Monday, June 29, 2015

Guest Blog: Steven Harper on Greek Mythology and Sexual Abuse

Several years ago, I realized I wasn't dealing with my son's autism diagnosis very well. Too much rage, too much helplessness. Just too much. So I started seeing a counselor, and I saw her for several years.

During that time, I decided I wanted to write about Ganymede, the teenager who was kidnapped by Zeus to serve as his cupbearer on Olympus. Zeus sees Ganymede on the earth below, decides he's the coolest kid ever, changes into an eagle, and snatches Ganymede up to Olympus. Zeus then persuades Hebe to make Ganymede immortal, then dumps Hebe as his cupbearer and gives that exalted position to Ganymede.

Only two and a half stories about Ganymede have survived--the story of his kidnapping, a mention in the Iliad about Zeus giving Ganymede's father a set of horses in payment for the loss of his son (that's the half), and a story in which Ganymede loses a game of dice against Eros, and gets mad at him. That's it.

When I got older and read the actual material instead of the summaries and children's versions, I learned that Ganymede was more than Zeus's cupbearer. Zeus also took Ganymede to his bed. This was part of Greek culture--a powerful man would often serve as a mentor/teacher/second father/love interest to a teenaged male. Usually the parents went along with this: "Good news, son! Your uncle has offered to be your mentor!" So Ganymede was a mythological parallel to this mortal custom.

The stories, however, never went into what it was like. What was it LIKE for Ganymede to be
snatched away from his family and friends and suddenly make into the cupbearer and lover of the king of gods? You have the ultimate mentor, but it wasn't anything you'd asked for. Your culture
teaches you that being taken to this guy's bed is a good thing, or at least something you can put up with because all of us men went through it, but how do you =really= handle it?

I ended up using my therapist as a resource here. She had counseled many survivors of sexual assault and was an expert. I told her about the book and said my theory was that a teenager in Ganymede's position would have a lot of mixed feelings.

Sexual assault victims often feel shame because our society has (incorrectly) decreed that victims of sexual assault have done something wrong, that they're bad people who have become further soiled. But Ganymede's culture says that being chosen as a mentee is an honor and a duty, and if you're chosen by the king of gods himself, you must be an amazing person.

And yet . . .

Ganymede at a stroke loses his family, his friends, and his home. He changes from a mortal into an immortal. He is thrust into a group of powerful people who see him as a pawn in a greater game that Ganymede himself doesn't quite understand. He's at the beck and call of Zeus, who does some pretty dreadful things. And he'll be a teenager for the rest of his immortal life.

Some major mixed feelings there.

My counselor agreed. "This would be way too complex for it to be one-sided," she said (or my notes
say she said).  "He would love it one moment and hate it the next.  There would likely be periods of great sadness and great happiness until he adjusted. You can love and hate someone--people do that all the time, especially when it comes to sex, or to someone you're =supposed= to love but aren't sure you do, or with someone you think you love but don't understand why. Don't be afraid to show that between Ganymede and Zeus."

I set out to explore this in DANNY.  Or at least, partly. Half the book is set in ancient Greece and half the book is set in modern America. Danny tells Ganymede's story while he tells his own, and the two overlap in strange ways. It's the most complicated, layered novel I've ever written, with plenty of shout-outs to lovers of Greek mythology.

Available at Book View Cafe:
Steven's Blog:
Steven's web page:

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Cataract Journey 2: Choices

With my diagnosis of cataracts (in both eyes), I began to consider my alternatives. The simplest, which is to do nothing and rely on eyeglasses for increasingly inadequate visual correction, was not very appealing, especially since lens replacement surgery was now “medically necessary.” Medicare, like most insurance plans, covers only the bare minimum: a single focus (“monofocal”) artificial replacement lens, usually for distance, with the natural lens being removed and the new one inserted by scalpel. Monofocal lenses give most people excellent distance vision, although they do not correct for astigmatism, and usually require the use of glasses for reading and intermediate distance work.

These are not the only lenses available. Lenses can be toric (astigmatism correcting), or can correct for more than one distance. Multifocal lenses can provide a full range of vision (or so the literature says), including presbyopia, the difficult in reading that comes with age, but they can also result in halos around street lights and other visual difficulties at night. They also don’t come in all powers of correction. Accommodative lenses can correct for distance and intermediate vision, which means that glasses may be needed for reading; they flex like a normal, healthy lens. Even more technological innovations are in the works, especially as baby boomers age and demand better solutions.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Revision Round Table 3: Kari Sperring, Marie Brennan

So you've finished your novel -- but have you? That first draft needs work, but where to begin? In
this round table series, I asked professional authors how the approach revision -- not polishing, but truly re-visioning a story.

Kari Sperring:
Ah, revisions.

I’m revising a book right now, and, as a result, my instinctive response to any question about revisions is ‘revisions are the worst. Apart from writing the first draft. That’s the worst, too.’ When it comes to writing, I definitely tend to the Eeyore. Whatever I’m doing right now is the hardest thing, the most uncontrolled, unfocused, worrisome thing.

I’m a very ill-disciplined writer. For preference, I write without an outline – and if I do outline, it tends to consist of a handful of possible scenes plus notes on theme and feel.  My desk is littered with scraps of paper on which I have scrawled ideas for future scenes and plot-turns, many of them only semi-legible and usually out of order. Whether or not I get to them is very random: it depends on what turn the book takes and on what I remember. None of which helps when it comes to revising. 

With both Living With Ghosts  and the book I’m currently working on, I wrote a complete first draft and then rewrote the book from scratch, ending up with a different plot, new characters, and a different outcome. Quenfrida didn’t enter LWG until draft 2. Nor did Joyain. The first draft of the current project seemed to consist mainly of walks and conversations. This new one is full of riots and acts of sabotage, and one of the protagonists is currently disembodied. It’s not the book it was, and I hope it’s better for it, but right now – as always seems to be the case with me and revisions – it feels vast and sprawling and random, a morass of scenes and ideas galloping off in nine different directions, and me in the middle trying desperately to get the whole thing back under control.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Revision Round Table 2: Judith Tarr, Elizabeth Moon

So you've finished your novel -- but have you? That first draft needs work, but where to begin? In
this round table series, I asked professional authors how the approach revision -- not polishing, but truly re-visioning a story.

Judith Tarr:

How do you approach revising a book?
I prefer to revise than to write first draft. Revision is my reward for slogging through the draft. Since I do most of my "prewriting" either in notes or in my head, and generally have my plot either outlined or again, clear in my head, my drafts tend to be very spare but pretty much complete. My editor will usually tell me to expand; I've never had to cut, I've always had to add. Sometimes a lot.

Of cuss the editorial letter can make me say bad words, because in my dreams I submit a perfect draft that needs no more than a light waft of proofreading before it bursts out upon the world. In reality, if I'm lucky, I don't have to add or change much. If I'm not...well, there was that time I had to rewrite the whole thing with a different but much more appropriate protagonist. Or the time I had to add 50,000 words. Or...

What makes revision different from polishing or rewriting, or is there a difference?
Revision for me is what I do after I've received outside input. Usually that's the editorial letter. I don't use beta readers in general; have pulled in a reader once in a while for expert advice or clear-eyed input, but mostly it's just me and my ms. until it meets its editor.

Do you work things out in your head, work only from the manuscript (and if so, on the computer or a printed hard copy), some combination of both?
I work on the computer with my editorial letter in hand, with however many passes the ms. needs. Picky stuff first (wording, clarifications, continuity notes, etc.). While I'm going through to get the small stuff cleared up, the back of my mind is mulling over the big stuff: expansion of character roles, plot elements, worldbuilding notes, and so on. Those get done in waves as I can handle them.

I try to find the spot where a change or expansion has the maximum effect. A change in a word or a line at the exact right place can resonate through the whole ms. That's the dream change.

Or, doing the minimum required to make the book work according to my vision and the editor's input. It's the lazy writer's technique, and if I do it right, it makes a huge difference to the quality of the work.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Cataract Journey Side Note: Lunar Haloes

Over on APOD, I see this beautiful image:

And its description: Rings like this will sometimes appear when the Moon is seen through thin clouds. The effect is created by the quantum mechanical diffraction of light around individual, similarly-sized water droplets in an intervening but mostly-transparent cloud. Since light of different colors has different wavelengths, each color diffracts differently. Lunar Coronae are one of the few quantum mechanical color effects that can be easily seen with the unaided eye.

And I am so relieved that this is a real phenomenon, and not further proof that I need cataract surgery. I don't see multiple colored rings, but a soft halo the same color as the object (white, in the case of the Moon).

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Cataract Journey 1: Diagnosis

For some years now, maybe a decade, I’ve complained about my “old eyes.” I’ve never had good vision without corrective lenses. I think I started wearing glasses in 3rd grade. I remember getting contact lenses in 1960. They were hard lenses, of course, and required a long period of getting used to, all the while putting up with light sensitivity and scratchy, red eyes. They did, however, get me out of having to play softball – which I was so bad at, it was embarrassing – in high school; the first windy day blew so much dust into my eyes, the school let me switch to swimming. For some reason, maybe the steepness of my corneas, the lenses stayed put in water. As a result, I learned to swim.

For a long time, hard (“rigid gas-permeable”) lenses were a great solution for me. I don’t have issues about handling my eyes, and best of all, they gave me great correction. My brain thought the world had sharp edges. And so it went for many years.

Eventually I ran into one situation or another where I needed glasses. For some strange reason, hospitals want you to take your contacts out. So I got them, even though years would go by without using them. And then, of course, I’d need a different prescription. I got a pair just for reading in bed, part of my night time ritual.

Fast forward a number of decades. Dry, scratchy eyes became more of a problem, especially when working at the computer, and often it seemed as if the lenses couldn’t quite settle (and give me good correction), no matter how many times I blinked. I’d take them out and clean them, and sometimes that would help. Driving at night became more tiring. I could no longer see the night sky clearly, and I was pretty sure I’d been able to, once upon a time.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Revision Round Table 1: Patricia Rice, Rosemary Edghill

So you've finished your novel -- but have you? That first draft needs work, but where to begin? In this round table series, I asked professional authors how the approach revision -- not polishing, but truly re-visioning a story.

Rosemary Edghill: "How do you approach revising a book? What makes revision different from polishing or rewriting, or is there a difference? Do you work things out in your head, work only from the manuscript (and if so, on the computer or a printed hard copy), some combination of both? Do you write out takes, read sections aloud? What advice, if any, would you give a beginning writer? What's been the most useful thing another writer has taught you?"

I consider revision to be a collaboration between the writer and the editor, as distinct from polishing and rewriting.  When you're polishing, you're making the best book you can make with only yourself to please.  Revision involves shaping your book to someone else's vision.  The trick is to do it without breaking it.

I work entirely on computer, which has advantages and disadvantages.  There are a number of formatting tricks you can use (in Word 2003, which is what I work in) to make the book fresh to your eyes, including formatting it as if it is already a page of printed book text.  While you're writing the book, you focus on story: for the revision, you're keeping your eye on transparency, reader accessibility, and narrative flow.  Setting a manuscript up in book form gives you a much clearer idea of (frex) how far apart two pieces of information (that you expect the reader to retain and combine) are placed.

Another Word 2003 advantage (probably available in other programs, but Word is what I know) is the "Track Changes" function, where you can see the revision on the page with the new text inserted and the old text X'd out.  I use that a lot when I'm trying to track down doubled or repeated paragraphs (an artifact of being able to cut and paste) or to see how a global replace is going to affect things.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Belated Baycon Report

I really should remember to write up my notes and impressions of a convention soon after because they fade with astonishing speed. For example, I flipped open the program of Baycon 2015 (May 22-24, Santa Clara CA) panels, looking for a blog subject. “Inspiring the Next Generation of Science Fiction Writers” – ooh, I thought, I have a few things to say about that. Palm to forehead time:  I was on that panel!

Not only that, my dear friend and awesome science fiction writer Juliette Wade was on it with me. Also a very cool guy named Colin Fisk, and “the Winner Twins,” two young women writers who dress alike, collaborate, and definitely spoke for the younger generation. My own perspective arises from coming of age during the space race. I remember the hoopla about Sputnik (in fact, I made a Sputnik costume for Halloween) and how cool it was to like science and engineering. Physics and astronomy were majorly splashy news. We don’t have an equivalent now in terms of the general conversation, although the images from Hubble and the other space telescopes are even more awesome. The Winner twins came a gaming perspective, seeing video games as instruments to not only teach science but inspire players to learn more. Of the latter, I remain dubious. On the other hand, I remain hopeful that the various efforts to attract more women and minorities to math and science may result in a new generation of science fiction writers as well.

Sometimes my panels and other convention events revolve around a theme. This could be the vagaries of chance, the items I ticked off on my guest questionnaire, or simply the way the convention programming folks work. Baycon 2015’s theme was gender and sexuality. More or less. I moderated “Pink Hockey Sticks: Raising a Gender Neutral Child in a Highly Gendered World.” One of my favorite resources for this is the blog Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son (although I think it should be child, but it’s not my kid, so I don’t get to vote). The cool thing is that one of the panelists was an intersex person, which is a viewpoint not often included in “Quiltbag” (LGBTQI) discussions. We all lamented the paucity of gender-neutral pronouns and emphasized that the polite thing to do is inquire the preference of the person.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

GUEST POST: Body weight and transgender hormone therapy

Open Minded Health is back up and running with a timely report on a study about how the hormones used in gender transition affect body fat:

Hormone therapy for trans people has long been known to change body shape and body fat percentage. But by how much? And how much can be expected in the first year? A European study of 77 trans women and 73 trans men found out!
On average over the first year of hormones…
  • Both trans women and trans men gained weight overall. On average they gained around 4-6 pounds (2-3 kg). Both groups started with a BMI around 24 (just barely between normal weight and overweight). For trans men, this weight gain tipped them into the “overweight” category. Trans women stayed in the “normal” weight category.
  • Trans women gained body fat and lost muscle mass. Their body fat went up from 24% to 28%. They lost a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of muscle mass.
  • Trans men lost body fat and gained muscle mass. Their body fat went down from 34% to 30%. They gained 5 kilograms (11 pounds) of muscle mass.
  • There wasn’t much of a significant different in waist sizes.
It may be helpful to remember body fat percentage numbers. For cis women, 21-31% is considered a fit or normal range. For cis men, 14-25% is the fit or normal range. So the trans women in this study started out at an average body fat percentage and stayed there. The trans men in this study started off with too much body fat and stayed there.
During the first year of hormones it seems that around a 4% change in body fat can be expected. Trans men can gain quite a bit of muscle. Trans women will lose some muscle.
As a final note: this was a European study. The hormones used in Europe are different than the ones used in the United States. The results may not be applicable in the United States.
Want to read the study for yourself? The abstract is publicly available!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Thunderlord news

Alas, dear readers, I seem to have exhausted those snippets that do not reveal too much of the plotline, so we have come to the end of that adventure. However...

I have a tentative release date of August 2016.

(smiles, beams, accepts applause)

Now I have to finish the book...

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Write It Slow?

Ursula K. Le Guin recently blogged on Book View Café about how the marketing practices of results in disposable, interchangeable world-pablum instead of thoughtful, well-crafted literature. She wrote:

If you want to sell cheap and fast, as Amazon does, you have to sell big. Books written to be best sellers can be written fast, sold cheap, dumped fast: the perfect commodity for growth capitalism.
The readability of many best sellers is much like the edibility of junk food. Agribusiness and the food packagers sell us sweetened fat to live on, so we come to think that’s what food is. Amazon uses the BS Machine to sell us sweetened fat to live on, so we begin to think that’s what literature is.
I believe that reading only packaged microwavable fiction ruins the taste, destabilizes the moral blood pressure, and makes the mind obese. Fortunately, I also know that many human beings have an innate resistance to baloney and a taste for quality rooted deeper than even marketing can reach.

The Guardian responded with an article about her powerful essay, so I expect it’s gotten a lot of exposure now.

Le Guin’s perspective reminds me of an experience I had when I was a fairly new writer. I’d sold a handful of short stories to professional markets and I was perpetually working on one novel or another but I hadn’t sold one yet. Because I was still learning how to write at novel length, I wrote really awful, disorganized first drafts and then revised over and over. It took me a couple of years to get a novel into sufficiently good shape that I felt comfortable in sending it out. That was okay, because each one was better than the one before. They were better written, but also deeper in concept and grander in scope. I was getting personalized rejection letters from editors, which encouraged me greatly. At a convention, I encountered an author who had already sold several novels. In fact, he (nominal pronoun for the sake of the article) was churning out three or four a year. When I asked him how he did that, he told me he never revised. He’d write a draft and that was it.

I was devastated.