Category Archives: WRITING

Only in America.

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Had an interesting day last week with a significantly important coincidence:

So we spent two hours at work last Wednesday doing our annual insurance benefits review. For two hours, with our insurance broker and our Aflac rep, we discussed how much our insurance costs. How many thousands our deductible is. What’s in-network and what’s out. Whether ER visit costs get rolled into the hospital stay coverage or not. What conditions allow for supplemental insurance payouts and whether it follows you and your job. Tips and hints on how to try to get the insurance company to authorize and pay out for treatments. Etc. etc.

(Interesting note provided by the Aflac rep: 70% of bankruptcy cases in America are due to medical costs. And 50% of those — the bankrupt had medical insurance.)

So, two hours of numbers and facts and complex conditions surrounding how your life can be slowly destroyed by medical bills instead of quickly destroyed. Now for the comedic coinkydink:

That very morning, on the way to work, I was listening to a recent “Sword and Laser” scifi/fantasy book club podcast with a conversation with multi-bestselling and award winning author Robert J. Sawyer. And when asked how old he was when he was able to start writing full-time, he said he was writing full-time in his early twenties. Why? Because he’s Canadian. He expressed that, like him, a lot of Canadian writers and other artists are able to even have careers as artists, are able to work on their art from an early age and get good, developing their skill and talent early, allowing them to have decades of quality output far in excess of American writers and artists for primarily one main reason: socialized healthcare. As a young man, Sawyer never had to worry about giving up his talent and dream in order to find and work at a job doing not at all what he wanted to do in order to have healthcare. Sure, there were times he had to eat pretty skimpily, but that’s doable. Paying thousands of dollars for an illness or accident isn’t.

Award-winning Canadian author (among other things) Cory Doctorow once expressed similar arguments on an episode of American Freethought. He said now that he had a family, he’d never live in the U.S. again, never not live in Canada or the U.K., so that his daughter would never be without healthcare. He told a story of how when traveling across England, his daughter started developing a bad fever. They stopped in a town and saw a doctor who examined her, wrote a script, they picked it up, and were able to continue on, and they never had to fill out papers and only had to pay a couple of dollars (equivalent) for the medication. He and his wife get to thrive in their dream jobs because aren’t forced to work for healthcare.

I can’t say who because I didn’t ask permission to say, but I know someone in Canada who had a car accident not long ago. They were taken to the ER by ambulance, were examined, treated, and released with great care. They were provided with a new shirt because theirs had to be cut off, and, reimbursed for the cut shirt. All they had to do was show their Canadian citizen health I.D., and they got all this treatment without paying a dime or filling out paperwork.

Oh, of course, taxes pay for this care. But I once compared how much taxes I pay (sales, income, property) with a relative who lives in Canada (higher sales but no income (or property — one of the two, I forget)), and at the bottom line is we pay about the same in taxes.

…except they don’t have to pay what I do in health insurance premiums and deductibles and medical co-pays and out of pocket bills…. So, who wins here?

In every modern country in the world: the citizens do. In the U.S., and only the U.S., health insurers do. And the so-called healthcare “reform” that was recently passed? That “Obamacare” (which can be called “Newtcare” since it’s the same reform proposed by the House Republicans in the 90s), it actually put insurers in better position to make more money while hurting small businesses and much of the people. But, small wonder considering how many millions of dollars politicians, from both parties, get from insurance industry lobby.

Do I hear someone yell, “If you love Canada so much, why don’t you move there!“? Oh, I swear I wish I could, I really very much wish I could. But it costs to move and I’m too far in debt with student loans.

Oh, did I mention that, like most of Europe, most of higher education in Canada is also as free as their healthcare? They have this crazy idea that a healthy and educated citizenry is somehow good for the country on the whole. I know, crazy, huh?

Update: Well this is funny!
Note the date of today’s post — September 2011. Well, after posting this post, my blog automatically created a set of “related posts” links (see below). And lookee what’s likely still the first suggested link.

It’s a post I did in April 2009 about the same author(s) talking on different podcasts about the same thing. I’d totally forgotten! Wow, so much has changed in the last 2 to 3 years, huh? Oh I’m laughing til I cry.

2011: Posting the first — and last-ish.

I’ve kept my resolutions for a whole day already! Wee, I’m on a roll!
I’ve deleted or hidden around 15 Facebook people/pages, 8 RSS feeds, and 6 podcast feeds. What I’ve kept are only media involving sci-fi, writing, literature, general philosophy, and technology news. That so means that this blog will probably go to sleep for the year, seeing how the general subject matter of CelticBear has been politics, religion, and related topics that I’m trying to minimize in my life right now. I do need to finish the last two posts in my Alpha Course analysis so that can be put to bed — but after that, this blog will likely be inactive for 2011.

In the meantime, I plan to do a lot more blogging of SF, writing, literature, reviews, and scholarly stuff. And for that, I’m using my blogs: GrogMonkey and Tragic Sans.
Right now they just mirror each other; I need to decide on how to separate their roles and make them unique. Shoulda done that before today.
Anyway, so there’s the update.

Have a good year!

Be it resolved…

This has, without a doubt, been an absolutely terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. Probably the worst one, evah! (The only, and I mean only, bright spot was I finally got my Masters Degree in English . . . and even that’s pending until next year when I pay for and turn in super-expensive copies of my thesis and pay the rest of my school bill — not counting, of course, student loans I need to start paying on.) The badness is butting right up to the very end of the year in the last days. There’s been serious financial difficulties; there’s been a scary person, terrorizing my private and work life because they were offended by a political opinion I expresses online; there’s been legal scares; I’ve failed to make any progress on any of my writing career goals; our beloved family pet died; and the turmoil associated with completing my previously mentioned thesis. This year can’t end soon enough.

With the coming of this completely arbitrarily demarcated new year and new decade (contrary to popular opinion, decades begin on “1” years, e.g.: 2011, not “0,” e.g.: 2010), I need to make some serious changes; I need to refocus, re-prioritize, and start anew. As someone I don’t recall said, “If you want things to be different, you must do something different.”

Part of my problem is frakkin’ Facebook. It’s an evil, evil bane on productivity and a facilitator of my getting distracted and bent-out-of-shape about subjects that, while are important, serves only to make me upset and completely unproductive in regards to what’s even more important in my life: my nascent, budding writing career that I hope to make into a viable “second job,” with aspirations of it being my main job within a couple/few years.

In addition to the craptacular events that have sideswiped me and/or made me utter a general “WTF, world? W. T. F.?!” every other week, it seems, I recently read a blog post by writer/director Kevin Smith: “SMonologue #2.” The first half he discusses “Clerks 3” and the cost/process of investing in a movie idea and making it happen. But the important bit is the last half, in which he writes:

Continue reading Be it resolved…

“The End of the Beginning” now released!

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My new short story has been published! I’m, oh, just a little excited.

The story, “The End of the Beginning,” is in the latest edition of M-BRANE SF magazine, issue number 10. You have a few quick, easy, and inexpensive methods of getting it:

Visit this URL: http://mbranesf2.blogspot.com and on the right-hand side you’ll find the options:

  • Buy it in print through Lulu for $7.95 (direct link)
  • Buy a single PDF copy for $2.00
  • For the Amazon Kindle for $2.99 (direct link)
  • For the MobiPocket version for $1.99 (direct link)
  • Subscribe to a year of M-BRANE SF for $12! (A real steal!)
  • (You can also just donate to the writer’s fund; I’m sure they’d really appreciate it!)

(NOTE! As of this writing, the Amazon and the MobiPocket versions aren’t yet available. If you want it for Kindle or Mobi-compatible reader, please check those sites in a couple days or so.)

“The End of the Beginning” was a fun story to write. It started with my musing about the eventual heat-death of the universe and just flowed from there in just an hour. (Plus, of course, some significant time editing to make it at least slightly readable.) As for the rest of the stories in issue #10, can’t say. I haven’t read it yet as the second it came available ti started writing this post. 🙂 But the stories found in issue #1 (which you can get for free) and #9 are varied and interesting!

Anyway, if I may beg, please support struggling authors and the publishers that give them a voice and buy yourself a copy! 🙂

Moon City Review 2009Don’t forget, you can also get my first published story, “A Price in Every Box” (huh, I’m sensing a theme in my titles) in Moon City Review 2009. It’s available for $15.95 or through Amazon for $12.44. That story is kind of a contemporary fantasy, or maybe slipstream if you will. The book itself is a very eclectic collection of all different genres, including poetry and photography. So if you don’t like all SF, give Moon City Review a try!

(And keep your eye open, sometime next year the book Confederate Girlhoods: A Women’s History of Early Springfield, Missouri will become available. I helped edit it and contributed a little original text for it.)

Continue reading “The End of the Beginning” now released!

Normalcy of the future.

Bruce Sterling is a favorite scifi author of mine. Granted, his CRYPTONOMICON had some serious storytelling flaws, it was still brilliant. And SNOW CRASH is classic. I still need to read ANATHEM….

Anyway, he writes SF so brilliantly because he understands the notion that for the future, or alternate-tech, to be believable, it needs to be acceptable, normal to those who live in it. Here’s a very brief but wonderfully rich article where he discusses the nascent science (and thus SF) concepts that are gee-whiz-bang! now, and how they will look when they’re part of the culture:

Ode to the English Teacher.

First an annoying introduction; feel free to skip to the next heading:

I, unlike pretty much every other English grad student I know/have known, am not an English teacher. Not for high school, nor did I teach undergrads while earning my English MA. Chances are pretty certain, though, that when I go for my PhD or MFA I will have to endure the joys of teaching highschoolers or their very slightly more mature undergrad versions.

It’s not that I dislike the idea of teaching, I love the idea. But two, no, three things scare and frustrate the yellow paint off my pencils: One is that I’m afeared of the younger-than-25 crowd. And that ties directly into my second reason: I’m afeared about my own lack of classroom control ability. If you know me, you know that in person I’m more than a little bumbling, somewhat awkward, I stutter and mumble and have a very difficult time finding the words I want to say and especially stringing them together in coherent and understandable sentences. I’d (am gonna) get run right over the top of and lose all appearance of someone worth listening to, much less someone to give respect to. And they smell fear!

Thirdly, also tied into the previous two, is politics and mandated curriculum frustrates me. The politics of the public school system and college system would probably make me cringe and fill me with rebellious discord. I don’t like the idea of having to teach a class in the classical teacher-is-god/students-are-submissive-statues dynamic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Montessori fan where the student basically does whatever they want and learning is expected to find the student. But… you know, I’m getting away from my original intent for this post.

I have a great deal of respect for good teachers. I have nothing but ire and derision for bad teachers. Both are because teachers have a great deal of influence over students and can significantly impact their lives, for the better or worse. I had one teacher in jr. high who inspired me and made me want to learn and grow and I’ll never forget her. I had a teacher in high school who embarrassed and shamed me in front of others and I will hold a place of irrational hatred for him for all my years. Because of the great power teachers have over students during their formative years, I absolutely believe bad teachers should be gotten rid of with speed and prejudice, and good teachers should be made into wealthy celebrities. All the crap they have to put up with from bad students, parents, politicians, it’s amazing we have any good teachers in the system.

Now for the main event:

Author Pat Conroy recently wrote an editorial in response to some attempts at book banning at a high school. What he had to say about the value of teaching, English teachers in particular, and books, I simply can’t improve upon and agree with every word.

So, I urge you to click the following link and read this short essay. See if you can recall your English teachers and what life lessons you may have learned from them.

http://www.randomhouse.com/rhpg/rc/library/display.pperl?isbn=9780553381535&view=qa

Writing angst.

Been really ignoring my blog lately. Now that the iPhone has the supercrazymechahappyfun copy-n-paste, I’ve been doing most of my “hey, look at this neato-keen link” on Facebook. Well, I’ve a slew of Web pages I want to comment on queued up in Instapaper I may get to tonight.

In the meantime, I’m WAY behind schedule in my “necessary” writing. I still haven’t finished the last couple of chapters in my novel/thesis’s first draft and I need it done by mid-July if I’m going to be able to do a rough edit and polish on it before the semester starts. Plus, the article I submitted to the JFA, after a LONG process of editing, was politely turned down in the jury process. I have some semi-significant editing to do on that.

Being turned down is oddly a bitter-sweet event. On the sucky side: I got turned down! Hella suxorz. However, it also reminds me of the benefits of peer-reviewed scholarship. The JFA strives to accept only articles that meet a certain standard of quality and viability–this is a great thing! It helps assure me that the articles I read in the journal have gone through similar critique and the useless and poorly written articles have been weeded out. Which also means that when mine gets accepted, I know it’s really worthy.

Although, it should be said that quality isn’t a scholarly journal’s only benchmark. Some have ideological firewalls which block some works. For example: my mentor, Dr. Burling (RIP) informed me that while Science Fiction Studies is considered the premiere scholarly journal for speculative fiction studies (and I generally agree), they currently have a highly feminist agenda (NOT a bad thing!) which ironically results in their dislike of Marxist criticism. (Ironic because feminist criticism owes it’s existence to Marxist criticism.)

So, when I’m ready to try to publish some scholarship that uses a feminist critical therory (which I do have plans for), they’ll be the first journal I turn to. For all my Marxist work, JFA or Extrapolation get the first shot.

Oh, and The Pocket Review! They’re a new, non-peer reviewed journal that works with both fiction (literary, mainly) and non, that I’m really wanting to work with. I know the people behind it and I really hope it takes off. I’d like to be connected to it become a regular contributor. But…I’m trying to count my irons in the fire and I’m losing count. 🙁

Cheated and betrayed.

I’m listening to multi-award winning SF author Robert J. Sawyer on the SciFiDimensions podcast (I’m on my iPhone so you’ll have to google for a link), and he’s asked why so many award winning and critically aclaimed SF writers come out of Canada and the U.K. His answer: socialized health care.

There’s an addage that anyone who can spend 10,000 hours at something will become accomplished at it and can start producing quality after that. When you have socialized healthcare you can start your writing career at young age because you don’t have to worry about the cost of illness and injury. (Author and technology guru Cory Doctorow (Canadian) after living in the U.S. for many years, moved to the U.K. with his wife to start their family and has said he’ll never live anywhere again where there’s not socialized healthcare.)

Listening to Sawyer explain how socialized healthcare is the greatest gift a society could give to it’s people and the arts in particular brought up angry tears. My life since undergrad has been all about working for that “gift” of American for-profit health insurance. Every job I worked, every job I overworked, jobs I desperately wanted to leave, decisions not to work jobs I wanted more, have all been predicated on making sure my family had health insurance. My desire and drive since childhood to write has taken a back- to non-existant seat to slaving away for g–d– health insurance.

And the freakin irony is even with the generous and patriotic boon of for-profit health insurance, we’ve still had to pay thousands in medical bills and premiums and deductables. And even with god’s gift of health insurance upon the only modern nation to not have socialized healthcare, should my family become visited by a little more significant of a health issue, we could become broke, bankrupt, broken.

I’m middle-aged now, barely able to eke through the beginnings of my 10,000 writing hours, and I’ve done shitall except work 40+ hours a week as a drone at mind draining jobs for the gift of health insurance that’s STILL a financial drain on us. I fucking hate capitalism.

The Invisible Hand needs some emergency room care.

free market needs a docThe “invisible hand” to which I refer is the famous metaphor for the free market economy. The supposed magic hand that makes everything cheaper and more efficient. Feh! But more on that general topic later. Right now, here is some excellent information on how the free market health care system is f—d up.

Here’s an article by Harvard cell biology post-grad Alex Palazzo in which he uses various sources of information, including the New England Journal of Medicine, to illustrate how in our lovely free market system, health care (and education) costs continue to rise over and beyond most other costs of living:

“Results: In 1999, health administration costs totaled at least $294.3 billion in the United States, or $1,059 per capita, as compared with $307 per capita in Canada. After exclusions, administration accounted for 31.0 percent of health care expenditures in the United States and 16.7 percent of health care expenditures in Canada. Canada’s national health insurance program had overhead of 1.3 percent; the overhead among Canada’s private insurers was higher than that in the United States (13.2 percent vs. 11.7 percent). Providers’ administrative costs were far lower in Canada.”

Meanwhile, John Goodman, close friend to John McCain and a policy advisor, and likely someone who will have influence in a McCain administration, recently stated that no one in America is uninsured because everyone has access to an emergency room. (McCain adviser: Everyone in U.S. has some health coverage)

Yes, of course! Because that’s exactly what parents of infants with a worrying cough do, they go to the emergency room! Need a child wellness visit or a preventative care treatment, that’s what emergency rooms are for! Gynecological and prostate exams? Emergency room! I bet they diagnose and treat cancer and immuno-diseases in emergency rooms! Hey, my wife’s chronic illness doesn’t have to bankrupt us from medical bills–we just have to go to the emergency room!

And the GOP condemns liberals for being “elitists.”

The proof of the GOP’s hatred for the middle class is all around. Having ready access to health care and quality public education are the two things which can make for a strong democracy! If the people of a nation can be healthy and not driven into poverty by health care, and have access to education, the people can be powerful and vital and strong. But that’s not what the GOP wants. They are the party of the capitalists and they want oligarchy. They want the richest 1 to 5% to run the country and everyone else to be subject to their rule as nothing more than mass consumers. What did Bush say after 9/11? Go out and buy stuff. What’s his solution for a recession? Give us money so you can buy stuff. Meanwhile they’re systematically undermining the education system by underfunding it and disincentive-ing (let’s say that’s a word for now) good teachers and promoting private and paid charter schools, and their official health care plan is to encourage insurance companies to raise rates and let the poor see a doctor only when it’s life threatening. For the seventh straight year capital gains is up while the average wage has gone down and the number in poverty is up. (Meaning: corporations are making more profit while the workers are seeing less money.)

Of course I say that’s the GOP plan, and it is, but they’re the biggest villains because they’re unabashedly the party of protecting the rich. The Democrats have a larger number of progressives and people who want to empower the poor and middle class (two classes coming increasingly closer), though they’re not off the hook. For example, Senator Clinton’s grand “universal” health care plan is to force everyone to buy health insurance like we do car insurance. Hey, increase the profits of the private health insurance companies, put a greater strain on the family budget, and make it a mandatory burden on the people… that’s about as evil a plan as any Republican could come up with! While the Dems have more people in political office who have come up from poor and modest families and didn’t inherit money, they’re all products of capitalist ideology and will always be tools of the hegemony regardless of where their hearts lie in helping or hindering the other 95% of the population. The only consolation is that more Dems do have their hearts in the right place and at least that’s something.

A recent interview with author and technology writer Cory Doctorow really exemplifies the necessity for real universal health care in a democracy. (Interview with Free Talk Live) I think Cory Doctorow can be branded as anything but a fascist socialist! He’s on the front lines of fighting for civil liberties and against the encroaching police state in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and…the world if possible. But he made a comment on that libertarian radio show that resonated with me like a puzzle piece falling into place or the last square sticker on a Rubik’s Cube being put on the proper side: he said (and I’m paraphrasing) that socialized health care is as vital a component of society’s infrastructure as roads or the sewer system. It was a reasonable and realistic comment that I, and I think so many other people in the U.S., subliminally understand but have not been able to put into words.

Libertarians and objectivists live in a world 100 years gone–a world where people could live and thrive making minimal contact with other people and where health care was basically eating right and seeing a doctor if you have TB. We don’t live in that world. We live in a society in which people live virtually right on top of each other. We have no choice but to interact with masses of people every day and the people they dealt with on and on. Your ability to have access to good health care and the freedom to use it without fear of bankruptcy affects me directly in many ways beyond just contagious illnesses. My child’s ability to get good, consistent education from her teacher depends on her teacher’s access to health care. My job at work depends on my coworkers being healthy and in good shape. By boss depends on that from his workers. Our daily lives are so intertwined with each other, our productivity, education, entertainment, lifestyle, security, depends on each of us being healthy and not preoccupied with going broke because of ridiculously high medical bills.

Doctorow stated on the radio interview that as a writer he’d never want to live anywhere that didn’t have socialized health care. He told a couple of stories of how he and his infant daughter got wonderful medical and dental care from socialized facilities, completely counter to the horror stories the conservatives and libertarians dredge up. (And I concur. My brother, who moved to Montreal, and his mother-in-law, have experienced fantastic Canadian health care “free” of charge, and their taxes aren’t much higher than ours–negligible difference in fact. Meanwhile, I’m paying ridiculous amounts in insurance deductibles and out of pocket in addition to the taxes I pay to fund an illegal and immoral war, and I still have to wait to see a specialist. For example, I had a repetitive stress injury in a hand that could seriously affect my work performance, and in addition to my insurance I still had to pay nearly a grand for an MRI that I also had to wait three painful and reduced productivity weeks for.)

And his comment that he could be a writer and not worry about his and his family’s health while living in Canada or the U.K. has kind of pissed me off (not at him). We in the U.S. are increasingly working for insurance (and our gas). We’re forced to whither away our pathetically short lives as worker drones unable to follow dreams of life and pursuit of happiness–unless it’s to be a worker drone for literally most of our lives. I can’t be the writer I want to be because I have to work for insurance. Because, unlike a lot of successful writers, I’m not brilliant, writing any kind of quality fiction or non-fiction takes a lot of fresh and wakeful brainpower on my part (blogging doesn’t count–it’s an utterly mindless and quick expulsion of words for me, as anyone reading this can attest to). If I want to be successful, I have to write as a full-time job. As it is, I can’t do that because I have to work 40+ hours a day at a mind and energy sapping job so I can have a chance at keeping us from going bankrupt from medical expenses. Otherwise I could easily have a mindless part-time job for other bills and be able to put all the time and energy I want into writing good stuff. I have no chance of doing that under free market private health care. And it makes me so angry!

Well, enough mindless ranting for now.

Novel length has been achieved!

quillAs you may know I’ve been writing my master’s thesis for my English (Creative Writing) M.A. as a creative thesis–a novel. It’s based on an idea I’ve had for a few years now but never got more than five pages into it. So when I started my ENG 699 (Thesis) coursework this last Spring, I had the opportunity and drive and motivation to get off my metaphorical arse and actually get the writing going.

This last weekend I broke 50,000 words! That’s a generally accepted publisher and agent minimum for being considered a novel! (Approximately 200 mass market pages.) In my projected plotline, I feel I’m about 60, maybe 70% finished. About 90,000 words in the final project feels about right. (80,000-100K is considered the norm for novels especially from first-timers.)

I’m still behind schedule, however. I planned to have the 1st draft completed by the end of Summer, before classes start up again, and I’m not sure I’m going to reach that. I would need to write about another 76 MLA formatted pages (that whole 1-inch margins, double-spaced, Times New Roman @ 12 thing–the format style I’m using since this is first going to end up as my thesis) in the next three weeks. Not entirely impossible–I’ve written 15-page class papers over a weekend before (after having all my research already done), so in many ways this isn’t all that different. I have the overall plot mapped out in mind and this is only a 1st draft, not a polished version. I think if I force myself to work an hour a day, and then as much as I can get away with over the weekend, I can knock it out. (Cory Doctorow wrote all of Little Brother in a month, and it’s 120K words total. But then, he vowed he’d never do that ever ever again.)

“Great Opening Sentences From Science Fiction.”

Yesterday\'s digital blue.All-things-scifi Web site, io9, has a wonderful article today:

As a student of creative writing and hopeful one-day teacher of it, I’m acutely aware of how important a good first line or two is for capturing the attention of the reader, and especially the editor who’s sifting through the slush pile of submitted manuscripts for publishing.

I think my favorite opening line I’ve written so far is:

“Ash was too late to see the end of the universe; it was already dead when he woke up.”

In the comment thread for this article, commentor Timeshredder remarks:

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” – William Gibson, Neuromancer.

Great line. More menacing when a television tuned to a dead channel wasn’t bright blue.

I so agree. When I first read Neuromancer when I was about…(OMG) 22 years old, I lingered over that opening line–it was poetry! It was my kind of poetry. Technopoetic. Then I read it again last year and yeah, the second thing to immediately pop into my head was an unmarred field of urgent blue. The new appearance of the “detuned” television channel creates an entirely and fundamentally new feeling to the atmosphere and tone of the novel.

Of course, as one continues reading they’ll start to appreciate the gritty urban decay Gibson was going for, which will simply conflict with and then overshadow the idea of the sky being a bright digital blue.

Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears; redux.

I read Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears (edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling) when it first came out in 1995. I bought and read…no, devoured all of the collections of “modern fairy tales” when I was an undergrad those early 90s–Snow White, Blood Red, Black Thorn, White Rose, etc. Now, the series is being re-released for a new audience and I’d like to take the opportunity to review the third book in the series…in what I’m afraid is a rather mixed review.

The edition I’m reviewing is a reprint–and when I say “reprint,” that’s exactly what it is. The version of the book I received, as the new reprint, has the cover seen here and a publishing date of 1996 under Prime Books. The original mass market paperback I have was from Avon Books and released 1995 (although Barnes and Noble is showing it published in a different year and publisher than I’m looking at right now in the book itself). Amazon shows another cover for Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears also published by Prime, but listed as 2008. There are a couple more covers and ISBNs available through Amazon and B&N. Regardless of this very confusing collection of Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears iterations, one thing I can deduce from my looking and primarily from comparing the two editions in my hands, is that while there may be a multitude of covers the insides are exactly the same. Exactly! From the table of contents and the introduction straight through to the intros for each story and the very page numbering, the contents of the books are identical.

Now, I find this to be a huge disappointment. Partly because it makes the book and the editors seem a bit daft to the reader coming to the book anew. For example, the introduction to Susan Wade’s story mentions “Her first novel, Walking Rain…was recently published by Bantam” (8). Ten years ago.

The other most significant reason for my disappointment comes from the un-updated volume introduction. One of the best parts of this modern fairy tale series are the, well, scholarly essays about fairy tales and their modern versions and descendants–why the tales came into being, their history, their impact, common themes. (Well, at least until their fifth collection, Silver Birch, Blood Moon. By then the introduction becomes a short collection of trivia and recommended reading. While still very interesting, the regular reader may have become spoiled by the breadth and depth of the previous introductions.) The new release of the books have nothing new from the editors on the subject, the genre, past nor present. Not even from an additional introduction author who could have been commissioned to write a supplemental introduction providing new insight or criticism on the subject should Datlow and Windling have been too busy to update their material (which I’m sure they are. After having apparently exhausted their thoughts on the matter pretty obviously by the last installment of the series, perhaps it should also be obvious they’d have nothing new to add to reprinted versions of the series). But, it has been ten years since the series was introduced–there could certainly be new thoughts on the subject by other scholars and essayists since then as surely as there have been new authors and stories.

Which brings me to my third though admittedly least significant disappointment: no new stories. As reprints, one doesn’t expect there to be new fiction content, nor did I really. (Although new or additional introductions or prefaces aren’t that unusual for reprints. But, I think I’ve beat that horse enough. Except to say one more time that new story intros would have been highly advised at the very least.) Though, after really looking at it, the last in this series, Black Heart, Ivory Bones, did come out in only 2000. That’s not terribly long ago. Plus, Datlow and Windling have put out other related anthologies such as A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales (2000), The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest (2004) and The Coyote Road (2007). While these may be for a younger audience than the Snow White, Blood Red series, it perhaps proves that Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling have not abandoned the subject and new authors but have perhaps redirected their efforts in different directions. If one wants new fairy tales with a modern and possibly an adult twist, you’ll just have to turn to their Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies or Ellen Datlow’s Inferno.

Now, all that being said, let’s get back to the content of the primary book in question: Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears. As with the other books in the series, this one has a mix of stories that range from mediocre to heart-wrenchingly good. Certainly the likability of a story is quite subjective to the person, and the situation! For example, I recall when I first read the opening story of this anthology, Wade’s “Ruby Slippers,” I adored the sardonic and ironic twist put on the Wizard of Oz tale. But now, after reading and viewing a decade of “twists on a familiar tale,” “Ruby Slippers” seems trite and tired. Like something I would have read from undergrad creative writing class.

But this kind of story is rare; most of the stories in this collection, while certainly retellings and often twists on a theme, go far deeper and evoke greater emotion in both range and intensity. And in general, with better writing. But occasionally it’s taken too far, such as Anne Bishop’s “Match Girl.” This story manipulates the pathos in such a way as to become grotesque, in content and manipulativeness. I recall when I first read this story, when I was about 24, the horrific events that the title character encounters made me appropriately angry toward her persecutors and tormentors and rooting for her vengeance or at least her release from torment. I didn’t get the feminist ideology driving the narrative at the time, I simply enjoyed the story. Now, older and hopefully wiser, I reread this story seeing it as a thin allegory for the trials and tribulations the female sex has to endure in a negative, demeaning, abusive patriarchal society. While on the one hand I applaud and support this agenda, I have to say I enjoyed the story much less because of how thin the veil is. I was no longer reading a story, I was reading a blatant polemic. And with this new awareness, what I read as a bitter-sweet ending ten years ago, I see now as a frustratingly antagonistic and arrogant attack against the author’s own gender in general.

As the editors discuss in their wonderful introduction to the book, much of folk, fable, and fairy tale have been “rather subversive,” until the patriarchy of the Victorian Age and Disney reshaped them (3). This is an aspect of the fairy tales of the past, and the modern versions of the present, that I greatly enjoy–no one loves subversiveness more than I. (Go Marxism!) But I dislike when the rage and anger at the hegemonic ideology is mixed with blatantly ephemeral allegory that ends up, in my opinion, doing a disservice to both the narrative and the message.

Fortunately this is also rare. Most of the stories in this anthology find a balance in theme and narrative so that the story can be enjoyed for its own sake, but the subversive message is there if you care to look. A wonderful example of this balance is found in Ellen Steiber’s “The Fox Wife.” Like many of these stories, if you’re not shedding a tear by the end of it, you’re a heartless bastard. This story, while the message of subverting gender roles and tradition and expectations of marriage is evident, the wonderful storytelling enraptures the reader in the all the best ways. It’s a story that leaves you thinking about it for days.

There’s no reason to read editions in the Snow White, Blood Red series in order, even the introductions are nicely self-contained. If you want to pick up Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears and start from there, it’s a good of place as any. Honestly, if you already have an earlier copy, there is no reason to buy the new re-release–there’s nothing new in it for you. But if you’re new to these modern fairy tales for the grown up, this is a must-read!

Writing update: summer promises.

Well, the semester is almost done–one final tonight (contemporary theories in cultural criticism…or something like that. I never have actually learned the name of the class), then begins the summer of self-directed…stuff!

(Only one more year until I graduate with my MA in English (Creative Writing track). Assuming I pass my German literacy requirements, my comprehensive exams, and complete my thesis. To those ends…)

(…on German…)
So this summer I need to basically re-learn German. 😛 Not that I’m really complaining, I love the German language! But I’m so far behind…. Back in my BAs, 10 years ago,  I earned enough GRM credits to get my undergrad degree, but I’m technically 2 courses short for my MA. I can either take the literacy test (which is what I’ve been thinking) or take two more classes (which wouldn’t work with my day job since they don’t offer GRM classes at night). I’m still somewhat good on German grammar, conjugation, syntax, but quizzing myself on German vocabulary…unless the test is composed of all pronouns, numbers, colors, and ways to say “I don’t know” and “I don’t understand,” I’m screwed.

I need to get some really good teach-yourself-resources this summer (any suggestions?!) and then see if I can take an advanced OTC class in the Fall (so if I bomb it won’t affect my 4.0 MSU gpa *prideful grin*), and then get that test out of the way before focusing on comps….

(…on Comprehensive Exams…)
Gah! I am SO dreading these! I have to come up with ten “questions” to write about regarding various topics in all of English literature, linguistics, theory, and cultural studies, submit them for review, get back four, write papers on them, and then on exam day find out which two I’ll be “answering” and then rewrite the papers from memory. I understand the necessity–I am supposed to be a “master” of my subject when I graduate with an MA. But it doesn’t mean I’m not going to have an ulcer that’s a Master of Pain in the process.

(…on Thesis/Novel…)
And for the good news: I just finished the first half of ENG699 this semester–my thesis work course. And incidentally, have finished the first half of my novel’s first draft. As my MA is Creative Writing focused, my thesis is a “creative thesis.” I looked over past English creative thesis in the university library…and I’m sort of disappointed. Almost all of the past creative thesis are collections of poems (no, that’s cool, that’s not what I’m disappointed about), but if it’s prose it’s almost all memoir (c’mon, really? Seventy pages of personal journal writing is a masters thesis?) or a couple of short stories. I like MSU, I do. But this is what they’re accepting as master’s work in creative writing? If you’re going to do short story collection (nothing wrong with that) it should be a personal anthology! At least eight and of varied genre. I saw maybe one complete novel in the collection and two partial novels (about seventy or eighty pages).

Well, if I can’t be in the University of Iowa’s Writing Program, then I’m at least going to set my own bar higher. I’m writing a complete novel, finished and polished, with an analysis anchored in critical theory, and a supplemental journal on the process of creation (I do hope to teach creative writing after all). So, last week my first draft reached 42,900 words (or about 120 pages). When I set out and created the novel’s general outline and background, I estimated it was going to be about 95,000 words long (about 275 mass market pages), and last week I felt I reached the mid-way point in the novel; it looks like I’m estimating my goal pretty well. Now this summer (and next fall) I need to finish the draft and start working on editing before ENG699 recommences Spring 09. That’s when I should be doing final edits and completing my critical analysis.

I’m considering posting my draft thus far for only friends to be able to access, and ask for feedback….

Reading right along. (And Brust/Firefly bright point.)

It’s really sad, and in a way is reflective of how my life has been going.

I used to be a voracious reader. I was introduced to the works of Poe, Bradbury, and Lovecraft around the 3rd grade. I was hooked on scifi and horror ever since.

In jr. and high school I read a novel just about every other day. As an undergrad, it slowed because I actually had school work and theatre to do, but I still constantly read for pleasure. Then, nearly as soon as I graduated and I entered the work-a-day world, that came to a sudden stop. I might have read maybe maybe two fiction novels a year. From no less than one a week to one a year is an astronomical change. And my life was kind of in auto-pilot.

I suppose it’s more complex than that, to be honest. I blame the Internet. 🙂 It was about that time that we (the wife and I) got hooked on Internet chatting, Web browsing, Minesweeper (well, for her. For me it was the latest 1st-person shooter game). As I think about this now that I type (which is often the case–I rarely think about things before I spew the results) it wasn’t an entirely bad thing. The Internet chatting ended up leading toward socializing in real life with more people as well (something which also stopped after I graduated). And socializing is good! For my fiction, there’s a little bit to be had in some computer games, superficially.

Well, then came a couple of years ago. (Too bad I never edit my spewing. I don’t want to reread that last sentence, but I know it was atrocious!) Things started moving and shaking. I came to certain “spiritual” realities which “fit” with what and who I am like a tailored glove. Where before, for years, I was an existential wreck, constantly worrying about the Nature of God and sin and afterlife and trying to make sense of revealed “Truths” of religion with the revealed truths of all other religions–and eventually found what I believe is to be truth that makes complete and utter, perfect sense! And that realization (revelation? *eg*) made it feel like I had a bunch of jumbled pieces inside me that had been rattling around and grinding on each other for years, and then they all suddenly clicked snuggly in place. And I felt internally whole and alive and awake. (To borrow a phrase, but it works.)

Then I realized that I needed to get my education and career back on track. Got into grad school, and immediately, in that first semester, came upon some socio-political concepts that were troubling and weird and disturbing–much like the concepts which lead me to “religious understanding,” It took me a while to play with them and research them and start to understand them, but they eventually brought me to understanding certain socio-political “truths” that I’ve come to embrace as “right.” (The religious understandings took me about…seventeen years to come to where I am, and once the click happened, I knew it was right. These socio-political beliefs are more slippery. There’s a LOT more room for subjectivity and opinion–after all, religious “truths” are or they aren’t. Socio-political “truths” are human-created ideas and so can have all kinds of spectrum of right/wrong, works/fails, etc. I know I will always be a secular-humanist because there’s objective truth in it, but I may not always be an anarcho-socialist as I am now. And even what that means is subject to change.)

And then I also learned in the process what my career goals are right for me. It used to be amorphous and uncertain, based first on just continuing my undergrad studies (which granted, I was interested in! But I kind of fell into it based on what department was willing to give me the most funding). Then I went into grad school this last time with a plan closer to what I felt I wanted–which it was and I did. Literary studies. But then I learned that it was indeed possible to focus on scifi/fantasy (speculative fiction) as a subject, and I gained a HUGE interest in cultural studies that I had no idea that I had a passion for before.

My daughter is now at that wonderful age where she’s bright and creative and full of hope and joy, and not yet hating her parents and hanging out with “wrong” people and doing things to rebel. The wifey-poo and I doing well and unless I decide I have to get my doctorate in Canada (which is increasingly likely), we’ll only get better. So, things are good right now.

Which means I’m reading again! Actually, I have no idea how the two topics relate. That’s the problem with stream-of-consciousness writing. I’m reading more again because of grad school, I would say, except even last year I didn’t read as much for pleasure. Sure, I read non-fiction here and there, and a TON for class work, but I still didn’t read novels except for class. This year: so far in about six weeks, I’ve read:

Cory Doctorow’s Eastern Standard Tribe
Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War
Steven Brust’s My Own Kind of Freedom
halfway through Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End
started David Marusek’s Counting Heads
read some stories out of Rewired

I suppose I’m being a little disingenuous–I’m reading/have read most of the above partly for research on my work in posthumanism–but sort of. If I wanted to, I could skim them, find what I need, read others’ research on them. But I actually primarily read for pleasure, and I’ve missed doing so. I’m also reading again because I’m writing fiction again–something I haven’t done in quite some time. And to be able write colorfully and interestingly, one needs to be reading, especially various genre and styles. And already I can tell getting back into the world of playing with words is improving my own work.

Ah, speaking of Brust’s “Firefly” novel: Remember back in my post Thoughts on this year’s ICFA where I discuss my trepidation about fanfic and fiction written in a pre-existing world developed and made “living” by actors? Well, Brust’s My Own Kind of Freedom continues the method of pulling direct quotes and actions from the show/film to create archtype representations of the characters. Except in, I believe it was chapter 11. Brust suddenly has a burst (heh) of inspiration, and his characters came alive for most of a chapter, without the need of copy-and-pasted lines and actions. Captain Mal was Mal, his dialog fit the character created by Joss Whedon and Nathon Filion without being a copy of the character. It suddenly became like I was watching (reading) a lost episode as opposed to someone trying to create an episode out of bits and pieces. I got excited reading that chapter: “Yes! Here we go. Now we’re cookin’!”

Sadly, the inspiration left, and the rest of the novel lapsed back into auto-pilot. Interesting plot, but utterly 2-dimensional characters.

Which is sad, for me, because one of the reasons Brust is one of my all-time favorite authors is because of his characters. In the early Vlad Taltos books, I completely believed Vlad. When he left his love (or she left him…can’t remember now which), I literally cried. When in book six he switched from 1st-person narration to 3rd and focused on a different set of characters, I literally threw the book across the room because I was so involved with the characters he’d created in 1 through 5, getting rid of them felt the same as their dying. So, it kind of saddens me.

Well, this post was an explosion of pointless drivel. I’m sorry for you having read it. Please email me and I will see if I have some “few minutes out of my life” I can try to give back to you. No promises, however.

Writing on track.

I wrote 25 new pages on my novel/thesis this weekend. A huge burst of productivity!
And best of all, it got me past a certain bit of creative block and got me to an area that’s progressing the plot again. And it takes me to the beginning of a character development that the novel really needs.
So now I’m at 29,000 words, of what I estimate to become about 95,000 word novel.

Meanwhile, other projects in the works:
♦ Possible JFA article: sent to my professor/advisor for suggestions before sending it to JFA.
♦ Class final paper mostly done, thanks to the fact it’s based on last year’s ICFA paper. *whew!*
♦ Book review for Extrapolation–way behind. (Weird; book reviews are supposed to be one of the easiest “scholarly” articles to do, and I’m finding it most difficult.)
♦ Will be sending a story out to Realms of Fantasy at lunch today.

Thoughts on this year’s ICFA, pt. 2.

(And still, the weird problem remains with using “from” too many times. I swear, the blog refuses to post unless I change some of the “from”s to “frm”. It must be some kind of bug in the module that tries to detect SQL injections, is the best I can figure.)

Yesterday I posted some of my thoughts on the ICFA after having just returned from it. I left out a lot. I’ll try to go vaguely chronologically and hit highlights.

OK, Wednesday:
I hate flying. But the flight down was fine.
The car rental place had no VW Bugs and I so wanted one! *sigh-pout*
I got a little lost trying to find my hotel, decided to give that up and go right to the conference, and made it to the opening panel at exactly one minute before it began!
Don’t recall much about the opening panel…except Brian Aldiss read an interesting poem of his that seemed to exemplify the idea of “sublime” (the theme for this year’s conference.

Brian Aldiss is an interesting fellow. Long time, well awarded, knighted, writer primarily in science fiction. Wrote the short story that inspired the film A.I.. (I’m sorry, but I absolutely loved that movie! Speaking of Aldiss and the movie, there was a session that included a paper by Andrew M. Gordon, author of (among other books) Empire of Dreams: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of Steven Spielberg, in which he defended the ending of the movie. Thank the gods! I’m one of the only persons I know who loved the ending because I see it completely differently than most people, and Mr. Gordon defended it succinctly and effectively: Most people see the ending as a sappy, Spielberg ending, and creepy because of the apparent Oedipal evocation. But that mistaken apprehension of the ending is what makes the ending all the more tragic and sad! It’s a very, ironically, tragic ending in which a fake boy programmed for obsession has his “perfect day” with a fake mommy in a staged environment set up by fake lifeforms who worship the missing human race and believe they will come closer to knowing humanity through this simulacra. And Spielberg intentionally and skillfully crafted this treacherously misleading ending. God, just writing this makes me sad. Gordon of course went into these issues at great length with superb presentation, and I believed he took a room full of people who dismissed A.I. out of scoffing hand, and may have changed some minds, or at least got people thinking. Brava!)

(more after the “fold”…)
Continue reading Thoughts on this year’s ICFA, pt. 2.