Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Racism, Cultural Appropriation, and Completely Missing the Point

A white writer who's apparently been watching the fall-out from the Cultural Appropriation Discussion of Doom* which has been sweeping across the internets and somehow managed to miss the most important parts, posts here.

I love how he states up front that there are Two Sides To The Issue (look, Ma! I'm being fair!) but then only snarks at one side. Smooth.

Aside from that, though, what I see as a white writer who in all honestly has been there up until a very few years ago, is that this guy and others like him are seeing this:

1) White Writer Writes Story About Characters Of Color (COC)

2) People of Color (POC) Tear Out White Writer's Eyeballs

He's seeing only the most obvious, shallowest layer of the interaction. Or looked at another way, he's seeing only the loudest, brightest bits of the interaction. Either way, he's missing the (slightly) quieter bits that happened in between those two events. Actually, it looked like this:

1) White Writer Writes Story About COC

2) POC Calmly Offer Concrit, Pointing Out Some Racist Issues

3) White Writer Acknowledges Error, Thanks POC and Apologizes

4) White Writer's Friends Interpret The POC's Statement As Telling Their Friend "You Are A Filthy Racist!!!" And Respond In Writer's Defense With Snarky Chainsaws And Racist Flamethrowers

5) POC Stomp Friends For Their Racist Attack [EDITED because "flame" has connotations which don't fit here.]

6) White Writer Gets Defensive, Attacks On Behalf Of Friends

7) POC Tear Out White Writer's Eyeballs

What's really frustrating about this is that if the sequence had stopped after 3) then everyone and everything would've been cool. Barring that, if folks like Mr. Levine had actually seen what really happened, and noticed steps 2-6 in between 1 and 7, he'd have known exactly how to prevent 4-7 from happening to him, wouldn't have gone into a fit of frozen terror, and could've had a quiet discussion with his friends -- maybe made a post to his journal -- talking about how he does his best when writing COC but realizes that he might make some inadvertent mistakes, and how he'd welcome and appreciate concrit from anyone who sees a problem in his portrayals and treatments, letting said friends know that he would not want them to come dogpiling onto anyone who might ever point out to him that his Black female is behaving stereotypically in Paragraph 12 or whatever. There you go, that's all it takes.

He doesn't see that, though. All he sees is a bunch of POC and their allies swooping down with their flamethrowers for no good reason he can tell. That makes it an uncontrollable situation from his POV. Since he can't think of anything he could do to prevent it happening to him, or to keep a racial concrit discussion in his journal from turning into a mushroom cloud, he feels helpless and afraid.

Anyone who's actually studied the issue of racism knows that there are plenty of journals and web sites all over the place explaining what's what and how to deal with this stuff. Mr. Levine doesn't know that, though, and because he already believes he knows everything there is to know about racism -- what's to know, after all, besides not hating people for their skin color? [sigh] -- he's never thought to go looking. He doesn't know what he doesn't know, so he sees only the most shallow and blatant characteristics of a conversation or interaction about racism.

I realize that the fact that it's ignorance rather than malice at work here doesn't make any practical difference from the POV of a POC. If someone punches you in the nose, it really doesn't matter whether they meant to do it or were just flailing around blindly -- it hurts the same either way. And when you get "accidentally" punched in the nose on a daily basis, it gets harder and harder to give a damn that 90% of the punches weren't deliberate.

From my POV, though, as a white person who used to be like Mr. Levine but has since learned better -- I stood up and took a good verbal/textual smacking-around back in '06, and it blasted me out of my rut, or at least up onto the rim of the crater, where I can see the territory I have still to explore -- I see what's going on with him and have some hope that he, too, might some day learn better. He has to want to, and he has to realize he needs to, and then he has to go out and put in the time and effort to educate himself. It's possible, though. He's annoying right now, yes, but there's a potential cool, aware person in there. I'll keep a set of virtual fingers crossed for him.

[*If you've missed the CADoD, start here, read the linked posts, then keep clicking the green right-arrow at the top of each link-list post to go on to the next list of links and repeating, until you get it or your brain fries. Note that in some, particularly the first one, most of the "good stuff" is in the comments. Or if you only want to read two posts, read this for an example of concrit regarding race, this for an example of how to respond to concrit regarding race, and the comments to the second link for how not to respond if a writer friend of yours gets racial concrit.]


Internet Posts

How Not to Be Insane When Accused of Racism -- if you only read one, read this one.

Ally Work -- Suggested Reading -- an excellent list of links.

The Angry Black Woman's Required Reading List -- another very good list of links, particularly the first one, "Anger Does Not Equal Hate."

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack -- if you're white and are sure you don't get any benefit from it, read this. Or even if you know what white privilege is, read this anyway because it's excellent.

White Privilege in SF/Fantasy -- a more specific analysis, great to read right after the one directly above this.

Excuses, Excuses -- great post, but I particularly love the roller-skating race analogy.

[Added] Ursula K. Le Guin on the TV Earthsea -- the writer responds to television's whitewashing of her characters.


Writing the Other -- Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, Aquaduct Press

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race -- Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D., Basic Books


Friday, January 16, 2009

Freedom of Speech? What Freedom of Speech?

This is just whacked, to say nothing of unconstitutional. But hey, it's been a while since our constitutional freedoms had much to do with lawmaking in this country.

South Carolina is trying to pass a bill which would make it unlawful to swear in public. No, seriously, check it out.


Well, that's rather inclusive, isn't it? And notice how they're waving the "Think Of The Children!!" flag; that has to be good for a few votes at least. Also, throwing in the "minors" mention doubtless brings up mental images of playgrounds, zoos, and movie theaters showing the latest Little Foot movie, but note that it says "IN A PUBLIC FORUM OR PLACE OF PUBLIC ACCOMMODATION." That means anywhere in public, including places where children are unlikely to be or are actually banned. Bummer for the comedy clubs of South Carolina.

And before you imagine that it's just about not swearing on the street, or in restaurants or amusement parks or whatever, note this:

wilfully and knowingly to publish orally or in writing, exhibit, or otherwise make available [Bolding mine.]

So, if this passes, how long do you think it'd be before they started smacking on web sites and blogs, since anything you or I or anyone else posts with a naughty word in it is obviously made available through any computer in South Carolina with an internet connection, including internet cafes and public libraries. Where children go! [cue gasps of horror]

There's precedent for people operating online to be sued in an out-of-state court for something they said or did, even if they live in a jurisdiction where their activities are legal -- see the third paragraph in the link above -- so it's not as though no one's ever tried to pull this before.

But then, "community standards" is such a wishy-washy concept, isn't it? It can be tough to pin down. If this law goes through, South Carolina won't have to bother with community standards, though -- they'll have an actual law letting them sue anyone they want, whether it's a porn site or a raunchy humor site or just a blog where someone got really worked up and typed out a profane word.

This isn't a misdemeanor, either; they want to make it a felony.

A person who violates the provisions of this section is guilty of a felony and, upon conviction, must be fined not more than five thousand dollars or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

Oh, and for those of you following along in the handbook, this is what the First Amendment says on the subject:

Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech

That specifically refers to the government. If Blogger decides to enact a PG-13 only rule, they can do that because this is a privately owned service and they can make their own rules, and as customers or users our choice is to use the service and obey the rules or decide we don't like the rules and go elsewhere; the first amendment doesn't forbid that. Most issues which get a "First Amendment" label slapped onto them in arguments are no such thing. It might be stupid for Blogger to make such a rule, and it'd be publicity poison, but they're legally allowed to do it. The government is very specifically not allowed to abridge our freedom of speech. I guess no one told the South Carolina legislature.

I'm hoping very hard that this garbage doesn't pass. If any of you are from South Carolina, you might want to contact your state congress people about it.



Monday, January 12, 2009

For Only $2000 More....

I'm catching up with my web comics after falling behind over the holidays and had to share this one.

You know, if you're going to spend the money anyway (as anyone who doesn't want their book published in 4-point microfont probably will [cough]) you might as well self-publish. There are books on how to go about it, and lots of free advice online (to be well-sifted and scrutinized and cross-checked, but the info is there) and if you self-publish, at least 1) you'll be able to control everything yourself, and 2) no middleman will be taking a cut of your money as profit.

Remember Yog's Law: money flows toward the writer.

The only time money should be flowing away from you is if you're the publisher as well.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Money Down the Drain

As I'm sure a lot of you have heard, Overdrive, which provided secure DRMed e-books to Fictionwise, is shutting down on 30 January. Via a BoingBoing post, Fictionwise says:

We have control of our MultiFormat files and we have control of the Secure eReader format, so that gives us the ability to ensure we will continue to be able to deliver those formats to you. However, as noted above, other formats are delivered through third party aggregators. We do not have legal control of those third party servers. If those third party servers "go dark" for one reason or another, we have no way to continue delivering those files.

Wow, sorry about all your purchases. Not our fault.

This is why I don't buy DRMed e-books, or anything that has to "phone home" in order to be used. Whether it's every time you activate the product, or weekly or monthly or yearly, or even just when you install it on a new system, that kind of DRM scheme makes the product a rental, not a purchase.

Online activation means you're at the mercy of the company which really owns "your" product, whether it's an e-book, a computer game, a piece of digital music, or whatever. If they go out of business, if they're acquired by another company that doesn't want to maintain a hundred percent of their old (especially their really old) products, then that's it, your product is dead. Even if it only activates when you install, if you ever get a new computer or reader or whatever, that takes a new install, which might well require a new activation. Better hope that server is still up and being maintained.

And even the other formats aren't safe. Look again at what Fictionwise said above -- "We have control of our MultiFormat files and we have control of the Secure eReader format." They do, not you. It's great that they're maintaining them right now, but in the next five or ten or twenty years, there's just as much of a chance of Fictionwise itself closing down as there was of Overdrive vanishing. How many of you have books that are five or ten or twenty or more years old?

Oh, but Fictionwise is the industry leader in third-party e-book sales. They're solid, they're secure, there's no reason to worry about them.


I know I keep making this comparison, but the computer game industry has been down this path already, and is still hung up on these exact same roadblocks. Back in the day, there were plenty of computer game companies which were solid, popular, solvent, and at the top of the industry. Even non-gamers might recognize Broderbund and Microprose, just as a couple of examples. They're gone now. There's no such thing as an absolutely secure company, and anyone who likes keeping books essentially forever should think twice (and then a couple more times) before spending money on any e-books which require some company to spend money maintaining a server for online activation.

Shamus Young, whom I've quoted here before, goes through all the arguments about online activation in reference to computer games. Most of it applies to e-books, or music, or any product which has to touch base with an online server before you can use it.

According to Dear Author, Fictionwise is working with publishers to provide replacements for the books which are going to be expiring at the end of the month. And that's great, seriously. But it's not a final solution. Unless all those replacement books are completely free of online activation or validation, then they're just swapping out your bombs with short fuses for the same kind of bombs with longer fuses. They will blow eventually.

DRM is pointless on e-books. Pirates were spreading around bogus copies of books back when they were all paper and the pirates had to scan the pages to get a file to upload. Does anyone honestly think that, with pirates being willing to go to all that trouble to create a copyable, shareable version of a book, there's any kind of DRM which will stop them from copying e-books? The fact is that there's not. DRM penalizes the honest customers who've handed the publisher money, while doing nothing at all to stop or even inconvenience the actual pirates. It's ridiculous -- it's expensive for the publishers in both resources spent and customer ill-will, while bringing them nothing in return.

As an electronically published writer, I'd just as soon people not make a bazillion free copies of my own e-books. But more than that I want to not mess over and tick off the people who are handing me money. And as a reader, I'm certainly not going to spend money on a product the vendor can take away from me any time, whether because it goes out of business or because it just doesn't feel that maintaining Server 7B is cost-effective anymore.

[EDIT: Note the second comment by Steve Pendergrast, one of the owners of Fictionwise. I didn't know before (because I don't buy DRMed e-books of any kind) but am very happy to hear that Fictionwise's Secure eReader DRM never has to contact a validation server after the initial download. You can make copies and back up your file wherever you like. That sounds like a good way to go, if you can't get a completely unsecured version of a book you want. Credit to Fictionwise for coming up with one of the more transparent and non-obnoxious DRM systems.]


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Inspirational Plagiarism

Even the Christian side of publishing isn't immune, either to plagiarism or to rabid fan-apologists.

Links from Dear Author:

Discovery -- Famous Christian author Neale Donald Walsch published an essay which was incredibly close to another essay published ten years earlier by much more obscure author Candy Chand. He says he mistakenly thought it was something that'd happened to him. Uh huh.

Admission -- But okay, when they caught it he admitted the mistake. Good for him. Ms. Chand is still ticked off, and doesn't buy his explanation, but assuming it was actually just a mistake (rather than an actual conscious theft) at least he's owning it.

Fan Response -- Many of his fans, on the other hand, are righteously [cough] insisting that he did nothing wrong, that it's not a big deal, and that in point of fact the other author should be flattered.

Another reader chimed in: "[Y]ou, with 22 books out and counting and numerous articles published, stood to gain nothing in printing her story here as your own. Now that you have graciously given credit where credit is due, I can imagine a possibility that Ms. Chand might even be flattered by an author of your stature finding in her work such quality that it moved him to breed further life into it."

I love how he "graciously" gave her the credit she was due. Like he was being such a nice guy by doing her that favor. [eyeroll]

All I can say is that I'm glad this case didn't come out of the Romance end of the industry.


Help Travis Out

If you know Travis Erwin at One Word, One Rung, One Day, then you probably heard that his house burned down on Sunday. :( Erica Orloff and Stephen Parrish have set up Habitat for Travis for people to donate money (through PayPal) to help Travis and his family rebuild their house. Please help out, even if you only have a dollar or two. Thanks!


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Writing Challenge

[Significantly edited after clearing up a fairly major-ish misunderstanding. [cough]]

I just signed up for Aerin's 2009 Writing Challenge. :) It's easy enough -- you write 1000 words per month and post them on your blog. It's been a while since I haven't written 12K words per year (although the distribution was skewed pretty radically in '08) but hopefully this'll help me get through any dry spells. It'll also be a bit of a challenge to write 1000 words a month that I can actually post here. [cough]

Okay, not really, but I had to sort of laugh when I got to the "must post on your blog" part of it. [duck]

Aerin's giving away prizes and all, so go check it out, sign up, join us, show us what you're writing. :D


Monday, January 5, 2009

Love, Wide Open

Call for submissions to a charity anthology featuring a variety of written and graphic media, to benefit PFLAG. From the anthology's LiveJournal Community:


Home is the one place you know you’re always welcome –- except when it’s not. Every year teenagers are turned out of their homes with no resources and nowhere to go. Survival rates for teen throwaways are dismal, as most are physically and sexually abused, and the life expectancy rate averages thirty-five years. It can be even worse for the estimated 40-60% of throwaways who have been turned out because of their sexual orientation. Even if there is a shelter that will take them in off the street, many teen homeless shelters are run by organizations that take an unfriendly view of homosexuality and this attitude shows in their treatment of GLBT teens. This isn’t even counting the number of adults who are cut off emotionally when they come out to their families. Many of them are excluded from holidays, weddings, births, and other family events.

We know it can be difficult when a family member, especially a son or a daughter, comes out. A lot of what society has to say about the GLBT community is unflattering and sometimes downright hostile. It’s also usually untrue, and thousands of people are suffering because of the misinformation that feeds anti-gay attitudes.

You now have the chance to contribute to an artistic collaboration that hopes to help people, especially parents, realize that being gay isn’t the end of the world for their loved one. In fact, with their help, it can be just another healthy part of what makes that person unique and beautiful. Love, Wide Open is a not-for-profit artistic anthology that seeks to help the parents of GLBT teens cope with their child coming out to them. All proceeds will be directed to PFLAG ( to help them continue the work they are already doing in this field.

Author and poet M. Jules Aedin is the creative co-chair for the project, and journalist Mark Viola is the organizational co-chair.

Beginning January 1, 2009, we will be accepting poetry, short fiction, non-fiction, essays, art, and photography. Submissions will be open until June 30, 2009, when the editing and proofing staff will begin the final decisions on what pieces will be accepted for publication. There will be no royalties or fees paid to contributors as this is an entirely non-profit collaboration. All word-based submissions should be 8,000 words or less, and visual artists should be aware that their work will be scaled to fit the page. Copyright for all works will remain with the creator.

All submissions should focus on helping people, especially parents, accept the orientation and sexual identity of their gay, lesbian, bisexual, gender variant or questioning children. Extreme negativity is discouraged. Degradation of any group of people, whether defined by religion, sexuality, age, ethnicity, etc., will not be tolerated. Disagreement with the beliefs and creeds of any religion or ideology must be addressed respectfully.

For more information, visit our blog at or e-mail us at


This sounds like a pretty awesome cause and I'm definitely going to write something to submit for it. I encourage any other writers and artists out there to do so as well. Check out the lovewideopen community on LJ for more info.


Saturday, January 3, 2009

Release -- In the Driver's Seat

I just had a new short story released, In the Driver's Seat. :)


Brian is used to being in control in the bedroom, but somehow he's found himself without anyone to play with. Then he runs into recently-returned -- and surprisingly grown-up -- Val, who he knew years before as a cute high-school kid. Val's not a high-school kid anymore, though, and there's an air about him that says he's been around and has had a few lessons in the bedroom.

Brian's eager to provide some advanced schooling, but his assumptions end up getting him into trouble. To his own surprise, he finds it's a kind of trouble he's not all that eager to escape.


Brian Stokes gave a rueful wave to his sometime fuck-buddy, Tom, who was being dragged out the door of the Banner Street Gym -- and without even a chance to shower -- by his new boyfriend, Alan or Alex or Aaron or something like that. Brian blew a kiss to Tom's slightly hunched and retreating back, flipped the bird at the evil glare whatever-his-name was aiming at Brian over his shoulder, then stepped over to the desk with a pitiful sigh and started sorting through the box of member cards, looking for his own workout record.

Kelsie, the desk clerk, gave him a look of exaggerated pity, all puppy eyes and trembling lower lip, then dropped the act and giggled at him. "What's the matter, Bri? Left dating your hand again?"

"I'll have you know I never date my hand," Brian replied with a sniff and an arched eyebrow. "I just fuck it occasionally and then roll over and go to sleep."

"So you treat it just like everyone else, then," said Kelsie.

Brian opened his eyes wide and pressed one hand to his chest in exaggerated pain. "Kelsie! What'd I ever do to you?"

"Nothing, unfortunately. I'd even go for one of your one-nighters," she added, giving him an appreciative down-and-up look, "but you won't even throw me that much of a bone."

"Sorry, honey -- incompatible equipment." Brian leaned both elbows on the counter and gave her an apologetic smile. "If I swung that way, I promise you're the first woman I'd grab."

Kelsie managed to eyeroll and giggle simultaneously.

Contrary to popular opinion, Brian actually preferred having someone regular to tackle into bed. Not necessarily something as formal as a "lover" -- he liked some variety occasionally and official lovers tended to think about relationships and monogamy and all that -- but someone who liked to play the same games, someone he could get used to and who'd get used to him, to learn each other's spots and tells and noises and expressions.

He and Tom had had that, the familiarity that comes with experience, when you'd had sex with the same person often enough that you just knew what they needed and how much was almost too much and what that little gasp meant. Tom had known everything about Brian, too, and they'd had a lot of good times together, even a few threesomes with some random hot guy they'd pick up at a bar for the night. It'd been great, just enough without being too much, at least in Brian's opinion. Tom had disagreed, though, after twenty really awesome months. Or at least, what Brian had thought'd been really awesome.

Guess not.



Get the whole thing here!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Light Columns

Light Columns

Light columns in Latvia, from via -- thanks to Colleen for posting.

This is absolutely gorgeous, and it's an effect I've never seen before, nor have I ever seen anyone else use it -- isn't it just perfect for an alien planet, or a fantasy forest? They look kind of like trees, which makes me think "space elves," LOL! But seriously, something this beautiful just has to make it into someone's fictional world, or hopefully several. :)

Spaceweather says, "They appear during winter when city lights shine upward into the icy air. Reflections from plate-shaped crystals spread the light into a vertical column." I'd link, but it's on their front page (which I assume changes regularly) and there doesn't seem to be any way to get a permalink of this piece. They do have a link to another page of photos, including the one above and three others here.

Atmospheric Optics adds, "The pillars are not physically over the lights or anywhere else in space for that matter ~ like all halos they are purely the collected light beams from all the millions of crystals which just happen to be reflecting light towards your eyes or camera." The link goes to a page with more explanation, a diagram, and another light pillars pic, although this one doesn't have the spreading cones at the top.