All posts by magpie

Everything I Know About Writing Fiction, Kinda

Want to work all the time for almost no financial reward? Want to have some people refuse to take what you do seriously while other people seem compelled to tear you down every chance they get? Try being a speculative fiction author! (Everyone likes to complain about their jobs, including authors.)

I’ve only been a professional author for a couple years, though I wrote fiction seriously for a decade before that. I’ve also been an editor and a publisher and all that other nonsense. Wiser and more experienced minds than mine have put writing advice to paper before me, but I get asked about this shit often enough that I’ll go ahead and take a shot at it.

I’ve broken this down into three sections: how to write words, how to write stories, and how to be an author.

Very little of this is original, but of all the writing advice I’ve gathered over the years, this is stuff that works well for me. It’s geared towards genre fiction because that’s what I write. It’s geared towards trying to be commercially viable, because I like getting paid for my work.

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Let Me Tell You What A Good Job My Friends Are Doing of Destroying Gender

There are a handful of fights going on in contemporary feminism right now, and one of the most heated is about the issue of trans-acceptance. Like any good fight, we can rudely simplify it down to two sides. On one side, you have trans-inclusive feminism. On the other, you have what are generally known as TERFs: trans-exclusive radical feminists. For context, I am a transwoman.

TERFs claim they want to destroy gender. The thing is, though, that us trans-accepting feminists are doing a better job of it.

The fight between these two sides is, fundamentally, incapable of resolution — we both use the same words but we mean different things, so each of our viewpoints is all but absurd to the other party.
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If I Die in Raleigh

Punks tend to wear all black anyway, so it’s almost easy for us to dress for funerals. Except most of us don’t own nice clothes and some of us don’t know what gendered costume we’re supposed to wear.

We did what we could.

At the gravesite, while Will laid waiting to be put in the ground, our friend Jesse from Severed Fingers played Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on guitar. All of us sang along, crying. The pastor — who didn’t know us, didn’t know the family, didn’t know Will — must have been confused. Not an hour earlier, he’d been trying his hardest to maintain the proper balance between speaking to us respectfully and patronizingly about God, and we weren’t having any of it. Yet there we were, earnestly singing Hallelujah.

Cohen’s version strikes at what’s true about God and Death and all those other words that may or may not deserve capital letters. That day, it was our atheist prayer. I don’t really care too much what the pastor thought of us.

One friend, face wet with tears and guitar in hand, got off the stool and joined the rest of us while another friend was lowered into the ground forever.
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I’m Not Even Going to Try to Pass

I walked into the activist meeting feeling good. I had on my short shorts over tights and my makeup was good. I took my seat next to a stranger, a transwoman.

“Are you in transition?” she asked me. Like, within thirty seconds. I genuinely think this was the first thing she said to me after maybe telling me her name.

“Well, I, uh…” I stammered.

“Have you started hormones yet?”

I stammered some more.

I get it. She was new to the group and excited to see another transfeminine face in the crowd. But goddam is that some personal shit to ask a girl within a minute of meeting her.

I didn’t really answer her in the moment, but let me answer her first question more concretely now: I am “in transition” in the same way that I used to be a baby and one day I’ll be dead.
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Cede No Ground To Fascists

When the nazis came to town, a friend of mine got in her pickup truck and drove around the entire night. Not just to keep track of the fascists, but to give rides and offer safety to anyone and everyone who felt threatened by them. I know without a doubt she would have climbed out of her truck and intervened more bodily if it had been required of her.

She’s also white and has a rather large and prominent tattoo of Mjolnir, “Thor’s hammer.” She listens to black metal, writes in runes, tends towards misanthropy, and draws strength from the old gods. These are all things a lot of nazis do too. Which is to say, my friend spends a lot of her time in contested cultural terrain. I love her for it.
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Home Sweet Not-A-Van

Ah, van life. The rain beating down on tinted glass, the sunrise lighting the world in every direction. The freedom to wander as you will. Car insurance is cheaper than rent; car repair is cheaper than utilities.

When I first moved into a van, every day was an adventure. I’d shove five or six people into my old minivan—later my full-size van—and off we’d go across the country. Some of my favorite people in this world I met because someone I was traveling with dragged them along.

No wonder people romanticize van life.

After seven years of it, I am so glad I don’t live in a van anymore. Simple living is great, I guess, but having stuff is great too.
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I Was A Teenage Anarchist And Now I’m A Mid-Thirties Anarchist

Fifteen years ago today, on February 2nd, 2002, I became an anarchist. I was nineteen, living in NYC, and I attended the World Economic Forum protests. I knew the anarchists by reputation only — they wore all black and they smashed things. They were going to wear masks in defiance of NYC’s anti-mask laws. I wanted to know why, so I approached a man with his face obscured by a black bandanna.

“What’s anarchism?” I asked.

“Well, we hate capitalism and the state.” He was very forthcoming, which I appreciated.

“What do you all do about it?”

“We build up alternative institutions without hierarchy while attacking and interfering with the existing, oppressive ones we despise.”

“Oh,” I said. I pondered this for a moment, but honestly only a moment. “Do you have an extra mask?”

He did, and he gave it to me. Simple as that, I became an anarchist.
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Actions Speak Louder Than Votes

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” —Assata Shakur

I admit, I’m terrified.

(Usually I write blogposts several days ahead of time and put them through several rounds of edits. This one I wrote and posted this morning, because even though I’ve been thinking about, and listening to others’ thoughts about, a Trump victory, I didn’t actually think it was going to happen.)

We don’t know what happens now. We don’t know if all our much-acclaimed checks and balances will keep the status quo of the country (already a totalitarian nightmare of police check points, deportations, stop and frisk, and mass incarceration for many of its inhabitants) intact. We do know that this nation elected an “unelectable” racist demagogue who quotes Mussolini, brags about sexually assaulting women, and isn’t even a very good businessman.

We also know that the Republicans control the house and senate. This isn’t unprecedented: George Bush, Jr. came into office with a republican majority congress as well. Which didn’t go so well for anyone, at home or abroad, though most of us survived it.

But, at least in rhetoric, Trump makes George Bush, Jr. look like a beacon of tolerance and love.
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Lower Leftism: Expanding Upon the Political Map

There’s a simple-but-effective “political compass” used by many people I know. “Compass” has always seemed like a misnomer, and I prefer the word “map.” This map has two axes: left/right economics and libertarian/authoritarian structure. The idea is that individuals, groups, and societies can be placed on the map so that they can be understood in relation to one another.

It’s a good starting point. I’d like to expound upon it by recalibrating it and providing further subdivisions.

Proposed two-axis political map, with subdivisions.
Proposed two-axis political map, with subdivisions.

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From A Snowflake of Science Fiction

content warning: homophobic slurs, street harassment

Last weekend in Kansas City, at the 74th WorldCon, women swept the fiction categories of the Hugo Awards. Last weekend in Kansas City, at the 74th WorldCon, Dave Truesdale clutched his pearls.

As part of his apparently-prepared plan to hijack the panel he was moderating, “the state of short fiction,” Truesdale said that “science fiction is not for snowflakes.” He said that those of us critical of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. suffer from “microaggressive disorder, or MAD.”

With an admirable dedication to a visual metaphor, he pulled out a string of white beads and placed it around his neck. He said that those of us who are easily offended should clutch our pearls instead of saying anything critical, apparently ever.
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