Best Director idea, they’d be getting the nod for a specific piece of work – but since it can be rather difficult for readers to find out who edited a book depending on how the publisher does the front matter and what the writer said in the acknowledgments, that might be too big of an ask.) That would at least give us context and stop Best Editor, Long Form from becoming something of a name recognition contest.

Thoughts? If this sounds like a workable or useful idea, I’d be happy to work up a proposal on it and seek a cosponsor.

I’m also still trying to figure out some kind of workable solution for smaller films that get released at festivals, but don’t have a wide theatrical release until the next year, which really screws up their eligibility…

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Okay, first off, WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME THAT THE FIRST SEASON IS ONLY SIX EPISODES.I would have, I don’t know, slowed my binge down slightly. Just watched two episodes a night instead of three. BUT FINE. At least it looks like I’ll be able to catch up into season 2 with the AMC Xbox app.

Battle of the Sexes

What I was seeing in the first three episodes with the misogyny of Quinn’s barony and the Widow’s pushback has left subtext and gone straight into text. At least according to the Widow, who tells Tilda that they’re in this to create a world where men can’t hurt little girls (like the Widow’s former husband hurt young Tilda) any more. And there’s even more of a battle of the sexes setup as we find out Zypher has teamed up with the Widow and plans to off her master Baron Jacobee and take his barony for himself.

Though there is of course the hefty implication that putting the Widow and Zephy in power isn’t going to herald some golden age of matriarchal Utopia. If nothing else, they’re fighting to be top dogs in a sick system that just propagates abuse of power, rather than trying to overthrow the system itself. They promise things will change once they’re in charge, and I’m sure there would be some changes, but that still makes for a bad society.

Take the Widow stealing all of Quinn’s cogs. While she’s obviously got a plan to treat them better than he did—it would be hard to treat them worse—they’re still basically enslaved people. And then we find out that along with striking a blow against Quinn’s ability to run his barony, she took all the cogs so she could see if any of them was the special boy she’s been hunting for?

Yeah, new boss, same as the old boss. Though I’d still much rather be on Team Widow than Team Quinn.

I do think what saves this from being a straight on battle of the sexes thing (which I would be less on board with, to be honest) is that we get the hint that it’s not just women planning the coup—Waldo is the inside man in Quinn’s territory, even though we were initially faked into believing it was Ryder being used as a tool. And Waldo’s very clear that he’s looking to see the system itself get taken down and changed, which makes me wonder if he’s got plans of his own that the Widow and Zypher don’t know about.

Looking forward to seeing more of Waldo, that’s all I can say. That old guy gets cooler every time I see him.

Of Monks and MK

MK is still my least favorite character of the series, followed by Ryder. Because frankly, one of the major whirring engines of the plot is male entitlement, personified by both of these whiney little jerks. I’m just hoping they eventually get what’s coming to them.

But anyway, the major highlight of this second set of three episodes for me (other than the Widow dual wielding morning stars HELLO) was the monks. Mysterious badass brothers (one of whom sure doesn’t look like a brother, btw) showing up to collect MK and stick him in another chest just like the one he popped out of in the first episode. That was one hell of a fight scene, with some massive implications that MK getting carried away might actually be the best thing for all involved.

Of course, the mystery has also widened out about where the fuck MK came from, because it’s apparently the same place Sunny came from? Only Sunny doesn’t go all evil when someone cuts him, and there’s no sign that he had that problem in his childhood and outgrew it. And apparently the Widow is also from that special place, if you can believe a word she says? That also implies that there’s more than one kind of special kid that comes out of that city, but why? How are they special in their different ways? Argh!

Stop Asking Sunny Questions He Can’t Answer

I feel like the poor guy ends half his scenes facing an unanswerable question and looking really upset about it. No wait, don’t stop doing that to him, it’s making for some pretty good character development on his part. Sunny keeps getting more complex as a character, because there’s always the question of how much he’s doing out of trained habit, residual loyalty, or an attempt to maintain the appearance of residual loyalty because he knows damn well that he and Veil are still entirely in Quinn’s power. Like when he’s going to do as ordered and torture Tilda—he’s not going to somehow become sympathetic to the Widow’s side just because Quinn’s a dick and Sunny’s done with everything. Sunny’s on Team Sunny and Veil, and he’s of the opinion that maintaining the status quo gives the two of them (and MK) their best chance at getting out alive.

I think there might have still been a little of his duty to Quinn left in him until the end, when Quinn put a stake through its heart with his own two hands. At which point everything was ruined anyway, so I was beyond glad that Sunny got to kill Quinn himself. It was a satisfying moment that needed to happen, but of course plays into Quinn’s taunt that Sunny will always be a killer—but it’s not like Sunny could have just walked away at that point.

Poor Sunny. Next season looks like it’s going to be even tougher on him.

Lydia and Jade

Honestly, I felt like who really shone in these last few episodes were Lydia and Jade, because they finally got the room to really lay out their quiet but deadly internal political struggle. Both of them always trying to pretend that this time, they’d be the peacemaker, and they really do have to face this situation with Quinn together, while hating each other’s guts in a visceral way that not even Sunny matched when he ran Quinn through.

Honestly, I was surprised when Jade made the move, and I found that gratifying. Jade’s struck me the whole time as being kind of drunk on her power, maybe riding the ragged edge of disaster by playing father and son (and then wife/mother) all against each other. Especially when Quinn seemed to know very well what was going on. But she got her shit together enough to figure out how to out-game Lydia, and it was devastating.

We ended the season seeing Lydia reborn, in her own way, driven back to the religious cult that birthed her after taking no end of insult from her own son about it. I doubt we’ve seen the last of Lydia, and I can’t help thinking—Dad made her promise to renounce her physical possessions, sure. But nowhere did he make her promise to renounce vengeance, and vengeance ain’t a physical possession. We haven’t seen the last of Lydia, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Collision Course

Honestly, at this point I feel like Into the Badlands has set a bunch of extremely powerful women on a collision course, and I couldn’t be more excited. For all that Sunny is definitely the viewpoint character of the show and we’re getting his emotional and moral journey, all of the most truly dangerous, strongest people are turning out to be the women: the Widow, Zypher, Lydia, Jade, and even Veil. Because did we see Veil’s maneuvering that got her out of the clutches of both Quinn and the Widow? That woman is a mountain that will not be worn down. She’ll outlast you all.

I hope the series lives up to this promise. Let’s go, season tw

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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In the massive backlash about the unnecessary whiteness of Netflix’s Iron Fist and then the reviews coming in to highlight that it’s apparently boring as shit and is full of lazy martial arts suck, I’ve been hearing a lot about Into the Badlands. The first season was available on Netflix, so I decided what the hell, let’s give it a whirl. I sat down to watch the first episode with my housemates, which became the first three episodes, which would have become the first four if we all hadn’t really needed to go to bed for work at that point.

Now I know I’m in trouble, because I don’t have cable and can’t subscribe to AMC the way I have to HBO. But that won’t hurt me until I’ve run out of episodes. Um.

Anyway, I’m going to blog as I go. Spoilers shall abound, obviously, because I’m going to just react to what I’ve watched.

Goddamn It’s Pretty

The first three episodes are fucking gorgeous. It’s got a saturated color pallet that shifts depending on the scene, which is amazing for setting tone and even speaking to the characters involved. It’s so colorful! From the start, seeing Sunny’s red coat-of-total-badass-+3, I knew it was going to be something different. It’s got a hyper-real, almost video game feel at times, like you just tripped and fell into a backdrop from a jrpg or something.

And the camera work, especially in the fight scenes. My god. In the first episode, there’s a fight that takes place in the rain, in a street partially covered in water. Moments of slow motion often get overused or poorly used these days in fight scenes, but this was gorgeous in its use. Particularly the use of water reminded me of one of the most beautiful fights in Hero.

And Speaking of Fights, Holy Shit

I feel like this series is going to be governed by the laws of kung fu movies a lot—you can feel when the fights are coming, and there will always be fights. And there’s the classic, beloved, badguys-form-a-ring-around-the-good-guy thing. It’s all very conscious in its formula, and if you love kung fu movies like I do, it’s going to speak directly to you.

Beyond that, these scenes are good. The foot work is solid. There’s that quality of a well-rehearsed fight where it’s got the feeling of back and forth exchange, where the fight itself is telling a story. And stylistically, every character has their own style that suits their personality. Sunny’s first fight is utterly, almost comically brutal in how he deals with the bandits, showing how tough he is as an enforcer for Quinn. But in his later fights, there’s style in there that feels much more like classic wuxia to me, hinting that he really is a hero and good beneath it all.

And the Widow. My god, the Widow. I love that here’s actually a point to her high heels. And the first time we see her fight, it’s all in close and hidden daggers and her sprouting weapons you never would have guessed she had. And that’s her down to the core, someone to never be underestimated. When she fights Quinn, they’re diametrically opposed, where he’s brutal and straight in and ultimately wins by overpowering people, whereas she comes at everything from an angle and never holds still.

In the first three episodes, they did something different with every fight, told a different story. I’m excited to see more. In a TV series it’s got to be harder to keep up interest and keep finding innovative ways for people to punch and stab each other, but the first three episodes have given me a lot of faith.

Misogyny

Well, I mean, when we see Quinn’s Barony, it’s basically a Handmaid’s Tale kind of wet dream. We see no female Clippers. All of the Clippers-in-training are called Colts, which really just highlights that it’s all boys, full stop. Quinn apparently gets to have multiple wives. While I was enjoying the setting already, that made me kind of leery because I didn’t really want to watch a show where it’s basically female oppression free-for-all with pretty punching.

Enter the Widow. I thought all right, this might be getting interesting since it’s obviously a set conflict between her—whom Quinn constantly tries to discredit as a Baron in her own right, subtext being because she’s female—and the super misogynist Baron. Then we actually get to the Widow’s territory and see that her most elite enforcers are all female, and she seems to refer to all of them(?) as her daughters. So now it’s a conflict between a toxic patriarchy and an apparent matriarchy. (Which is much less toxic in that we do see men actually doing things in the Widow’s world.)

The Widow does have a name, by the way, but it seems she’s take on “the Widow” as almost a title of pride—like if she won’t have “Baron” out of the mouths of people, she will have something. She’s obviously not in any kind of state of true mourning. She also does the classic “use a guy’s misogynistic attitude against him” several times in her own right, or by siccing Tilda on the bandits, for example. So there is a satisfaction to seeing misogyny get weaponized against men, but… it’s also a prevalent thing in TV. Better than the alternative of just wall to wall misogyny though, I suppose.

Then in the third episode I watched, by the way, we find out that another Baron has a female Clipper as his regent. Okay, this is awesome to know. Obviously, the Barons each set the tone for their own territory, and Quinn is a special kind of turd. But now I want to know more about the world!

I mean, no matter where you are, it pretty obviously sucks to be someone who’s not a baron.

Young Men

By the way, I find both of the young male characters in the series insufferable, for different reasons. Ryder is a very classic disappointment of a son who is trying very hard to impress daddy and struggle for power in an underhanded way because he can’t come at daddy overtly. I basically want to punch him every time he’s on screen, which I suppose makes him a good villain? His face isn’t quite as punchable as Eddie Redmayne playing the rather similar in character Balem Abrasax, but my goodness.

I mean, it does make sense in a conversation with modern society that the bad guy we’re building up should be an entitled, (white) manchild. Because I’m predicting that Quinn’s days are numbered and Ryder isn’t going to have some kind of redemption arc.

And then MK. I am incredibly glad that Sunny is the main character of this series and not MK, because I’d probably nope the hell out instead of wanting to watch more. MK’s problem seems to be that he’s a teenager, and he wants what he wants now. I’m not going to say this isn’t normal for his age and situation, I just find it frustrating because he’s very one-note so far.  And I’m utterly mystified why most everyone but Waldo (and Sunny) seem to find this charming, or at least not murderously annoying. I’m guessing Sunny sees a lot of himself in MK, but goodness. And why does Tilda keep sticking her neck out for him? It’s a mystery.

I do find it hilarious that MK is basically the damsel in distress that Sunny has to keep rescuing, though.

Waldo and Veil

Waldo and Veil as characters are awesome for totally different reasons. But awesome nonetheless.

Veil is basically the strongest person in the show. She has managed to deal with Quinn on multiple occasions, even knowing that he murdered her parents with his own two hands, and hasn’t broken. She is quiet, but she is a rock.

And Waldo beat the snot out of MK while looking totally bored, and I love him. I want him to be my grandpa.

Hope I get to watch more episodes soon.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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In case you didn’t notice… I HAVE A BOOK OUT AAAAAAAAAAA

And a lot of wonderful, intelligent, incredibly good-looking people with impeccable taste have been asking me if there will be a sequel. And the answer is… YES!

As a matter of fact, funny story, but I literally typed “THE END” on the rough draft for the sequel two days after Hunger Makes the Wolf was released in the US. I am in the process of editing it right now. MAYBE EVEN AS YOU READ THIS VERY POST.

I can’t tell you much more about it than that at the moment because I don’t want to get turned into a shuriken pincushion by the Angry Robot MechaNinja Squad(TM), but I can assure you of the following:

  • You will find out what the Bone Collector’s deal is
  • You will find out more about what the fuck is up with this weird-ass planet anyway
  • There is more Mag, more Hob, and a lot more swearing
  • Things will get blown up

If you’d like to get the updates as they come, hey, I have a mailing list!

I appreciate all the support and kind things y’all have had to say about my sweary space witch biker lady friendship book so far. It’s meant a lot to me! And if I can ask one more favor… if you enjoyed it enough that you want a sequel, pretty please go at least rate the book on Goodreads if you do that, Amazon, or wherever you happened to buy it from. That really, really does help. Reviews are like unexpected unbirthday presents! Also, if you have a card at your local library, consider asking them to get the book so other people can enjoy it. 

(All of the above are amazing gifts to give any author whose work you enjoy.)

And if you haven’t read the book yet, now’s your chance! You know I’m not going to leave you hanging sequel-less. And look, people have been saying all kinds of super nice things about Hunger Makes the Wolf:

“It has a wonderful weird west vibe and some of the phrasing is simply delicious. Hob is a wonderful character to follow – hers is a solid journey and I got a bit choked up when Hob stood up for what she wanted. Alex crafts a host of fascinating characters here – the Weathermen, the Bone Collector – and I reckon you’re going to love their adventures.”
E Catherine Tobler, author of the Folley & Mallory Adventures and The Kraken Sea

“This thing drips with tension – between characters, within the story itself – that makes it impossible to put down. I needed to know what would happen next, what would Hob do. Tanegawa’s World may be a desolate and uninviting terrain, but it provides fertile ground for the characters,who truly blossom on the page.”
– Shana DuBois for B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog

“It’s a science fiction Western thriller, and it is great, and I’m really, intensely, eagerly looking forward to the sequel. This is the sort of thing I really like. UP WITH THIS SORT OF THING.”
– Liz Bourke, for Tor.com

“The story is a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat space opera, tied together with the characters’ struggles, adventures, and mishaps. If you’ve ever thought, “You know what Dune needed more of? More magic and a biker gang!” then this book was written for you.”
The Canary Review

“I was expecting a fun, quick space adventure read, but this story is so much more than that.”
Helen Lindley

“This one definitely makes it into my ‘Highly Recommended’ stack. I’d pick this one up for sure if you’re looking for a fun action romp with some unique and amazing female characters.”
All Booked Up Blog

“I’m always excited when I find a new book that makes me stay up all night reading because I simply can’t put it down. I’m doubly excited when that book is the first in a brand new series. Hunger Makes the Wolf is both those things. Needless to say that I’m absolutely in love.”
Elena Linville’s Tower of Winds

“This is a very cool novel. Hunger Makes the Wolf is a fun, fast, gripping read.”
– The Irresponsible Reader

Hunger Makes the Wolf is an entrancing addition to any science-fiction lover’s collection. The clever prose alone is enough to grab your attention, but what really makes this novel shine is how immersive it is. The worldbuilding is meticulous, the characters are multifaceted and original, and the present themes are timely and inspiring.”
RT Book Reviews

“I have to commend Alex Wells, this book was a genuine pleasure. Just goes to prove, irrespective of genre, you can’t go wrong with well-rounded characters and a plot that zips along at a good pace.”
The Eloquent Page

“Grab any science fiction book and you’ll see they all have the exact same thing in common: the plots and devices of the stories are all predictable and never stray out of bounds. They hardly even push the envelope and, with great joy, I’m glad the author never got that memo. Here’s why: Wells adds magic to the mix. It’s a stroke of genius I’ve been waiting for Peter F Hamilton or Alastair Reynolds to pull off to no avail.”
The Splattergeist

“It’s a well-conceived, smartly plotted, enthusiastically fast-paced sci-fi adventure with some cool ideas and a couple of excellent lead characters who’ve got plenty growing still to do in future books.”
SF Bluestocking

“This is one gem of a story you shouldn’t miss out on.”
Smorgasbord Fantasia

“I will be picking up future volumes.”
James Nicoll Reviews

“Sharp, honed, and brilliant.”
Skiffy & Fanty

“Obvious parallels to Frank Herbert’s Dune will draw readers into this action-packed tale of tyranny and rebellion, but Wells’s character developments take the plot in new directions, leaving the possibility of a sequel.”
Library Journal

Hunger Makes the Wolf is a great bit of sci-fi with a dash of fantasy, all cleverly disguised as a brutal, kick-ass western. I want more!”
Michael Patrick Hicks

“Angry Robot has really upped its game lately; this is one of their best recent releases. Strong debut and I hope for a sequel to start answering a few more of my questions.”
Fantasy Review Barn

Thank you, everyone. Keep reading!

PS: Slightly-less-FAQ answer: Why yes, Coyote and Dambala are totally banging. They’re basically shitbag murderhusbands.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I grew up in a union house. My dad was a chief steward in the CWA (local 7750). I remember there being one strike (and the threat of others) when I was growing up. Looking at the CWA history, I’m pretty sure this is what I remember:

1986: Post Divestiture Bargaining

1986 presented CWA with its first negotiations with the post-divestiture telephone industry. Twelve years after CWA had achieved national bargaining, the union was forced back to the old multiple table way of bargaining. CWA had to bargain not only with AT&T, but with the independent RBOCs and their subsidiaries. National bargaining had been replaced by 48 different bargaining tables.

In the AT&T negotiations, the company attempted to take back health care benefits, lower clerical wages, and eliminate cost of living adjustments obtained in earlier contracts. CWA had no choice but to strike. The strike lasted 26 days and AT&T agreed to provide wage and employment security improvements and retain the health care benefits intact. Although the negotiations with the RBOCs were also difficult, they were less contentious than those with AT&T. Strikes were necessary against some of these operating companies, but none lasted more than a few days.

So I was five going on six at the time. Needless to say, my memories aren’t that sharp or specific. But things I do remember?

  • Going with my dad to where the everyone met and getting food for our house. Also getting my fingernails and toenails painted because I was wearing sandals. I’m pretty sure this is from the strike, but don’t quote me.
  • Learning what “scabs” are, and that they’re bad. Well, of course they’re bad, I thought. Scabs are pretty gross, and you pick them off and flick them away, and then whats underneath is all gross and oozy. Why would you want to be like a scab?
  • My parents not wanting to buy things or spend money because they didn’t know how long the strike would last.
  • Having a play picket line with my older brother outside our house, because we saw dad with his sign for the picket line. My brother had a sign on a stick. I had a little sandwich board sign made with poster board and string.

That’s honestly it. When you’re that young, things don’t impact you the same way. And I think my parents worked hard to make sure we didn’t really know what the financial situation was like… because you try to keep your kids out of those worries until they’re too big to hide.

I was a member of the CWA for the just shy of six years that I worked for AT&T, later. There was one time when we had a strike vote–I voted yes, but at the time a lot of my coworkers argued with me, because they thought the union was pointless and what they were going after wasn’t worth a strike. I had my doubts at the time (I was young and stupid and that’s a whole other blog post – and I also didn’t have much of a strike fund saved up, so that was scary too) but I was glad about being union later when I needed my rep to sit in a couple meetings between me and my supervisor. And I was weirdly glad that because of the union, I knew when my job was on the layoff chopping block, because I was low on the seniority list. I’d rather get let go for that than because I didn’t suck up to my boss sufficiently.

Anyway.

This post brought to you by me taking a break from writing about the Ludlow Massacre and feeling angry. And because the WGA West has asked its membership for strike authorization and I’m already seeing people (who aren’t writers) bitching about it because they don’t want their TV shows interrupted when the world is a fiery political hell pit.

People don’t strike because it’s fun. It disrupts your life in ways you can’t imagine and can fuck you over financially even if you win in the end. People strike because the companies never stop trying to push workers further down the hole. Because it’s the only way the workers have to defend themselves from a line getting crossed. So I’m sorry if it inconveniences you, but the writers (or communications workers, or electricians, or truckers, or grocery store workers or…) aren’t the ones you should bitch at. The bosses trying to kill them by inches are.

It’s not greedy to want a decent life for yourself and your loved ones, and it’s not out of line to want your labor (and writing is labor, fuck off) to be respected. If you already have that good of a life, don’t shit on people trying to get to that level. And if you don’t have what they do, why the fuck are you shitting on them for wanting better, and why aren’t you fighting for better for yourself?

In 1886, during the Great Southwest Railroad Strike, Jay Gould (owner of the Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific Railroads) famously said: “I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.”

Whose side are you on?

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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The subtitle on Stamped From the Beginning is “The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.” And Ibram X. Kendi is not fucking around on this one. This book took me an unusually long time to read—not because it was unpleasant, or even overly dense (as sometimes history books are), but because there’s a lot there, and the subject matter is extremely challenging.

I’m really glad I read it. Really, really glad. I encourage you to take the time to read and digest and mull it over as well. Buy the book, check it out from the library like I did, but go get it.

I’m going to think out loud on a couple of the points Kendi made that drew the most blood from me. But my mulling things over out loud should not be in any way a replacement for reading the book and getting Kendi’s thoughts first hand. Goodness knows I’m missing nuance and have my own major blind spots.

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Hey, so I don’t know if you heard about this, but I kind of wrote this little book called Hunger Makes the Wolf and TODAY IT WAS RELEASED IN THE US AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

I mean my goodness, isn’t that beautiful? ISN’T THAT BADASS? And it’s a dead tree book, too! I’ve held it in my hands! I’ve listened in mingled horror and awe as my housemate read a book it took me six years to write in four and a half hours! IT’S REAL.

In my extremely humble opinion, you should go out immediately and buy a copy, which you will give to your best friend. Then buy another copy. You know. To spread the love. You can get the book at ACTUAL FOR REAL BRICK AND MORTAR BOOK STORES as well asAmazon and Barnes and Noble. Also! If you want your ebook to be of the DRM-free variety, head to the Angry Robot site.

Oh, and did I mention? IT’S AN AUDIO BOOK TOO!

AAAAAAAAAAA this is the most exciting day ever.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I sent this to the governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper today, after seeing the AP story about a Trump administration draft memo regarding mobilization of the National Guard to be used to round up undocumented immigrants. Yes, I am aware that we’re talking a draft, but I find it seriously horrifying that this is even being talked about as an option, however off-handedly or unseriously. This is not a thing you fucking joke about.

Anyway, that prompted me to write and send the following message today. I’m sharing it in the hope that others will feel encouraged to send similar messages.

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Dear Governor Hickenlooper:

Per the Associated Press today, a draft memo from the Trump Administration showed they’re thinking about using the National Guard to round up undocumented immigrants. Considering the absolutely tragic and shameful history of our own state when it comes to the National Guard being mobilized against our citizens and residents (i.e.: the Ludlow Massacre), this calls on us all to speak firmly against this notion before it can gather steam.

Beyond that, undocumented immigrants are a vital part of Colorado society. It would be far better if they could have a path to legal citizenship or permanent residency, but lack of national will does not change the enormous contributions they make to Colorado daily. We should be respecting and protecting all of our residents, whether they have papers or not.

I urge you to speak out in strong support of undocumented Coloradans, and do everything in your power to keep their families from being torn apart by these unfair and racist policies we keep seeing from Washington DC. Make us a sanctuary state; while I know we can’t stop ICE, we can refuse to aide and abet the destruction of families and the victimization of innocent people who are integral to the fabric of Colorado.

With a lack of national will, it falls to us to step up and show our strength of spirit and compassion. I know Colorado is better than what our national government is currently trying to become.

Thank you.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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All right, I’m flinging up my hands on this. I’ve poked at the 50 Shades Darker fundraiser repeatedly, and I think I’m basically shouting into the overwhelming roar of THE WORLD BEING ON FUCKING FIRE, so I don’t feel that bad, really. Also, the few responses I’ve gotten at all to trying to fundraise off the oncoming Valentine’s shitshow were, “No honey, I can’t do that to you.”

I love you too, guys, though I did volunteer for this gig. But I can’t say I’m sad that I’m not going to have to have yet more pop ballads ruined for me forever. (Seriously. Every time one of the songs that got used in 50 Shades of Gray comes on, I attempt to rip my radio out of my car to make it stop because I still remember that fucking awful movie.) I’m also imagining all of the disposable donation money is currently being flung at worthy causes like the ACLU and Standing Rock and the NAACP and CAIR because, again, THE WORLD IS ON FUCKING FIRE, so I can’t begrudge anyone that. We all have limited resources.

I guess my question is to you, people who enjoy listening to me rant about fucking awful movies I watched while drunk, is this moment over? Should I find a different way to humiliate myself in public to get people to fling money at charity? (And wait to do it until the world is no longer ON FUCKING FIRE?) Should I attempt this shindig one more time when the next Transformers movie comes out, because at least it will be less sexually disgusting okay well maybe, I mean we are talking about the franchise in which dudes metaphorically pissing on each other’s legs over the virginity of an underage girl was a major plot point?

What say you?

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Today I met another refugee from the oil industry. This happens so often it’s like work is one giant reunion. Probably because construction is an industry where there’s a lot of crossover in skill sets, and it’s booming, so there are actually jobs. If you were a geologist, you can find a second life as a dirt guy. If you were an engineer, you can translate that over pretty easily to pipeline projects and the like.

“Oh yeah,” he told me. “They got me two years ago when the price per barrel hit $50. Day after that happened, me and all the other old timers were gone.” Then he laughed bitterly.

Yeah, I know the feeling, I said. I made it through two rounds of cuts and then they canned me in March 2016 because nothing had improved.

I have conversations like this every. fucking. day.

And you want to know why so many of us lost our jobs? I’ll give you a hint: it has fucking nothing to do with regulations, environmental or otherwise, on the petroleum industry. What got us all was the global price-per-barrel of crude oil. Here, if you want to see how dependent we are on that price, just take a look at measures like rig-count versus oil price in recent days.

At the time I got made redundant, there were a lot of pet theories floating around about why the oil price tanked. I don’t know if it’s now been clearly established, because frankly, I stopped caring as soon as I put the rubber to the road and got the fuck out of Houston. I do know that the favored pet theory of everyone I talked to back then was that OPEC opened the spigots because they were trying to drive all the foreign oil companies out of the Middle East.

But I can tell you what exactly NO ONE blamed the drop in price on: industry regulation.

And this? THIS IS TOTAL BULLSHIT.

The problem with the oil industry, the reason so many of us lost our jobs, is entirely on the supply side. There’s too much fucking supply versus demand, so the price drops. This is macro economics 101. This is not complicated. Deregulating the industry to make it easier for people to drill and produce is not going to solve this problem, because it will add more supply. At the absolute most, maybe it’ll produce a few short-term field jobs while the super cheap leases are getting developed just enough to hold on to them. Maybe it’ll keep a few struggling companies afloat longer and save a few jobs that currently exist by making production a little more economical until there’s so much of a glut that the bottom falls out again.

But it’s not going to bring my job back. It’s not going to bring any of our jobs permanently back. And what it’ll cost in environmental damage, in the loss of our common treasure as Americans, is far too high a price for very little actual benefit.

But this was never about me, or about people like me, or even people like my lovely ex Mike, who is still clinging to his job in Houston by the skin of his teeth. It was never about us and our lost jobs and severely depressed wages as we fled to other industries and our pensions that we will never see.

It. Was. Never. About. Us.

You know who this bullshit will help? Companies big enough that they can hunker down through these bust cycles and snatch up land for pennies on the dollar. Companies so big they can produce just enough to keep their leases going and eat the fact that it’s not profitable. Well, those companies and their major stockholders, I suppose.

People like, I don’t know, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state. Just throwing that out there.

Every time this bullshit comes up, I get so angry I can’t see straight. Because it is literally me and people like my fellow geologists and former roughnecks who are barely scraping by on jobs that pay us less than half of what we used to make–while many of us are still struggling to pay back our student loans we took out under the promise that we were heading into good, lifelong careers–being used as a shield by rich motherfuckers. It’s me and the other oil industry refugees that I see on construction sites every goddamn day getting used as a shield behind which our public lands will get looted and our public waterways will get polluted and we’ll all be left holding the tab for the cleanup because we’ll have even fewer ways to hold these companies accountable. It’s us who they’re trying to shift the blame to when people see black tides rolling into their back yards get really angry–I mean, it was for us to get jobs, right?

This was never and has never and will never be about the regular assholes like me who worked outside boardrooms and collected paychecks instead of massive stock options. And I’m done with it. I’m fucking done with it.

Please feel free to link anyone who actually believes this disingenuous bullshit to this page. Please print out one hundred copies and then roll them up into a paper nightstick you can use to beat people who don’t get this point over the head.

STOP LYING.

WE ARE NOT YOUR SHIELD.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I’m not that big of an animation person any more, but I’ve been excited to see this movie ever since I heard the Lin-Manuel Miranda was involved in the music. And I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would, though not without reservation.

In Moana, the titular character is the daughter of her village’s chieftain, so will follow in his place as chief. There’s a blight that’s spread to their island, thanks to the mischievous demigod Maui having stolen the heart of the goddess Te Fiti. Moana embarks on a journey to find Maui and make him fix his mistake, and in so doing, takes her people back out onto the open ocean.

In all honesty, the main bits of this movie I wasn’t utterly charmed by involved Maui. The character felt very off, going from egotistical trickster to suddenly having a sort of angsty backstory to… justify him being a jerk, I guess. I make no claims to know how accurate or inaccurate he is to his legends (though I get the impression after some googling that he is upsettingly inaccurate), but he came across as a very standard sort of bully boy character who eventually makes good more because the script says so than because his character development makes that much sense.

There were also things I was puzzled about, like the Kakamora–evil little animated coconuts, as far as I could tell–showing up in a rig that looked like a homage to Mad Max: Fury Road. My only guess is it was a sequence created to justify a line of toys, because it really didn’t to anything in the movie. Though I actually did find them less offensive than the random troll things in Frozen, perhaps because they still somehow made more sense.

But aside from Maui (and that’s a big aside considering he’s the main supporting character to Moana), there is so much about the movie that I loved. I loved that Moana’s story doesn’t pivot on romance, but rather a quest to discover who she is, who her people are, and to save their way of life. I loved that Moana is a gorgeous brown girl that my nieces (who are also gorgeous brown girls) got to watch saving the day. Moana is truly their princess. I loved that Moana’s grandmother is a independent and happily odd old lady, who is her granddaughter’s spiritual guide. Grandma was the MVP of the film and tied with Moana for being my favorite character.

And then there was this:


Not ashamed to admit it: this song made me cry. Not because I was sad, but because I was so awed by the sheer ingenuity and beauty of humanity. This song is about the Polynesians traveling vast distances between islands in their voyaging canoes, which is one of those historic wonders that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough. And reading more about this wonder lead me to find out about the Hōkūle’a Voyaging Canoe, which is a modern recreation of those ancient voyages.

I’m not too big into animated movies any more, but this was a good one and worth watching. If you want to read a bit further about the history of the Polynesian voyages (among other things), this was a good place to start: How does the story of Moana and Maui holds up against cultural truths?

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Assassin’s Creed is utterly, delightfully bonkers as a movie. It’s really damning the movie with faint praise to say it’s probably the best video game film I’ve ever seen, but that’s one statement that it feels very fair to make.

In Assassin’s Creed, Michael Fassbender plays a being of pure manpain named Cal, who after being executed for murder finds that it was all a massive fake-out. He’s now prisoner in a facility run by the Templars, an organization so secretive that they put their logo on everything, including the outside of the giant building they own in Spain. The Templars also really hate the fact that humans have free will. Templar scientist Sofia (Marion Cotillard) uses Cal to search for the free-will McGuffin “the Apple of Eden” by using his “genetic memory” to make him relive the life of his ancestor Aguilar from 500 years ago and sticking him on the end of a giant mechanical arm that shakes him around like a ragdoll.

The concept of the film is quite stupid. I think, honestly, it’s meant to be stupid. You either nope out of the film because your disbelief can’t handle this level of suspension after the first ten minutes, or get over the stupidness threshold of the plot. At which point you are free to enjoy the absolutely batshit ride that involves Michael Fassbender being flung around at the end of a mechanical arem while loudly singing, or very memorably, stripping off his shirt for a protracted sequence for no reason other than he presumably knew I would be watching the movie. (Thank you Mr. Fassbender, by the way.)

And it’s a very pretty batshit ride, by the way. There’s an excellent contrast in the cool pallet of colors used in the “modern” sequences versus the warm in the memories. All of the assassin parkour nonsense is a pleasure to watch. This is a film that’s easy to enjoy on purely aesthetic levels, particularly when those aesthetic levels keep you from screaming every time the nonsensical genetic memory thing gets brought up.

I haven’t played the Assassin’s Creed games myself, though now I’m a bit tempted to try. The friends I saw the movie with reported that they were very pleased that the movie used the mythos but had its own story rather than trying to directly rehash one of the games. They were also happy to report that the modern-time sequences that insisted on punctuating the lengthy sequences of Michael Fassbender and Ariane Labed free running through fake medieval Spain were at least less boring than the ones in the game. So good for that.

Looking back on the movie, I’m pretty sure that it passes the Bechdel-Wallace test handily, thanks to a couple of the villains having a chat about their plans for humanity. I was actually pretty surprised just how many women there were in the movie. The apparent head of the evil organization is an older woman; Sofia is in charge of the project that’s using Cal and the other descendants of assassins. Maria (Labed) is a joy to watch, and I’d like to know when we’re going to get her movie. Michelle H. Lin gets a pretty significant chunk of screen time in the modern-day bits of the movie. The cast also wasn’t entirely Wonderbread white, and I want to call on Michael K. Williams as Moussa as a particular favorite.

It’s not a good movie, but it’s definitely a fun movie, and in its own way felt less soulless than a lot of scifi action movies I’ve watched lately. It is beautifully and unabashedly what it is.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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This story was originally published in Lakeside Circus in 2016. As the Lakeside Circus website seems to be down long-term, I’m going to go ahead and repost is here on my blog so it’s still available to be read.

Note that this is the original as-submitted version of the story. I think there were a few edits made to it before it was published, but I seem to have lost that file.

Silver Fish

Josh wiggled his fingers in the moonlight, pale and graceful, and imagined them as fingerlings in the river, sliding through the currents. Under his bed, something buzzed like an angry bee.

Silvery fish flowed in through the open window, large as dobermans, blue moonlight glittering from flat eyes and scaled, underslung jaws.

Josh pulled his quilt up over his nose, afraid to breathe, heart thumping in his chest. Fish had no ears, right? They had teeth; he saw them, glittering triangles. Their fins waved slowly like the air had become water, too thick for lungs to hold.

The buzz sounded again from under his bed, like a cell phone vibrating over carpet but much lower, an angry growl.

It had to be the box.

The night before he had woken from a dream of running, running down a mountainside like Indiana Jones, a carved wooden box tucked under one arm, stolen from a temple where sylphs danced and men with long beards and longer knives scattered sand in great handfuls.

The box stayed in his arms when he woke, a creaky puzzle of mahogany that read like a story under his fingertips. He smashed it open with a hammer when he couldn’t decipher its knots and whorls, overeager to find within it the content of his dreams. The inside was lined with midnight blue velvet, cradling the silver shard of a mirror that twisted rather than reflected his face, showing his nose eating his cheeks one second and shrunk to a pinpoint the next.

Josh had shoved the mirror back into the gaping hole of the box’s lid, then rolled the mess up in a tattered green army surplus blanket normally reserved for picnics and hidden it under his bed like a shameful secret. He’d hidden other secrets there before, the results of pranks: stolen pencil cases and Lana Douglas’s pigtail, cut off with a pen knife.

From under the bed, the box snarled, insistent and angry.

Startled, the fish whipped in the air, flicking their fins and streaming back out into the night.

snap and crash and slam, doors up an down the block opened. “What the hell are those?” a man shouted. More people screamed in a wordless cacophony, high and discordant and then crunch. One less scream.

He knew that crunch. He’d hit Jeffery’s little sister’s bunny with his go cart, and accident, and it had made that sound. It had made him sick. He never wanted to hear that sound again, but it still echoed in his ears.

The cool night air gnawed his bare legs as he twisted free of his quilt. Josh’s shaking fingers found the rough blanket and he pulled the box from under his bed. Shards of wood scattered across the floor, too complex a puzzle to be solved with the roll of duct tape his father kept next to the hammer.

Josh reached for the warped mirror, and saw the way it twisted his fingers into lithe silver fish in the moonlight. That had to be the answer, then; the mirror turned what it saw into a monster. He grabbed the Louisville slugger next to his bed and drove it into the glass again and again, crack and crash and smash, until the mirror was little more than powder.

The silvery dust smeared across the floor made him a distorted, fuzzy shadow. The back of his throat tasted metallic with fear, like he’d licked up some of that shattered mirror. Dreams can’t be destroyed; they can only be contained. The words of his third grade teacher echoed up from his memory. When she’d said that, it had been a hopeful message. No one can hurt your dreams, they can only try to cage them up. You want to be a baseball player, a race car driver, a brain surgeon? No one can stop you. Smash the locks, open the cages, ignore the doubts, let your dreams be free.

But nightmares, Josh felt with the clarity of a bone needle dragging down his spine, like the teeth of the silver fish, were dreams as well. Nightmares were just a different direction for reality to twist, down into the dark.

At his window something growled, the low rumble of distant thunder, of some ancient beast freed from the shards of a broken prison. Josh’s hands tightened on his slugger as he turned. It was his dream, his nightmare, and he should be able to beat it, right? Dreams – nightmares – couldn’t be bigger, stronger, than the people who dreamed them, right?

Only he’s learned in school about I have a dream, and about I am become Death.

Hot, dank breath rolled through the room as Josh howled into the face of a reflection shattered past all recognition.

crunch

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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The excellent John D asked on a previous writing nuts and bolts post:

On a related note, how soon is too soon to submit another story to a magazine after a rejection. One of them just rejected a story of mine (but included a nice note, which I do appreciate) and I have another story that I think might fit their guidelines. I don’t want to seem overly pushy or idiotic, so how long should I wait before submitting the new story to them?

And I figure that’s an important enough question that it deserves its own post. For more of the nitty-gritty stuff, see the writing advice category/tag.

The first thing here is everyone’s old favorite, read the submission guidelines. Quite a few markets specify in the guidelines if there’s a cooling-off period before you can submit again. For example, F&SF has a 15-day waiting period, which is only in effect if they answer your submission in less than 15 days. Lightspeed wants you to wait 7 days. So does Clarkesworld. And I’m sure there are more, those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head. But you don’t have to remember which ones off the top of your head, because the submission guidelines will tell you.

If there isn’t a specified waiting period between submissions, then that’s it. You can submit something again the second after you receive your rejection for the previous story. And I’d encourage you to do so, if you have something you think fits the market.

I know it does feel a bit pushy to be like, “Hey I know you just rejected my last story, but how do you like me now?” But this isn’t personal. You’re trying to sell a story to an editor, not date them. Especially if an editor takes the time to tell you that they liked what you sent and want to see more, send them more. Don’t wait.

Personal anecdote time: when I was querying my agent, the inimitable DongWon Song, he sent me an extremely nice “no thanks” on the first novel I sent him. I took about thirty seconds to run in circles and think oh god I’m going to sound like a pushy, desperate jerk and then I screwed my courage to the sticking point and asked him: “okay, but would you maybe be interested in this other novel I have stashed in my back pocket?” And I’m glad every day that past me had the guts to do that, because now that’s the thrilling conclusion to my “how I got an agent” story.

Editors, while I think they try as a matter of course to not destroy anyone’s soul, are not there to blow sunshine up your ass. If they say they want to see more, they’re not just saying that to make you feel better. Every personal note I sent with a rejection to tell someone that I wanted to see more from them if I did another anthology was from the heart.

And honestly? Even if you didn’t get a personal note or a “please send more” rejection, send more if what you have is polished and appropriate. The story that got rejected didn’t work out, but the next one might. You don’t know until you send it, and each story is a new chance. There’s no need to wait, and it’s definitely not being pushy.

 

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Another transatlantic flight, another round of movies watched because I can’t sleep and find it utterly impossible to work on my laptop in the extremely limited space available in economy.

The Girl With All the Gifts: This movie shows the British still reign supreme in zombie cinema. And this one with a twist, where the main character isn’t a survivor, but a second generation infected girl who may be the key to the development of a vaccine for the infection—if the involved survivors can be reconciled to treating her as an object rather than a person. Weird, gorgeous, creepy, and utterly heartbreaking. Do yourself a favor and see this movie. It’s already out in the UK, and should be released in the US in February. If there’s any justice in the world, this film will get nominated for a Hugo, but I fear the confusion over release dates (2016 in the UK, 2017 in the US) and the fact that it’s not a major franchise will probably scuttle its chances.

The Secret Life of Pets: I mostly liked this for how all of the cats acted, not going to lie–particularly Max’s friend with that immortal and fundamentally cat like, “As your friend you should know I don’t care about you or your problems.” The plot, such as it was, didn’t make a hell of a lot of sense and just had the characters careening around between random bits. Glad I didn’t bother seeing it in the theater, but I’d still take this one over Frozen any day of the week. Plus, thank you for a dog movie that doesn’t involve a protracted fart joke scene.

Far From the Madding Crowd (2015): I wanted to like this, because I’m honestly a bit trash for romance stories of this sort. The problem was, I didn’t really get an impression of chemistry between any of the characters. (And I really, really didn’t get why everyone was so about Bathsheba, other than Frank wanting her money.) So it was a decent enough movie, but I just felt disappointed because I wanted more.

Edge of Winter: A thriller that could be subtitled “the dangers of toxic masculinity.” A divorced, emotionally volatile dad takes his kids out to teach them how to be men (eg: shooting a gun, making fun of each other for crying) and then escalates to outright kidnapping when he finds out that their mom and stepdad are planning to move. There’s some good acting, it’s got a deliberate and creepy buildup, and the realism of the situation really adds to it. But goddamn the score was aggravating. For example, we hear the dad tell his son, “listen to that, you can hear every little sound” in the woods as the soundtrack goes BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. Stop trying to help.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Writing This Year

Novels: 0 completed, though I did several full edits on both Hunger Makes the Wolf and The Novel Formerly Known as King’s Hand. Oh, and I sold Hunger Makes the Wolf to Angry Robot (holy shit!!!!) which is why it’s got that as a title now rather than Fire in the Belly. Wrote 12K words on a novel project for someone else that has unfortunately been put on hold now. Also wrote a 10.8K-word outline for the sequel to Hunger Makes the Wolf because no I don’t have a problem you have a problem. I’m about 20K words into that novel now.

Novellas: 1

Novellettes:  1

Short Stories: 3

Flash: 1

Feature Length Scripts: 2

Paid Reviews/Nonfiction: 5 (plus 10 Book Riot posts)

Treatments: 4

Editing: I edited a short story anthology, No Shit There I Was and we’re in the final stages of getting it ready to go. I also briefly did some very low-paying freelance editing (of romance stories, of all things) while I was unemployed, during which I learned quite a bit.

Consigned to the trunk of awfulness, never to return: None this year, surprisingly. Maybe I’ve winnowed it down enough.

Best/Favorite story of the year: I think I’m obligated to say it’s Hunger Makes the Wolf, which will be my first published novel as of next year. And I’m very pleased with it! Sons of Anarchy meets Dune and all, thank you Mike Underwood for coming up with that awesome description. Second place goes to the short story I wrote recently that involves a Latina retiree in a punk band. I hope I’ll get to share that one with you at some point.

Magic Spreadsheet wordcount: I have been tracking on the spreadsheet since June 24, 2013.

  • Total words written: 465,741
  • Average words per day: 1,276 (better than last year’s 1,110/day)
  • Days in a row written: 1, 286 (3 years without stopping, still going strong)

Publishing

Queries sent: 36
Rejections received: 27
Pending: 4
Most rejections received: This year, it’s Excerpts from the Personal Journal of Dr. V. Frankenstein, MD, Department of Pathology, Our Lady of Mercy Hospital, with seven rejections, but I love that story and am going to keep trying.
Total earned: $7,791.47 which is the most I’ve earned from writing in any year, by a lot. I even turned a profit, technically, which is very exciting. I did my best to hustle freelance work while I was unemployed in the hopes that I could make a go at supporting myself, but basically many people seem to think that writers/editors don’t deserve to make even minimum wage for the amount of time they spend on things. (For example, paying $20 for a novellette that it took me five hours to edit well because it was such a hot mess.)

Published this year:

  1. Spirit Tasting List for Ridley House, April 2016 from Shimmer
  2. The Long Game from Kaleidotrope
  3. .subroutine:all///end in Shimmer #31
  4. Silver Fish from Lakeside Circus
  5. Fire in the Belly from Mothership Zeta 
  6. Game Review: Have You Met My New Birdie? He’s a Lawyer
  7. There Is No “I” in Lazer Team
  8. I Wish I’d Read Xenogenesis Twenty Years Ago
  9. A New Hope
  10. Lavie Tidhar’s novel Central Station is a mosaic of posthuman problems (Ars Technica)
  11. I Want the Longest Audiobook You have (Book Riot)
  12. Seven First Contact Novels (Book Riot)
  13. Buy, Borrow, Bypass: “Great Literature” I Hated in High School (Book Riot)
  14. Talking to Writers at Parties (Book Riot)
  15. What’s Being Done to Fix the Hugos (Book Riot)
  16. No Judgment Zone: Tie-in Edition (Book Riot)
  17. Unicorns and Swords: Nostalgia Reading (Book Riot)
  18. Books to Read at the Poké Stop (Book Riot)
  19. An Open Letter to a Novel I Was Certain I’d Love (and Didn’t) (Book Riot)
  20. Why Field Geologist Should Always Carry a Paperback (Book Riot)

Slated for 2017:

  1. Hunger Makes the Wolf from Angry Robot Books (available for pre-order!)
  2. Comfort Food in Haunted Futures
  3. Past the Black Where Call the Horns in Kzine
  4. Vaca Muerta and the Hounds of Heck in GigaNotoSaurus
  5. [REDACTED]

Goals for 2017

  1. Shut up and write.
  2. Get Angry Robot the next book, well-written and on time.
  3. Get Wrath written.
  4. Write at least one more feature-length screenplay, if not two.
  5. Keep submitting to festivals.
  6. Six short stories, including the birthday short. After five years, I think I’m going to keep on with that as a tradition, mostly because it feels nice to write a story with the aim of giving the money to charity. I have no idea what I’m going to do for this year, but we’ll see.
  7. Another anthology? Get it in development at least.
  8. Finally convince Bungie to let me write that Twilight Gap novel in the style of Killer Angels. I’ve got to have an impossible dream on this list every year, right?

Other Stuff

  1. This was the year I finally got an agent, the inimitable DongWon Song. Holy shit.
  2. This was the year I sold a novel. Holy shit.
  3. I submitted one of my screenplays to a film festival and was a finalist. That was… unexpected, and confidence-boosting.
  4. Officially received my Feature Film Screenwriting Certificate from UCLA. For what that’s worth.
  5. Lost my job. Moved back to Colorado. Got a new job in a completely different industry. That was… a major change.
  6. I spent more days than I care to remember ripping cat pee soaked carpet out of my house and even more days in the bowels of home improvement hell as the flooring was replaced. Not the most fun I’ve had in my life.
  7. This is the year I came out. I’m still finding places where I need to change my name and I suspect I will be for a while.
  8. Still a Sunbreaker for life, yo.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Recently, my buddy Paul mentioned the science fiction short story I love to hate, The Cold Equations.


To be honest, if you want a description of why I find the story morally reprehensible, just go read what Cory Doctorow wrote about it over two years ago and imagine me pointing to every word and screaming, “YES, THIS.” But one thing I do want to talk about is that I think it’s also, frankly, shitty writing craft.

Let me take a moment to raise the drawbridge, I can sense the mob lighting its torches. There we go.

I don’t know if I’ve ever made my disdain of Chosen One/Prophecy/Do X Or The World Blows Up stories clear on this blog, but there it is. I really don’t like stories that are predicated upon removing one of the major choices of its protagonist. Particularly the last – no one short of a sociopath would realistically, upon being told that the world will literally end if they don’t carry the Magic Arglebargle to the Forbidden Closet of Trumblebutt, would say nah, I think I’m good. The understandable period of denial on that one is really just playing coy with the inevitable.

Stories like The Cold Equations are that kind of agency removal on steroids, except at the end you feel like no matter how many showers you take, you will never be clean again. The entire point of the story is the removing all character agency so they are left with one shitty, reprehensible choice. They make the choice, story ends, everyone feels so bad for the poor character and the way they were railroaded by fate in the form of very particular authorial (or in the case of TCE, editorial) choices. Stories that spend a significant amount of words building baroque and frankly unbelievable systems just to force a perfectly good character into a corner aren’t so much stories as torture devices.

They’re also damn boring in my opinion, but that’s because I’m a big fan of character-driven stories. I don’t really want to see someone get moved to and fro by the winds of fate while they feel bad about the situation and do absolutely nothing.

That these stories are often hailed as being somehow realistic is even more problematic. In real life, the number of times someone is backed into a corner where they literally have only one possible choice are vanishingly small. Often times, all of the choices are varying shades of bad, but they are still there. You may feel like you have no choice, but that is not the same as objectively having no choices like occurs in The Cold Equations.

This is not to be confused with a character making a reprehensible choice and then justifying it to themselves with the mantra of “I had no other choice.” That is an intensely realistic reaction. People build their own internal narratives so that they are the hero, or they go mad.

Rather, stories like The Cold Equations are an intrusion of the author into the moral universe of the audience, an attempt to force the character’s internal narrative of “I had no other choice” onto us. They quite literally had no choice, don’t you see? You must remain on their side, dear reader. It’s a cheap way to allow a character to do something utterly terrible and still keep the audience on board. To sympathize with them. Because really, if we were put in the same ridiculous, artificial situation, we’d have to do the same, right?

Recently at a writing workshop, a friend of mine was taking critique on a chapter of his novel. (This story is being told with his permission, by the way.) He had a situation where his main character needed to pretend to have done something terrible to an innocent woman. All right. But then he asked if we, as readers, would still like the character if he roughed the woman up a little to give his charade verisimilitude. Okay, but what if he really, really felt bad about it? What if he had no other choice?

That was the point where I interjected with this question: “Why are you trying to make it okay for your character to beat up a woman?”

Later when we talked a bit more about it, he mentioned that he wanted to be unflinching in his writing. Which strikes me as something a lot of people strive toward. I have opinions about “gritty” fiction that don’t need to be expounded upon here. But my question is why, if you want to be unflinching about the badness of the situation your character is in, do you then flinch away from the negative reaction your audience may have to their choice?

When I was a baby writer, I found writing plots that forced the characters into corners so they had to make the choices I wanted, often in the pursuit of being “gritty” and “edgy.” I have since course corrected, and all of those stories have been mercifully exiled into the Trunk of Awfulness, never to see the light of day. But as I look over those early efforts, I can’t help but feel more than a little creeped out. Because in real life, I can tell you who most often uses the “I had no choice,” narrative to justify the unjustifiable.

I didn’t want to, but you made me hit you. Why would I want to build worlds in which there is no choice but the most immoral? Why would I want to convince readers that it’s a something to sympathize with? It’s something that just couldn’t be helped, because that’s the way the world is?

These are not absolutes, of course. Nothing in art is. Nothing in life is. But the next time you find yourself engineering a situation where your character has no choice, ask yourself why. Ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish. And be unflinching in your answer.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I started watching this movie because it was late, I had two hours of tutoring to go, access to Netflix, and it looked like I wouldn’t have to think about it too hard. Basically, I was right. If something that’s basically an hour and a half long episode of Law & Order: SVU but with a slight (if predictable) twist sounds appealing, it’s not a bad way to go. If you’ve had enough of police procedurals that involve serial murder and/or rape, then skip it. Simple enough. (Also, there will be more mentions of rape and some discussion later in this review, so also feel free to skip.)

The plot is pretty basic. Detective Nick Hopewell (Aaron Ashmore) is a new transfer to Homicide and on everyone’s shit list because he helped Internal Affairs takes down some crooked cops in his last department. He meets crime scene cleaner Morgan Sher (Devin Kelly) when she shows up early to the scene of a murder. Morgan shows an uncanny understanding of the crime scene and finds a useful clue that Nick’s dickish partner wants to ignore. As more murders occur, Nick teams up with Morgan to try to find the killer, and they dive deeper into the increasingly creepy relationship between the victims, who were once accused of being involved in some kind of rape cult.

I’m not going to spoil the little twist, but I’m sure you can figure it out for yourself based on the above summary. It’s decently acted and shot; nothing really jumped out at me for good or ill. And I will say that it contained one very SVU-esque exchange that I was glad for:

Nick: I don’t think Adam really likes women.

Morgan: Well, I don’t think anyone who rapes women likes them.

Nick: Good point.

Nice reminder to the audience that rape isn’t about desire. Swept Under has that same problematic internal conflict that I see in SVU, where there’s an uncomfortable tug of war between media once again telling stories on the bodies of women—with bonus harmful stereotype perpetuation—while still having startling, marked moments of clearly stating that rape is not the fault of the victim and the importance of consent. (I recently read a piece that argued the worst part of SVU is that it lives in a universe where rape culture doesn’t exist and the police actually take rape seriously while pretending to be reality-based.) SVU has had its better and much worse moments at this (eg the false rape accusation episodes) and it’s weirdly one of my comfort watch shows even though I know it’s deeply problematic. Swept Under probably falls on the middling to better end of that SVU spectrum, for what it’s worth.

Though notably, this movie fails to pass the Bechdel-Wallace test, which many SVU episodes do by grace of having more than one female cast member. Morgan was awash in a sea of white dudes. (The one tech-savvy African-American police officer was a welcome island of color in a limitless field of Miracle Whip for the twenty seconds he was on screen.)

Really, the problem that I had with Swept Under was that it goes from Nick wanting to work with Morgan because of her insight to him also wanting to date her. I really could have done without that subplot, and it was entirely unnecessary in my opinion—even to the end of the movie. If nothing else, it perpetuates the bullshit idea that men and women can’t manage to work together without it being some kind of sexual thing, and that relationships built on mutual trust and caring aren’t strong enough unless they’re romantic. It also really bothered me how Nick pivoted from respecting Morgan’s insight to being insistent about dating her—it started feeling like that was his real reason for wanting to work with her.

Ugh.

Other than that, Morgan and Nick were likeable enough characters, and I don’t regret crocheting a significant portion of a scarf while watching it. Plus it has a title that’s reaching me levels of badness, so I’ve got to love that. Solid Meh+.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

katsu: (Default)

My nemesis “wants me back.”

You’ll recall that last year, I tangled with Fifty Shades of Grey for the bargain price of $843 and somehow managed to crawl my way out with only a mild hangover.

I’ve been training. I’ve been drinking a lot of beer. But I see that the sequel has stepped up its game as well, and gone the full this could totally be an episode of Law & Order: SVU. And I have no doubt it heard what I was saying last year, about it still not being as bad as Transformers 4. It’s out for revenge.

So here’s the deal. If you want to see the grudge match between my liver and Jamie Dornan’s bulging right eye, you better pony up the money for charity.

The goal is $1000. I think that’s a not unreasonable price to put on my sanity. $1000 by February 14, 2017, and I will see this steaming yech of weirdly shot abuse apologia and attempt to kill myself with alcohol poisoning before the credits roll. And I will take notes for you. And I will write a review. And just to sweeten the pot, I will video myself attempting to explain the plot while still drunk, and post it on Youtube.

Because this is such a special, special kind of movie, the rules are a little different for your charity donations. It’s still honor system – donate money, then contact me via whatever method you prefer and tell me how much. (Also, if you want to remain anonymous, do let me know.) But like last time, I want all donations to go to domestic violence charities. And as you donate, I’ll compile the list of your favored charities so more people will see who’s doing good work out there. I’ve also copied the charities from last year over, so you have a starting point if you don’t know any local groups.

We’re a little more than two months out. My fate is in your hands.

CURRENTLY: $0/$1000

Fuck you I ain’t goin’.

Charities:

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

katsu: (Default)

For 2016, I have had five short stories (<7500 words) published:

And all of them are freely available online!

In the realm of potentially other useful things:

Though if you have a favorite blog thing I’ve written this year (and I admit, they’ve gotten pathetically sparse since June) let me know!

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Tetsugawa Katsuhiro

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