Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Sounds Like Weird

Premature Optimization

17 February 2014

“Premature optimization is the root of all evil.” — Donald Knuth

Case in point.

  1. An ex-SFWAn and some colleagues put up a petition about feared changes in editorial policy of the SFWA Bulletin. Link.
  2. The Internet reacts. Including me.
  3. Some of the people sympathetic to the petition signers, but not to those in step 2, counter-respond. Link.
  4. One person in particular says a bunch of stuff that, frankly, can’t be unsaid. This person happens to work at the publisher where the person (who happens to be a woman) he’s saying something about is being published.

People have lost their jobs over about as much. Case in point.
And—to what purpose? Really?
I get that, as science fiction and fantasy writers, “if this goes on” is one of our primary memes. It’s the launching point for many book ideas. We’ve all got more than a little Philip K. Dick in us. Institutional paranoia isn’t a bad thing to have, up to a point.
I understand the very real sexism of aiming that fear at the highest woman on the SFWA board at one point—and not at her male peers. Mary’s post is worth reading. As is Scalzi’s. I get the sexism, especially after as long as I’ve spent in the computer industry.
No one is obligated to like anyone, but Mary is a colleague of ours, and I expect Mary to be treated with the same professional courtesy that (most of) you would treat your favorite of the genre’s masters if they were suddenly to walk into your living room.

Premature Optimization

I can’t help but think, though, that if premature optimization weren’t such a human tendency, none of this would have happened.
Knuth’s point about premature optimization is about wasted effort. Many engineering projects fail because a lot of effort is spent optimizing in area A when area B is a substantially more significant problem in the actual use case. It’s just that area A’s problems were seen earlier.
In the current SFWA thing, the premature petition put a drag on all of our time and energy due to the very real problems that surfaced as a result of the initial premature optimization. I’m being kind here: the petition itself was ill-conceived, and quite a few people spent time working on it that they undoubtedly could have better spent doing other things.
Look, I know it’s a Myers-Briggs J vs. P approach to problems thing. Truly I do. Even as someone who is very, very P, I sometimes have to tell myself “Wait.” Still.
When it comes to events here in reality, respond to reality.

But…Lobbying

You can spend a lot of effort heading off potential problems that would never become actual problems.
There is a long tradition of lobbying against laws being passed, and that’s arguably not premature optimization when we have the text of the proposed bill. But there’s also the fact that every single progressive mailing list I’m on has asked me to rail against certain proposed bills that had no chance of passing. Unfortunately, some bills we thought had no chance of passing occasionally do anyway.
It’s a different thing when a law passes than when a relatively small organization makes a structural change, though. I’m not going to say that SFWA is agile, but it’s at least arguably more agile than a government.

And Yet

Worth reading: Mark Tiedemann, “On The Extraction of Feet From Mouths”. I’m glad something good came out of all this. (Note: post is from last June, so is about the issue that the current controversy is responding to, not the current controversy per se).
Popehat writer Ken White gives an awesome legal analysis of the defamation lawsuit threat.

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My Unusual High School

16 February 2014

I went to three different “high schools” during 9th-12th grade. My first year, I was in the Los Angeles school district, which counted 9th grade as a part of middle school (then called junior high school).
Then I switched from living with my mother and stepfather to living with my father and stepmother—shortly after that, just my father. Thus, I moved to Irvine, where high school was four years, not three.
I spent the first two years at University High School. And then, in March of my junior year, something amazing happened.
I wanted to get a shorter schedule for my senior year—having met all academic requirements except for a couple of classes and a few credits—so that I could take college classes during part of the school day.
The school counselor told me that was against the law.
I remember being livid. I told my dad, feeling completely shut out, and he said, “Laws are public.” Meaning, you can look them up. So we went to the UC Irvine library, and I looked it up (my dad encouraged me, but he made me do the work, which was a good call on his part). Copied the relevant laws, which basically said, no it wasn’t illegal, but I needed school and parental permission and there were some boundaries to follow.
I take the copies back to the school counselor and say, “Could you please show me where it says it’s illegal? Because I’m not seeing it.”
He conceded that the law did not say that, but would not sign off on my having an alternative schedule.
During my sophomore year, I’d grown to like a teacher I never had as one of my own teachers. He led the gifted & talented program, but in my junior year, he’d moved to head the new alternative high school. So I made an appointment with him.
Sure, he said, not a problem. We can work around your college schedule. And they did.
So I wound up taking things like college French, Computer Programming, and Calculus at the same time I was taking high school Physics, English, and (I cannot make this up) Independent Study Table Tennis.
Because, you see, there’s huge tracts of land at the school for sports. (Not.) My high school building was an industrial tilt-up mere blocks from the DeLorean headquarters in Irvine. Yes, while DeLorean was there. Drove by it every morning.
428491_434546483234029_2123433524_n
There was a volleyball court outside and a couple of table tennis tables inside. There was also a smoking area outside, and students were sometimes smoking with the faculty. Not everyone smoked tobacco, but that’s a different story.
Oh, and I had a class in horticulture. I can’t remember why. I had to go to a garden plot by Irvine Valley College and tend to it. Which I did.
To give you an idea of how unusual this place is, the yearbook had about 86 people in it. Everyone was alphabetized by first name, students and teachers mixed together. Hippie sensibilities that we were all people and all in this learning thing together. And yes, teachers were called by their first names. If you were feeling particularly formal, you could call them “teach.”
The class size was amazing. While there were classes that had a dozen or two dozen students, the largest class I had was 8 students. Eight. Because of that, I felt far more involved than I ever had before.
I hope someone has photos of the incredible artwork on the walls. Every year, at least one new wall would be painted. Class of 1983 (not one of my years) mural by Gary Guymon and Diana Scheifen:
282361_432832456738765_2025945372_n
My high school was then called S.E.L.F. (Secondary Education Learning Facility, iirc). It’s now known as Creekside. Technically, due to the way the Irvine school district was at the time, I graduated from University.
Despite the industrial outside, S.E.L.F. had a soft and cushy lingering-hippie sensibility on the inside, especially with the artwork. I missed being in band, orchestra, and choir—S.E.L.F. had none of those—but I got real creative freedom that I hadn’t had before.
Sometimes the safe and established choice isn’t the right choice.

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Two Corrections for the E-Book Royalty Calcumatic

15 February 2014

Both are good news. I like good news.
First, Kobo payments are monthly if—and this is kinda confusing so I’m just going to quote them directly:

Payment will be issued on a monthly basis if your content has generated over $100.00 USD. If after 6 months, your content has not generated over $100.00 USD, we will deliver all of the earnings your content has generated at that point.

Hat tip to reader Jerry for that. Thank you!
I’m not sure what “content has generated” means here, though. Sales? Royalties? I have a cold and just don’t have the energy to read the other pages in the document right now.
Source: pp. 29-30 of their User Guide
Second, I’d had on my pages forever that Apple’s iBooks paid out only once you reached $150. Then I noticed I’d had a payout of a bit over $5 a few months back, so that’s not the case. Yay.
I have updated the notes page accordingly.

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Washing Hands in Hot Water Doesn't Help

15 February 2014

Two pull quotes from this National Geographic article by Brian Clark Howard

Carrico said, “It’s certainly true that heat kills bacteria, but if you were going to use hot water to kill them it would have to be way too hot for you to tolerate.”
In fact, she noted that hot water can often have an adverse effect on hygiene. “Warmer water can irritate the skin and affect the protective layer on the outside, which can cause it to be less resistant to bacteria,” said Carrico.

I always knew the climate change aspects of using a lot of hot water (especially waiting for it to heat up), but never really thought about the rest.
I’m still going to take showers in warmer water though.

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Author Earnings Survey: Initial Glance

13 February 2014

There’s a lot of interesting information in the Author Earnings survey that Hugh Howey and others are working on. Hugh’s posted a preliminary link on Twitter, and you can watch the live data coming in.
I decided to do some breakdowns of the really early data: self-reported 2013 income.
[fancy_table]

  Trad Self
Median 6,000 3,000
Mean 37,000 67,000

[/fancy_table]
Let’s look at the self-published percentile numbers a little more (and the clever plug for a forthcoming book that neatly echoes the graph’s shape). (Click to embiggen)
AuthorEarnings.001
Above 97.5%, everyone’s over $200k, and the top 5 reporters are over $1M, with the tippy top at $13M.
Me? I’m still at the “carryable number of lattes” phase and I haven’t yet entered my data. Soon.

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Pronouns, Use Of

13 February 2014

There is a point to this saga, so bear with me….
Once upon a time, I was dating a guy. We were talking about wedding things. Then, seemingly suddenly, we broke up. Some months later, after I’d started dating someone else, my ex came out to me as trans.
It was really hard in part because it was so long ago. This was pre-Internet. The only trans* person I’d ever heard of was Wendy Carlos. Who is still as amazing as ever. And I really couldn’t get over the feeling of being inadequate and being dumped, which just got wrapped up in how I felt about my ex being trans.
Now, despite all that, I kept my struggles about it mostly to myself. I distinctly remember, not long after she told me, that I said to myself, “You still love her as a friend. She’s going to lose some other friends, at least for now, and—don’t be that person.”
So, for a while, she went to her day job as male and wasn’t out, and then, after a time, she came out there too.
Years pass, and I still thought of her with three distinct sets of pronouns: male from the early part of knowing her; male and female, context-dependent, for her transition period; and female after.
I’ve known a few trans* people since and been a helpful ear and person when I could be. For example, a former colleague had been trying to use the right bathroom in an office building where someone was rabidly anti-trans, and I would escort my colleague to prevent bullying by this person (who worked for a different company on the same floor). I’m not saying this to get a cookie, just pointing out that I was generally trying to have a clue before the next paragraph….
Then I’m online one night in a chat room with a friend who had recently come out, and, well, I was an asshat about him being trans. I hadn’t meant to be an asshat, there were just things I hadn’t moved past, and I hadn’t really realized how much I’d failed to understand.
Instead of just being defensive about it (though I was defensive in the moment), I realized I didn’t know enough trans people. I’d just happened to know the ones I’d run across over the years. So I made a point of reading more trans stories and getting to know more trans* people. Obviously I had some big issues.
I kind of expected a moment of clarity, but that honestly didn’t arrive until last week.
A few years ago, I had a shift in how I thought about my ex’s pronouns when I started working with her brother. It really forced me to think of her as female for the entire time I knew her so that I wouldn’t accidentally out her if she came up as a topic of conversation around others. There were still some moments where the pronoun still would have been male — but I wasn’t likely to be talking about those. She was a Vietnam vet in a context where that wouldn’t have been a woman’s role. And then there were the private moments. But, apart from those, she was female in my mind. It felt better, honestly, but there was still a little voice at the back of my head.
One of the change moments for me was reading the phrase “gender confirmation surgery” in one of the pieces about Janet Mock’s recent interview debacle.
And I went, “huh.”
But the clarity didn’t come until I read this post in The Guardian, specifically this paragraph (emphasis added):

Whether discussing a person’s past, present or future, only use the correct pronouns for their gender. A person’s gender generally does not change. Public presentation may change in transition and secondary sex characteristics may change with the aid of hormones and/or surgery, but one’s sense of being either male or female is, in most cases, constant throughout life.

What I realized was that I was making the very fundamental error with my ex of using the pronouns of her gender as I experienced them. Not as she experienced them.
And the pronouns should be as she experienced them.
A lot of things fell into place for me after that.

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The Reality of Romance Covers

11 February 2014

Everyone in science fiction knows romance novel covers are awful, right?

And *Fifty Shades of Grey* is a lurid book that can’t possibly have an understated, tasteful cover, right? Because that’s not the kind of book it is. Well, okay, it has a tie on the cover, and it’s a, well, I don’t know what the hell to call it, frankly. [Jenny Trout has a whole bunch of points about why it shouldn’t be called a romance novel, nor BDSM, nor whatever](http://jennytrout.com/?page_id=5720), so I’ll just link to her site and back away slowly. In terms of marketing categories, though, *erotica* or *erotic romance*. (Yes, they are different, and they are also different from the marketing categories of both *porn* and *sexy romance*.)
Why, *50 Shades* started out as fanfic of *Twilight*. But the cover on that can’t actually be too horribly awful (right?), given that Bella and Edward both retain their v-card throughout the duration of not one, not two, but three volumes of this saga. So it has an apple and vampires don’t eat apples. Mmmkay. But it is about temptation, though most of the temptation is on Edward’s side, and that’s only ever chronicled in a [partially-completed manuscript, *Midnight Sun* told from his POV](http://stepheniemeyer.com/pdf/midnightsun_partial_draft4.pdf), rather than *Twilight*, which is told from Bella’s.
So now that I’ve basically admitted to reading all the *Twilight* books and none of E L James’s, how about some other covers? I remember someone recommending *Outlander* once upon a time. I randomly opened it, happened to be on a sex scene, and I backed away slowly. It’s one of those where I really kinda wish I cared about it. I’ve tried to break into it a couple of times and it’s never quite caught for me. There sure are a lot of people who love it, though. [Like Pam.](http://instagram.com/p/kP1x29nAKZ/)
An oft-recommended book was Tiffany Reisz’s *The Siren*, which is a complex series to explain. There are a ton of interrelationships (possibly the only thing more complex than Torchwood as far as who has/had slept with whom), and a ton of plot threads. I read the four-book series over Christmas week. I bring this one up because it is the most overtly sexual cover on her four books. Yet, it’s still quite understated, especially given the content of the book. As far as content: Nora’s a dominatrix on the side and an erotica writer by day. She’s got a difficult relationship with an editor who starts out hating everything she stands for. She’s got a live-in assistant who’s a 19-year-old virgin. (As Rick put it, “that’s just stunt casting.”) And then there’s the ex, but that would be a spoiler.

Are all romance covers like those above?

No. They are not.
Let’s go back to last year, about a claim Mike Resnick made that I’m disappointed that no one called him on.
Here’s what Resnick said (click for pic of text, quoted below)

And a lot of it abounded in bare, raw, pulsating flesh, totally naked from the neck to the navel. No question about it. It’s there for anyone to see—and of course, since such displays seem to offend some of our members, to picket.
You know where I found it?
In the romance section. I’d say that just about every other cover shows a man’s bare torso, lean and muscular, usually with a few more abs than Nature tends to provide. The man’s head is rarely portrayed. Clearly these are erotic covers, designed to get a certain readership’s pulse pounding.

Personally, I’d love to see pulsating flesh on a book cover—at least the first few times. Never have. That would be science fictional.
Last year, I posted a screencap of 25 (I said 30 yesterday and was wondering why the math didn’t add up) covers that was sort of a side commentary to the SFWA Bulletin issue. I don’t mind admitting I read erotic romance, nor do I mind admitting that I write the stuff. Part of the reason I’ve read so much was to get a sense of the market.
I’ve gone and made a current screencap, too.
In both cases, there’s no censorship about what I’ve read. These are, in order (most recent in upper left, oldest in lower right), the last 25 titles I’d read in the erotic romance genre in both pics. The only thing I’ve done is filter out the non-romance titles I’d read.
Itemizing Resnick’s points:

  1. Covers with men.
  2. Who are totally naked from the neck to the navel.
  3. Man’s bare torso […] usually with a few more abs than Nature tends to provide.
  4. The man’s head is rarely portrayed. (How many covers without heads?)
  5. How many covers with men who are naked, frontal, and without heads?

Difference is? This new batch of covers is infected with teh gay as several are M/M books or have M/M subplots. More men, therefore more likely to meet Resnick’s criteria, right?
So, here’s 25 books from last year.
image
Here’s 25 books from this year, ~8 months later. Four of the 25 are solely M/M, and two (Tiffany Reisz’s) have M/M subplots with concomitant sex scenes.
2014-02-10 17.39.33
Note: the cover for Where Nerves End got lost somewhere in the ether, but here it is for reference.

  1. Covers with men. 2013: 13 (52%), 2014: 20 (80%)
  2. Who are totally naked from neck to navel. 2013: 4 (16%), 2014: 9 (32%), though 3 of those are M/M.
  3. Frontal enough naked neck-to-navel such that one can see excess abs. 2013: 1, 2014: 1. (Tempting Adam has a frontal cover, but his abs are within the realm of normal.)
  4. Headless men (I counted them as headless if you couldn’t see most of the face). 2013: 2, 2014: 8
  5. Frontal headless men. 2013: 0, 2014: 0.

Lest you think my taste is different than the reality of the market as a whole, here’s a curated list that’s a combination of Amazon sales and Goodreads reviews. Scan down the first 100 covers on the first page and tell me the results are significantly different.
Let’s be clear here: several of the books I read (two from Maya Banks, two from Natasha Moore, one from Cathryn Cade) focus around sex clubs, and a sex club forms part of the plot unifying Tiffany Reisz’s series.
Even those covers are less lurid than the SFWA Bulletin cover for Issue 200.
Just sayin’.
As if all that weren’t enough, this Mary Sue post nails it.
I call bullshit on Resnick’s alleged experiment.
Link: Silvia Moreno-Garcia nails it.

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The Olympics

10 February 2014

A lot of people have said they wouldn’t watch the Olympics because of Russia’s stance on LGBT issues.
It’s been really hard for me, and that’s why I’ve taken so long to write this. In general, I watch only the Olympics when it comes to sports. The last live sporting event I saw was the U.S. Figure Skating Championships when they were in San Jose a couple years back.
I remember being that horse-struck teenager who saved up money from an early job to get lessons from a really great dressage rider. I remember getting to ride an Olympic horse. He had quite the sense of humor, that one.
And I remember later figuring out that winter sports really were my thing even though I don’t particularly like being cold. And that I got in a lot of trouble (which I will write about later) for arranging things to usurp the last slot of a great ice dance teacher. She’d been the partner of a guy who tended to cut the balance a little close; her career had ended when his fall spiral fractured her leg. He later went on to skate in national and international competitions with a subsequent partner. She was stuck standing around in moon boots with people like me trying to do school figures. And stuff.
Sadly, that knee that gives me fits now? If only I’d known it was defective then. I competed on it, which no doubt helped a bunch. Not.
I’ve only ever seen one winter Olympics event live. I happened to have an interview with Alphasmart, who was looking for a Mac programmer. The first round of interviews had gone well. Could I go to the Salt Lake area for a final round? Sure. In February 2002? Absolutely.
Airline tickets for the Olympics were inobtanium at any kind of reasonable price, but I was going to get to go for free? Bonus.
So I asked them to fly me on the first flight out and the last flight back, which they did. I paid for the women’s hockey semifinals ticket. The US won against Sweden, 4-0.
I don’t know how many people I know have ever seriously studied an Olympic sport or ever seriously hoped to compete. I did. I have a clue how much work it is, and that’s why I feel it’s so disrespectful to all the athletes who put in such hard work for so many years to boycott the games — especially since some of them are LGBT.
So here’s my thought: I’m going to root for the countries who have great LGBT policies to win as many medals as possible. And let’s give an extra cheer for all the LGBT athletes, out or not, and hope they win something really special.
I wish it weren’t Russia and fucking Olympics politics again. In 1980, 65 countries boycotted the Moscow Olympics. What’s really struck me, though, is how much freer generally the people in the former Soviet Union are now than they were then—and that’s the other reason a boycott is difficult for me. I remember the stories about how difficult it was for artists, musicians, dancers, and athletes to travel back then.
A lot can change in 34 years, but a lot still has to, too.

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Word for the Day: Wanksplaining

10 February 2014

New word? There are no Google hits for it.
So last year, SFWA Bulletin put out a set of dialogues by Michael Resnick and Barry Malzberg that contained some wanksplaining about the history of women in professional science fiction circles, to wit:

She was competent, unpretentious, and beauty pageant gorgeous … as photographs make quite clear…[S]he was a knockout as a young woman. …
According to Margaret, during its first few years of existence CFG was populated exclusively by men. Then Bea joined. Then the members’ wives got a look at Bea in her swimsuit at the 1950 Midwestcon. Then the club’s makeup changed to the 50% men and 50% women that has existed ever since.

(I really don’t understand the causality link between the last two sentences. Were the women in question all bi?)
Anyhow, Scalzi posted about that, and, rather than having the task of any Bulletin issues fall on the President, it was decided that a review board would be a good idea. You know, like most professional associations have.
Scalzi didn’t re-rerun, and Steven Gould became SFWA president (which was already in place when the Bulletin issue occurred). Steven’s probably best known as the author of Jumper (later turned into a movie), but he’s currently collaborating with James Cameron on forthcoming Avatar universe things.
You know, he’s a working writer. Working.
The whole thread of the current uproar, if you can call it that, over the review board is linked here.
What wasn’t linked from that page, but was forwarded to me, was the body of an email from Silverberg that included this gem:

A bunch of us, including Messrs Ellison, Spinrad, Gene Wolfe, Resnick, Malzberg, Benford, RS, etc., plus Nancy Kress, CJ Cherryh, Mercedes Lackey, and others, thought that a writers’ organization should not be repealing the First Amendment and have put together a petition objecting to this review board.

Ellison.
First name.
That would be Harlan “I did not grab Connie Willis’s breast” Ellison. Video here. Note that he’s being disingenuous about verbs. (I was in the audience.)
Look, I was head of programming for a convention and we had Harlan for a Special Guest. He groped one of my staff during that con. I heard he groped other people, too, though I didn’t speak to them about it. I heard nothing about it until after the con, though.
If Harlan’s the first person you put on a list saying you don’t want a review board because y’all are fuckwits?
Y’all are fuckwits squared.
I don’t care what gets you all off. I don’t care about your male gaze. Sure, I like attractive (for my definitions of same) people on covers of things, on posters, in movies, in books, all that kind of thing. But what I consider attractive isn’t just about looks. It’s about actions, and y’all are being fugly.
So stop your wanksplaning and try being a tiny bit professional for a change. Steven Gould sure has been. If I’d gotten the first email from Truesdale that he’d gotten, I’d probably have just written a reply that said, “Smeg off” and put him in my filters so his name would never darken my internet doorway again. After all, Truesdale isn’t a SFWA member.
All SFWA wants is an editorial board, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to have. As C. C. Finlay rightly points out, editing is not censorship.
On the cover specifically….
Last year, I posted a picture with 25 (note: fixed this; it did originally say 30) erotic romance covers. This was in response to Resnick’s claim about beefcake on romance covers. Out of those 26, there are men (in any representation) on only 13 of those 25. (There are women on the cover of 19, and 2 have no people on the cover.)
Of the 13, 5 feature only fully-clothed men. One man has bare shoulders, but you can’t see further than that. Absolutely zero of them feature bare male thighs (though five have some depiction of bare female thighs). So let’s not pretend that the sexualization of men and women is the same because it’s not, not even when books are marketed to women and explicitly about sex. Cover I think is the hottest? This one, because men in suits leaning on things are hot.
But — none of the twenty-five covers — none — out of this selection of erotic romances I’d recently read have a woman in as sexualized a pose (or as scantily clad) as the cover of SFWA Bulletin 200.
When I went to a writer’s conference last fall, the most valuable single line I heard was this one: “A one-star review means that the wrong reader has found your book.”
It’s actually quite a profound statement if you think about it.
What a book cover (or magazine cover) is supposed to do is to give you an expectation of what’s inside. It’s to set the mood for what’s within. So how does that cover of SFWA Bulletin 200 work for you now?
See also: You only hate boobs because you hate freedom.
Dear Twelve Rabid Weasels of SFWA, please shut the fuck up. and My very complicated reaction to issue 202 of the Bulletin which has some great commentary in particular. Bennett North on Objectifying Women Is Not a Constitutional Right.
I also love this comment: “The irony about complaining about editing by committee before publication in order to complain about editing by committee before publication seems lost on him.” (source)

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