A Haiku For Friday, August 9th

A startle of wet
briskly awakens my skin.
I am thinking flesh.

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Silly Interview with Brooke Bolander, who will teach you the guiding principle “What Would David Bowie Wear”

 

 

This is a headshot of a pale woman against an almost completely black background. She has wavy auburn hair that is swept up and off to the left, round reflective black sunglasses with white frames, and bright red, glossy lipstick. She is wearing a green velvet jacket with a black trim.

Brooke Bolander

Rachel Swirsky: Frankly, your fashion is amazing. I would be happy to listen to you talk about it in whatever way you want. If you’d like some prompting – what’s the basis of your aesthetic? How do you find clothes?

 Brooke Bolander, a white woman, is viewed from the side, against a gradiated grey background. She has auburn hair that is shaved around the sides and the back, but left long on the top. It is wavy, and swept forward over her eyes. She is wearing black glasses, and has a silver hoop cartilage piercing, along with a dangling black bead. She has a thin silver necklace on.

Brooke Bolander

Brooke Bolander: Thank you so much! Man, I don’t know if I have an aesthetic per se so much as I just try to find whatever works for me, and what apparently what mostly works for me is loud, shiny, and more often than not vintage. There was a time when I dressed low-key, because I was trying to more or less blend in with the background. It didn’t work. I have never been good at blending in. I only evolved into my current sense of fashion, for what it’s worth, when I accepted that and started wearing the loudest shit I could find in the store. 

 

Besides the cardinal fashion compass of “What Would Bowie Wear?” (WWDBW), my process is mostly going into vintage clothing stores and rooting around until I find the most ridiculous thing, at which point I will say “this is utterly ridiculous and will never work on anybody, let alone me” and then I try it on and it inevitably works. Last time it was a sequined jumpsuit. You also can’t go wrong with effectively cosplaying concepts of things, ie “today I am going to stealth dress as a tree/dinosaur/book.” 

 

RS: Your Wikipedia page informs me that you spent time in college studying archaeology. How has that influenced your writing? (and/or what’s the weirdest thing you learned which hasn’t made it into common knowledge?)

 

BB: That was actually one of the earliest points at which I started getting the urge to write original fiction. I had dabbled in fanfiction before, but sitting in class studying the Mesolithic in particular–a very interesting period in human development well before we actually started writing stuff down–put questions in my head. Why was this woman buried with a swan’s wing? Why was this one wearing a golden prosthetic eye? History is full of mysteries, and mysteries want to be explained. Sometimes that involves making stuff up. Call it historical fanfic, if you like. 

 

I think the coolest thing we read about in my degree was St. Bees Man. “St Bees Man” was the name given to a knight by the name of Anthony de Lucy who died in 1360. He was buried in a priory in Cumbria. His coffin was sealed in lead, which, combined with the bitumen-soaked shroud his body was wrapped in, created an anaerobic environment that preserved him almost perfectly for the next 600 years. When the University of Leicester exhumed the corpse in 1981 his cheeks were still pink, there was still blood in his body, his irises were intact, and his stomach contents were preserved almost perfectly. 600 years! You can find the photos online if you poke around, and they are amazing, if pretty gruesome. 

 

RS: In another of your short stories that I like, you write about Laika the dog who was sent into space. Laika was the first living being to be launched into Earth orbit. It was onboard the Soviet satellite Sputnik 2 in 1957. It was always understood that Laika would not survive the mission, but her actual fate was misrepresented for decades. (If you’ve seen Bojack Horseman, by the way, the show features intelligent, humanoid animals, and I really liked that, in their universe, the first woman in space was Laika.) What about Laika pulled at you? Are there other stories about the experiences of real, historical animals which have tugged at your imagination?

 

BB: Laika was a sacrifice and the tragedy of that haunts me. The scientists working on the project knew she most likely wouldn’t survive, unlike most of the dogs in the space programme that came later like Strelka and Belka, but her survival was never a primary concern. She was a street dog acquired from the pound because they figured strays would be best equipped to handle the harsh conditions that might result from being shot into space, and she just … got unlucky. She won the anti-jackpot. You get to be the first Earth animal in orbit, but also you die alone! Cool cool. We’re sort of bred dogs to be the perfect victims and this is like the depressing culmination of that layer of our relationship with them. 

 

I seem to be doing a series on historical animal tragedy as a throughline of my career. “Sun Dogs” was the first. Since then, I’ve published The Only Harmless Great Thing (partially about Topsy, the elephant electrocuted at Coney Island in 1903 whose death was recorded & distributed by the Edison Film Company as Electrocuting an Elephant) and No Flight Without The Shatter, which features Benjamin the last surviving thylacine & Martha the last passenger pigeon as lead characters. I guess it’s a trilogy at this point.

 

RS: I’ve only asked you questions about your very early work — because that’s when I was reading all the time! What silly questions should I be asking you about your more recent stories?

 

BB: No question is silly! But if you were inclined and asked me where to acquire my most recent work, I’d point to Apex’s “Do Not Go Quietly” anthology that just came out this very month (I have a Little Match Girl retelling in that one) or to Tor.com (which featured “No Flight Without The Shatter” last year & published The Only Harmless Great Thing, my very first book-shaped object, in January 2018). 

 

RS: What projects are you currently working on?

 

BB: Forever and always my novel, but I’m very much hoping to finally have a draft of that done by the end of 2019. Otherwise I’ve got a short piece coming out with Lightspeed later on in the year, and am currently putting the finishing touches on another story I’ve pitched as “Drive meets Spirited Away.” We’ll see if that one turns out as silly as it sounds.

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Open Thread and Link Farm, Street Kids With Dog Edition

  1. Opinion | The Terrible Things Trump Is Doing in Our Name – The New York Times (Alternate link.)
    “Family separation, it turns out, never really stopped. According to Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the A.C.L.U.’s National Immigrants’ Rights Project, just over 700 families were separated between last June and late May.”
  2. (140) “Transtrenders” | ContraPoints – YouTube
    I love Natalie’s videos – especially ones like this, which ends up embracing some ambiguity and showing both the debaters in the last half of the video as flawed but sympathetic. CW: Some trans readers, in the comments, said that they found this video “hard to watch because of how personal it is.”
  3. Why Democrats Should Pack the Supreme Court | Take Care
  4. Opinion | I Co-Founded Facebook. It’s Time to Break Up Facebook – The New York Times(Alternate link.)
    “The F.T.C.’s biggest mistake was to allow Facebook to acquire Instagram and WhatsApp.”
  5. The DSM-IV Believed Women Didn’t Have Paraphilias | Thing of Things
  6. Groundbreaking climate change discovery made by, sigh, Boaty McBoatface
  7. What We Get Wrong About Closing The Racial Wealth Gap
    Debunking ten myths about the cause of the Black-white wealth gap.
  8. Good Samaritans Punished for Offering Lifesaving Help to Migrants – The Appeal
  9. Thousands petition Netflix to cancel Amazon Prime’s Good Omens | Books | The Guardian
    I don’t see any political meaning in their mistake, I just think it’s funny. Also, Good Omens was pretty good TV, that was great TV whenever the two lead performers were on screen.
  10. Robert Kraft prostitution case surveillance warrant cited Orchids of Asia Day Spa’s full refrigerator | WEEI
  11. Questions For Our Opponents, Answered | Thing of Things
    Answering the strawmanny questions from a anti-trans feminist philosopher.
  12. “Coming Out” as Face Blind – Narratively – Pocket
    It sounds like “coming out” was more fraught with fear for the author than it was for me. But, like her, I’ve found that being willing to tell people I’m faceblind really improved my life.
  13. An Arctic fox trekked from Norway to Canada, wowing scientists – The Washington Post
  14. In the recent Democratic Party debate, Bernie Sanders suggested “rotating” Supreme Court justices. He seems to have been referring to this proposal.
    “…every judge on the federal courts of appeals would also be appointed as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court would hear cases, but through a panel of nine justices selected, at random, from all the justices. Once selected, the justices would research and prepare cases from their home court of appeals chambers before traveling to Washington to hear oral arguments for two weeks, when another set of judges would replace them. The panel members would then return to their home chambers to complete their opinions. In addition,a 7-2 supermajority of the Court, rather than a simple majority, would be needed to overturn a federal statute.”
  15. ‘Better to Be Born Rich Than Smart’: Education Must Answer for Systemic Inequality – Education Week
  16. How to Hire Fake Friends and Family – The Atlantic – Pocket
    “Yuichi: I say, “I’m very sorry. I’m a member of the Family Romance corporation. I’m not your true father.” Right before she can respond—just as she opens her mouth to speak, I wake up. I am terrified of the answer, so I just wake up.” (See also: Rentafriend.)
  17. Overzealous cleaner ruins £690,000 artwork that she thought was dirty | Art and design | The Guardian
    God I love stories like this.
  18. Opinion | San Francisco school board votes to destroy historic WPA-era murals.
    And yet I hate stories like this. (The mural depicts American Indians and slaves owned by George Washington, because the painter wanted to make an anti-racism statement.) I wouldn’t mind them moving the murals, or even hiding them behind panels, but destroying them is appalling.
  19. Maggots could revolutionize the global food supply. Here’s how. – The Washington Post(Alternative link).
  20. How a Criminal Justice Reform Became an Enrichment Scheme For The DA’s Office – POLITICO Magazine
    “Meanwhile, in 2019, Louisiana cut its annual state budget for public defenders by 83 percent.” Louisiana has the 2nd highest incarceration rate in the country.
  21. Belle Delphine: Is Bathwater Gamer Girl the Greatest Internet Troll? – Rolling Stone
    Since this article, a mass-reporting campaign successfully got Delphine kicked off instagram.
  22. State Supreme Court: Obesity covered by anti-discrimination lawThe Washington State Supreme Court ruled that “obesity” is a disability, and thus employers can’t refuse to hire qualified people because of them being “obese.” I suspect it’s still legal to fire people for being fat if they’re not fat enough to meet the BMI definition of “obese.”
  23. Ulysses Grant’s Civil-War Expulsion of the South’s Jews – HISTORY
    Lincoln interceded and prevented Grant from mass-evicting Jews from the South. Later in his career, Grant worked hard to be a friend to Jews, either out of sincere repentance or out of a desire to stop being known as an antisemite.
  24. A Bay Area ban on feeding squirrels and birds saved their lives – Vox
    Feeding pigeons and birds seems like a harmless, pleasent activity. But noooooooo.
  25. Democrats tried to win over working-class voters. But they ignored their biggest worry. – Vox
    That worry being stagnant wages, which basically were not discussed at all at last night’s debate.
  26. Why aren’t voters more willing to abandon a health system that’s failing? – Vox
    I thought that this was a very good article. In particular, the point that no system can truthfully promise stability – private, public and single-payer plans are all subject to being changed from above – is a good one. (I totally stan Elizabeth Warren, but this is one issue I disagree with her on – letting Americans choose between private and public options is just better than outlawing private insurance.)
  27. An open letter from to Lierre Keith, a TERF, from Bonnie Mann, a radical feminist who used to be anti-trans. (pdf link).

Posted in Link farms | 67 Comments  

Rachel Swirsky 2019-07-24 11:27:33

Mozart is a character I drew for a role-playing game I was sketching out called Cats and Dogs Living Together. 

Mozart was raised as a potential show dog, but only competed once before retiring. At six pounds, the handsome eight-year-old toy poodle has gotten skinnier since his heyday, but he’s still meticulous about his floofy hairdo. He remembers his show tricks, and always strikes a pose before jumping. He’s very intelligent; with his smarts, age, and experience, he’s known for giving good advice.

This content was posted early for my patrons on Patreon! Thank you!

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Silly Interview with Aliette de Bodard, Expert on Lovecraftian House Plants

Aliette de Bodard, Photo Credit: Lou Abercrombie

Rachel Swirsky: What is the best part of living in Paris?
Aliette de Bodard: The bread. Or possibly the éclairs. I have a weakness for coffee éclairs, and they’re just not the same abroad (I’ve tried!).

RS: What is the worst part of living in Paris?
ADB: We don’t really have snowy winters, snow melts before it hits the ground. Wait. Maybe that’s a positive.

RS: You do interesting combinations of fantasy and science fiction. What about genre mixing appeals to you?
ADB: It just happens I guess! I think of fantasy and science fiction as a large continuum of things, and I tend to pick and match the bits I like for a given project. I find it’s very helpful for atmosphere, but there’s also serious reasons: scientific rigour when world building a fantasy world helps a lot (even if there’s a lot of overt or hidden magic with fuzzier rules), and projecting science beyond, say, the 50-year-mark is always going to lead to technologies that feel like they’re breaking the current rules (aka seem like magic, as Clarke said).

RS: What is the tastiest part of living in Paris?
ADB: The Vietnamese grocery stores are only 40 minutes away (I live in the wrong area of town lol), which gives me the perfect excuse to grab a bowl of phở before going shopping.

RS: I kind of want to go back to Paris.
ADB: Everybody should! I grouch a bit, but I love the city. So many things to see (and so much food. I kind of always go back to the food).

RS: You’ve said your writing process when you were tackling “Immersion,” my favorite of your short stories, evolved out of anger, and that was unusual for you. How was that writing process different from your normal one? Have you written out of anger again since?
ADB: The issue with anger is that I can’t really sustain it for long (and that it takes a toll on me I’m not a big fan of). My writing process generally has its roots in curiosity: I have an idea and go research some more on details, and shape the plot that way.

I do get angry when researching stuff: for The House of Shattered Wings I had to research the Vietnamese diaspora in Paris, and there’s quite a few hair-raising tales of people being conscripted into making weapons and being used as indentured labour for years after the war was over. But there’s definitely no way I could write an entire novel fuelled on anger, it would be too painful.

RS: What is the most beautiful piece of art you’ve seen in Paris?
ADB: Uh, there’s a lot of them around! It’s a bit of a silly thing, but last time I was in Musée Cernuschi (the Asian Arts museum), there was this huge bronze statue of an (Asian) dragon leaping from the sea by the staircase. I’m not sure who made it or when it dates from, because there was no label on it, but it struck me as pretty amazing because the artist had captured the sense of flowing, arrested movement I associate with dragons.

RS: Can you describe what you call the Lovecraftian plants taking over your living room? Pictures more than welcome.
ADB: When we moved in, my in-laws gave my husband a cutting from a plant they had at home–it started as this really tiny handful of vines, and then it wouldn’t stop growing! It’s slowed down a bit today because we put it a little away from the light and decided not to water it quite as much (not being big fans of the plant invasion). At one point, when we moved out of our old flat, its roots had pierced the pot it was in and were busy trying to find some purchase on the parquet–it was a good idea to move the pot, or I fear we’d have had to tear the plant from its spot!

My colleagues gave me another one which is a kind of rubber tree, which also started as a tiny thing not much higher than my waist–over the summer it drank an entire bottle of water per day and made clusters of leaves every three days. It was double the size by the time I brought it home–same thing, we took it away from the windows and tried to water it a little less…

RS: If you were forced to enter one of the worlds you’ve written about, which would you pick, and what would you do there?
ADB: Uh. Probably the Xuya universe because a lot of the others are very bleak! I’d be a builder of Minds for spaceships and space stations, I suspect–I’d quite like to be like Lady Oanh in On a Red Station, Drifting, fixing problems with Minds and making sure everything runs smoothly.

RS: Anything else? Take it away!
ADB: Phở. Everyone should try phở if they haven’t already (ok ok, I’ll grant that you can try bi cuốn if not phở. They’re rice paper rolls with marinated pork rinds and fish mint, which is a herb with a very particular taste that I haven’t seen much outside of Vietnam. There’s very few ingredients in them total, but they taste *so* good).

(This interview was posted one week early for my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!)

Posted in Interviews | 5 Comments  

The Financial Calamity That Is The Teaching Profession

The paragraphs below are from an article in The Atlantic by Alia Wong with the same title I’ve given to this post. I’m just going to let them speak for themselves.

Teachers have never been particularly well paid, but in recent decades their financial situation has gotten remarkably worse, mostly for two major reasons. The first is that pay has not grown, concludes a recent analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, which finds that relative teacher wages “have been eroding for over half a century.” When adjusted for inflation, teachers’ average weekly pay has decreased by $21 from 1996 to 2018, according to the report, while that for other college graduates rose by $323. Data from the 2016-17 school year, the most recent for which federal statistics are available, show that K–12 teachers on average earned about $58,000 a year. In states such as Oklahoma and West Virginia—whose teaching forces each staged massive, high-profile strikes last year—the average pay is less than $46,000. In many places, educators are earning less in real terms than they did in 2009.

And the second pressure is the costs: In those same years that teacher pay has stagnated, common costs for a teacher’s household—housing, child care, higher education—have gotten much more expensive. That’s especially true in certain metro areas—San Francisco, Denver, and Seattle—where housing costs have exploded. Though these places see their real-estate markets driven by entrepreneurs, tech workers, bankers, and so on, they still need teachers, of course. In some of these places, officials have considered establishing affordable-housing communities that would be earmarked for teachers. On top of this, it’s become more common in the years since the recession for teachers to spend their own money on school supplies: Almost all public-school educators these days report shelling out personal cash for classroom products, allocating close to $500 a year on average, according to federal data.

Obviously, this financial picture becomes all the tighter when someone is also paying down student loans. Most bachelor’s-degree graduates—65 percent—have student debt, the average amount surpassing $28,000, according to the Institute for College Access and Success, a nonprofit that seeks to make higher education more affordable and available for Americans. But as of the 2015-16 school year, a little more than half of all K–12 educators also had postbaccalaureate qualifications like master’s degrees, which means they carry even more debt. A 2014 study found that people who’d earned a master’s in education had an average debt amount of roughly $51,000. (Those with an MBA, on the other hand, graduated with $42,000 in debt, on average.) For K–12 educators with a master’s degree, the average student-debt amount more than doubled between 2000 and 2012, according to one Education Next analysis.

 

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Patreon Content for May & June 2019!

Patreon content went up this week! There’s a poem for all patrons: ” Silver Tree Day” which I wrote about the street where my grandparents lived. For $2 patrons, there’s an excerpt from an unfinished story about first business in space exploration titled “The First Spaceship I Ever Flew.” And for $5 and up patrons, there’s a reprint of my story for Chicks Unravel Time, a collection of essays about Dr. Who from a feminist perspective, “Guten Tag, Hitler.”

Last month, I posted a story for all patrons “The Station at the Corner of Enning and Pine” I was 16 in 1998, and the political details of this era are in my skin.  For $2 patrons, there’s a rough story, The Noodle Effect, that I started with a three word prompt and a commitment to keep writing no matter how weird it went. And for $5 and up patrons, there’s a first to last draft evolution of  “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love”.

As always, thank you to all my patrons! You help make my writing possible and keep my head in one piece!

Posted in Fiction, Patreon | Leave a comment  

Silly Interview with S. L. Huang, Spectacular Specimen of Superhumanity

SL Huang. Photo Credit: Chris Massa

Rachel Swirsky: When you were at MIT, did you take any writing classes? What was it like studying writing in that environment? 

SL Huang: I did not!  Which is kind of strange given that MIT has a ridiculously good creative writing program, but I was in my “writing is the one thing I do that I will not stress out about or set any goals for” phase. (You can see how that has worked out for me, she says, eyeing the current mountain of deadlines.)

RS: Your bio says you are a gunslinger. Are you really a gunslinger? I hope so. Feel free to lie if you aren’t (or if you are, actually).

SLH: I am indeed really a gunslinger.  Some number of the following facts are true about me:

  • I have qualified at the Expert Rifleman level on a civilian version of the Army Qualifying Test
  • I can field-strip an AK-47 in less than seven seconds
  • I once fixed a malfunctioning Springfield XD with a piece of duct tape
  • I have fired an Uzi in the middle of Market Street, San Francisco
  • I’ve had conversations with police officers while hiding five shotguns under my trench coat

(NB, for the NSA agents reading this: the police officers knew they were there.)

RS: What is your gunslinger origin story?

SLH: I learned to shoot at MIT.  No, really.  MIT has one of the best pistol programs in the country.

My pistol coach from MIT now coaches the U.S. Paralympics Shooting Team.  We’re still in touch.

RS: You mention liking the abelian grape joke which I must admit I do not understand. I really like the Heisenberg’s speeding ticket joke. What does our shared love of terrible nerd jokes say about us? I remind you that you are free to lie.

SLH: It means we are spectacular specimens of superhumanity who ride into battle on dragons and eat gas giants for breakfast.

(p.s. I love the Heisenberg speeding ticket joke, too.)

RS: In 2016 you put together an anthology of Campbell-eligible writers so that they can show off their work to potential voters. In the past, it has always been difficult to identify eligible writers, let alone find all their work in one place. How did you figure out who to include? Did you reach out to writers who were in professional TOCs, or did you wait for people to come to you?

SLH: We (my co-runner Kurt Hunt and I) sidestepped the identification-of-eligibility question by pawning off the work on our friends at Writertopia, who maintain a list of Campbell-eligible writers as a genre resource.  Put yourself on their list, we said, and you can be in the book!

In all seriousness, we did not mean to cause so much extra work for them — we figured most people interested would be on the Writertopia list already.  But we figured WAY wrong, and Writertopia got flooded with add requests.  Bill Katz and David Walton over there are absolute gems of human beings — they did an incredible job vetting and adding people before our deadline, and they’ve given us nothing but support.  We owe them big time.

As for how we reached out — hahaha, we had less than two weeks to get submissions; there was no way we could wait for people to come to us.  We posted on forums, blogged, and tweeted.  We sent over a dozen press releases to genre sites and asked for signal boosts from well-followed voices in SFF.  We also wanted to reach out to eligible writers and invite them directly, but could only find public email addresses for about 60% of the people who were already on Writertopia’s list — and here our Writertopia friends did us yet another solid and forwarded an invitation to them all on our behalf.

I was so, so pleased with the response we got.  120 authors!  Over A MILLION WORDS OF FICTION!

We passed the torch on it the following year, and I hope anthologies of the year’s Campbell-eligible writers keep being a thing as often as possible. Some of our authors told us the anthology felt like an enormous group hug, and I’m so proud to have been a part of that.

RS: Looking at the stories in the Campbell anthology, would you say there were noticeable thematic preoccupations? What was the zeitgeist for new writers in 2015?

SLH: The biggest zeitgeist, I think, is that there wasn’t one.  The thematic diversity in this group is incredible.  I wasn’t able to read even close to all million words, but we had stories from F&SF and Analog, Strange Horizons and Mothership Zeta, Angry Robot and Baen.  We had self-published, small press, and Big Five.  We had funny stories and tearjerking ones, swashbucklers and horror, aliens and myths and hard SF and fairy tales.  Flash, shorts, novel excerpts, even a play!  And the authors came from all over the world and from all walks of life — we even had at least one translation.

If this anthology proved anything, it’s that the upcoming generation of SFF writers want there to be room for all types of stories.  And so far we’re kicking ass at making that happen.

RS: Any projects coming up, or anything else you’d like to write about?

SLH: So much!!

My main novel series is the Cas Russell series with Tor Books — the first book, Zero Sum Game, came out last year, and the sequel Null Set is dropping in July. Billed by Tor as “the geek’s Jack Reacher,” it’s about a superheroine — an antiheroine — who can do math really, really fast.
She uses it to kill a lot of people. As you do with math.


I’m also one of the collaborators who wrote The Vela, a serialized novel that was just released from Serial Box. My co-authors are Yoon Ha Lee, Rivers Solomon, and Becky Chambers, and you can read the whole thing right now!

That “let’s not set any goals or deadlines for writing” philosophy from college REALLY was not very successful for me…

(This interview was posted early for my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!)

Posted in Interviews | 6 Comments  

Silly Interview with Monica Valentinelli, Who Aspires to Terrify You with Marshmallows


(Editor’s Note: This interview has been in the vault. For Monica’s most updated work, visit her at  www.booksofm.com.)

Rachel Swirsky: You can write any tie-in on any subject you want. All the normal rules are out the window. If you’re writing Star Trek, you can have Q take over the universe. Whatever you like. What’s the tie-in book you’d write?

Monica Valentinelli: Well, I’ve been staring at this question for five minutes now, and I’m finding it impossible to narrow my options down to one. The book I would absolutely love to write is a Star Wars novel written as a mosaic (Yep, Game of Thrones!). The story for that would be a sordid tale of how different factions (which includes the Sith, Jedi, Witches of Dathomir, Kamino Cloners, Hutts) are all vying to become “the” de facto leaders of the Republic well before the the Old Republic ever existed. I’m talking centuries before the technology was created that allowed pilots to make the jump into hyperspace; here, space travel still exists it’s just a lot slower. For this to work, I wouldn’t kill off the Force-users and make them as rare as they currently are. Instead, I’d go the exact opposite direction. Force-users exist, but nobody believes they have real power, because they pass them off as religious or think their “tricks” are due to scientific or technologic advances. Only, they’re (Force-users) are not gifted due to genetics or midichlorians at all. So, it’s far less about “one family’s legacy” and more about “faction”. Everybody has a stake in controlling the galaxy, and sometimes they forget there’s other, more terrifying threats out there—like the Yuuzahn Vong or an unknown force. I think there’s a lot of politics in Star Wars that sometimes gets missed due to the high-octane action; its iconic setting is a treasure trove for storytelling potential, and I’d love to see (Who knows? Maybe write?) more genre-bending tales set in the universe.

Fantasy and horror are a bit tougher, because I prefer to create my own worlds in those genres; magic and mystery are comfortable wheelhouses for me. Of course, it doesn’t help that some of my fandoms (especially anime, Final Fantasy, and Miyazaki films) I’m way too nervous to touch; I don’t know if you’ve seen Madoka Magica, but I wouldn’t change anything after watching that; it’s perfect just as it is. If we’re going SUPER silly? Ever since Universal announced they were rebooting their universe, I kept thinking about the breakfast cereal. You know, Boo Berry, Franken Berry, Count Chocula, etc.? Yeah, a novel…but instead of scary monsters you get edible marshmallows and the only way to stop them from terrorizing your town is to eat them. Tasty. I have a lot of fun writing the ridiculous, and I don’t get to do that terribly often.

RS: Can you describe how you put a game book, like the Firefly RPG, together?

MV: Sure thing! So, the role I’m elaborating on is called a “developer”. This position requires management and participation in the team-based production of a game (or an entire line) from concept to approvals to print, while balancing the needs and desires of the publisher, license holder, and fans. The logistics of this position will vary widely from license to license and publisher to publisher. The Firefly RPG corebook, for example, was a complex and very involved undertaking for a number of reasons ranging from our focus on the TV show as opposed to the movie, which are two separate licenses, to ensuring that we made a game that Browncoats would be happy with. We encountered a lot of demand for the game after we announced in February 2013 but found there wasn’t enough time to produce a full corebook for our projected launch at GenCon, which took place in August 2013. Since GenCon is a significant show for game releases, we decided to release a preview, instead, so we could incorporate fan feedback for the full corebook.

In general, however, the tasks related to producing a game book happen over many months and might include: designing the production schedule, developing clear outlines and instructions for each book, finding, hiring, and managing other freelance game designers, writers, editors, indexers, artists, and layout artists, managing playtesters, working with sales or marketing partners, sending out contracts, making canon-related decisions and sticking to approval guidelines, etc. In addition to all of this, I feel the biggest responsibility I have as a developer is one of quality control. On each game I develop, I’m involved and participate in every step of production (outlining, writing, editing, layout, proofing, and approvals) to ensure the result is something everyone will love.

RS: You also wrote and designed a dictionary and encyclopedia for Firefly. Can you tell us about those books?

MV: I had a great deal of fun working with my editor at Titan Books to produce Firefly: The Gorramn Shiniest Language Guide and Phrasebook in the ’Verse, which is available on April 12th. We designed this reference book to pull words from the television show scripts and define them, in context, for the benefit of the reader so that they might get a clear idea of what it’s like to live in the Verse. Every word chosen was intentional—even the simpler words—to establish what setting bits and pieces of dialogue mirrored our own world exactly as we know them, and to contrast the definitions that are slightly shifted or engineered to fit the world of Firefly. We also added character write-ups for the cast and a huge section featuring Jenny Lynn, the show’s translator, and her work on Firefly.

Following this, I was hired to write the Firefly Encyclopedia. Revisiting the universe, I was able to incorporate the comics to write a narrative retelling of the story thus far, dive into the culture, offer interviews, feature Tony Lee’s work (who was the Chinese translator on both the Firefly and Serenity RPG lines), and provide an analysis of the scripts that included my commentary and information about the story’s inspiration.

Both books are available wherever they are sold. When I was in Seattle recently, I signed some copies of the encyclopedia at the Barnes and Noble, but they’re going fast!

RS: If the characters from Firefly could choose any cake flavors, which flavors would they choose?

MV: Such a fun question! Kaylee might go for strawberry shortcake, and Simon would probably go for a devil’s food—so he could savor what a real chocolate cake tastes like! Let’s see, Book is pretty interesting because he’s a preacher with a mysterious past, so I think a vanilla cake with a surprise filling inside, like raspberry, works out pretty well for his character. Inara is very elegant and sophisticated, so she might prefer something like a ginger peach cake with green tea icing. Mal? I’m guessing he doesn’t care if his cake is fancy provided it has frosting on it. For Jayne, I’d have to go with apple pie. Technically it’s not a cake, but I imagine the smell of apples might remind him of home—even though his mom may not have been able to afford enough apples to bake such a confection. River? Hrmm… That’s a tough one, because depending upon her state of mind she might enjoy a birthday cake she had as a child, or something a bit more colorful like red velvet. That leaves Zoe and Wash. Being the insufferable romantic that I am, I have to go with the top of their wedding cake for both of them.

RS: Tell us about your most recent story.

MV: The story I published most recently is titled “My Name is Cybernetic Model XR389F and I am Beautiful” for Uncanny Magazine. I talked a lot about this story in my interview with Caroline M. Yoachim in that issue. Since the story debuted, I’ve learned a lot about perception and identity. You see, I wasn’t angry when I wrote this story. I simply relayed a specific experience that I, and a lot of other women have, using the lens of science fiction to examine and question it in a fictional context. Not so much “write what I know”, but more “write my truth.” I’m deeply concerned that we laud technological achievements without recognizing our inventions don’t change who we are; they will reflect our biases and core beliefs, because we made them. If we don’t broaden our perspectives now, then how can the future belong to all of us? I suppose that’s the beauty of writing and reading science fiction. There are so many wonderful authors who answer questions like these in their work, to propose a better future.

I also wrote a prequel to “The Dunwich Horror” for an anthology called Sisterhood: Dark Tales and Secret Histories featuring the Woman in White, wrote a tie-in story about cats for the Monarchies of Mau RPG, and have a handful of others that’ll debut this year. Plus, I developed a new fantasy world and wrote a novella to launch a solo game series called “Proving Grounds”. I’m thrilled that a bunch of my stories’ll be out this year. Exciting!

RS: Your cats have unusual names. How did they get them? Can we see some pet pictures, too?

MV: Hah! Well, we have two cats (one ginger polydactal manx with yellow eyes, and a black cat with green eyes). The ginger cat was originally named after the ancient Babylonian god of dreams, and our black kitty for the god of storms. Over time, as their personalities emerged, we wound up with sillier-sounding names to offset those four a.m. wake-up calls and our bewilderment at their addiction to catnip. We nicknamed our ginger cat Lord Lardbottom, because he’s a bit lopsided. Because he doesn’t have a tail, he biffs when he tries to jump up higher than the length of a footstool, and he often sits and pouts when he doesn’t get his way.

Our black cat is a chatterbox, gaping maw, and alarm clock all rolled into one. He has a high-pitched voice, which led us to affectionately refer to him as Captain Whinypants.
Thanks so much for inviting me to be a part of your world, Rachel. If your readers would like to check out me or my work, I invite them to visit www.booksofm.com.

(This interview was posted early for my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!)

Posted in Cats, Interviews, Patreon | 1 Comment  

Open Thread and Link Farm, happy robot edition

  1. An Expert on Concentration Camps Says That’s Exactly What the U.S. Is Running at the Border
    “Things can be concentration camps without being Dachau or Auschwitz.”
  2. After two trans migrant women died in ICE detention, Tucker Carlson says trans detainees are treated better than American citizens
  3. Inside the horrors of migrant detention centers – Axios
    “At a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facility in El Paso, Tex. more than 150 migrants were held in a cell meant for just 35 people…”
  4. What’s Actually Causing Infectious Disease Outbreaks in Immigrant Detention Centers? – Pacific Standard
  5. Hitler Was Incompetent and Lazy — and His Nazi Government Was an Absolute Clown Show | Opinion
    People underestimated Hitler, because you don’t have to be competent to do a lot of harm.
  6. Could Oregon Become the First State to Ban Single-Family Zoning? – Willamette Week
    “… allowing smaller dwellings or breaking up single-family homes into multiple units creates more housing and the chance to make housing more affordable in pricey neighborhoods.”
  7. Every NIMBY’s Speech At a Public Hearing – McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
    “I’ve lived in the same house in the Elm Heights neighborhood for the past twenty years, and I just love everything about this town except for the problems that my politics have directly created.”
  8. I’m from a Mexican family. Stop expecting me to eat ‘authentic’ food. – The Washington Post
  9. Why Elizabeth Warren Left The GOP – POLITICO Magazine
    “Warren says the first trip to a bankruptcy court in San Antonio upended her feelings about Law and Economics and the more theoretical, free-market approach she had espoused.”
  10. Incels are now mad about women smiling at them :: We Hunted The Mammoth
    “Now I have been black pilled about female smiles just being another form of teasing.”
  11. A Year After Internet Infamy, Ronaldo Sculptor Gets Another Shot
    The weird thing is, the first sculpture is so much more engaging and interesting than any better-done sculpture could be. But I’m glad he’s gotten another chance; hopefully he’ll get to keep on sculpting.
  12. My Jewish Trek | Jewish Journal
    “‘Gene was anti-Semitic, clearly,’ Nimoy replied as my heart sank.”
  13. Global Implications of FOSTA | Slixa
    “The passage of FOSTA rests on an extensive history of abolitionist attempts to pass legislation that restrict sex work or apply paternalistic narratives to workers.”
  14. Baby Anacondas Born At New England Aquarium — Without Any Male Snakes Involved
  15. Political Cartoonist Not Sure How To Convey That Large Sack In Senator’s Hand Is Full Of Money – The Onion
  16. Report: Google News Does Not Have an Anti-Conservative Bias So Much as a Pro-Credible Source One
    And, unsurprisingly, a pro-gets-a-lot-of-clicks bias. (Conservatives will respond that the measures used to access “credible” are also biased against conservatives.)
  17. Virginia EMT who made racist remarks on podcast loses his job – CNN
    As y’all know, I’m generally against firing people for their off-the-clock political speech. Well, here’s a case where I completely approve of the firing.
  18. The Trade Secret: Firms That Promised High-Tech Ransomware Solutions Almost Always Just Pay the Hackers
    Via Ozy.
  19. Dogs’ Eyes Have Changed Since Humans Befriended Them – The Atlantic
    “For the study, a team at the University of Portsmouth’s Dog Cognition Centre looked at two muscles that work together to widen and open a dog’s eyes, causing them to appear bigger, droopier, and objectively cuter.”
  20. Black Missouri drivers 91% more likely to be stopped, state attorney general finds | PBS NewsHour
  21. The Political and the Principled: A Different Take On Grievance Studies
  22. Many Analysts, One Data Set: Making Transparent How Variations in Analytic Choices Affect Results
    Journal article giving the same data to 29 teams of analysts; the various teams found significantly different results, despite using the same data. “These findings suggest that significant variation in the results of analyses of complex data may be difficult to avoid, even by experts with honest intentions.” Thanks to Harlequin for the link!
  23. The kidnapped Yazidi children who don’t want to be rescued from ISIS – The Washington Post
    What a nightmare.
  24. Animals Are Becoming Nocturnal To Avoid Interacting With Humans
  25. Pleading Guilty to Get Out of Jail – The Appeal
    Too many people have a choice between 1) remaining in jail because they can’t afford bail, or 2) pleading guilty to a misdemeanor in order to get free.
  26. Which is why there are movements to end cash bail. But the politics can be complicated, plus there’s the worry that without cash bail, DAs and judges will try to divert more people into simply being jailed with no bail possible.
  27. D.C. Sex Workers Want Decriminalization—and City Council Members Agree – Reason.com
    The article doesn’t give a sense of how likely the bill is to pass, however. Anyone got a feel for that?
  28. Everyone Got the Dutch Teen ‘Euthanasia’ Story Wrong – Reason.com
    The real story – a complex story of a suffering teen choosing not to eat and her parents choosing to no longer force-feed her – became, in English newspapers, a completely fabricated cautionary tale about euthanasia.

Posted in Link farms | 329 Comments