Author Archives: JulieD

19 Things Only Scots Say

I was researching some Scottish stuff for a new story and came across this fun reminder of how people talk where I grew up.

Normally these lists are full of things that people *think* Scottish people say, rather than anything I can actually ‘hear’ anyone saying. But this one’s spot on.

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The only one I’ve never said is “Braw”, but I know people who use it.

The Personal Cost of Sexual Assault Culture

I’m angry this morning.

I’ve been angry about having-voluntarily-become-a-citizen-of a-country-where-people-elected-Donald-Trump-as-candidate-for-President for a long time.

Today I’m specifically angry that someone I know, a ‘pillar of the community’ in my town, thinks it’s OK to dismiss Donald Trump’s 2005 chat about how he treats women, because “Bill did it too”.

OK, let’s go:

1. If We’d Had Proof About Bill

If we’d had this kind of iron-clad proof about Bill Clinton’s character would he have been elected president? Maybe.

1991 was a long time ago, even though it doesn’t feel like it to people my age—except when you think about how far we’ve come on issues like, uh, acknowledging unwanted sexual contact as the damaging assault that it truly is.

2. Bill Clinton is not running.

If you think Hillary is morally weak for staying with her husband after knowing what he was like, then you clearly will have no compassion for other complicated human emotions and situations.

Why do abused people stay with their abusers? Why don’t drug addicts just pull their socks up? Why do we have to pay all this money to put ramps in for the couple of disabled people who might conceivably want to enter our buildings? (Can’t they just wait outside until we send someone down to help them like the infants they are?)

3. When we had proof of Bill Clinton’s actions, he was impeached.

We didn’t invite him to stay on. We weren’t proud he was our leader. It’s not ‘going all Democratic” or “defending the Clintons” to demand that we don’t knowingly elect another man like him.

He is not “a dirty boy”. He is a grown, 70 year old man, who has shown us the content of his character in many and varied ways. This is only the latest.

And, at the risk of being accused of defending Bill Clinton (which I am not), he HAD some skills in the job he was doing. He trained for it his whole life. He qualified as a lawyer. He apprenticed as governor of a large state. Twice.

I disagreed with many of the policies he put in place, and think the fallout from them has been bad. But he understood government. He did not need on-the-job-training.

4. Contact Without Consent is Sexual Assault

People like me, your sister and your mother had to put up with Trumpian behaviour from the moment our periods started, because now we were women.

You had to smile and laugh and learn to brush off grown men in order to voice being called a bad sport or a ‘shrill harpy’ or frigid or worse, to avoid being physically intimidated or attacked.

We had to endure being touched and propositioned by strangers because ‘it’s just a bit of fun’.

5. Assault is Damaging

When someone decides they can be in your personal space, touch you however they like and demean you when you say no, it is a psychologically damaging assault that leaves an impression. It might make a dent, or it might crush someone, but, as with all interpersonal interactions, it has an impact.

Are we clear on that?

6. A Climate of Degradation Doesn’t Just Hurt The Target

Sexual predation doesn’t just hurt women. We have to stop saying “this language has to change ‘for our daughters and our wives”.

We have to change this language for our daughters and our sons and our wives and our brothers and for all human beings.

This culture hurts men too.

Decent men feel bad, and often powerless when the Dude-Bros let loose. Decent men have historically felt stressed and constrained by cultural norms and had to tamp down their natural decency so as not to look like a “fag” or a “pussy”or whatever demeaning name guys like this would throw their way; guys that might be their boss, or their partner on a project, or 243lbs of angry muscle.

7. How The Threat of Sexual Assault Affected Me

First, I’m fine.

I’m tall, and strong, and opinionated and I never once felt in danger from a man.

I did, however, learn to be careful about how I bent down to pick something up.

I learned to tug my skirt down.

I learned it was not OK to go out alone.

I learned to smile and deflect when men tried to chat me up on the train, when I was 13.

I spent the years when Bill Clinton was busy being elected, at university, with one hand on the rape alarm I kept in one pocket of my biker’s jacket and my other hand on my sharp housekeys as I speed-walked home with my head down. From. Studying. At. The. University. Library. I was 18.

It never occurred to me to get particularly angry that I had to do this. I had been conditioned to think that I might get attacked and that if I did, I needed to prove I had done everything possible to excuse myself from blame.

Let me repeat that: I didn’t expect to be attacked. BUT I learned to walk with my head down, not making eye contact, carrying a rape alarm, so nobody would blame me (much) if the unthinkable happened.

I internalized this at 18.

What did that do to my character? I don’t know, because whatever it did is part of me now and always will be.

Is this what we want for our children?

I wasn’t angry on my own behalf, but now that my kids are approaching their teens, I am mad as hell.

  • I’m angry that my boys will be viewed as predatory.
  • I’m super-angry that my friends’ tall, beautiful, bold, witty daughter will soon begin to duck her head and shorten her stride if she dares go out after dusk.

I’m angry that I, an adult human being, think twice about taking walks in quiet places lest something bad happen and I get blamed.

I thought we had moved past this. I was 19 when Bill Clinton was elected. I was 33 when Trump was recorded making these comments. I am 44 now and I have one question:

Can we stop?

Can we stop normalizing this behavior, please?

And while we’re at it,

  • Can we stop thinking it’s OK that African American mothers have to train their sons to be meek so they don’t get in harm’s way, sometimes by officials of the state?
  • Can we stop treating everyone who’s poor as if they’re weak?
  • Can we stop dismissing everyone with an accent as lazy because they ‘haven’t learned English properly’ when they’ve uprooted their lives and learned to live and work in a new culture, raising kids in a place where they don’t understand the school system, taking fewer benefits than they’re entitled to and paying more of their income in taxes than richer, native-born Americans?
  • Can we stop demonizing people because they love who they love and they just want to be treated equally?
  • Can we stop asking people to calm down, when we’re metaphorically punching them in the face?
  • Can we start respecting that my experience may not be the same as your experience and that two realities can be true at the same time?
  • Can we stop pretending we’re Christian or Pro-Life when we do not demonstrate it with our words or our actions, not to mention our policies?

Let’s Move Forwards, Not Backwards

We have proof of the kind of man Trump is and he’s not “a dirty boy”. He’s the kind of damaging, hateful man who wants to take us back to a time when wolf whistling was cool, and it was ok to not employ people because of their parents or which side of the tracks they came from.

I though we were making progress. I thought people like Donald Trump were figures of fun, who we reviled and kind of pitied.

I didn’t think we were ready to put them back in charge.

Short Story Reading List for August/Sept 2016

At the Writer’s Digest Conference this weekend I went to a talk by someone who was a ‘slush pile’ reader for various prestigious sites/awards.

I thought: that sounds like torture and probably a really good idea for someone who’s trying to inspire people to write short stories. Maybe I should do that.

So I started looking at various publications I might like to read for and realized, I don’t have a really good handle on any of their house styles. So maybe I should start reading them more seriously, before I do anything drastic. I should be reading more short stories anyway.

What I’ll Do

So I went investigating. And made, as I do, a list.

In an effort to do that, here are some stories I’m going to read in the next month or so.

How I’ll Do It

I’m going to achieve this by this method: any time I pick up my phone to go on Facebook for a random browse, I will instead, click on one of these links!

  1. The Fish Merchant, by Tobias Buckell, from Clarkesworld
  2. Word for Word, by Kate Heartfelt , from Waylines
  3. Nahiku West, by Linda Nagata, from Clarkesworld
  4. The Sentry Branch  Predictor Spec: A Fairy Tale, by John Chu, from Clarkesworld
  5. Chip’s Six Attempts at Popularity, by Jake Kerr, from Waylines
  6. The Changeling and the Sun, by   , from Ideomancer
  7. On Horizon’s Shore, by Aliette de Bodard, from OSC’s Intergalactic Medicine Show
  8. A Heretic by Degrees, by Marie Brennan, from OSC’s Intergalactic Medicine Show
  9. Vanishing, by Peter S. Beagle, from OSC’s Intergalactic Medicine Show
  10. The Thing on My Shelf, by David Gerrold, from Science Fiction & Fantasy Magazine
  11. An Open Letter To The Person Who Took My Smoothie From The Break Room Fridge, by Oliver Buckram , from Science Fiction & Fantasy Magazine
  12. Those Brighter Stars, by Mercurio D. Rivera, from Lightspeed Magazine
  13. War of Heroes, by Kameron Hurley, from Lightspeed Magazine
  14. Taste The Singularity At The Food Truck Circus, by Jeremiah Tolbert, from Lightspeed Magazine
  15. Asymmetrical Warfare, by S. R. Algernon, from Nature (2016 Hugo nominee)
  16. Cat Pictures, Please, by Naomi Kritzer, from Clarkesworld (2016 Hugo nominee)
  17. Left Behind, by Cat Rambo, from Clarkesworld
  18. The Bog Girl, by Karen Russell, from The New Yorker

Then What?

I’ll make notes in my reading log and share my thoughts in the Reading Room feature at StoryADay.org.

Rewriting Pope Francis

I’m not normally a fan of dumbing down language, but I think there are some areas where clear and concise communication can be useful.

Religious instruction, for example.

I’m trying to read the “Year of Mercy” Companion every morning (don’t ask me how ‘religious’ I’ve been about it. As with my actual religious faith, sometimes I’ve been more successful with this commitment than others).

I thought I might start tearing out the pages that inspire me and pinning them to the fridge so that the rest of the family can stumble across them.

But, when I read this morning’s except from Misericordia Vultus, I really struggled to understand it. I can’t imagine it would hold the interest of an 11 year old boy (or a 48 year old boy, for that matter).

So I tried to rewrite it in more accessible language. It was an interesting exercise for me, and I’m going to record what I did here. I know I’m on shaky theological ground here, but I wish someone more qualified had done the translation in a  more accessible way.

Here’s the original:

The Church lives an authentic life when she…proclaims mercy—the most stupendous attribute of…the Redeemer—and when she brings people close to the sources of the Savor’s mercy…

It is precisely because sin exists in the world…that God, who is love, cannot reveal himself otherwise than as mercy. This corresponds…to the whole interior truth of man and of the world which iceman’s temporary homeland. Mercy in itself, as a perfection of the infinite God, is also infinite. Also infinite therefore and inexhaustible is the Father’s readiness to receive the prodigal children who return to his home. Infinite are the readiness and power of forgiveness which flow continually from the marvelous value of the sacrifice of the Son.

No human sin can prevail over this power or even limit it. On the part of man only a lack of good will can limit it, a lack of readiness to be converted and to repent, in other words persistence in obstinacy, opposing grace and truth, especially in the face of the witness of the cross and Resurrection of Christ. Therefore, the Church professes and proclaims conversion. Confession to God also consists in discovering his mercy….Authentic knowledge of the God of mercy, the God of tender love, is a constant and inexhaustible source of conversion…as a permanent attitude, as a state of mind.

See what I mean? Apart from the twisted sentence structure, the bigger problem is that uses jargon, it is written for a very specialized audience, who understands what “the marvelous value of the sacrifice of the Son” is, and who doesn’t have to search their memory of childhood catechism lessons (if they were lucky enough to have had them) for what the precise definition of ‘conversion’ is.

I understand that “cannot reveal himself otherwise than as mercy” has a certain emphatic ring that “can only reveal himself as mercy” lacks, but it’s also hopelessly convoluted. And I speak as someone who loves a long sentence.

So here’s my attempt to write this more accessibly.

The most astonishing thing about Jesus is His mercy. That is what we, the people of the Church, must be all about. Mercy.

God is love. This world—our temporary home—is full of sin and temptation. The only way He can show Himself to us here, is through mercy.

God is infinite (unending, everywhere and everywhen). So is His mercy. He is always ready to forgive the prodigal child who comes home. We can’t wear him out. The sacrifice of His son is the proof. We can’t change that.

We can refuse his mercy, though. If we can look at Jesus on the cross and say ‘no’ to mercy and forgiveness, we are not walking with God.

The Church’s message is, “Walk with God. Live an authentic Christian life.”

God is mercy. God is an inexhaustible source of tender love. He offers us all the tools we need to accept his invitation to walk with Him.

Accepting Him is a decision we must make all day, every day, with his help. Luckily, we can’t wear out God’s mercy. He is always there, offering us his hand.

That’s my interpretation, anyway.

And that’s a God—and a Church—that, even on my worst day, I could believe in.

First Draft

I think I just finished the first draft of my novel.

There are scenes missing and a lot of cleaning up to do, but I think I’m there. The first draft is as complete as it’s going to be.

I feel remarkably calm. I think it’s because I’m aware of how much work I have to do now.

I’m going to do a ‘scene grid’ or, as I like to think of it, a ‘motif grid’, as recommended by Stuart Horwitz. There are several things that came up during my last few scenes that I realize are key to the story and the character, and I want to make sure I’m getting them in early and often.

I’m going to try not to get overwhelmed in the revision process. Then, hopefully I’ll have a second draft, ready for polishing when I go to UnCon in November.

[small w00t]

I do enjoy my StoryADay stuff and the non-fiction writing I do, but nothing quite compares to the way I feel after I’ve written a piece of fiction. It’s lovely.

Pressing “Send”

So, I didn’t get any writing done yesterday. 

Lessons learned: Write First.

(I don’t know why I have to keep I learning this one over and over and over and over again,Maybe one day it’ll stick.)

Today wasn’t shaping up much better for the writing. Sometimes my job is to actually raise my children, not just make sure they don’t stick their fingers in sockets or run out into traffic. After an intense session of “talking a not-yet-teen off a ledge” and discussing what kinds of pictures we can and can’t take with our phones, it was a little difficult to immediately switch gears and throw myself into fiction. Especially when I hadn’t  done the thing I said I was going to do when is signed off here the other day: I did not go and sketch out the next scene I need to write. Which, of course meant I was left with the prospect of starting from scratch while emotionally riled up/elsewhere. 

Hmm. Not a four-star recipe for success.

But, as I keep saying, lesson learned. However  briefly.

In other news…

I sent off the book proposal to the publisher today. I had stalled and waited for an opportune moment, with the result that I’ve been sitting on this for almost four years now. The actual proposal went to an agent last November. She was very encouraging, but suggested some changes that stalled me almost completely, driving me into StoryADay May season, when I could think of nothing but that. Then I was  traveling and…

It occurred to me this week that this was the perfect moment. They don’t come along often, but I had banked on this being one, what with the boys being in camps, and me having nothing else pressing on my plate, (apart from, you know, finishing the novel…)

So I checked it over, made some changes, added new data about the growth rate of my list, and undoing some other changes I had made in Feb. Then I bypassed the agent, who had said I could, if I wanted to contact the publisher directly. I’ll pull her back in if there’s an offer of a contract and some actual money. If she wants to be involved. Otherwise I’m in trouble.

And yes, I had the telltale rush of adrenaline to the head and neck region as I contemplated hitting the send button. Checked it a couple more times and hit send anyway.

And now we wait.

To be honest I haven’t had the best luck contacting this person in the past, and I know I’m hitting them at a busy period, but we’ll see. If I get some kind of acknowledgment of receipt, that’d be nice.

Into The Foggy Blue Yonder

Today, I typed up and tweaked the last of the writing I did on the plane last month.

I had used Larry Brook’s Scene Checklist from Story Engineering to help me figure out what I wanted the scene to achieve BEFORE I wrote it, which made it really easy to revise. I noticed that I’d forgotten which character was supposed to be having which emotion, so I tweaked that as I typed it in. Made it stronger. Yay.

Now What?

From here on in, it’s all new material until I get to the actual end of the draft. Because I don’t know exactly what happens next I’m going back to the Scene Checklist from Larry Brooks to figure out what’s IMPORTANT in the next sequence of scenes.

Using this checklist helps me avoid wandering around aimlessly in a scene.

It’s relatively easy to write ‘stuff happening’.

It’s harder to write good, meaningful scenes unless I know in advance what I’m trying to achieve: who are the key players; what’s the key piece of information I want the reader to learn (and have I set that up properly in earlier scenes or will I have to go back and do that?); what emotions do I want the reader to experience when they’re reading it?

Even if you resist outlining, this checklist is a really helpful way to get into the next scene you want to write. It manages to whet my appetite for writing the scene, instead of taking all the joy and anticipation out of it (as I always fear outlining will do).

The plan now is to spend a while, later today, outlining the next scene and thinking hard about what I need to achieve in the first draft of the resolution

It’s important to remember that this is the first draft of the end of the book.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be written.

Sometimes The Slog Pays Off

Today’s writing progress: I found a fragment of Holeheads that I had handwritten back in June and typed it up today.  (Z’s on a boat!)

Threading the Bridges

I remember that, when I wrote it, it felt like a slog. It wasn’t advancing the plot fast enough. It felt like marking time. I only wrote about 600 words in that session then gave up, defeated by the weight of the amount of story I had to tell in the section after this one (which is kind of a transition)

But when I came back to it today, it became the framework for a bunch of character-development moments as well as simply filling a ‘how they got from there to here’ hole.

Sometimes  you have to slog through the unexciting parts to make something you can revise later.

Just keep putting words down and coming back and revising them. I guess that’s how this works?

Blogging About Writing

I’ve decided to blog every day AFTER I write my fiction words. I used to try to write random stuff first as a warm up and sometimes that works, and sometimes I run out of time. So I’m going to try to work on fiction first and then blog my progress. It might be boring, but I’ll try to share insights that will help Future Me (and possibly you, if you’re a writer-who-isn’t-Future-Me).

Saturday today.

I was, amazingly, up before everyone else. I did some other, random thing that was on my mind and then realized I should be using the time to work on my writing, so I didn’t get grumpy and time-grabby later.

So I did.

Of course, by that time, everyone else was up. And I made the mistake of cleaning out the office yesterday (even buying new chairs) so that this room is now attractive. A couple of hours alter and the entire family is in here with me!!

HOWEVER, I did discover that it’s entirely possible to write in here, with the whole family on the other computers and devices, by putting on my headphones and declaring “I’m ignoring you”.  The fact that they’re ALL here, means they all have someone to talk to, who isn’t me.

Everything’s coming up Julie…

So I typed in (and revised) a scene for my novel, Holeheads, that I wrote on the plane last month on they way to Scotland. It was incredibly sketchy at the time, but it gave me something to revise. I realized there was nothing in there about the people who were supposed to be pursuing the heros (they just sort of disappeared), so I added that. And I added some more emotion and physicality, and a bit more chat. The straight transcript was around 600 words and the revised one 700.

It is liberating to realize that what I write doesn’t have to be perfect.

I don’t have to be sure this scene is important or going to survive. I just have to write it down. I might end up cutting this whole scene out and maybe one sentence of it will survive. But the scene exists as part of the story (whether or not readers ever see it) and I needed to write it. And it was only 600 words. It’s not like I spent three months on it.

There. That’s me, conquering my fears, right there.

(“Conquering”. Ha!)

N.B. I also wrote what I think will be the heart of the final big sequence while on the plane. Haven’t typed that one up yet.  Looking forward to sharing pages with the critique group. It’s been too long.

The Battle of the Somme, 100 Years Later

Ten years ago I posted this, back when my journal was still over at Livejournal.

The Battle of the Somme began 90 years ago today. By the end of the day 20,000  young British men were dead, 40,000 more were injured. By the end of the battle one million people had been killed or wounded.

These were the parents of my grandparents generation. Except they probably weren’t, because so many of them died. They called them The Lost Generation. Imagine what the world might have been like if we had not lost so many bright young men on that one day. What might they have achieved? What diseases would we be without? Would we have avoided other wars?

This was the defining moment for a generation that grew up to send their sons off to another horrendous war, one that would also come to their towns in the form of air raids.  Everyone must have lost someone they knew in the First World War—in mud and noise and horror—only to go through it again twenty years later.

Today we can watch bombs being dropped, exploding, in real time. But how many of us are really touched by the death and the awfulness?

Sorry.

But our history must not be forgotten. It is horrible and important.

90 years sounds like a long time, but my grandparents were born around this time, raised by people who went through the awful shock of The Somme and other WWI battles. My parents were raised by the children born during WWI and raised in the shadow of WWII. It’s not that long ago. These were real people, real families, all ruined by nation-building and the greed of the ‘great’.

Lest we forget.