Saturday, October 4, 2014

Random Musings and Rants on Character Development and Criticisms

I both love and hate tropes. I love to abuse them -- take them and twist them into something other than the way they're usually used. I like to use them appropriately. I like to piss all over them.

One complaint I expected for my first books was for the main character. He's not John Wayne. He doesn't like John Wayne. He's not Jack from Will and Grace. I'm not sure they'd even get along. No, he's not a manly man, and he's not a flaming queen. He's bisexual. He's a geek. More, he's a B character in his own world.

That was the whole point.

He was meant to be an ordinary geek. Not some hero or super-villain in training. Part of my thought process behind him was to look at the flunky -- the guy under the villain -- and follow his transition to becoming said flunky. Not even the villain's right hand man (who, in this series, is actually a woman).

pictured: a geek's kitten from Le Meow

So, I get people bitching that he's not manly enough. Someone whined about how my characters weren't fitting into gender boxes.

I. Hate. Gender. Boxes.

They aren't realistic, for one. They aren't healthy for another. I can't stand the guides that say "How to write a believable [gender] character." They're full of gag worthy stereotypes that don't reflect any of the people I've known in my life of either gender. 

News flash: this is how you should treat people and characters both

I remember one: "Guys don't giggle." 

Uh, yeah they do. I've heard many guys giggle. Some guys don't, but if you've never heard a guy giggle, then you've probably missed an entire culture (or three) of men. Gay guys giggle, but not all of them. Geek guys giggle, but not all of them. Straight, average guys giggle, but not all of them.

Any time you say not to do something for a group, you're being presumptuous and building on stereotypes that really only match your own experience. While there's nothing wrong with writing from your own experience, there is something wrong with telling other people that only the stereotype you believe in is right.

It's not. Stereotypes are looked down on for a reason. I base my characters on real people. That may be shocking, but I think it's more shocking that some people feel that makes them 'unbelievable.' Now, when I say that, I'm not saying I'm inserting people I know as characters -- but I'm using real, observed traits from real people when I get to know the characters I'm writing about instead of relying on stereotypes and tropes.

I don't expect everyone to like them. Shit, that would be like expecting everyone to like anyone. But trying to say they don't meet their expectations for a stereotype just makes me shake my head. I'm not going to take that as constructive criticism. That's just whining. John Steinbeck said to write to just one person... I think that's too simplistic, but I think that the idea that you aren't writing to everyone is a good one.

Someone recently accused me of not knowing my audience because he wanted a 'gay vampire' book instead of the psychological horror novel with vampires that I wrote. He couldn't have been further from the truth. I know who my audience is: it doesn't include biphobic, sexist bigots who are looking for erotica. My books aren't erotica. They have sex in them because sex is a part of life, and my books are 'slice of life'-heavy.

They also don't include a bunch of vulgarities or clinical anatomical terms in the sex scenes (or flowery romanticisms that make me want to vomit, like 'honey pot' or 'turgid staff' -- hey, if that floats your boat, feel free to self-insert them; just don't torture me with them or expect me to make my editor's eyes roll into the back of her head before rightfully deleting that shit). I love sex, and I am totally comfortable with it and writing sex scenes. I'm not going to adjust my style to make my books wank fodder when that has never been what they are.

I write what I know, and what I don't know, I research, from the mouths of those who do know, not just books or blogs about a subject. Which gives me this radical idea that people can't really be boxed. And maybe some people want characters to be boxed, but I don't. Maybe that means I'll never be a New York Times Bestselling author (not knocking books on the NTY list, I'm knocking whiny critics), but I'd rather be true to my characters than create two-dimensional caricatures.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Musing on Homework

Photo courtesy of  shho

It's been a while since I had a post! School has started again, and so have the comments on homework from parents. Anything from pleading for other parents to tell them how to motivate their kids to complaining about how their kids don't have time to do anything else to just general questions about how much is normal or how to do something the 'new way.'

Homework is rubbish.

You could call that an opinion. But it's an educated one.

Even if you subscribe to the notion that homework is a good thing, the amount of homework matters. There's this 'rule of 10' thing where you're supposed to multiply the child's grade by 10 minutes to get the maximum amount of time spent on homework. After that, you get diminishing returns, increases in stress levels and damage to children's health (it can cause 'migraines, ulcers and other stomach problems, sleep deprivation and exhaustion, and weight loss').

This means that no student should ever have more than 2 hours of homework, and 3-4 hours is the current average in the US. 2 hours is only recommended in grades 10-12. No more than 90 minutes in middle school, and no more than 60 minutes in primary school (with no more than 20 minutes in 2nd grade). Any more is not only unreasonable, but it's potentially detrimental.

Photo courtesy of  hvaldez1 

I mean, they've been saying variants of this since the 50s. Teachers aren't teaching by evidence-based methods, and standardized tests are too often used as a measurement of skill -- not a very good one.

Additionally, the quality of homework matters. When I say 'homework is rubbish,' I'm thinking of the countless busywork sheets piled on kids that require nothing but mindless repetition. Stuff that the kids don't want to be doing and the teachers don't want to be grading, but somehow it still keeps being assigned. Not homework that encourages kids to interact with their environment or think critically.

The problem is that mindless homework becomes associated with 'school' and 'learning.' This leads to a cycle of decreasing satisfaction with both ideas. It's so much of a phenomenon that there's a term for "the mental process a person goes through after being removed from a formal schooling environment, when the "school mindset" is eroded over time." "Deschooling may refer to the time period it takes for children removed from school to adjust to learning in an unstructured environment."

What exactly does that mean? Well, the idea of homework is that kids should develop good habits for self-directed learning. However, homework actually may do the opposite, especially if parents punish them for not completing homework, or the homework itself feels like a punishment. So children will actually avoid anything that feels like homework. Of course, deschooling also refers to the damage caused from the way traditional school is structured. You see a little bit of it over the summer break and in the first few weeks back in school. The damage builds until it all culminates in burnout commonly referred to as 'senioritis' when I was in school.

Photo courtesy of  samlevan

I've seen some comments to the effect that "work is not a bad word." These people seem to have forgotten that kids already spent 6 hours at "work." That may not sound like much to an adult jaded by 8-12 hour workdays, but we're talking about children. Punishing them through overwork in a complete contradiction to what science shows is healthy just because you're cranky that you work your ass off is narcissistic and asinine. Kids learn best through play, not work.

Of course, I'm not any sort of professional, so let me just let them speak now:

  "There is no evidence to demonstrate that homework benefits students below high school age. Even if you regard standardized test results as a useful measure (which I don't), more homework isn't correlated with higher scores for children in elementary school. 
  "Even at the high school level, the benefits of homework are debatable. Some studies do find a relationship between homework and test scores, but it tends to be small. More important, there's no reason to think that higher achievement is caused by the homework." --Alfie Kohn, The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing

According to Richard Walker, an educational psychologist at Sydney University, data shows that in countries where more time is spent on homework, students score lower on a standardized test called the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA. The same correlation is also seen when comparing homework time and test performance at schools within countries. Past studies have also demonstrated this basic trend.

"...teachers typically give take-home assignments that are unhelpful busy work. Assigning homework "appeared to be a remedial strategy (a consequence of not covering topics in class, exercises for students struggling, a way to supplement poor quality educational settings), and not an advancement strategy (work designed to accelerate, improve or get students to excel)," LeTendre wrote in an email." -- Live Science

"Harris Cooper, a close student of the subject, reports that "The conclusions of past reviewers of homework research show extraordinary variability... Even in regard to specific areas of application such as within different subject areas, grades or student ability levels, the reviews often directly contradict one another." Even where a positive correlation is established, it is not clear whether homework makes good, well motivated students or privileged and well motivated students do homework. Cooper's work is unequivocal in its conclusion that no significant gains for homework are established for the elementary school years." -- John Buell

"Our findings on the effects of homework challenge the traditional assumption that homework is inherently good."
"The findings address how current homework practices in privileged, high-performing schools sustain students' advantage in competitive climates yet hinder learning, full engagement and well-being." -- Denise Pope

A Standford Research study found that too much homework is associated with:

Greater stress: 56 percent of the students considered homework a primary source of stress, according to the survey data. Forty-three percent viewed tests as a primary stressor, while 33 percent put the pressure to get good grades in that category. Less than 1 percent of the students said homework was not a stressor.

Reductions in health: In their open-ended answers, many students said their homework load led to sleep deprivation and other health problems. The researchers asked students whether they experienced health issues such as headaches, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, weight loss and stomach problems.

Less time for friends, family and extracurricular pursuits: Both the survey data and student responses indicate that spending too much time on homework meant that students were "not meeting their developmental needs or cultivating other critical life skills," according to the researchers. Students were more likely to drop activities, not see friends or family, and not pursue hobbies they enjoy.

Photo courtesy of

So, there you have it. One mom's opinion... backed by a lot of researchers. Homework may have its place in high school, but mindless busy work shouldn't be playing a part, especially with kids.

Of course, we'll have more information next year on just how well the idea of banning homework works out thanks to Quebec.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Musing on Writing: July 2014

Yeah, my work space is a perpetual mess

On my oldest daughter's due date group, I was asked a few questions that ended up with my giving a lengthy response that I thought I'd share here.

I have been wanting to ask you about your books. Do you self-publish? Are you in hard copy form yet? How long does one book take to write, on average?


Yes, I publish through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and Lulu. Most traditional publishing houses are getting to the point where they only look for authors who have created a 'brand' for themselves and already attracted readers because of the initial investment that they want to get a return on, so it's actually harder than it's ever been to get into traditional publishing (which has always been difficult, especially when you're unable to do convention crawling and schmoozing, which is the traditional way of acquiring readers).

All of my books are available in paperback. I want to eventually offer in hard cover, too, but I don't want them to cost $30/pop, so I'm still trying to figure that one out. My books aren't short, lol.

How long does it take to write? That's incredibly difficult to say. My first book, I had my husband's full support to get 'protected writing time,' so I was able to write without distractions every day for the 3 weeks it took to write the first draft. That's a little over 100,000 words, or 261 pages (the size of a standard mass market paperback in the genre I write). 

That's my shortest book in the series.

That's just the first draft, though. Then it needs to sit for a couple months, sight unseen to get it out of my head to begin the second draft editing process. Revisions continue until it feels clean enough to go to my editor (who also reads my raw drafts because she's impatient for the story, lol). Then she sends it back, and I go through it again and we discuss edits, suggestions, etc. 

Now that I'm [working on publishing] my 4th book, after my editor, it will be going to two proofreaders after her (because even OCD, anal editors like mine miss things).

I'm looking at date tags to answer draft time length questions on the books following the first (which came out insanely fast -- it was READY to be written, lol!). 

Okay, so my 4th book took 4 months to write at 359,000 (approx) words (897 pages). Yes, that's long. But I polled my readers, and they said they prefer longer books, so... It does mean that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to print as one paperback, though. I'll have to decide if I want to push the font to a smaller size (9pt instead of 11) or if I want to split it in two paperbacks. I know the final book will have to be two paperbacks (this is because I don't have a major publisher backing me to print larger books, which they don't like to do because of shelf space, NOT because of reader interest -- the more space it takes up on a shelf, the less profit they get).

My third book took 3 months and is 300,000 (approx) words (753 pages).

My 4th and 5th books are taking longer to write because I have to take breaks to do continuity sweeps (make sure I'm not contradicting or repeating anything, even though I have about 20 note files to track this stuff -- it still happens) and edits to previous books to prep them for publishing. When editing, I can't write. They're two different processes and interfere with one another, so I have to take writing breaks to do the editing (which actually makes writing flow more smoothly when I catch back up to where I left off).

So there's another window into my life as a writer.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Musing on "Said"

Just a random post about the word "said." The current trend in writer advice is to use the fuck out of "said" and avoid other words for it.

Readers hate that.

Seriously, one of the biggest complaints I see from readers when perusing book reviews is: "It's all he-said, she-said -- they don't vary it."

So why the hell are writers and editors advising new writers to stick to it? I have no idea, and I've read several articles on why. I've read examples where 'said' was used compared to the exact same snippet written with alternatives. The whole point was to show that said was great and should be used.

The 'said' paragraph was flat and boring. I didn't care about it. Once the alternatives were substituted, I felt drawn in and a part of the story. It was an utter failure to defend the word 'said.'

So, I'm sorry, but while 'said' should be used, and used often (and all tags to that effect should also be dropped where possible, such as when an action immediately follows that can identify the speaker), you should also replace it whenever another word better describes how something was said.

From The Huffington Post, this was offered up in an otherwise great article on self-editing:

'A character can't "laugh" something. They can't "snip" "spit" "snarl" "grouse" words.'

Oh, yes they can. While I try to avoid mixing action with expression, you damn well can snarl something (in fact, someone is more likely to snarl a word than make the sound) and grouse. Grouse is a synonym for 'grumble' and indicates the tone with which something is spoken.

Snip? I'll give them snip. You can be snippy, but you can't snip a word... that's for scissors. If you've never had words spat at you, that's great, but it happens. As for laughing, you can laugh words, but I agree that it should be separated if they didn't actually simultaneously speak and laugh (which I do often when I'm amused enough).

'Said' can become invisible, sure. But a book written with nothing but 'said' for a speaking tag is like a coloring book that hasn't been used. A book that relies entirely on synonyms for said is tiring and tedious, too. There has to be a balance. I'm not pretending to have it perfected. As if.

But I felt this needed to be said as a reader of books, as a lover of books, and as a writer of books.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Dramatic Narrator

HOO boy, I have another drama narrator. Kat had cereal for lunch, so I told her she couldn't have more. At that moment, I was trying to figure out how to give them ice cream without having to get out bowls and spoons, so I just told her 'no.'

She ran crying to the bedroom, where I heard, "My mommy won't pick me up! She never... [inaudible]." I couldn't understand most of it, but I got the gist that she was narrating her misery in between sobs (Lilly didn't start this until she was about 5 as far as I remember, but she still does it whenever sent to the playroom to chill or to bed early).

Kat randomly screamed, "Mommy!" and I'd call back to her and tell her she could come to me, but I was busy (with ice cream surprise!).

She finally finishes up and comes out. I asked her if she was done, and she said, "Yeah. What's that? Birthday cake?" (she meant birthday hats -- I'd fashioned coated paper plates into paper ice cream cones by cutting them in half and folding them). I asked her if it looked like birthday cake and then suggested she meant hats. She agreed and stuck one on her head.

I needed to take my scissors and tape back to their spot on my desk, and when I left, immediately the cries started again. I said I'd be right back, so what did she cry?

"My mommy can't come right back!" Over and over for the 30 seconds it took me to walk to the desk in the living room and back to the kitchen. Hyperbole and drama from the toddler who started rolling her eyes at 10 months. I'm not shocked.

She and her sisters are now enjoying their ice cream. Why is there no happy narrating? "My mommy made me ice cream!" would be a nice change from "My mommy never..."

She can certainly cheese it up when she wants.

She's lucky she's so darned cute. And so am I.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Musing on the Depression Monster

So, I was reading Wil Wheaton's post about paparazzi-induced depression and sharing it. During the share, my commentary started turning into a blog post, so here it is instead. This is part of what I posted it with:

I wish Dispel Depression was something anyone could cast. This is more than just the depression, though. But also, it is about depression.

Pretending it isn't there is destructive. You can't fight something while ignoring while it's tearing little pieces off of you. You shouldn't just fall into a ball of 'I can't', but you have to acknowledge that the monster is there, punch it in the nose if you can and just talk about the thing until it gets sick of hearing about itself and leaves. 

After I wrote that, I realized that the first thing my friends who suffer with depression would say is:

Other people don't want to hear it.

Once you let it get this bad, you're close to losing them.
I have something to say to those people.

If you don't want to hear your friend talking about their depression and pain, you aren't alone. It's hard as hell, even when you have depression, to hear someone going on about how they're hurting and there's nothing you can do about it.

Maybe you feel like they're not doing anything about it -- you would be wrong. If they're talking to you, then they're reaching out for help. They're trying to talk through it. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it's so bad that you have to keep slogging through until you come out the other side. Sometimes it's environmental, and you can't change the environmental trigger for whatever reason (sometimes it will lead to a worse situation, sometimes you're just trapped).
...want to be happy again.
Now, if you start avoiding them because they're depressed? You're a shitty friend. No, you're not a friend at all. You can take 60 minutes out of your chirping birds and unicorns shitting roses blinders life to sit and listen to your friend who is hurting and trying to find a way for it to stop.

And if you're "sucking it up" because you're suffering and think you need to just keep it to yourself? You're an idiot. Stop it. It's not healthy, you won't get better, you're only hurting yourself for stupid reasons (because there is never a good reason to hurt yourself or suffer alone). Further, trying to apply your own crappy beliefs about suffering in silence on other people is horrible. It is a bad thing to do. Don't do it. Get help.

It's programming by a society lacking in empathy. Sure, it's probably relatively decent population control, and all nature cares about is breeding. It doesn't care about society or community or happiness or growth. It cares about popping out kids. After that, it doesn't give a shit about you. You can tumor it up and die for all nature cares at that point. And society used to operate on protecting itself from the pain of that truth. We're growing past that. Time to come into the present and leave those outdated, unhelpful models behind.

Some of the most brilliant minds were ravaged and eventually ended by depression. Things that you may enjoy today may have been brought to you by people who were suffering. It wasn't the suffering and pain that brought it (most of the time), and if they'd had help getting through it (suicidal thoughts are temporary, it's about getting through the cycle), maybe you'd have even more awesome works from them.

Yes, it's okay to have limits. No, I don't have an answer for expressing them. Honestly, if everyone would get over the whole idea of dismissing and rejecting people who are in pain, there would be a better distribution of that pain. More chances to talk it out and find things to focus on getting away from the depression monster would be available.

Because that thing is horrible, and decent human beings can't let it win.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Musing on Children of LGBTQ Parents

stock by stockxchng

So, over the last summer, I had quite a few fascinating, in-depth conversations with people across the globe in my intro to psychology class. The most provocative threads was likely regarding sexual orientation, and one man's question on whether or not it was a mental illness, because his daughter was gay. I was never quite sure if he was trolling or genuinely seeking answers, but for the most part, the threads he started stayed respectful and full of a huge exchange of information and cultural reactions.

Also, the answer is no. It is not a mental illness. It was stripped of that misguided label in the '70s, and despite the Brazilian government's backwards move, it still is not, has never been and never will be an illness, a choice or a 'lifestyle.'

Of course, the core questions he wanted to know were if he had caused it and if it could harm his grandson (which he believed strongly that it would, because he had a clear ignorance of the topic--hence asking questions to dispel it--and issues of his own to work with, as well as a belief that two women can't raise a boy properly).

In case any of my readers are under the delusion that healthy non-heterosexual parents will do a poor job (or even a statistically different job) of raising children (regardless of the child's gender), here are some of the resources I provided him:
"Extensive data available from more than 30 years of research reveal that children raised by gay and lesbian parents have demonstrated resilience with regard to social, psychological, and sexual health despite economic and legal disparities and social stigma."
"...when measuring same-sex parent households against heterosexual households on a number of key health indicators, such as self-esteem, emotional well-being and the amount of time spent with parents, gay and straight-parent families match up well.

However, the researchers found that on measures of general health and family cohesion something cropped up in the data that was quite interesting. Children aged 5-17 in a same-sex parent household scored significantly higher on these wellness measures than kids from straight parent families."
Sometimes people are concerned that children being raised by a gay parent will need extra emotional support or face unique social stressors.Current research shows that children with gay and lesbian parents do not differ from children with heterosexual parents in their emotional development or in their relationships with peers and adults. It is important for parents to understand that it is the the quality of the parent/child relationship and not the parent’s sexual orientation that has an effect on a child’s development. Research has shown that in contrast to common beliefs, children of lesbian, gay, or transgender parents:
  • Are not more likely to be gay than children with heterosexual parents.
  • Are not more likely to be sexually abused.
  • Do not show differences in whether they think of themselves as male or female (gender identity).
  • Do not show differences in their male and female behaviors (gender role behavior).

Additional resources:

“On the basis of a remarkably consistent body of research on lesbian and gay parents and their children, the American Psychological Association (APA) and other health professional and scientific organizations have concluded that there is no scientific evidence that parenting effectiveness is related to parental sexual orientation. That is, lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children. This body of research has shown that the adjustment, development and psychological well-being of children are unrelated to parental sexual orientation and that the children of lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those of heterosexual parents to flourish.”

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Holy Moral Disengagement, Batman!

(this was originally written during my class last year, but has been edited to better fit a blog post)

So, studying the Stanford Prison Experiment in my Psych class last year after the Milgram experiment, I immediately think of moral disengagement (and indeed, I'm sure this is where the concept came from).

It's especially interesting to me because the first book I completed was about Stockholm Syndrome, but the more I learn, the more I see other psychological concepts in play. I talk about moral disengagement later, but I realize that it happened fairly early on in the first book (since the series is about becoming/being the villain's flunky).

So when the professor said "You may think differently about 'evil,'" I couldn't help but think that I already do. Also makes me think about Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. And fans of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles -- Lestat is a despicable creature, yet beloved by tens of thousands of fans.

We're not looking at the various series' vampires who choose not to kill humans (Being Human, for example, before people start in on the conformist Twilight bashing). Lestat can't choose not to kill. "...they killed two, sometimes three a night." But as he's the protagonist, that's okay. (Yes, it started with Louis, but Lestat was Anne's "dark prince" -- the character that she was in love with). In the fourth book, he rapes a woman with absolutely no real consequences (including no major loss of audience).

It also makes me think of the shift of what we look for in a hero historically to now. For instance, going from Superman to Batman. Superman is this bright, optimistic character who derives his power from the sun, stands for truth, justice, blah blah blah.

Batman, though, comes from the darkness. He was created through an act of violence. He prowls the night. He is the darkness come to protect us.

What do these two have in common? They're criminals. Vigilantism is illegal; it's a crime. But they still engage in it (Spiderman obviously has a lot of focus on this, but Batman does as well). They stop major crimes whenever possible, but they do it without any authority, and they employ violence (early Batman killed, but sometime in the 80s, it was decided that he shouldn't do that, or use guns, etc.), break and enter, etc. But it's okay for them to break the law and hurt people because they're doing it in the name of justice.

The very existence of the Punisher really drives this home. He's not serving justice--his entire existence is devoted to revenge and death.

I love me some Deadpool. Who else loves him? Now, who would willingly subject themselves to an entire 24 hours with him? How about going on a mission with him? (I'm scared of anyone who wants to do that last part unless they're suffering the delusion that they can somehow stop him from wholesale slaughter with whatever amazing powers Hypothetical Person has).

We're taught moral disengagement from a young age in this way. Depending on what we choose to read, it becomes reinforced.

Heck, I forget how dark the material I'm writing is until I'm confronted by my readers. My two best friends -- one is my editor, the other is my oldest friend -- both have given me direct feedback to this effect. My oldest BFF won't read another book after the first. It disturbed her too greatly. Just to write this stuff takes a certain (mild though it may be... until you take into account that I believe in multiverse theory) amount of moral disengagement in and of itself.

That said, you know what disturbs me? The main 'romance' in the book is a classic domestic violence situation with one partner being blatantly abused by the other (nothing subtle here; if these were your neighbors, you would either be calling the cops on them or wishing someone else would), and people (including myself, to be honest, but I'm the one who dreamed the whole thing) love that pairing. The antagonist-turned-protagonist (as the protagonist falls in love with him) is presented as a sociopath, and people love him. People want to classify my first book, which is psychological horror, as romance.

"We like him, so it's okay if he does evil things like rape the protagonist, strive to create a dictatorship and kill people. We'll just not think about that part." On the plus side, that tells me that I wrote the character well. He's doing to the readers exactly what he did to the protagonist (and I love it).

This fiction entreats us to not only suspend disbelief, but also our morals. More, knowing all of this does not banish the effect. I still love me some Deadpool.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Short Story: The Midwife

This is just a short story I wrote a while back and found recently. Hypothetical future. Enjoy.

The Midwife

“Oh, Zoe, I'm so happy for you!” Kristen exclaimed. She sat forward and took Zoe's hands, sharing an excited smile. Her smile faded as she braced herself for the answer to her next question, as she always did. “So, have you contacted your OB?”
Zoe's eyes shifted to the side. She leaned over and turned her phone off. Kristen's spirits rose immediately. This was what she was always afraid to hope for.
“I'm not filing an Intent to Birth,” she whispered. Really, there wasn't any need, but people feared what could happen if they were caught talking about a natural birth. It wasn't allowed.
“You understand the risks, of course,” Kristen said, lifting her cup of tea and drinking. Zoe nodded, taking a drink of her own tea.
“I don't want to move to Norway,” Zoe said. “I don't like the cold. And my whole family has lived here since before the American Revolution. I shouldn't have to move just to have a baby,”
“I agree, obviously,” Kristen said. “I thought you might feel that way when you told me you'd applied to have your birth control system removed.”
“I had heard that... that you know of a midwife,” Zoe said softly.
“Oh, yes,” Kristen said. “I do.”

Zoe looked at the piece of paper with the address on it and double checked it against the number on the house in front of her. Part of her was so afraid that she wanted to run. Then she imagined the alternative, and she found the courage to knock.

“Now, I can't get in trouble, right?” Zoe asked. The midwife smiled. This was usually the first question asked of her.
“If you do not enter into an Obstetrical Contract, you won't fall under penalty of law if you deliver out of hospital. All of the risk is on me. If you tell anyone about what I do—”
“Oh, I would never do that!” Zoe said, taking her hand. The midwife patted Zoe's hand comfortingly.
“I know, dear, and we'll go over all the possible scenarios where you might need to transfer care later, along with stories to avoid culpability. But if anyone were to discover me, I would be arrested on charges of felony medical infringement and face a sentence of five to thirty years.”
“That's ridiculous!” Zoe snapped, her face flushing with anger.
“I know,” the midwife said with a sigh. “When my grandmother had my mother, women still had a choice in where and how they gave birth in most states. When my mother had me, women still had the choice of how. It's only been twenty years since the Mandatory Cesarean Act passed, and the population is already down ten percent.”
“Ten percent?” Zoe whispered.
“Well, Population Control would really like to see it drop another ten percent, but with it still illegal to perform any invasive procedure without written consent, they're reduced to fining people for having more than two children per couple. And then, of course, there are loophole kids.”
“Yeah, my husband and I aren't comfortable with that,” Zoe said. “We've talked about it, but we're really okay with two children. While it's unusual for a man to challenge for custody, it's been on the rise lately with black market adoption rates going up.”
“There's a bill in the House trying to eliminate that practice,” the midwife told her, “Although it's unknown if it will pass.”
“How?” Zoe asked.
“It provides that a man who sues for custody cannot put his child up for adoption. If he's found to have done so, he faces a twenty-thousand dollar fine or even more. The problem is that Pop Control is fighting it because the way things are now lowers the number of loophole babies for the exact reason you stated.”
“Wow. Well, if it passes, maybe we'll reconsider.”
“Even if it doesn't, there's a loophole to that problem anyway. Right now, a man can sue for custody of his child and automatically win if two or more children are already present in the home. However, if you have your loophole child before you have biological children or between your one allotment and your husband's allotment, he won't win.”
“I never even thought of that!” Zoe exclaimed, laughing. “That's brilliant!”
“I should warn you that if you need to transfer with your second child, you will be required to choose a permanent birth control device,” the midwife added.
“Is there no way around that?” Zoe asked.
“Some obstetricians are willing to do a five year survival clause in their OC, to provide that you aren't required permanent sterilization until your youngest child reaches their fifth year alive, at which time, you have a year to sterilize,” the midwife offered.
“That's sick!” Zoe protested. “It's like some kind of morbid warranty.”
The midwife nodded sympathetically.
“If you choose a vasectomy, you have two options still. If you're willing to pay the third child fine, you can try to conceive immediately, as soon as your husband feels up to it. After all, it takes vasectomies a while to take. That also leaves you open for a loophole baby. Of course, if you transfer during a loophole birth, many OBs make you sign a hysterectomy release for your c-section,” the midwife warned.
“This just all feels so wrong,” Zoe said. “Why is Norway the only place in the world, except for tribal areas, to not make birth into a legal situation?”
“According to my grandmother, it started out small. A few states criminalized midwifery when it was on the brink of becoming socially acceptable. OBs fought hard—buying studies, skewing outcomes—to prove that midwives were dangerous to mothers and babies. The cesarean rate was rising every year and then the ACOG gave the green light to start Obstetrical Contracts, which women were required to sign to use the practice.
“Originally, it was to guarantee exclusivity. The woman couldn't transfer care, but she knew exactly the care she would be getting. It didn't seem like a big deal, since that matched OBs with mothers who wanted their kind of care. Then the standard of care started shifting. There were no OBs that offered births without contracts, and then some hospitals stopped having rooms for labor, advertising as 'c-section only.'
“Next came the bill that legally defined childbirth as a medical procedure. That was the beginning of the end. They used it by the same logic that got midwives out of legal practice. Then came full practices offering nothing but cesarean delivery. Then, the mandatory cesarean act was passed. At this point, midwives were totally illegal and just coming out to protest drew the attention of the law. So we faded into the night. Women didn't want to risk being caught and trapped into an OC or lead the law back to their midwives, so they were afraid to make a lot of noise, too.”
“That's awful,” Zoe said, shaking her head in outrage. “Why did Norway stay separate?”
“They always have,” the midwife answered. “So, do you wish to hire me?”
“What's your fee?” Zoe asked.
“It's five thousand for prenatals and birth.”
“That's it?” Zoe asked, shocked. “It's fifty thousand to birth in a hospital!”
“Surgery is expensive,” the midwife said with a shrug. Zoe sighed.
“Do you accept payments?”
“Of course!” the midwife said cheerfully. “And if five thousand is a real hardship, we can work out barter if we need to.”
“Oh, no, I can afford it,” Zoe said with a smile. “As long as it's not all at once. How much if I have to transfer?”
“It depends on how far you get,” the midwife said. “Usually, we detect the need for transfers at five months, so that would be two thousand.”
“I can't believe how cheap it is!” Zoe said.
“We aren't out to make profit,” the midwife said. “Almost all midwives have some kind of side business to live on. Now, what month are you due?”
“According to the online calculator: October first.”
“Good, I don't have any clients in late September or any time in October right now, so I have no problem taking you.”
“I'm glad,” Zoe said, visibly relaxing.
“Remember that you cannot announce your pregnancy in any public forums, social media, et cetera. If you get followed to me, I'll be out of business, and you'll end up with an OB.”
“Got it,” Zoe said. “Can I know your name?”
“No, I'm sorry,” the midwife said. “But you may call me Ann. And of course, all payments must be in cash.”
“Of course,” Zoe agreed. “How many babies have you delivered?”
“I've caught around three hundred babies,” the midwife answered. “I've been doing this for twenty-five years. I started apprenticing when I was sixteen. I was amazed when I saw my first vaginal birth.”
“How do OBs stop women from having accidental vaginal births?” Zoe asked.
“All mothers are sectioned at thirty-seven weeks, unless they show signs of labor before that. That's why NICUs have to be so advanced. Many babies who are supposed to be thirty-seven weeks along are actually thirty-five and even thirty-seven weekers aren't always ready. Plus, just the cesarean itself raises the risk to the baby's lungs and digestive system.”
“Wait, you mean pregnancy isn't thirty-seven weeks?” Zoe asked.
“Yes. Oh, you didn't account for that?” the midwife asked. “I should have asked. Silly of me. You'll actually be due October twenty-second, then.”
“Wow, that's almost a whole month!”
“It could be even two or three more weeks after that,” the midwife warned.
“Really?” Zoe exclaimed.
“You'll be most likely to go in almost November. Changing your mind?” The midwife gave Zoe a teasing smile.
“No! No, I'm... just surprised is all. I didn't know pregnancy was... forty weeks long!” Zoe shook her head in surprise. “Even forty-two or forty-three? I've never heard of that!”
“Oh, I've seen two pregnancies that went forty-four and forty-five weeks respectively,” the midwife said. “I was really nervous about the forty-five weeker, but her baby, while a bit overcooked, was still nice and healthy.”
“Do... do I have to go that long?” Zoe asked, a small tremor in her voice.
“No, but it's better to let your baby decide when it's time,” the midwife explained. “If you get really uncomfortable and go to forty-two weeks, there are things we can do to tell baby it's time.”
“Oh, good.” Zoe stood up and the midwife stood up as well. Zoe offered her hand and the midwife took and shook it. “Thank you, Ann.”
“You're welcome, Zoe. That's what I'm here for: the truth. Unfortunately, that's something most people are scared of anymore.”
“Oh, I'm scared,” Zoe admitted, “but I want to do this.”
“I'm so glad,” the midwife said. “Do you have an ereader?”
“Of course,” Zoe said. “Why?”
“I have some books that you should read. You don't want to go near most of the books in the bookstores—they just focus on preparing you for surgery and obeying your doctor. These are really old books from the days back when women birthed vaginally seventy percent of the time.”
“I can't even imagine that,” Zoe said. “I'll bring my ereader at the next visit. It's been a pleasure meeting you.”
“It's been a pleasure meeting you, too. Have a happy and healthy nine months,” the midwife wished her. Zoe shook her head in amazement. Nine months! Everyone else she had ever met had always said eight months, except grandmas, who didn't talk much about birth at all.
Maybe they knew as little as she had. She was amazed at the knowledge that time could steal and the cleverness of humans in preserving old information thought to be lost to time. Now if only that wisdom could help her do what she believed her body had to be capable of doing.
She hoped that the ability to give birth hadn't been bred out of her. Zoe supposed Population Control would be happy if it had. Sometimes she wondered just how far they would go to maintain their quotas.
Now that she knew more about the statistics, more than just a fear of surgery drove her. No, now it was a duty. A service to the human race, to remember that biology was as important a science as technology. It only made sense that she, as a biology student, was part of a movement to prove it.
She only hoped that some day, she could share her knowledge with the world that so desperately needed it.