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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Fan Fiction, Plagiarism, and Writer's Back Up

"So I fired two warning shots.  Into his head."
"Cell Block Tango"

Okay-- I'm trying not to be irritated, because that usually makes me rant, and when I rant, I'm like a race car which can, at any moment, veer off into a big tank of jet fuel and explode.  I don't want to explode--I have too much to do!

One of the crap things about vacation (no, surprisingly enough, not constipation, which I managed to defeat this time with a cunning use of fruits, vegetables, and drinking water!) is the work back-up waiting for you at your desk.  Unlike summer vacation at my other job, where I left my room and my desk and my responsibilities for weeks at a time and came back without anything being touched (well, sometimes they cleaned the carpets) taking a vacation in this business means you leave the stuff you can't get to when you're on your smart phone.  Hence, this plagiarism thing sitting in a big steaming heap in the middle of my computer.  Since I know some of you follow for the knitting (which I've been doing, dammit!)  and not the m/m I'm going to start roughly at the beginning.

Last year, Dreamspinner Press--my main publishing house-- put out a book titled Bear, Otter, and the Kid which sold a zillion copies.  It featured a young man and his much younger brother, who had been abandoned by their mother.  In the last few days, this book has been blatantly accused of borrowing much of it's plot and characterization from a movie called Shelter.  Now, I don't know if this is true or not--I have neither read the book nor seen the movie--I'm quite simply not in a position to say.  But as this accusation was being made, a number of other accusations were being thrown about, and, quite frankly, it's not fair to paint the whole mural the same color, just because you're seeing red.

"Universal affirmatives can only be partially converted: all of Alma Cogan is dead, but only some of the class of dead people are Alma Cogan."
"The Logician"
Monty Python

The basic shit in this particular storm has three different textures, and I'm going to address them separately, because they SHOULD remain separate and part of the problem in this matter is that they're not being treated that way.

A. People at Dreamspinner were aware of the plagiary and did nothing about it.  

This is not true.  Elizabeth, my publisher, had heard nothing about the possibility of plagiary until the folks at Dear Author contacted her and told her that they were upset that she hadn't done anything about it.  Now, at this point I understand that these accusations have been floating around on a couple of sites for a while--but just as I have been too busy to visit these sites, so has she.  Nobody e-mailed her or called her up and said, "Hey!  Here's the breakdown--isn't this plagiary?"  The article that accuses her of knowing doesn't provide any such instance because there is none.  Now, if this were a case of print journalism instead of a book blog, this would be time for a libel suit--or at least a severe dressing down for checking facts and sources, but that's not the case.  Unfortunately, the people being accused actually RUN a publishing company, and this allegation is serious.  So this blog doing the accusing?  It gets all of the buzz and faces none of the responsibility for the mess it is creating, and it has given the accused no forum in which to defend themselves.  Aces.  American journalism at it's best.  

(ETA-- Elizabeth North viewed this blog and e-mailed to let me know the following that someone DID contact her before the kerfluffle blew--the folks at the Dear Author book blog contacted her to let her know that "in light of various issues recently" the blog would no longer be reviewing DSP's books.  There was no other explanation given, and she didn't know to what "various issues" referred until eight hours AFTER the e-mail, when I sent her the link to the site of the kerfluffle. That actually doesn't help the accusers at all, does it?  Nope.)  

B.  That Dreamspinner doesn't care about plagiary because it encourages fan fiction.  

And wow.  Right here is a logical fallacy of gargantuan proportions. Fan fiction is not plagiary unless someone tries to pass off as their own work.  Fan fiction is ALSO not plagiary when it has changed the initial elements beyond recognition and ceased to be fan fiction anymore. Taking an idea you started in someone else's sandbox and then carrying it to fruition in your own garage is not stealing.  Fan fiction began because people wanted to capture a feeling, an idea, a dynamic between characters and they wanted to make it their own. If a piece of fan fiction changes universe, setting, plot, characteris, and theme, hello and voila, it's no longer FAN FICTION.  It has become an original work.  You may have used somebody else's tools to start with, but that's no different than using an archetype--and there are not that many of those, so just sitting down to write a story means you're going to be doing SOMETHING that's been done before.  So, essentially, it's like being given a friend's old Ford Escort, and eventually, after you've cranked on it for a while, changed a socket wrench for a crescent wrench, rebored the engine, refitted the bearings, cut down the body, changed the fenders for those racing jobs, switched out the rims, added a spoiler in the back, changed the suspension, added a chain-link steering wheel, tricked out the pinstriped paint job, and suddenly, it bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to a Ford Escort--you have created your own damned car.  

Yeah.  THAT'S converting fan fiction to an original piece of writing.  

An example of this?  I told my husband about one of my favorite books--a hit-man with a heart of gold trope, where the supposed hit was a doctor, and the hit-man had been saving victims for quite some time.  

"Yeah?" said Mate.  "What did that start out as?"

"Brokeback Mountain." 

Mate just giggled.  "You know, when something changes THAT much..."

"Yeah," I said, nodding.  "It's an original piece of work."  

Now there is some absolutely lovely, lyrical, amazing fan fiction out there--some stuff that deserves to be read in it's own right, and not as an extension of someone else's work.  Why shouldn't it be "converted"--you know, from a Ford Escort to a tricked-out Fiat?  Why shouldn't people get to read it and appreciate the prose and the character nuances and the plot devices and the irony that were not present in the inspirational work?  

Like I said, once you've changed the characters, plot, universe, setting, and theme, it has ceased to have all connection with it's origins, and has, instead, become an original work on it's own.  You know, sort of like Hollinshed's Chronicles.  You all know about Hollinshed's Chronicles, right?  It was an epic work of history that every school boy knew in England in the 1500ds.  It has the history of the War of the Roses, a little town in Italy, the exploits of Rome in Egypt, and all sorts of other things in it.  Shakespeare knew Hollinshed's Chronicles like the back of his hand, but we don't praise Hollinshed as a great writer, now do we?  

So plagiarism IS bad--but fan fiction?  Fan fiction is not necessarily plagiarism, and therefore not necessarily bad, and not all of the classification of dead people is Alma Cogen.

Editing is the difference between "Your shit don't stink!" and "You're shit: don't stink!"
Writer's truism

And that brings us to 

C.  Editing.  See-- this is, again, where the whole logic of the shitstorm breaks down.  Plagiarism is not fan fiction, and fan fiction is not editing, but for some reason, this entire brouhaha has dragged up the rotting corpse of this dead horse to flagellate for fun.  

Now editing is a touchy subject with me, for two reasons.

The first reason is that you all remember my self-published days, when I was flayed up one side and down the other for editing.  When DSP started publishing me, I was both thrilled to have a professional editing job and trepidatious: I had developed a rather independent approach to grammar and punctuation and I was afraid that my own stubbornness would not make me any friends.

Well, I've managed to make friends in spite of the fact that I get two very thorough edits per manuscript, and I'm sure my editors have been devising ways to crawl through cyberspace and strangle me because I tend to color outside the lines.  Some examples of reasons that I personally should be kissing my editors' toes at the moment?


*  Making me change the name of Deacon's lover from Declan to Carrick, because NOBODY would have read that book if I hadn't!

*  Teaching me that there IS a right way to spell "hallefuckinglujia"-- even if I don't remember if that's it or not.

*  Saving me from all sorts of painful lawsuits involving misuse of printed material for all of the song quotes at the beginnings of the chapters in Making Promises.  

*  Checking my facts on basketball, because I had NO idea North Carolina didn't have a Freshman basketball team--or at least one that a superstar would play in.

*  Letting me include parts of dialog in the same line because I liked the flow, because even though the CMOS doesn't recommend the style as a rule, that doesn't mean that it's wrong--just out of fashion.

*  Helping me pare down the outrageous number of Em-dashes in Truth in the Dark.

*  Occasionally indulging my Em-dash habit when I need a fix, but generally making me behave in that department as a whole.  

*  Helping me with continuity, because sometimes I'm no better at plot math than I am at the regular kind.

*  Letting me lecture on metonymy and synecdoche and conceit without ever once calling me a pompous prick-bag in the margins of my manuscript as they probably should have.

*  Letting me edit a heinous piece of prose in the GALLEY STAGES of Bewitching Bella's Brother that had been left there because of my own fuckery and not theirs.

* In general, helping me produce the best possible product that I possibly can and working very hard at not letting me make an ass of myself.

Does DSP have a brisk editing process?  You betcha.  Does DSP ever tell an author how to write a book, or what plot points he or she MUST fix?  If the book they accepted is not good enough to go out, they wouldn't have accepted it.  

Are there still errors?  I dunno--are there still humans involved in the process?  Probably.

"Troll!  In the dungeon!  TROLL!  IN THE DUNGEON! I thought you'd want to know."  
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone--movie
based on the book by
J.K. Rowling

I have stuff to do.  I need to work on the Bodi/Peter story, because it's eating me alive.  I need to edit Country Mouse, because I promised my co-writer on that one that I would get it done today so we can have it out by April.  I need to shower and get ready to go teach Art History to third graders, because they LOVE it when the art lady comes, and I don't want to let them down.  I have to take my daughter to dance lessons tonight and fix some sort of sustenance and maybe clean the kitchen table so the kids can eat at it, because they think that sort of thing is only for holidays and vacations and that makes me feel bad.  The one thing I did not want to spend my morning doing was addressing an attack on the company that gave me my start when I was weary of forging my own, and that held my hand when I thought I had lost every friend and ruined my life with this strange obsession to write about people treating each other as people.  

But there was a troll in the dungeon, and it was wreaking all sorts of bloody havoc on the people I loved.  I thought you'd want to know.  

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Trips and the Trip

Okay, so the trip was awesome.  Seriously.  Amazing.  It sucked that the whole plagiarism/fanfiction thing erupted while I was still out of town--and I'm going to address that tomorrow.  It needs to be addressed.  The brunt of it is covered here at Chicks-n-dicks, including links to the site that started the whole thing.  The one thing I will say is that I was deeply offended for my house, Dreamspinner Press--and really irritated that people who presuppose some weight in this particular genre TRULY are clueless about the differences between "plagiarized" and "inspired by" when it comes to fan fiction.  I will also say that  if the original book in question (and you need to follow the links--seriously, it's REALLY convoluted!) WAS plagiarized, the people at Dreamspinner were unaware.  And as to that fan fiction thing?  Next post.  Seriously.  But not now.  Now?  My family and I had a kick-ass time, and I sorta wanna cover that!

Now, let's get to coming home-- but since about 12 hours of my yesterday consisted of this picture here, it's not going to be done in any particular order, kay?

One of the short people's greatest thrills on this vacation was a clean kitchen table.  You think I kid.  Mate and I came home to a table that had been OBLITERATED by oldest sone and almost cried.  As you can see, they're thrilled not to be eating breakfast on yarn boxes, and it's going to take some long work to make that happen in the real world.

I loved this picture, so it needed revisiting.  This is Zoomboy with Chimp baby and Gorilla baby.  He's trying to look all cool--and, well, it's his two favorite apes.  What's not to be cool?
 And this was at Sea World at the otter show.  This sweet couple was there to see the fish (okay--not fish, and the shows?  Were SPECTACULAR!)  But I took the picture because suddenly my mommy reared up her ugly head, and it was all I could do not to tap the one on the left on the shoulder and say, "Oh, honey, you're BURNING!  Here, I've got some 70 proof in my bag."
And we saw Elmo.  This trip around, Mate and I left the tchotchkes mostly for the children--the only thing we really bought into was the constant barrage of photo ops, which was how we ended up with one picture of Elmo and Squish, and one with Elmo and Zoomboy.  We THOUGHT it was going to be both kids in one picture, but Squish had other thoughts.  She REFUSED to get into the picture until Zoomboy was off the stage.

Okay, so Zoomboy DID have his moments in the spotlight.  This here is a giant's shark's jaw.  The picture is inside, which his why the quality is so crap, but you can see by the delight on his bloodthirsty little face that he's impressed.  So were we:-)
This was a cool idea-- it's the family drier for everyone who went on the water ride.  *I* wanted to go on the water ride--but the whole family dumped all their luggage on me in the assumption that I wouldn't.  I'm not bitter.  Swear.  Well... look at all that happiness.  I guess I'm REALLY not that bitter.  And the lovely young woman in the foreground is Chicken's bestie, Stivie.  She had a very good time--and her mother brought her by with a thank you note today.  Nice.  
And this is Rhys Ford.  Yes,  THAT Rhys Ford--and she treated us to some seriously kick-ass Chines Cuisine at Golden City Panda Dragon (Okay--not the real name of the restaurant, but I understand that its a common mistake!)  Anyway, Rhys was tres awesome, and ordered of menu and played with my kids and made us laugh and generally?  Was just way too much fun for someone who heard me ooh-ing and aah-ing over San Diego on Twitter and said, "WE MUST MEET!"  Of course we had to meet.  We'd barely seen each other at yaoi-con, and I had NO idea of the incredible coolness that awaited me.  Meeting was predestined, and now I am in love:-)

And here is Zoomboy, at the Lego hero factory.  He probably could have spent the entire two days right here--we didn't let him.  But we DID buckle and buy him AND his sister some cool Lego kits to take back to the hotel room, and then back home.  They were entranced, as we knew they would be.  For him, it was the chance to build something while paying exacting attention to detail.  For her, it was the fact that it was a Lego dollhouse.  Either way?  Legos... Dude.

 And this?  Batman.  Now, the entire Lego place was full of assembled Lego-amazingness.  New York City, Las Vegas (complete with little mini hookers!) San Francisco, dragons, dinosaurs... just... Dudes.  The legos were a little faded, but the amazing content of accomplishment?  I don't even LIKE putting together Legos--but that didn't mean I wasn't just chock full of awe!  And Batman?  Who knew that Legos could have such raw sex appeal.  Sincerely.  He's awesome.
 And Squish begged so pretty-- and got her face painted.  And about FIVE MINUTES later, tripped and bumped her lip--and I was so agonized for her, I dragged her back to the face painter who completely redid her make up for a small touch up fee--and she was, once again, ravishing.
Lego land was big on rides--I'm not so big on rides, but there were other attractions there, so I got to be the ride documentarian.  And here, you see shiny happy faces, and can live in the knowledge that I have done my duty.

And here is the ocean.  On our second day of Legodom, we left early, got food at a local eatery (we'd been bringing sandwiches and crackers to all the theme parks, and were VERY proud of ourselves because we saved SCADS of money on food, which we felt very comfortable spending on souvenirs! Anyway, the primary reason we left early was to go to the beach.  And we did.  And it was gray and stormy-- my favorite kind of day on the beach--and epic.  And I loved it.  And so did they.  And it totally makes up for the fact that I had to bypass all that earlier ugliness for today while I slept on the couch through Bambi and all sorts of other Disney abominations, and really didn't get much done in work at all.
 It was BEAUTIFUL--don't you think?  Yeah.  Definitely.  Me too:-)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Evolution of Chase in Shadow

Okay, let's see if we can get this straight.  It all started with a free story I wrote last year.

Good Reads did this thing-- someone posted a picture, and one of the writers who frequented the group would pick up the picture and write a story.  I was, as usual, timed out.  "No, no," I protested.  "I'd love to!  You guys know I adore you!  But I really don't have time!"

"But Amy," somebody taunted, "We have a picture that features SOCKS!" Because, yanno, my status as an m/m writer who also knits is sort of well known.  Anyway, THAT'S how I came to write Super Sock Man, because somebody posted that picture with the pretty blond boy putting on the sock, and I went from there.  It was a short piece-- about 3K, and I had fun writing it, and, well, sent it to Elizabeth, my publisher.  "Yeah," I said, "people keep saying they want to know what happens next."

"Okay," Elizabeth said, "tell us what comes next.  I'll publish it as a novella.  But make sure you include a pattern for the socks."
Oh boy--you all remember that, right?  But it's okay--the novella is coming out in March because, well, that's when it's scheduled, and I'm still really proud of the socks, and the fact that the same photographer took that picture as took the original one in the first place?  I love that.  
But the thing is, there's more. 
When I wrote Super Sock Man -- the novella the free short story, Donnie mentioned that his past lovers amounted to a couple of guys giving blow jobs and some heavy petting.  When I wrote the novella?  Suddenly, there was his buddy, Chase in the picture--but Chase, well... he wasn't nearly as excited about Donnie to explore his sexuality.  In fact, at the end of the story, he had a girlfriend instead of a boyfriend, and Donnie was worried about him.

And so was I.

In the meantime, I was experiencing legal things.  Weird legal things.  Apparently, my old district (the current residence of the Libelous Pigfucking Bureaucrat, if you may remember) was trying desperately to find a reason to fire me.  They hired somebody to go back into my blogs.

Yup, you heard me.  All of my blogs.  There they were.  Printed up and bookmarked for all the interesting spots where I may have fucked up in some way that could be used to destroy my career. 

Now, interestingly enough, NOTHING in those blogs actually worked in that capacity--I was apparently cognizant enough of my pen name and my real name to keep them separate--huzzah for me, legal crisis averted.  But I was stressed, and unhappy, at the same time I was thinking about Chase...

And I started thinking about duality... about keeping a part of your identity SO secret that nobody, not your friends, not your family, not your lover, knew who you really were.  I know *I* couldn't do it.  Amy Lane has to have children because *I* have children, and Amy Lane had a job teaching because *I* had a job teaching.  Just sitting down and putting words on the screen was an act of intimacy for me.  I could not make it a lie.
What would it do to me, to make that a lie?

Well, it would probably destroy me.  I'm not wired that way.  And in the meantime, I'd been thinking about porn.  No, no--get your mind out of the gutter--not everything is about sex, even porn!  See, the thing is, there is an industry titled "gay-for-pay"-- straight boys get paid to have sex with straight boys, and it's used as a trope a lot in m/m.  Get it?  Two friends are really gay, but they're broke, and they HAVE to have sex, and-- 
Well, yeah.  Why not.  Pretty Woman launched Julia Roberts's career, right?  It's sexy wish fulfillment, and I've read some REALLY wonderful stories with this trope.  But see, I wasn't in a place where I could do sexy wish fulfillment.  

And I was still worried about Chase.  So I watched me some porn--and did me some research, and interviewed me a very willing film editor who had a bit to say about the industry, and I got a feel for this "trope"--and I was, in my way, charmed.  Say hi to "Chase", btw-- that's him and Tommy up there, Chase is the blond and Tommy is the dark haired one, but in real life they have different names, and on the porn screen they have other names and basically?  They ARE duality, pretty smiles, pretty bodies, and all.  

And they're also regular young men, play ball, work out, don't have much to say on camera but obviously have lives that (hopefully!) the rest of us will never see off of it, and I wanted very much for Chase and Tommy to capture that for us.  And Dex (he's the guy in the middle) and Kane (the dark haired guy with the soul patch and the impish smile)--well, they're another story, one I've yet to write--but they're important too.

But back to Chase.  His story is not happy.  I want to make it clear that I'm pretty sure the guys I'm watching for research (stop laughing!) are happy.  But Chase, MY guy--his story is not happy, because his story really isn't about the porn and the trope and the omygod he's a gay guy pretending to be straight pretending to be gay.  His story is really about the red door behind him.  It's about why Donnie was worried about him.  It's about why Tommy was his salvation.  It's about why he's got a razor blade to his wrist in the first chapter and a girlfriend who doesn't know his porn name and a mind that's unravelling with every come-shot.  THAT'S Chase.  And he's going to be out on Friday, the 24th of February and I'm worried.

I mean, I've spent a couple of years trying to prove that I'm competent in my craft, but every time I try to tackle something that's so much bigger than myself, I have doubts.  It's funny--someone said to me today, "Well, if YOU can worry, I guess it's okay that *I* can worry!" and I'm thinking, "Who doesn't worry?  Writing is so personal--how can you put it out for critics to spit on and not worry?"  I think I wrote back to her and said that critics' spit was the bacterial breeding ground of insecurities, but it goes bigger than that.  I don't just want to tell an entertaining story--I want these people to mean something to the reader as they have meant something to me.  I worry.  Especially when their story is so much bigger than I am.  

So, here's Chase.  He started out as a picture of a pretty boy with a pair of socks and evolved from there.  Everybody want to join me for this one?  

Holy Goddess, Merciful God, LET IT NOT SUCK!  Cannyagimmehallelujiathankyaverymuchamen!

Monday, February 20, 2012

A bunch of pictures-- not many words...

 The beach and the zoo, and kids in various stages of anxiety and joy.  Zoomboy LOVED the zoo--the primate pens were his favorites'  Squish loved the beach, of course, and Chicken and her friend just liked hanging out together.  Zoomboy has been ADHD boy--when we forget his meds, he looks a lot like this--

But most of the time?  It's gorgeous, and the kids are happy, and I'm gonna let the pictures speak for me... cause I'm sort of tired...

Friday, February 17, 2012

Godspeed, Brave Traveler

Okay... so, we're going on vacation.   Yes, you heard me.  It's February, and my kids' school has something called "President's Week"-- no, I don't understand it either.  It's a week off and it's not Spring Break--seriously!  I'm not making this up!

So we're going to San Diego.  Because it's by the sea and we could get the time share (I don't know--I think Mate sacrificed some sort of small animal under the full moon, because I was starting to think the time share was a myth again.)  Anyway, Big T can't come with, and I've stocked the freezer with Hungry Man dinners for him, but other than that?

Yeah.  Chicken's friend, Stevy is coming with us, and... well...

We're leaving at 8:00 am.

So, wish me well.  I've got a post for a new release scheduled for Thursday morning, and I'll try to send random pictures for random things in the meantime... but...

Wish us well!  We're off to see the fish!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Valentines Day Stories

I don't know if I have yet written a Valentines Day scene.

I know that in Bound, when Cory is celebrating/mourning the day she actually looked up and saw Adrian in the gas station, Bracken panics for a minute, because he thinks he forgot Valentines Day, and Cory is like, "Yeah, no, doesn't matter."  I'm pretty sure that none of my characters have had a make-or-break scene during Valentines day.  The reason for this is sort of simple, and can be summed up by the shortbread story.  (For those of you who have heard this before, forgive me--I posted it to my yahoo group, m/mmarvelous --feel free to look it up on yahoo and join by the way-- and folks seemed to like it, so I thought I'd go into it more here:-)

So here it is.  The shortbread story--because, I baked shortbread for Mate this Valentines day and the thing is, Mate and I have a history with shortbread:

Twenty-five years ago (yes, people years not dog years, why do you ask?) Mate and I were dating.  We both worked at McDonalds (yup, heard that right too) and, well, he didn't really want to be dating me.  I was sort of a blowback from the fact that we'd both had our hearts stomped on by different people and had consoled ourselves at Denny's until two in the morning, until I thought, "Hey, this guy is MUCH cooler than the schmuck I thought I liked!" and he went, "Well, hell, she's willing to kiss me, I guess."  Anyway, he was my FIRST BOYFRIEND, and I had him for VALENTINES DAY and OMG was I going to do the romantic gesture.

So I baked him Scottish shortbread at a friend's house.  And as I was baking, I started to spike a fever.  103 degrees, no shit.  So I had to call in for work.  Remember-- where we both worked?  And then, although my friends BEGGED me to just wait until the next day, I HAD to drive thirty miles to give them to him.  At work. 

I almost got fired.  Seriously.  If friends at worked hadn't told the manager that I looked like shit, I would have gotten fired.  (I actually DID get fired from that job later, for refusing to wear my hat, but that's another story.)  

Anyway, and Mate, my darling Mate, took one look at that feverish devotion and did the wise thing--ran like hell.  Broke up with me the next day.  No shit.  

Now later I (in Mary's words) culled him from the herd and made him mine with the cunning use of depression weight loss, puppy dog eyes, and a skillful application of stalking, but that was my first Valentines Day, with Mate.  

Now there've been twenty-five since, right?  Some awesome (Monday's--yes, Monday's, because the restaurant wasn't crowded, that's why!)  and some not so awesome (It's what?)  but I guess it all goes back to that first one--inflated expectations and unreasonable fear.  So last night, I baked him shortbread, even though it was a day early, and we went to the movies.  It was sort of atonement, really, for that first day.  This was no muss, no fuss, no thousand dollar gift, no omg this is THE DAY pressure.  We had a really nice time.  

And as for Mate's gift to me?  Flowers (they're pretty!) and a toilet seat.  I'm the only one who uses our bathroom, really (don't ask me why--but if you ever see a big news headline that reads "Fat Woman Crashes Through Floor of Bathroom", do me a favor and don't look at the picture. Please) and the toilet seat in that bathroom was cut to shreds.  He was sort of hurt, really--took me six trips to the bathroom before I realized that it was MUCH more comfortable now--but when I finally got it?  I was suitably appreciative.  Home improvement ain't no small schizz in our house--we both hates it, and a new toilet seat?  Dude--that's big smooch mojo, really.  

So there you go.  The shortbread story.  Valentines Day with Mate and I.  I think the internet summed it up best with this tweet right here:

Shit My Dad Says: "Valentine's day is bullshit. Our DNA demands we fuck each other, so if you need a holiday to talk your wife into screwing 
you, it's over."

So that's it-- Valentines day-- but I do think there is something to be added here.  All of my children were early for one holiday and conceived around another.  Example?  Big T is two weeks early for Christmas--which means he was conceived around Spring Break.  Chicken was a week early for mine and Mate's birthdays--which means she was conceived around Christmas. Squish was early for Easter, which means she was conceived around our anniversary.  There you go.  And Zoomboy?  Well, Zoomoboy was early for Thanksgiving.  His birthday's on November 15th.  You do the math.  

By the way-- I'm writing a story to this song.  It's heartrendingly beautiful:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Real Teachers Never Stop Teaching

About three weeks ago, I was surprised to see that my alter ego--the one who used to teach in the really difficult school district with people who were not necessarily kind to anyone who stood out--was called a pornographer in the press by an administrator she had never met.  He was taking credit for ridding his school district of all the evil teachers.  She was one.

I was not amused.

None of it was true--not his presentation of himself as sort of a bureaucratic John Wayne (because dudes, anyone who was my confidant in this matter at all would tell you that all they had to do to get rid of me was to LET ME COME BACK so I could quit instead of be fired!), not his presentation of my work as pornography (the fact that it is NOT is well covered material, both legally and morally!), and not his insinuation that I "had students read" pornography as some sort of assignment.  (And if Monty Python hadn't done a first rate send up of that idea, believe me, I'd jump in and have my fun.)  It was all crap, and he got to bluster to the press and I got to sit there and think, "Really?"

Now, of course my FIRST inclination (and I'm always better off when I ignore these) was to spray bomb "LIBELOUS PIGFUCKING BUREAUCRAT" on his car--and while that's still a fantasy I'll use to entertain myself, I don't suggest anyone else actually perpetrate that particular vandalism either. (And, unlike what this man said about ME, this epithet is true, as long as you understand that the word "pigfucking" is used an intensifier, and not an actual description of how the upper echelon powerless administrator who lies in print spends his spare time.)  Anyway, I sat back, let things take their course, and allowed the universe to present me with an alternative idea.

As it turns out, my deep and abiding (and oft-tested) faith that "karma works" kicked in here.  No, bird shit didn't peel his paint job, nobody caught secret tape of him having a drug-fueled gang-bang with monkeys and rent boys, and there were no mysterious accidents involving his nether limbs and farm equipment.  It seems that he's going to have to wait for his own sign that libelous bureaucrats are NOT awarded 72 virgins and a Cadillac Coupe deVille upon departure from this mortal coil--this sign was all mine.

And it was beautiful.  Meet Matty.  He and his beloved, Brad, have kept up a lovely blog chronicling young love in a country that's rather unfriendly to their particular brand of it, and they are witty, charming, and just about as old as Mate and I were when we embarked on OUR adventures.  Matty got to blog about unlikely heroes--and what he said about my work and what it meant to him made me cry--as the libelous pigfucking bureaucrat did not, actually.  Nothing the crumbling clay fist of faux-power had to say about me or to me--whether it was on a public forum or in private-- actually MEANS anything to me, in any sense of the word.  But what this articulate, poetic kid had to say?  That meant the world.

Karma works.  Libelous pigfucking bureaucrats are going to live small, circumscribed lives, where the shit they spew into the either is the only thing they get to see, smell, or taste, and all of their world will be colored by their ignorance.  They will never know the beauty of seeing that something they have done has  LITERALLY made the world a better place--they will only know the drudgery of pretending they have that sort of power at all.  I'm going to take moments like Matty's blog post, and letters that people--wounded and torn people--have written to me about how good writing--sometimes MY writing--heals. These moments are going to reassure me that no matter what libelous bureaucrats have to say about me, I will continue to teach--and teach things of importance, and not just what looks good on a bubble test--for probably the rest of my life.

Karma is a beautiful thing.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

NEXT TIME????????

Okay-- So Chicken is learning how to drive.  It's not pretty.

"Chicken, you ready to drive to school today?"


"Seriously-- your instructor is going to be here Saturday.  You up for it?"




"Dammit, get in the car.  I know you know how to back out."


"See, that's not so... okay, slow down, slow to  stop... ungh... good.  Now go forward.  A little BUT NOT TOO faster good.  Now slow to a stop.  Now go forward.  Good.  We're turning left here.  Now get in the left lane.  Now slow to a stop STOP there's a car there."

"I could SEE that, mom!"

"Right.  Yeah.  My  bad.  Okay.  Now slide into the outside left turn lane here.  Good.  Now stay on the OUTside... good.  Good.  Don't want to cut that too close."

"I hate being on the inside lane."

"Good.  Good.  Wait, wasn't that the turn for the back way to your school?"

"You didn't tell me to take it!"

"But you know how to... I just thought... never mind.  Okay.  Left hand turn lane here.  Inside."

"I hate inside turns."

I swallow.  She does.  She sucks at them.  Everytime she's made one, she's threatened the island in the middle or the person in the inside left turn of the oncoming lane.  I look at the traffic--our light JUST turned red, so we've got some time.

"Do you want me to drive?"




And we run around the car.  And run into each other, bounce off, run around each other and then...

"Fuck!!!"  She weighs 150, and I weigh twice that--YES she's moved the fucking seat!  "Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck..."

I slide the seat back, get in, shut the door, get belted, get the car out of park, and sit, my heart pounding in my chest, while Chicken dissolves quietly next to me.

"What?" I ask, stepping on the gas as traffic moves.

"We ran into each other!  Next time, I'll go around back and you go around front."

My whole world narrows down to two words.

"NEXT TIME??????????????"

God save us if there's a next time.

And speaking of NEXT TIME.

Big T spends most of his time in the back bedroom.  We're all used to him doing that.  Too used to him doing that.

On Tuesdays, I take Squish to dance, and leave Zoomboy, Chicken, and Big T at the house.  Then Mate arrives and takes Chicken to her dance class (in a different place) and Zoomboy does his homework while Big T lurks in the back bedroom.

I got home on Tuesday, and Zoomboy ran out to meet me.

"Is Big T home?" he asked, and my eyes did this:  0.0

"Did he get home after I left?"  He'd been late from school.

"No.  You left me alone."


"I did my homework."

My heart is thundering in my ears and my vision is going black.

"You didn't burn the house down!" I say.  "You are SUCH a good boy!"

"Mom, we don't even keep any matches!  And I didn't cook any food."

"You are such a good boy!"  *pound pound pound*

"Yeah.  Here mom.  Let's write down your phone number, so the next time this happens, I can call you."

"NEXT TIME?????????"

So, I'm sitting and writing, and next to me is the remains of part of my dinner--cucumbers in low fat dressing with bacon-flavored soy bits on them.  The dressing is a favorite of the families--Newman's Own Sesame Ginger, and there's a lot left in the bottom of the bowl.

Big T walks by and picks it up.  "Mom, can I have this?"

"Uh, sure?"

And he drinks it.  DRINKS IT.  I can hear his throat working as he gulps it down.  He puts the dish in the sink, pleased with himself.

"Next time, I'm going to have to chop up some vegetables to put in it," he says.

Oh Jesus.  Next time.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Repressed White People

Mate's grandmother fell ill this week (i.e., was prescribed the wrong medication for a uti which basically hastened her decline, the signal of which was an event in which she RAN around the house when she hadn't actually WALKED for over a year and talked to invisible cats) and she has entered final stage hospice care.  On the one hand, this is a somber event, and Mate is saddened, as are we all.  On the other hand?  He's watched me do this four other times--and we're repressed white people.  We save our grief for our quiet moments in private, and in the meantime, we watch the weirdness that comes with meetings and partings of human beings on and off of this mortal coil.   Things such as:

*  Mate's grandmother's dementia.  His poor mother was trying to explain to the doctors over the phone that this wasn't normal.  The doctors finally told her to bring Grandma in, and Grandma was seeing giraffes on the way there.  Mate's mother was like, "Uhm, yeah.  Not normal.  Can we maybe see about this?"  

*  Mate's grandmother's mantra:  "I'm 92 in a week."  And there you go.  She has seen the finish line, it is 92, and she's at peace with that.  As sad as we will be to see her go, we all get that 92 is a perfectly respectable finish line.  We're good with that.  We hope we make it that far in our own personal races, with as much grace and dignity.

*  Our own children, learning the ways of all repressed white people-- the things not to mention.  Things such as?  "Grandma's going to be 92?  That's only 48 years older than you!"  and "If you don't get yourself together, mom, we'll go to your funeral too and we'll be very sad."  I'm glad that the death of the rat and the cat and a couple of grandparents has given my children a very pragmatic perspective on death--but I really hope they can learn the grave demeanor expected of their fellow repressed white people as they grow.  That kind of pragmatism could have my own parents haunt me with their disapproval.  Literally.  

*  Chicken and I still have an active list of songs she's supposed to play at my funeral.  I still refuse to see the list she wants played at hers, because if I ever have to play that list, I'll dig her up and kill her twice.  

*  Texting from friends can be both inconvenient and frickin' hilarious as you attempt not to get maudlin or sad in your conversation with relatives.  Example?  As Mate and I sat and talked to his Aunt--a very sweet woman with a sense of humor but a deeply religious mien--I realized my best-buddy was texting me picture after picture of hot men in compromising positions as I sat in the lobby of the hospice home.  I kept my smirk to myself and told her that we were doing something serious here--but since I'm usually snarky, she thought that I was being mock-serious and not serious serious.  Hence, when Mate was showing pictures of the young-uns on my phone, there was another text.  Now, when there's a text on my phone and I'm on another app, a banner comes up at the top of the phone, telling you what the text is.  Hence, while Mate was showing pictures of Squish and Zoomboy and Chicken and Big T, the banner at the top reading, "You suck!"  Mate and I met eyes and tried very hard not to giggle like third graders.

Now, I'm sure someone reading this post will look at it, and think, "These people are incredibly callous and cold!"  But the like I said, I've done this before.  You don't moan and grieve a long life, well lived, and you don't try to put paid to past difficulties with the soon-to-be deceased.  You allow them to pass, and let them know their lives were important to you, and that they will be missed.  

It's funny, in a way.  I wrote a story for Christmas this year called Puppy, Car, and Snow, in which a mother-in-law is absolutely convinced that her son's boyfriend is not good enough for her.  At the end of the story, the two lovers are very publicly committed, and the mother-in-law unbends and welcomes the new member into the family.  Now, I've gotten a few bad reviews on this story, because some people seemed to feel that mother-in-law should have been punished.  I think those people must have been very young.  A long time ago, this woman made me cry--and made me cry a lot.  I was not good enough for her grandson, and I never would be, and a thousand sly and painful things were said outside my husband's hearing that made me acutely aware of what a disappointment I was.  

But that was a long time ago.  

In the intervening time, I've proven myself.  My children have grown up kind and respectful and smart and funny, and cognizant of their place in the world and of the people who have come before and of their duty to do something worthwhile in their time on the planet.  This woman learned to love me, and I learned to forgive, and I'll grieve her passing.  People have been telling me since December that my stories continue to teach, and I hope that the subtle lesson in this story was not lost on everybody.  What I said to my husband's grandmother tonight was simple-- a kiss on the cheek (her head is tilted almost parallel with her right shoulder--it can not straighten, to the point where her right lung is crushed in her ribcage and her leg will not work underneath--a kiss on the cheek is an awkward thing) and a promise to tell the kids she said hi.  But it was the result of both of us, over the last 18 years, not "punishing" a bad guy, but learning to make the small and subtle adjustments that are required to maintain a functioning family.  While we did that, I like to think we truly came to love each other, and I'm proud of that.  

So no-- we didn't grieve, we didn't wail, we didn't ask "Why? Oh God, Why must this person who has lived this long and fruitful life leave the world?!"  (It always surprises me when people ask this--I should think that anyone who has ever raised a cat or a rat or a hamster or a fish would realize the inevitable truth.)  We said we hoped we'd see her later--and we might, because she's feisty!--and then we said goodbye.  And we tucked our grief deep in our chests and we took the joy in what we had.  Sometimes, being a Repressed White Person isn't such a terrible thing after all.  

Friday, February 3, 2012

Riding In Cars With Children

Sometimes, listening to my family talk is like living in a movie with AWESOME satirical dialog--except you can't rewind and listen to it all over again, no matter how badly you want to.  I was going to try to capture some of it here, but, well, forgive me.  It was a huge deluge of great and funny kid bits, and unfortunately,  I think there maybe be silken, hand dyed snippets of weirdness that are floating around my brain that will never truly become something.  It's like being saturated in the potential for something really wondrous... these wonderful moments are just there, on the tip of my brain, ready for the taking, but they get sort of soddened over by the mundane moments that end up here.

*  Chicken went to a basketball game with her father and then texted me--she'd seen her Chemistry teacher tending bar, and she was embarrassed.  I told her not to be embarrassed for her teacher--be embarrassed for her country.

*  Zoomboy got a dictionary from his school today-- one of the cool kind with the illustrations.  On the way home from school he looked up human extinction and filled us all in on the gory details.  Apparently global warming is a threat.  He has not yet looked up zombies or curse words.  We're waiting.

*  Squish wakes up every morning and comes into the kitchen where I'm working, and thrusts her head under my arm like a cat looking for pets.  She looks up at me with her blue eyes scrunched and sleepy above her freckled little cheeks and tells me what she dreamed the night before.  I couldn't tell you what she actually dreams-- they're actually very confused--but I could look at her talking forever.

*  Big T came home a little nonplused. He's trying to put together a film for film class and was told by his film teacher that he had the general aura of a young Woody Allen.  0.0  You've seen the pictures, folks--YOU tell me how that works.

*  My newest addiction has been Words by Post with Mate-- he's been KICKING MY FRICKIN' ASS.  So frustrating.  The thing is, I always go for the interesting word-- "covey" instead of "convey", when "convey" can be done for six-bajillion points and "covey" is like, ten.  I've sort of gotten over that--but I still don't see the strategies he does.  I've got the vocabulary, he's got the ability to unscramble letters, which is something I've NEVER had. But television time is fun.  I've got my knitting, and my phone, and sometimes my Kindle.  ADHD has never been relaxing.

* Mate still wants me to go see a King's game.  I still want to stay home and knit.  I may have to go-- he's looking so disappointed every time I say now.

*  This was spirit week at the grammar school.  Yeah, I don't know what they're celebrating--who cares, it's January/February and they're SO glad to be doing something fun.  Yesterday was pajama day.  Today, we put Squish in her little Victorian Witch's outfit, a shawl, and baby powder in her hair and called her 100 years old.  For Zoomboy, today was "crazy hair" day, and Chicken was impressed as I was giving ZB his faux-hawk.  "Geez, mom, that's some SPECTACULAR hair glue!"  Yeah, well, only the best to subdue my own savage squirrel!

*Every night I sing to the little kids.  Some nights they get a bonus track of Death Cab for Cutie's "You'll be loved!" (video to follow) but mostly, it's Patsy Kline's "Dream a little dream" and John Denver's "Sunshine on my shoulder".  I get bonus points as a parent if I slip in the cat's name as I'm singing.  "Dream a little dream of Steve..."  "Sunshine... on my shoulder...makes Steve happy..."  I never do it the same way twice, and when I was in her classroom before Christmas, I heard Squish brag about this like it was in the benefit's package of being my kid:  "I get one story and two to three songs a night.  Uhm-hhm. And sometimes, even ice cream for dessert."  I think she probably could have leveraged herself into a better company, but I'm not going to tell her that!

*  And finished my anthology story!  WOOT!  This is going to be a joint venture between myself, Mary Calmes, and Andrew Grey. Andrew was the one who came up with the concept: Something went wrong in the tapestry of the three fates.  Then we all took that idea and ran with it.  I like my story--it, like my favorite stories, evolved in ways I never thought of.  Hacon (does NOT rhyme with bacon--I was surprised!) and Leif are two of my most awkward, formal heroes--but they are also very sweet.  I also get to do a little bit of eye-humpin' with Thor and Loki, and, uhm... *swoon*

*  And also in the realm of shared projects, I've teamed up with Aleksandr Voinov to write a little novella called Country Mouse.  This was fun-- it started out as a dare, mostly, and I've enjoyed working with Aleks very much.  I'm editing the story today, and I'll have a better idea for it, but I've got to say, working with someone living in England using google docs?  It's a TOTAL RUSH.  You just watch the cursor move across the screen and then you pick up where the cursor leaves off and when you're done you're like, "Oh crap!  This is COOL!"  It's like an intellectual amalgam of shit you wouldn't have thought of adding.  I loved it.  And I got a virtual tour around London, just WRITING it, which was so much fun!  (You guys all KNOW that must have turned my key, right?)  So that will be out sometime in March, along with Super Sock Man.

*  And I'm going to leave it like that for the moment, and ditch out, leaving a video for your perusal.

So this is "You'll be loved"-- the video was cut from the SPN fandom that likes all the eye-humpin' between Dean and Castiel... got to admit, it gives me a giggle and a tickle myself.  And, remember, if nothing else, just hit play and go on with your business and listen to the song: