A Handbook of Knowledge: No. VIII.—The Coffee Shop (Punch, August 19, 1882)
Q. What is a Coffee-Shop?
A. The opprobrium of the London thoroughfares.
Q. May I ask you to particularise a little?
A. It is difficult in a few words to define so curious a combination of many nastinesses as the London Coffee-Shop. It can only be described, and that in considerable detail.
Q. Is it not, as its name implies, a shop for the sale of Coffee?
A. That would, in most cases, be an imperfect and misleading definition. Firstly, because most Coffee-Shops sell other things than Coffee. Secondly, and most importantly, because most Coffee- Shops do not sell Coffee at all.
Q. But does not this singular carrying out of the lucus a non lucendo principle lead to difficulties with would-be customers?
A. Not at all.
Q. How, then, do the keepers of Coffee-Houses avoid such difficulties?
A. By substituting various dirty and dismal decoctions whtch they vend under the name of the genuine produce of Mocha.
Q. How are these decoctions composed?
A. Of ingredients as numerous, and often as unpleasant, as the constituents of the Witches' broth in Macbeth, among the more innocent of which are chicory, horse-beans, and fig-refuse.
Q. By what devices are these decoctions rendered palatable to the purchaser?
A. They are not rendered palatable at all. On the contrary, the muddy and tepid draught from the clumsy and unclean Coffee-House cup is as unpleasant to all the senses as can well be imagined.
Q. Are, then, the Coffee-Shops of London little used?
A. On the contrary, they are largely patronised by the lower and even the middle classes. The Coffee-House is, indeed, in many eases the restaurant of poor respectability, and to no small extent the home of such persons as labourers, cabmen, and the poorer grades of shopmen and clerks.
Q. What appearance do these curiously-conducted shops present?
A. Externally they are generally characterised by a sort of surface smartness, so far as this can be produced by paint, French-polish, gold-lettering, and gleaming lamps. Internally they are almost invariably frowsy, foetid, and -fly-blown. Particularly the latter; the Coffee-House fly being an insect which, for plentifulness and pertinacity, surpasses even his fellows of the Butcher's or Confectioner's Shop.
Q. Will you describe the average Coffee-House interior a little more in detail?
A. In entering it, you probably plunge down an unseen and treacherous step, or steps, into a dingy, stall-divided, low-ceiling'd apartment, with an aspect of misty gloom, and an atmosphere of steamy unsavouriness. The "stalls," consisting of narrow tables and hard seats, are of wood, grimy mahogany, or grubby sham-oak, the whole confined, unclean, and dismally uncomfortable. If there be any cloth at all upon the table, it is invariably smutty and egg-stained into a sort of Whistlerian arrangement in soot and gamboge. Most commonly there is no cloth at all, but the grease-coated and coffee-ringed board is left bare to sight and to touch. The ceiling is low and smoke-darkened exceedingly; the walls are steamy, and decorated with hat-pegs and battered advertisements. The murky air of the apartment is resonant with a dull, yet fretful and irritating booming. It is the co-operative buzzing of myriads of flies, whose bodies, or whose traces are on and over everything, ceilings, walls, clumsy cups and saucers, the mysterious decoctions served therein, the coarse sugar in the shattered glass bowl, the dirty milk in the dirtier mug, the rickety cruet-stand, and the odd and fractured castors, the greasy bread-and-butter, and the equivocal egg.
Q. And what are the attendants upon the unhappy customer in this dreary den?
A. Commonly depressed men in shirt-sleeves and aprons, or blowsy and bare-armed women in caps or curl-papers, who have to be summoned from dim and mystic interiors, by rapping on the table with a "copper" or a cup-bottom.
Q. What about the edibles and potables sold in these places?
A. They are generally quite in keeping with the places and their appointments; that is to say, they are nasty without necessarily being cheap. The-so-called-Coffee I have already described. It is a dreadful draught, served up in dirty crockery, accompanied by huge slabs of brown-crusted bread smeared with a yellow deposit of oily butter. Tea, too, is forthcoming upon call,-a long-stewed, dingy-tinted potion of uncertain origin, flat as stale soda-water, nauseous as a sarsaparilla drench. Eggs which are musty, bacon which is rusty, steaks which are tough, and chops which are tainted, even sodden cuts from half-cooked joints, and wedges of flabby pastry, may be procured at the more pretentious Coffee-Houses, while at the humbler ones the sense is regaled with the strong savour of red-herrings and smoked haddocks.
Q. You say that certain classes of the community freely patronise these dismal houses of entertainment?
A. They are the only resource of persons who will not stoop to the Cookshop and cannot rise to the Restaurant or Hotel.
Q. Would not clean, comfortable, and fairly cheap Coffee-Houses be a boon to these multitudes?
Q. What the obstacles in the way of their establishment?
A. The same that militate against all improvements whatever - self-interest and stupidity; especially, in this case, the latter. Bright and cleanly Coffee-rooms, where people, seated in comfort, could obtain wholesome refreshment at reasonable rates, would brighten the daily lives of large sections of the public, plump the pockets of enterprising caterers, and be no inconsiderable auxiliaries the cause of Temperance.
Q. Have no efforts been made in this direction?
A. Yes; mostly ill-directed, and not generally successful.
Q. Why is this?
A. Mainly from want of sympathy and imagination.
Q. Are these commonly regarded as the qualities essential to success in so practical a matter?
A. No. They are generally looked upon, and laughed at, as mere poetical equipments. They are nevertheless prime necessities in dealing on a large scale with the wants of the poorer community.
Q. Will you explain your seemingly transcendental position?
A. It needs wide and intimate sympathy to realise the requirements of the great, varied but unvocal throng of what may be called the Hand-to-Mouth classes. It needs imagination and inventive enterprise to devise that which will meet at once their necessities and their tastes. Caterers for the convenience and the amusement of these classes, who possessed in the requisite degree these qualities would go far to transform Society. They would at least provide, what at present are nearly non-existent, places where common people could partake of common fare in common comfort, amidst surroundings which were commonly cheerful, and at rates which were commonly cheap.
Here’s the deal. Most of you don’t care about this, and that’s okay. You don’t have to. I’m just posting this here because it holds me accountable. So here we go: I ran today. The goal is to run T/W/Th.
I stopped doing the Runner’s Log fiction because I couldn’t keep up with my own writing and the fan fiction—much as I love it. And that quickly became an excuse to stop running. So screw it. I ran. I will keep running.
Here’s the deal. Most of you don’t care about this, and that’s okay. You don’t have to. I’m just posting this here because it holds me accountable. So here we go: I ran today. The goal is to run T/W/Th.
I stopped doing the Runner’s Log fiction because I couldn’t keep up with my own writing and the fan fiction—much as I love it. And that quickly became an excuse to stop running. So screw it. I ran. I will keep running.
Here’s the deal. Most of you don’t care about this, and that’s okay. You don’t have to. I’m just posting this here because it holds me accountable. So here we go: I ran today. The goal is to run T/W/Th.
I stopped doing the Runner’s Log fiction because I couldn’t keep up with my own writing and the fan fiction—much as I love it. And that quickly became an excuse to stop running. So screw it. I ran. I will keep running.
That letter to the guy wearing the Death Star engineering symbol was wonderfully and beautifully well written
You are very kind, thank you! It’s just a shame that in the moment, I was so shocked that I couldn’t come up with anything at all except a confused, “…Really?” It’s one of the most fundamentally effective tools a bully, even an “accidental” bully, has: that deer in the headlights response.
Oh, well. I can’t afford to dwell on it—and people like you make a lot of things better! Thanks for writing me. :)
Hey, I’m sending an invite. Oooh, she’s been a bitch tonight. And by bitch, I mean that flight; couldn’t write, lost my bag. So I had to put on the badge and heels And the lipstick and the ears, and walk the hotel, to this bar. And you know that RT stands for: motherfucking wRiters having a good Time.
So I hope you’re up, author, Because you need to be coming over. Unlock the bar and open the doors, Fire up the bartender and put on your glam 'Cause I know exactly what we need.
I Want to Have a Kiki
Bonjour, my delicious ones! How are you feeling? A little pushed? A little discouraged? Feeling like the market and the industry and your own rabid brainmeats are working against you?
Chin up, you delightful creature!
As you are no doubt aware, RT Booklovers Convention is just around the corner, which means—you know it—thousands of authors, readers, and fans are gathering in New freaking Orleans. May is going to drop on us like whoa. And I’m looking to start it off right.
Tuesday, May 13th, 2014 Anytime After 9pm; At the Hotel Bar
Bring me your thirsty and your dejected; your travel weary and your uninspired. Bring me your excited and your manic; your glamorous and your cazh. Bring me your wildest hats and well-worn denim, your mad high heels and sneakers; bring me your brilliant selves.
We’re going to have a kiki.
What It Is
Everyone knows that the end of a con is when the writer-weary get to go home feeling CONpressed and inspired. But how do we get there right off the bat?
Darlin’, we are in beautiful New Orleans, and that means every second counts.
So a group of us are going to have a kiki: a gathering in the bar and surrounding lobby wherein we can gab, encourage, drink to each other and the career we’ve chosen, and otherwise let it all hang out. Find old friends, make new friends, unwind after a long travel day and otherwise launch this par-tay with a badass group of people—you.
So what do you say? Kiki? So, so? Oui, oui?Non, non?
Dive, Turn, Work
You don’t have to RSVP to attend! Wander-bys and pass-throughs just as welcome. It’s a BarCon event, which means you can stride in fashionably late and stay long as you want—but watch out, ‘cause we’re going to make it damn hard to leave the fun. We’re gonna serve; and work and turn, and honey.
I’m Gonna Let You Have It
Wear whatever you want. Bonus if you show in the glammest gear you desire, but we won’t kick you out for jeans and a tee. Take this and run, delicious ones. I’ll be there with my hair and my heels and my glitter and my ears.
So shade that lid and we’ll all bid adieu to your ennui.
Steampunk 101: What, Where, When and Full Steam Ahead!
I’ll be flying to North Carolina—hello, old stomping grounds!—to give a small workshop on writing steampunk. If you’re part of the romance crew and want to know all the details (grim realities and all!) of the steampunk theme and market, then I’ll see you there!
For 2 hours, I will regale you with my mania.
Points of Interest
We’ll be talking about setting, general theme, character types, genre gist, and on the business side, the market. Come prepared with questions! Any questions!
Why You Should Be There
It’s free! If you’re a member, it costs nothing at all, but if you aren’t a member, you can visit twice for free before joining! (Hint: You should join.)
It’s me! I mean, this will be a no-holds barred, fearless look into the things steampunk can do, what it can’t do, and I’m very funny. Really! So come play.
Dear Geek Dad in the Death Star Engineering hat shopping with your toddler daughter at the grocery store yesterday—
My name is Karina. I’m 31 years old, although I am led to believe that I look much younger than my age. This is usually the second hurdle I have to overcome when dealing with what I like to think of as my own kind.
I’m very much a geek. I like to game—video games, tabletop sessions, and live-action roleplay, mostly—and I’m that extra special sort of dweeb that likes to dress up as part of whatever I’m doing. I buy and hand paint my own miniatures for D&D campaigns that don’t use miniatures, just so I can show my fellow gaming nerds what my character looks like. I’m a steampunk, although admittedly of the aesthetic variety, but if you were to make something work, I would be appropriately filled with admiration and encouragement.
My first official “paying” job was at a comics book store. I say “paying” because I didn’t make a whole lot of money—I used everything I earned to buy comics. I still have those comics, and bring them out now and again to admire them. I have first-edition signed Michael Turner copies of Witchblade and Fathom—which means my uncloseted obsession for T&A comics probably outweighs yours—and special anniversary edition X-Men. I admit to a certain love affair with crossovers, including Batman, but will argue with anyone who doesn’t believe that Flash > all.
I’ve got over 500 hours logged into Mass Effect, and that’s before we delve into multiplayer. I’ve set foot on every major title MMO since Ultima Online, except Guild Wars 2 because screw those guys. If you ever played World of Warcraft back before Cataclysm, I probably rolled your face when I assaulted all of your major cities and took down your leaders—unless you were Horde, then I would have called you a brother. I ran a major guild that didn’t make its name raiding, and still managed to get invited to raids. I ran a uniformed guild on a superhero game that became one of the premier guilds simply because we rolled with the superhero tropes we all love and did it well. My point is: I game like whoa.
I like to read the Wookieepedia for fun. I spend time debating fellow Star Wars aficionados in regards to Sam Jacks—I mean, Mace Windu’s lightsaber form, and just why it was he got bested by Palpatine. (Side note: worst explanation for scarred Emperor ever.) My love for the movies goes in this order: The Empire Strikes Back, A New Hope, Revenge of the Sith, with Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace tied for last place. I believe that it’s truly a shame they never made Attack of the Clones.
The Clone Wars is some of the best TV on, well, TV, right now. If you ever hear me rant, you’ll know that I want to punch Anakin in his stupid face, and I want to punch Leia for naming her kid Anakin, too. Because I think the Skywalker bloodlines might be missing a crystal in its lightsaber, if you know what I mean (and I suspect that you do).
Unfortunately, I don’t have a ready-made card with my geek credentials on it. I can’t stop in a crowded grocery store to ask you to read something like this letter before I deliver a zany nod in regards to, say, that Imperial logo on your hat. I don’t have a butler (yet) who can hold up traffic to introduce me as my vast and storied geek history demands.
All I have is a cheeky one-liner in which I endeavor to share with you, the dude in the Death Star Engineering hat, my equal love for Star Wars. A brief moment passed in a busy grocery store aisle, a nod of solidarity between fans.
I say that my apparent age is the second hurdle that I have to overcome because the first hurdle appears to be my gender. I can think of no other reason why my laughingly sympathetic, “Sorry about that fatal flaw,” and gesture towards my head by way of indicating your hat would have earned your undivided attention by way of a smirk, a snicker, and, “You don’t even know what it is, do you?” And I do understand that I—in my 70s coat with the fake fur trim and brown boots over skinny jeans, with my faded red hair left to flop over my forehead, looking very much like a girl but not very much like sex on a stick—did not have that card to give you, or a logo by which you might recognize that I have said credentials, or even a man standing beside me who could nod and smile indulgently in order to set your questions to rest.
You saw a female first, a young-ish one second—or maybe vice-versa—and in front of your toddler daughter, you sneered at that lady babbling words that couldn’t possibly make any sort of sense, and you walked away.
I admit that for an hour or so afterwards, I was angry. More, I was hurt, because that kind of stuff doesn’t really happen to me in a real-world setting. I’m sort of lucky, I guess. I run with a really good crowd, and—internet notwithstanding—they’re all inclusive. If you like what they like—what we like—then it’s game on.
I haven’t been treated in the real world the way you treated me, man in the Death Star Engineering hat, since high school; and never by the geeks like you. Probably something to do with always closing ranks against the bullies, right? I’ve been treated this way at nerd conventions, though, and that makes me more than just angry. It makes me sad.
It makes me sad because you’re missing out on some really very rabid Star Wars ranting and debate. It makes me sad because that is one less person you get to bond with, that you get to count among the people who will Back You Up if you ever need it, that will make you smile when you pass in the hall and share a rapid-fire one-liner exchange. It makes me sad because you won’t get to know how cool I am, and how cool I think you are, and how awesome we are together.
What you did in that crowded grocery store aisle, man wearing the Imperial logo on his hat, was to begin teaching your daughter that knowing the lingo isn’t enough; that recognizing the signs aren’t enough; that being funny isn’t enough. That because she’s a girl, she will have to plaster herself with all the right signs and carry all the right cards and be backed up by all the right people… preferably men so you can recognize them on sight. That even if she can quote scenes word for word, debate the necessity—the necessity—of Shii-Cho as a foundation form before you get all stupid with Vaapad (which, by the way, died out after Mace Windu died, Depa Billaba dropped into a coma and was probably killed during Order 66, Sora Bulq didn’t teach it as a legitimate form and Quinlan Vos refused to use, so suck it, I can be a Jedi and merrily dance on the Dark Side during time periods where the form didn’t exist haters), it won’t be enough.
What you did, fellow sporting a proud badge of geekery, was something so meta that it was just about perfect.
Maybe that Imperial logo suits you, after all.
Because I think maybe that you consider girls to be something of an alien. That maybe you grew up admiring the Empire and all its propaganda promised—order, security, upward mobility (maybe too much upward mobility, don’t you think?) and didn’t pay much attention to the subtler signs. Like the fact that there are and were very few women on that Death Star, and of those that exist, most were not canon as canon is recognized. And the fact that the Empire was, by and large, anti-alien; something to be subjugated for their own good, put to work where their natural talents suited the Empire best. Because who wouldn’t want a nice, stable environment wherein one’s expectations were clearly outlined?
I don’t necessarily blame you, either. I mean, the Empire had a good thing going! You never saw the rampant abuse and slavery, all you know was that some dude died stealing your original plans—and what a dick move that was—and next thing you know, your precious moon-sized space station is exploding.
What a bunch of jerks, right?
But look, dude in the Imperial logo hat, let me be frank with you:
Girls are not aliens. Girls are and can be an extremely useful ally in this geek culture, and there are more of us than you think. If it suits you, you can think of us as the Rebel Scum to your Stormtroopers. Which is to say, you can’t always pick us out by our uniforms, our badges, or our questionable taste in plasteel, but we are everywhere, we know our mission, and we don’t miss nearly as much as you guys do. (In your favor, we have to deal with an Anakin… Twice.)
So here’s why I’m not going to waste my time being sad that you, a total stranger, took one look at me and decided I obviously had no idea what I was talking about:
I learned everything I needed to know about you in that split second. I clocked you for a geek bully, a dudebro comfortable enough to sneer at a fellow geek simply because of some snap judgment you made that had nothing to do with the words spoken, and worse, a guy that felt totally justified doing it in front of your daughter.
But that’s okay. Because here’s my secret, and it’s a good one—the fact that her father is a Star Wars geek means that she is genetically predisposed to the fever, too. She will at least know of it, will probably spend her youth watching all the movies. And no matter how you raise your daughter, no matter what you teach her or what example you set, there will always be people like me willing to show her that she doesn’t have to be the knowledgable arm candy to some guy (even her father) just to feel comfortable liking Star Wars. She won’t have to be a geek girlfriend just so she can get invited to Star Wars marathons, or call retro X-Wings vs. Tie Fighters benders “time together” just so she can play.
She will be welcomed, she will be encouraged to hold her own, and she—like me, man who decided I wasn’t worth talking to—will not be silenced.
So don’t worry about me, okay? I’m just one in a sea of thousands; hundreds of thousands. And we’re very, very loud.
“People indignant that others would have the audacity to sing ‘America the Beautiful’ in a language other than English, when America was built on opening its arms to the world? The quote on the Statue of Liberty doesn’t say ‘give me your English-speaking only, Christian-believing, heterosexual masses.’ It says ‘give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, tempest-tost.’”—Atlanta anchorwoman destroysconservative arguments about the multilingual Coca-Cola ad. (via mediamattersforamerica)
Steampunk Hands Around the World: The Anachronistic Couple
The elucidated and ever so kind Airship Ambassador—the premier source of steampunk news—has launched this Steampunk Hands Across the World and invited steampunks everywhere to attend. The goal is to talk about steampunk—what it is for us, what it means to us, why we like it, and so on.
I joke about the fact that I’m almost Canadian, what with being 20 minutes from the border, but I occupy a small-ish city-town called Bellingham. It’s the home of Western Washington, Cascade DAFO (a prosthetics place that helps people walk!), a farmer’s market unmatched by anywhere else (she says loyally), and a small but dedicated group of steampunks who put on a yearly event with the help of our local indie bookstore.
To make it even more awesome, I’m not the only steampunk in this house.
Function and Aesthetics
Tell you a secret: I wasn’t all that interested in steampunk until the mancandy got involved.
I mean, sure, it wall sorts of pretty, but I’m inherently lazy. Stuff like this takes time. And leaving the house. People. As a natural-born hermit (and a trained extrovert), I find anything that requires me to put on trousers—okay, or a skirt—is way too much hassle.
Then we went to an Abney Park concert.
From the moment we arrived, the community welcomed us, befriended us, and made this “sub-genre” of reality something incredible.
It was pretty amazing to watch mancandy get hooked. He started creating things, developing plans, thinking about ways to do this or that. Most of what he comes up with are completely beyond me—I’m what they call “an aesthetic steampunk”—but I loved that he was so driven.
As for me, it’s really, really hard not to get addicted to acquiring new stuff to wear.
Mancandy is a bit more into function than I am. He wants it to work. He wants to have a story for every piece. Me, I just want to look incredible while I pen stories that have nothing to do with what I look like. It’s always fun to hear us talk about this or that—he’s all, “And these goggles can do this!” and I’m like, “My ass looks great in those trousers.” We’re quite the odd couple.
Steampunk Makes Us Happy
We’ve made friends, the mancandy and I. The general community is a really incredible group of people from all walks of life. There’s couch potatoes and lawyers, photographers and authors, prison guards looking for something to help them through a tough world, and students tickled to find there’s people all over the world who think like they do.
We’re geeks and freaks and perfectly normal people and perfectly boring people—until we put the outfits on. We’re conscientious and, sometimes, a little too rabid to defend the things we love. We doff our hats because we mean it, stand for ladies because it’s how we show respect, enjoy our tea and coffee in porcelain cups or bejeweled flasks, twirl our mustaches and sashay our petticoats, cinch our corsets and button our waistcoats, and the best thing of all is that you can be any gender, any name, any hero, any sexuality, any villain, any body at all you want to be.
The community provided the mancandy with a place where he could put heads together with some brilliant crafters and come out overflowing with ideas.
It provided me a place where I could go ooh and aah over the fashions, where I could write a little book because I was inspired and later take home an award for it.
It gave us a home where we hadn’t really had one before—a worldwide connection across the globe with people who love cogs and gears, leather and corsets, ruffles and top hats, monocles, goggles, and everything else that steampunk includes.
Friends Across the World
Steampunk is many things to many people, and there is no one true definition. It’s Victorian science-fiction, it’s an anachronistic aesthetic, it’s a do-it-yourself menatlity with a focus on the bespoke days of ages past. It’s fantasy, it’s dressing up, it’s a writing setting, it’s a way of manners, it’s innovation in the mold of an industrial revolution.
It’s all that and more.
But what we love most—aside from the constant flow of creativity—is that it’s a worldwide phenomenon. There are people like us in Brazil. In Germany. In Spain. In Mexico. In Japan. In Australia, and Canada, and Russia, and England, and in many more countries.
It’s nice to be part of a global community. The interconnectivity kind of makes one feel like one is part of something big.
Early warning: I’m sex-positive. To tongue-in-cheek (eh heh) illustrate the point of this blog, I’ve got pictures of gorgeous people to objectify freely. It’s fairly safe for work, but if you’re somewhere super conservative, it may not be. Scroll with care!
There are some excellent discussions out there—everywhere—about the role of the creative in everyday life. How far does our responsibility as “makers of consumed creative product” stretch, and is it in our best interest to—in essence—practice what we preach? What does that even mean when it comes to writing and art?
There’s a lot of heavy stuff out there. At the core, most revolves around equal rights—the right of any person, of any color, class, gender, sexuality or creed, to be treated the same across the board.
We are inundated every day with causes—most of which are important. The right for women to be treated as something other than a convenient receptacle for a man’s sexual urges. The right for POC to be something other than subjugated by white, oh, let’s call it “concern-trolling” to stay modern and hip. The right for LGBTQ people everywhere to be something other than “lesser” beings, to be allowed the same freedoms and happiness as their heteronormative straight counterparts.
There are more—many, many more. So many that it’s easy to look at the world we live in today and start to feel a little overwhelmed by the, dare I say it, unfairness of it all.
"We have to be very careful about what we say out there to the masses in the entertainment industry because people are listening to every word, and they take it to heart." — Jennifer Love Hewitt
The Role of the Creative
Content creators are in the unique position where the things they create—art, stories, movies, video games—are consumed by what we’ll call “the masses”. Readers, TV watchers, movie goers, video game players; everyday folk with everyday hobbies that include consuming our material.
Consuming, and more of than we like, absorbing it at a remarkable rate—and not always the bits we hope they do.
Between the covers of our books, in the fantasies we write, there are messages that are not always meant to be messages. How we treat our characters, how we paint them, how we shape them, transitions to a reader like a slow, steady drip IV—not all at once, but drip by drip, book by book, author by author; until the message they learn is the one that shares the same common denominator as the rest.
That is a lot of responsibility for a content creator.
Or, it isn’t.
The alternative is the other extreme: the one that says what we do is art, plain and simple, and we are under no obligation to shape the world with it unless we want to. That what we write is done for fun only, and that it’s not up to us to hold the hands of our audiences.
Both strong arguments in their own right.
I don’t have an answer. I just have a trapeze wire I shuffle back and forth across.
Write The World You Want to Live In
I was talking with another author and she said, paraphrased due to time lapse between that conversation and now, “If you have the means to create a better world—where racism and sexism aren’t the norm, for example—then why wouldn’t you?”
Authors are in a fantastic position wherein they can, in some small to fairly large fundamental ways, change the way the reading world looks at themselves and their surroundings. By creating a protagonist that is not white, a reader might see themselves in that role for the first time. By creating a cast that is racially, sexually, and gender diverse, readers who aren’t part of the easymode echelon might see in themselves the ability to overcome—just like they read in the book.
If someone struggling with their needs reads about a successful BDSM relationship, and not one fraught in tragedy and villainy, then that reader might feel comforted to know that they have a shot at the happiness they want.
You can create an example for almost any genre, any role. What we write matters, and with this sometimes greater than average power, there is a school of thought that says we have the great responsibility of bettering our communities.
Write the World That You Know
On the flip side of this ideal is the world that we see around us. Whether it’s set in a paranormal world, a fantasy, a contemporary, or anything off this planet and beyond, there are recognizable challenges for our characters to face: racism, sexism, hatred, intolerance. The underdog is the POC community vilified for their traditions, the woman mocked for her desires, the gay youth hunted for their “unnatural ways”.
There’s more to pick on in this world we know—poverty, religious hatred, political shenanigans; you name it, it exists as fodder for a book.
Authors are in a fantastic position wherein they can, in some small to fairly large fundamental ways, make the reading world aware of themselves and their surroundings. Through the challenges of an underdog similar to a real world’s injustice, a reader might “wake up” to the way this injustice is allowed to unfold.
Whether it’s intentional or not, by outlining the stories the way we do, we are depositing a seed of “what if?” in our reader’s heads.
And yet, there’s a third option, one that I posit is just as important as the above.
Write the World That Fuels Your Fantasies
I was once sharing my distaste for the 50 Shades franchise with a peer at a convention, and in the middle of a rant wherein I bemoan the (dare I say it) dangerous examples the book outlines in BDSM practices, she asked me, “Why should I be held responsible for a reader’s personal choices?”
That gave me pause.
It’s been over a year since this discussion, and I still think about it.
Here’s what I eventually put words to in my everyday existence, even as I always on some level knew it based on what I write:
No matter what else is happening in the real world, there must be room for fantasy. And fantasy, as we well know, is not always docile, polite, clean, or politically correct.
And that’s okay.
Because the people who fantasize about monster porn, dinosaur erotica, Bigfoot sex, rape (yes, even being raped), public sex, orgies, and so on aren’t, by and large, broken. And to suggest that those who fantasize without fear of acting on it are broken is so very much not okay.
We might laugh a little at stories of the horny, hungry T-Rex and the cavewoman he wants—seriously, how does he use his tiny arms?—but it’s fantasy. It’s always, always a little ridiculous. Even the generally accepted attainable ones (like princess weddings—I mean, think about it).
Pushing the Boundaries
When I look back on my body of work, I see various kinds of fantasy. In my Dark Mission series, I feature incredibly intense sex scenes between naturally aggressive people in a dangerous world, including a borderline-consent sex scene that we almost softened. Almost. I showcase violence, including violence against the repressed, and good people doing terrible things.
It’s a series where intractable alphas can be jerks for all the usual reasons, and strong-willed women can still want them, jump them, make them crazy, have sex for all the right reasons, have sex for all the wrong reasons, and be flawed and loved and weak and stubborn and unpredictable and not expected to change who they are.
And yet, there are places where I could be accused of promoting rape-culture simply by putting words to a common fantasy shared by as many (at least in studies) as 4 out of 10 women.
All I can continue to say is that everyone deserves the opportunity to fantasize. If a woman’s fantasy includes being taken hard and fast and rough against a wall in a dark alley without being called a slut, a whore, or accused of just wanting to be raped, then who the hell am I to tell her she’s wrong?
And yes, this does go in every direction, every gender, every sexuality. Because fantasy =/= reality. Everyone has fantasies; everyone dreams. Everyone thinks about the dirty little things they shouldn’t.
Not every body of work has to be literary genius—although given the nature of Lolita, I don’t think there’s all that fine a separation between the two. It also doesn’t help when it feels like the most pervasive fantasy out there is “man dominates all that he sees”—a legitimate fantasy with the added bonus of being the one propagated by the majority. So when I spin my fantasies, and it includes a real Tarzan of a man, I put a kink—eh heh—in that common fantasy that gives the woman more power than we are led to believe we have.
That’s my nod. That’s my fantasy.
I am a minstrel. I peddle fantasies, sing a sexy song for my supper, and I relish in the chance to fuel those fantasies—and have a few of my own.
I am an equal rights activist for those communities that I ascribe to, and an advocate for the same across those communities I am not part of. I am a feminist.
And I completely encourage everyone to fantasize about whatever gets their rocks off.
How Far is Too Far?
I don’t have an answer for this. I’m not sure I want one. To create a line is to put a cap on art—and to put a cap on art handicaps those who could tackle a subject with the finesse it needs. It could be said that not putting a limit on it allows too many people who think they can tackle it—see most “my strong female character is strong because she was raped” books—the freedom to keep doing so.
It’s like every First Amendment debate ever.
Suggesting that art promotes negativity is eerily similar to the “video games promote violence" debate—which I feel is definitively closed. There’s the theory that a majority of written works feature common stereotypes despite the historical truthbecause society continues to promote the concept that this is truth—it’s own version of fantasy, if you will. Suggesting that authors have a responsibility to educate the masses is a heavy burden that skims too close to the pop culture fanaticism that has us taking medical advice from celebrities, but at the same time, it does provide an excellent opportunity to put a little bit of equality out into a world that occasionally feels like it doesn’t want any.
They tell you that you cannot write about different cultures because if it’s not yours, you do it wrong; they tell you that you must have more diversity because there isn’t enough; they tell you that you can’t victimize X, Y or Z in the pages; they tell you that the way you glossed over the realities of victimized X, Y or Z was inappropriate; they tell you that you must be as true to life as you possibly can; they tell you that life is miserable, so why perpetuate it?
They will always tell you something.
What it all boils down to is personal choice. What you can live with.
Move Like U Carefully Considered It and Made an Educated Choice
Those of us in some kind of minority—women, POC, LGBTQ, poverty-stricken, and more—feel every day what it takes to operate in a world primarily run by the rich and the WASPy. We know what’s out there. You know what’s out there—or should make a valiant attempt to learn.
Because when you write what you write—when you create and put it out into the world—you should at least have an answer for why you chose to set a series in a world where racism is alive and well, where the women are muzzled, where LGBTQ characters are penalized. Know why you make this call, and you will be miles ahead of those who do it simply because “that’s the way it is”.
Making the Effort
With my admittedly un-objective eye, I look back on my various works and ask myself if I made an educated choice.
Honestly? I have no idea.
I can’t say that my intent is pure; I don’t know that I set out to send a message when I write my stories.
But I do know what I did wrong—as it pertains to me and my feelings, and the reactions that most impact me from readers—and I know where to improve. I know that I peddle fantasies, and I know that some fantasies have the potential to share great messages. I choose what work promotes what, and that is, in the end, all a creator can do.
If you choose to infuse your work with all the vigor of your social values, that is your choice.
If you choose to ignore all the causes and write the fantasies and stories you want to write, bedamned to social values, that is your choice.
If you choose to do a little bit of both, depending on the work and the time, that is your choice.
But choose. And then you’ll never be caught off-guard when somebody asks you why. And know that no matter which way you go, there will be people telling you—explaining to you—how and why you’re doing it wrong.
This is the necessary hypocrisy of a working author. To not, in some eyes, practice what we preach. Or, in the yes of others, to do exactly that.
If he dared me to jump off a bridge, I’d do that, too. Such is the secret and terrible power within Der Wendighaus.
If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I spent my Thursday night dressing up as Miriam Black from Chuck’s crazy intense series (which begins with Blackbirds, in case you didn’t realize, ahem). He ran a contest, which twitter dangled it in front of me like delicious bait, and this is the result.
You should also go and vote for the next winners, because the entries are awesome!
Somebody on Twitter once asked me what my favorite cup of coffee was, and I replied—whilst subsequently adding it to my FAQ—that coffee was coffee, and even bad coffee was drinkable. I have been informed rather vociferously that the Chemex will change my life, and that I might even—gasp!—switch over to drinking coffee black.
That’s right. Black. Without milk or cream of any kind.
Now, if you do stalk my tweetstream, you know that I have a love-hate relationship with coffee. I love it, but without soymilk in it, I hate it. Yet so far this year, I have been challenged to a contest I did not expect to win and given a Come to Jesus talk that I didn’t expect to alter my views on Things(tm) and Stuff(tm)—and did both.
So here’s my plan: Because Chuck was so brilliantly kind enough to offer the Chemex as a contest prize, and I was so fortunate enough to win it, I will be trying my coffee black. I will try it first the way I always make it—in a Keurig and in a French Press (er, not at the same time, as that would be messy and awkward and possibly spawn an inter-dimensional rift). Then I will try it with this newfangled chemistry-based sciencey perfection life-altering Chemex doohickey.
There has been some suggestion that it shall include magical flavor warfare of sexy, chemical intercourse in my face.
I will ever so graciously provide my face for this experiment. For science.
Fact of the matter is, I love coffee more than I hate it. If I end up liking this black stuff, then we are looking at a quality of life improvement of near-epic proportions.
No pressure, scientists. No pressure.
Ein Minuten Bitter!
Seriously, I have to say that I am totally squeeful over this. I never expected to actually win—I just wanted to play. I did add the Chemex to my wishlist for the day I start acquiring luxuries again, but I am over the moon to have won it.
Chuck Wendig is my god now. At least until the next best thing comes along. Or the Chemex ousts him. (Thanks, Chuck!)
On to the (Slightly Less Good Than Delicious Coffee) Good Stuff
I’d like to put my money where my mouth is, but I am afraid of ingesting somebody’s cocaine and bodily fluids. So I will just type here like a normal squeeb.
Awesomesauce is You
I want you to know that you are awesome. I am awesome, too, but it’s harder to remember that about yourself. You are awesome. Yes, you. With the face. Hell, even if you don’t have a face, you are awesome. I want you to carry this with you: Karina Cooper, award-winning author, thinks that I am awesome.
Good? Good. Don’t forget. There’ll be a quiz later. (Hint: the question will be, “Am I awesome?” and the answer is “Yes!”)
I have Engraved, The St. Croix Chronicles #4, to plot, and I have to start writing that like right bloody now. Fortunately, aside from this little issue I have where Hawke fans and loves might come after me with a filleting knife, I am excited to do this.
I also intend to keep positive—or at least steady. The weather’s been grim and the world keeps turning, but it’s okay to just keep to my corner of this crazy universe and think good thoughts. (Psst: it’s okay for you to do the same.)
And I’m running every Mon/Wed/Fri (sometimes Sat, instead of Fri) and it’s feeling pretty good. Indoors on a treadmill, though. It’s just too bloody cold to run outside.
What are your plans this week?
I’ve started adding excerpts to the individual book pages on this website—which I am also making easier to get to. The Dark Mission books are all excerpted. I’ll be working on The St. Croix Chronicles pages as time allows. Why, yes, this does mean that you’ll see an excerpt of Tempered.
A Culture of Mean: How to Gain Followers and Reshares
The internet is for porn, cats, and trolls. All other things—social gatherings, causes, activism, information, chatting—come second to these three main foundation posts of the web (although GIFs are arguably climbing up there). With that in mind, is it any wonder that the most common form of social activism falls under the third category—that of trolling?
And why wouldn’t it? Look around online, at the links shared and reshared, the clickbait posted by places like Jezebel and Buzzfeed, and it becomes rapidly clear that the only way to get attention—for good or ill—is to be a raging ass or irresistibly cute. (Or show your genitals. Let’s be fair.)
Many of us have no interest in showing our genitals to the world at large. Many of us—cute we might be—can’t hold a candle to the irresistible fluff of a kitten or, dare I say it, Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch. We have things to say that can’t be disguised in happy fluffballs of adorableness, and reasonable discourse nets very little by way of resharing.
Many of us, you might have noticed, default to rage.
Mob Rule on the Internet "…Distracted from distraction by distraction…" — T S Eliot
I have caught myself more than I’m comfortable with thinking in 140 characters. I find myself reaching for the devices when I have some quiet, or when I’m alone, or even when I’m not and figure it’s just a few seconds. I am no longer capable of being alone.
But even worse than that—who wants to be alone, anyway?—is the social grooming that comes with the constant attendance of the internet. We have been groomed to understand that there are only two ways to net attention to our cause:
be mean about it;
suffer someone else being mean towards us.
Few of us who crave the attentions of our audiences—and let’s not be shy, we know who we are, and we are legion—have the patience to wait for someone to come be mean to us. So we hit it first. For some, that mean is wrapped in folds of scathing humor, the kind of stuff that gets laughs at something else’s expense even while it drills the point home. For others, being mean is an art itself, designed and laid out with as much thought and care as a performance piece. Being mean to be mean garners an audience of those who thrive on watching someone or something get shredded by the ill humors of the shredder.
"Filled with fancies and empty of meaning…" — T S Eliot
(All of you picturing a guy in a spiky bucket helmet, you are welcome here.)
Now, semantics aside, this is not always a default mechanism for everyone. Many are the positive posts, the encouragement, and when that doesn’t do, the silence. I know many authors who remain quiet rather than join in the rage parade, because a thousand voices screaming hate and vitriol is no more effective—and in fact, I think is even more detrimental to the cause.
Yet that parade is the one that looks like it’s getting something done. It looks like it’s going places, like doors are opening for it. All those wide eyes staring and watching and listening to the spew look like they get it.
It takes someone standing back, someone neither in the crowd or on the floats, to see that what that crowd is getting is entertained.
We have become a side show; not even given the courtesy of standing in the main ring. Our culture of mean—a natural progression of the theory that clicks and reshares = popularity support—insists that we continue to deliberately turn to anger. Anger sells.
Not as much as sex, but more than logic. (Zachary Quinto notwithstanding.)
Default Mode: Rage Machine "Tumid apathy with no concentration…" — T S Eliot
Yes. I know, I know, this is me. I have had my share of rage-induced blog posts, and I’m sure that I’ll have more.
Yes, I know, I know that there are cases when people’s voices lifted in anger, in outrage, have netted positive change. It doesn’t take much to recall the fiasco about the SFWA and a few folks’ take on “lady authors”. But that’s my point, isn’t it?
Rage is a weapon. It’s a tool, just like any other emotion placed out there for mass consumption. This isn’t about silencing one’s rage, it’s not about finding zen with the world (although I’d like to). This is not a thing that says you need to be quiet.
What this says is that maybe it’s time we all individually look at what our defaults have been set to, and decide if that’s where we really want to stay.
We have become a society—a community—of rage over reason, of reason buried in vitriol, of vitriol over intimacy. We default to the habitual resharing of such things as a matter of rote—because it’s funny, or entertaining, or sparks in us that adrenaline rush that makes us want to join the party. We craft wittily scathing tweets given the slightest provocation, turn on others at the drop of a currently socially acceptable hat; we emotionally beat up our friends because internet justice has become more important than the friends we’re unwittingly hurting with our broad strokes and absolutes.
"Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time…" — T S Eliot
In every case, there is a rational explanation—an excuse that is supposed to make it all better—that we are prepared to link to; usually in articles posted by others. Most often in the same places known for the clickbait that started it.
They all boil down to a single refrain: “You don’t matter.”
"Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after…" — T S Eliot
Because it’s not about you—even if it is. Because if you dare say that your friend has hurt you with a broad stroke, you become the selfish one. You become the problem. You become the enemy.
If you are not made of iron, then get off the internet—because the cause that seems most prevalent is if you can’t handle my abuse, get out.
"You don’t matter."
Forget yourself as an individual. Forget your allies and friends as individuals. Forget that you, or they, cannot go into your “safe” spots, your friend spots, without being told what a terrible person you are.Tell yourself that you, or they, deserve that—for whatever reason. Forget that you are flesh and blood and feeling and heart. Forget that people are flesh and blood and feeling and heart.
When did our default become alienating our allies and friends in favor of adrenaline rushes and clickbait?
"…Not here the darkness, in this twittering world." — T S Eliot
When did we forget that causes by the very nature of being a cause is in desperate need of support from individuals?
Is that the exchange that makes us happy?
Social communities are more than words. Social communities are made of actions that bind, friendships, shared stories and a future the community wants to see unfold. Unfortunately, all it takes is words to shred a community. Words, and a lack of awareness.
Our default—rage over intimacy—slices off individuals like fungus. We are cannibalizing our own causes. And they are too important to lose to sideshow bids for popularity.
Breathe. Think. Post.
There is popularity in anger—the kind of likes and up-votes and reshares and invites to prom that come from being a mean girl (or guy, if that’s your jam). There is a buzz that comes from the words of encouragement and the shouts of agreement.
There is a high that stems from crushing the deserving underfoot—and the same high from crushing the undeserving.
The internet provides us with a unique opportunity unheard of in previous generations. We have access. We have audiences. We have, dare I say it, fans, and as any celebrity—minor though the internet allows us to be, for however long—learns very quickly, fans love drama.
We have entered into a culture of mean: When it costs us less to be angry and cutting than it does to think or talk things through; when it makes us feel better to sit on a pedestal and spit venom than it does to sit down in a group and hold a discourse.
We are losing the audiences we need to hear us and gaining those who thrive on negativity and bullying.
There are times when mean must be the voice. When rage is the only thing that will puncture holes in a system so broken that reason no longer suffices. There are legitimate purposes for the tool that rage is.
It should not be the default.
Every time a tool is used, it blunts—to extend this already overly extended metaphor. Imagine it like non-stop screamo. When all the world sees from you is anger, they become deaf to it. It loses its edge. Like comedy, where a comedian constantly reaches for the next plateau, every rage becomes so much noise, and people are forced to push harder, get meaner, sharpen their tools on every cause, for every chance, because losing views, losing audience, losing reshares is a slow and lonely death on the internet that does not care.
(If you’re one of those who like screamo and listen to it all the time, then you are akin to those who can look at and read and deal with the rage constantly lashing out at them. Congrats.)
Look. I’m not asking you to shut up. I’m just suggesting that next time you feel the urge to rage about something online, take a moment. Think about it. Ask any questions you need of the subject matter to clarify your understanding. Breathe. And after you’ve done that, if you still think that a reasonable discourse—a blog post without the vitriol, say—isn’t right and outrage is the way to go, then by all means.
Let that be the diamond in your collection, the thing you unveil when all else fails. In a mercenary sort of sense, if that’s your thing, let your outrage be the type that when it does unfold, you stun your audience, shock them into awe and reshares.
We’ve got to do something, delicious ones. Because alienating the people who already support us isn’t the way.
Less Rage =/= Silence
Let me just be clear: I’m not advocating a return to Barbie, or to silence, or to “privileged speakers only”, or any of that nonsense that seems to crop up when someone suggests easing back on the throttle a little. What I’m saying is that relying on one thing too often cheapens the tool. We aren’t out here to hear ourselves talk. We aren’t posting blogs and making waves because it’s for our health.
We do it because we want to be heard. Because we have something to say, and it’s important. because we ant to be treated as equals—all of us—and we all have our individual things to say.
And like all matters involving other people, there are ways to be more and less effective in a crowd.
Reasonable discourse, even reason as a thought process beyond 140 characters, needs to make a comeback. At least a little. Otherwise all we’re doing up here on the net is yelling at each other.
I made friends. You know who you are. (And thank you.)
I stayed married. It counts
I published with Carina Press (thereby ensuring I add, “No relation,” when talking about it.)
I learned how to cook something besides tuna melts and pancakes.
I began the process to take control of my various neurosis.
I found a flower twin. It matters.
All in all, while the bulk of the year was harsh enough to leave abrasion tracks, I think that there’s some good things I can look back on and think that maybe, just maybe, Bill Murray was on to something.
Things I Want to Do in 2014
Write a new (to me) genre.
Cut myself some slack.
Move to Atlanta.
Make more money at the job I love than I currently do.
Drink water. Every day. Seriously, this is a thing.
The bulk of these things all rely on one thing: do better at the career I love. Better, more, stronger, don’t give up. I know i’m not the only one who broached this new year with a cautiously tested, “Maybe I should give up?” And I just want to tell you: No. No, you shouldn’t give up.
Unless you aren’t a writer, then… errrr… you should be surfing for porn. Or cats. Or porncats. Which might be unnecessarily redundant.
Look, my point is, it’s 2014, now. It’s a new year. It feels and looks a lot like the gray, cloudy, cold days of the last days of the last year, but it’s actually the gray, cloudy, cold first days of the new year. The difference is in the march of time, the chance to start something new, finish something old, or throw the baby out with the bathwater and run away to a nude beach in Peru.
Go. Do it. You have my permission: do what you are going to do and be free.
And I’ll give myself permission, too.
It’s time, Karina. Let the old go. Do something different. Even if it’s the same stuff you were working on last year, “finishing it” is different enough to count.
Disclaimer: The debates regarding D&D <3.5 (A)D&D alignments is as varied as it is spite- and rage-fueled—primarily among the most reviled and yet gleefully adopted Chaotic Neutral players. As a geek girl in the wild, I freely admit to sticking my foot in it with unabashed tongue in cheek. The writing advice, however, I’ll stand behind. … Because that’s where rogues do it best.
"When you’re CN,
You’re CN all the way—
From your first murdered man
To your fated PK!" — The Unofficial Chaotic Neutral Song
It begins with someone in your circle of friends and gamers—most likely the one who has run every campaign under the sun (and the ones in the Underdark, too) speaking up with words very similar to this: “You guys, I have an idea!”
Suddenly, you find yourself with 4-6 other gamers feverishly drafting up the most vile, despicable, evil characters you can possibly imagine. The Lawful Evil childlike necromancer from the one who’d watched way too much anime? Check. The sexy, scantily clad Neutral Evil elf chick played by the one who never realized that getting laid took more than a dice roll? Check. The Chaotic Evil Int-dump barbarian played by the one who really doesn’t get this whole roleplay thing and just wants to kill as much as possible in a single session? Double check.
And then there is—there always is—the Chaotic Neutral character. Typically a rogue of some sort, because backstabbing one’s friends is almost as much fun as stealing their shit. Or this shining example of psychosis is a sorcerer of some kind, because if you can’t steal their shit then setting one’s friends on fire is hilarious.
Layer on an “anything goes” template and you’ve got fiends rolling with vampires and lycanthropy all up in that grill, and you just know nobody’s getting through this campaign in one piece.
Which is only partially the point of a good campaign.
A crash course, if you will: Dungeons and Dragons is, at its heart, a pen and paper adventure game. For those of you who are not aware, think of it like a video game, but instead of a computer to do all the calculations, you have actual printed character sheets. And instead of a graphics engine, you have something called your imagination.
Much like your standard RPG, you make a character, get together with a handful of other characters, and immerse yourself in a world where your goal is to do quests, solve mysteries, rescue the [whatever got kidnapped] and kill the [whatever kidnapped it]. You gain magic items, upgrade your gear, and everything else you can do on a computer or console game, but it’s all done on paper.
Dementedly barbaric, right?
Ah, you just can’t go home again…
There is usually one person running said game—that person is called, among other things, the Dungeon Master, the Game Master, the Storyteller, and so on. God. They are the voice of every NPC, ever peasant, every kidnapped spoiled nobility, and (in theory) the impartial die-roller of your fate.
So, in short, you are playing out a story that is one part designated by the DM, and one part designated by the roll of a die.
The Hero’s Journey
One of the most engrossing aspects of D&D is the ability to play the quintessential hero’s journey character. You begin life as a level 1 nobody. You’re lucky to be just a little bit more interesting than Farmboy Jim, who obviously made Charisma his dump stat because he tends to smell like horse manure and Pine-Sol.
As a level 1 fighter/bard/rogue/wizard/sorcerer/etc., you aren’t exactly Chuck Norris, but as fate would have it, you probably walk into the right tavern at the right time to hear some sob story about how times are tough and the King’s daughter has been kidnapped and that dragon is razing good farmland—so much for Farmboy Jim—and there’s really good coin as a reward for solving any one of these.
So you and your adventurous compatriots go off on a journey that will test your mettle, your friendship, your luck, and—most notably—your ability to comprehend basic math.
Oh, THAC0. How I never miss you except as an extremely tired and old joke. Because you were never not funny.
Through fire and brimstone, Drow and dragons, you fight and roll and loot and maim your way into the annals of history—which is to say, somewhere beyond level 20. Congratulations. You are a hero.
But what about the other side of that story? What about the bad guys you’re fighting?
What’s their jam?
Hint: It should be exactly like yours.
Backing Up, Starting Over
Let’s start this all over from a writing point of view.
You know what it takes to create a character who is Destined to Become a Hero(tm). You’ve given her (let’s say her, because waaaugh, rawr, strong female character, whoosh!) a goal that will either start or end up to be extremely heroic, you’ve given her motivation to justify why she needs to attain this goal, and the conflict that you—as god, and occasionally in the role of story minion—will be throwing in the path to achieve said goal.
This is where the D&D path converges.
"A villain is really just the hero of his or her own story."
As a D&D character, if you happen to have a backstory no more interesting than Farmboy Jim (may Kelemvor have mercy on that poor sod, because we’re in the Forgotten Realms, now, bitches), you’ll gain one within the first game session. You may also come ready with your own Epic Goal(tm)—take revenge on your father’s murderer, hunt down your missing sister after she forsook her vows and fled the convent you put her in for “safekeeping”, kill the dragon that wiped out your best friend Jim, whatever.
What is most likely is that you are given your Goal Most Heroic(tm) by the Dungeon Master via particularly pessimistic and/or hysterical non-player character (who insists that times are tough, as if you didn’t know). Boom. Ready-made quest. The next few hours are like writing a book—with three to five other people.
As a writer, you know—of course you know—that a villain, an evil character, is really just the hero of his or her own story. Every villain needs a suitably epic goal, a determined motivation, and the conflict—usually in the form of the world and heroic characters—to thwart said suitably epic goal. Whether it’s destroying the world, murdering one of the heroes, or taming the dragon, there must be a reason.
This photo has nothing to do with anything except gaming culture. I just wanted to post it. We’re so badass. Photo by Kyle Weems
And this is where the D&D path diverges.
Everyone who’s ever played an evil campaign D&D game will understand me when I say: man cannot live on dreams of carnage alone.
D&D Evil Campaigns are a PK-fest—that’s “player kill”, for you uninitiated—waiting to happen. Here’s why:
Evil, by nature, does not play well with others. This is because a great deal of easily understood evil comes from selfishness. The selfish need for revenge, the selfish desire for more [insert desire here], the selfish belief that one is the end all, of all and should rule the world—or destroy it so no one else can. Ergo, “selfish” does not lead to trust.
Campaigners, by nature, only really develop “work together” skills up to a certain level. A D&D campaign is as much about working together as it is shining as an individual, and many gamers are more interested in shining than in sharing. it’s a rare group who develops the strength of cooperative gameplay enough to trust and rely on each other to make the right—or at least best they can for the situation—calls at the right time. An evil campaign only widens that gulf: combine the most common view of evil (re: selfish) with a player’s innate need to be the most badass mofo on the block, and there is no more trust out of character than there is in character.
The only thing to fear is fear itself (or a figurehead that embodies said fear), and when there is no reason for an evil character to fear (or respect), there is no reason for him to toe the line—and the key point for any successful party, whether in a D&D group or on the page, is everyone on some level must toe a line. Just like real life, you can’t just do anything you want and expect everyone else to fall in with you. The main difference between a good character and an evil character is that in many cases, evil (remember: selfish) sees no reason to cater to the common decency demands that keep us civil. Where there is no need to be civil—whether enforced by social mores or by a greater demand—there is no chance of trust. Compromise is the key to working together.
Do you see a trend here?
Any time a group of evil characters gets together, they must figure out the common denonimator that will keep them from turning on one another: and that must create a certain amount of trust—or at least a guarantee of some kind that keeps the characters in line enough to work together to achieve the goal. Without a Goal and the Motivation to achieve it, per character, an evil party will cannibalize itself.
And let’s face it: most of your average D&D gamers aren’t so complex that they’ll worry about these sorts of things.
Which brings me to the bonus stage: the exception to the above.
Chaotic Neutral: The Alignment of Twats (and Serial Killers?)A Bonus Mini-Rant
Disclaimer: Yes, I know some of you love this alignment and probably play it well. This probably isn’t about you.
When it comes to the Chaotic Neutral member in your party, you can take everything I said and toss it right out the fucking window. Chaotic Neutral—much like the hunter class in World of Warcraft—is very easy to play, and very hard to play well.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the Chaotic Neutral alignment:
A Chaotic Neutral character is an individualist who follows his or her own heart, and generally shirks rules and traditions. Although they promote the ideals of freedom, it is their own freedom that comes first. Good and Evil come second to their need to be free, and the only reliable thing about them is how totally unreliable they are.
Go ahead. Point out that the image has nothing to do with the text. #thepoint #youfoundit
In the most shallow of definitions, the things most people pull out of this is: I do what I want, when I want, because I want to at that moment. Or, in a blunter format, I don’t believe in consequences, so fuck you.
Chaotic Neutral is the single most reviled alignment in any party. And the primary reason for this is that they have frequently confused Chaotic Neutral with Chaotic Evil.
Chaotic Evil is the alignment of (most) serial killers, those who are evil not because it’s unexpected but because they are extremely selfish and have no regard for others. Psychopathy is the hallmark of Chaotic Evil.
And yet legion is the number of Chaotic Neutral characters who will gut a fellow party member to claim the trinket said fellow found, of the sexy sorceress who will sleep with anyone who asks (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and then throat them after (definitely something wrong there), of the barbarian who will go slaughter an entire village for no other reason than because it’s fun, and so on.
Clearing Up the Misunderstanding
In AD&D—which is primarily Dungeons & Dragons with a new ruleset, and what everyone my generation and younger tend to base all D&D knowledge on—the Chaotic Neutral alignment was mistaken to mean a particular subset of crazy that captured the imagination and lusts of younger minds the world over: to wit, instead of the Captain Jack Sparrow or Snake Plissken brand of CN, they assumed it meant a hardcore version wherein change was always good, and chaos was king, and anarchy in the UK!
As these things are wont to do, this brand of Chaotic Neutral spread like wildfire, and it became part of the cultural memory of the D&D multiverse. Even now, if you ask a room full of people what Chaotic Neutral was, you’d get more “chaos for chaos’ sake” than you would “savvy?”.
And because of this, CN has not only earned a bad rap, but it’s considered the most “fun” you can have in a non-evil party.
Whenever someone tells me they prefer to play Chaotic Neutral, my ass begins to twitch.
A Public Service Announcement
When you are considering making an evil character, either for a D&D game or a book, I want you to consider these things:
"Without a Goal and the Motivation to achieve it, an evil party will cannibalize itself."
Does your character have a Goal? If not, you can quit right now. No goal means no reason to do anything.
Is there a strong enough Motivation to keep your character(s) going, to do what it takes—even if it means working with others—to accomplish it? If there isn’t, then just like any good-aligned character, the chances of said characters completing anything is minimal. It’s the equivalent of waking up one day and going, “You know, I think I’ll paint my kitchen. Or… you know, maybe not.”
Does your group—either your campaign group or the party your book character has to work with‚ have a higher chance than normal to fall apart at the first sign of Conflict? If so, go back into your G/M/C charts and do what you need to do in order to fix that. If everything hinges on the other guy not being a douche, your character is in for some severe disappointment.
Do you actually mean Chaotic Neutral? Or have you confused that morality with Chaotic Evil? Be sure.Captain Jack Sparrow may be a twat, but he’s not a serial killer. There is a difference. If you can’t see what that difference is, you need to go back to your G/M/C charts and ensure you have a solid grasp of character traits—what they are and what they aren’t.
Are you (or your character) evil for the sake of being evil? Look, there’s nothing wrong with this, but just like any protagonist, you need more to keep going. See PSA #1. Being good just for the sake of being good is the same way. There has to be a why. Nobody is born in a vacuum. If you find the why, you’ll find the momentum.
And lastly, if you ever find yourself running, heading, or involved with an evil campaign, remember this: without trust or enough blackmail material to guarantee a certain amount of fear, this will only end in tears. Tears and bloodshed. (And if you’re the sort to think about factors like “long term viability” and “working together”, the tears and blood shed will probably be yours.)
As I was drafting up the first part to this social media series, it occurred to me that there was another point of view here: that of the person who finds themselves unfollowed, blocked, or muted. I, myself, have been unfollowed—and I’m sure that I’ve been muted and blocked. I’d be very surprised if not.
So, following is my advice for those of us on the receiving end of part one’s assurances.
1. It’s Okay Not to Be Followed
You’re me. You’re super excited to have made a connection with someone—a friend, a fellow author, that hot number in the coffee shop—and you reach out to them on social media to say thanks for being awesome, or you enjoyed their book, or hey, that coffee they had looked really good, what was it? You get an answer.
You don’t get a follow.
This is a mistake, you think. Maybe they don’t remember you. So you reply with a subtle (or not-so-subtle) reminder of where you met. Maybe you get another answer.
But no follow.
Crushed, you tell yourself a thousand reasons why you suck, because why else won’t that person follow you back? Don’t they like you? How dare they not like you! Get the pitchforks!
Okay, settle down, honeybee.
The fact of the matter is, everyone has the right to chose who they fill their day with—and let’s face it, social media to many of us is an all-day obsession. Just because you aren’t being followed back doesn’t mean they don’t like you. There could be any number of reasons: they’re at their signal-to-noise saturation point, they don’t know you well enough to want to be with you ever day, they only follow A Certain Type of Person, they can’t handle your swearing but otherwise think you’re generally a nice person, they just don’t make it a habit to follow strangers… The list goes on!
Don’t take this personally. I, myself, chat with many folks who @mention me regularly, but I don’t follow them. Chances are, it has little to do with you as an individual person, and everything to do with the person’s own level of comfort.
2. It’s Okay to Be Unfollowed
There you are, merrily enjoying your social media experience. You click on someone’s name because, oh, accident or to check location in order to answer a question, or whatever, and you see it: that person is no longer following you.
What? Why did that person unfollow you? Was it a bug? Did they make a mistake? Did you do something wrong? Are they singling you out? Is it because you stopped following their friend? Well, fuck them. Who needs them? They’re bitches, anyway. Get the pitchforks!
Okay, settle down, spiky.
Don’t take this personally, but… sometimes, you just aren’t a match for someone. That’s okay, though! I mean, you can’t be everything to everyone, right? And why would you be? The way you tweet/facebook/talk can’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and somebody decided that as nice/funny/snarky/passionate/professional as you are, you’re just not the type of person they want to see every single day—or every few minutes, if you tweet like me.
This is okay. It’s important you realize that this is okay, because otherwise, you start imagining high school locker room scenarios, and you work yourself up over nothing.
But you know what? Here’s the really important part: if the person who unfollowed you hates your guts and hopes you die in a fire, what would it serve you to know that? Really, what you get from knowing this? Nothing but anger with nowehere to go. Why? Because to engage in a social media fight over being unfollowed by someone who already doesn’t want to see you ever day is akin to a fishslap fight: utterly ridiculous.
Besides, all that it will do is make the person you’re accusing of ulterior unfollow motives feel utterly vindicated: they did good in unfollowing you, you’re a damn nutjob.
Don’t be a damn nutjob. Accept that you don’t appeal to everyone and move on. Go find your people and be free!
3. It’s Okay Not to Be Engaged With
So you @mention someone—you like their book, you think they’re swell, you say something funny, you share a picture, you wrote a 20 stanza poem just for them and deliver it 140 characters at a time. You never get a reply.
You ask why they don’t reply. You don’t get an answer.
You try asking publicly—still no answer.
Oh, my god. They hate you. Is it you? Do you smell? Were you a giant nerd and they hate you for sure? Maybe it’s them. They’re so stuck up. Why are they douches? Get the pitchforks!
Okay, settle down, buttercup.
There’s a few things to consider here. Maybe they’re not even checking mentions because they’re on their phone and just wanted to tweet a cool picture of a coffee house mug. Maybe they’re inundated with mentions. Maybe they laughed at your comment but had nothing viable to add. Maybe they don’t have time to engage with you. Maybe you did, in fact, irritate them and they would rather say nothing than hurt your feelings.
Maybe it isn’t about you.
Maybe by hounding them about why they aren’t responding to them, you are earning yourself a muting, or a blocking, or just turning into That Guy.
Come on. Nobody likes That Guy.
Okay, wake up call: sometimes, people just don’t respond to tweets aimed at them. That’s the luxury of twitter—or Facebook or whatever social media of choice you’re using. It’s not necessarily anything to do with you, but with them. I check tweets right when I wake up—when I’m way too groggy to understand them. I get a lot of mentions pre-10am PST, and I don’t answer many because I can barely quantify they’re there. That’s my hangup, not yours. Sometimes I get to those mentions by afternoon, sometimes they get buried under other stuff.
Sometimes, I tweet to people—even very good friends—and never get a response. That’s okay, because I know life happens, and whatever I said either wasn’t enough to provoke a verbal response, or was exactly enough to make the recipient laugh or feel loved, or whatever.
So, be chill. Life happens—even if it doesn’t look like life is happening on someone’s social media, you have no idea what’s really going on. Be compassionate, be patient, be understanding, and mostly? Just be groovy. You’re appreciated; I promise.
4. It’s Okay to Be Blocked—Mostly
Firstly, consider why you have been blocked. If you find out that you’ve been blocked by someone, think really hard about your behavior: were you rude? Are you deliberately aggravating or overly aggressive? Are you a stalker? A serial abuser?
If the answer is yes, then perhaps you should rethink your social media tactics—if you care. If you don’t, well, get used to blocking among those who don’t enjoy that sort of discourse.
If the answer is no, then you’re left with all the same questions and feelings as being unfollowed. Why? How dare they? Grr! Pitchforks!
Okay, settle down, sugarpie, and read #2 over again.
5. It’s Okay Not to Be Politic
This has two versions, and one is not so hot. Look: If you’re being blocked, unfollowed, or not followed, you’ve got very little ground to stand on if you publicly complain about it. I mean, like I said, if you go on a rampage about it, it’s you that comes off looking like a douche.
What? You? A douche? Oh, my god. No, I didn’t. Get the pitchforks!
Okay, settle down, scrappy.
It goes like this: if you’re the one being unfollowed or blocked, or not being followed in the first place, be politic. Don’t freak out about it. See all the reasons for these things and breathe.
Remember, always remember: everybody’s social media is theirs to cultivate as they wish. You have no right to force yourself on someone who doesn’t want you up in their grill.
But also note that is’ totally okay for you to do the “impolitic thing” and unfollow someone who isn’t following you because you feel slighted. Or maybe because you give up on making that connection. Or whatever. It’s okay not to follow the celebrity everyone else does. It’s okay.
Just as it’s okay for them, it’s okay for you. But what it really boils down to is this: it is okay for them to follow/unfollow/block whomever they want. It’s up to us to suck it up and understand that for whatever reason, we’re just not their daily cup of tea.
That’s called being professional.And at the very least, being mature enough to understand everyone has the right to happiness. Even if their happiness doesn’t include you.
It’s interesting how many people confide to me about their social media fears. It’s frankly astounding; all of these people who have confessed to worrying about who they follow, why they don’t want to, how they make their lists, why they’re scared to un/follow or block—all of them think they’re alone. That they’re somehow The Bad Guy(tm) for feeling the way they do.
So, I decided that it was time i put that bogeyman to rest. Have a blanket.
1. It’s Okay to Follow Who You Want
Make no excuses. Your social media list is yours—it’s the signal (or noise) you want to let into your life every single day. In a real-world equivalent, it’s the same to choosing which meatbag friends you want to see every day, and which you want to call up every so often and shoot the breeze with.
For example: I have folks that I follow, but I also have folks that I recognize by twitter name because we chat often, but I don’t follow them. The reason why I don’t follow them have nothing to do with dislike—it’s simply that I have a very fragile ratio of signal to noise, and I am consistently refining my following list to make sure I get the maximum amount of signal (which is: tweets and newsfeeds that keep me in touch and informed without overwhelming me so much that I retain nothing at all) with the minimum amount of noise (or, all the other stuff that undercuts all the signal).
It’s entirely up to you what your following list looks like, and it’s okay to not follow someone if you choose not to. Really.
2. It’s Okay to Unfollow Who You Want
We’ve all been there. You start following someone, and then you realize—either within hours or after a couple years—that your values, interests, or whatever simply don’t match up. You like pie, they like cake, and the battle lines are drawn. (Or, say, in this case, “pie” is a clever euphemism for “feminism” and “cake” is the vile patriarchy… eat it, cake lovers, mwahaha—ouch. Fine, fine, sorry, cake lovers. Cake is okay. I guess.)
So what do you do? Well, you could—if your twitter client allows it—mute the person (or, as Facebook allows, keep them from appearing on your news feed). This is a no-fuss version of unfollow, keeping the person from showing up on your feed when you are using that client. It doesn’t hide them on the twitter page. Sometimes, this is the politic thing to do—removing the person you just can’t handle for any particular reason from your sight without straining the relationship by unfollowing (which, let’s face it, can sometimes lead to ruffled feathers).
However, there are those who can’t mute, or who just don’t want to follow someone they can’t connect with. The answer is simple: unfollow them. (Note: Now everyone can mute! See edit under “4. It’s Okay to Block”.)
Remember what I said? It is entirely up to you what your following list looks like. It’s your day, your comfort, your mental peace. You follow who you want, and you unfollow who you want.
3. It’s Okay Not to Engage
Sometimes, unfollowing someone will result in a tweet by said someone. They’ll want to know why, or they’ll just get aggressive, or maybe they’ll subtweet (to wit, tweet something rude or angry about you without using your name) and you’ll see it retweeted into your stream. That’s always difficult to see, because suddenly you are placed in a position where you have to defend your choice—and there’s nothing you can possibly say to unruffle those feathers. (Unless you didn’t unfollow someone, but Twitter’s occasional unfollow bug did, in which case you apologize profusely because dammit, Twitter).
I hereby give you permission not to engage in said tweets/facebook posts/whatnot. Why should you? It’s your following list, remember? You follow who you want. It’s rarely so personal that it needs to be aired out in front of Queen and country, and anyone who forces you to air it out in front of said Queen and country is probably not the type of person you want in your feed anyway.
However, there are those who honestly just want to know, and sometimes it’s as impersonal as “I follow far too many people and can’t keep up”. It’s no problem at all to make a general announcement, or to answer such tweets with that. “Dear delicious ones: I follow way too many of you, and not nearly as many of you as I’d like to. I HAVE to pare down my list. Please don’t take it personally! I still answer mentions.” … I have no idea if that’s 140 characters, but you get the gist.
Remember: It is your social media experience. It’s entirely up to you how you use it.
4. It’s Okay to Block
There was this person who I first “met” by a retweet into my stream. I saw this person’s twitter name crop up now and again, sometimes engaged in abrasive discourse with others, sometimes lobbing advice out into the aether. I didn’t follow them, because even though this person was followed by many, I found them to be so abrasive that just the way they strung words together raised my hackles. Nothing overtly personal, really—I don’t know them from a bunch of a pixels on a screen. The way they tweeted just Did Not Work For Me(tm).
It’s the exact same formula we use to decide who in this world will be our friends and who won’t.
Finally, after seeing a barrage of tweets so offensive to my sensibilities (I have them, I swear!), I blocked the person so they wouldn’t keep being retweeted into my stream. They aren’t the only one, either. I have also blocked people who have gone out of their way to be rude to me, offensive people who are retweeted into my stream constantly, celebrities I don’t care about who get retweeted a ton, and folks who have attacked my friends—after all, it’s not up to me if my friends block them or not, but I sure as hell can avoid seeing the shared nastiness.
My point is this: you are online every day. Fill your social media with people who want to see, talk with, and watch over. If at any time you see things that rankle you being pulled into your feed, take care of it—and blocking is one way to do that. There’s no shame in it. Sometimes, someone will try to make you feel shame for it, but don’t fall for that. People get blocked for reasons, and if someone bothers you so badly, that’s what the block button is for.
At the end of the day, the community you choose has to be a safe and welcoming place for you, or else what’s the point?
This at least makes it easier for you, if you’re choosing to block for peace of mind rather than abuse. This new policy on Twitter’s part might help set your mind at ease about offending someone.
5. It’s Okay to Be Politic
Lastly, the final okay: if you find it is in your best interests to be politic, then that’s okay. If you don’t feel comfortable unfollowing but want to mute, that is your business and your call. It’s okay. If you want to follow everyone who follows you because you think that’s nicer, that’s okay, too. The only absolutely wrong thing to do on social media is spam the daylights out of your followers with “Buy my book!” requests. (Well, and probably send out close-ups of your genitalia, but I digress…)
The only thing I would say here is this: because it is your social media, and you do have to be on it—or maybe you’re not a professional and you just want somewhere to hang out, so you want to be on it—you need to find a way to make it not just tolerable but fun, or at least easy. Cultivate your lists to ensure that you get that experience.
If social media becomes just another chore, it shows in your use—and you’ll lose out more than you’ll gain.
For the last time: it is your social media, it is perfectly okay to use it the way you see fit, and cultivate your following lists the way you need to, and make it a safe and fun place to be.
Cover Reveal: Tempered, The St. Croix Chronicles #4
Okay, I admit it: I’m jumping this gun a little bit. I don’t have official cover copy for this book yet, so I can’t give you the complete package.
But you know what? I don’t care. This is too pretty to sit on for any longer than I absolutely have to!
So, if you’ll forgive the lack of cover copy and the fairly informal reveal, I am now happy to share this gorgeous piece of art from the wickedly talented team at Carina Press!
The fourth book in Cherry St. Croix’s ongoing misadventures will see our intrepid heroine taken far, far out of her comfort zone, well out of reach of London’s fog-ridden streets and the seductive benediction of easily obtained opium.
What lies in store for our befuddled miss? Given the final words of her mysterious benefactor, Cherry may find that this adventure might just be the one that puts an end to her wild ways…forever.
Based on this cover—which is quite perfect, given the nature of the book—what do you think lies in store for our barely civilized Victorian miss?
Samuel Vimes…had a jaundiced view of Clues. He instinctively distrusted them. They got in the way
And he distrusted the kind of person who’d take one look at another man and say in a lordly voice to his companion, ‘Ah, my dear sir, I can tell you nothing except that he is a left-handed stonemason who has spent some years in the merchant navy and has recently fallen on hard times,’ and the unroll a lot of supercilious commentary and calluses and stance and the state of a man’s boots, when exact the same comments could apply to a man who was wearing his old clothes because he’d been doing a spot of home bricklaying for a new barbecue pit, and had been tattooed once when he was drunk and seventeen* and in fact got seasick on a wet pavement. What arrogance! What an insult to the rich and chaotic variety of the human experience!
It was the same with more static evidence. The footprints in the flowerbed were probably in the real world left by the window-cleaner. The scream in the night was quite likely a man getting out of bed and stepping sharply on an upturned hairbrush.
The real world was far too real to leave neat little hints. It was full of too many things. It wasn’t by eliminating the impossible that you got at the truth, however improbable; it was by the much harder process of eliminating the possibilities. You worked away, patiently asking questions and looking hard at things. You walked and talked, and in your heart you just hoped like hell that some bugger’s nerve’d crack and he’d give himself up.
And whether the blood be Highland, lowland, and no. And weather the skin be black or white as the snow: Of kith and of kin, we are one, be right, be it wrong— As long as our voices join the chorus of song!
A funny thing happened while I was sitting here doing nothing related to this post at all: I remembered something.
I’ve got an iTunes radio station devoted to the likes of Gaelic Storm, The Clancy Brothers, The Chieftains, Mary Black and other such Celtic and Irish masters of the music. On a whim, I went searching for a particular version of Finnegan’s Wake I remember from my time spent burying myself in a tape-player and a particular stretched copy of an tape given to my mom by an old friend (thank you forever, Sheila), and I stumbled upon this Youtube playlist—Recorded Live: The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem Live in Ireland—and I was suddenly struck with a memory I’d all but forgotten.
You might have noticed somewhere along the line that I suffer from depression. Old news, by now. This isn’t one of those hateful posts about how everything is wrong and people are struggling and woe is the world.
This is just a heads-up.
Winter is coming.
It’s already reached below-freezing temperatures, and while it’s not snowing, the weather is understandably cold and dreary. I’ve hurt myself—the accidental kind—and I’m overworking to compensate, and so on, so forth, but the fact of the matter is this: it’s cold, it’s gray, it’s very hard to sleep less than 10 hours (when I sleep, anyway), and that means I have less to say.
Or, anyway, less energy to say it.
So my blog might be a little quiet. And when it’s not, it might be a little mopey.
I have things to share eventually—a TeslaCon recap, a continuation of Cons and Consequences, a few things writerly, a few brazen—but I just don’t have the will right now. So hang tight. Good days will see postings, but they’ll be a little rare for a little bit.
Winter is coming, but it’ll go, too. And someday soon, I’ll experience winters that aren’t like this. Until then, just bear with my blog silence. If you’re dying for my company, I’m a lot more chatty—on the good days—on my twitter.
Be delicious, darlings. And be excellent to each other.