Process vs Policy


Several times this year I’ve found myself making the same mistake. Someone will post on Facebook or Twitter or a blog a political comment or statement about how we need to “find our own way” and not succumb to party politics. About how important it is to vote “for the best candidate” because “both parties are the same.”

So, I dive in and provide a long (very long. Not even exhaustive and yet very, very long) list of the policies that demonstrate just how different the two parties are. Without question, the ideologies that drive the reactionary, regressive, fascistic right wing of the current GOP are diametrically opposed to the liberal, progressive, democratic-socialist wing of the Democratic party. There can be no possible misunderstanding that the two parties are NOT the same!

Ah, but both parties listen to lobbyists over their constituents! Both parties take dirty, dirty corporate money. Both parties actually try to hold power when they have it by vying for procedural advantage when they are in charge and both parties have drawn district maps in their favor. Therefore, their self-evident assertion is, the parties are the same.

I was talking policy. They were talking process.

They are not wrong! Our current political process sucks. It is way too beholden to the monied class, it is skewed way too much in favor of the corporations and their lobbyists. Parties in power gerrymander districts and restrict voter rights, all in an effort to pick their voters instead of allowing the voters to pick their representatives. It takes a stupid amount of money to get elected to the House and it is worse for the Senate and President. It is, without question, a corrupt and degraded system.

And yet? It is the system we currently have. I can be unhappy with the designated hitter rule in Major League Baseball but if I’m going to follow my favorite team in the American League, then I’m going to watch people using a DH. No one in the AL is going to give that advantage up unilaterally because they all want to win! Every team will play the game as it currently is, eek out every advantage allowed by the rules, because that’s how the game is played. If I want people to see positive change in how our country is run, then I, too, have to play the game as it is right now, this election.

That means voting for one of the two major parties in Federal elections so that, when elected, my candidate will have people in place to work with them (see the total lack of down-ballot candidates for the Greens or Libertarians. See also how well Ventura did in Minnesota). It means finding a candidate with whom I come closest to agreeing with on the matters of policy and then working to get them elected by writing letters, calling, expressing my opinion, and even sending in some of that dirty, dirty money. We have to play the game until we elect enough people who agree with us that the process is corrupt so that they can change it. Until we do, the game is never going to change because those playing the game will win.

Never! the process-haters shout, claiming the moral high ground. They will vote for a third party candidate for president, or stay home, or write in the name of their favorite grandfatherly candidate who totes would have won if the party (of which he is not a member) had just gotten behind him instead of the person who had spent 30 years building the party (therefore, again, proving, I suppose, the evil of the political party process). That way, at least, their hands won’t be sullied by mucking around in a corrupt and degraded system.

I have never seen this anti-process stance taken by someone NOT in a position of privilege, whether that be economic or race or gender. Marginalized folks seem to know that the policies that will be put in place will make their lives worse, while those in the dominant class(es) can enjoy their moral purity unsullied.

The game will never be won by those who take their bat and ball and go home. Play the game as it is, until you have the power to change the game. Vote NOW in Wisconsin. Vote NOW for the party that isn’t aligned with fascists and dictators and hatred. Vote Democratic party, up and down the ballot.

NaNoWriMo 2018


doengelsI first heard about “Book hunters” in Lisa Jardine’s book Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance. I’d been learning about Renaissance and medieval history for years and yet I can’t recall ever hearing about the Italian Humanists who would venture into the dark and hidden parts of monasteries to return great books to the light of day. Books that had been hidden away, slowly rotting, their words soon to be lost forever. These men often didn’t know that a particular book even existed any more! They had read references to authors or texts in books that had stayed in the light and they hoped. Of course, many of the retrievals were happenstance: they weren’t looking for that particular book. Their genius sprang from the fact they could recognize what they found when others, such as the monks themselves, had no idea what treasures had been overlooked.

Stephen Greenblatt wrote the story of how one particularly important book was rediscovered and the world of the book hunters more generally in The Swerve: How the World Became Mordern. By the time I discovered this book, I already knew that my medieval mystery was going to have a book hunter as the main character. Reading this book gave me fascinating details into the personalities of the Humanists who searched for lost or hidden books and the type of world into which these books returned.

I’ve spent the last two years choosing my setting and learning all I could about the area. Two years of reading about Medieval France, only to learn at one point that I’m not talking about “France” per se, or at least, not France alone. In the time in which the story is set, France, Provence, and the Papal States built their castles and defended their walls, glaring across the Rhône at one another. I traveled to the area in spring of 2018 to learn all I could about the landscape, both cities and countryside and took many many pictures. I brought back about 30 pounds of books, most in French. Two years of research and it comes down to this:

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There is too much.

An interesting sort of analysis paralysis has set in. I have so much information that my characters are drowning beneath the waves of facts. My plot is getting buried beneath the particulars of place and time. And yet? I recognize that there is still so much that I haven’t discovered, so many aspects of time and place that, like the book hunters before me, I can’t even be sure exist to be found but that hasn’t stopped me from looking.

I need to get writing! It’s time to choose what goes in now and what can wait. What will tell my story and what will distract from it. Whose voices need to be heard and who needs to shut the hell up. Time to write what I know and note what I don’t and plan to get the specifics later. Time to start making choices that will shape the novel, at least the first one (I’m hoping to get at least three out of all of this time spent researching).

I decided last spring that I would use NaNoWriMo as the deadline to start writing and NaNo begins November 1st. This will be my third NaNo and I’ve won (meaning, I completed writing over 50,000 words in the month) the previous two times. First in 2007 with the novel that became A Call of Moonhart which I published in 2017. I won again in 2014 with the novel I now call Harmony in Three Voices and that story is now complete and looking for beta readers.

NaNoWriMo has been a good way for me to bypass the internal editor and just write, damnit. Especially in this case, with so much material to choose from, I’m hopeful that a push, get the best thing down and move on approach will get me on track. As a mystery, this book should not be more than 90,000 words by the time I’m done, which means if I win NaNo, I’ll be halfway there (winning NaNo with Harmony meant I was only 1/5 done with the initial writing and wasn’t that a surprise!). I know I won’t be able to keep up November’s writing pace but with any luck, the momentum should see me finishing the first draft by spring.

I have a whole lot to do in the next two weeks to prepare for NaNo. This will be the first novel that I don’t think I can write as a “pantser” but will have to actually outline. Mysteries have a much tighter plot structure than I’m used to and I’ll need to give myself the best framework possible before I start writing. Two more weekends and I’m off.

Wish me luck. Check back in with this post for updates.

When All Else Changes


A few years ago, I read a book called The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume I. This book purported to be “The Greatest Science Fiction Stories of All Time” and presented stories published in the 1930s to the 1960s in order to showcase these “greatest” stores that were published before they could win a Hugo Award that they so obviously deserved. Two things became immediately obvious upon reading this book:

  1. Out of the 21 stories presented, only one was written by a woman. And that was the least sexist thing about this volume.
  2. Some of the “greatest” science fiction writers of their time could not imagine a world where women had names. Or speaking roles. Or didn’t exist simply to keep house and get the coffee.

The utter lack of any idea that the social elements of a country might change along with the technological elements echoed through those stories like the dog that didn’t bark. It isn’t like these writers didn’t know that culture changes. They lived through the first world war or the second or Korea or the Cold War. They1 saw their world change, sometimes dramatically, during the course of their lives. And yet? They could not see the role of women change much if at all in the futures that they wrote about.

This comes to mind now because I’ve been watching and enjoying the various DC television series, often called the Arrowverse. These shows are fun and some of the most progressive shows on television from a social standpoint: diverse characters, inclusive storylines, strong women in positions of leadership and authority. We have Sarah Lance leading the Legends and next year we’ll have Supergirl’s adoptive sister Alex leading the DEO. White man Barry Allen married Iris West, a black woman. Two of the smartest people in the universe are Felicity Smoak (a woman, and also Jewish) and Cisco Ramon (Puerto Rican) and they come through to save the main heroes every episode.

Just on Supergirl we have gay characters planning their wedding, a black hero/vigilante afraid to take off his mask because cops kill people like him, the chauvinism of how the world affords much more respect to SuperMAN than SuperGIRL, and a huge crossover series where the ultimate point of the storyline was to punch Nazis. And yet?

And yet they can not conceive of relationships as anything other than monogamous.2

What brought this to mind was the storyline on Supergirl over the last two seasons between Kara and Mon-El. It started off traditionally enough and, in true Superhero fashion, ended tragically (so we thought) when Mon-El had to leave earth. We open season three with Kara mourning the loss of her sweetie just seven months prior and dreaming about him. So of course, before she’s fully healed from the tragic and sudden end of her relationship with Mon-El, before she’s stopped loving him, he returns. From 1000 years in the future. With his wife.

For him it has been seven years and he’s “moved on.” But of course, he hasn’t. In good 3 television fashion, the writers set up a potential love triangle between Kara, Mon-El, and his wife Imra. It’s obvious to everyone that all three are conflicted about what’s going on. Kara respects the fact that it has been seven years for him, but it hasn’t for her and she tries to deal with that by not telling him how she feels because she ‘respects’ his marriage. Mon-El begins to remember what it was that he had loved about Kara in the first place but doesn’t say anything for Reasons and lies to Imra when she asks him how he feels. Imra sees that there is conflict and wants to know what her place is because 31st century woman passively wait for the guy to choose just one.

Why? Because in the 31st century they still have 20th century idealized relationship structures?

We’ve seen relationships change, radically, even within my lifetime. Divorce and gay marriage just two of the most obvious changes, not to mention singledom and cohabiting without marriage or even plans for marriage, all of which are part of the Arrowverse. And yet, one thousand years from now, the very ideal of coupledom as the sole basis for relationships hasn’t changed? At all? Not even a little bit?

I’m not saying that the characters would eventually choose polyamory or even that they should. But I am saying that the very concept that love is boundless should be given some screen time. Because even now, in the 21st century, ethical nonmonogamy is a thing, practiced by uncounted thousands of people in the US alone. More and more people recognize that attraction and love can happen without it being the end to a current, agreed-upon relationship structure. No, I’m not suggesting that in 1000 years everyone will be poly. I am suggesting that the writers of Supergirl might have found a progressive way of writing a storyline involving three people that wasn’t trite, overdone, completely predictable, and the least progressive thing about the show.

  1. As noted, these authors were almost all men. You’d think that ‘the male gaze’ would have at least noticed flapper dresses. 
  2. Maybe the writers can imagine such a thing. Chances are that some of the writers may even practice ethical nonmonogamy themselves. But that’s one social element that has not made it to the screen. 
  3. And by that I mean boring, unimaginative, and predictable. 

Edited to remove typos and to clarify some of the text.

Top 100


I took over 1000 photos on my recent trip to France. Most aren’t what anyone else would find fun to see: closeups of blocks used in walls, cobblestone patterns, the vaults of way-too-many cloisters and churches. But there are a few that are just pretty or (I think) represent something cool. If you’re not sure what a particular picture is all about, ask me in the comments!