Wednesday, June 25, 2008


So I'm working on this story. [headdesk] It's a contemporary, and if I ever get it finished and if it gets accepted it'll be my first non-magical contemporary to be published. It'll also be my first BDSM story to be published, although it's just light bondage -- very light -- so that's not a huge deal.

The problem is that I looked at the finished story and needed to change the setting, which was a movie location, which was just too... too. :/ Of course, setting sets the tone for a story and there are some things your characters can do in Setting A that they can't do in Setting Q, so I couldn't just reach into a hat and pick out a new setting; whatever I chose had to fit the plot and the circumstances. Specifically, I needed a setting where the characters could've known each other for a while, and might've been together to know each other for a while some time in the sorta-recentish past, and are now together again, but where they don't live near each other to see each other regularly, or at least between Last Time and This Time. That gap is important.

I pondered for a while and discarded some possibilities and finally came up with an SF convention. You can run into people once a year, or even less often depending on which cons you go to and whether you're a regular or just show up every now and then. I figured I could make them both pros -- one a writer and the other an artist, so a lot of it would depend on where they were invited as guests any given year; if they didn't actually live in the same area, it could very well be years between the times they saw each other. It'd be hard to stretch out the individual meetings for more than a few days each -- maybe four max, unless I wanted to make it WorldCon or something similar, in which case a week at the outside would work -- and that was a bit problematic, but it seemed I could make it work well enough. Okay, cool, convention it is.

Ever torn out a setting and installed a new one...? It's sort of like jacking up a house, jackhammering the foundation completely out, then pouring a new one with a slightly different layout here and there, then trying to set the house back on it while remodelling said house enough so that the walls actually match up with the new bits of the foundation. [headdesk] I did it, though, went through the story and rewrote a lot of the beginning where things were set up and established, changed bits here and there throughout the rest, smoothed it all over with sandpaper and tah-dah! Done!

Except not quite. :/ I kept looking at it, reading it over, and it just doesn't work.

I mean, the story works for me, but then I'm intimately familiar with SF conventions. I went to my first one as a teenager and was a gofer at that first con. I've been on staff I don't know how many times, from mid-size conventions to a couple of WorldCons, and was on the staff of a professional conference for just over ten years just for variety. I even chaired a major regional twice. But what's incredibly familiar to me is still an exotic locale to most people, and in order to make this work I'd have had to insert a lot more description and explanation.

Which I could've done, certainly, but when you get down to it, the setting just isn't that important a part of this particular story. I mean, yes, it dictates some of the plot points (which was why I couldn't just grab any old setting in the first place) but aside from that, it's not all that important for the reader to focus on the setting, beyond just being aware of where the characters are. Heck, somewhere between half and two-thirds of the story takes place in a bedroom and that could be anywhere. :P If I'd given the SF convention setting as much description and explanation as it would've needed, the sheer verbage involved would've given the readers the impression that the setting was a lot more important than it really was. The whole story would've felt unbalanced. [headdesk]

I do love conventions and I'll probably set a story there eventually, but this isn't the time to do it.

Back to the jacks and cranes and jackhammers.

I thought about it a while longer and finally came up with another possibility. I'm going to put the story in a much more mundane setting -- it'll start out at a local high-end gym (which everyone's at least reasonably familiar with, even if they've never actually been to one) and have one of the characters be a regular there (so he's been there all along) while the other worked there evenings and weekends through high school and the first four years of college, then moved away to go to grad school and such. That gives me the separation over time that I need to make the story work, and by the time the two characters hit the second guy's house (and bedroom) it'll all be basically the same from there on.

I'm pretty sure it'll work this time. Really. Now to go do the heavy lifting. Again.

Angie, rolling up her sleeves

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

New Computer

OK, so I have a new computer, a Dell XPS 630I. It came on Saturday and it's been sitting in its box all weekend because it's been too friggin' hot to do anything, so Jim pulled it out tonight. Although technically I still haven't taken possession -- it's over on Jim's desk, where he was working on it to get everything set up and transferred over, using this cool utility called PC Mover, which apparently works beautifully.

It looks like something out of a science fiction movie, seriously, LOL! It's a "gaming rig" and is pimped up with enough lights to bring in a 747 for a landing. And it comes with its own wiping cloth so you can keep the ultra-shiny plastic parts ultra-shiny. [facepalm]

Dell XPS

This is basically it, although my lights are blue instead of red.

Mind you, I wasn't really asking for a new computer. The old one works fine and I like it perfectly well. And besides, I enjoy switching computers about as much as I enjoy moving house, which is to say I'd rather have the flu or sunburn or food poisoning. But Dell recently announced that after a certain date (which I think was some time last week) they'd no longer ship their high-end systems loaded with XP. :( They're perfectly willing to sell you a piece of crap made of Lincoln Logs with XP on it, since Vista (among its many flaws and sins) is a massive system hog and simply won't run on those, but any computer which can run Vista will be shipped with Vista, period. Microsoft's been leaning on them or something. [sigh]

My old computer's about five years old and would need replacing in another year or two anyway, so Jim figured it'd be better to get one now, with XP, than to wait and be forced to go with Vista. I had to agree, so here we are. The new box has a four-year warrantee, so hopefully it'll get me through the years of darkness until Microsoft pulls its head out of its corporate ass and comes up with an OS that actually, like, sorta works. [crossed fingers]

Anyway, the new baby's still over on Jim's desk. I've been dinking with it for a bit and everything looks good, although the next question is how much of my software (read: commercial games) are going to detect the new system as soon as I fire 'em up and squawk at me, requiring reinstalls. Not much, I hope. [crossed fingers] If everything's okay, though, we'll swap it for my old one over on my desk in the next day or two, and that'll be that. Keep a set of virtual fingers crossed for me. [wry smile]


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Redeeming Fake Sins

Dakota Flint started a discussion about redemption in romantic fiction today, and I started writing a comment. Of course, me being me, my thoughts wandered down the road and over the hill, then planted themselves down and started growing toward a thousand words, so I decided to post it here instead.

I like redemption as a theme or plot device in romantic fiction, especially when Character A thinks they've done something horrible, but it takes Character B's POV to show them that it wasn't -- that it wasn't horrible or it wasn't their fault or every other option was worse or whatever. This is common in romance (and in het romance it's usually the Guy who's the one tortured with the whatever guilt) and can work really well as a device for bringing the characters together and deepening their relationship. Unfortunately, some writers don't seem to have figured out how to balance the idea of a character who's stuck in one POV and needs to be shown another way of looking at something, with the idea of a character who's, like, not a total moron.

I just finished a het romance where the Guy has these massive issues about what a coward he is, and how it's his fault his parents were killed and all. When he was a kid, some enemy assassins attacked their home to take out his family. His father shoved him into a crawlspace or something and locked the grate so he couldn't get out, just before the bad guys showed up in the room. So the Guy was right there, listening and sort of watching through the grate while his parents were slaughtered. He was screaming to be let out while it happened, and there was so much noise from what was going on that the bad guys didn't hear him, but as soon as things quieted down (and everyone was dead), he shut up too so they wouldn't find him. He's felt this horrible guilt for that all his life, thinking he should have kept yelling so the assassins would have let him out so he could fight them.

Right. Multiple assassins versus a twelve-year-old. Yeah, that would've worked.

And even after the Girl pointed out that he would certainly have been killed to no purpose, he was still arguing that it didn't matter, he was a coward and should've fought them, so it's his fault his parents are dead, etc., like he's just not getting it. He's very touched that she's trying to defend him (to himself) but he's not buying it at all.

So of course at this point I'm eyerolling and have a strong impulse to work the guy over with a baseball bat in hope of jarring loose a few braincells, 'cause dude, seriously. :/ I mean, I could understand him feeling guilty -- survivor's guilt doesn't require any specific fault, nor does rationality play much of a part. And it would've been easy enough for the writer to have him say, "Well, yeah, you're right of course. There would've been no point in my getting killed too. But I can't help feeling awful and guilty about it." That would've worked, showing that he does have a brain in his head and that it can function when prompted (although I think most people would've come to this realization themselves by the time they hit adulthood) but that his head and his gut are still in conflict. He still has issues, but he knows he has issues, and that what he feels doesn't make any objective sense. That would've been a nice conflict thread, as he worked to get past the guilt.

Instead, in this book, the guy just comes across like an idiot, and an unbelievable one at that. And I've seen it over and over, where a character insists on carrying this completely ridiculous guilt, insisting that no, it really was their fault that whatever happened. I mean, sure, there actually are people who are just that messed up by their experiences, but they have massive issues and if a main character is that messed up, dealing with it pretty much has to be one of the major focal points of the story. If it's not, if it's just presented at face value -- "Yes, adult Bob still believes, with full awareness, that it's his fault his baby brother was killed by that pack of rabid pit bulls, despite the fact that he was only three when it happened," -- my connection with the character (and the story, and the writer) just breaks down. I can't buy that a strong, reasonably smart character would believe this, and I can't understand why this writer would present a character who did believe that as strong or reasonably smart, much less as classic Hero material. The way it's usually presented, it feels like the reader is supposed to somehow admire this character for being Just So Responsible that he's taking all this unearned guilt, and in a romance, the (mostly female) readers are supposed to want to cuddle and nurture him or whatever. It doesn't work, at least with me; I just want to smack him.

What it comes down to is that this is a chunk of character development which is too often done badly. In order to set up a significant redemption moment, the character has to believe that he's done something significantly bad. Whether he has or not is up to the writer -- I'm all for misunderstandings or set-ups or whatever -- but he has to believe he's done something bad enough that the redemption is important. But it also has to be something that is redeemable, whether the character eventually realizes that he didn't do anything that terrible, or whether someone important to the character gives him forgiveness, or somehow helps him forgive himself, or however it's worked out. The sin has to be significant in order for the redemption to be significant.

Setting up a straw-man sin -- OMG, I just stood there in my playpen and let those dogs eat the baby! -- deflates the whole thing. When the second character points out that, "Umm, dude, you were three. You couldn't have done anything," then if the first character does a facepalm and suddenly gets it, that's still pretty weak because a normal person would've realized, well before adulthood, that no, a three-year-old couldn't have done anything, and that while he might still feel guilty, he isn't actually guilty. But if, after having the obvious pointed out, the first character still refuses to acknowledge that his three-year-old self wasn't guilty of anything except being three, that's even worse; it says something about the character which needs to be dealt with as its own issue, and if it's not then that's a major flaw in the story. Instead of feeling sympathy for the character, or feeling happy relief when the redemption happens, I just feel impatient about the whole thing and sarcastic thoughts start running through my head, about the character and the writer both.

The whole sin/redemption device can be very powerful, but the sin component has to be strong. Either the sin itself has to be real and significant, or the circumstances which led the character to wrongly believe in his own guilt have to be legitimate, something that's clearly reasonable for an intelligent person to believe and be fooled or confused by. If the sin and guilt are lame or unbelievable, then the whole device breaks down, and the readers' response isn't going to be what the writer had hoped.


Monday, June 9, 2008

Review of "The Joy of Exchanging Gifts"

Beth Anne at Joyfully Reviewed wrote a review of my Holiday Sip, "The Joy of Exchanging Gifts." She said:

"Anthropologist Lowell, is studying the Enknopans, and though he’s made a good friend of Tiklup, Lowell is excluded from an Enknopan 'turning year' celebration because of the Enknopan restriction on outsider’s participation. To participate or observe, one needs to be related to one of the Enknopans.

To show no hard feelings for the exclusion, Lowell tries to share his Santa tradition by leaving a surprise gift for Tiklup, in a traditional Santa method. Only issue for Lowell is the architecture of the Enknopan homes. No windows for Santa, so Lowell uses the 'house’s smoke hole' and becomes stuck in the chimney. As Tiklup and his friends return and discover Lowell’s predicament, a delightfully sexy gift exchange commences all taking place while Lowell is still stuck in the chimney.

Do you ever just laugh out loud while reading? The Joy of Exchanging Gifts had me alternatively laughing out loud and then just plain giggling for the naughtiness. I know it’s a Nice Sip, but for me, Lowell and his friends are just plain naughty, in a very nice way! The Joy of Exchanging Gifts is a hilarious, fun, sexy off-world read!!"

Thanks so much to Beth Anne; I'm glad she enjoyed my story. :)


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Training Up the Next Generation of Plagiarists

Someone over on LJ posted a link to this news story, and I just had to shake my head.

To summarize, Christine Pelton was a science teacher at Piper High School in Kansas. Her sophomore biology class had a big project (called the "Leaf Project") to do, for fifty percent of their grade. Ms. Pelton was determined that no one in her classroom would get away with cheating, and before the project began, all the students and their parents had to sign a contract which included, among other things: "Cheating and plagiarism will result in the failure of the assignment. It is expected that all work turned in is completely their own." And as anyone who's made it to the sophomore level of high school (and certainly anyone who functions in the adult world, as all these students' parents theoretically do) should be able to figure out, if you fail a project that's fifty percent of your grade, then even if you ace everything else, you're gonna fail the class.

Simple, right?

Well, apparently this was a bit too complicated for some of the students and their parents to comprehend.

When the papers came in, Ms. Pelton noticed some lines which didn't sound like something her students would say. She turned to the internet, and discovered that twenty-eight of her students (almost a quarter of the sophomore class at Piper High) had committed plagiarism.

From one student: "I was kind of upset ‘cause I was pretty sure I did’t do it," he says, claiming he copied from the Internet but didn’t plagiarize.

"I put that as two different sentences," he says. "So it’s not like I copied it straight from the Web site. I changed it into two different sentences."

Oh, well, so long as he split the line he copied word-for-word into two sentences.... [eyeroll]

Bad enough that twenty-some percent of the sophomore class were cheaters. Just to compound the problem, when Ms. Pelton did as she had said she would from the beginning, and failed the projects of the cheating students, their parents -- rather than being outraged at the cheating and grounding their kids till they were thirty -- rose up in angry protest against Ms. Pelton and took the matter to the school board.

Then to pour gasoline onto the situation and set fire to it, the school board caved in to the parents' demands, and intervened. They declared that the Leaf Project was worth a much smaller percentage of the students' total grade, so even the students who'd cheated and failed the project would pass the class if they'd been doing well otherwise.

Wow, I'll bet those students will learn a huge lesson from that.

Seriously, just what the heck did those parents think? That they were doing their kids any favors? That they were teaching them anything positive? That they were helping their children? Really? Let's look at some statements from the parents:

"The problem in her classroom wasn’t with the students, but with the teacher," says one parent.

"Plagiarism is black on this side, white on this side, with a whole lotta gray in the middle," said another parent.


According to some of the parents of the students she failed, Pelton missed a "teachable moment."

"She’s uncovered plagiarism," says a parent. "That’s great, that’s wonderful, let’s give her an attaboy. Let’s stop, put on a seminar, teach these kids exactly what plagiarism is, how to avoid it, and then let them take their new knowledge, go back, and rework their projects and resubmit them. They missed their teachable moment; I truly believe that."


Any bets on how many of these students, or their siblings, or the students' kids later on, will be in the middle of a similar cheating/copying/plagiarism situation again some time, arguing indignantly that they did absolutely nothing wrong, that the people using the P-word are being harsh, being mean, that they're envious or hateful or just looking for attention? These students, and their parents, sound exactly like the people who were standing up in defense of the literary plagiarists over the last few months. And the people who were defending the plagiarist writers sound exactly like these parents. It all comes out of the same pot, it's all born of the same ignorance and the same sense of entitlement, the same belief that anything they do to get ahead must be just fine. And so long as parents are teaching their kids that they can cheat and they can plagiarize and they can get away with it, and that their parents will support them and help slay the evil accuser when they get caught, we're going to have more and more plagiarizing students. And plagiarizing writers.

This is the next generation. They're being trained right now. Some of them are going to end up in our field, and their life experience so far is going to have taught them that the smart people take the easy way and that cheaters win and that whistle-blowers get smacked down.

Lovely. I can't wait.


Epilogue: Christine Pelton resigned her teaching position when the school board interfered with her decision about how to handle proven cheaters. She's no longer teaching, but has opened a day care center in her home. The education establishment is much poorer for the loss. [sigh]