The Wrong One

So…I’m again rewriting the historical mystery.  Thought I was done with this draft and had only to await the edits from my most excellent agent, but alas, I have this impish ethical streak that won’t let me just slide…

Basically, I came up with a minor, almost throwaway, solution to a tiny plot problem as part of the whole revamp and happily sent the novel forth.  But then that solution began to grow in my imagination, like a tumor, until I realized that I had a much bigger problem arising from the solution.  Not to worry!  It would form the basis for the next book in the series!

That settled, I went about doing other things.

Only my unconscious kept churning on it and wouldn’t let me drop it like that.  I had created a growing organism within the body of my novel that had to be dealt with.  Argh!

Yes, I said argh!  because I wanted to get on with other things.  But.  Not to be. The coup de gras came last weekend over an excellent dinner with my friend Carolyn Gilman (who has a new novel out and you really ought to go get it and read it ’cause it’s really, you know, good).  Carolyn works for the Missouri History Museum and her current project is the Revolutionary War in the West—exactly the place and period in which my novel is set.  In the course of the conversation we stumbled on some little-known—no, that’s an understatement—some previously unexamined aspects of the Battle of St. Louis and George Rogers Clark and all that which irritated my tumor into full-blown eruption and I realized that I had to do this rewrite now!

This made me a bit nervous, as Stacia, my agent, has had what we thought was the second to last draft for a few months now and I had no idea how deep into it she’d gotten and I had to tell her to hold off—

The revisions will make this a much better book and when I described them to Stacia she was not only supportive but excited and so now I’m a hundred pages into a new draft.  I’ll just give you a little hint as to what was wrong and if anyone remembers this after the book comes out you can ask me about it and I’ll recount the tale.  Basically I had the wrong murderer.

Embarrassing, I know, but hey, not even the historical facts I learned from Carolyn are particularly well known and the interpretation she’s putting on them are unique, so I don’t feel like a total slacker.

Anyway, if I’m not posting here much in the next few weeks, this is why.  So have a happy, healthful Turkey Day, everyone.

National Pathos

This will be a short post.  Just a comment or two on the recent national scandal concerning college athletics.  The Penn State incident, resulting in a firing, death threats, a riot, and another investigation has many people scampering about wondering “how could this happen?” and “what do we do now?”

Among the questions being asked, the most relevant is “Why did no one report this?”  There were witnesses, at least one has stated sorrow at not having “done more” and a famous and otherwise well-loved coach has been dismissed as a result of inaction.

Yet the riot that occurred was not about the rapes of minors,  but over the firing of that coach.  As if that is the tragedy.  As if a beloved head of an institution that has behaved abominably in this and many other instances matters more than the pain and suffering caused by an adult with authority and the trust of the young who couldn’t keep his hands off little boys.  My question is, “what’s wrong with you people?  Where are your priorities?  So a coach lost his job?  So what?  He can get another job.  Can those boys ever get their lives back as they were?”

I’ve commented on this before, often in sarcastic tones, but this is not to be taken lightly.  We treat sports in this country as if it were a religion.  In fact, to my view, sports is  our national religion.  We spend money we don’t have on it, build the biggest cathedrals to it, and worship it mindlessly as if our souls depended on the outcome of a given game.  The only question was which denomination might sports be most like.

Well, now we know the answer.  What other institution covers for child abusers?  Just so the game can go on.

China Mieville and the Ideology of SF

Now for something fascinating having to do with writing. I just saw this lecture by China Mieville, who I feel is one of the most interesting writers working today. He’s tackling a subject I’ve chewed over quite a lot—the distinction between SF and Fantasy and the theoretical arguments about SF exceptionalism. I have some quibbles, but I would love to sit down with this guy and hash this through, because, to my ear, he’s exactly where I’ve been in terms of what to look at when talking about this.

 

 

I don’t disagree with a single critical element he brings up—and, as he points out, none of what he brings up is particularly new.

One quibble I have is a minor historical point, and this may be a result of my arrival in the genre as a potential practitioner at a time in which advocates of Fantasy were the ones making the grand argument that science fiction was “merely” a subgenre of fantasy—a claim many SF writers (and readers) took loud exception to. Fantasy was gaining ground then in the market and was shoving SF aside as the apparent preferred genre of fantastic literature and was basking in its ascendancy and making claims about how the two really weren’t any different. (Interesting that Darko Suvin’s assertions were published in 1979, about the time this argument was being made most forcefully, a few years before the market reflected the preference of Fantasy over SF.)

For my part, aside from matters of taste, I’ve never really argued that SF is “better” than Fantasy, at least not in any theoretical sense. Only different. I’ve found most examples of hybrids problematic at best, absurd at worst, because of—as Mieville points out—the ideological underpinnings informing them as genres. So the only reason I have ever had a dog in that hunt came from the assertion made by Fantasy advocates about SF being a sub-form and, occasionally, inferior (sometimes by virtue of being hypocritical, sometimes by virtue of an embarrassing specificity).

(As a personal observation, I find I prefer reading SF and find it very difficult to read Fantasy. However, I can watch Fantasy easily and pleasurably. Only when the quite different faculties employed in reading come into play do I find most Fantasy simply unappealing.)

Anyway, I’d like to offer the video above. I found it quite fascinating and lucid and I agreed with about 90% of it.

Harassment

Herman Cain is having a problem, and it won’t get any better by telling reporters that he won’t discuss it.

I don’t want to get into a big analytical thing about sexual politics here, but from the descriptions so far of what Cain did, he made an assumption that I think is all too common among men of a certain mindset.  Cain apparently made inappropriate comments to women in the context of a working situation.  I have no doubt he shrugged it off and forgot about it until it came back to bite him and probably wondered what the big deal was all through the negotiations of settlements.  “I mean,” he likely thought, “I was just talking.”

Whatever the actual events, this is something that is not hard to understand and is no doubt misunderstood.  I worked with a man who indulged this kind of behavior constantly and couldn’t understand why the women were getting all upset.  In that instance, they were customers and he was the retailer.  He would flirt, make suggestions, even proposition women, and could not fathom why many did not come back or why they would be upset in the least.  After all, he was joking.  He didn’t mean it.  And lastly, well, they didn’t say anything—in fact, some of them laughed.

Partly this is a cluelessness that infects many people.  But this was a dynamic I was able to explain to him in fairly straightforward terms.

If you’re at a party and you proposition someone or make an off-color remark or whatever, everyone is completely free to just walk away.  The behavior may be offensive, but there is no coercion, no one is put into a lousy situation against their will, no one has to listen to you if they don’t want to.  (I’m assuming a party for a party’s sake here, not a party where people from the office are getting to know each other—that’s different because there is less freedom to walk away.)  In this context if you offend someone she can either throw her drink in your face and leave, tell you what a shit-heel you’re being, embarrass you some other way, join in the tastelessness, or whatever.

But in any kind of business context, that freedom does not exist.  Even as a customer.  And this is hard for some people to understand because we’re very informal in many business dealings.  Why isn’t the customer free to behave as she would at a party?  Because as a customer she wants something and she has to deal with you to get it.  It may be a loose constraint, but it is a constraint nevertheless.  So if you come on all boorish and macho, she has an uncomfortable set of compromises she is forced to make.  Either put up with you until she gets what she came for, give up on what she came for and hope she can find it somewhere else, or be offensive right back, souring the cordiality of the interaction.  For the duration of the transaction, server and customer are bound together in an unspoken contractual arrangement that limits the range of response.

Any questions?

Yes, it’s a power situation.  Waitresses understand this very well.  They put up with all kinds of nonsense because they could lose their jobs if they respond as they would on the street with a stranger.  Situations in which people must work together also limit the possible range of reactions.

For the ass hat acting like the reincarnation of Maurice Chevalier, it may not be a big deal—verbal games, fishing for possibilities—or it may be a more insidious game of power plays and sexual predation, but in either event there may well be an obliviousness that leaves the impression that since she didn’t dump a pot of coffee in his lap she must be enjoying the interaction.  Or they may very well know that the woman having to put up with him is in a constrained situation.

Either way, it is not a simple matter of “just funning.”

Guys often just don’t get this.  Guys who have been sexually harassed often do.  They realize that it’s a power situation.  It’s not fun and games, it’s not “innocent”, it is not voluntary on all parts.

The term Privilege applies.

So Herman probably stuck his mouth out there and made inappropriate remarks to women who did not have the freedom to tell him to go fuck himself and probably wondered what the fuss was about when they threatened action.  He had probably behaved that way countless times with no blowback and told himself that these women were aberrations.

On the other hand, he may very well understand that this is a power game, but still not see what real harm there is in it.  He sees the world from a perspective of privilege—the privilege of being in a position from which he need never tolerate unwanted intrusions of this kind, the privilege of being able to respond with a “fuck off” and not worry about the consequences—like losing a job or having a business deal fall through.

It’s a lack of empathy.

Now, after having made it a policy to reject race card politics, he’s claiming these attacks are racially motivated.  No no.  This kind of behavior is colorless.

I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt that what has been reported is all that happened.  If it turns out there’s more, well. ..

But I wanted to explain at least this small aspect of sexual harassment that seems so byzantine to people.  It’s really not.  We’ve all seen the “boss” who abuses his employees.  If it were elsewhere, among strangers, and he acted like that, someone might punch his lights out, but his employees are constrained by fear.  We recognize this kind of boss as a bully.

It’s the same thing.