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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Feminist Fist-Fighting: How Teardown Culture Hurts Activism

Hello hello!

So this has to be one of the hardest entries I've ever had to write. First of all--how does one criticize teardown culture without it sounding like tone-policing or idea-policing? That's tricky. So, a disclaimer.

You are entitled to think whatever you'd like and say whatever you'd like, whether you are a feminist or not. However, no-one is immune from criticism. That said, all criticism should be taken in context of power structures--if you are criticizing someone who is less powerful or privileged than you are, you may want to rethink your stance. Having more privilege means your words will carry more weight. Be kind, and do not silence others. 

That paragraph is extremely important, and I'd like anything else said here to be taken with that context. After all, punching up is a lot harder than punching down, and it's oh-so-tempting and easy to take potshots at someone because what they say has made you uncomfortable. Or because they criticized someone you like--even if that person is in the wrong. (For the record, I can't help still loving Amanda Palmer...but I won't defend some of the dumb shit that's fallen out when she's opened her mouth.)

With that said, we kind of need to do something about this intra-feminist teardown culture thing.

What is teardown culture?

I've noticed that there have been a lot of articles lately about various feminists insulting other feminists. Now, obviously, people aren't perfect and their actions merit criticism. I love Amanda Palmer, but she's done some decidedly stupid and bad things. Apologized for them as well, but they did still happen. Criticism and critique are part of a healthy culture, so it's fine to leave room for them to happen.

What makes me uneasy is when I see people on my friendlist saying that "feminists are stupid because ___" (lately, Feminists Are Stupid Because they didn't like a man's shirt.) The most common one is that feminists focus too much on the small things, "microaggressions", rather than "big things". The problem with that is simple--small things add up to the big things, and microaggressions in conversations prevent dialogue about said big things. If you have a conversation and someone is undermining you constantly, framing things so that you look unreasonable and hysterical (hysteria itself is basically the most sexist diagnosis ever), the conversation about 'big issues' can't even happen. It's particularly bad when feminists do this to other feminists.

 I'm really, profoundly uncomfortable with Annie Lennox saying these kinds of bad things about Beyonce. As a white woman, people are going to listen to her more. Sinead O'Connor also tore a strip off Miley Cyrus a good long time ago, and as an older and more respected artist, people wrote Miley off as a dumb young teenager. (Admittedly, her response was incredibly tasteless and referred to O'Connor's bipolar disorder.) There are important discussions, and then there are things like what Lennox said, and those comments don't help. There are all kinds of arguments, and the people who get listened to are usually the white, able, rich, cis ones. You don't have to like it, but it's a fact--and it's demonstrated by things like arrest rates.

This wolf is displeased about racism too.

Calling people out is not a bad thing, but disowning them is bad

Believe it or not, people have different approaches to feminism, and that doesn't make their feminism bad. Someone might be more upset or more negative in tone; someone might have a focus on misogynoir, and another person might have a focus on trans rights for the disabled. None of these are wrong or inferior just because they involve a personal focus. Ideally, feminism should be intersectional and acknowledge many areas of inequality.

That said...not everyone is "there" yet. I personally ignored disability issues for a long time because I had some pretty unpleasant misperceptions about disabilities, both mental and physical. Then I met some people with various disabilities and ability challenges, and learned that they were not only gifted in certain ways, but really normal. However, if you'd asked me about this issue years ago, I probably would have said something ignorant and tasteless without meaning to.

Yes, people can be frustrating and disgusting and cruel--but they can also learn to do better. Sometimes a lesson won't register the first time, but will sink in later.

But...but...they might have less privilege, but they said something stupid! On the internet!

I've been there. Lots of times. Take a deep breath. Take another one, until you stop seeing red. Walk away from the computer. Now decide whether you really want to bump the person's comment so others can see it, regardless of your brilliant response. Type your brilliant response in another window or a chat program so you can get the poison out without looking like an impulsive idiot.

It's also worth remembering that people use the internet to vent, and can say things that are problematic on one level but emotionally justified on another. However, telling them to shut up and not vent can lead to more problems...especially because some people are often silenced in social situations. Women (and people who present as female) get it a lot, for example.

This is why tone policing is not actually just a fake problem. People do try to vent and explain their feelings, and sometimes end up being angry--even saying pretty unpleasant things. But when those are said in a safe space, particularly, calling them out on those comments may be the worst thing that you could possibly do. White feminists (yo) tend to get particularly upset when people say things that sound awful about, say, white people, cis people, men, etc, etc--but it's really important to put one's own feelings to the side and try to listen to the person's feelings. The reason someone says something that can be problematic is often rooted in bad experiences, particularly when the people they're talking about the majority culture.

So, to borrow an example from the links above, you might see a trans* or queer person ranting about cis scum. Not only is it not your job to tell them that "not all non-trans and non-queer people are like that", it's worth asking them if anything happened to them recently, and asking if they're okay. These rants never come out of the blue--and said person might well have had a friend beaten up in an alleyway recently for being a "tr---y".

The other thing is to remember that if someone's ranting about how men can be awful, how white people don't care, etc, etc--remember--it's not about you.  If you feel it's about you, ask the person in private. Failing that, take steps to make sure you aren't one of the people being targeted--i.e., try to listen instead of overreacting, for a start.

Okay, but this person--or public figure--is genuinely doing something wrong. Wat do?

Focus on actions rather than personal traits. Research things before you post them. Try not to pick a side obviously, if you can avoid it. Keep someone's feelings and perspective in context--what could have happened to them in life that made them think a certain way? Your positive experiences might have been someone else's trauma, or just unpleasant life events.

Sometimes, it's also just not worth commenting. I saw a discussion about how #BlackLivesMatter had been hijacked to #AllLivesMatter on Twitter; the person supporting #AllLivesMatter (which is what you'd call a derailing) identified themselves as black, gay, and HIV+. The person calling them out appeared to be male and was also black. Clearly, this complicates the issue, but the fact remains that #AllLivesMatter has derailed some of the conversation specifically about violence against African Americans. I could have chimed in...but my own perspective wouldn't have contributed enough to the conversation, and might have silenced its participants.

This is basically how feminism feels a lot of the time.

I'm incredibly triggered right now and I really, really need to address this! I'm upset!

Been there. Get out of that conversation and seek a friend or do some self-care activities. You won't be able to express your hurt feelings well in this state, and it may result in more trauma. Ultimately, you are more important than the person on the internet, but exploding on them could hurt you as well. You don't deserve that. Find a cat/dog/stuffed animal/scrap of fabric/wall/comfort item to stroke or lean against, get a drink of water, and close the window. Then delete your search history so you don't obsessively go back to the conversation and hurt yourself.

Seriously, dude, that was not cool. I need to call this person out. 

Okay, but be moderate and try to be as kind as you can. See above re: the learning process and the fact that people can be hurt. Sometimes, ignoring people is safest for your sanity, but if it's just not an option, try to focus on facts and avoid talking about personal faults. You'll look good and you might inform the people who are reading the comments but not saying anything. And avoiding a knee-jerk reaction is a good way to dodge a possibly day-ruining flamewar.

Above all, don't give into the temptation to say, "You're not a real feminist/activist/etc!" Even if you're thinking it, there is no possible way that will end well. We need to work together instead of competing in the Oppression Olympics ("I know you've had it bad, but (x) has had it worse! And I've had it worse than (x)!") or trying to play Who's a Better Feminist. Women (and feminine or queer-presenting people) are criticized more harshly than men. Men who stick up for these issues will generally be less harshly criticized because of the way power is structured here. That's good in terms of helping to signal boost things, but it's not as good on a micro level. Sometimes a person will get treated as an expert because of their social position rather than their skills.   That means that people who do have these advantages--such as, again, being white--should be careful and try not to abuse them.

Even Kyle needs to punch people sometimes.

Okay, fine. Any last words?

Remember that people's words are informed by their lives. I'm pro-choice, but if someone is personally against abortion--as in, they are meh about the right to choose but couldn't bear to have an abortion themselves--it's not my job to try to convince them that having an abortion would be okay for them. Again, I can't stress enough that any online debates and discussions need to be informed by sensitivity to social privileges. Not being able to see someone's face or real name can soften the lines of privilege, but they don't disappear completely.

Basically, what it boils down to is this: Don't be a dick. Especially when the person you want to criticize has less societal power than you do. Also, don't pull a Benjanun Sriduangkaew.

*A quick note about language used in this post before we wrap up--I know the words "stupid" and "dumb" are sometimes seen as problematic because of the implications about low intelligence, etc, etc. Because they're in common use and the context is in debate, I've left them in the post. Let me know if you object to this or have questions/comments on the issue.*

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Sunday, 30 November 2014

More Breaking News: Blog Tour! New Release!

Hello hello!

So, another promo-y post because there's more fun stuff to announce. First, the Euphoria/Dysphoria blog tour with my coauthor Nic Wilson is kicking off soon! 

Check out each blog on the day of the tour to hang out for exclusive flash fiction, recipes based on the book (mmm...rats...delicious!), and to hang out with us in the comments. You don't want to miss this one. 

December 1
Roxanne’s Realm

December 2
Sapphyria's Book Reviews

December 3
The Creatively Green Write at Home Mom

December 4
Lisa’s World of Books

December 5
Deal Sharing Aunt

December 8
Anya Breton Author's Blog

December 9
The Reader's Hollow

December 10
Share My Destiny

December 11
Paranormal Romance and Authors That Rock

December 11
CBY Book Club

December 12

December 15
Fang-tastic Books

And that's not all. Look what else is finally out! 

You can grab your copy right here. It's got all the diversity and queer representation you can expect from my books--i.e., PoC are front and centre--in a love story set long after the apocalypse. An apocalypse that might sound familiar if you've read The Underlighters. Is that a hint? It might be. Check back for info on the blog tour for this baby, too! There will definitely be prizes.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Descripturbation: How to (and How Not to) Describe Characters

Hello hello!

Today I'm going to talk about one of the thorniest and most often-ridiculed issues in writing--character descriptions. Some authors describe every pimple, dimple, dent, and wrinkle of lace; some basically avoid description at all, which can leave readers feeling as though the characters are no more than wooden silhouettes with "Protagonist's Name Here" taped to them.

So, what does too much detail look like? 

Women's clothes often get the brunt of this. The men's clothes in the same works are often less elaborate, but have a look at the paragraph below.

"Her blue paisley dress had delicate puce and chartreuse ribbons on the puffed sleeves. The layered chiffon skirt was hooped, and numerous petticoats trimmed in yellow lace spilled out from beneath its voluminous edges."

Now, that's ugly, in many ways. There are too many adjectives, some passive voice, and the actual dress combination is pretty hideous. But fancy steampunk/Victorian dresses are easy to ridicule. What does overdescription with a male character in a more contemporary setting look like?

"His perfect nose was Euclidean and his brow was high and fair. He had deeply-set brown eyes with smooth lids, and his eyes twinkled under dark brows and short black lashes. His mouth was slender-lipped and his smile, very wide. His dimples dotted golden cheeks and the creases of his grin reached almost to his dark sideburns. Slick, anthracite hair that had been gelled into perfection flopped insouciantly off to the side.

His neck was slim but strong and his golden skin showed through the opening of his blue and white plaid button-down shirt, a real second-hand item, not a designer look-alike. His Gotye t-shirt had stylized doves and hands opening on it, and his jeans--which were fashionably worn and ripped, but had obviously been broken in--had a dove embroidered on the pocket as well. I stared at his Converse sneakers and fell in love."

As a friend said, "I just think it's kinda awesome that someone who writes so well can just as easily write so BADLY at the drop of a hat."

These two paragraphs are excessively detailed, to an irritating extent, because whatever else was happening in the scene stops DEAD to let the description show itself out.

"His brown eyes sparkled as he grinned at me. He ruffled his slick black hair and leaned back, his band t-shirt peeking through a plaid button-up."

This rewrite is a bit simpler, but it still gets the feeling across without stopping the action dead. It also makes the description more active, contextualizing his eyes and hair with expressions and an action.

What about insufficient detail?

My personal prejudice is that "less is more", but if a story is full of lush descriptions elsewhere, it's probably okay to let yourself go in the character descriptions. For first drafts, it's also okay to go a bit bananas--you can always cut things later. For those of us who write fantasy and sci fi, there are extra challenges, because the books exist in unique universes.

That said, it's often a good idea to trust the reader. They can imagine things, they know how tropes work, and it's okay to skim over descriptions a bit when referring to something that should be ordinary. Wastebaskets, for example, or toilets. Focus on what's different, not just what's the same. For both characters and the setting, it's often wise to add bits of description throughout the book, sprinkling them in. Using relative descriptions can also be helpful in keeping the reader immersed. One of the best things you can do is make a description active, so that the character interacts with their environment rather than being set apart from it. Here's an example.

"She smiled and stretched her long, tanned limbs. She was tall and stringy, and her grey-streaked black hair gleamed like steel in the light of the twin suns."

We know she's on an alien planet--possibly one with low gravity--and that she's an older woman already. It's not a lot, but it can go a long way. But that's the easy stuff--what about specific character description issues?

Source. This is a great resource.

How do we describe diversity without having to say, 'this character is black or Japanese'?

The best thing you can do is get yourself a colour palette of skin tones. Dark skin comes in many, many shades--there are some incredible resources to explain some of those shades.

"Her reddish-brown skin glowed in the sun, and she squinted, her full lips curving into a smile. She unholstered her pulse rifle and trained it on the scruff-rat leisurely, then fired."

Now, you could describe her skin as 'chocolate' coloured, but that kind of description has really fallen out of use. The problem with food-like descriptions is that it's othering and a bit creepy when all protagonists are edible. It's fine in small doses--and I've seen black authors use "almond eyes and chocolate skin" as descriptors, and "creamy" or "milky" skin do get used to describe white characters, but Asian characters don't have "teriyaki or sesame skin" and Latino characters don't have "corn tortilla" skin, Nor do, say, First Nations people have "pemmican complexions". The problem is that people are sometimes unaware that the way they describe others is fetishizing (which makes a person into an object) or just plain absurd.

When it comes to describing eye shape and colour, "almond" eyes are used a lot for Asian characters, but this has become contentious and annoying for the same reason mentioned above. The jury's out on good ways to describe monolids and epicanthic folds, but mentioning 'angled' eyes, 'crinkled' eyes, 'smooth' lids, deeply-set, or teardrop-shaped eyes are all possible choices. It's better to talk to someone from the ethnic background you're trying to describe if you're not sure. As always, research is your friend.

Any final words?

We'll all make mistakes. That's life, and that's writing. Experiment and do research, and run things by friends who can mock you safely (without being too mean) if you're worried that something sounds ridiculous. And, of course, there's always asking your editor or beta readers.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Monday, 24 November 2014

Breaking News: Cover Reveals! New Releases! A Street Team!

Hello hello!

So it's been a while since this happened, but I finally have a post that's related to--gasp--my writing and work. Nic Wilson is a cool science fiction writer whose work has been on my blog a couple of times, and perhaps unsurprisingly, we've become pretty good friends. We even teamed up to write a book. Katie de Long, collaborator and instigator, was also involved. Together, we crafted exactly what you'd expect.

Buy the thing here! 

Execution above or extinction below... 

Survival is hard enough in the poverty-stricken streets of the Lower Blocks, and this woman is far from the first to flee the Engineers who oversee the City. But now Christine's a target: hunted by the aristocracy, her future uncertain, and past laid bare. And a person with Christine's powers can't afford to be caught. 

Humanity built the Foundation to elevate themselves from the poisoned earth, but Christine and Ilsa must choose whether to descend to hell below, or remain in hell above.

Please note, Euphoria/Dysphoria contains a lesbian romance, graphic violence, and some disturbing material. It is intended for mature readers.

But that's not all. After the Garden will also be launching soon.

Memories of another life and lover guide her, but are they even hers? She is a Bearer—keeper of past lifetimes and gifted with strange talents. Ember must find her answers away from safe Longquan Village, snared instead in the sensuality and dangers of The City. Hidden among spider farmers and slaves, prostitutes and weavers, a nest of people like her are waiting.

A powerful man outside The City raises his forces, determined to hunt down the ‘demons’ who could taint his followers. Threatened from without and within, can the Bearers even trust each other? 

And there's still more. A couple of blog tours will be coming up in the next few months to celebrate the launches of these books, and you know what that means--Rafflecopters! Swag and loot! Not only will I have some signed paperbacks, I'll have things like exclusive book-based jewelry, both featuring cover art and jewelry I've created, bookmarks, and even weirder bits of loot! Sure, some of it will be on offer for contests, but street team members will have special perks. In addition to the treasures, you can count on cover previews, snippets, advance notice of sales and new releases, and superb ways to waste your time on Facebook at work with other fans!

Curious? All you need to do is click here. Once I see that you've requested to join, you'll be in!

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Monday, 17 November 2014


Now available on Amazon

Execution above or extinction below... 

“Please help me. I'm pregnant.” 
A chance encounter with a fugitive has turned Christine's life into a nightmare. 

Survival is hard enough in the poverty-stricken streets of the Lower Blocks, and this woman is far from the first to flee the Engineers who oversee the City. But now Christine's a target: hunted by the aristocracy, her future uncertain, and past laid bare. And a person with Christine's powers can't afford to be caught. 

Humanity built the Foundation to elevate themselves from the poisoned earth, but Christine and Ilsa must choose whether to descend to hell below, or remain in hell above. 

From post-apocalyptic authors Nicolas Wilson (Homeless), and Michelle Browne (The Underlighters) comes Euphoria/Dysphoria, a biopunk dystopia. 

Please note, Euphoria/Dysphoria contains a f/f romance, graphic violence, and some disturbing material. It is intended for mature readers.

Buy it here: 

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Cult Classics for the Modern Cult (series)

Now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Smashwords, and Kobo eBooks

Nine insane short stories with a B-movie flair fill out this anthology. There's a little violence, some adult (18+) content, and some heartbreaking love stories. Polish your fangs, spray on some fresh formaldehyde, and clean the crypt before your date arrives--being a monster doesn't mean you can't fall in love, and a collection of sad, funny tales are coming to a Kindle near you.

Ten insane short stories from the B-movie realm fill out this anthology. There's a little violence, some adult (18+) content, and a lot of completely bizarre creatures. Straighten your altar to the dark gods, pop open a can of your favorite mutagen, and hold on tight--there are threats much bigger than Godzilla, and they're coming to a Kindle near you.

Frost and Other Stories

Now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Smashwords, and Kobo eBooks

Containing a handful of short stories and the novelette 'Frost', this holiday anthology brings together stories about the dark side of the season. This blackly humorous and chilling collection explores aspects of the holidays you won't read about in Chicken Soup for the Soul. Get your whiskey; it's going to be a long night.

Tomb Beasts Need Love, Too

Now available on Amazon

Makeda and Lixbeth are overjoyed to be on their honeymoon at last. When they finally arrive at the distant, abandoned temple of the Uthranzi, they savour the chance to relax together without any distractions. But just how alone are they? 

Caution: this book includes adult/mature content, lesbians, and Canadian spellings, as well as a tentacle monster. If any of these things offend or bother you, flee while you still can.

Buy it here: 

Monday, 10 November 2014

Samuel Peralta: Radar

Samuel Peralta: Radar: Against the violet sky my Piper Saratoga banks and shifts, a paltry sparrow lost in the expanding gloom. Dimmed in a room below me, the...

Samuel Peralta: Noir

Samuel Peralta: Noir: At the violet hour, a tent’s unexpected shelter from constables and rain. Past doorway, beaded threshold, the lacqueria, the ivory famili...

Samuel Peralta: N. poeticus

Samuel Peralta: N. poeticus: It started with your voice, your shimmering breath spiraling downward through the water's depth - calling - so strange! - my name. I...

Friday, 7 November 2014

On Epic Disappointment: Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi

Hello hello!

Right on the heels of a cheerful column, I have to discuss something really disappointing.

I'm going to put a large content warning on this post. If you're easily triggered, get out now. I won't be discussing anything gory, but I'd hate to know that someone had a panic attack as a result of this post.

Two personalities that a lot of people respected and admired have been outed as sex offenders. I didn't have much of an attachment to Bill Cosby--to be completely honest, I never watched him as a kid and always found him slightly off and creepy--but I did listen to Q on CBC Radio pretty often. In my first year of university, I would marathon old podcast episodes of the show while I studied.

At the time of writing this--Oct 27th; I sometimes write blog posts well before they're released--several articles have come out today.

The first thing I saw was this. Then Ghomeshi responded here. And then, after a day of carefully-worded contemplations and discussion with friends, I saw this.

This was really upsetting. It's been a while since I was a regular listener, but I had a good opinion of Q--it's a fun show, the interviews were thoughtful, and the music was quite good. What the experience did show me, though, is that there's a reason people defend sex offenders.

It feels like a real betrayal to know that someone you like and respect hurt someone else. Multiple people? It's even worse. Discovering that they aren't the person you thought they were is hard to handle, especially at first. Surely not, I thought. This has to be a misunderstanding. It's much easier to blame victims because they seem like faceless antagonists. Everyone's familiar with the idea of a woman vengefully ruining a man's career our of jealousy or spite. The truth, though, is that few assaults are reported to police.

These stats are absolutely horrible. I don't know any women who haven't been, at a minimum, catcalled, verbally harassed, or groped inappropriately--myself included--and while I won't disclose the number of friends I have who are survivors, the number is much, much too high.

Ultimately, no matter how much I'd like to support Ghomeshi, my personal feelings have to come second. That's really hard to do when you're fond of a celebrity, but avoiding the truth only feeds rape culture. And it's rape culture that makes it so easy to push things aside, to chalk the incidents up to a "crazy" woman or a few "crazy" women. It's easy to do this, but if we want those statistics to go down, we can't. We have to listen to the voices that cut deeply, that strip our illusions away. The price of not doing so is letting others get hurt for the sake of a dream.

But at the end of the day, the people we set on pedestals are still human beings. And human beings haven't learned to stop doing terrible, terrible things.


 Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog for more. 

Monday, 3 November 2014

The Story of a Scarf

Hello hello!

Well, as those who follow my Instagram may be aware, I'm not only a writer, I'm a crafter. I knit, bead, work with wire, do a little bit of crewel embroidery, and sew.

Since I was a kid, I've had a fascination with softness. Silk and velvet (velour, too) would make me halt in place. Even now, I love to stop and touch things that look soft (with permission, of course, when applicable). Bits of ribbon, of lace, of velour and velvet, and even of satin overflow from the craft shelves in our living room.

Source. Though I only have two shelves, and it's not this, um, tidy.

I'd had many of my scraps for years--some, for over a decade. A stint in theatre camp while I was in elementary school (grade school, as it's called outside Canada) bright me quite a few opportunities to save little scraps of fabric from the art projects we worked on. With access to a box of leftovers from the theatre projects the university students would run, I ended up with a small pile of treasures. Still others came from doll clothes, old projects of my own sewing, and even rummage boxes. There were even a few bits from old velvet roses from chocolate boxes, Christmas ribbons, and a Halloween costume's cape.

I saved these bits and fragments, positive that some day I'd make something useful from them. I worked on other projects, repaired skirts, modified others...and the scraps sat in a shoebox, waiting. I tried to sew them into a tiny quilt, but the stitches were too crooked. I soon gave up and shredded it. The scraps sat, waiting, a tiny pile of soft memories. I'd made a few other strangely-shaped and unusual scarves, some with trims. They challenged my skills, but I'd learned to be bolder.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, the lightbulb moment I'd been waiting for arrived. I realised I could use bits of the ribbon to frame the scarf and could arrange the patches so they'd roughly fit together and form a rectangular shape. By using a flatter, larger piece of fabric to back it, I wouldn't have to deal with the rasp of the seamy edges of my neck or craft something that looked good from only one side.

I arranged my patches, shifting and flipping them, coordinating colours. I sewed with whip-stitch and flat-stitches, layering some sheer fabrics over others. The scraps puckered a little, creating a ruched effect all over the scarf and adding even more texture.

Finally, it was finished.

Source: me! The scarf is folded in half.

I'd worked on special and challenging projects before, but the one I've just finished is probably one of the best. It's a way of visualising a lot of my life--bits of things I worked on when I was a kid, growing up in the back of my parents' medical clinic, to scraps from old doll's clothes that fascinated me, to more recent acquisitions. It's not perfectly even, but bits of lamè, velvet, netting, velour, satin, and rayon mix and mingle in long stretches. Bursts of colour like fireworks.

I don't think I could be happier about this. I can think of a few personal lessons I learned from sewing it, but they matter less than the pure joy of having this abstract mosaic, this map spanning from my childhood to now.

Sometimes, the end result really is more important than the journey.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Writergate: A Few Words on a Burgeoning Controversy

Hello hello!

Oh, godsdamnit. The other community I belong to, the writing community, is starting to get almost as ugly as the gaming community. This article and this one illustrate the problem. When an author thinks it's acceptable to stalk and assault a reviewer over their hurt feelings, we have a major problem.

The history

It's worth noting that I'm *not* a reviewer. An editor, yes, and definitely an author, but I only review for fun and don't take submissions. It'd be a conflict of interest, as well as being far too much of a workload on top of everything else. So, where do I stand on this?

Well, I should probably preface this with my own experiences. Last year, I had to pull out of GoodReads after a group went after one of my books rather nastily. It was pretty crushing. There were some very homophobic comments in the reviews, some unfair points...you get the idea. Until that point, I'd had a policy of contacting reviewers who had given me low ratings to ask them for more feedback so I could improve my writing. Most reviewers were friendly, kind, and appreciated the politeness of the contact, so we parted on good terms.

This time, I got overwhelmed. The thing is, I made the mistake of making one complaining comment in a thread about the book. One of the reviewers took exception to this and delivered a scathing private lecture to me. The thread was deleted, but that didn't stop the lecture. What did I do? I left the page, did some crying, spoke to friends in private, and cried some more.

Sherlock gif, because I can. Also because a chained Moriarty is a good visualization for the way certain reviews can make one feel.

How could I have fixed it?

Then I tried to figure out how I could have handled it better. For one thing, better use of categorization, making sure that people were aware the story was about a bisexual character, and that it contained strong language would all have helped. And, of course, just not reading some of the negative reviews--in spite of the morbid, painful curiosity--would have been wisest. Mentioning that it has a somewhat unreliable narrator could have helped too. Most of all, though, I wish I'd had the content editor I have now to work with me back then. Just getting the practice of taking criticism would have been so helpful in insulating me from my own reaction and upset feelings.

Ultimately, it would have been nice to be able to talk to some of those reviewers, but in the context of reviewing culture, it wasn't, and still isn't. Is it a bad idea to ask for some more feedback and thoughts from a particularly well-written bad review? Maybe not. Is it a bad idea to thank someone for a really nice review and tell them about your next book? In theory, not at all.

The hidden catch

However, we're not working in a situation where that kind of interchange is possible. Instead, the indie scene has become a minefield. Roving bands of reviewers mock books for laughs--and authors go berserk, harassing, stalking, and now physically assaulting reviewers.

This has to stop. Yes, bullying has gone on from both sides. That does not justify unprofessional behavior or actually threatening people over hurt feelings. This article has a good overview of the Hale vs Harris case and the hurt feelings. The thing is, snark has become enshrined in the reviewing community...but authors seem to respond with disproportionate aggression and ire.

I would love to have professional, calm dialogues be the norm for authors and reviewers, but right now, too many people are reacting violently and abusively to make that tea-sipping discussion possible.

How do we fix it?

First, authors need to exercise discretion in handling bad reviews. Just not reading them can be a really good start.

Second, if you do read them, do it with a critical filter. Look for details about marketing rather than seeing it as your book, your baby, that's getting slapped. It can feel like that, but it won't help you learn anything useful.

Third, it's worth noting that while the customer isn't always right, snarking back at them won't help. Ever. Under any circumstances. It's better not to contact reviewers at all, and certainly not in public. At best, it makes you look whiny; at worst, well, there are websites devoted to the results. Far too many of them.

Fourth, being able to take a joke will make you look good. So if you *can* be cool about things, well, sometimes that turns out okay.

Fifth, it's worth keeping in mind that most reviewers--even the snarkiest--usually aren't trying to stab you in the heart. Making a few snarky jokes for attention, sure, but it's quite rare that they're actually out to burn you.

Sixth, remember that every snarky retort to a reviewer can come at the price of your career.

Seventh, make sure you have a support network of discreet people that you can vent to so that you don't make stupid Facebook posts that insult your readers. NEVER INSULT YOUR READERS.

Eighth, if you see a repeated issue, it may be worth revising the book. Not always, but sometimes it can be a good idea. After all, the advantage of indie publishing is that we *can* do this stuff, right?

Ninth, if you're actually attacked, report that shit to the website itself. It doesn't always work, but it's better than taking things into your own hands.

Tenth, if you have no idea what to do, don't do anything at all.

 I realise it's an overly dramatic gif with a blue filter. I'm not apologizing.

Final words? 

It would be great if we could all talk like adults and be respectful towards each other, no matter how painful the differences of opinion can be. If you read this article and you still don't like the advice, consider reading this and this and also this. If you disagree with someone, hitting them is not the solution. If you absolutely have to hit something, try printing the review out and taping it to a punching bag. If you still feel the urge to commit violence after all that, it might be a good idea to seek help.

How do you handle nasty reviews--or authors? Any good coping strategies? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Friday, 31 October 2014

Snake Eyes--A Sad Response to Yahtzee Croshaw

Hello hello!

So, last time I posted, it was about Gamergate. The thing is, I ended it with a call to action for the gamer majority. To say more than "we're not all like that"; to reject the Gamergate supporters.

Now I need to tackle something even uglier.

The thing I want to talk about is an article I saw by a reviewer I like. The reviewer? Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw, also known as ZeroPunctuation, the best-selling author of Mogworld and one of the most famous video game critics in the business.

Source. Stabby time indeed. 

A bit of context

I had been looking forward to Mogworld for a long time. I finally opened it on my Kindle and settled in. It should have been right up my alley--satire, geekery, an antihero--but it just wasn't. I was reminded of this book, but without a believable female character, much less a few of them, and without the harmless sense of fun. Don't get me wrong; the prose was good and the concept was fine, but it had this eau d'Fedora (trilby, actually) that just bothered me. Maybe it was that the main character was a snarky sad-sack who had a girl throwing herself at him anyway. Maybe it was the self-satisfied tone, or the constant slams against fat people. (Seriously, there were a lot.) I had a nagging feeling I didn't like about Crowshaw's underlying perspective. A perspective I thought he'd moved past.

I wondered what his thoughts were on Gamergate, and ended up on Extra Punctuation, the blog site. I didn't see anything on Gamergate, I did, however, see this.

The comments were surprisingly civil and thoughtful, but the article itself dismayed me. Croshaw clearly doesn't understand the importance of other perspectives--nonwhite, nonmale perspectives especially.

What's wrong with it?

The idea that a white male character is an acceptable audience surrogate or vessel for everyone is, simply put, a bad one. Yes, there are lots of white men. But there's a lot more of literally everyone else. We need more characters who are female (or don't fit into the gender binary), and who are nonwhite, specifically. One of the things that kept me from gaming as a kid was the ocean of male characters. I couldn't relate to them, and so why should I care about what happened? I've developed more empathy now, obviously, but the ocean of gruffness and stubble on offer is still alienating and frustrating.

A lot of people who make this argument basically say that if you're good at empathizing, you should be able to enjoy a white male vessel anyway, regardless of your background. My question is--why doesn't that cut both ways? If we--the non (cis) male, non-white, non-etc people--are supposed to feel empathy for you anyway and just enjoy the story, why can't you do the same for us when presented with our vessel?

Considering how unimportant a character's appearance usually is in a video game, there's no reason not to. Even games that, as Croshaw says, use gender heavily, could actually still bow to this mechanic. The first Bioshock game is a really good example of this. Themes of fatherhood and daughters run through the game, and both of the first two games are very gendered. The Big Daddies, though, could easily have included some Big Mommies without breaking anything. You wouldn't even have to change the armour, and it's not as though they speak. The thing is, the story of parenthood and attachment issues, as well as building a relationship with your own child, aren't limited to men. Yeah, the third game does require the use of a white male character because it actually tackled racism in a period context, but the white male character was also a specific person, Booker. It's one of the few cases where it was absolutely required. But the rest of the time? Yeah, not so much.

Source. EEEK, A GIRL!

Let's talk about sex--not having it, that is

Compare that to Silent Hill, which is apparently the only game worth talking about in the past 20 years, based on Croshaw's article. As one of my friends pointed out in a Facebook discussion, there's no reason that the concept of frustrated desire is automatically one for men. Having grown up bi, especially without knowing it for the majority of my life (well, I KNEW it, but I didn't have a word or context for what I was feeling), I can confirm that men aren't the only ones who get lonely and frustrated. And even so, what about the loneliness women experience in dating, or failing to date? It doesn't have be a dating simulator to acknowledge that yes, women suffer from loneliness and a lack of getting laid, too, and that they're haunted by their exes. However, that would involve understanding that women are people, too, something that seems to elude a disappointingly large number of gamers.

Of course, it helps if you don't skim over the "wordy" dialogue in the game and pay attention to the character development.

Gender roles < pizza rolls

The thing with the idea that women = damsels, men = heroes is that it's not only staler than the air in an ancient crypt, it's wrong. Men need to be rescued too, and women's experiences aren't nearly as different from men's as they've been let to believe. Yeah, we're at a higher risk of rape, and some of the socialization is very different, but the emotions and the mental processes are actually a lot more similar than I ever thought when I was younger. Gender differences are kind of a trap and a lie, with the exception of the negative ones. There are bad things that are different for men and women (such as the elevated rate of suicide and social isolation for men vs the rates of sexual assault and kinds of abuse for women), but the good stuff is what we have in common. And yeah, some of the bad stuff, we have in common as well. This doesn't even touch on breaking down the gender binary; it certainly wouldn't kill anyone to represent characters who belong outside the Thug/Geek or Lady/Slut/Tomboy paradigms. One possible exception to this would be rogue-like or bard-like characters--speaking strictly in terms of their appearance--because these characters are often more tomboyish if they're female, or more feminine if they're male. So, more of that, please. Also, more recognition of the fact that there are going to people who just refuse to "pick a side" in the gender thing.

Less evolutionary psychology, though

This really disappointed me. There are gender differences between the brains--at least as far as we can tell; quantitative analysis has shown some areas are larger in women's brains than in men's, and vice versa. (There's a saddening paucity of research on non-gender-conforming individuals. I suspect that issue won't be remedied for quite some time.) However, differences are mostly focused on verbal reasoning skills and spatial reasoning skills. These differences also don't automatically make people think alike.

Still, from a psychological perspective, the concept of sexist protective instincts is ridiculous. Actual evolutionary psychology--whatever Psychology Today thinks--doesn't work like that. Protective instincts are a "thing", in that they exist, but gendering the presentation by saying that men automatically protect women because women are helpless isn't supported by paleoarchaeological findings or modern psychology. There are archaeologists who are addressing that women were fighters. Men are aggressive, but what about all the women spoilin' for a fight? What about the men who prefer to be passive? Nobody considers that women are just as aggressive and protective as men, but merely are trained to vent it verbally rather than physically. Women do fight. That is a thing that happens. We did not, and do not, always need to be sheltered. Furthermore, just because something existed in the past does not mean we need to perpetuate it now.

Source. If only the hatted mind would turn its withering commentary to gender roles.

Now what? 

I realise that Yahtzee Croshaw isn't going to respond to this blog post, and isn't going to pay attention to criticism. That's not how he rolls. Instead, I'll address this to Yahtzee's fans. Yes, he's fun and analyses games very well, but that doesn't mean everything he says is right. We need to demand more accountability from our reviewers in terms of their perspectives and limits. In the context of Gamergate, and the slutshaming, personal attacks, and harassment there, the roles of women and PoC need to be examined more than ever. I've noticed the uncomfortable dynamic in his reviews before--automatic devaluation of female characters except as sex objects--and while I'll probably still watch his reviews, I won't be able to stop noticing that.

So in a way, yes, we do need to examine gaming journalism. Just not in the way Gamergate supporters meant we did.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Leave your comments, rebuttals, and vehement agreements below. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Sunday, 26 October 2014

A Brief Response to #GamerGate

Hello hello!

This is probably one of the scariest posts I've ever written. Merely mentioning #GamerGate, the misogynist scandal that's been setting the gaming world on fire, is grounds for online attacks, vicious comments, and doxxing. (Doxxing is the release of personal information, such as someone's address.) I've avoided talking about it because there were better and more prominent people who have already said their bit. There's also the whole thing with Felicia Day getting doxxed the minute she wrote a compassionate post about the topic.

I'm not Felicia Day. I'm not even a particularly good gamer; a lot of my gaming is done from the backseat. But I cried over Mordin's death, shuddered at Dead Space's Stalkers, spend hours every day in a gothic underworld, laugh at reviews, and I can tell you who some of the top stars in DOTA 2 are--as well as their original teams and the shakeups that happened after the recent international.

My point is, I'm still enough of a gamer to give a crap about this. And because I'm a feminist on the internet, I care even more. I'm probably safe, due to my relative anonymity, but merely opening my face and mentioning the topic is a risk. Well, it's still worth talking about.

Gamergate is not about "responsibility in gaming journalism". Zoe Quinn did nothing wrong, but her ex-boyfriend made allegations that she'd cheated on him with a gaming journalist--which didn't result in a career bump of any kind, and which happened while they were on a break. Furthermore, it's none of our business what a woman does with her body, regardless of who she is or where she works. Anyway. The other target has been Anita Sarkeesian. I don't agree with every bit of her analysis, but she's very good at evaluating things according to trends. She's good at providing an intro to feminism. And for this, and for calling out the gaming industry on sexist writing issues, she's gotten death threats and bomb threats.

If the Gamergate crowd actually wanted to make gaming journalism and people within the industry more responsible, they'd stop threatening physical violence and act like real journalists themselves. They'd do their research. They'd focus on things that matter, like the 322 match-fixing issue that's setting the DOTAverse on fire right now. They would stop going after women who haven't done anything wrong.

And if the actual gaming journalists and reviewers were responsible human beings, they'd address their fanbase and tell them to stop making bomb threats, doxxing people, and harassing them. A few have, but a few other prominent celebrities have just put an unintentional seal of approval on events. Still others haven't said anything, which is worse.

So, how do we stop Gamergate? We address it. We, as geeks, stand together and say that we will not support people who make sexist attacks or death threats against other fellow geeks. Or non-geeks. Or anyone. The thing is, "we" needs to include everyone--not just the feminists and PoC. We need the white dudebros who don't want to be represented by Gamergate to speak up, to reject what a few handfuls of lonely, hurt, reactionary people have said about women and gaming.

This is starting to happen. And sexism is starting to become unacceptable. Unfortunately, people still do it without realising that they're saying something awful.

Which brings me to a Yahtzee Croshaw article that made me so sad, I lost sleep over it. But that'll have to wait until next time.


 Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog for more.