jakebe: (Writing)

Working on THE CULT OF MAXIMUS has exposed a few problem areas for me as a writer -- I really need to get better at writing scenes where characters are in direct conflict, and I could stand to shore up my dialogue so that characters expose their personalities a bit better through how they speak. I wanted to do a little bit of fiction that put two characters in direct opposition AND demands that the resolution be attempted by dialogue. So here goes.


Liam looked up as soon as Victor entered. The bear paused warily as the lion's eyes slid from his face to his outfit -- a red flannel shirt and a pair of heavy work jeans that looked like they were made of particle board judging by their drape. Liam tried to look neutral, but Victor knew his disapproval in the bristle of his whiskers and the single, agitated thump of his tail.

"A flannel shirt?" Liam said as he stood up. "Here? Are you sure you wanted to meet here?"

"Fuck you. This is my best shirt." Victor stuck out his hand, staring Liam down. The pair made an imposing sight; Victor was pushing seven feet and well over 300 pounds of fat-marbled muscle, while Liam was even taller, his mane covering the shoulders of his navy blazer and forcing the light blue gingham shirt to be unbuttoned twice from the collar. If their size weren't enough to draw the attention of the others in the bar, the tension that leapt into the air certainly was.

"Mmm. I suppose so. My apologies." Liam seemed unconvinced. He sat down again and immediately drained what was left in his tumbler. "May I get you something to drink?"

Victor slid into the opposite seat, a small ear flicking at the way the sturdy wood creaked beneath him. "Yeah. They got any beer?"

Liam smiled. "They have an excellent list of Belgian and German beers that I think you will love."

He raised one big paw to the waiter. The weasel slinked over. "A triple of your 15 year Laghavulin, neat, with a splash of spring water. And is your Fastbier still on tap? A glass for--"

Victor rested a mitt on the weasel, who looked like he might leap out of his shirt. "You got Bud?" The waiter nodded. "Gimme one of those."

"Still avoiding new experiences, I see." Liam sniffed after the waiter left.

"No. I'm avoiding some jackhole ordering for me when I already know what I want." Victor frowned and crossed his arms. "Besides, we ain't got time to savor beer. Let's get this over with."
"Very well." Liam looked away for just a moment, and Victor knew that he had gotten to him. The lion recovered quickly, shifting in his seat and crossing his hands on the table. "What would you like?"

The bear sniffed. "Don't need much. Just some of the furniture, a couple of the pots and pans. And the TV."

"All right. Nothing more?" Liam looked at Victor closely, and the bear felt that familiar line racing up his back when he stared back into golden, slitted pupils.

"Nah. I'll make my own way well enough. Unless you got shit you want to get rid of. I can take that off your hands. You wanna keep the wet bar?"

The lion reached across the table and grabbed Victor's hand. "I want to keep us. I don't know why we have to do this."

"Because you think of us as something to keep." Victor pulled his hand away. "You're not really in love with me. You want somebody you can dress up and buy fancy beers for."

The big cat let his hand linger on the table for a moment, fingers stroking empty space before he pulled it back. "I don't think that's fair. I've always supported your interests."

"When you got bored giving me shit about 'em. You know how much a pain in the ass it is to have to justify every little thing to you because you don't understand it? I'm sick of it. We ain't compatible. Simple as that. So now you can find somebody you can go to the opera with or some shit, and I can finally take my boyfriend fishing. It's better for both of us."

"You never talked to me about any of that!" Liam's whiskers bristled, then flattened as soon as the weasel returned with drinks. He gave the waiter a toothless smile, then slumped in his seat when he left. "I didn't know how much it bothered you."

"You didn't care. I'm not that hard to read. As long as I didn't make too big a fuss about it, you did what you could get away with." Victor swallowed the bottle in one paw and took a long draught of it. "I'm tired of doing things I hate just because it's easier."

Liam stared at his tumbler for a moment before knocking the whole thing back. "Why did you stay so long if it was really that terrible? You make it sound like being with me was torture for you."

"I did love you." Victor responded without hesitation. "Maybe I changed, or maybe you took me for granted, or maybe you stopped trying to make me like you and became who you really were. I don't know. The point is, it's over now."

"It doesn't have to be, my love. I can change."

Victor shook his head. "No you can't. If you could, you would have done it by now."

"By magically reading your mind?"

"By paying attention to something other than yourself for five god-damned minutes." Victor grunted as he stood up, drinking the rest of his beer. "What is this? I thought we were here to talk about how to divide up our stuff. But you can't help trying to get your way, can you?"

Liam blinked. "I thought you wanted to meet here because there was still a chance."

Victor sighed. "I asked to meet here because I knew you liked this place and it's down the street from my site." The bear rubbed at his eyes with thick, clawed fingers. "Christ, Lee. Do you even remember where I work?"

"And what do you remember about me?" The lion's voice rose to a near-roar. His hand slapped the table, and the constant murmur of voices around them abruptly died. "What's my favorite piece of classical music? My favorite film? Why did I pick this blazer? How much do you really know about the things I care about?

"You spend so much time being resentful about how I won't go watch grown men beat each other up in their underwear that you never even stopped to consider why I tried to expand your horizons! You're so much better than that. You're smart. You're honest. But you're so much more close-minded than I am. You discount anything I like before you've even given it a chance! What the fuck are you doing with yourself? I was only trying to share the things that I care about. The opera is important to me! This..." --he tugged on his blazer-- "...is important to me! But you couldn't care less. I don't think you're capable of enjoying anything. I think the only thing you want to be is numb. Well if that's it, fine. Drink your cheap beer and watch your wrestling. I'm not going to watch you shut out the world any more. Maybe you are doing me a favor."

They could both feel sets of eyes on them as the entire bar had turned to watch. Victor swallowed once. His face hardened. And he turned to leave. "We're done here."

Liam watched him go. He sat in his chair and stared at his glass. He kept staring, even as the weasel quickly and silently removed it, cleaning the small ring of water it left behind.

jakebe: (Self-Improvement)

January 2016 was an extraordinarily busy month; everything just took off like a rocket, and it was all that I could do to hold on. Most of the work was anticipated, but I think I under-estimated the effect of a lot of it, and of course my still-developing organizational skills weren't quite up to the task of keeping everything in order so I could get stuff done. I spent the last day of the month traveling from New York back to Silicon Valley, so exhausted I didn't even realize how tired I was until I got a good night's sleep.

Even still, I can't say it was a bad time. I did a lot of stuff that was fun and enriching, and now that I made it through the worst of it I can take a breath, look at what went right, what went wrong, and how I can use the momentum of the month to propel me through my projects for this one. Here's a brief rundown of the major events last month:

The Jackalope Serial Company
On New Year's Day or thereabouts, I launched the Jackalope Serial Company. It's an idea that had been brewing through the last six months of 2015, and I felt I was finally in a good position to make it happen. The JSC is basically the label through which I tell serialized erotic stories, one chunk every week, until it's finished. The idea is to put up parts of 1500 - 2500 words a week on the Patreon, then edit those parts into monthly chapters that get released to SoFurry, Fur Affinity and Weasyl at a later date. The first serial is The Cult of Maximus, which I'm expecting to be a 100K-word story when all is said and done. That should take us through the first year of the JSC's existence.

Launch was reasonably successful; to date I've got 17 patrons donating just over $100/month for the cause. I appreciate every single one of them! John Cooner did a bang up job on the launch poster/wallpaper, business cards and other assets that will be rolled out in the next month or so. And I've put up the first three parts of the story in January, with parts 4 and 5 coming (hopefully) this week to close out chapter 1.

I wasn't as regular as I would have liked to be starting out, for reasons that I'll talk about below. I'll be spending much of this month and next trying to build up a small buffer so I can make sure the schedule is regular even if something unexpected happens. For now, though, I'm flying by the seat of my fluffy white tail. Thanks to my patrons for the patience they've displayed and the feedback they've given so far; really looking forward to having things settle into a routine this month!

Further Confusion 2016
This is kind of the biggest furry event of the year for me, and this year was no exception. I took part in five panels this year: "Power and Privilege in an Anthropomorphic World", "Furries and the Other", "Write Now!", "Brainstorming in Real Time" and "Mindfulness and Transformation Workshop".

The first two were the biggest surprises and fulfilling experiences I've had at a convention in a long time; there's a real receptiveness to the idea of exploring our differences and power dynamics through furry fiction, and the audience was lively, insightful and wonderful. This is definitely a keeper; I'd love to be involved with it next year. The second two were awesome mainly because I just got to hang out with members of my writing group and talk with other writers about ways we can push ourselves past our blocks or think about constructing stories in a different way. I don't think I've ever laughed as much as I did in those two panels.

For Mindfulness/Transformation, my friend Kannik and I tried a structure to make sure we went over the most important ideas we wanted to transmit and I think that went over pretty well. The exercise portion of the panel could still use some work, but we talked about how to adapt that depending on the read we get from the audience; next year, I think we'll have a pretty good handle on things.

Away from the panels, having conversations and meals with a few people I don't get to talk to that often were the highlight. This fandom is full of such a varied mix of interesting, passionate and unique people, and cons are one of the ways we can plug into that directly. I love talking to people and seeing their perspectives on all kinds of things; it makes me fall in love with the community all over again.

The Day Job Summit
This was a bit of a wrench. My company had merged with a similar one in Europe after being bought by a holding company last year. Initially, the plan was to bring everything together slowly and carefully, making sure the customers for each side didn't feel spooked by what was going on. Apparently, the executives discovered that was no longer a concern and ordered a giant event for the merger kick-off this last weekend in January.

So, this was the first work trip I had ever taken, which is another milestone in my professional development. Thankfully, my husband came with me to hang out and be a tourist, so I was able to enjoy the vacation side of things through his eyes. We also know quite a number of people in the area, and we were able to visit with a few of them.

The overall effect of the summit was building a sense of community between two very different sides of the company; I'm not sure how well that came off, but I know that my particular department (Technical Support) grew a lot closer through the experience. I got to meet a lot of really neat people in European tech support, and we traded war stories. But for maybe the first time, I feel like a fully-accepted member of the team I work in, and that's just incredible. I can legit say I love the company I work for, and the people I work with.

We also saw our first Broadway show while we were out there -- the runaway-smash musical Hamilton. If you haven't listened to the soundtrack yet, do yourself a favor and pull it up on Spotify or your music-streaming service of choice. You will NOT be disappointed. It's a hip-hop/rap musical about a founding father whose story almost never gets told, Alexander Hamilton. The inversion of race (Hamilton, Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson and other major characters are black) really punches up the drive of the Founding Fathers, brings their tragedies home in a way I had never considered, and makes me empathize with them in a way I never had before. It makes this old, distant history alive and personal. It's so good.

New York City is a hell of a town. We visited Wall Street, saw people fondling the bull outside of the NYSE, visited Trinity Church and Fraunces Tavern; we went to Brooklyn and had brunch at Flatbush Farm with a major sci-fi/fantasy author (!!); and partied pretty hard at Celsius in Bryant Park, The Eagle on the lower west side (?) and Grand Central Terminal. We saw subway dancers who were amazing, listened to cellists and jazz ensembles, saw the knock-off mascots threatening people in Times Square. All in all, a hell of a trip.

Writing/Reading
I started out strong in January, finishing my first short story of the year for MegaMorphics ("New Year, New You") and wanted to have "A Stable Love" done but the JSC work sucked up all the oxygen in that room. I started The Cult of Maximus, but didn't get as far with that as I'd like, so this month will be a bit of righting the ship as far as that's concerned.

I did read an awful lot, though. I'm catching up on my backlog of comics -- I'm finding "The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl" to be a singular delight, and I'm really digging "Sam Wilson: Captain America". I finished Kindred by Octavia Butler, and that has been a life-changing book for me. It fundamentally changes my idea of black women for the better, and I'll need to let that cook for a moment or two. I started The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin, and I'm looking forward to finishing that, and I finished the third collection of the Apocalypse Triptych, called The End Has Come. It features (mostly) post-apocalyptic stories, many of them continued from stories in the other two collections. It was a neat idea that had a satisfying and surprising set of conclusions, and I'm looking forward to talking about that later.

Meanwhile, my reading stack grows all the time. :) Since it's Black History Month, I feel like I should be reading something theme-appropriate, and there is no shortage of books that fit that bill. I'll talk a little bit about that tomorrow.

So that was my January in a nutshell; incredibly busy, full of wonderful and enriching experiences, as well as a lot of opportunities for growth and learning with various personal projects. Tomorrow, I'll talk about my plans for this month and what I hope to have achieved when looking back on it sometime in March.

How was YOUR month? What were your highlights? What stories did you complete or make progress on? What things did you notice that you could do better?

jakebe: (Reading Rabbit)

Further Confusion 2016 will begin tomorrow, and for most of us furries we're just counting down the hours until we can head to San Jose to immerse ourselves in fandom for four glorious days. I know I'm itching to get there myself. But one of the things that rarely gets talked about at these conventions is how big a disruption they are to our daily lives, and what that disruption can do for those of us coping with mental illness. While the potential is there for a brilliant weekend, the craziness of the convention alone can throw us off-kilter.

For many of us, FC 2016 is one of our only chances to be with people we feel truly understand us; for four days we can put aside the problems of our regular lives and enjoy company and kinship in a way we rarely get to experience. We become so attached to the promise of a non-stop great time that any disappointment or gap in pleasure can send us spiraling into dark places. Unfortunately, downtime and disappointment are both facts of life; we can do ourselves a huge favor by learning to roll with them.

I want folks who are going through rough times at the convention to know that I see them, and I sympathize with what they're dealing with. I'd like to share a few things that have helped me get through conventions and have made sure I have the best time possible.

Absolutely take care of the basics. 6/2/1 is a mnemonic I've seen floating around recently to remind people about the basic things you should do every day during a convention. 6 hours of sleep, 2 meals a day (at least), 1 shower. Making sure you're well-rested, well-fed and well-groomed can have a profound effect on your mood -- this goes doubly so for those of us with mental issues.

If nothing else, making sure you get enough sleep and enough to eat is absolutely essential for managing your mood. Sleep allows the brain to recover from daily stresses, and your body needs nutrients to keep it running properly while you're awake. And making sure you're clean and wearing comfortable clothing you feel good about being seen in helps tremendously with self-esteem. Those three things alone are vital, easy things we can do to keep us on a stable footing emotionally.

I know that sleep and showers can go by the wayside pretty easily, especially for those of us stricken by FOMO -- the Fear of Missing Out. It can feel like leaving our friends is a guarantee of not getting to see or do something awesome. But it's important to remember that the convention (and your friends) will be there when you're awake, cleaned and your hunger is satisfied. It's a trade-off of quantity of time for quality time. When you feel better, you will have more fun. Trust me on this! I've stuck around for things way longer than I should have, when I was hungry or tired, just because I didn't want to leave. It was miserable.

For those of us who need a little extra self-care, I would recommend sleeping at least 7 hours a day, eating 3 square meals, taking 1 shower and making absolutely sure you take any medications that you've been prescribed.

If possible, adapt your routine for travel. One of the ways I manage my mental state is by doing my best to establish a routine. I get up at a certain time, I go to the bathroom, I meditate, take my medication, then get to writing. Doing this every day gives me a nice foundation to center on through the craziness of the day; it's how I try to put my best foot forward. Obviously, it's a lot harder to stick to it when traveling, but I give it my best shot and I recommend you do the same.

If you have a small set of activities you do at certain times, find ways to stick to them when you're traveling -- especially if it helps to center and calm you. If that's just not possible, think of alternate activities that provide you with the tools you need to be mentally resilient through the day. It can really help you through the marathon of interaction that conventions tend to be.

Learn to be OK with being alone or having downtime. This can be difficult, especially if the convention is the one time you get to spend with friends you only know online. But the fact of the matter is sometimes your friends will be doing something else or you're waiting to join up with someone; you will find yourself alone with nothing to do. This doesn't have to be a bad thing; there's an enormous convention happening all around you, with new people to meet and all kinds of interesting things to do.

If you find yourself having downtime -- unexpected or otherwise -- take advantage of the events being set up by the hard-working convention staff. Take a look at the schedule to see what's open and where things are; the gaming area tends to be open most of the day and night, and there's a number of meeting areas that you can camp out in and hang out. If nothing grabs your fancy, pre-planning an "alone time" activity or two to fall back on can help keep you occupied for a while. Take advantage of downtime to center yourself and collect your thoughts. Being alone doesn't necessarily mean being lonely.

Allow yourself to feel what you're feeling. Sometimes, despite our best efforts and careful planning, we'll fall into a bad mental state. That is OK! No one -- not even at a world-class furry convention -- feels great all the time! Sometimes we'll be sad, or bored, or angry and frustrated. There's a huge emphasis on avoiding the negative feelings we have, but that can make things worse. I know for me, I'll think that I "shouldn't" feel the way I do and that guilt or frustration (What's wrong with me? Why can't I just be happy?) just makes things that much worse.

If you're having a bad time, or you're feeling low, take a moment to tell yourself that it's OK you feel this way. It's a valid emotion to have, and it's only temporary. It will pass in time, even though it might not feel like it. What's more, you don't have to necessarily *do* anything about what you're feeling. It can be a powerful thing to accept your feelings, even when they hurt. You may not feel better, exactly, but it can ease the pressure that we can feel about our emotions.

Further Confusion is a wonderful con, and I hope that everyone who attends has an amazing time. If you find yourself struggling to deal with emotions, please reach out to someone. You are not alone, even though it may feel like it. But you have to take care of yourself before you can expect others to take care of you.

Make sure you get enough sleep, get enough to eat, and present yourself as best you can. Plan to take care of your needs ahead of time if at all possible. Accept who you are and how you feel. It can be difficult work, I know, but the work is worth it. I'll see you folks in San Jose in about 24 hours.

jakebe: (Writing)
Greggory looked in the mirror and saw an alien staring back at him. There were big brown eyes spaced too far apart. There was a broad flat nose with nostrils he didn't recognize. There were those strange lips, those big ears, features that couldn't possibly reflect the way he saw himself. He opened his mouth wide and saw prominent incisors -- four on the top, four on the bottom, stacked two deep. There were large gaps on either side, and past those he could dimly see his cheek teeth; premolars and molars that were strange and sharp. His canine teeth were gone.
It had been six months since the shift. One day, Greggory woke up and he realized he was different. His brown skin was replaced with a thick pelt of cinnamon fur; his fingernails thickened into digger's claws; his features had taken on leporine traits. He was the same size, just under six feet tall, but his enormous ears extended his height by a foot or so and when he stood on the toes of long, broad, powerful feet he could tower over most anyone. A lot of good it did him. Despite the strangeness of his look, people weren't frightened of a six-foot rabbit.
One in ten people in his neighborhood had undergone the same transformation. Some had turned into raccoons, hares, squirrels -- he had even heard that there were birds that hadn't been released from the CDC just yet. Others had become something fiercer -- dogs of various breeds, black bears, cougars. He had even heard of a lion or two, though he hadn't seen them for himself. Not for the first time he wondered how he would react if he spotted one walking down the street. Would some alien instinct take over? Would something lodged deep within his new brain leap up and take over, force him into running before he could stop himself?
A shiver raced up his spine, and he watched the fur of his reflection puff out. He sighed and brushed his chest, his arms, his shoulders. Six months with this fur coat and it still hadn't gotten too much faster to groom himself. There were many days where he would have given anything for his pelt to simply fall away, but chances are that would make him look even funnier than he already did.
"You done in there?" A voice popped from just behind the closed door of the bathroom. It was followed immediately by a series of knocks. "Some of us have to get ready for work too, you know."
Greggory grunted his response. He swiped his tongue over the strange shape of his mouth, feeling the contours of his jaw, his palate, his gums. He had been told that he would have to re-learn how to speak; according to the many, many doctors and scientists he had seen he should be able to do it, but it would be an uphill climb. Just one of those things he would have to do in order to re-integrate himself into society. But for now, he was voiceless.
"What's that supposed to mean?" The voice was annoyed and confused. "Is that a 'yes I'm coming out' grunt or a 'leave me alone' grunt?"
He looked at the long ear in his reflection swing towards the door. He saw that odd face crease in consternation. It was expressive, but in so many different ways. His mood has moved from the curve of his cheeks and knit of his brow towards the bounce of his whiskers, the twitch of his nose, the movement of his ears. He had learned how it all worked, but his family was still figuring everything out.
Maybe that's why his mother didn't recognize the swept back tilt of his ears when he threw open the bathroom door, or the way his whiskers flared as his nose wrinkled and then fell into an agitated beating rhythm. She simply looked at those passive, dark eyes staring down at her, took a step back and glanced at the brush in his hand.
"Looks like you're almost finished." She was trying to keep her voice even, he could tell. "I don't know why you have to spend so long brushing yourself. Ain't nobody going to see you."
Greggory simply grunted. He couldn't easily tell her that it wasn't about what other people could see, it was about how he would feel. It was bad enough that he had to go back out into the world before he felt ready; he didn't want to do it feeling disheveled and slovenly, too.
Something must have passed through, because her expression softened. She reached up and brushed her hand through his whiskers, set it on his cheek. He flinched; those fingers brought an explosion of sensation through him and he was still trying to figure out how to deal with that. He only relaxed when she stood on her toes and kissed his chin. It felt weird to him; he could only imagine how it must have felt to her.
"You look fine, son. Breakfast is on the table. I...didn't have what the paper said to feed you, but I didn't think it would matter. You're still my boy, right? Ain't nothing changed." She smiled, then pushed beside him to slip into the bathroom.
He glanced at the clock; he'd need to be out the door in ten minutes if he wanted to have a prayer of making it into work on time. His clothes went on fast; a loose polo shirt that didn't aggravate his fur too much and a pair of shorts that fit a bit snug around his thighs. The sandals took the longest time; he still wasn't quick working those leather straps with his clawed fingers.
Breakfast was not going to happen. He smelled the stench of bacon and eggs before he even got to the dining room, and his eyes glanced over the plate in vain for a piece of fruit or a vegetable. Greggory left a note next to the plate before grabbing his things and slipping out of the door. If he left now, he hoped, he might be able to pick up something on the way.
When his mother stepped out of the bathroom, she saw an untouched hill of scrambled eggs and bacon on the side, with a small piece of paper next to it.
"No eggs. No meat. My stomach can't handle that any more. I'm sorry. I love you. Later."
jakebe: (Self-Improvement)
October was a pretty intense month. I went in for full training on changing my position at work, which means there are a LOT of holes in my technical knowledge that need to be filled. The shift also means that I'm down in the trenches with coworkers a bit more, and that means an opportunity to change the culture that I'd feel awful not taking. It's important to me that any community I'm a part of feels more like a community because I'm a part of it -- that may sound egotistical, but I like being a glue. I want to make people feel more connected, like someone has their back.
But that means paying attention to work in ways that I hadn't before, which also means that it has to get a lot more of my time and energy. Because things happened so suddenly, I had to drop any other plans I had made in order to make sure I had the emotional space for it. Now that there are a few weeks of this under my belt, I think I'm able to take a beat or two to see where my head's at and what I feel I can do.
I'll still need to set aside a chunk of time to learn more about the technical aspects of my job, like getting to know Linux from the command line and how to work with PostGreSQL and maybe even learning more about SOAP API. But I'd also really like to use whatever remaining time I have for writing and reading -- immersing myself in stories that matter to me and learning how to tell them better.
I won't be able to join NaNoWriMo this year; there's simply too much going on, and I'm too far behind on a few other things. Still, in the spirit of the month I'd like to set a few goals. They'll be a bit more modest than what I may have originally planned, but I think they're a good challenge for what I can handle right now.
WRITING
Ugh, I'm so far behind. On everything. But no worries! This month I'd like to focus on making writing a regular practice, so projects are geared towards that. In addition to making sure The Writing Desk is updated three times a week, I'd like to work on articles for other blogs like [adjective][species] and perhaps Claw & Quill. I'm not sure I'll have anything ready to show this month -- besides, at least with [a][s] they have a pretty solid line-up of posts to take us through the holiday season. Seriously you guys, I really think you'll like what they have planned.
But there are things about the culture of the fandom I'd really like to write about -- what we want out of an art/writing/music community portal, how the broader politics of other SFF fandoms influence our own, how the fandom treats mental illnesses, social maladjustments, and the expression of fetishes that aren't seen as acceptable or respectable by the society at large. It's interesting stuff to me and there are no easy answers for this, but it's all top of mind and I think we should be talking about it, at least in a high-level way.
Here at The Writing Desk, I'll try to tighten the focus to storytelling and the lessons I'm learning from it -- which means more reviews of the stuff I've been reading, more thoughts on the lessons we can take from our stories to the broader world, and how our experiences in the broader world are baked into our stories. I'll talk about the bricks of my Afro-Futurist philosophy as I discover places for them, and the ideas that are taking shape in my mind as I'm writing stories.
As for the stories themselves -- well, I've got three short stories that I'd really like to finish before I really dive into anything new. "A Stable Love" is a commission that a friend of mine has been waiting on for years, and while I've been marching towards completion it's well past time it was done. Another friend generously donated to my Clarion Write-A-Thon fundraiser, earning a commissioned story that I'll begin as soon as "A Stable Love" is draft-complete. And then there's a short story that I would love to submit for the People of Color Destroy Science Fiction anthology coming up next year. I have the idea and the outline for it in my head, and I'm really excited to get started on that.
I'll also be working on a collaborative project with a few friends called "A Changing Perspective". It's a choose-your-own-adventure story spun off from an interactive over on writing.com; since that website has issues with advertising for their interactive space, I can't ask friends to go read those chapters in good conscience. A group of four writers has made an informal pact to revisit the interactive through Twile, and cone we've got significant chunks of the story underway we'll find a way to host it.
So for November, I'd like to finish "A Stable Love" and write 12 chapters for "A Changing Perspective"; update The Writing Desk three times a week; and have at least one complete article for both [adjective][species] and Claw and Quill. It's an ambitious schedule, but I think I can do it if I keep my focus.
READING
I haven't been reading nearly as much as I should. I'll be honest -- I'm a slow reader, and I often spend time I could spend reading doing something else, like playing mobile games. Making an effort to read more means spending more of my downtime devoted to it, and that's something I'm very much in favor of.
This month, I'd like to finish two (I believe) short novels that I've been wanting to read for a very long time -- Kindred by Octavia Butler and Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin. The former is a great introduction to one of the biggest black voices in science-fiction, and has been served to me as an Outlander-type story of the slavery South. It sounds like it'll be incredibly rough, but an illuminating read. The second is a good introduction to one of the best black intellectual voices from the Harlem Renaissance, and that alone has got me tremendously excited. Reading up on black literature -- not just sci-fi/fantasy, but novels, essays, and poetry -- is something that I want to feel better rooted to the tradition I'm coming out of. I'm hoping that it will help me better understand why my community is the way it is these days, and better imagine what my community will be like in the future, or how it would deal with magic, or how my personal experience fits in to an Afro-Futurist context.
I'll also be reading through the slush pile for New Fables, though we generally only have poetry to deal with at this point; short stories and novels from friends, of course; and the comics that are coming through the pike as part of All-New, All-Different Marvel. Exciting times, and as usual there is no shortage of reading material.
ELSEWHERE
There is no shortage of demands for attention these days -- it's tough to distill your life down to the essential things that you want to be doing. One of the things I've been trying to remind myself is that everything I do is a choice; if I spend a lot of time doing something that doesn't get me closer to being a writer or someone with good technical skills, that's a choice I've made. If I goof off instead of do something equally enjoyable but possibly more enriching, that's a choice I've made. At this point, it's important to make good choices about how I spend my time. There are only so many hours in the day, and it's in my best interests to make them count.
This is a bit of a tangent, but it's a bit like shaping your diet so that you eat better. If you're trying to make sure you only eat a certain number of Calories per day, then it becomes a lot more important to make sure those Calories are doing something for you -- either helping you with your exercise routine, or making sure you're full for longer, or helping out with your digestion. When your Calories become precious or finite, the impact of empty Calories -- those in say, candy or a milkshake -- becomes startlingly apparent. If I'm holding myself down to 2000 Calories in a day, I really can't afford to spend 650 of them on an Oreo milkshake, no matter how much I want to. It's either that, or dinner.
Bringing that awareness to my time is a lesson steadily, painfully being learned. There's only so much free time that I have on a weekday; an hour before work, if I wake up on time, and maybe two or three afterwards. What am I doing with those four precious hours? Am I playing Marvel Puzzle Quest on my phone? Am I looking at Facebook without actually absorbing any of the information I see there? What else could I have done that would help me get closer to the life I'd like to be living?
This month I'll try to make more responsible decisions about how I spend my time. Don't get me wrong -- I know that I'll need to blow off some steam, or do something inconsequential sometimes to relieve some stress. I'd like those activities to be a mindful choice, though, not the easiest option available, or some sort of default.
To those of you participating in NaNoWriMo, good luck! This will be a crazy and exciting month for you. I hope it's fulfilling as well. Let's get to work.
jakebe: (Hugs!)
This week, FurAffinity decided that it would update its advertising policy to include "mature" ads on pages that included mature/adult work. It didn't take very long for the backlash to come, which is pretty much what happens whenever FA tries something new. More users and artists distanced themselves from the site -- if they didn't leave outright -- and more than a few furries tweeted their displeasure. As of Monday evening (when I'm writing this; I know that the story will have progressed quite a bit by the time it's posted), they've rolled things back to retool the mechanism that serves ads, but I'm not sure they're going to ever get the community on board with hard-core porn banners with explicit language.
One of the most fascinating things to me about websites these days is that there still isn't a better way for them to make money with their content than ad revenue. And while I have all the sympathy in the world for an Internet company struggling to figure out how to make their site profitable, I also have less-than-zero interest in being served a bunch of advertisements for crap that I don't need to buy. Especially when those ads include flashing, sounds, motion or whatever other mechanism they can conceive of to get to pay attention to them instead of the reason I'm on the page.
FurAffinity (and IMVU) is going to be in trouble if they're going to be more aggressive with ads in the future. It's just proving what most of the community thought about FA being acquired in the first place; that the site is being taken out of the hands of the community and put into the control of outside interests that see us more as commodities than anything. Of course, IMVU needs to find a way to keep the lights on for FA, so to speak -- they're in the business to make money, and at the very least FurAffinity needs to pay for its own operation. I get that. But a website that relies on advertising revenue, in my experience, compromises the value of its content by making that content increasingly painful to get to through the thicket of revenue-generating stuff. I know this is a slippery slope argument, but I could easily see FA becoming more trouble than it's worth to navigate, stuffed with annoying (at best) or virus-laden (at worst) ads that make it impossible to have a good time looking at community-created adult material.
But here's the thing that us folks who like browsing websites has to keep in mind: in our capitalist society, nothing is free. If we're not paying for the sites we browse in money, we pay for it some other way -- with the time it takes to navigate around pop-up or pop-under ads, or with the attention those ads draw from us. Sometimes, we pay for it with information we give those sites, who then turn around and give that information to third parties who, in turn, use it to target us better for advertising. It would be a good idea for us, as readers, to think about how we're paying for the sites we visit. These guys have to make their money somehow -- either through donations and charity, through a paywall, through advertising, through our personal information. Once we determine how a website charges for its services, we have to make a decision on whether or not we think that payment is fair.
Like most Internet-savvy denizens, I fortify my web-browsing experience with Flash blockers and anti-adware. I've been burned by Flash ads automatically downloading viruses to my computer and I'm not interested in taking chances with any more. If a website shows me potentially interesting and unobtrusive ads, I consider it fair payment for accessing their content. The Ad Blocker goes off. And in some cases, where I feel like I get enough value from a website and they offer me the choice, I'll just straight-up pay for access.
That's what I did with writing.com, where the advertising had brought me viruses a few times. It's for that reason I can't direct people there in good conscience, even though there are a few great writers and stories in the interactives. The interactive community is kind of the dirty sewer of the site, though, and the website operators will only get the worst kinds of businesses willing to run ads for those pages. Because of the content of those pages -- which includes eighteen different kinds of fetishy stuff -- only porn sites and disreputable places will pay to advertise there. So it's either put up with those awful ads or pay for access -- and since I like the interactives and have been going there for years now, I feel it's a better value to pay with money.
I think FA is in the same position. There are all kinds of terrible stuff in the adult sections of that site; hard vore, crushing, watersports and scat-play, Sonic fan art (just kidding, don't be mean to me Sonic fans!). I'm not sure that they'd be able to get too many sites outside of the community willing to advertise on those pages, and sites and services within the community probably wouldn't be able to pay the rates that "professional" places would.
So they're stuck in this place. If FA is going to be a furry site run by a non-furry interest with the aim of making enough money to justify its existence, it's either going to have to turn to some sort of formalized payment plan, an aggressive advertising policy, or trading our personal information. Instead of reflexively shouting down any way it tries to raise revenue, maybe we should think about what we would be willing to trade for our porn-browsing experience. Money? Ads that aren't quite so terrible? Sensitive data? Once we figure it out, let Dragoneer know. We actually have a chance to barter with the operator of the site; that's not something many audiences get. Using the opportunity to make the site better, instead of bashing it, would be a great thing.
I have a lot of sympathy for Dragoneer and the predicament he finds himself in. I'm not sure there's an easy answer to the demands of IMVU (which I assume is to make money, but might be something else to be fair). He suddenly finds himself in the middle of a fight between the demands of capitalism and a populace that really doesn't give a shit about it. Good luck getting out from between that rock and a hard place.
jakebe: (Fandom)
There's a bit of an ongoing kerfluffle in the furry writing community about critics of stories and the role they should play. From my admittedly limited experience with the subject, it seems like the argument has been broken down into two camps. Some folks feel that furry literature should be subjected to the same standards as any art form; critics should be able to call out bad writing wherever it might be found. Others feel that critics are useless; they'll never be happy with the quality of writing found in our humble little corner of the SF/F fandom and are really in the game to make themselves look or feel better by putting others down. After seeing some of the more vitriolic and controversial reviews out there, I have to admit that I could see why someone would think that way. But that's a problem with the critic, not criticism itself. It's important to make that distinction. Good criticism is an essential element in the growth of any art form; we need to have a way to share our opinions about where our work is at any given point, and keen eyes to point out what preoccupies us as a community, what we talk and dream about, and how well we all communicate what we're trying to say.

In case you haven't guessed, I'm for the critics. A good critic provides a valuable service to the artistic community he talks about. All art is essentially communication, and writers are trying to say something in a way that moves past language by using language extremely well. It's a difficult thing to do, especially since the combination of words that might hit us where we live might just make someone else roll their eyes. In order to be successful as a writer, we need to know the effect our writing has on someone else. We may have picked up a few tricks that navigate past the defenses of our audience, but it's by no means a sure thing. The more sophisticated our audience, the more important it becomes to use the right trick at the right time in conjunction with the right combination of other tricks. Critics can help us know whether or not our gambits have worked, and they can help us gain exposure to an audience dazzled by a multitude of choices. As writers, we want the time and attention of our readers, and critics can help us out by telling our potential readers which writers are worth paying for.

In order to do that, though, critics have to be honest, fair and respectful. Honest because any reader savvy enough to read a critique in the first place is very good at smelling bullshit in the first place; fair because it does no one any good to judge a book the same way as any other book -- each work has to be judged by its own measure; and respectful because art communities are small and fragile things, and it's far too easy to tear ourselves out of them. A good critic never tears into a work unless its creator can handle it, and the work is truly disrespectful to the time we've spent on it. I don't think there are many furry works that qualify for that, but I'm admittedly a novice when it comes to reading our fiction.

And that brings me to the next point, one that a lot of anti-critic people like to point out. We're a genre of hobbyists for the most part; we simply don't have the resources to match the quality of output of professionals. That's true. We're all hobbyists with (hopefully) day jobs, and that means we can't put the same time and effort into writing, editing and promoting furry fiction as we could if we were getting paid for it. Critics should be aware of this, and be fair about it. At the same time, it does the fiction itself a disservice if we're not trying to make it the best we can. For writers, that means refining it until we're happy with sending it out into the world. For editors and publishers, that means catching mistakes and issues that the writer may have missed, further refining the the story until it has the shine of professional work. For critics, that means telling the audience which works have been taken care of properly and which have been rushed out perhaps before they were ready. The audience gets to know what's really worth their precious attention, and the writers and editors get to know what needs to be improved on their next project.

The strive to get better at what we do extends to critics as well. I've seen far too many critics of furry fiction try to make a name for themselves by tearing down the works of others. What's worse is they do it without a sharp and critical eye. They don't actually know the craft of the writer, though they might think they do, so they end up missing a trick deployed well and focus on a difference in style. They mistake this for poor writing, and put together a slickly-produced essay with all of their best put-downs and call it a day. This isn't about the work; it's about themselves. Critics should never attempt to establish a personality cult; their attention should be on the work, and they should help their audience to make informed choices about the work. Anything else is a waste of time.

I know that most of us are in our infancy with this sort of thing. Writers coming up are still learning the tools of the trade, and what it means to be professional. Editors and publishers are learning about the tremendous workload necessary for producing a good story, making it the best that it can be. And critics are still learning how to contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way, directing audiences to the best that the fandom has to offer and telling writers and editors about gaps in their process wherever they may be found. But we're all in this together, and we all want the same thing -- for furry fiction to stand on its own as a worthy, accepted part of the greater SF/F umbrella. And we can't do that if we're trying to step on the faces of the people we should be helping to rise above the pack. A lot of critics have made this mistake, and it's left a bad reputation on this entire part of the community.

However, saying that criticism is worthless because so many of it is bad is a mistake. It's just like a reader saying that all furry fiction is worthless because they have yet to read a book that's grabbed their attention. When a critic has missed the point of a certain story, or given it an unfair review, the writer, editor or publisher is well within their rights to have a respectful, personal debate about it. The critic needs a check and balance as well, after all. His audience won't respect his opinion if it's all flash and no knowledge. Worse yet, he'll burn down the relationships with the rest of the community that he'll need in order to do his job (or his hobby) effectively.

Everyone in this process should be striving to get better at what they do, whether they're a hobbyist or have designs to make this a living. And every link of the chain should be trying to encourage every other link to strengthen themselves. I know that this hasn't been the relationship that critics have had with their counterparts in the rest of the community, but I really hope that it can be established moving forward. It'll be much harder to develop the quality of our work if we don't.
jakebe: (Default)
Last week was fairly interesting. Over the weekend I knew almost immediately that something was wrong with me, so I told my boss I'd work from home on Monday to make sure I had everything I needed on hand; I've been dealing with an ongoing health issue that's easier to manage from home. So I put in my nine hours, and by the end of it I wasn't feeling very well. By 5 PM I felt so cold I was shivering, and by 8 PM or so I had a fever of 102. Ryan took me to the emergency room at around 9:30.
To make a long story short, it turns out I had some kind of bacterial infection and an internal problem that's relatively easy to clear up. I was given antibiotics and sent on my way. The rest of the week was spent flushing the infection from my system and gradually getting better. I was tired most of last week, and so much of my time revolved around dealing with health stuff that I simply didn't have much energy for anything else. So that's why I disappeared from the blog last week, and why I'm a little late coming back this week. Hopefully the worst of my health issues are behind me for now, but I'll try to let you know if something is happening a bit more quickly.

In the meantime, I hope it's back to business as usual with the blog here. I'm still planning four posts a week -- a general interest post, two AFI movie reviews (at least until I've caught up) and a bit of short fiction from a project I'm working on. I'm really hoping to sharpen my movie reviews; I love the idea of exploring these stories that are widely regarded as the best examples of American cinema and breaking down why they've struck such a deep chord with audiences throughout decades. And while I know appreciating art is largely a personal affair, I think there's something in the discussion of it that helps us to understand its message a little better.

Mostly, I'm hoping to get better at reviewing because I'd like to expand the reviews to furry fiction. This is a post for another time, but I think it's important to apply the same kind of standards inside the fandom that we do for entertainment of a broader genre. I'd like to seriously discuss the writing of our little internet community as an art form -- trends that tend to pop up among and between writers, common themes in 'modern' furry fiction, what our writers tend to do well and where we could be better. I think that level of discussion and scrutiny could help us out, or at least make us more aware of what we want out of our writing.

Right now, though, I'd like to talk about my own writing! I've been posting the "Unstable Future" snippets for Friday fiction the past few weeks to get my head around two of the main characters. My ultimate goal with it is to try and launch an 'episodic' storytelling model, where short stories are released at the same time every week for a certain length of time. Each short story is self-contained, somewhat, but also carries a larger arc forward until that too is completed. That marks the end of a 'season', and depending on the response further seasons are written.

I think this is a model that could work well, and "Unstable Future" is a great story to start with. In order to try and kick-start myself into writing it, I've decided to make it my project for the Clarion Write-A-Thon. The Write-A-Thon is a great fundraising drive for Clarion and Clarion West, a pair of six-week workshops where aspiring genre writers are taught various aspects of the craft and business of writing from folks who've made it. This year some lucky folks will be taught by the likes of Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill!

However, in order to make the whole thing work and to make sure the people who deserve to be there can actually afford to be there, a little help is needed. The Write-A-Thon is a great way to do that; each writer makes a goal for the duration of the drive and posts excerpts and updates to his personal drive webpage. And his or her audience can make either flat donations of pledges based on word count. It's a lot of fun, and a great way to meet some of the folks associated with Clarion. A lot of the people who participate are Clarion graduates!

I'll be writing at least 25,000 words of "Unstable Future" for Clarion, and I would like your help to spur me on. I'll be posting daily updates here on the blog, and excerps of the story at least once a week. If you would be so kind as to offer a small donation -- like, say, $1.00 for every thousand words -- I'd very much appreciate it. I'm setting a goal of raising $500 for Clarion this year, and I'd love to make it.

Here's my author's page, where you can take a look at my progress and make donations: http://clarionwriteathon.org/members/profile.php?writerid=177495

All right, I think that's it for now. I have quite a lot of writing to do in order to catch up to things, and I'd better get started.
jakebe: (Kangaroo)
The break that I had threatened earlier was a little longer than anticipated -- sorry about that. The past couple of weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind for a number of reasons, and I'm just now getting to catch up with everything. There'll be more about that in future blogs, I promise, but for now let's talk about the reason I was away for so long -- Further Confusion 2013! (Warning: A lot of these links will lead to places that acknowledge sex and alternate sexualities.)

For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, Further Confusion is a fantasy convention centered around anthropomorphics ("furries") and its various interests. You can find people there who are into cartoons, sci-fi/fantasy novels, spiritual studies (totemism, etc), music, zoology and all kinds of things. Furry is an umbrella group that can accept a multitude of roads into its borders, and that's what makes it so cool.

I was there along with my husband Ryan; our primary interest/niche in the fandom is writing, and it's a great time to be a furry writer. The community is growing and maturing in really neat ways, and we're finding niches being filled in our little 'ecosystem'. There's something for everyone, and a lot of our writers are trying to find ways to make a living doing what they love by non-traditional means.

There were a number of authors there to read from their work. Mary Lowd had a whole panel to herself, to read from her work. Kyell Gold held a panel to read from his latest novel, Divisions. Sofawolf Press -- one of the biggest publishers of furry literature -- offered a sampling of readings from three works that will be coming out in the future. One of them was from Ryan, who'll be publishing a novel trilogy about a tribe of men and their relationship with the gods around them in mythic Africa. It's a very impressive work, and I'm immensely proud of him for it.

I attended another reading from FurPlanet Press, a great publisher that's looking forward to an impressive year. Watts Martin read from his novella, Indigo Rain, and another friend Kevin Frane read from his new novel Summerhill. Graveyard Greg read from his alt-universe novella Carpe Mortis as well. The stories I heard this weekend run the gamut from gay slice-of-life to epic fantasy to post-modern sci-fi weirdness to action thriller to traditional fable. And they're all good!

A bunch of local folks put together a jazz band that held (I think) their first concert on Friday afternoon. I thought I would zip in for a little bit, but ended up staying for the whole thing. I was pleasantly surprised by how well they played together, how much energy and passion they had. It was easily one of the highlights of the convention -- I really hope the Super Pack Jazz Ensemble puts in a return appearance next year.

Conventions like this one are really inspiring. I get to see a host of the friends I've made over the years, catch up on what they've been doing, and meet new friends who have a wealth of different experiences. Almost everyone you meet honors their creativity in some way or another -- through drawing, writing, performing, crafting, DJing, coding, collaborating. There are leather-workers, button-makers, hypnotists, costume designers, and artists of every stripe. It's hard to come away from the convention without being proud of this wonderful fandom and all the great people who make it up. And it makes you want to rise to the challenge of contributing to it in a meaningful, positive way.

So that's where I am, and where I've been. While running around being inspired and meeting an entire crush of people, though, I've fallen behind on my own creative projects -- quite seriously so. That's all right. It's a learning experience, and I think I'm in very good shape to press ahead with my writing.

Kotaku did a very nice piece on Further Confusion, by the way, if you're interested in knowing more about it. A lot of the media coverage about furries is less than kind, but this one is fairly even-handed, if a bit bemused about our existence. Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to ask. I'll be as open and honest as possible.

Furries!

Aug. 6th, 2009 04:31 pm
jakebe: (Default)
Though not the way you think of them.

My coworker tipped me off to them -- she's recently discovered a crippling phobia of furless animals, and like any reasonable person with a fresh scab, she just couldn't stop picking at it. So, in her travels on the internet, she ran into this:

http://www.roslynoxley9.com.au/artists/31/Patricia_Piccinini/249/34965/

It's a sculpture from an Australian artist who wanted to talk about the dangers of splicing human-animal DNA. There are other fairly disturbing images in there (including a meerkat/man, just for you [livejournal.com profile] silver_raccoon), but this seems to be the thing that draws the most attention.

The sculpture is admittedly hideous, but also fascinating. Yes, the figure is hideous, but there's something about the activity. This may be me being a giant weirdo, but it's hard to feel too negative towards a mother feeding her children. It's an unnatural creature doing this basic, natural thing. It stirs up immediate revulsion, then confusion, then a kind of sympathy, compassion, more confusion, and a weariness. Even though your initial impulse is to look away, you just can't.

I find myself looking at all the detail work; the anatomy really is very impressive. I think if furries were to *actually* exist (and I mean, furred and looking the way we draw porn of them and all), chances are we'd find a way to be dissatisfied with them. The actual experience could never match the fantasies we've built in our heads. We're in love with an idea, but if ever that idea took some sort of solid form, we'd have to find some other thing to idealize. Because that's just how we work.

I'm working on a much longer post that won't be done for a little while.

November 2016

S M T W T F S
   1 2 3 45
6 789101112
13 14 1516171819
20 212223242526
27282930   

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 25th, 2017 05:04 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios