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Help! My Story Has the Mary-Sue Disease (Print)

I forgot to do this: Yay – the book is now available in print!

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(And in epub. Somewhere. I’m still working on that.)

 
 

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Help! My Story Has the Mary-Sue Disease (Kindle)

I was going to wait with posting this until the Print and Epub versions were also available, but I’m still waiting on Ingramspark for something and it’s already been two days since this was published. So you’ll get more posts like this in a few days (hopefully) when the other forms of the book become available.

It’s available on Amazon Kinlde here. It’s also available on other versions of Amazon (UK, AU, etc) if you search for it in the Kindle store.

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…I’m not going to be done stressing until all of the formats are published, at which point I will make a Books page for my blog with easy links to them all.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2017 in On L.C. Morgenstern's Work

 

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Yes, All Cars (a Metaphor)

All cars could kill pedestrians. Yes, ALL cars.

“But,” you might object, completely missing the point of the first sentence, “I’M a careful driver. I’D never do a hit and run. I’D never crush an innocent pedestrian who observed all possible safety protocols and was minding their own business when crossing the street at the appropriate crossing. You are just complaining about nothing! Drivers have it hard too! I’D never hurt someone with my car! You can’t blame me for what a few other drivers did! Not All Cars!”

Yes, All Cars.

All cars COULD kill pedestrians.

Do they? No.

Could they? Yes.

Do pedestrians have a way of telling whether all of the cars on the street – whose drivers they do not all know – are dangerous and going to hurt them? NO.

Would you, Nice Driver, think it sensible or stupid to assume that because you are a competent and considerate driver that when complete strangers cross the street you’re driving on they can just wander across the street when your light turns red, without looking both ways too see if a car is going to ignore the red light?

Do you really think that somehow every single pedestrian in the world can just walk across the street trusting all cars to obey traffic laws because they know you specifically would never run a red light?

I doubt it. I suspect you are aware that not everyone drives as cautiously and considerately as you. I suspect that you are aware that it is perfectly reasonable for all pedestrians to be wary of all cars – because all cars could kill them. And there is no way for a pedestrian to know who is driving. And, even if they could know that when you were the driver stopped at the crossing they were safe from that direction, how can they know you’ll never screw up – just a little? You might be on your phone, or distracted, or just a bit too close to the legal drinking limit. You’d never normally be the driver in a hit and run, after all, so surely they should stop complaining and let their guards down while you veer wildly across the street, right? No. Not right. I hope that’s your automatic response, but I doubt it.

You’re a Nice Driver. A Good Driver. So when pedestrians are cautious and look both ways because they know that not all cars obey traffic laws and justify taking precautions by pointing out that All Cars Could Kill Them, you get upset – it wounds your pride to feel included in the “Bad Drivers” category, even though you aren’t – and so you loudly protest at every opportunity that Not All Cars!

Then, one day, while you’re driving cautiously and carefully, another driver pulls a hit and run right in front of you. It’s horrifying. It’s tragic. It’s totally not the pedestrian’s fault, because the car ran a red light and the pedestrian was on the official crossing while the crossing light was green and they had looked both ways before stepping onto the crossing. The pedestrian did nothing wrong. The car was totally in the wrong. And you’re a good, nice driver, so you get out of the car and – without looking anywhere or worrying at all about traffic laws and cars hitting you – walk over to where the victim is (bleeding, half-dead and severely traumatised) being cared for by the paramedics and you say to the victim “It’s your own fault for walking where you were supposed to – for existing as a pedestrian in a world full of cars. How can you blame the car for running over you? You’re a pedestrian: you should have expected it.” Then, feeling mighty proud of yourself you get back in your car, again not having even thought to look out for traffic while you walked and ignoring the pedestrian’s week protests that they DID look out for danger and were expecting it because they always have to (even in their own driveway and home) while you walked back to it.

When you check your phone, still in your car, you see angry and frightened articles from other pedestrians – articles which talk about how dangerous cars are, because not all of them obey traffic laws and no pedestrian can tell from a distance which will. Articles which call for an end to the driver’s Car Privilege – saying that they should come to understand that they are, no matter how nice they personally might be, driving high-speed four-ton metal boxes of death. Articles saying that it is wrong and unfair for pedestrians to have to constantly be checking if cars are going to behave with basic decency, while the drivers enjoy a complete lack of concern for their own – and everyone else’s – safety. Car Privilege, the social movement calls it, an unfair burden on the pedestrians who are forced to take the drivers’ responsibility for them while it never even occurs to the drivers that pedestrians shouldn’t have to live with a quiet, constant, fear in the back of their minds – that pedestrians shouldn’t have to view existing outside their homes as a potential life and death situation every damn time they walk out their front door, even if they stay in their own gardens. Drivers, the social movement says, shouldn’t be allowed to blame cautious pedestrians for existing and claim they deserved it when a driver ignores a red light. That “you just need a good hit-and-running” should not be drivers’ go to reaction to pedestrians who speak out for their rights. That threats of being turned into road pizza as revenge for daring to defend their rights should not be seen as harmless or acceptable – especially because all too often the drivers who do perform hit and runs take the public’s refusal to condemn such comments as validation and go on to deliberately run down other innocent pedestrians.

The articles and the social movement rally around a simple truth: All Cars Could Kill You. But this, this infuriates you. It wounds your Driver’s Pride. After all, you aren’t the sort of driver who performs hit-and-runs. You are a Good Driver. A Nice Driver. So, while you drive, you respond vocally to these upstart pedestrians. “Not All Cars!” you write to them. You explain how you are a good, considerate, driver and they would never need to fear around you. When they inevitably point out that you are a complete stranger who could be making that up, that cars don’t come with helpful Safe Driver alerts for pedestrians and that it doesn’t fucking matter if you specifically are a good driver because all it takes is the one asshole on the road and they are road pizza, it wounds your pride even more. How dare they? You tell yourself. This Car Privilege is a load of nonsense. Drivers suffer too! They, like, can’t text whenever they want and their drink holders aren’t always secure and they have to drive around the parking lot like six times before they find a parking space close enough to the doors! It’s not all cars that are dangerous.

Yes, All Cars are dangerous, the movement replies. Yes, All Pedestrians have near misses. But you don’t want to hear it. You’ve already decided that Car Privilege is a load of nonsense, so you start talking about Pedestrian Privilege and how those pesky pedestrians are so lucky they don’t have to suffer taking their feet in to the mechanic or getting stuck in traffic. Those are real, serious, problems for drivers! They’re totally on par with not being able to leave the house without being subtly, but constantly, on alert because of all the cars on the road ANY of them could be the one that runs the red light and – if not outright kills the pedestrian – at least brutalises them and violates them. Getting stuck in traffic, you decide, is totally equal to living in constant fear that any stranger might take your life or mutilate your body.

You’re wrong. You’ve missed the point. You’re so blinded by your Car Privilege that you can’t see that you’re making the problem worse.  Yes, All Cars Could Kill A Pedestrian. That doesn’t mean that all cars will. It means that they could. Yes, All Pedestrians have experience with drivers abusing them and blaming them for the driver’s inability to stay off the damn sidewalk. It means we live in an unjust world where drivers think their minor inconveniences are equal to or worse than always having to double check that everything is safe, that all of the drivers currently nearby aren’t going to decide your life and bodily safety aren’t worth as much as their desires, that even if you are in your home you could have a rouge car (or the car of one of the Drivers in your family) come crashing through the wall to crush you and leave you with mental and physical injuries which will ruin much of your life (assuming they leave you that much).

The point of the movement isn’t “All drivers are terrible”. It’s “All drivers COULD turn out to be that one asshole and it’s unjust that pedestrians should have to live in constant Fight or Flight mode because All Cars could potentially run their red light and there is no way to know which is which.”

Now replace “Cars” and “Drivers” with “Men”, “Pedestrians” with “Women”, and “Hit-and-run” with “Sexism” and “Sexual Assault” and maybe, just maybe, you’ll finally understand why male privilege is a problem.

It’s been years since those hashtags started, guys, why are so many of you STILL unable to understand a simple concept?

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2017 in On Reality

 

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What is Quality?

I suppose I need to apologise again for disappearing for so long. I seem to be doing little else but that on this blog of late. But now that the helping with someone moving house situation is over, I ought to have a bit more time for this. This post is more of a thought-piece than an opinion-piece.

 

Most people who want to be writers seek to be either successful (in finance and fame) writers or writers known for making quality writing. The word literature used to hold a connotation of being high-quality writing, as opposed to all other “lesser” writing, but now it just is pretty much synonymous with fiction and is applied to anything moderately successful. According to dictionaries, quality is many things, but the definition of it which is applicable to writing is “character with respect to fineness or excellence” – and that’s character as in “the aggregate features and traits that form the individual nature of a person or thing”, not as in “fictional person the author puts through hell for the readers’ amusement”. But the thing is: that’s a completely useless definition.

So what actually makes quality writing? Well, obviously not success because (this is the go to example, given the sheer amount of criticism it has received) Twilight and also the majority of the miszpellld fanfiction ob deh internetz!!!1! which get frighteningly large amounts of positive reviews in comparison to the well-crafted and properly spelled, in character fanfics. It’s also not a question, despite what many “serious” writers of tedious real-world-setting dramas may think, of genre because – while I am going on hearsay rather than personal experience here because I’ve never been inclined to read those genres (I haven’t read Twilight either, despite how often I take jabs at it) – there are plenty of quality romance and erotic works out there. They might not have the most philosophical of content, but if seriously questioning ethics, the universe and everything is the key to defining quality then no one’s written anything but trash since Kierkegaard. (Show of hands: who managed to not fall asleep while reading Kierkegaard? Has anyone here actually read Kierkegaard? Did you think, the first time you heard it, that Captain Kirk was guarding something?)

It could be argued that having deep characters or a lot of world building is what’s required for a work to be quality, but many of the great names in Science Fiction basically had cardboard tour-guide characters to show off their cool science ideas for chapter after chapter of math and baffling terminology, while world building is just as unfair a point in definition as genre as world building is the foundation of Speculative Fiction but mostly unnecessary in, say, real world drama or crime novels. Even grammar and spelling being used accurately is not a brilliant gage of quality, although the better the grammar and spelling the more likely a work is to be good quality, because grammar and spelling change over time (you may have been taught in school that starting a sentence with “And” is wrong, but many of the major quality authors out there who have begins with “And” sentences in their works – like George R. R. Martin, who is held up almost universally as an example of quality writing, the way Twilight is almost universally regarded as being very poorly written). Grammar and spelling is certainly a factor, but it isn’t the complete definition.

Often quality is associated with clever language use and choosing the best word, but not every work needs to be packed with juxtaposed antithesis and anaphora (ten points if you know which famous piece of literature opens with that particular pair of techniques) and other extravagantly named techniques or gratuitous amounts of exceedingly sophisticated terminology and units of language in order to facilitate that dubious and non-corporeal status of fineness and excellence. In fact, trying too hard to be clever with language and choosy with word use can, like in that last sentence, actually damage the quality and readers’ ability to comprehend what the hell the writer is trying to say. Likewise, it would be tempting to say that quality is about not using clichés, but what counts as cliché changes with time – in an almost cyclic fashion, akin to how water droplets become part of the giant masses called oceans, then rise to become clouds, rain down on everyone to make them miserable and the plants very happy, and then steadily grows in strength as it goes from stream to river and eventually back into the oceans. But, more importantly, clichés become so ubiquitous because when they are used well they don’t come across as trite (unless you’re stubbornly determined to find something wrong with everything or are suffering from some form of Mary-Sue Paranoia because the idea that female characters can be just as vivid, special, and powerful as the typical main male character without being “badly written” or “unrealistic” because the idea that women are people and capable of being competent scares you – in which case I’d like to suggest you try the perfectly cliché cliff to the left of the stage for you to go clichély jump off). To use my go-to example of good writing: A Song of Ice and Fire contains many things which could be considered cliché – the mad boy king who is a sadist, the heroic bastard, the purple-eyed princess with the pet magical beasts, and the ten million prophecies – but Martin makes them work. The mad boy king is from a far more violent society than we are and so less likely to view what he does as wrong or repulsive, while also essentially being a stupid teenage boy on a power-high, the heroic bastard has to live with the actual social ramifications and restrictions of being a bastard in that sort of society and is by no means viewed as a hero by everyone, the princess avoids being a Mary-Sue (despite having many of the traits often associated with them) because they are played out in ways that makes sense (the eyes are a racial trait, the pet magical beasts are far more beast than pet, being a princess only gets her assassination attempts, etc) and the ten million prophecies are both suitably confusing and free from any guarantees of accuracy or genuine fortune-telling.

I could burble for hours about how excellent his choice of words is (although I, who has repeatedly read entire dictionaries for fun, do keep a dictionary tab open on my computer when I read ASOIAF for when I run into the occasion rare or no longer used word like niello). I could talk about how he’s genuinely built a complete world and all the literary techniques I spotted while reading. I could talk about how deep and well developed his characters are and how he manages to give the readers all the pertinent information without breaking from the third person limited. But while all of those things are factors in what makes a work quality, I think Martin’s magnum opus is a good example of what makes something quality for a very different reason.

The story is king. Not the characters, no matter how much the author might like one better than another. Not the whims of the readers (trying to please readers is an almost universal guarantee that the quality of a work will fall), not the rules grammar and spelling, not what is or isn’t cliché, not the conventions of the genre, not any meaning or message carried within the work, not clever literary and rhetoric techniques, not even what the author might prefer to happen. The STORY is king.

Obviously, correctly used grammar and spelling, well chosen words and techniques, deep characters, significant world building, realism, the ability to dig the bones of a concept out of a dead cliché and make them work again, are all important factors in what makes Martin’s writing such an excellent example of, well, literary excellence, but it is the fact that the story is treated as the most important factor – that which everything else is part of and bends to, rather than which is part of or bent to some other factor – that makes quality.

Quality can never be defined clearly by one factor or another, because it is about how everything works together for the story. Quality is about how everything makes logical sense based on the rules of reality as presented in that story, about how everything that is (not just that happens) has consequences and causes, about how everything remains consistent to itself and coheres with the rest of the reality the story creates. Quality is about choosing to have, or not have, rhetoric techniques and this word or that based on how it works for the story rather than how fancy, plain, accurate, or cliché it may or may not be. Quality is about knowing your grammar and spelling so well that you can know how and when to deviate from it if the story so requires. Quality is about exploring or not exploring the depths of a character based on what the story needs.

At least, that’s my best guess. Quality is one of those annoyingly non-corporeal things which cannot be measured easily and just about everyone has a different opinion on what makes a work quality. What do you think?

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2016 in On Writing

 

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Folklore Is Not Static

Only a short post today because I’m ill and struggling to concentrate. Just a brief list of misconceptions about folklore that really piss me off, those being that: the oldest form of a folktale is the “right” one, that folklore is somehow accurate to political correctness and other things the folk didn’t know about, and that innovation in writing about folklore by exploring its limitations and changing thins is somehow “Wrong”. Dear people who think these things: [redacted due to excessive vulgarity in vulgar Latin].

 

1) There is no one “true” or “purest” version of any folklore. Just because you’ve gone back to the earliest form of a folktale or the earliest description of a creature that we know of does not make that version any more “accurate” or “real” than any later version, okay? The Strigoi Mort, for example, is no more real folklore than the Stokerian vampire or the, loath as I am to have to include them, sparklepires of Twilight and its ilk. They are different pieces of folklore from folk who differ in both location and era, but they are all folklore. One can argue whether the latest still deserve to be called vampires instead of some new name, but the same was indubitably true when the Stokerian vampire first immerged from literary origin and became folklore. If, say, you had one person fall ill from iron deficiency or TB in one town and the story of their illness or death spread sideways to the two neighbouring towns – one of which recently had things knocked off tables by a minor earthquake in the night and one which had an albino merchant travel through it recently, within no time you’re going to have three completely different sets of vampire folklore (one without attachment to other issues, one implying vampires are also nocturnally poltergeists, and one laying blame on the poor innocent albino person who happened to pass through the week before). None of those is any less folklore than the others. Nor are the inevitable versions that form as time goes by, but which were based on those, any less true folklore than the earlier forms. I don’t say “original” because, frankly, although we can tell where certain traits originate from, all these ideas have to come from somewhere before and so there can be no true “origin” of any folklore.

2) Folklore is the lore of the lowest common denominator: that means it’s every –IST and –ISM in the book and then some. As a collective, humans are pretty stupid. And when they’re not stupid they’re still prejudiced – especially in groups. Folklore, as the name suggests, is the lore of the folk – that is, of the least educated group. Folklore, essentially, is ruled by the lowest common denominator amongst the social group it originated in. This means that it’s racist as hell. It’s sexist as hell. It’s sexualist (also called homophobic, but that’s narrower) as hell. It’s ableist as hell. It’s classist as hell. It’s religiously intolerant as hell. And it’s every other –ist and –ism which I’ve failed to mention as hell. Somewhere, I believe (it’s been a while since I read them) in one of the Eddas there’s a line about how Odin could seduce any pale wristed woman in the world. To the people who came up with that it probably was just a pretty way of saying “all the women in the world”, but to the modern lowest common denominator it begs the question “so what about women who aren’t white?”. The Sirens of Greek myth were said to be able to seduce any sailor (into crashing or drowning) with their beautiful singing… until one day someone pointed out that deaf people are a thing. Western European fairy tales, or rather: the majority of those fairy tales, have taught children for centuries that women are a passive reward for a heroes actions and only recently are fairy tales beginning to be retold without love interests or with more active female characters. Many traditional Scandinavian mythical creatures were said to be able to seduce (a word now almost exclusively attached to sexual seduction, although it originally also included leading astray and winning someone over to the other side – something vaguely remembered by “seduced to the Dark Side” although there tends to still be the evil=sexy implication) both men and women, both gay and straight – probably because Scandinavian countries have had a somewhat healthier mindset toward homosexuality and bisexuality. However, this does not account for asexuals, for whom there was no term until 1940 and before that either had to put up with almost definitely having to marry a sexual person who wouldn’t understand or taking a vow of chastity. (This is why it is hard to find “proof” of asexuality in the past. Also, my pet theory is that the concept of chastity – choosing to not have sex for religious reasons – cam about one day in prehistory when one quick witted repulsed Ace, who either didn’t want kids or couldn’t put up with sex to have them, was reminded that the way things are is that when you grow up you get married and have kids and that Ace went “NOPE! …because …um, religion! Yeah, I promised [vaguely appropriate deity of choice] that I’d dedicate my life to them specifically and that means ix-nay on the sex and babies thing, okay?” – and then it got dogmatised and lots of people who weren’t asexual and weren’t going to be okay with a vow of no-acting-on-pantsfeels got pressured into it, leading to all the disturbing jokes about “favourite” altar boys.) In all of these cases the common people – the folk – give absolutes which may make sense to them at the time because they don’t know that people aren’t all like that, but which are horribly restrictive and offensive when viewed through the critical eye of a different culture or era. All of which leads me to point 3:

3) Folklore adapts and changes as the L.C.D. changes and there’s no point clinging to the past. The nature of folklore is change. The beauty of folklore is change. Folklore shifts, like sand dunes in a desert – slowly to the human who stands there for a time but shockingly fast to the human who sees, leaves, and returns to see again. This shifting is a detailed record of how the lowest common denominator – how the general population or common folk – viewed the world. Both what is included and what is not excluded but simply not considered tell us far more about how people viewed the world and how those cultures changed (I won’t say evolved because people tend to mistakenly believe evolution is a linear progression to some betterment rather than just adapting to different circumstances). Folklore does include traditions, it is true, but to say “you shouldn’t change [X] or consider how [Y that the folk the lore originated from didn’t know about] and must take those absolutes they told for granted despite their lack of universal applicability because IT’STRADITIONAL” is bullshit. Folklore includes traditions, but is not confined by them. Folklore is about the ebb and flow of traditions, the path they take from when the idea was first formed to when it becomes defunct and forgotten. Folklore is about change. Without that person history has made anonymous who first pointed out that “uhhh, guys, deaf people can’t be seduced by Siren-song because they can’t hear”, we would never have had the story – so much a part of folklore for thousands of years now – of Odysseus being tied to the mast while his crew sail them safely past with wax blocking their ears. There is no reason, for instance, that the “common knowledge” (the folklore) that a creature can seduce any gender should not eventually amend itself to “can seduce any person who is interested in sex” and that new Western European fairy tales and new telling of old ones should not slowly change to reflect the fact that women are people too.

Sure, sometime writers and other artists will try to do a new take on a piece of folklore (by examining the changes between what the originators of the folklore believed was normal and what the modern folk believe is normal) only to have it be quickly forgotten because the older form of the folklore still holds strong and the new idea was not adopted by the folk, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. Folklore is like a wild and thorny, but beautiful, plant: you can’t control it; you can only offer it things to support itself with and stand back in awe.

 

…This was supposed to be short.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2016 in On Folklore

 

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