Learn the Rules Before You Break Them. Or Don’t.

I’m teaching my class on how to break the rules on Saturday, May 25th. Rules can put fiction in a box; let’s talk about ways to explode out of it.

There’s an old adage: Learn the rules before you break them.

I grew up with that rule. I learned it for the first time in an art class when I was probably still in single age digits. My art teacher painted abstracts, but her classes were aimed at giving children a strong grounding in composition and sketching. Why? Because we needed to know the rules before we went searching for our own styles of breaking them.

I like this rule. It’s a good rule. It’s generally useful.

And you should feel free to break it.

The thing is: if you insist that everyone know the rules before breaking them, you end up smothering a lot of innovation. Not all innovation! Many people are quite capable of learning rules and then doing completely strange and new things afterward.

But remember people like the outsider artists. The ones who, knowing nothing about what’s going on in the broader conversation of their art, pursue (usually) obsessive projects with their own ideas and aesthetics they’ve grown from the ground up.

Their stuff is weird and often unsettling and I think we would be poorer without it.

I also see plenty of students and young or new writers breaking rules without seeming to realize that’s what they’re doing, or what the rule is they’re breaking, or why it’s there. Usually, that fails. Think about evolution — most significant mutations aren’t beneficial, and may even be fatal. But every once in a while, one is amazing.

I’m not sure if Lily Yu knew all the rules when she wrote “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” but it’s an absolutely amazing story that breaks a ridiculous number of rules. It’s beautiful, and it’s stirring, and it’s unique. It’s one of the best stories in the past decade. It established Lily as a passionate, brilliant writer all in a single swoop. Do you know how unusual that is? (You probably do!) It’s not uncommon for people to become lightning strikes with a single novel–but for a single short story to provide that much light and electricity? Totally shocking. A wonderful black swan.

While I was still trying to learn the rules as fast and as well as I could, there was often a freedom to my writing which is much more restricted now. Now, when I’m writing, and I’m trying to figure out to do, I can list the traditional options, I can elucidate the rules governing the situation, and why they work, and the usual ways of breaking them–and the consequences thereof. I pick the one that makes most sense for me. All very tidy.

Before, I had to grab at something uncertain. Maybe it was the right tool for the job–the one I’d use now–or maybe it wasn’t. Sometimes when you write with the wrong tools, you find that you’ve made something beautifully unexpected, something you couldn’t even have predicted in yourself. Things you don’t intend can evolve into wildness, into tangles, into novelty.

If you watch reality shows, think about the unconventional materials challenges. Clothing designs made out of candy, or seatbelts, are often the best outfits of the season. The hairdressers, assigned to use hedge clippers, figure out ways to work around it.

There’s always someone complaining that it’s unreasonable to be expected to make a dress out of candy. At home, they know the rules. If they want to make a dress, they’re going to use the right material. It’s flowing so it will be jersey, or it needs the nap of velvet, or the shine of silk.

Sometimes when the rules aren’t yet deep down in your body, when you don’t know that you should search the fabric store for the shiniest silk — sometimes, you grab the cellophane instead.

And most of the time it’s going to be awkward and unattractive.

And sometimes, you’re going to make a cellophane dress that will dazzle the runway.

Writers who know all the rules might still choose to make a cellophane dress. If they’re very good at this sort of thing, it might still have the sense of unexpected freedom as the dress made by the person who ended up with cellophane because they didn’t understand fabric yet. But ultimately, the art of someone fumbling to explore, and the art of someone aiming at their goals with precision, don’t usually look the same.

I want dresses made of cellophane. I want Lily Yu to take my breath away with possibilities I hadn’t imagined. I also want to read the older Lily, too, the one who writes now with a sharper breadth of knowledge–because she’s amazing. But I wouldn’t trade away her earlier stories.

So, it’s useful to know the rules before you break them. It’s a good guideline. But sometimes, by breaking the rule you didn’t even know was there, by wandering the path less traveled by, you can find something astonishing.

(Here, again, is the link to my class: www.kittywumpus.net/blog/breaking-the-rules-with-rachel-swirsky/)

Posted in classes, Essays, Writing Advice | 3 Comments  

Zippy

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

When she’s full grown, Zippy will fit in a teacup. At three months old, she’s even smaller. She’s noisy, playful, and brimming with energy. Sometimes she gets so excited wriggling in circles that she forgets to use her legs and falls down. (Sometimes she forgets to control her bladder, too.) She’s whip-smart, and learns new things quickly–including tricks, a surprising number of human words, and bad habits.

(originally posted on my Patreon)

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Cartoon: Debate Us You Cowards!


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This one was fun to draw! Probably the most challenging thing to draw was the coffee shop counter in panel 3. As a cartoonist, there’s a balance to be found here: You want to draw enough detail so that it’ll feel right and recognizable to readers without them having to think about it, but not so much detail that readers look at the setting more than at the characters.

I’m never going to be great at drawing backgrounds, but I’m getting better, and that feeling of gradual growth is honestly so much fun. I’m so lucky to have this job! (Thank you, patrons!)

* * *

There’s a funny cartoon I’ve seen around, mocking the kind of political cartoon where we see the characters speaking for the point of view the cartoonist disagrees with, yelling and waving their hands and being angry, while the opposing character – the one the cartoonist agrees with – is calm and reasonable.

And when I say “I’ve seen it around,” I mean that people have posted it on social media as a response to cartoons I’ve drawn that fit that pattern.

(I really wish I could find this cartoon to show it to you here! But I can’t find it at the moment. “Political cartoons about political cartoons that show their political opponents as angry” just isn’t a fruitful google search string.)

Anyway, yes, guilty as charged – it’s a trope I’ve used a lot. So I wanted to do a cartoon in which the characters I disagree with are calm and collected, while the characters I agree with were angry arm-wavers.

And the “civil debate” issue – the constant demand that even bad-faith trolls, or outright racists, must be accommodated whenever they ask to debate – is perfect for that framing.

Look: I LOVE debate. I was obsessed with competitive parliamentary debate in college. I used to spend ten or twenty hours a week debating people online. I have to discipline myself NOT to do that nowadays, because I want to get other things done. (Although I admit, I’m not as fond of debate as I used to be).

But no one is obligated to debate anything. In particular, no one is required to debate their own human dignity with anyone. “I’m not going to debate that with you” is a perfectly reasonable response, even when said angrily.

Journalist Jesse Singal recently got egg on his face on Twitter, responding to someone asking if slaves should have debated slave owners by implying it would have been disastrous if former slave abolitionists had said “I refuse to debate with people who don’t see me as human.”

(I think Singal eventually deleted his tweet, while denying that he had been mistaken in any way, but the tweet was preserved in screen captures, such as this one of Noah Berlatsky responding to Singal).

Singal is a very prominent and admired voice, and his attitudes are not unusual. The “debate me!” crowd really seems to have no idea of how change actually happens – nor of how debilitating such debates can feel.


By the way, in case anyone thinks the argument I attribute to the Jordan Peterson fan in panel two is a strawman: It’s not a strawman. (At some point, I might do a cartoon of nothing but ridiculous, extreme things Jordan Peterson has said.)


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has four panels, each of which takes place in a different setting, and with a different set of characters.

PANEL 1

A man wearing a polo shirt and jeans follows a woman down the street. The woman is wearing a hoodie and is walking a small dog. The man is talking cheerfully, doing the “explaining with my hands” palms up gesture; the woman is looking back at him out of the corner of her eye and has raised her voice testily.

POLO SHIRT: So you see, when you “transgenders” insist you’re women, that’s you forcing society to along with your delusions. Let’s discuss this.

DOG WALKER: LEAVE ME ALONE!

DOG (in thought balloon): Jerk!

PANEL 2

A woman and man are walking on a path in a park, the woman walking away from the man. The man is bald-headed with a van dyke beard, and is wearing a t-shirt with a big exclamation point on it, and an open black vest over the shirt. The woman has tattoos and blue hair.

The man has a friendly smile and has raised one forefinger in a “professor explaining a point” style; the woman is holding up a smartphone and speaking angrily.

VEST DUDE: When men aren’t allowed to hit women, men have no means of controlling crazy women. If I may quote Professor Jordan Peterson-

BLUE HAIR: DUDE! GO AWAY!

PANEL 3

A customer at a coffee shop, a blonde woman with curly blonde hair, is chatting with a friendly expression with the barista. The barista, who is Black and wearing cat’s eye glasses, is waving their hands and yelling. The customer has a “Q,” in the same font as the “Quilette” logo, on the back of her shirt.

CUSTOMER: There’s no need to get mad. I just want to politely debate whether or not Black people have genes that make them stupid.

BARISTA: i’M NOT GOING TO “DEBATE” THAT!

PANEL 4

Three characters from the previous three panels – Polo Shirt, Vest Dude, and Customer – are sitting around a round table with coffee cups on it. They are all looking annoyed and unhappy.

POLO SHIRT: These “identitarians” are so rude!

CUSTOMER: Why won’t they debate us?

VEST DUDE: They’re cowards!

Posted in Cartooning & comics | 106 Comments  

Cartoon: Why We Can’t Have Nice Things


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This is a cartoon from July, but I can’t find it on “Alas” or on leftycartoons.com, so I suspect I forgot to ever post it.

America is different from the rest of the wealthy world; we’re less generous, less willing to pay for a safety net, less supportive of our citizens at every stage of our lives. And research suggests that the reason for that is racism.

So this cartoon is an attempt to translate that research finding into a four panel gag. I do this every once in a while; translating social science research into cartoons can be hard to do, but a lot of my favorite cartoons began that way.

I like some of the art for this one; I like the use of multiple angles and camera distances, and the backgrounds (which, I hope, find the right balance between “enough to be satisfying” and “so eye catching that they detract from the cartoon”). And the expression of the blonde character in the final panel really works for me. :-)

(Other things in the art work less well for me, like the blonde character’s body language in the first three panels, which looks kind of stiff to me. That’s how it goes. I never get to the point that I really like all my art, but I hope my batting average is improving over the years.)

And hey! I made it! Four cartoons in two weeks. (Pant, pant, pant.)

(Hey, Barry, if you could do four cartoons in two weeks, doesn’t that mean you could be doing eight cartoons per month instead of just four?)

(Hey, Voice-in-my-head, please shut up.)


Transcript of Cartoon

This cartoon has four panels.

PANEL 1

Two women, a dark-haired woman with glasses (who I was thinking of as Latina when I drew her, but looking at the finished drawing I have to admit she looks racially ambiguous) and a blonde white woman in a polka-dot skirt, are standing outside, talking on a sidewalk. Glasses is saying something enthusiastically; Polka is listening with a hand on her chin.

GLASSES: No regular person can afford a million dollars in medical bills if their kid is in an accident. So we’d ALL be helped by Medicare For All.

POLKA: That makes sense.

PANEL 2

The two are walking as they talk.

GLASSES: We need food stamps  and rent subsidies. Because no one in a rich country should be hungry or homeless.

POLKA: I hear you.

PANEL 3

GLASSES: And maybe we need some sort of federal job guarantee, so everyone who wants to work, can.

POLKA: That would have helped me a lot last year.

PANEL 4

Glasses continues to talk happily, hands outspread in a “it’s all so reasonable” gesture, but Polka is angrily yelling, pointing one finger into the air.

GLASSES: Plus, these programs can do a lot for groups like the Black-

POLKA: THESE IDEAS ARE SOCIALISM AND I’LL HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THEM!

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Race, racism and related issues | 17 Comments  

New Anthology!

There’s a new anthology of mythology-inspired stories and retellings coming out next week! My story about Iphigenia, “A Memory of Wind,” is in there, along with some other great stories. It’s available May 14th, and you can preorder it now.

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Silly Interview with Deborah Walker and her Expandable Red Goo

Here’s another updated silly interview!

RS: Your website invites me to find you at the British Museum, but that’s a lot of miles from where I am currently sitting, so instead I will ask you about the British Museum. What are your favorite exhibits there? And, if it’s different, what have you discovered there that was most unexpected?

DW: The Ram in a Thicket from the Great Death pit at Ur is my enduring favourite. He’s adorable. I try to visit him every time I go to the museum. It’s like having a five and a half thousand year old pet made of gold and lapis lazuli.

My other favourites change from visit to visit. Ah, the lure of the different and shiny. I particularly liked the Scanning Sobek temporary exhibit displaying a massive, mummified crocodile from ancient Egypt, which was once worshipped as a god.

Then we have the blockbuster exhibitions, where museums loan out their treasures. I visited the Celts exhibition three times, mainly to keep looking at the wonderful silver Gundestrup Cauldron from Denmark. I was fascinated by the figures decorating the cauldron. Especially a small man riding a fish. What’s his story? The intriguing thing is, no one knows. The stories have faded away, and we’re left with only the physical object. Lost stories out of time.


I’ve been visiting the British Museum for donkey’s years, but it would take a lifetime to appreciate it all. It holds 8 million items (not all displayed, of course). The other day, I went down some steps and found statues and temple facades from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. That’s one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Wow. I never knew they had them.

The museum has so many objects, so many stories. And of course, the fact that the museum owns so many wonderful objects from overseas is a story in itself, and a controversial one.

Do visit the British Museum if you get a chance. Nowadays, museums are very good at putting their collections online. But for my money, there’s nothing like seeing an object, talking to a curator, even handling the objects at the special Hands On Desks. There are museums everywhere: massive, wealthy national museums, local museums run by volunteers, specialist museums focusing on a particular topic (like the London Museums of Health and Medicine). So many stories, there for the reimagining.

RS: You have a number of stories in Nature’s Futures, which runs very short fiction about hard science fiction. Where do you get your inspiration for these, and how do you go about taking something as large as a scientific question and putting it into flash form?

DW: Inspiration comes from museum objects (I wrote a story about adding crocodile DNA to a woman), or stories I’ve read, or watched on the TV, or a prompt for an anthology call. Sometimes, I’ll search out inspiration, trawling through Wikipedia looking for a science topic.)

Science questions are large. But not as large a questions about human nature. I’m interested in using science as a mirror to reflect the human condition. So, on the surface I might be talking about gene modding the brain and the unexpected results, but I’ll also be talking about the emotional dynamics of a divorce, and touching on the concept of free-will (‘Glass Future‘). Science fiction allows me to examine human nature in a way that appeals to me as a writer more than a literary story on the same topic. Genre is more of a convenience than an absolute, though. There’s a big crossover. Stories I’ve sold to Nature’s Futures have often resold to literary magazine.

So how do I squeeze all that into flash? Well, I actually don’t consider flash to be restrictive in length. I think haiku is restrictive. Here’s a SF/horror one of mine:

red goo in the bathtub
cleaning bots dissolve anything
divorce was never an option.

I would argue that this is very, very, small story. There’s the mystery at the start: Red goo? What’s all that about? A touch of development: Why cleaning bots? Is this a domestic situation? Does that link to bathtub? Then the resolution of the story, the ‘aha’ moment, the ‘I get it ‘ moment. Many of my flash stories follow that structure: mystery, development, (and hopefully) aha.

That haiku was only 14 words, having 1000 words is luxury.

RS: In addition to your Nature’s Futures stories, your bibliography lists a lot of other flash fiction, and also poetry and microfiction. Why do you think you’re drawn to those rapid forms? Do you know when you get an idea what general size category it’s going to fit into?

DW: One of my writing super powers is that I can decide what size the story is going to be before I start to write. So, I can think, I want to write some flash today, or a poem or a bit of micro fiction. Then I can write within the constraints of size. Some say that a story needs to be the size it needs to be, but I think that a story can be told at different lengths. I could expand ‘red goo’ into flash quite easily, by creating characters, developing their backstories, exploring the science of goo.

I don’t know what the appeal of writing short is for me. It does come naturally to me. I likes reading them and writing them.

RS: What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever received?

DW: Well, here’s the thing. I’ve been writing for ten years and nobody has ever given me any advice. I’ve never been in a tutor/student relationship. I very rarely get crits or beta reads on my stories. I just writes them as hard as I can, and then joyfully fling them out on submission.

I’ve read plenty of advice in craft books and on the interweb, but nobody’s ever said “Hey, Debs, perhaps you should do this thing or that.”

Tell a lie, in the past, people have occasionally said that I should write a novel. So, when an opportunity arose to write a tie-in novel for the Dark Expanse online role playing game, I did. That was good advice.

I wouldn’t mind someone giving me some more advice. Rachel, perhaps you could give me some.

RS: Um, don’t take any wooden nickels? 

What new projects do you have coming out? Anything else you’d like to add?

DW: I’ve talked a lot about writing short. But currently, I’m writing long. I’m writing a novella called ‘The Museum of Unnatural History’ set in the UK where a secret people with their own genetic signature and cultural identity, have recently been uncovered. Its current incarnation is traditionally plotted but written in literary prose, which I’m rather enjoying. I’m going to have to think of a new title, because there actually is a Museum of Unnatural History in real life. I have two new short stories out, one in Nature Contagion in Tranquil Shades of Grey‘ and ‘Blue Blood Bleeders’ in the Young Explorers Adventure Guide 5 anthology a collection of SF for young readers.

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Patreon Content for April!

Patreon content went up this week! There’s a poem for all patrons: “To the Person Leaving,” which I wrote for my grandmother’s funeral. For $2 patrons, there’s a chapter from an unfinished novel “Haloes of Limelight.” And for $5 and up patrons, there’s a reprint of my story with Trace Yulie, “Seven Months Out and Two to Go.”

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, Poetry | Leave a comment  

Open Thread and Link Farm: Moment Before The Fall Edition

  1. On Twitter, I argue that if prisoners could vote, and one or two state representatives need the prisoner vote to get elected, that would be good.
  2. Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind – The New York Times
    This story isn’t as focused on Ms Gilmore as the title sounds; it’s about her, but also about the case for moving towards prison abolition. (Alternative link.)
  3. Amia Srinivasan · Does anyone have the right to sex? · London Review of Books
    “Here, she tells us, is the task of feminism: to treat as axiomatic our free sexual choices, while also seeing why, as MacKinnon has always said, such choices, under patriarchy, are rarely free.”
  4. 2020 Candidates Are Very Hesitant About Letting Prisoners Vote | HuffPost
    I foresee a bunch of links about the different positions of Dem candidates. This is an issue where Bernie is better than the others, all of whom are either “no” or “no comment” or “I’ll think about it.” Gabbard is the worst – she’s not only against voting in prison, but also against voting while on parole.
  5. What Was the Washington Post Afraid Of?
    An infuriating story by a Washington Post reporter who spent months researching a story about sexual harassment at 60 Minutes – only to have 60 Minutes successfully pressure her boss, Marty Baron (painted as a hero in the 2015 movie Spotlight) to leave 60 Minutes boss Jeff Fager out of the story.
  6. (134) The Man Who Set Up His Own Toll Road, Without Permission – YouTube
    This was in the UK; as the video points out, it would be illegal to do it in the U.S..
  7. The Reckoning of Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center | The New Yorker
    The founder has been fired amid allegations of sexual abuse, racism, and just generally being a grifter. Written by a former SPLC staffer who thinks the SPLC does some good work, but also cons donors, takes in way more money than it needs or spends, and profits the people at the top.
  8. The problems with one-size-fits-all laws on opioid prescriptions – The Washington Post
  9. ECHIDNE OF THE SNAKES: The Equal Pay Day 2019. Where Echidne Dons Her Economist’s Hat And Fixes Mistakes in Beliefs
    The mistaken beliefs are roughly divided into “discrimination is everything” and “discrimination is nothing.” Thanks to Mandolin for the link.
  10. Vertical Panoramic Photographs of New York Churches
    These are simply amazing.
  11. One Doctor’s Answer to Drug Deaths: Opioid Vending Machines | WIRED
    Although the moral scolds who’d rather see people dead than high are less powerful in Canada than in the U.S., this is still a cutting-edge idea even in Canada. Vending machines aside, the interventions that seem to have the most potential are all focused on improving supply, in one way or another, rather than on reducing demand.
  12. I find this short video of a Chimpanzee fluently browsing videos on a smartphone just fascinating.
  13. The Boarding Houses that Built America | The American Conservative
    I lean towards agreeing with this article, but I wish the writer had been specific about which regulations preventing boarding houses and SROs from returning he would like to see repealed, and if repealing them would have any bad effects. In other words, is this a case where Chesterson’s Fence applies?
  14. The outlook for the Portland housing market | City Observatory
    Portland is building many new residences, and rent – if not exactly falling – has stopped rising. At least, according to the graphs on this page.
  15. The Sexualized Messages Dress Codes are Sending to Students
  16. Barcelona School Commission Evaluates 600 Children’s Books for Sexist Content | Smart News | Smithsonian
    They removed about two hundred of the books, which are for age 6 and under, from school library shelves.
  17. Rowan Atkinson: Welcome to Hell – YouTube
    Just a stand-up routine I enjoyed. Atkinson starred in one of my favorite TV shows ever, “Black Adder.”
  18. Putting Numbers in Context: A Winnable Battle Our Side Doesn’t Want to Fight | Dean Baker on Patreon
    A very simple and, I think, pretty irrefutable idea: News should report budget numbers as a percentage of the budget along with dollar amounts, rather than just reporting amounts.
  19. The Computer Scientist Who Wants to Put a Name to Every Face in Civil War Photographs | Innovation | Smithsonian
    It’s pretty neat – they’re using a combination of facial recognition software and crowd-sourcing. Despite the headline, it seems impossible to me that they’ll be able to put a name to every face, but they’ll certainly put names to a lot of faces.
  20. Anita Hill deserves better than Joe Biden’s excuses.
  21. Pussy – Gwen Benaway
    “Latest essay from me: on my pussy, my life as a post op trans girl, and the “real” problem with Andrea Long Chu’s recent op ed on her surgery.” Thoughtful and gorgeously written.
  22. Gender Critical | ContraPoints – YouTube
    “Denying trans people their gender identity because “abolish gender” is like denying citizenship to immigrants because “abolish borders.” You’re targeting the people who are the most vulnerable under the present system, and then leveraging that system against them, under the pretense of abolishing it.”
  23. For decades, Garfield telephones kept washing ashore in France. Now the mystery has been solved. – The Washington Post
    Actually, I think the mystery is only partly solved. I mean, where did the shipping container come from, exactly? Did no one notice a shipping container full of Garfield telephones had gone missing?
  24. College admissions scandal: a modest proposal to fix admissions – Vox
    Rather than make wealthy parents pay insane prices for illegal means to get their kids admitted, set aside “rich kids” slots to be sold to the highest bidder, and use the proceeds to pay for more poor kids attending elite schools.
  25. Latino outreach or Google Translate? 2020 Dem candidates bungle Spanish websites
  26. ECHIDNE OF THE SNAKES: Christopher Ingraham on the Sex Dearth Among Young Americans
    I didn’t realize that how the now-famous graphs were calculated is not publicly available. That might not mean anything, but it’s less than ideal. Anyway, yeah, the incel interpretation of the sex dearth really makes no sense.
  27. Food and Diabetes, or, People are Weird | Kelly Thinks Too Much
    Thanks to Mandolin for the link.
  28. #MarALard*ss and the Left’s Fat Problem – Your Fat Friend – Medium
    Content warning: Anti-fat sneers from the left, both aimed at Trump and in general. “We talk about calories in, calories out like we talk about poor people saving money. We assume that we could outwit poverty, outsmart our own bodies. Suddenly, we become so deeply conservative.”
  29. Evaluating James Damore’s Google Gender Diversity Memo on the Merits
  30. The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous – The Atlantic – Pocket
    There are more effective treatments – but they have trouble gaining traction, because everyone has heard that AA’s model is the only way. (Content warning for a brief fatphobic comment.)
  31. The Skin I’m In: I’ve been interrogated by police more than 50 times—all because I’m black
    In case you thought Canada was better.
  32. The photos at the top and bottom of this post came from Dancers Among Us, by Jordan Matter.
  33. Trump’s absurd threat to close the Mexican border “if the drugs don’t stop” – Vox
    Trump is more brazenly awful on this, but his tough-on-drugs stop-the-flow position is the mainstream of American policymakers in both parties. Drug policy is an area where puritanism and faux-macho posturing rule.
  34. Why some US cities are opening safe spaces for injecting heroin – Vox
    The Trump administration is threatening (and in one case taking) legal action.
  35. 8 Reasons Why Insulin is so Outrageously Expensive – T1International
    Did you know it’s legal for a pharmaceutical company to pay a competitor to not sell a competing drug? I didn’t. That really doesn’t seem like it should be legal.
  36. (137) The Great Tragedy of the Buffy HD Remaster – YouTube
    I mean, not an important issue, obviously. But it really is impressive how badly Fox screwed this up. I’m very glad I have the DVDs from before this was made. Perhaps now that Buffy, like nearly all other franchises, is owned by Disney, there will be a better remaster done.
  37. Trump pushed to close El Paso border, told admin officials to resume family separations and agents not to admit migrants – CNNPolitics
    “After the President left the room, agents sought further advice from their leaders, who told them they were not giving them that direction and if they did what the President said they would take on personal liability.”
  38. Trump Administration Grants Waiver To Law To Miracle Hill Foster Agency, Which Turns Away Catholics and Jews
  39. How Not to Have a Constructive Debate | The New Republic
    “The left is often criticized for shutting down debate. But is productive debate even possible when we can’t agree on the terms?” Thanks to nobody for the link!

Posted in Link farms | 72 Comments  

The Words Are Always There — Poetic Tools for Prose Writers

Poetry is focused on words.

So is prose! But the way we talk about words in poetry is different from the way we talk about them in prose.

Merging the perspectives of poetry and prose has benefitted me enormously as a writer. That’s why I want to share what I’ve learned in my new class on Poetic Tools for Prose Writers.

Different genres have different priorities. Sometimes that’s inherent because of the form (poetry has so few words that it’s easier to concentrate on each one!), and sometimes that’s because of a historical tradition about how the form is written. For instance, science fiction workshops tend to be really good at talking about how readers will receive pieces commercially, and my experience in literary workshops is that they tend not to address that. (It made me a popular critiquer in literary workshops because I was trained to address the stories from that point of view.)

On the other hand, when it comes to close, line level reading of your sentences, a lot of genre workshops skim over that. I have gotten absolutely amazing prose-level advice from genre writers! Sometimes in class. But the class workshops (as opposed to private notes) rarely delve into specific sentences in the same way that some of my classes in my MFA program could.

That’s actually a rule in a lot of genre workshops: save the specific language critiques for one-on-one notes or discussion. It makes a lot of sense; you can’t actually go through a whole story on a sentence-by-sentence basis in the length of a workshop. Focusing on this can make it hard to address the other, holistic qualities of the story.

And sometimes — in workshop — that’s okay. I wish I’d understood this better going into my MFA program. Sometimes, the workshop really isn’t about your story. It’s about using your story as a teaching tool. One of my teachers at Mills said it’s like putting out a story as a sacrifice for everyone to pick at. The story may or may not benefit from the process, but now you know more about how people think about fiction. That can be really useful, especially because one thing you can learn is how successful, talented professionals — often your teachers — approach their processes. The lion’s share of what I learned from my MFA program that I still think about stems from that kind of learning.

It’s a good thing that different genres and workshops have different priorities. It creates an exciting potential diversity. People read in different ways; people write in different ways; people workshop in different ways.

My argument is: you can learn things from all of them.

I’ve taken classes in memoir, poetry, playwriting; I’ve written comics and adapted graphic novels; I’ve done all sorts of things. They let me concentrate on and tease out things that I don’t usually concentrate on or think about in detail. There’s always something to learn and take back to the main work of my fiction.

Through poetry, I’ve learned a lot about how to efficiently create intense imagery and emotional development. I’ve learned about rhythm, sound, and how the construction of sentences shapes the flow of the reader’s attention. Connotation, concrete detail, ambiguity, concision, making beautiful metaphors and similes–these are all tools that impact prose.

Workshops don’t always give poetic tools the attention they deserve. They’re often too busy giving attention to other important things (which may also not get the attention they deserve–writing is complicated!).

Words are important. We talk about “transparent prose” sometimes, but fiction is made of words and sentences; they never disappear. To get real transparent prose, minimalistic and effective and unnoticeable, takes a lot of labor.

My words have benefited enormously from learning poetic skills. That’s why I’m excited to start teaching this class on Poetic Tools for Prose Writers. There’s a fascinating intersection between prose and poetry for us to share and explore.

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Cloud Haired Woman

“Cloud-haired Woman”

This reminds me of the art my parents had from the sixties, feminist  with interesting proportions and bodies. I called it cloud-haired woman  after a character in Marianne, the Magus and the Manticore, my favorite  of Sheri Tepper’s books which made a strong impression on me as a child.  (I haven’t read it since.)

(originally posted on my patreon: www.patreon.com/posts/26478339)

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