The Hugos – stop playing an unwinnable game

holdfast

We can end the Hugos mess. I’ve posted a way here. tl;dr — mediation. If you have a better idea, I’m eager to hear it. 

You’re on a tennis court. Your opponent serves a ball directly into your racket. You hit back hard. Instead of lunging to return the ball, your opponent ignores it, takes a new ball out of their pocket and serves it at right at you. This keeps happening over and over. Your opponent never returns your balls, just keeps hitting new ones. That’s unfair, so you start taking balls out of your own pocket.

How long would you keep playing an unwinnable game?

We have to stop this. Stop the hyperbole and invective, bad arguments and incendiary insults. Stop pretending we’re fighting a holy war. Stop casting ourselves as the victim. Stop saying he hit me first.

We need to ask ourselves what we want out of this. Stop hitting me isn’t an answer.

Why I’m pushing mediation

Most of us — those who don’t get a thrill from conflict — are sick to death of the Hugos mess. It’s taking away something very important, far more important than an award — our time and energy. Not to mention the time and energy of the writers we love to read. If the Hugos mess has taken one page of fiction from the lifetime output of one of my favorite writers, that’s too high a price to pay. It has to stop.

Over the past few days, I’ve heard a lot of arguments about why mediation wouldn’t work. But I haven’t heard one suggestion for a better plan that doesn’t include waiting for the three years it would take to change the Hugos rules.

Arguments about why mediation won’t work

What is the benefit in assuming a mediation would fail? What is the harm in challenging the other side to drop their insults and hyperbole to engage in an actual face to face, mediated discussion? It’s easy to be a naysayer. Much, much harder to lay down the poison pens and work toward a resolution.

1. It won’t work because there aren’t two sides.
Sure, there are factions, but there are clear leaders on both sides. Some of them could be trusted to be honorable and reasonable in a face-to-face situation.

2. It won’t work because both sides have to agree on what the problem is.
Untrue. All we have to agree on is the desire to find a fair resolution.

3. The puppies don’t want a fair resolution, all they want is to keep fighting.
Maybe. I bet they would say the same about us. If they’re offered a fair resolution process and reject it, then we’ll know for sure.

4. It won’t work because the puppies are [fill in your favorite insult here].
Some of them are unreasonable and behave badly. Some of us are unreasonable and behave badly. Arguing over who behaves worse doesn’t solve anything, it just digs us deeper into the shit.

5. It won’t work because it’s an ideological battle on the mythic level.
Okay, but it’s a holy war of our own making. We can unmake it. Holy wars end when people get sick of the massacres. Or when everyone’s dead. Which would you choose?

6. It would give too much credence to the other side’s ideology.
No, it would require both sides to work around ideology to find a resolution. It might even expose the weak points in cherished ideologies. We might be better for it.

Who wins if this goes on?

If this goes on, the only winners are the people who enjoy the fight — the holy warriors who post insults and bad rhetoric on their blogs and then pop some popcorn.

Are we smart enough to solve a tough problem? If so, it’s time we started acting like it.

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The Hugos and the problem of competing narratives

holdfast

Hold fast. I want to tell you a story. It’s about something personal and important, and you are not allowed to deny the validity of my story. When I’m done, you will tell me your personal, important story and I am not allowed to deny its validity.

Do you think we can do this? Good. There’s hope we can live together in peace. It doesn’t mean we have to like each other, but we can co-exist.

All right. So. Now: The Hugos.

In just over a week the Hugos will be done. But it won’t be over. This shit storm we’ve been living through will go on. It’ll probably get worse. I’m sick to death of it and you probably are too.

There’s no end in sight because both sides are telling stories — personal, important, urgent stories, but stories nonetheless, told with apocalyptic rhetoric and elevated language, using energy that would be much better spent on fiction.

It’s not surprising. We are fiction writers. We are very good at making stirring narratives out of chaos.

But there’s the problem. These stories aren’t true. They’re important but not true.

What we have is a standard conflict resolution problem: competing narratives.

Narratives are explanations for events (large and small) in the form of short, common sense accounts (stories) that often seem simple. However, the powerful images they contain and the judgments they make about the motivations and actions of their own group, and others, are emotionally significant for groups and individuals. Narratives are not always internally consistent. For example, they often alternate between portraying one’s own group, as well as an opponent, as strong and portraying them as vulnerable.
The Political Psychology of Competing Narratives
Marc Howard Ross, Department of Political Science, Bryn Mawr College

The puppy narrative is that they’ve been discriminated against for 30 years. Nothing will move them off that narrative because it feels true to them. Our narrative is that the puppies are out to destroy the Hugos. Nothing will move us off that narrative because it feels true to us.

The validity of these competing narratives cannot be denied. But they’re not facts, they’re stories. We cling to them — it’s hard to stop clinging to them — prying myself off my narrative is taking quite an effort, in fact.

Narratives are comforting. Everything that happens adds to the story. It builds and builds until the story becomes more important than the problem. As the stories build, bad behaviour builds and rhetoric swells, until each side has an entire orchestra behind it, spurring it on to heroic deeds.

Each side complains that the other won’t give up, won’t see reason, but neither will acknowledge the fact that what they call reason is just another story.

If we keep arguing over competing narratives, the only possible end is mutually assured destruction. Neither side wants that. I assure you, they don’t.

So what do we do to resolve this? We have to move off our narratives — set them aside. Instead, we have to talk about what we want.

The puppies might say, “We want want the stories and books we value to be recognized.”

We might say, “We want the Hugo awards to be fair.”

Now we can strategize about how to get what both sides want. This is not easy. It takes a lot of effort to keep from sliding back into our cherished narratives. When that happens, both sides have to stop, back away from the stories, and rededicate themselves to solving the problem.

It can be done. It’s done all the time, around the world, in situations far more dire and serious that this — in life-and-death situations like worker’s rights, environmental disasters, and land claim conflicts.

Here is the call to action: We need to engage in a formal conflict mediation process that actively avoids competing narratives and focuses on problem solving. It would look something like this:

  • Each side raises funds to hire a conflict resolution specialist for two days (one day for the specialist to prepare, and one day for the mediation). They’re not expensive.
  • Each side puts forward two representatives to participate in the mediation process.
  • Each side participates with good will and in good faith, doing their best to rein in their rhetoric, and puts in a solid eight hours of work toward a solution.

Does this seem naive to you? Perhaps a bit unrealistic? Great — then you must have a better idea. I’m eager to hear it. Because if we keep throwing bombs at each other, someone is going to get hurt.

There is no better idea. If there were, someone would have come up with it. I’m telling you now: This is our only way out. If we don’t do this, we’re doomed.

And — honestly — if we can’t resolve a conflict over a fiction award, then mutually-assured destruction is what we deserve.

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Don’t take the monkey bypass
(an essay on writing)

MONKEY BYPASS

When Alyx and I visited with two old friends last weekend, we all went to the African Lion Safari south of Cambridge, Ontario. It’s a big exotic game farm where the animals roam in huge  enclosures, and humans drive through them. Humans in little tiny mobile pens, animals in big open habitats. This is the way a zoo should be.

At the gate were signs about the Monkey Bypass, which (the signs implied) you should use if you’re squeamish about bad things happening to your car. Intriguing! We asked the attendant for more details. She said that if you drive through the big monkey enclosure, chances are good the monkeys will abuse your car. Jump on it. Pummel it. Smear shit on it. Rip off your aerial and wipers. If you choose to go through the monkey enclosure, chances are good monkeys will trash your car. If you don’t take the Monkey Bypass, you risk damage.

Awesome, I thought. Can’t wait!

Imagine my disappointment when our old friend decided to take the Monkey Bypass. Turns out he didn’t want to expose his rental to monkey wrath. I can’t say I blame him. But I was disappointed.

What a lost opportunity!

Now here’s my point: If you’re writing fiction, you can’t take the Monkey Bypass. Don’t take your characters on the safe route. Don’t let them bypass any kind of danger — emotional, physical, psychological, financial. Don’t keep them from risking everything. You drive your story right into that monkey enclosure and let them trash the fuck out of your characters. Find the biggest, baddest, cleverest, meanest monkey and drive your car right up to that bastard. Provoke it. Taunt it. Honk your horn. Give it hell, and take every piece of hell that monkey gives out.

I read a lot of stories that take the Monkey Bypass, and it’s just simply not good enough. If you’re driving your story through and the monkeys aren’t giving out the shit, you’ve got to find it. Dig it out of your soul. Find that thin edge of drama and wedge it, hard.

The Monkey Bypass takes you somewhere safe and known. That’s not what we’re in fiction for. We’re here to get the shit kicked out of us.

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(an essay on writing)

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Readercon, Asimov’s, and review roundup!

Me and my first Asimov's!

Me and my first Asimov’s!

It’s been an eventful month! My novella Waters of Versailles came out at Tor.com and as an ebook on June 10th. The August Asimov’s with my story Two-Year Man hit in ebook format on July 1, with the hard copy magazine released to newsstands just yesterday. And tomorrow Alyx and I leave for Readercon!

Readercon!

When Alyx and I moved to Toronto two years ago, one of the changes that most excited us was the easy access to the big East Coast SF conventions. This will be the first time we’ve taken advantage of our new location. I hear so many good things about Readercon, and can’t wait to discover it for myself.

After the con, we’re taking a couple of vacation days in Boston. There’s nothing we like better than exploring a new city. Many photos will be taken.

Asimov’s!

Yesterday I got my hands on an actual physical copy of the August 2015 issue of Asimov’s with my story Two-Year Man. I’ve read Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine religiously since I was 16 years old. The magazine is utterly responsible for the current state of my adult brain, and I can’t quite believe a story I wrote is actually in it.

Also — excitingly — James Patrick Kelly (whom I’ve been reading and enjoying for years) interviewed me and several other first-time Asimov’s authors in this issue. The article is also posted online.

Review Roundup!

Waters of Versailles has received several nods from reviewers. I couldn’t be more thrilled.

A.C. Wise has kindly included me in the July 2015 edition of her terrific Women to Read: Where to Start  column at SF Signal. It’s such a compliment to be included!

Tansy Rayner Roberts says lovely things in episode 122 of the Galactic Suburbia podcast (appears around 1:51 in the podcast). She says:

“Very funny, witty, dark, kind of sexy story…
Wonderful, beautifully written, very funny, some great smutty scenes as well, and lovely social detail…
Gorgeous complicated novella, so nice to read. Highly recommended.”

In the podcast, Tansy also mentions that she fell in love with the art Kathleen Jennings created for the novella, and hadn’t actually realized it was cover art. When Kathleen made the piece available at Redbubble, Tansy bought several items and then was surprised to come across the art at Tor.com. She probably wouldn’t have read the story otherwise, so I’m double grateful for the wonderful cover Kathleen created.

Charles Payseur at Quick Sip Reviews, says it’s:

“…definitely a story worth spending some time with figuring out and having some fun with. Did I mention there is a monkey? And toilets? I really cannot undersell the toilets. Go read it!”

Nerds of a Feather included the story in their June Monthly Round – A Taster’s Guide to Speculative Short Fiction. They say it’s:

“… well worth the time to see it all the way through to its satisfying conclusion. Like champagne, the story rewards sticking around for the long haul…”

 

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How I raised a nixie for fun & profit

Cover art for Waters of Versailles by Kathleen Jennings

Cover art for Waters of Versailles by Kathleen Jennings

An essay about the genesis of my sexy Historical Fantasy novella Waters of Versailles, edited by the legendary Ellen Datlow for Tor.com. It’s also available as an ebook at Amazon, OmniLit, Chapters Indigo, Barnes and Noble, and Apple iBooks.

When something bad happens, people who are otherwise reasonable and kind humans will say terrible things like, “In the end it’ll all be for the best,” “This will turn out to be a great opportunity,” or “When one door closes another door opens.”

It’s really quite unforgivable, isn’t it?

Too bad it’s often quite true.

It was April 1, 2013. I had been working for an architectural firm, doing great work, putting my heart and soul into my dream job. I had no idea that the axe was overhead until they called me into the boardroom. I was laid off along with about a half dozen of my co-workers. (Architects shed staff like fleas, by the way. Don’t work for architects unless you know this.)

I was devastated. Of course I was. And on April Fools Day, too.

I was also scared. You see, I’m the major breadwinner in our family. My darling Alyx has a couple part time gigs in addition to writing but I’m the bacon-bringer, the meat in the sandwich, the mortgage-payer. Without my paycheck, we’re utterly screwed.

So, yes, scared. Shitless.

What did I do? I cried a lot, then picked it all up and started looking for work. And I also started redrafting, from scratch, a story that had been emphatically not working. I pulled out a great piece of advice from the brilliant Steven Barnes (which I’ve blogged about here), put it down on the table, and started again.

Six weeks later, Alyx and I had sold our Vancouver condo and moved to Toronto. I got a new job, new city, new horizons to explore. And I was drafting a story that was, bit-by-bit and slowly-so-slowly, teaching me how to write. Finally, after years of desperately trying to learn to write while everything was comfortable and stable, at a time of great personal stress and upheaval I was able to figure out some of the skills I knew I’d been missing.

So this is how getting laid off — which probably ranks as #5  on the list of worst things that have happened to me in my adult life — gave me Sylvain, and the little fish, Annette,  Gérard, a parrot, and a monkey, and a colorful Versailles that still leaps off the page into my mind. It gave me my first big-time professional sale, to the best-paying, most prestigious market in the SF field, to an editor I’ve admired since the 1980s, Ellen Datlow.

I’m not the kind to forgive and forget. I’m not that easy-going. But the memory of getting laid off doesn’t hurt anymore. In fact, I might actually be grateful for it.

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NSFW Excerpt – Waters of Versailles coming from Tor.com on Wednesday

Cover art for Waters of Versailles by Kathleen Jennings

Cover art for Waters of Versailles by Kathleen Jennings

My Historical Fantasy novella Waters of Versailles — a story of sex, magic, and plumbing — will be out this Wednesday, June 10 at Tor.com. It’s now available for pre-order at Amazon, OmniLit, Chapters Indigo, Barnes and Noble, and Apple iBooks. And, hey, BTW, wonderful artist Kathleen Jennings has made the cover art available at Redbubble. (Support artists!)

Read the story that makes legendary editor Ellen Datlow cry every time she reads it! Read the story that Tor Associate Editor Irene Gallo had to stop reading on the subway because it was too darn steamy!

The following is the novella’s first scene. It starts with a bang (ha ha, sorry, couldn’t resist), so depending on how much steam you can take, you may want to avoid reading it on the subway, or at work.

Waters of Versailles – Excerpt

-1-

Sylvain had just pulled up Annette’s skirts when the drips started. The first one landed on her wig, displacing a puff of rose-pink powder. Sylvain ignored it and leaned Annette back on the sofa. Her breath sharpened to gasps that blew more powder from her wig. Her thighs were cool and slightly damp—perhaps her arousal wasn’t feigned after all, Sylvain thought, and reapplied himself to nuzzling her throat.

After two winters at Versailles, Sylvain was well acquainted with the general passion for powder. Every courtier had bowls and bins of the stuff in every color and scent. In addition to the pink hair powder, Annette had golden powder on her face and lavender at her throat and cleavage. There would be more varieties lower down. He would investigate that in time.

The second drip landed on the tip of her nose. Sylvain flicked it away with his tongue.

Annette giggled. “Your pipes are weeping, monsieur.”

“It’s nothing,” he said, nipping at her throat. The drips were just condensation. An annoyance, but unavoidable when cold pipes hung above overheated rooms.

The sofa squeaked as he leaned in with his full weight. It was a delicate fantasy of gilt and satin, hardly large enough for the two of them, and he was prepared to give it a beating.

Annette moaned as he bore down on her. She was far more entertaining than he had expected, supple and slick. Her gasps were genuine now, there was no doubt, and she yanked at his shirt with surprising strength.

A drip splashed on the back of his neck, and another a few moments later. He had Annette abandoned now, making little animal noises in the back of her throat as he drove into her. Another drip rolled off his wig, down his cheek, over his nose. He glanced overhead and a battery of drips hit his cheek, each bigger than the last.

This was a problem. The pipes above were part of the new run supporting connections to the suites of two influential men and at least a dozen rich ones. His workmen had installed the pipes just after Christmas. Even if they had done a poor job, leaks weren’t possible. He had made sure of it.

He gathered Annette in his arms and shoved her farther down the sofa, leaving the drips to land on the upholstery instead of his head. He craned his neck, trying to get a view of the ceiling. Annette groaned in protest and clutched his hips.

The drips fell from a join, quick as tears. Something was wrong in the cisterns. He would have to speak with Leblanc immediately.

“Sylvain?” Annette’s voice was strained.

It could wait. He had a reputation to maintain, and performing well here was as critical to his fortunes as all the water flowing through Versailles.

He dove back into her, moving up to a galloping pace as drips pattered on his neck. He had been waiting months for this. He ought to have been losing himself in Annette’s flounced and beribboned flesh, the rouged nipples peeking from her bodice, her flushed pout and helplessly bucking hips, but instead his mind wandered the palace. Were there floods under every join?

Instead of dampening his performance, the growing distraction lengthened it. When he was finally done with her, Annette was completely disheveled, powder blotched, rouge smeared, wig askew, face flushed as a dairy maid’s.

Annette squeezed a lock of his wig and caressed his cheek with a water-slick palm.

“You are undone, I think, monsieur.”

He stood and quickly ordered his clothes. The wig was wet, yes, even soaked. So was his collar and back of his coat. A quick glance in a gilded mirror confirmed he looked greasy as a peasant, as if he’d been toiling at harvest instead of concluding a long-planned and skillful seduction—a seduction that required a graceful exit, not a mad dash out the door to search the palace for floods.

Annette was pleased—more than pleased despite the mess he’d made of her. She looked like a cat cleaning cream off its whiskers as she dabbed her neck with a powder puff, ignoring the drips pattering beside her. The soaked sofa leached dye onto the cream carpet. Annette dragged the toe of her silk slipper through the stained puddle.

“If this is not the only drip, monsieur, you may have a problem or two.”

“It is possible,” Sylvain agreed, dredging up a smile. He leaned in and kissed the tips of her fingers one at a time until she waved him away.

He would have to clean up before searching for Leblanc, and he would look like a fool all the way up to his apartment.

At least the gossips listening at the door would have an enduring tale to tell.

End of scene 1.
The rest of the story is coming first thing Wednesday!

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New story coming in License Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond

jamesbondI’m thrilled that editors David Nickle​ and Madeline Ashby​ have accepted my novelette The Gladiator Lie for the upcoming ChiZine Publications​ anthology License Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond. Actually, I’m double-thrilled, because my darling Alyx’s story has also been accepted. This will be the first time we’re sharing a TOC. Ain’t that romantic?

My story is an alternate ending to From Russia with Love, focusing on Tatiana Romanova and Rosa Klebb. Though the title is from Lord Byron and the story starts with a quote from Childe Harold, let me assure you this is no highbrow contemplation of Bond’s inner manpain. It could properly be subtitled James Bond and the Lesbian Dwarves.

The story is deviant as hell. Why deviant? Well, it explores a few things I believe with all my heart:

1. Women are not inherently nicer or kinder than men. With the right opportunities, women are capable of committing every possible crime and indecency.

2. Just because a woman is gorgeous and charming doesn’t mean she’s nice (I’m looking at you, Tatiana Romanova).

3. Beautiful romances can happen between unbeautiful people (I’m looking at you, Rosa Klebb and [redacted]).

I love this deviant freakshow of a story with all my heart and can’t wait for the antho to come out in November.

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