Wednesday, December 24, 2014

From Enthusiastic to Exhausted: Activists Burn Out, Too

So, activism. It's awesome, important, and it can and has changed the world, over and over. It's comprised of activists. Activists are people. And people get disillusioned.

I've been an activist for one cause or another as long as I can remember (hence the vagueness -- this isn't about one cause, but rather, having a cause). In that time, I've noticed in both myself and in the vast majority of other activists a pattern of interest, enthusiasm and eventual burnout.

The first, and absolutely most important part of any cause is awareness. I'm sure you've seen lots of 'raising awareness' campaigns. The typical cynical (burnout) response to this is: Awareness already exists. Time to move on. Now, if we're talking about a major disease like cancer that everyone actually does know about, maybe that's true (unless we're talking prevention or healing options). But with most things? Nope.

Think back to how you first got into a cause. You learned that it existed. Someone took the time to explain to you why it was important. Perhaps they did that through a conversation; maybe it was a link to resources about the cause. Either way, you then learned something and became excited to help others share that thing.

On the opposite end of the timeline is the burnout who has decided that if you don't agree with them, they don't have time for you. These people are the death of a cause. That cynicism is a cancer on the whole topic. They are as much 'part of the problem' as that which the cause is fighting against. And I specifically chose cancer for a reason. Because their mentally exhausting cynicism spreads, infects others. Worse, there has been an increasing trend, especially among certain causes, for those tumors to deliberately infect others, posting about how education is a waste of time and anyone who doesn't already know is 'part of the problem.'

Moving past my own irritation at watching people turn away from becoming activists because of those jerks, I wanted to talk about the path to becoming (and avoiding) the anti-cause.

The Evolution of an Activist

Awareness: The cause exists! Wow! I'm learning!
Becoming Part Of The Solution: I'm involved! Oh, this person doesn't understand. I'll help them learn about it (repeat this no less than 500 times with new people).
Involved: I sure love this cause. I don't understand why other people don't see how obvious it is. This should be a universal goal. Man, there sure are a lot of people who don't know about it.
Burnout: Fuck, people. How do you not already know about this now? Ugh. I'm tired of explaining it. I've explained it fifty million times! I've put my all into this cause and I feel like it's not doing anything. It still exists. The need for it doesn't seem like it's ever going to go away! Humanity sucks.
Reaction 1: (Jaded) I'm done with the cause.
Reaction 2: (Healthy) I'm going to keep going, but I'm done with new recruits. Maybe I should look into self-care. I'll leave the awareness to others.
Reaction 3: (Ideal) I'm going to write a blog post or find one I really love to educate people by just linking them without writing a deep explanation from now on. I'm going to look into self-care and remember that this isn't futile, it just takes time to cause such a big change. After all, women didn't get the vote overnight. Segregation wasn't ended overnight. I just have to keep going and find more time to take care of myself. In the meantime, I'll do my part for the cause without letting it suck the life out of me.
Reaction 4: (Toxic) People suck. If they don't agree with me, I'm not wasting my time on them. I did my part, and it did nothing. I know the cause requires work, so I'm just going to keep on going. I'll make vague social media posts about how people who do this thing suck and flame anyone who doesn't just automatically agree with me. They're part of the problem, after all. I'm doing something about it.
Reaction 5: (Healthy) Continued involvement with the cause, but reduced or changing tactics.
Reaction 6: Option C people who refuse to fit into categories.

Do you see the issue? Activism often involves a lot of repetition. It can hit the point where you feel like with all of that, everyone in the world must have heard about the cause by now (especially for people whose causes touch on abuses they have suffered their whole life -- and being part of the cause does not obligate you to educate: it does obligate you not to literally tell people to fuck off and die for asking to learn more).

Newsflash: children are growing into teenagers and adults every day. These are people who need to reach the awareness stage. Assuming they've already been reached is erroneous and unhelpful. Being angry at them for not being reached is counterproductive.

Activism can be exhausting. There are tons of resources for self-care because of this. I understand being sick of answering the same question that it feels like everyone should know by now. That's why I leave that to the shiny new activists who have the information and are eager to help. I have a collection of links to send to people to get them started. I assume anyone asking a question genuinely doesn't know. That's the most important, I think.

I want to thank all of the bloggers out there who approach their cause with this in mind -- there's been many times when I wanted to learn something more, but was put off by the attitude of the people who exposed me to the topic. I won't even be involved in many causes that I feel are important because I don't want to be around the tumors that have become the front of the cause.

Don't be a tumor. If you can't educate, at least don't give the cause bad publicity by associating it with your refusal to educate. If you can't avoid using inflammatory language that causes people to shut down, please stick to sharing links from more reasonable people. You hurt your cause as much as people who are actively against it, if not more so.

We can make the world a better place. But we can't do that by alienating others. And we need to watch out for burnout and take care of ourselves, too. It's not selfish. Selfish is allowing yourself to become someone whose soapbox is so high, no one not standing on another soapbox can hear you.

We're in this together -- be it a cause or just this planet we're all living on. Let's act like it.

Friday, December 5, 2014

What's in a Name?

Me, newborn

This entry has been updated as of March 9, 2020, to reflect who I am 5 years later.

I've had to write this so many times that I think it's time I just make a blog post about it. I wasn't born with my pre-transition name. Well, I'm a married person who was assigned female at birth in the US, so there's a good chance that's true, but I mean my whole name.

My mom was asleep after giving birth when I was named by the other person on my birth certificate. I know people who think my name was cute, but honestly, I think if you give your child a name that means 'tumultuous' or has otherwise negative connotations, you're a jerk. Just for the record. I don't mean an unusual name (I love unusual names), but a name that most people identify as a negative trait.

No, I'm not telling you what it was, sorry. Part of the reason it was changed was to protect me, and honestly, the name triggers memories of verbal/emotional abuse. I was mocked by my friends' parents, my teachers, everyone. They thought it was so funny to talk about what a problem child I must be -- because of my name. Something that was thrust upon me within hours of coming into the world. They didn't care one bit that it hurt my feelings or gave me a label to aspire to (after all, if I'm already judged as 'bad'...).

So, when I was seven and that other name on my birth certificate was driven out of the country because he was a disgusting -- let's just stop there -- my name was changed to protect me, as he'd supplied my surname as well and neglected to fill in the middle name field.

So I got a shiny new name via common usage. This was no problem until the Patriot Act went through and the DMV only began accepting court ordered name changes. Suddenly, even though everything except my birth certificate used my legal name, the DMV would not issue me a new ID because I accidentally let my last one expire.

My birth certificate was never changed because that's an unattainable expense when you live in hand to mouth poverty. So was the whole court order process. My mom couldn't afford it, and really, neither could I until recently. However, in 2013, my husband did ask his work-provided lawyer to start the process for all of that with our tax refund... Never happened. That's a whole different rant. This repeated with several lawyers since. They keep dropping my case because it's complicated.

As a result, I don't have an ID. I can't travel, except in a car, I can't withdraw from my bank account except through the ATM (nor open a new account). I can't purchase alcohol if I get carded (I'm 34 -- at the time this was originally written -- and get carded 90% of the time). I can't go to a club where alcohol is served.

Further, when my second child was three, she got into my carefully guarded and supposedly out of reach and difficult to open drawer containing all my important paperwork. She lost my birth certificate (which was the original, tucked into the one issued by the hospital), my SS card and the only 'official' paperwork I had that proved my name change (a notarized paper from the school district). 

I need a valid ID or a birth certificate to walk into the social security building to request a new card. I don't want to order a new birth certificate until it matches my legal name (which I'm changing again as I've socially transitioned after coming out as trans). That's going to cost over $300 (assuming no lawyer fees) and require me to to do something I'm psychologically incapable of doing -- speak to a judge (I have selective mutism, and thanks to trauma caused by an abusive judge during my disability hearing, judges are on the list of people that render me unable to speak) to 'argue' why I should be legally named the name I legally adopted when I was seven (and now, the name I've chosen for myself since).

Eventually, I hope this all gets sorted out (it should have been by 2014, when this was written -- thanks Lawyer Fail), but in the meantime, I'm kinda screwed, and there's not really anything I can do about it. I can't prove I am who I have been since I got married years ago because I can't prove I was who I was for the 17 years that preceded my marriage. And that name on my birth certificate? That person hasn't existed since 1987. There is no paperwork other than a birth certificate for them.

So there's the whole, annoying story about why I don't have an ID and can't just go get a new one.

Oh, and if I'd gotten a passport back when my ID was valid, none of this would be an issue, because an expired passport is still acceptable ID for the DMV. Just not an expired ID. Or the 3 that I had on my person from the days before they stole and destroyed your old one as they gave you the new. Moral of the story? Get a freaking passport.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


In July of 2012, I had the pleasure of announcing that I had become a published author, with my first book, Hotel of Lost Souls. Last February, I had the joy of announcing the sequel, Pet, and then in December, their sequel, Bridges!
If you like vampires and Urban Fantasy (especially Anita Blake or Sookie Stackhouse), then you should like my books! Hotel and Pet were a blend of Urban Fantasy and Psychological Horror. Bridges and Predators are much more Urban Fantasy/Dark Fantasy. They explore the relationships between the characters and Zack finding his place in his world. It's about life and death and life after death.
From the back cover:

Death has been following Zack Henderson for ten years now. He woke up surrounded by it on a train a decade ago. He's watched it take friend and foe, strangers and family. It's weighed heavily on his mind. 
It was through death that his life finally began. He understands better than most how fragile life is, and he's done being prey.

At some point, you have to stop running from death and embrace it.

You can read a sample chapter on my writer's blog or on Amazon or Lulu, and if you like it, you can purchase it from Barnes and NobleAmazon, Kobo or Smashwords. All the links for purchase are available at my website.

You don't need an eReader to read my eBook, either! You can read the book now on your phone, tablet, iPad or computer using the Nook App or the Amazon Kindle App (both of which are free!). If you're using an iPad or iPod, you can get Stanza, a free eReading app and read any format that you like! Several other apps are available, too.

If nothing can replace the feel and smell of a real book for you, head on over to Lulu and pick up a slightly-larger-than-average paperback! You'll get to experience it the way it was meant to be read! eBooks can't display the little artsy touches at the beginning of each chapter or the fonts that the handwritten notes in the story use. With a physical book, you get back cover art, too! 

You can follow my author page on Facebook if you would like updates on future titles and to be able to connect with me personally as well as other readers. Thanks to everyone who has encouraged me over the years and to everyone who purchased a copy of Hotel of Lost Souls, Pet and Bridges!

Friday, October 31, 2014

My Love Story

Once upon a time, I barely considered myself human. I had a very... difficult... childhood, and bullying in my adolescence broke me completely. Of all things, this led me to the person who would help rebuild me into someone who wanted to amount to more than just a background character in someone else's life. To tell my greatest love story, is to start with the one before.

We were friends who fell in love. We had a relationship that lasted 16 months and while the first ten were pretty great, the last six were hell. Her mother found us together and, as predicted, rejected our relationship. We were never going to last all that long anyway -- as wonderful as we were for each other, we were also terrible for each other. Our personalities were both just too big and I was not capable of meeting her needs, nor was she capable of meeting mine. The death blow was that our parenting and core beliefs were completely incompatible (though I hadn't reached the point yet where I had decided it was not worth trying to change someone else's parenting beliefs and it was simply a matter of compatibility from the start), and being a mother was too important to me.

She eventually dumped me after our relationship became unbearable for both of us. It broke both of our hearts. We hurt each other so much toward the end and while some of it was simple incompatibility (opposites attract, sure, but they also burn each other up), a lot of it was simple societal rejection. Our relationship was not acceptable, and it conflicted with her religion. In my desperation to not let go and her desperation to live a normal life, we collided and burned -- loving and hurting spectacularly (we're both quite dramatic people, so it couldn't be any less).

When the day came and everything fell apart around me, I was left alone in the night (my own fault), crying out for help (literally -- I was miles from home with no way back), afraid and spiraling and utterly lost. Some kind soul answered my cry and called the police, and an officer arrived. He stepped out of his patrol car, his sunglasses on, and full cowboy in effect. He took me home, where I dove onto the computer, desperate to make contact with someone, clutching for a lifeline.

He was there. At the time, we were friends through an online fanfic group for Star Trek: Voyager. I was a writer and he was an avid fan who gave some of the best, most encouraging feedback. There had been some drama on the group over how he joined, because he lied to gain entrance before he was old enough and it led to a mess that ended in his leaving the group and my (being a moderator) reinstating him. It was the first online community I was a big part of and they're still a family to me, even if we only catch up in passing from time to time, since when Voyager ended, my stories started drying up (much to my now-husband's sadness).

My mother's day 2010 gift--a tattoo that represented our beginnings. The words are Klingon for "Truth and Love."

At the time, it was in full swing, though, and we chatted regularly with the others and two ladies in particular. He was the only one online and despite having class the next morning, he stayed up and talked to me all night, keeping me company in what was one of the worst times of my life. When he finally had to call it and go to bed, I stepped away from the computer and went to lie in my room and stare.

The next three days, I couldn't sleep or eat and I didn't so much as drink. My heart rate was above 200bpm every time I checked, and I grew weaker. Eventually, two of my friends decided to try to cheer me up, but when they came over, they spent the whole time talking to each other, ignoring me. It wasn't their fault -- they were catching up, and I wasn't much company, lying on the couch, waiting to die (and considering that I was so dehydrated that I hadn't used the bathroom in over a day, it didn't seem far off).

Finally, unable to bear being alone in a room full of my friends, I retreated to the computer to find him there. His nickname was Voy. I was Xak. Back then, that's what we called each other, too. I complained that I felt outside, and they eventually noticed, and we all engaged in a game of I, Never. Two of us at my house broke out a bottle of amaretto my best friend had left in my fridge, and he and another friend just drank water or tea.

I ended up very drunk, very quickly. I fell out of the computer chair, and my drinking buddy took over the keyboard. I eventually passed out and slept for the first time in three days. When I woke up, I was starving. I was on the road to recovery.

A couple weeks later, Voy asked if he could call me. We had been talking every night and growing closer and closer. I don't remember if it was that night or another, but he said the three big words to me. Words I have no memory of any male ever having said to me before that, other than my grandpa Dave. It was a major shock to me -- especially when I realized that I felt the same way.

"I love you."

We hadn't even met, but it was something we already knew. So, he changed the plans he had been making to fly me down to New Orleans and himself down to meet there with two other friends meeting for the first time from our online group. He was going to fly to Missouri first to pick me up. We would have a whole night together first.

On November 1, 2001, we officially became a couple.

My ex-girlfriend and I remained friends, though we had problems learning our new roles and boundaries as friends. Then the day came that my ex-boyfriend came over to hang out and watch a movie. Things were okay, I was telling him that I had a boyfriend, etc. and then my mom ruined it by mentioning that he was in California.

This seemed to be a challenge to my ex-bf, who proceeded to sexually assault me.

This was to be only one of many discoveries in regards to how little people respected online or long distance relationships. While I recovered from that, my husband was having girls pushed on him by his mother (this happened more after he actually visited) in the mistaken belief that someone closer to home would be preferable to the unknown girl halfway across the country taking up all his time.

People dismissed our feelings, because we hadn't met in a traditional way. It's a pretty shallow thing to believe you have to physically see someone to love them. That certainly isn't true of me and it wasn't true of him, either. In his case, he was also very young -- only eighteen to my twenty-one.

We eagerly awaited the day that we would meet in person. We sent each other letters, and he called me regularly. He sent me calling cards so that I could call him back. We carried on our dial-up romance, and I fretted that I wouldn't like him in person. I worried that we would be physically incompatible, that our (for lack of a better word) auras wouldn't mesh.

We started trying to scare each other off. We unloaded all our crazies in batches as it came to us. We discussed politics and religion and all of the big topics that can destroy friendships. We didn't get scared off. We fell more in love. We were talking to each other for the majority of every day, not growing sick of each other's phone company.

Finally, the big day arrived, and he sent me a picture of himself, wearing his 'boot' (he fractured his ankle a few weeks before) so that I would know who he was when he got off the plane. I didn't end up needing it.

My sister called right before I left, fretting that our grandma had convinced her he was going to be an axe murderer. On his side, his family warned him that I would be some old dude. We were undeterred. My ex-gf drove me to the airport, where I stood against the glass, watching his plane unload. The second he stepped off, everything disappeared except for him.

I felt like something I had been waiting for my entire life, that I didn't know was missing, had finally come home. We barely hesitated the second we had the chance to embrace. All of my fears and worries vanished and I had my Voy. I had no idea how short two weeks would be.

We went out on our first date, to get tattooed. It was his first, and he'd been talking about wanting one, so I took him to my shop. I got my second tattoo (and my artist sucked, but his was fine). After we were done, we went out to eat (us and my ex) and then finally came back to my house, where we spent the whole night holding hands, gazing into each other's eyes and talking.

My tattoo from that evening.

Seriously. That's what we did (we did some kissing toward the morning). We had already talked about how much we were rushing things already and we wanted to take them slow.

My ex-gf came back the next morning to take us to the airport. It was my first time ever on a plane, and I was terrified. The flight to Texas, where we had a layover, was okay. I enjoyed looking out the window. Then Texas was horrible. From breaking my favorite pair of shoes (checking for bombs) to the atmosphere to the 'don't shake your baby' posters everywhere, I wanted to get away as soon as possible.

We got on the plane a little late, and there were no two seats together. I stood in the middle of the aisle and broke down. I was still terrified of flying, but worse, I was phobic of strangers. No one would offer to move. Finally the flight attendant had to cajole someone into giving up their seat so we could sit together. Then we were stuck on the runway, frustrated because we had no way to tell our friends that we were going to be late as they fixed something on the plane.

Finally, we fell from the sky into Louisiana (that's what it felt like to me -- the turbulence was stuff of nightmares to a new flier). We were excited, but our friends were mad and berated us for not calling to let them know that we would be late... even though the flight was delayed on the tarmac, and this was before we had mobile phones.

The next week was heaven. There were a few bumps, mainly caused by miscommunication and surprising lack of courtesy on the part of our friends (who knew I was violently allergic to cigarettes, and yet didn't warn me that her family would smoke inside and had no sympathy when I had to leave, and further got angry when I was upset that they went through my belongings and mocked things that were personal to me). But we thought they were minor issues that we got through, just caused by unfamiliarity with one another.

We flew back to my state and spent our last week together inseparable. Finally, it was time for him to go home. It was like being asked to give up an internal organ for me. I had been in love before, thought I'd found a soul mate, but it was nothing like I felt for him. My ex almost started crying watching us say good-bye, pressing our hands to the glass that separated us, the first distance in two weeks that was about to grow by 1,850 miles.

I knew I'd found the one. It was the first time in my life that I thought maybe marriage wasn't a horrible idea. I had never wanted to be married, never wanted to be trapped with someone -- but he was different. It didn't sound like a trap.

Then came the blow from our 'friends.' A good-bye letter was sent, accusing us of being maliciously responsible for everything that went wrong during our visit. We were accused of ignoring them (we could hear them enjoying their new relationship through the thin walls of the motel we stayed in together, so we thought they were just as happy as we were just being together) and that we'd had 'a week together already' (we'd had barely a day). The letter was hostile, hurtful, and worst of all, it ended with "don't bother replying, because we won't read it."

Years ago, that hurt tremendously. I loved one of them as a close friend, and to have her girlfriend send a letter like that to me was heartbreaking. Twelve years later, I just hope that they have lived as happy a life as we have.

There was a huge ice storm that winter. My mom left with her boyfriend of the time to go to Palm Springs, so I was alone when it hit. My ex and I were still friends, and she rescued me from my cold house -- but I couldn't abide being away from the phone, my only contact with my Voy. So I went home and lit every candle I had for light and a tiny bit of warmth. I cuddled my kitties under blankets and rode out the storm, watching the other side of the street get power back a day before I would.

In February, he sent me a ticket to come visit him in California. I think that may have been the unforgivable act for my ex. I'd told her that nothing would ever make me go to California. I hated the Eden complex people had regarding it. I also hated that its distance from my home state had shattered many dreams into impossibility. But here I was, flying out to the land I swore I wouldn't go to for her. Of course, I would have if it had been important, but how could she have ever known that?


Being back with him was like coming up from drowning into the most perfect air above. Still, I was scared and otherwise alone in a state far, far from my native Missouri. People were mostly friendly, but it didn't stop me from being nervous about everything. We had fun and reaffirmed that we needed to be together. Neither of us could tolerate the long distance much longer, so he started making plans.

And I saw, for the first time, a place I'd been drawing pictures of since I was a child. A place of mountains and palm trees and my favorite oak trees. A place he'd grown up, and I'd only seen in my imagination (and probably more than a few t.v. shows and movies). Santa Rosa, California wasn't my home, but I felt like it had always been a part of me I'd never known was there.

At the end of the trip, his dad took us to the airport. We walked in, and I got checked in; then he said he'd go tell his dad how much longer it would be and then be right back.

He never came back.

I ran back to the front of the airport and watched what looked like his dad's van driving away in confusion. I broke down as they called my flight to board and he didn't come back. We hadn't said good-bye.

I cried the whole way through the security check, boarding and the nearly 4 hour flight home. The flight attendants worried over me and gave me drinks and snacks, trying to cheer me up, but it was in vain. I'd missed my last good-bye, my last hug, my last kiss of the impossible person I never thought I'd find.

We found out a long time later that his dad had been hiding that he was in significant pain, not wanting to bother his family with it. I wish he'd told us. I could have understood that. I didn't understand why I left feeling like his entire family didn't like me. I hadn't really even had a chance to offend his dad.

We finally set a date for him to come live with me. We agreed that I'd fly out in April and bring him back in May. He was going to rent a U-Haul and move out. I flew back as planned, but at the end, his family talked him into taking a train instead. I felt betrayed because his mom waited until I wasn't in the apartment to even bring it up.

She didn't believe he was really going to go, even though he'd been telling her for weeks. To me, having our plans changed in a way that would mean he would leave behind basically everything he owned, was a way of her keeping him tied there -- something he didn't want. He wanted to go out and make it on his own, and he was afraid that any safety net would be too tempting to fall into.

His mom and I had a huge fight. At the time, I couldn't see her as what she was: a mother losing her baby, her oldest child, to a painful stretch of miles that would make it nearly impossible to see each other again. I saw her as the mother who wouldn't let her son go to start his own life. My heart breaks for her now, but then, I was hurt and angry. I knew I wasn't good enough for him, but he wanted me, and I knew that he was the missing key to living.

Because I wasn't living. I was existing. I had nothing to live for. All of my dreams and hopes were ripped away with nasty words like 'unemployable' and 'disabled.' My vanishing vision and PTSD that would render me a permanent passenger made college impossible -- although I saw no reason to waste the time and money on me. After all, I've been legally declared worthless. A 'waste of potential.'

Of course, this wasn't to happen for another six months, but the effects of those things were already drowning me. A biologist. A psychologist. A scientist. Those were the things I'd dedicated my life to becoming. Those were things I would never become (not officially, anyway).

But he didn't care that doors were shut in my face everywhere I turned. He didn't see my disabilities as defining me. They were just a part of me. They were something that he was willing to struggle with beside me -- because they would be a struggle between us as well. Trust was an alien concept to me. I 'knew' he would eventually get sick of me and leave. After all, I'd certainly tried to enough times.

Our train

But in the end, the train was all we could afford. We said good-bye, and in the early morning, our hearts broke watching his mom and little sister holding each other, crying and waving as we drove off. He started over with nothing but me. We cuddled in my tiny twin bed, and he got a job he could walk to. He told me to give him six months, and he'd know for sure by then if we were meant to be together.

He proposed on our first anniversary with a bouquet of roses. He had been planning to wait until we moved into our own place and he could get a ring, but I was pretty adamant that I didn't care about jewelry (and I most certainly didn't want expensive jewelry). We had our own place and were about to move in, but I couldn't wait anymore. I was afraid he still wasn't sure, and I demanded to know if that was so. I still feel like I ruined his proposal, but I hadn't been so sure of anything as I was of him.

He was just as sure of me, it turned out. He did eventually get me a ring (a cheap placeholder ring, although I was certainly very happy with it -- I ended up loving the expensive engagement ring he found later even more than my wedding ring). We were married two years after, on our anniversary again (so I only have to remember one!).

That was ten years ago. Ten years with the most amazing man I've ever known. Ten years that have changed my entire worldview. Ten years of a happily ever after that I hope will last forever.

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.