This week in reading articles

Because I have found writing difficult lately, and I have had little interest in novels, and various other small reasons, I have been reading a lot of articles lately. Here’s another smattering of things I have been reading:

“Capitalism has always divided its labour supply along lines of race and gender, ensuring that in times of unrest, we don’t start burning our looms – far safer for us to set fire to one other.”
— No, identity politics is not to blame for the failures of the left, Laurie Penny

Obama Reckons with a Trump Presidency
A good read. I’m excited to see what Citizen Obama does. Something about this article makes me feel like he is going to be a force to be reckoned with.

“Trying to fix economic policy without tackling structural inequality is not just morally misguided— it is intellectually bankrupt.”
— Against Bargaining, Laurie Penny

What’s Wrong with Literary Studies?
I am a recovering English major, and sometimes I have these flare-ups of interest in the academic side of things. The sort of thing discussed in this article, while perversely fascinating to me, is why I never had much interest in continuing on an academic path! Look, pals, let’s not lose sight of the fact that stories are fun. Sometimes you read Woolf because her sentences are beautiful, and sometimes you read Harry Potter to deconstruct the inequality implicit in muggle/wizard society.

“Is it worthwhile to persist in retrying to remake the world? Or, still postmodernists, do we concede that the arc of the moral universe is long, and it bends toward meliorism?”
— Twilight of the Idylls, on three books about attempted utopias

Too much talking and too many rules

On Twitter, someone linked to this post (I want to say it was Kelly Link, but it was sometime last week, and I’m pretty sure Twitter doesn’t exist more than 24 hours into the past) and when I finally read it, it felt like sinking into a chair I forgot I owned, and thinking, “When did I put this in storage? Why isn’t this in my living room?”

Anyway, the post is Reality Affects by Matthew Cheney, talking about another essay (What Should Fiction Do by Bonnie Nadzam).

When you hang out with a lot of readers and writers, it’s really easy to get caught up in what others think fiction ought to be. If there’s a formula, if there’s a map, if there is a right and a wrong when it comes to shaping a story, that makes things easier. If there’s a way to do it right, wouldn’t you want to do that? If someone says they know how to write a story that will get an agent’s attention, that will be a bestseller, well, heck, maybe they do know! Maybe if you do what they say, you’ll sell your next book, and everything will be okay.

Writing from inside these conversations, while surrounded by movies, while seeing each book-of-the-moment pass by, at some point you might accidentally absorb all these rules about stories. You have to have an inciting incident. Your character has to go on a journey. They must refuse the call and have a thousand faces. Your protagonist must try and fail and try again, try bigger, fail harder. There must be scenes and sequels, action and cliffhangers, emotional processing, a familiar shape like a mountain, like a bell curve…

But is that all? Of course not.

I don’t think I even noticed that I’d absorbed and built up these rules around me, until they started to chafe. I wanted to follow patterns, to obey plot structure, and by God, I wanted to do things right. If I’m going to do a thing, I better do it right. I will listen, I will take notes, I will show up and do it exactly as you’re supposed to. I will analyze and figure out what the heck a chapter is, where and how often to drop foreshadowing, how much to worldbuild, when exactly to have the protagonist hit their dark night, their nadir, and when I finally slog through writing this book, I’ll have done it up right.

Oh, Lord, is it tiring and deadening to think like that. Do it right? What’s that even mean? everything is made up. Like, all of art is a construct of one sort or another. The rules come from the last group of people who were making it up as they went along. They looked at what had been done, and did something a little different. And a little different again. Or a lot different! Transgressing the established formula speaks to the thing you’re transgressing as well as asking a reader to be more conscious of what they’re reading. And I find that very interesting. Not the idea of breaking all the rules for the sake of breaking things, but not being beholden to them.

Literature deserves more than formulas, more than cinema. The written word can do interesting and complex things, different from the mapped out swoop of a story, something other than fake cinema. Written stories can do so much more than what’s popular and salable right at this moment. Beyond all that writing advice that’s in digestible bullets and charts. And I’m very interested in all that lately, freshly, again.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that literature isn’t doing any of this. Only that’s it’s very easy to find myself suddenly wearing blinders I didn’t know I’d picked up, and get trapped into thinking X the only way to do writing right. Cheney’s essay was like a cold splash of water to wake me up and remind me of the things that excite me most. I read it at a good time, when I was feeling weary and sort of confused about this one project, and realized I was weighted down by the idea of doing all these things right.

It’s nice to be reminded that “right” is debatable, and so is the idea of what fiction should do.


Links: a mish mash

Being Edited

Em Short on editing in interactive fiction. I’m generally interested in interactive fiction, especially as it becomes a bigger form, nowadays. I’ve only used beta readers on mine, though I have tried a sort of exit survey for them. But because I’ve mostly done IF for fun, I wouldn’t dream of asking someone to do anything like a normal story critique. I’d like to, but it’s a lot harder.

‘Body Hacking’ Movement Rises Ahead Of Moral Answers

This is fascinating and I think a lot about transhumanism and body hacking, but clearly I have a line because the guy described at the end of the article creeps me the heck out. Like, the photo of him makes my scalp itch. However, I do like the line “The philosophers, he said, are letting us down.”

Innovation for What? The Politics of Inequality in Higher Education | Dissent Magazine

What it means to move innovation into the academic sphere (spoiler: Nothing that great) and how it fails students. I want to quote the whole article, but will settle on this:

“A 2015 Pell Institute report demonstrates that the past three decades have seen drastically widening gaps between rich and poor students in attendance and completion rates. And Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton show in their 2013 book Paying for the Party how higher education reinforces inequality not only in numbers but in ways that permeate people’s lives and opportunities, from where they live to whom they socialize with. Those results might be fine for a country living under an aristocracy, but not for a democracy. And they have snowballed under the banner of innovation.”

Who Cares for Feminism?

Melissa Gira Grant in Pacific Standard laying down some historical truths very plainly. Feminism needs to exist for poor women and non-white women, women demeaned by capitalism and attacked by racism.

“Women took the women’s movement to mean their progress up the capitalist ladder,” James said. “Nothing has changed but the gender of those who exploit us.”

Emphasis added.

How Gallaudet University’s Architects Are Redefining Deaf Space

Accessible design is so fascinating to me. “Now 10 years old, DeafSpace is an architectural approach that springs from the particular ways Deaf people perceive and inhabit space. …That share is likely to rise as tens of millions of Baby Boomers reach their seventies and eighties. Why should the places designed for them take hearing as a given?”

mostly short things (twir)


Mulaghesh from the Divine Cities trilogy, drawn by Chanh Quach, from a project in progress (!)

Finished City of Blades and I can’t talk about it. I want to talk about it. Read it so we can talk about it.

Rock, Paper, Scissors, Love, Death — Caroline M. Yoachim in Lightspeed

I’m not entirely sure I understood this story (time travel is hard) but gosh it was wonderful. I really liked the structural things Caroline did, with rock/paper/scissors and the probabilities of survival. Following items as they appeared and disappeared was almost like watching a magic trick. I sort of want to draw out the loops of this story. I feel like it would be very pretty.

The Creeping Women — Christopher Barzak in Uncanny Magazine

Take The Yellow Wallpaper, twist it slightly, put it in another character’s head, extend. This story.

Part of me glares at this story as I am still trying to figure out how to retell The Yellow Wallpaper as interactive fiction. I’ve not gotten far.

not fiction

Inside the Eye: Nature’s Most Exquisite Creation — National Geographic

This is fascinating, and also made me remember how an anti-evolution speaker came to my youth group when I was a wee young lass and scoffed, “What good is half an eye? If evolution is true, at some point there was something less than an eye, and what good is that? That animal never could’ve survived.”

Well. Sir. I give you…actual facts.

He also had this whole thing about the exquisite planning involved in the Bombardier Beetle’s namesake move, as though there aren’t a hundred weird evolutionary mis-steps leftover in humans alone.

Is there something weird about our taste for apocalypse stories? — Frank Bures in Aeon

That feeling, that panic, comes from those moments when this fact is unavoidable. It comes from being unable to not see what we’ve become – a planet-changing superorganism. It is from the realisation that I am part of it.

eat it up with a spoon (TWIR)

penelope bunce by siminiblocker on tumblr

This week I finished Carry On, may have Thoughts someday. I say that a lot. I’ll try to follow up this time. Maybe I’ll set it up like a FAQ, since a lot of my thoughts are centered around questions/expectations.

A friend passed me a copy of City of Blades last week and I started it and oh my gosh it’s so good and so fascinating and mysterious and Mulaghesh is great. I want to dig into this with a spoon and eat it up, or maybe dissect it and study its parts, or maybe both.

Short things

Okay, not much in the way of short things this week. I did read a bunch of things, just not much of note, I guess? And stuff I immediately lost track of.

Who Pays Writers? | Dissent Magazine - Money and the arts, and the NEA, and grants, and how things were getting better for a shining moment mid-century, and then plummeted again. Because capitalism and our weird hatred for the arts. Writers need money and material security in order to be daring in their art — most writers, at least. I’m sure there are some willing to risk starvation and poverty in order to be experimental and radical, but mostly people want to having a roof and steady food, so they write what is safe to sell, what is a known quantity, what’s been done before. Giving security to those whose voices are different allows them to speak up. It gives them room to breathe while they create, rather than burning out and disappearing. At least, that’s what I think. Anyway. Art: it requires support.