A nod and sad goodbye to horror film director Wes Craven and scientist Oliver Sacks. We knew they were both failing, but it is hard to see them go. Both of them broke new ground in their fields, fearlessly and with grace, unafraid to include some very human touches in their work.
Turkish has a whistled version, used often in the mountains of northern Turkey. It’s eerie and lovely, and seems to do interesting things to the brains of people who listen to & understand it.
Why am I excited to blog about it? I have another data point for ‘singspeech’, my made-up Sonnaroi constructed language. Think four separate vocal cords and big chest cavities, as well as long nasal passages and tongues to help modify sound. I ‘hear’ this non-human language as a combination of higher-pitched whistles and deep-toned calls. The language goes higher and lower than humans can usually detect. A human, standing in the middle of a Sonnaroi tribal conclave, would probably only hear a little bit of the debate going on around her. She might ‘feel’ more of it, just as we can feel the deep rumbles of elephant calls.
Sonnaroi, in my made-up universe, are deceptively primitive hunter gatherers. They’re a bit shunned and discriminated against by the more human-seeming civilizations on their planet. But Sonnaroi keep a lot of very important secrets, including a verifiably-accurate spoken history going back more than a million years.
This, right here, this is why I tell new fantasy and science fiction writers to read and watch more non-fiction. We can build so much more vividly from solid, real-world foundations!
Publishing is such a weird business. I have fairly strong internet analytical evidence that a review I wrote over a year ago has been responsible for at least a couple hundred sales…of someone else’s book. I’m happy for them. It’s a good book. At the same time, I wish my self-promo could go so well…
Okay, so I have this silly fantasy of attending an actual large convention sometime next year, and maybe wandering around in some steampunkish hall costumes. I’ve been on the lookout for weapons props I can repurpose.
I recently found two candidates at my local Goodwill thrift store, both for under $1 each.
This toy dueling pistol appears to have been sold around the time the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies made it big. The metal parts are boring but solid, and the wood only needs a little work to make it lovely. I’ll probably resurface all metal except the blackened steel barrel, and trick out the whole gun with bronze stamped straps and rivets. If I want to go really crazy, I’ll add some structural components.
Skip centuries and universes, and here’s a ToyQuest laser gun. Awful colors, but the underlying plastic shape is good, with a lot of molded detail. It takes 2 AA batteries, and the red plastic parts light up with an internal LED. It makes a fun zapping noise, too.
Both of these can be steampunked out relatively easily, with sanding, added surface detail, and matte black and metallic paint finishes. Then I have to consider holsters, which is another project entirely…
Yup, just what I need, another couple of props projects.
If anyone wants to follow the next stage in a ridiculous Culture War battle, the 2015 Hugo Awards will be announced tonight starting @ 8pm Pacific time. Streaming link here.
Added 8-22-2015, 11:30 pm Pacific time: the Hugos have happened in many record-breaking ways. The parties and post-game analyses are well underway. I can only add (with due sympathies to the many fine authors denied places at the nominee table): this is how United Fandom says ‘We do not negotiate with terrorists.’
Wired’s take, for an overview.
…and why it’s not the reason you probably think.
If you are a science fiction and fantasy (SFF) reader and you don’t know who Alice B. Sheldon was, shame on you. Double shame if you don’t know her more famous pen name: James Tiptree, Jr.
James Tiptree, Jr. wrote in a time when many female authors had to take masculine pen names in order to be taken seriously, or get published at all. Her stories are chilling, uplifting, and terrifyingly thought-provoking (as the best of science fiction and fantasy should be.) James Tiptree, Jr. still drives the heterosexual male-oriented modern vanguard of ‘traditional’ science fiction and fantasy (see ‘Sad Puppies’ and ‘Rabid Puppies’) completely frothing mad. Which is a good thing, I think. The social norm boat needs to be rocked.
The James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award Council has begun a new facet of its organization’s outreach toward authors, artists, and other creators. Each year they will be awarding two $500 annual Fellowship grants given out to work ‘that is changing the way we think about gender through speculative narrative – maybe in a form we would recognize as the science fiction or fantasy genre, maybe in some other way.’
For me, $500 is maybe a paycheck. Perhaps a week of writing time freed up from my manufacturing day job. It might be airfare or a hotel room at a convention. I don’t mind the book report or guidance aspects of the award. The entry requirements are easy enough to someone with years of art grant writing behind her. I know the necessary artspeak to make a convincing case for myself. Just the list of nominated and winning works this year is inspiring, from the standpoint of explorations in gender identity and cultural responses. As a fiftyish woman of (very) mixed-race background whose speculative fiction often includes non-Western and non-traditional gender roles, I *should* seriously consider applying.
I’m not, not this year. I can offer nothing that fits the Foundation mandate. I’m not entirely certain I fit in.
I write erotic romance, often with Male/Male relationships, but I am just as likely to have bisexual, heterosexual, and polyamorous romances in my stories. Even the fantasy novel I just sent out to my agent has a mild M/M/F romance at its core, albeit a romance where one of the parties is a genderfluid sorcerer older than the planet they’re currently trying not to rule.
While I celebrate the achievements of fierce and sincere authors who subvert traditional SFF tropes into strong, intelligent social commentary (often with a grimdark and anti-romance slant), I admit that’s not always my public style. I am not relentlessly, obviously focused on honing my fiction into platforms for real-world change and revolution.
I can’t change the world. We’re all probably fortunate that I can’t.
Look, I already know the human species is headed for several cataclysmic shitstorms in the next century. The clues are obvious to any rational reader of science and history. It’s probably too late for at least a fifth of humanity. Doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying to keep the lamps of art and enlightenment going in my own tiny way. Like those writers I mentioned above, I know that SFF is an effective way to either crowbar or entice social change into a situation. I am not a crowbar kind of person, so I use other tools.
I have slightly more in common with Michelle Sagara than Kameron Hurley. I know that by opening up about my process and motives, I’m also throwing open the door to social justice criticism from the left, as well as right-wing anger over my views on religious extremists and alternative sexuality.
Bring it. I already know this music. The literary community still largely views Romance the same way the postmodern arts community once viewed Fiber Art: womens’ work, neither serious nor noteworthy.
Related to social justice and academia, I also have deep philosophical problems with the merits of modern ‘therapeutic culture’ and the increasing levels of censorship in our society. ‘Participatory trophies’ to bolster childrens’ self esteem may actually harm children by not teaching them how to learn from failure. Just so, the kinds of academic and social censorship enacted to ‘protect’ people from offensive situations and concepts may prevent sensitive individuals from making reasoned examinations of those uncomfortable ideas.
I lay blame for this stagnation on both sides of the political and cultural debate. Here’a a better essay about the problem, than I could ever write.
Back to writing, and the Tiptree grant. I like telling stories about relationships. Romance happens to be a large component of those, but not the only one. Even so, I’m not going to pretend that romantic and sexual relationships shouldn’t be shown in SFF. I’ll write what I want, even knowing that could cut me off from valuable markets and readerships.
In art, I once walked away from finishing a degree at a well-known university arts program. Partly because of economic reasons, but mostly because the university leaders decided that a social justice and commentary platform was a required portion of every art student’s portfolio. I’m an artisan first, an activist a distant second. Sometimes, artists just want to make a piece of pottery or a painting. We want to test our technical skills or bring an internal vision to life. Like all higher mammals and birds, we want to play with aspects of our environment. We’ll infuse our work with social commentary when we want to. If everything we do *must* be continously filtered through higher purposes, that can quickly sour into a joyless and demanding task.
The authors on the Tiptree Awards roster are not joyless. I’ve read many of them and delighted in most. But when *any* social club explicitly states or implies that I must conform to a rigid set of expectations and results (especially in the activist world, whether left or right), I wonder if the cost of fitting in might be too much.
Even my most inclusive works can be viewed through the lens of exploitation (a charge commonly leveled at the erotic romance field), rather than high literary exploration.
I don’t write groundbreaking extrapolations of our world’s possible futures, whether gritty or glorious. I write about secondary worlds and differently-evolved cultures where ‘alternative gender’ is as much a norm as anything else. It is not ‘explored’ or singled out because of its exotic specialness or innate worth. My characters have aspects that may be homosexual, asexual, heterosexual, bisexual, genderfluid, etc – but that’s certainly not all they are. When I work toward social commentary, I try to do it from a subtler, stealthy, and normative position.
Given recent controversies in other parts of the SFF, Skeptical, and Gaming communities, I’m fairly sure the Tiptree Fellowships are weighted toward the near-evangelical and exploratory works by younger writers working from more precarious positions than mine. Which is as it should be. I’ve had 30 years to go from ’emerging’ to ‘mid-career’ artist and writer. I am a mostly straight female from a middle-class background presenting white, not Native American. My part of the commercial arts field has been fairly gender neutral, so I’ve rarely experienced work or pay prejudice as a woman. I’ve had advantages that a twenty-something transgender Person of Color from an inner city probably never had, and I’m grateful for those advantages.
Does that make me the adversary? An inadvertent advocate for the Puppies and their (often publicly denied) backslide into ultra-conservative social territory? Nope. Even as a space-opera and military-fiction lover, I have more in common with the writers lauded by the Tiptree Foundation, than I do their detractors.
I’m just not sure the former will see me as an ally. At fiftyish, I’ve learned not to stick around where I’m probably not wanted or needed. I already have too many other brick walls to hammer apart or climb.
That could change. Maybe one of these days I’ll write a thoughtful and literary SFF novel or story that will fit the Tiptree mission more closely.
In the meantime, I urge authors and other creators who might already fit the qualifications to enter. You have until September 1st, 2015. As the Council notes, this is an opportunity to build ‘a network of Fellows who will build connections, support one another, and find collaborators.’
It’s worth a shot, for the right authors.
Publishing is a weird business, even to someone on the outside like myself. Over the summer, I’ve watched a newish author run afoul of some alleged very bad behavior by a junior agent who should have known better, apparently abetted or condoned by a senior agent who *certainly* should have known better.
In this case, the junior agent went incommunicado with signed authors, ignored deadlines, lost project momentum, and now is leaving agenting for other professions. In the wake of the agent’s departure, the authors finally have their rights returned…but are missing the agent’s submissions logs to publishers.
This is such a big deal it should be bolded: they have no record of which publishers (if any) the agent approached on their behalf. Very few other agents are going to even talk to these authors, until there is a data trail of which submissions went to which publishers, when, and the eventual fate of the submission. It’s not worth the new agents’ effort, before the manuscripts in question gain the literary equivalent of a ‘clear title’.
This is almost the same level of Bad as unagented authors querying manuscripts to publishers at the same time they query agents. (It’s Agent first, Publisher second, unless the author wants to embarrass themselves and their agent by having the agent query a work the publisher already shot down from a direct submission.) But this stunt? It’s worse, because the authors followed rules. They queried, established a rapport with this agency, signed in good faith, and now may see their beloved projects dead to commercial publishing. I hope they get their list soon. I hope nothing else stands in their way to publication, whether commercial or self-publishing.
Authors: do your research. The author I mentioned above had access to information that could have indicated possible problems, and seems to have chosen not to credit it.
To continue the fiber art theme, I’m discussing ‘constructed fabrics’, of which quilting and applique are subsets.
In my version, I work finished layers on top of a support layer of fabric or felted interfacing. I use the end result as either accent pieces (book cover above), or whole backgrounds (award ribbons below.) They are a relatively fast, affordable way to get custom, unique fabric looks.
For clothing designers, think of using insets of constructed fabric, or thin strips to define a seam instead of commercial piping. Shadow applique like this could be a sophisticated substitute for lace.
I once rescued a long denim coat from Goodwill. The previous owner had (badly) drizzled gold glitter paint in clunky spirals down the button placket and the cuffs. It wasn’t coming off without solvent and hours of work. So I made a 15″ by 30″ sheet of multicolored (mostly blue and red) applique stripes first glued, then sewn, then cut apart into patchwork ribbons. I covered the raw edges with red bias tape, then hand-sewed those over every bit of gold glitter. Ta da: one $300 Santa Fe-style denim swing coat, for $10 materials (half of that was the coat.)
Much of what I know about constructed fabrics comes from Jane Dunnewold’s amazing books. Seriously, if you want to know how to do it right, look at her books and website.
On the surface, Cooper’s quilt is a lovely, well-planned, and inoffensive piece of fiber art, created to raise funds for a small nature preserve.
That certain people have become so huffy they refused to allow it to be displayed, speaks starkly about the tense interplay between long-term conservation efforts and short-term jobs projects. Not just in Australia or the US, but across the world.
The hard, cold, easy answers are never the most palatable to either side, but these are exactly the questions that art may help bridge.
*By most accounts, Queensland is apparently Australia’s closest equivalent to the US Bible Belt. Ouch. Good luck, Bimblebox.
During the month of September, I’ll be part of this shindig:
There will be excerpts, behind-the-scenes backstories, prizes…and maybe…just maybe, a special announcement. I’ll also be giving away a digital copy of my debut M/M romance novel Moro’s Price, as well as this glass and fiber necklace:
Bear with me while we finalize exactly how this party is going to run, and watch this space and BBR’s site!
Here’s a new setting for the ‘Amor’ silver book pendant I made back in October of 2001. I’ve been wanting to make a large, chunky chain or other hanging support. Silver filigree like the bail would have been great, especially if I studded big links with carnelian beads or cabochons. So would a scarf-necklace in rust silk, with the ends anchored by more filigree caps and bead tassels.
But…I saw these multicolored red jasper-inspired glass beads at a local store, and fell in love with them. Just in case, I made the flanking elements removable so I can slide the pendant on other chains.
Now I can finally wear this book.
Profiled in more detail here.
Less than a year since I got to use this image of a Space Shuttle lifting off:
On sub: two words, two decades behind them.
My crazy romance/quest/fantasy novel is out on agented submission now, at its full 91,000+ words. Its fate is out of my hands at the moment. It reminds me of when a spacecraft enters a no-contact zone millions of miles away. Mission Control is left wondering: Will it be okay? Will it do or find anything useful? Is it going to be a worthy effort, or an embarrassing waste of time and resources?
Here’s a pause to nod back at all those years, and all those turning points that would have meant never getting this far. And then back to work, because I have more art to make and manuscripts to write.
…if you haven’t already. Get a great camera. Get image manipulation software like Photoshop and Painter. Get a computer system beefy enough to handle the resulting workload. Make regular on and off-site backups of your data.
Most important? Take great pictures and/or scans of all your work. Here are the three reasons why:
1. Provenance. With good pictures of in-progress stages, you can keep a record of art processes and your participation in them. Handy in intellectual copyright disputes and show jurying! You can prove to galleries, museums, private collectors, and grants committees that, yes, you did the actual work.
2. Image editing. With the tools mentioned above, your art no longer has to be limited to what it was. Colors, proportions, crop sizes, etc. can be digitally manipulated to better fit your current needs and the artwork’s potential.
3. Monetization. If you are any kind of visual artist, you owe it to yourself to manage your catalog with an eye toward future profit. With new, powerful Print-On-Demand services, old original pieces long since sold can become prints on a variety of substrates.
(No matter how bad or goofy they are. Even terrible artists have flickers of accidental genius. Monkey Jesus wasn’t the first art mistake to become a cultural icon. It’s certainly not the last.)
I didn’t follow these rules, so I am missing documentation of the first fifteen of my thirty-two years in fine and commercial art. So much potential poster and image license income…lost. Sure, if I can remember the art I can make it again, and probably better. But the original is effectively gone.
I am much more diligent about documenting my work now.
New visual pieces get shot or scanned at 300 dpi and large sizes (it’s always easier to scale down to smaller images).
One new side benefit is the Print Sales feature on SaatchiArt.com. Within reason, I am now my own curator. I can choose, manipulate, and upload older pieces to become part of Saatchi’s on-demand print catalog. Pieces that never got traction with my previous art publishers (even though I still believe in those artworks) can now be given a fair try in a huge market.
Jury’s still out on whether this is a good marketing strategy, or just another display site. But I’ve decided it’s worth a year or two of trial. I have nothing to lose but the storage space.
I finally got the first eleven pieces uploaded to my little piece of SaatchiArt.com!
This batch includes glass micromosaics and beaded tapestries, but acrylic paintings and jewelry will follow soon.
Whether this portal produces sales or not, it’s a great display site for my older work…and hopefully a better venue for new pieces.
A Tolkien-inspired teaser:
I wrote this post just over a year ago, and in that time I’ve seen more and more abuses of Twitter’s generally-fun-and-useful pitch contests. It’s become bad enough that in two recent SF and Romance pitch contests I followed, over half of the ‘favorites’ were from brand new and unknown publishers, or worse: from companies already known to be predatory or clueless (by online watchdog groups). If the trend continues, Twitter pitches won’t be worth the time for serious authors, publishers, or agents.
New authors: do your research! Don’t send material to a publisher/agent unless you know they’re going to be a good partner. Do some simple, basic research: learn who they are, where did they learn about publishing (did they learn about REAL publishing?), are they total flakes and dictators when disagreements happen, and can they sell your work?
My fiendishly talented friend and beta-reader AG Carpenter has a new story out in the self-published wilds: Legacy.
Blurb: When a skin-changer looking for passage to Lake Ponchartrain collapses at her feet, Willa Arch finds herself drawn into a conflict between the iron-willed Queen Elsbett of Brittania and Queen of the Dead, Marie Laveau. But survival means coming face to face with Willa’s own deadly legacy of fur and teeth.
I know two people, both younger than me.
One is running from massive credit card debt, skipping from city to city, odd job to odd job and couch to couch, while his potential as an artist is wasted in ennui and his own non-materialistic creed that ‘Hey, the only thing I own is my body, and even that is temporary.’ Given artistic opportunity, he tends to flee from or ignore it until it goes away.
The other is a driven, talented technical writer who patiently laid plans and built foundations for a rewarding commercial career that more than pays her bills. It gives her the freedom to attend fiction writing conferences, symposiums, and classes where she can network with other professionals, hone her considerable writing skills, and celebrate that her recently-released fourth novel just broke under the coveted 3-digits in Amazon rank.
I stumble along between their orbits, mildly appalled at the first and slightly envious of the second. But I’ve lived in both of their worlds.
Jacobin Magazine hosts this bleak, powerful essay by Miranda Campbell, in which the tagline reads: ‘Expecting artists to work for free hands the reins of cultural production to ruling elites.’
In our post-Recession world, everyone but the top 1% are still reeling from the economic and social costs of tech and housing bubbles bursting – and we’re all waiting for the next big impact. Most people consider art a privilege; artists themselves are often publicly constrained to admit they offer a luxury, not a necessity.
(Even though every single creative one of us screams the opposite, inside, where the nice agents, buyers, clients, family members, and pyschologists can’t hear us. We know Art is Important. We instinctively know it’s what we’re meant to be doing, in between hunting mammoths and keeping the leopards at bay. All higher animals play. Some of them appear to make art. In many cases, art is all we’re really suited to do in life, and everything that is non-art is a compromise we make with our loved ones and budgets.)
There. Now I’ve let out the dirty secret. Here’s a few more in quotes from Campbell’s essay:
‘In a post-Napster era, artists of all stripes face the expectation that the fruits of their labor should circulate for free, both on and offline, and when revenues from creative work do trickle in, they rarely amount to a decent wage.’
‘…The public response [to complaining artists] is often to push back and discredit, to find fault in the story or suggest the individual is not a credible spokesperson for the problem he or she is articulating.’
In this essay, Campbell hopes to ‘…raise awareness about artist livelihoods and draw attention to the contemporary challenges of earning a living from creative work’, all the while grimly acknowledging that talk is cheap and rarely fixes anything. She cites other books and sources that are worth a sidetrip.
What did we artists really gain, after all, from Richard Florida’s ‘Creative Class’ books? We became commodities and symbols.
I have free art out there, in the form of fan fiction, stories on this blog, and my image display accounts. Am I one of Campbell’s traitors, or am I making an educated bet on free art as a marketing ploy for later? At the very least, I can honestly say I give away this art out of love for it and its viewers. Would I be furious to see people making money off it, down the line? Hell, yes. Do your own work, please.
On the ground, I’ve watched a lot of urban decay converted into overpriced lofts for hipster would-be artists and marketing people, since very few actual artists can afford them. (To afford a decent 2 bedroom apartment, the base salary in Phoenix AZ is around $17 per hour. That’s not much to a middle-class professional. It can be a luxurious pipe dream for underemployed artists.) I see tireless volunteers working themselves into the ground to mount festivals and exhibitions that are feted in public, and continually underfunded in state, city, and institutional budgets. I see creativity being harnessed as a weapon and a lure by commercial interests who may or may not safeguard its core values on the way to staggering wealth.
In the nearly 30 years I’ve been in Arizona, I’ve watched numerous incarnations of the central Phoenix art districts rise and fall and rise again. While I have friends and former co-workers who are reasonably successful in that area, I don’t show there. I’ve never even tried. Until now, my main Arizona client base for my book art sculptures, fiber wall hangings, mosaics, and jewelry has been in the better-heeled resort and Baby Boomer communities of Scottsdale, Sedona, or Chandler. Their denizens don’t go to central Phoenix to buy art. The people who do, can’t generally afford or are not interested in my art. That’s okay. Marketing means knowing your niches. My Arizona niches withered with the Recession, and haven’t really come back.
The internet made reaching tiny but loyal markets much easier, letting me embark on new art adventures eleven years ago. My career in book arts really began with me reaching out in an email to a famous and foundering gallery in San Francisco, and being answered a month later by the people who bought it.
With my next foray into online art sales through SaatchiArt.com, I hope to bypass more of those dysfunctional niches, and reach more buyers who share my instinctive reaction to certain artforms. My tribe? My benefactors? Who knows?
In the meantime, I read articles and essays like Campbell’s to help ground my expectations.
Over the next week or so, I’ll be finalizing the details on my shiny new sales portal at SaatchiArt.com online. Even though I’m already registered there, I’ve got a lot of background work left: choosing art, deciding whether to offer prints, verifying shipping weight and dimensions for each piece, researching market prices, etc.
Why Saatchi? I’ve been considering online sales platforms for almost a decade, and found problems with too many. Another artist recently referred me to Saatchi. The US-based, internationally-known fine-art sales platform has a fairly good reputation both among artists and buyers. Their commissions are reasonable, and their marketing and delivery terms seem solid. It’s definitely not Etsy! (Yes, I was aware of certain legal issues before I joined.)
This is very like self-publishing: it could be a great new adventure, it could amount to absolutely nothing, or (as I suspect) it could be a modest new income source and another online portal to showcase my 30+ years of art design and creation. I’m cautiously optimistic. Not only does this give me a chance to regain some storage space (big paintings eat garages!), I have a venue for art styles I’ve always wanted to try but never had any luck in the local gallery scene or with existing art publishers.
What will be available? Surreal, fantasy, and semi-abstract acrylic paintings on wood, cotton canvas, and linen, ranging from 4″ x 4″ to 60″ x 24″ x 3″. Beaded and embroidered tapestries including ‘Aquifer’ above. Glass mini-mosaics of landscapes and still-life scenes, some bordered with glass bead mosaic frames. Some paintings will be offered un-stretched and rolled, some will be stretched and wall-ready. Tapestries and mosaics will be ready to display with hanging hardware attached.
When I’m ready, I’ll post the notification link here, as well as in the Art section of my Author Notes.
Attention, Big-Name authors who feel compelled to tout a writing-related product or service: Stop. Think. Research. At least check to make sure you are not endorsing something well-meaning but clueless, if not utterly predatory. Lesser authors look up to you. They may even believe you. Do you want to disappoint them?
Now, if you know there’s a problem with the company and you endorse it anyway, that’s on your karma.
When I can afford to, I collect end-blown flutes and similar wind instruments. Occasionally I manage to play them without totally embarrassing myself.
This is the most recent acquisition, a lovely little Yamaha recorder in translucent aquamarine lucite. For $.99 at a local thrift store. It needs some cleaning and minor repair, but I’m looking forward to trying it out.
So much prettier than the staid black and white plastic recorders I remember from grade school. These instruments get a bad or ‘meh’ reputation from all those bored kids having to play scales on them. It’s worth remembering that recorders are an old musical instrument, with a long history.
Who knows, this one may end up at a local charter school after I refurbish it.
Why did I spend money on it? Hello, it was ninety-nine cents and pretty. But more than that – flutes have a thematic place in the fantasy novel I just sent off to my agent. It seemed appropriate to rescue this one.