No title for this one.

My grandmother passed away last night.

This was the end of a long decline, and it wasn’t wholly unexpected. My aunt, her primary caregiver in her sickness, had been keeping us updated about her entrance into hospice. Of course, you can know that something is coming any moment and still be caught off-guard by the particular moment when it does. Just about every horror movie out there relies on that premise.

I’m flying back to Nebraska tomorrow. Due to uncertainty in the timeline when we were making plans, I’m going to be gone five days, inclusive of the travel days. I haven’t decided if my laptop is coming with me or not, but either way I am apt to be spending more time with family than online during the interval.

On Awards, Chess Mastery, and Ponds of Varying Sizes

Well, yesterday the Hugo nominations for this year came out. I had some positive buzz surrounding my satirical writing, but whether I had a shot was always a question of how disruptive the self-proclaimed “puppies” would be in their attempts to control the ballot. As it happens, they succeeded in disrupting the process again for a second straight year. This isn’t terribly surprising.

For those just tuning in, the puppies are two closely related group (Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies) who use the paper-thin excuse that they believe a shadowy cabal of “SJWs” have conspired to control the content of the Hugo Award ballot for years in order to give themselves paper-thin moral cover while they conspire to control the Hugo Award ballot.

The two things they have conclusively proven two years running are 1) it’s pretty easy for a small, dedicated group to overwhelm the proceedings, if everybody else is voting as an individual, and 2) everyone else has been voting as individuals. Last year when the data showed that there was no other organized effort to control the nomination process, the Sad Puppy leaders’ explanation was that the vast, all-powerful SJW conspiracy was “too incompetent to even rig the award right”.

This year there was a record number of nomination votes cast. Given the way the record number of newly registered voters voted last year to repudiate the Puppy slates, I think it’s safe to say that most of those nominations weren’t cast by puppies. But thousands of people all voting their individual tastes, wills, and consciences are apt to vote for hundreds of different things. A few hundred people who agree to vote for the same thing can easily ram a slate through in the less popular categories.

Rabid Puppy ringleader Vox Day is running his campaign for the same reason he does anything: it’s easy enough for a man of his shockingly limited abilities to do it, and it allows him to maintain his flattering illusion of himself as a tactical genius.

To put it shortly, Vox is a man who has discovered that it is easier for one who is dedicated to upend a chess board to do so than it is for anyone else to stop it from happening, and that it is easier to scatter the pieces than it is to put them back where they were. Having determined that he has the power to end the game by flipping the table, he has determined that this makes him the reigning grand master of chess.

Vox fancies himself a Christian, of what you might call the “flaming sword” variety; i.e., his pretense to religion is an extension of his desire to see himself as a victorious general riding forth. He’s one of the specimens of U.S. Christianity who believes that the first coming of Jesus Christ was essentially a feint, a sucker-punch, or a sequel hook for the second coming, when there will be fire and blood and conquest.

If Vox were Christian in the sense of being Christ-like in comportment or thought, he would understand the difference between conquest and victory. Christ’s victory over sin and death, in actual Christian theology, was not wrested from an enemy at the point of a sword, but purchased with humility and self-sacrifice.

For something like the Hugo Awards—or a society or community in general terms—to function, it requires a certain amount of decency from participants. A chess game cannot be played if both players do not agree to the rules, including the unwritten rules like “you have to actually play the game” and “you can’t flip the table if things aren’t going your way.” A player who wins following those rules has won, well and truly. A player who loses still has the dignity of a game well-played.

The player who flips the table has neither.

The player who was playing their best when the table was flipped?

This player has not lost.

Vox Day flipped the table on several of the “weaker” Hugo categories. If any of his pet projects “win” a Hugo as a result, it will be a meaningless victory.

Those of us who were shut out by his actions, though? Well, we can’t win a Hugo this year, but we can be satisfied knowing that we can’t lose, either. The game was upended before we could find out how we did. When the nomination data becomes public (which I believe is something World Con does as a matter of course, after the dust settles), we might get some notion of whether or not we would have made the final ballot.

Frankly, even with the buzz I had, I’m not convinced that I would have made the shortlist. Nor am I bothered by that possibility. While Larry Correia, the original Sad Puppy, and his flunky Brad Torgersen consider making the shortlist and then not winning to be an unforgivable slap in the face, I have the supreme advantage of recognizing that it is, in fact, an honor just to be nominated. I know of several people who stated their intention to nominate me, and I respect their opinions.

I mean, the award would be nice. It might be a nice boost to my ego and career. But in absolute terms, the award is just a ratification of a sentiment, and I don’t need a trophy to apprehend that sentiment.

I never cared much about the Hugos before, but I don’t have to care about a game to care that a group of self-entitled bigots are upending the table where other people are earnestly trying to play it.

Last year, the Sad Puppies’ racist ringleader Brad Torgersen wrote about what he called “the fracturing of a reliable field”; i.e., that science fiction and fantasy used to be homogeneous and predictable, but now it’s all over the place. He was calling this the downfall of genre fiction, but I see it as its apotheosis, its transcendent victory. He lamented the fact that we now have genre romance, genre thrillers, genre mysteries, etc.

Basically, he lamented the fact that science fiction and fantasy are for everyone now, not just him and people who share his tastes and politics.

And the fact that the genre world is so vast and so diverse now means that it’s hard to take its pulse in a meaningful way.

For years, the way the Hugo Awards would shake out is that in the big media categories, the winner would reflect widespread popular tastes and in the literary categories, the winner would reflect who and what had the most solid consensus among the portion of fandom that was most motivated to become informed about and vote on the topic. People (including the puppies and their critics) fought over whether it was a popular contest or a measurement of quality, and which it should be.

In theory, the whole thing should be both, with popular tastes being a rough yet measurable proxy for the immeasurable metric of quality.

But the “fractured field”, as Brad Torgersen calls it, is too big for any award to reliably sample from, which means that in practical terms the Hugo Awards were a popular vote among Hugo voters, roughly reflecting quality as determined by Hugo voters, modulated by caveats relating to things that Hugo voters are aware of.

One of my peculiar hobby horses regarding online discourse is the human inability to grasp the scale of… well, anything that doesn’t fit inside a room, really.

Larry Correia regards being one of five nominees for the Campbell Award in his freshman year as an unforgivable insult because he can’t conceive of how many people he beat out for that slot, much less how many people were technically eligible but never in the running because they weren’t on the radar. That’s an example of the scale problem. He feels slighted because he lost out to the four people he could see as his rivals. He can’t fathom how many people he left in the dust.

Larry Correia makes a decent living writing. To someone who doesn’t understand how many books and above all how many readers there are in the world, his lack of awards and universal acclaim might seem suspicious. This, in general, describes the mindset of these reactionary fandom groups: most everybody they hang out with feels X way about thing Y, so any indication that the world at large does not must be the result of collusion and conspiracy.

We talk about big fishes in small ponds. What we don’t realize often enough is that even a big fish in a big pond is still, perforce, only big within that single pond. Indeed, we often fail to realize that the pond we see is not the whole of the world.

Now, offhand, I can think of five people who expressed interest in nominating my satirical works for a Hugo. There might be a dozen or so who said something to me about it. There might even be dozens of people, period, who put my name forth.

And if you asked them my odds of getting onto the ballot, many of them would have said, “Of course! How could she not?” Because in the waters in which they swim, my name is known.

But that’s all a bunch of individual ponds.

To tell you the absolute truth, I’m relieved that I didn’t get one nomination that people were bruiting about: Best Related Work for John Scalzi Is Not A Very Popular Author And I Myself Am Quite Popular: How SJWs Always Lie About Our Comparative Popularity Levels, my satirical “translation” of Vox’s attempt to get Gamergate to fund his one-sided feud with a more successful author. I didn’t want to dissuade anyone from putting it forth because I didn’t want to instruct others how to spend their ballots, but if I had secured the nomination and then won, I would have had very mixed feelings about that category rewarding a negative work targeting an individual two years in a row. I mean, I would have appreciated the inevitable sales bump and heightened visibility, but I would have preferred to have been nominated as a Fan Writer, or had my more generalized, less-target-specific satire Sad Puppies Review Books nominated as Best Related Work.

And to further tell you the truth, in terms of career goals, I would much rather be where Larry Correia is than have a Hugo. I don’t mean bitter and forever tarnished by association with a failed award grab. I mean: self-sufficient, financially stable, and with a motivated fan base.

Somebody last year (Scalzi? I don’t know, possibly multiple people. It might even have been me.) said that the reward for being popular is being popular. If your work reaches enough people for you to pull down an income in the six figures, this isn’t the same as being objectively the best… but does it need to be?

OW, MY BACK!… from outer space. You just walked in to find me here with this pained look upon my face.

I went to bed last night with a slight backache, which I hoped would improve with a good night’s sleep. I woke up today to find that it had. Indeed, the backache is doing much better today and I, for my pains, am doing so much worse.

The only two spots in the house where I can find any comfort are my computer chair (which is actually a reclining rocker/glider with excellent head, neck, and back support), and the bathtub, which has a back that slopes just the right way. This is fairly convenient for me as these are two of my favorite places and two of the places from which I do my best writing, but the pain still gets in the way of things. It’s especially bad when I laugh… I feel these little twinges in the muscles up and down my spine.

In other news, I just made hotel reservations for MidAmerica Con, also known as WorldCon. We left it a bit late. I’ve been on the fence about whether it would be worth it to go or not. The pros are that it’s likely to be our best chance to make it to a WorldCon anytime soon, it’s conveniently located to possibly seeing family on the same trip, I vaguely know the area, and is an outside chance I might be on a shortlist this year, and even if I’m not it would be nice to meet and interact with some of the people I came across as part of last year’s events. The cons are: it’s expensive, and we don’t have a lot of money.

That’s only one con compared to a laundry list of pros, but in the end, the money question is likely to provide the final answer to whether or not we make it. If you’d like to weigh in… well, I’m a crowdfunded artist, so my tip jar is always open. For now, I’m proceeding to do things under the assumption that we will go, because if I wait too long then the opportunity will pass. I feel like I just squeeked by under the wire on getting a hotel room, even one two blocks from the convention proper.

In other other news, my recent spate of D&D campaign prep has got me thinking about the way I write fiction and whether the things I have told myself in my self-analysis of my writing stle and processes have all been true and useful.

I have in the past been dismissive of doing a lot of prepwork before writing, feeling that past a certain point it becomes a substitute for actually writing. I know people who have written literally hundreds of thousands or even millions of words in preparation for novels they intend one day to write, when they’re ready… but they never will be, because there are always more details to nail down. I certainly had phases of my creative life where I was like that.

But while I think there is something to be said for the danger of succumbing to a kind of perfectionism/completionism when it comes to your prep, I think I may have thrown a valuable and precious baby out with the bathwater when I discounted the value of such prepwork.

I’ve done more written prep for the Deepjammer campaign than I have for anything else, game or story, in over a decade. I did it mainly because I have a whole cast of players who will effectively be my collaborators in the setting, so I needed to bring it to life for them. What surprised me most is how much material I generated quite easily and quickly (enough words to fill 120 pages in standard typeset in about a week), and while those hundred thousand-plus words are not themselves a single cogent narrative, I now know enough about the setting and many of the people there that I could sit down and fairly effortlessly hammer such a narrative out off the top of my head…

And that’s the kind of easy-breezy free-flowing writing that I aspire to. Which just goes to show, it takes a lot of effort to write effortlessly.

Deepjammer: D&D as collaborative storytelling experiment.

So, those of you who follow me socially pm the mediums may already know that I’m doing a little experiment with a play-by-email D&D campaign as a sort of experiment in collaborative storytelling. The setting is a homebrew campaign setting called Deepjammer, because it started out as a mash-up of the Spelljammer setting and Deep Space 9.

You can find out more about it here.

After a lot of back-and-forth with the potential players in email, we’re close to getting things rolling. If you’d like to follow along at home, I’ve set up a mailing list that you can subscribe to here. That same page has a link for automatically generated archives (it’s empty right now), so you don’t have to subscribe to see what happens. I may also post cleaned-up recaps on the Deepjammer site.

Monday Morning Monster: Jack o’ the Lantern

Jack o' the Lantern (2)







Resembling a scarecrow with a burning jack o’ lantern for its head, a jack o’ the lantern differs from the more familiar animated scarecrow in being a spontaneously created undead being rather than a deliberately created construct.

The story goes that when a sufficiently hateful or angry and murderously evil person dies in a pumpkin field, the murderer’s soul, seeking purchase on the material plane either to avoid an unkind fate in the lower planes or to seek revenge against its killer, can either move into one of the pumpkins or seep into the soil and from there enter a gourd.

A pumpkin so inhabited by a soul will grow tall and round and slightly misshapen in a way that vaguely suggests a humanoid skull. Anyone who looks closely at or touches the pumpkin will receive a suggestion (as per the spell; save DC 13) to carve a face into it and put it on a scarecrow body. The first night that the light of the full moon shines on such a scarecrow, a fire will ignite inside its pumpkin skull and it will be animated into a grim mockery of life.

The anger and hatred that the jack o’ the lantern’s spirit feels fuels its existence. While a jack o’ the lantern is a free-willed creature with all the knowledge its soul possessed in life, it is incapable of tender emotions, calm rationality, or mercy. Any better qualities the soul may have had are burned away in the fires of rage.


Well, this has been a week of technical difficulties. I kind of spent Monday decompressing and adjusting to the reality that I really didn’t have to keep calling in to the jury scheduling hot line, then woke up Tuesday morning, ready and raring to… walk straight into problems with my browser, tablet, word processor, and websites.

I spent a couple of hours yesterday trying to log into this very website. There’s a thing that happens sometimes when WordPress updates where the backend gets caught in a loop of updating the database, and it happens often enough that I mostly know how to fix it but not often enough that I don’t have to refresh myself. It also requires me to use an FTP login that I don’t use very often and which doesn’t always seem to work, even when I’m sure I’m doing everything right.

I’ve been having a lot of problems with using Word on my phone and tablet (and thus moving between them and the computer), which also seemed to be related to updates.

I’ve been very excited about Word lately because they have finally updated the mobile version to persistently and automatically save what you’re doing to the cloud; the fact that it didn’t was basically a fatal flaw in the mobile (or at least Android, I don’t know about other platforms) versions of it; you’d change screens, or sometimes even just let your device go to sleep, and when you went back to Word, you’d find it had dumped the memory and put you back on the menu screen.

Google Docs has some stuff going for it, but it gets less usable the bigger and more complex a document you’re working with. The two things that kept me from doing all of my stuff in one place was Microsoft not giving the same editing features for mobile (stuff like text styles) and Microsoft not having a persistent autosave. Both of those things have been fixed now.

I have been working on a couple of things I’ll be talking about in the coming days and/or next week. This will (hopefully) not be my only blog post here today, but I wanted to start the working day off by just dropping a line to everybody watching that I’m okay, since it’s been a few days.

Duty’s End: Expectation, Hope, and Fear.

So, as of today, I am officially 100% done with jury duty. Tuesday wound up being the last day I was actually in the courthouse, but there was a slim chance I could be called up any day through today, the official end of my term of service. I’ve had a hard time relaxing fully or focusing on anything else even on days when I wasn’t scheduled. That’s over, though.

The whole process went about as I expected, in that 90% of it was being available and 90% of what was left was just showing up. It didn’t go as well as I had hoped, in that I never actually made it to the jury box, and in fact, never made it closer than two numbers away from being called to stand up front for lawyer approval. It went much better than I feared, in that I was never challenged, expelled, asked to explain myself, or worse.

The thing that people who don’t have a serious risk factor when dealing with officialdom don’t get is that there is a difference between fear and expectation. I knew it was more likely I would have a neutral or at least not overtly harmful experience than a seriously negative one.  I didn’t expect to run into problems for being trans, but I had to prepare for it. Making it through the process okay doesn’t mean I was “worried over nothing”; it means the worst didn’t happen.

When one bigot with a power trip can ruin your day, it only takes that one bigot. The odds might be 1 in 100 or 1 in 1,000 or even lower, but if you get that 1, you’re stuck with it.

When I talked about my anxieties over the process, I got comments from people on Twitter and Facebook who don’t understand that I was speaking specifically about a trans experience here, and who tried to minimize it by telling me I was worried over nothing. They told me not to sweat it, and gave me their best tips for getting out of jury duty. None of them understood that I didn’t want to “get out of it”, I wanted to get through it.

One congenitally clueless commenter told me “Just dress like you dress for cons and they’ll send you home for sure!”, which made me feel super awesome since I usually dress a little extra nicely for cons, the same as I would for court. I felt better when I realized that the clerk of the court and the court reporter basically have the same sense of style I do; my “comfortable but conservative” dress mode is apparently exactly the level of decorum expected for court.

The thing is that to me, bragging about getting out of jury duty is a bit like bragging about getting out of an election. If I’m ever sitting in a courtroom participating in a trial by jury on either side, I would want someone like me to be sitting there in the jury box. I therefore owe it to everyone else like me to give my best shot at getting into the jury box, which is what I did.

The whole process was very painless. Everybody involved with whom I interacted or observed—with the exception of one public defender who seemed to have a very low opinion of the public—was friendly, helpful, and very cognizant of the fact that most of the people in the court on whatever business were doing so for the first times in their lives. There were signs posted everywhere, no one minded questions, the jury pool mailers included very helpful FAQs assembled by the clerk, and a full hour of the two hour orientation day was more Q&A and very helpful hand-holding by the clerk.

Despite all the stereotypes about the experience and the many knowing tips about how to “beat the system”, it turns out it’s not that hard to get excused legitimately. Half of that hour was over what to do if you can’t make it, if you have family obligations, children without a sitter, or even a vacation. Coming up with a slick system to get out of it on some pretense is basically the equivalent of doing commando belly crawls and acrobatic flips down an office hallway to the water cooler so “The Man” won’t know you’re taking a hydration break; i.e., you aren’t actually that slick. Everybody knows what you’re doing and no one cares.

The most interesting part of the experience for me was that first day, when we went through orientation. We’d all receive multiple mailings including helpful informative pamphlets and the aforementioned FAQ, and basically every document we had referenced the expected dress code and mentioned the jury schedule hotline that we were instructed to call the Thursday before each week of service to find out when we were scheduled, including our first week (the one that started with orientation).

And when we reached the Q&A part of the presentation, fully half of the questions were in the form of guys—all white guys, all guys who were at or just below the minimum standards of the dress code—raising their hands and saying, “You’re telling me I’m scheduled this week?” and “I didn’t see anything about calling  any hotline.” and “This is the first I’ve heard of any phone number I was supposed to call.” and “The only thing I got said to come in today and I’d be done.”

As I observed on Twitter after that first day, you can learn a lot about socioeconomic privilege in the United States by telling a diverse sample of people that a person who has the power to throw them in jail if he thinks they’re contemptuous would really appreciate it if they would all dress up nice as a sign of respect for his office, like they would for a job interview.

The result was a lot of white guys in jeans and short-sleeved shirts, a few in jean shorts or cut-offs and t-shirts, a lot of women who were dressed business casual. Some of them had very clearly pulled out their nicer jeans and nicer short-sleeved shirts, but there weren’t a lot of collars. The only visibly Latino guy was in a three piece suit. Black women were uniformly dressed for the boardroom.

I, the white trans woman who doesn’t often clock as trans to people who don’t know, was somewhere in the middle, hitting about the same level as the women who work there. My main goal was to give no one any reason to notice me and look closer.

Anyway, that was my experience with the… experience. It went like I expected it would, not as well as I’d hoped and not as bad as I’d feared, and now it’s over. I’m writing about it in part because one of the things I did when I got the first letter was go searching online for other trans people’s experiences with it, which did help put my mind at ease.


angels of the meanwhile smallNo more placeholder cover mock-up, because Angels of the Meanwhile is now live! We’ve sent it off to the poets and authors, we’ve sent it off to the pre-orderers and donors, and we’ve found it a place to live on the web where any further sales can go directly to Pope Lizbet with no intermediaries.

Check your inbox if you’re expecting a copy (and your spam folder if it’s not there). If you’re not… well, it’s not too late to help Elizabeth or to help yourself to phenomenal writing. Just follow the link!

Busy, busy day…

Well, today’s the day we send Angels out into the world. It’s going to be a busy, busy day of making sure this is absolutely the best it can be. Next week is my last week of jury duty, and I have been informed now that it’s going to be a short one as the court wraps up its business for the March session. I am officially off the hook after Tuesday.