TIFF roundup film 1 – IN THE SHADOW OF WOMEN, by Philippe Garrel

IISOW.jp

Alyx and I thought we had a decent roster of movies planned for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, with tickets for fourteen films over ten days. However, a few nights ago we were at the TIFF second floor lounge (where we often go to write in the evenings) and our Matthew, our favourite server, told us about a retired couple who see fifty movies at the festival every year. OWNED.

Our first film was In the Shadow of Women (L’Ombre des femme).

I won’t recommend this movie to anyone who doesn’t adore the stylish ambivalence of French film. It’s a very simple story simply told. Pierre cheats on Manon. Manon cheats on Pierre. When Pierre find out, he treats Manon with lazy cruelty. And when Manon discovers Pierre’s infidelity, the tables do not turn.

I loved it because:

  1. It’s anti-dramatic. It doesn’t pretend it’s a classic love story, just a story about people. It doesn’t say anything new about infidelity, but it does seem like it might be the director’s regretful apology for his own past sins. If so: good work, old man.
  1. It’s gorgeously shot. There’s one scene where Pierre is spying on Manon, her mom, and friend in a cafe. The focus is on the friend’s face during the conversation. For one brief moment the friend’s eyes widen in reaction to the chit-chat, and it’s riveting.
  1. The women are amazing. In contrast to Pierre, whose blank face is nearly always partially obscured, the women (Clothild Courau and Lena Paugam) are deliciously expressive and engaging. They’re also barely made-up with terrible hair and are dressed poorly in squalid surroundings, but somehow manage to still seem like the most beautiful, effortlessly glamorous people in existence.
  1. The director’s treatment of Pierre’s is unsparing. Pierre is a cad, acting like a cad, and the director shows his warts without turning him into a monster.
  1. It’s short (only 73 minutes), but exactly the right length for the story.

The final word: If I hadn’t known what to expect going in, I would have hated it. And anyone who loves French cinema probably already has tickets.

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Guillermo del Toro – A master class on Gothic Romance

GDT photo by TIFF, via Twitter

GDT photo by TIFF, via Twitter

tl;dr Guillermo del Toro is incredibly articulate, charming, loveable, geeky, and a pretty darn passionate feminist, too.

Last night Alyx and I attended the Jane Eyre session of Guillermo del Toro’s Gothic Romance master class at TIFF. Video of the lectures and Q&A sessions from all three nights (Great Expectations, Rebecca, and Jane Eyre) will be available on the TIFF website. The whole thing was utterly delightful and inspiring, and I’m never missing another of his master classes.

Here are my notes, categorized:

GDT on his influences

  • “I have two literary crushes. One is all three Bronte sisters, the other is Mary Shelley.”
  • “Kate Beaton is my hero” specifically referencing this cartoon, or maybe this one.
  • Loves all gothic romances. Especially mentions Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bartram-Haugh by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.
  • Lord Byron: “When all else fails, shock them.”
  • Two forces exist in our lives: love and fear. Love and fear are the two forces in narrative. We live in a world where it’s easier to believe in fear than love.
  • Sex was the forbidden thing the Victorians dreamed of. Now LOVE is the thing we don’t have permission to believe in.
  • Emotion is the new “-punk.”

GDT defines the gothic

  • Gothic romance is defined by the romantic view of death.
  • Gothic romance is the ultimate feminine drama.
  • Love is allowed to be dreamed of only through a supernatural agent.
  • A female point of view examines other models of femininity.

GDT on gothic elements

  • Love can only exist if the object of love is born in thorns.
  • Love comes through the intervention of something more than human.
  • Contains a huge amount of social S&M.
  • Gothic is also concerned with economic factors. Someone has to inherit wealth.
  • The person going on the journey has to be terribly diminished, humbled, innocent.
  • The illuminated male is often a doctor (caregiver).
  • Children are ultra-creepy when they take on adult roles.

GDT on Jane Eyre

  • Loves the Orson Welles version of Jane Eyre because the visuals are so obviously stylized. Prefers this to a naturalistic style. Especially loves the movie-making choices in the first part of the movie, before Rochester comes into it.
  • He would love to see Jane Eyre adapted, produced, and directed by a woman, because it never has been and a woman would make different choices in telling the story.
  • The love Jane feels is still not enough to tie her down.

GDT on sexual politics and the other

  • Men and women are equally full of contradictions.
  • The entirety of gender perception is false.
  • You can understand any character if you recognize the emotion.

GDT on his work

  • If he doesn’t love a character, he can’t write them. Loves his villains.
  • Wants you to come out of a movie without having your prejudices confirmed.
  • Wants you to come out of his movies feeling that everything you know about the world is wrong.

Tweets with many more great quotes and observations are collected in the #MasterClassdelToro hashtag.

He will be doing a master class series on Luis Buñuel next August , so don’t miss it.

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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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