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February 23rd, 2015

A couple things first – I didn’t post last week, because I am sick. Sick, sick, sick. Sickity sick. I came down with the crud HARD from Radcon, starting Tuesday night and lasting until … undertermined. Sore throat and fever that spiked to 101 and bounced up and down for a few days, now has morphed into a gross phlegmy chest cold and I guess we’ll just see where it goes from here. I’m miserable and have done little other than lie on the couch for days. Today I’m back at work, but my brain is fuzzy. However, even with a fuzzy brain, I have something I’d like to rant about. The rant will not be as impassioned as maybe it should be, because I don’t have the energy to spare. But I think it’s important, so Imma give it a try.

Intersectionality – I’ll get there, but I’ll ramble first. Sick, remember.

Last night, against my better judgement, I watched the Oscars. I watched it because, even though it’s racist AF and sexist and really more of a barometer of how inner circle cool kids felt about movies than how the world that watches felt about movies, I like NPH, and I like Twitter, and I like watching things that are being live-tweeted while watching Twitter, and my brain is fuzzy so I said why not. The show was … uneven. NPH kinda didn’t make it work, and I don’t know how much of that was the Academy pulling his jokes and saying no beforehand, and how much was he just was having an off night. But there were a couple of jokes that acknowledged the racism of the Oscars in a way that felt weirdly congratulatory, and a bit that was totally a bit (even though he said it wasn’t a bit) that went on WAAY TOO LONG, NEIL. Also, please don’t ask Octavia Butler to be part of a boring bit that makes it look like she has to do you a favor. Because … that looked weird, too. And there some of the jokes just weren’t really that funny. It’s a hard gig, I know, but he’s been a good host of other shows, so … I don’t know why it was kind of blah. I mean, I do blame him for those iffy jokes that were “we’re totally racist! Haha!” That doesn’t help as much as he might think. There was a sexist one there at the end that I just … blanked out on, because I was tired. Some of the presenters were kind of off, but that’s always true. And why was John Travolta touching women like a weird creepy relative? Can he not do that? Seriously, Scarlet Johansen and Idina Menzel, he was pawing them. Weird.

And, yeah, a really awful racist moment with Sean Penn. I don’t care if the director who won is a pal – that kind of shitty, racist joke is scattershot, and it hurts everyone it barrels into. I already knew Sean Penn was a horrible person, so I guess it’s not a surprise he has racist blind spots and likes to diminish a victorious moment with a racist joke, but it really sucked.

The speeches were actually pretty good this year, for the most part. I have to admit I was kind of tuning in and out, half zonked with this cold, and I paid a bit more attention to Twitter than the show here and there, but it seemed like there were some nice speeches going on, with something to say beyond a list of names. Several people were super cute in their shock and happiness, and I always like that. We had some fun messages going out: Call your parents, love to families and in one instance, one guy’s dog and in another, some donut shop, disease awareness, mental health awareness, and various calls for rights for all. Common and John Legend in particular had a really great, powerful duo of speeches, and they had a great performance of their song, and I loved it. I think they raised some great points, and they took the chance of that platform to make them.

Patricia Arquette had what sounded like a really great moment, where she called for equal wage rights for all women. At least, it sounded like she said/meant all women, although the “all the women who gave birth” moment gave me pause, and the “we’ve worked so hard for everyone else” thing made me side-eye. But it ended strong and I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t misunderstanding what she’d said, as it went by fast, and I’m sick. But it turns out no, she did say those things. And then in her backstage comments, she made it worse. She basically is saying that “women” have “fought for gays and people of color and everyone else,” so now it’s “our turn.” Uh … that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works. First of all, there are women in the LGTBQ community, and there are (shocker!) women of color. And there are disabled women, and there are women who are not citizens of this country that our country treats poorly, as well. So in the words of Flavia Dzodan – My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.

I don’t have the energy to go into all what intersectionality means. Read Dzodan’s essay, read this essay by Jarune Uwujaren and Jamie Utt, read and do your homework about intersectionality. I’m still doing mine – it’s important work, and it’s important to understand it. But the TL:DR version of all of this is – feminism should not only have white, middle-class, cishet women in it. And the needs of women of color, of disabled women, of transwomen, of lesbian women, need to be included in the fight, because oppression doesn’t take turns as to which part of you it’s oppressing. If you are more than one thing, then oppression hits you at all points of awful, not just one at a time. And I’m sorry, Patricia, I really like your work, but you are not being inclusive and your words are actively making things worse.

White women don’t get to tell people – many of whom are already doing the work of fighting for everyone’s rights, by the flipping way – that they are doing it wrong and they should stop it and follow their (our) extremely problematic lead. It’s not OK to tell women who are Black that they need to stop fighting for equal rights for Black people, so that they can support you because you’re a woman? What? How does that even follow? Yes, equal rights for all women. By the way, Black women are paid less than White women. Yes, White women are paid less than White Men. If you add in other intersectional oppressions, then the person makes less than that. So a disabled transwoman of color is making even less for the same job – did Ms. Arquette acknowledge that in her speech? No. Did she even think of it at all? We need to recognize that our privileges make us blind to some things, and try to make it better if we screw up. This was a screw-up that angered and injured a lot of women, intentional or not. I hope she works to make it better.

For my part, I will continue to do my homework and learn how to be a better ally to women who don’t fit into the white middle class mold. And I say equal rights for all women – every single last intersectional one of them.

Title is from "Sweet Nothing" which it turns out is by some guy named Clavin Harris, but Florence from Florence and the Machine sings it, so ... did I mention I'm sick?

February 12th, 2015

Originally posted at my website. Feel free to comment here, there, anywhere a comment comment.

I had vague plans on writing something clever for this blog this week. I was going to write up a ranty post about certain 80s song lyrics – which I might still do in the future – but I have lost my oomph for that post, and it’s just sitting there. I also thought about a post regarding the fun, ridiculous, fou-pants ride of a movie that is “Jupiter Ascending,” but there are so many posts about it already, and you can find much more fun and clever and gleeful info about it at various locations, that I decided not to. (As @cleolinda says, "Everything Happens So Much." And others "This movie is absolute garbage and I love it and I want to see it again." My main thoughts are: it's beautiful, lost in enormous amounts of unexplained or inexplicable backstory, it mixes a nefarious marriage/property plot of Edwardian Empire manners with SF tropes and consequences not as well as it might have, and I will own it and watch the pretty pretty often and with glee.)

I pondered posting up something about how the sequel writing is going, but I feel like I don’t have a lot to tell you at present, other than I’m writing, and it’s going, and I’m alternately a genius and a hack, and it’s February …. Yeah. I could tell you that rehearsal season for this summer’s show has begun, and I’m working out harder, and I’m sore, and we just learned some kick-ass choreo to “Too Darn Hot” for the Broadway set, but - there, I just did. That takes care of that. (Kick. Ass. So Much Fun. And Ow.)

So I guess for this post I’m just going to tell y’all that I’m going to Radcon this weekend (starting tomorrow) in the Tri-Cities, and I’m going to hang out and be writerly and have fun and not buy too much jewelry or books and eat (sometimes decent) food. I shall endeavor to work out once, and dance some (if there’s a dance anywhere that’s any good – i.e. no smoke and some music I like at least sometimes … but that oil smoke is a big dance killer, and I wish it would go out of style, and that plus angry trance music is all Radcon dances have been these last few years) and spend time with friends and write (!) some more. FINISHING THE ROUGH DRAFT OMG I REALLY WANT TO BE DONE WITH IT.

So that’s your postum (Postum, the Postal Adhesive! Tastes kinda like coffee!) for this week. I shall type up some sort of contemplative fuzzies on the con when I get back. Writers gonna write, y’all. Peace out.

Title is from "Too Darn Hot," which is in turn from "Kiss Me Kate," a Cole Porter musical that is a lot dirtier than I remembered when I watched it again, and also incredibly, horrifically sexist. But it has fun dance numbers! Also I want to be the dancer who slides out screaming for the Fosse bit in that Tom Dick and Harry dance number. That's totally me, fruging and all.

February 4th, 2015

Originally posted at my website, lindseysjohnson.com. Feel free to comment either place.

February can be a tough month. There’s no real reason for it – it’s a short month, and it’s ostensibly no worse than the month before it, winter-wise. (In the southern hemisphere, it might even be a pleasant summery time? I would have to ask how February feels to the southern hemisphere folks.) Here on the winter-side of the planet, somehow, February feels darker. It feels harder. It seems like more friends are lost, more pets die, more bits of ourselves get waylaid and relationships go sour in February than any other. It might not be true, but it feels true. Dar Williams even has a song about it that is apropos (titled “February,” of course.) “And February was so long, that it lasted into March…” Of course, Dar Williams is quite good at verses to describe that kind of winter-esque depression. From “After All” comes the lyric “… a winter machine that you go through and then you take a breath and winter starts again, and everyone else is spring-bound.” Dar Williams grew up somewhere with snow, I think. Somewhere in the northern hemisphere, where February lasts into March, and it feels like it will never end, and it’s taking your sanity with it.

So that’s the month we’ve started, and the goal is to make it through without dropping into that winter machine, without forgetting what crocuses are (although here in the PNW they’re already blooming, so it’s easier) and holding onto the thought that every few days the sunset is just that little bit later, the sunrise is just that little bit earlier, and light can shine through if you let it. That’s the (figurative) month I’m in with my writing: not that I’m depressed by it, but that I’m stuck in the middle of this middle with a lot of writing before and behind me, and the end isn’t in sight yet. I know there must be a path to it somewhere, just keep searching. I have to keep looking for the light.

Sometimes in the middle – the muddle in the middle, as so many call it – you (I) can feel like there’s only the slog, there’s none of the joy, the excitement that there was in the start. All that’s left is plot holes and lost threads and a bunch of boring scenes that don’t push forward the way you want and mostly seems to be people standing around musing about things. Why do I even need this scene again – but then there is a reason, maybe not a good one, but a reason. So you keep writing it, only to bang your head on the keyboard like a Muppet five minutes later and cry “I’ll never get it! Never! Never! Never!” and wish you were only writing “Mary Had a Bicycle” like that Muppet dude. Where’s Kermit to redirect when you need him? This happens with distressing frequency when I’m stomping around in the middle of the story, skipping around to all points of the plot, retroactively fixing plot holes I just kicked into things and hoping desperately that it’s not too obvious I did so. Please to ignore the spackle. It’s February in the middle, freezing halfway down in the ice, blaming the text for the freezing and forgetting.

I am hardly the only writer to be stuck here, pushing through despite feeling like all the words are stupid, and all the scenes unsalvageable. It’s a known phenomenon, and everyone has their own ways of coping. My way, at this time, is to push away from the boring scenes, jump into the next scene, find some fire to warm the blizzard. I write myself notes and questions that need answering, and then I ask other people for help – smart people, who know something about my story, and might have some ideas. It helps me feel less alone and frozen, and it’s kind of like a night out for the writing brain. Sparking ideas from other people’s ideas makes the process jump ahead a little.

Of course, the only way through February is through – slogging forward. But you can be kind to yourself in the slog. Remember that it doesn’t last forever. You don’t have to say the mean words to yourself, because you know they don’t help. You can say the cheering words; the ones that give hope and comfort, the ones that motivate you to try again. Words you need to store up for those times, so you can apply them as salve to your winter-writing wounds. February can feel long and cruel, and the middle, too, but you don’t have to stay there. Work your way out of it, little by little: find your way to spring-bound. I'm looking forward to the flowers.

This blog brought to you by all the banging around in the plot, more questions than answers, and listening maybe obsessively to Dar Williams albums. Thank you, Dar, for being the perfect amount of angsty/wry.

January 28th, 2015

Rantypants post ahead. You've been warned.

It’s been a turbulent year and more for equal rights in this country. I find myself having arguments with people who can’t hear me, and who wouldn’t listen even if they could. But here’s the main point of this whole post that I’m about to post, that I want understood LOUD and CLEAR: I’m a feminist. I’m someone who believes that women are equal human beings to men and should be treated as such, with equal rights and opportunities – which, despite constant derailing attempts from certain quarters, is what the word feminism means. If you don’t agree with that you are wrong. That’s what the word means. Look it up. It’s how definitions work. As in, “veterinarian” means a person who is trained as a doctor to give medical care and treatment to animals. You might argue about the way some people express their feminism, but you don’t get to argue about what the word means.

Furthermore in this equality vein, trans humans are humans, gay/lesbian/bi/queer humans are humans, humans who are not white humans are humans – and all should be treated as such with equal rights and opportunities. I think those ideas should be universal and obvious, but I know we have a long way to go before that’s true for all of our population. We have a big problem in this country – in the world, but let’s focus on this country, because I think we need less with the rah-rah and more with the be-better – Bigotry. Desperately denying bigotry to try to keep people seen as other within that framework from having equal rights. These are not new problems by any means; they've been centuries in the making. I think we (as a country) try to pretend that all of those problems are solved now, and “that sort of thing” is all in the past. But it’s not, and it’s wrong to pretend it is.

There are many recent examples of various types of bigotry that I could rail against, but I think I’ll just start with something on the small, absurd side right now. Yesterday I read with cautious enthusiasm the news that there will be a Ghostbusters reboot, which will star all women. Cautious, because I hope they write a good script (please no poop jokes), and I hope they avoid either outright or unconscious racism. And enthusiastic, because an all-woman cast is still ridiculously rare, and I really want to see more women in film having important roles. Sadly, this idea excites pathetic comments from people who seem to think that this means no one is casting men in anything anymore. Really? Have you seen any movies? Count the men in them. Compare them to the numbers of women. Go ahead. We won’t wait for you, because we are *tired* of waiting for you, but if you do actual math with actual numbers, you will see that isn’t even remotely a problem.

There are those who are worried that it will mess up their childhoods somehow: ruin this movie and everything good and true in our lives is over! Don’t be asinine. The original Ghostbusters still exists. You can watch it any time. If you don’t have access to a streaming service or all the reruns on tv, you can borrow it from the library. Really, people: the original movie won’t suddenly cease to exist if they reboot.

Or is the real issue due to the cast consisting of all women? If they cast all women this time, how does that negate the cast that was all men? Let’s take an honest look at how many women had significant speaking roles in the first movie, out of a cast with about nine or ten such: Two. Yes, that’s right, two women. Oh, and Gozer, so if you’re counting the god at the end as female (and I do, why not? But many just count it as androgynous), that’s three, but Gozer is on for all of what, five minutes? At least Dana and Janine got some sort of character arc (less so for Janine). So if the genders are reversed, we get two men. Unless we’re femslashing it all up, and I’m all for that, because hey, that’s cool. But even if THERE ARE NO MENS OMG and the thought of women having all the speaking roles in a movie makes you afraid for your life, the original movie WILL STILL EXIST. Is it really so terrible that marginalized voices might get to have a movie? Really? Because we get the mainstream voices every damn day, all day, screaming all of their mainstream screams. The occasional shout-out from another set of voices really shouldn’t threaten you. Having a reboot with a slightly less mainstream slant is fun, and exciting. We need a lot more of it, because of all the mainstream screaming. It’s hard to hear other voices, and we need them in our fiction and in our news and in our lives. We need them as a society, to be better. Without them, we are inarguably worse.

And while we’re talking about reboots, and movies, and women getting roles typically (still and historically) reserved for men, I understand there’s talk of rebooting Indiana Jones. Not that I think that franchise needs to be remade, because seriously, we just had that last one, and we really don’t need to remake *everything*. There’s also a big fat thread of racism throughout them that is pretty hard to ignore now that I’m all grown up. I still love those movies. I still watch them. But it would be nice, if there’s a reboot, if all the non-white people aren’t evil/stupid/exploited workers/barbaric tribes/desperately waiting to be saved by the white hero. Come on, now.

But anyway, since the universe is not apparently willing to give me Gina Torres as Wonder Woman (PLEASE SANTA I HAVE BEEN SO GOOD AND I WOULD STILL WATCH THE CRAP OUT OF THAT), I think the universe should really seriously give me Gina Torres as Indiana Jones. BECAUSE GINA TORRES AS INDIANA JONES. HOW CAN YOU ARGUE WITH THAT BRILLIANCE, PEOPLE?  If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right. Anyone arguing she’s too old can kiss my 40+ ass. Not to mention hers – although I don’t recommend trying it, as she’d likely kick yours. Deservedly so. Anyone arguing Indiana Jones can’t be a woman or black due to historical accuracy can kiss all the womens’ asses and all the brown peoples’ asses from all of history ever. And also the ass of all of fiction. ALL OF FICTION, LOUISE.

Of course, the movie industry is not the only place sexism and racism keep rearing their ugly heads. It’s everywhere, and anyone who identifies as female, or let’s be real, not straight male, especially cishet white straight male, is liable to be attacked just for existing. The whole gamergate thing is still apparently … a thing. I read something where one of them said they refuse to stop trolling and harassing and stalking and doxxing people until no one will ever publicly identify as feminist again. Are they kidding? That’s preposterous. I personally know huge numbers of people who consider themselves feminists. An online movement of horrible people who have no idea how to behave like decent human beings is not going to stop them. It’s not going to stop me. Why would it? They’re only proving our point. They are terrible people doing terrible things, and they think that they have the right to hurt others to get what they want. But what they want is to make women lesser, and since we aren’t, they can’t have it. They might make things awful for specific people, which is criminal and they should be arrested and charged with hate crimes, but that doesn’t make women lesser. That will never happen, because human beings are all human. Treating us as lesser doesn’t make us so.

That goes for Black people, Native people, Asian people, Latinx people, LGBTQ people, people who encompass one or more of any of those and others I’m failing to list here … all the types people. Just because our society is set up to treat some people better and some people worse, doesn’t mean that those things are true. It’s wrong, that set up. We need to change it. I want to help work to change it. I’m not always perfect at it, I’m not always aware of my privilege when I should be, I’m not always even aware of my own internalized sexism, although I’m working on both of those. I’m not always good at changing myself, either. But I’m going to keep trying, and I’m going to try to call out the terrible behavior when I see it. And I’m going to exist here and call myself a feminist, out loud, in public. Because I am.

January 14th, 2015

I want to talk about emotional impact, and different versions of the same story. I’ve been mulling over how characters other than the main protagonist move the plot and add to its heart. I’m still working through my thoughts on this, but I did promise people more posts, so I’m going to let you see my mess a bit. I hope to be coherent about it.

I love storytelling – all the ways we tell stories. Fables, fairy tales, paintings, novels, short stories, movies, tv shows, gossip, eavesdropping, jokes, plays, musicals, comics, Morse code, Semaphore … OK maybe not Morse code and Semaphore so much. (Cue silly Monty Python skit, giant flags waving wildly for “Heathcliff!”) Everyone has their favorite way of getting story, but everyone gets story in multiple ways. You choose your mediums and you learn or entertain or teach or are entertained. Humans like stories. We tell them even when we don’t know we’re telling them. And while we do like new ones, we definitely like to tell the same ones over and over. We like the emotional payoff.

There’s a saying that is something along the lines of “There are no new stories,” and that’s sort of true, if you look at it in the macro-sense. We’re always retelling the same story :

  • What is human?
  • What is love?
  • What is right?
  • What is wrong?
  • What is that thing over there, is it a spider? Because if it’s a spider I really have to go now.

The specifics are what make the story interesting. Sometimes the specifics become a trope, or a meme, or whatever you want to call it, with the same medium-macro specifics, such as the Cinderella story. So many versions of Cinderella – in other cultures, it’s not called Cinderella, but it’s the same basic story. A young person is abandoned and/or wronged by people who should protect her, but because of her (it is usually a her) innate kindness and goodness (or the ability to weep/sing/make sweaters in a fetching manner), and a little outside help, she is shown to be the most worthy person for … well, marrying a prince, usually, but a better life, or a release of the evil spell, in any case. (Also fits Snow White, Beauty & the Beast, Seven Swans, Toads and Diamonds ….)

(As an aside, I think a big draw of fairy tales in particular for women, is that the main characters are often girls – sometimes the girls are completely wet and useless, and their fate isn’t all that pleasant, and the morals tend toward “Be super impossibly ‘good’ and ‘pretty’ or else,” but at least the girls have names, and get to do SOMETHING, and have adventures. So if you grow up as a woman and realize your favorite tales are really problematic, feminism-wise, just remember that those tales are about women characters you can at least pretend have some kind of agency.) (I write long asides.)

So humans like old stories. We tell them all the time, sometimes with a lot of embellishment, sometimes with very little. Sometimes we stand it on its head, and sometimes we shake it until it’s all-but unrecognizeable. And that’s great - I love retelling stories sideways and upside down and inside out and giving the unexpected tweak to make it all seem new again. I love new versions of old stories. I love old versions of old stories. I like to see what those changes make to the central message of the story, or how the central message is the same but feels different.

Which is a long way of saying: stories tell us about ourselves. We're always trying to tell ourselves about ourselves, and we keep changing our own rules. While we're changing the story and rules around, sometimes we change who is important in that story. It isn’t always just the main protagonist moving the story. Sometimes our protagonist needs jump-starting.

I saw the movie version of Into the Woods, and I both liked and didn’t like it. That is, I enjoyed myself; I enjoyed the slightly different take. It’s well-acted and well-sung, and I laughed and ‘aww’ed and smiled. I tried really hard not to sing along. I can see, time-wise, why they didn’t keep some of the asides and songs and reprises and … but it makes it a much flatter feeling story, even though the central message remains the same. So this time, the retelling didn’t change what we tell ourselves, but it changed the feel of the story, and the emotional payoff wasn’t as good, at least for me.

(There may be spoilers for the musical plot and the movie changes from here on out, so if you don’t want any of those, skip to the end.)

MIDDLING SPOILERS AHEAD

The central message of Into the Woods, as far as I’ve always found it, is: You Have to Change Your Own Story. (He hits you over the head with Children Will Listen, but that’s really not what he’s telling us the whole time.) The other main message of all of Sondheim’s work is always: People are Effed Up. Yes, You, Too. Sondheim delights in those messages, and when he’s at his best, he can make us delight in them, too. We laugh and we cry and we shiver along with him. We are absolutely gleeful to do so.

In this version, the movie takes out some of the Witch’s moments, songs, and motivations. This makes her a lot less fun, amusing, sympathetic, or morally ambiguous. It makes her more menacing, but also less so. It pulls her teeth while at the same time giving her a spiked stick. The musical Witch is our bitter jealousy, our anger, our sense of unfairness, our excessive revenge, but she’s also our prankster, our gleeful chaos, our snide, snarky, insightful jerk. She’s not good, she’s not nice, she’s just right. The movie takes some, but not all, of that away. It makes her a little flat. Meryl Streep did a good job with what they gave her, (she’s not Bernadette, but who is?) but she can’t give you what the rewrite didn’t provide. She can’t be playfully vicious any further than the lines allow.

I think that’s the center of my issues with this retelling. The Witch’s sarcasm and snark and chasing of the Baker’s father and the eating of that bug and the line “A bear? Bears are sweet!” is part of what makes the story fun, and moves it along. Her loss of Rapunzel to death, not just leaving, gives us most of the reason the second half of the second half is so much darker. Yes, I missed the reprise of “Agony,” and the “Justifies the Beans” song, and I wish they’d kept the narrator, because man, the narrator is great.

But without the malicious levity that the Witch provides, the story gets bogged down in People are Effed Up and Wow People are So Effed Up, and the laughing is a lot less even before we lose the Witch to her beans. When she does her “Last Midnight” song, she’s not nearly as scary, because she’s already been there for most of the movie – overly vengeful, bitter, lost – the humor/horror juxtaposition doesn't work as well. And then she’s gone, and we’re left with our effed up non-heros, who have to sing about how lost and non-heroic they are. (Let’s be honest, the “No One is Alone” song might be a major point of this story, but jeez, that song is long and boring. (It seemed shorter in the movie, and thank the deity of your choice for that, because Oy.))

Once the Witch is gone we lose some of the urgency, even though there’s still a very (justifiably) angry giant roaming around killing folks. The Witch pushed us to move, and now we have to push ourselves (another point of the show, yes). I feel like, in the movie version, they yanked the urgency out sooner, and lost some of the thread that ties all the stories together. So even though we have Cinderella, and Jack, and Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood, etc, as main characters, the Witch is the driver of it all, and if she’s not running around making everything jump to her commands as much, if she’s not shocked to bitter rage at the sudden death of the one person she loved, then the movement is disjointed and the emotional impact is different.

The emotional impact is less.

And now, I finally get around to my point about my own writing.

MILD SPOILERS FOR A RAGGED MAGIC AHEAD.

When I originally wrote A Ragged Magic, Orrin was not a main character. He was just an acolyte, being horribly abused by Bishop Gantry, and while Rhiannon knew bad things were happening to him, she had a lot less proof. She didn’t want him to suffer, but she didn’t have any driving reason to rescue him above herself, either.

There were other issues with that earlier version that I’ve (hopefully) fixed now, but the emotional heart of the story was a lot less urgent. Without a compelling outside person to push herself for, Rhiannon stays lost. She needs someone to take risks for. Without Orrin, most of her compelling reasons are to hide – why take chances? Which makes perfect sense in a real world, but it makes it a less impactful or interesting story. Orrin makes her a better person. Orrin is flawed, a little naïve, and certainly grieving and in pain himself, and he’s her friend quickly and intensely in an intense situation. His sudden and horrific situation makes him sacrifice himself to save everyone else. And his peril pushes Rhiannon to take risks to save him, along with herself (and everyone else). And all of that drives the story in a much more impactful manner. Without this rewrite (for which we can thank Fabulous Editor Jak ™) (along with many months of me banging my head on a keyboard) we don’t have any of that. We don’t know Orrin at all, and Rhiannon is more timid, has fewer leaps in growth, so the end of the book feels muffled and lost. Orrin is not the main character, but now he is a central character. When he was less, so was the story. When I made him more important, I made the story's heart bigger, too. (And hopefully I did a good job of it. Eeep.)

All of this is the (quite) long version of saying – sometimes your central but not-main characters move the story along in a way you’re not even noticing. And if you slight them, you slight the story.

Moral: Don’t Slight Your Sidekicks – They’re Not as Side as You Think.

(Other Moral: I Like Parentheticals and Long Paragraphs. Sorry About That.)

Originally posted on my blog at lindseysjohnson.com - you can comment either where.

January 8th, 2015

For Award Consideration

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It's award nomination season for books, so it seems. And this year, from what I can ascertain, I am eligible with my novel for some of them. So if you are a nominating or voting person on fiction awards, please do consider A Ragged Magic in the young adult fantasy novel category. Thank you, and happy reading!

A_Ragged_Magic_ARC-front-cover (1)



Originally published at my website, lindseysjohnson.com.

January 5th, 2015

Originally posted on my blog, at lindseysjohnson.com. You can comment here or there. You can comment anywhere! But it might be more topical here or there.

End of/beginning of the year post – it’s so much pressure. How do I sum up this past year? Some really fantastic stuff happened – milestones that I had almost given up on, in years past. I wrote a book, and more than that, it’s now published! “A Ragged Magic” can be found online and in stores – all you have to do is ask for it. How freaking amazing is that? Scott also had his first physical book published, “Homefront” (you can find others online, but this is the first one in PRINT, so that’s full of awesome) and we both did some author readings and signings, and are busy writing MOAR THINGS for to put in front of people’s eyeballs. This is all good stuff, and we are happy and hopeful in our current writing trajectories.

There were other good things – I have a new niecephew, and she’s adorable. The other niecephews (including my counsinphew, but we're just gonna ignore the 2nds or once-removeds, because that's too much work) are adorable, too, and I got to see them all over Thanksgiving. I danced in eXit SPACE’s show in the spring, which is always a wonderful time. The piece I choreographed for my friend was performed at the show, and was very well received by everyone. I continue to be able to dance, even though my knees are a wee bit crabby. Dancing is always a joy, and one I’m incredibly grateful for.

More other good things: I did well at my job. I started this website (with help). I had my first author picture taken. I was retweeted by the Bloggess a couple times this year. OK, that last thing is really only exciting to me, but I did squee. Celebrate the happy, as much as possible.

Some really not-great stuff happened, too. I don’t want to go much into that, but we (Scott and I) would like for all loved ones and liked ones and ones in general to get or to stay happy and healthy. Terrible things happened around the world, as the world is wont, but so many of them seem so much more awful than usual. I don’t know if that’s age, my own removal of personal blinders, or a feeling of futility, or what.

But I don’t want to write a post about how to make the world a better place at this time. I think it’s important, I have thoughts, but I’m not ready to talk about them here.  So for the time being I will stick to the personal. (In the personal realm that I don’t want to get into, either, I’d like to be able to realize some other dreams that seem even farther away than ever now, and I don’t know how to achieve them anymore. I’m working on it, but sometimes life gets overly complicated for no good reason, and that has been my set up for far too long. I’d like to simplify and make those dreams possible this year.) So instead, mostly writing and dancing – as it should be, on my writing blog. (You can’t get away from dancing. It’s always there.)

For 2015 I have goals – not resolutions, ‘cuz I hate those. “Resolutions” say that I must do it perfectly or fail, which will make me fail, because that is the set up. “Goals” say that even if I fall down, even when I can’t give my best so I give my medium, and even when I have no medium to give so I give squat-all, I’m still working. When I’m doing just a little, I can say at least I’m still working. When I have squat-all, I can say, I’ll work on it when I can. That way when the work happens again, it’s not starting from scratch. It’s picking up a thread that’s already there, and it’s less overwhelming.

My writing goal is to finish a rough draft for the sequel to “A Ragged Magic,” early on. Then once I have some feedback, write the second draft and get that done as soon as possible. (Once I have a publishing target, we can figure out editing passes, I guess). While that book is with my editor, I want to get back to writing the rough draft of my Not-Little-Red-Riding-Hood book. It’s about halfway done now, and it’s been sitting for a couple of years. I really want to finish the draft so it’s ready after I’m done with edits for the ARM sequel. Ready for what? Well, I guess I’ll figure that out when I’m done with it. And I’m going to try to make a new outline for my Dancer books, and figure out how to write them, or if I should just trunk it forever. Also I have a not-really-Rumplestiltskin story that’s been banging around my head for awhile, and I might get started on notes for that. Considering my writing pace, that’s probably enough goals for 2015. (and possibly 16)

For this blog – well, I am going to work on more content in general. I think posting up snippets from “A Ragged Magic” might be fun, and then as I get more polished in my draft of the sequel, snippets of that from time to time, to tease you. In the best way, my darlings. With fiction. I may start putting up reviews of things I’m reading, along with my thoughts on publishing, writing, and being a newbie in a changing publishing world. To facilitate that, I'd like to post at least twice a month, on a more regular schedule. I’ll work on it, and you’ll see the results here. You can always send me an email to remind me, if you want to.

For dance – well, I always have the goal to be stronger and more flexible and progress. But this year I think I’d really like to work on strength and balance in pirouettes. I’m always working on them, but as of yet I am not consistent in my ability to do a clean double on both sides, and I’d like to improve that finally. Consistency! I hear it’s key. I’d also like to improve my jetes. A better lift in the middle, a better stretch to my legs. And finally, I MUST get better at NOT LOOKING AT THE FLOOR – I’m better during performances, because I’m such a ham, but it will help me so much to be in the habit of looking out during rehearsal and class. If I can improve those things (along with a slew of other things, of course, but concentrate on small goals, dear), I think my dancing will be that much more solid and dependable for the choreographers – for the show this year, and beyond. And it will be more fun! Which is always the goal, after all. Fun is the best goal for dance.

There you are, my lovelies. I have listed out my wrap up and goals for your perusal and my own reminder. Whether you celebrated the new year on the 1st, or your cultural new year is at a later time, I wish you the very best in the coming months. Let’s all celebrate the happy where we can.

The title is from "Into the Woods" from the musical of the same name, by Stephen Sondheim. I sort of hate to ask it, but do you have a basket.

December 31st, 2014

Aloha Winter Swell Blues

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Hippo Gnu Deer, everyone! It’s New Year’s Eve, and while I am going to put up a more serious post with a yearly wrap-up and natter on about writing (and dancing, because obviously) and such (probably tomorrow), I thought I’d offer up a little December silliness for all and sundry.

On Twitter (@frabjouslinz) and Facebook, I’ve been posting up a winter holiday song every day. Well, OK, I’ve been posting up a holiday song or six whenever I remember to do it. It’s ended up as quite a long list, so I’m gathering them all together (ha! Oh, I’m punny to myself (see first song title) and then I laugh out loud and everyone stares. Awkward.) for you, in case anyone following along really, really wanted to see all of them at once. If you didn’t, well, don’t look, is all I can say to that.

I had vaguely planned on posting Diwali songs, since that’s sort of a fall/winter holiday, but it was super early this year, I only know a few songs, and I wasn’t sure how disrespectful it might seem to do that. I know just a little bit about Diwali, and I want to learn more before I put that sort of thing out there. So although my list is Xmas-heavy, I’m adding more stuff in as I find it, and doing some research. I’m getting more Xmas and secular songs, too, from other cultures, mostly Mexican and Central and South American at this time. I do have some Hanukkah songs, and I’m learning more every year. I also am looking into Kwanzaa songs, but again, I don’t know much about it, and don’t want to be disrespectful. So – if you have info and songs you’d like to share with me about those or other holiday traditions, I’d be happy to listen! Otherwise I will keep researching on my own.

My informal and incomplete list of holiday songs you might not have heard of, but I think are awesome, as posted up during this month:

  1. We Gather Together – 16th century Dutch hymn celebrating beating Spain. Like you do. Called the Thanksgiving hymn among those who know it. My fam loves it.
  2. Candlelight – The Maccabeats. A cappella re-vamp of “Dynamite” and way more fun.
  3. Los Peces en el Rio – Mexican carol. Gipsy Kings or Tatiana are the versions I have. The fish are drinking and drinking and Mary is doing chores. Natch.
  4. The Rebel Jesus – The Chieftans and Jackson Browne. Jesus was a “long-haired brown-skinned homeless community-organizing anti-slut-shaming Middle Eastern Jew.” Among other things. It’s a really good, sort of mellow protest song.
  5. Pillsbury Cookie Dough – Paul & Storm. Because who doesn’t want to eat a whole damn tube of raw cookie dough? It’s holiday-ish.
  6. Fifty Kilowatt Tree – The Bobs. Lighting up my yard like downtown Las Vegas, baby.
  7. I Never Has Seen Snow – from House of Flowers, Audra McDonald singing. Because Audra. McDonald. And snow. It counts. Audra. McDonald.
  8. The Christians and the Pagans – Dar Williams. Who doesn’t love this song? I think everyone knows it but it’s one of my faves. And so is Dar.
  9. Christmas Island – Ella Fitzgerald. Who doesn’t love Ella? But the backup singer lyrics are kind of iffy. Just listen to Ella.
  10. Winter Swell Blues – Paula Fuga. All-holiday-encompassing island blues rock. Paula Fuga is so awesome. Dance it.
  11. Boogie Woogie Santa Claus – Mabel Scott. Great 40s dance song, great singer.
  12. The Wild Goose – Kate Rusby. It’s only on the list because of the tv movie “November Christmas,” which schmaltz might choke you. But you’ll like the song; Kate Rusby is quite good. And if you watch the flick, enjoy Sam Elliot’s mustache and scenery chewing. I did cry. (See: Schmaltz)
  13. Nutmeg – John Legend and Stephen Colbert. We eschew the subtlety of the double entendre and make a single entendre into a club to beat you with. John Legend is a minor deity, and I would listen to him sing the phone book. Should phone books still exist anywhere.
  14. Happy Joyous Hanukkah – The Indigo Girls. Fun and stompy Woodie Guthrie song, performed by one of the best bands ever.
  15. Una Noche Se Oyo en Borinquen – Puerto Rican presumably holiday song, sung by Lucecita Benitez. My Spanish is terrible, but I think this is about parades and cheating. …OK? Not sure why holiday…? But it is a lot of fun to sing.
  16. I’ll Cover You – from Rent, sung by William Jermain Heredia and Jessie L. Williams. Love. (It’s toally a holiday musical. Look at it.)
  17. Shalom Alenu – Hebrew folk song about peace. I like the folksy “everyone gather around the campfire” version I have.
  18. Chiron Beta Prime – Jonathan Coulton. Avoid robot overlords, I mean protectors.
  19. Ocho Kandelikas – Sephardic Hanukkah counting song in Ladino, performed by Pink Martini, because fun.
  20. Bogoroditsye dyevo – Russian carol by Arvo Part. King’s Singers are gorgeous, as always.
  21. Light One Candle – Peter Paul & Mary. Classic lovely Hanukkah protest song.
  22. Podsafe Christmas Song – Jonathan Coulton. Because mocking The Chipmunks is just as funny, or funnier, than the actual original Chipmunks.
  23. Must Be Santa – 60s American carol. The version by Bob Dylan is fun, and the ridiculous video gives you a working definition of random. Which is why I love it.
  24. What Do Bad Girls Get – Joan Osborne. Joan is So. Naughty.
  25. The Holly She Bears a Berry – 19th century Cornish carol. Makes no sense, like most carols. The Chieftans are best.
  26. Winter Song – Ingrid Michaelson and Sarah Bareilles. So mournful and hopeful at the same time.
  27. How Do You Spell Channukkah? – The Leevees. Hilarious.
  28. Glow Worm/It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas – Rockapella. Come on, it’s Rockapella! I think this is one of the most cheerful songs in existence.
  29. Gee Whiz, It’s Christmas – Carla Thomas. Queen of Memphis Soul. (For some reason, Angie, this song always makes me think of you and your dad. Did Russ have this one?)
  30. I’d Like to Hitch a Ride with Santa Claus – the Andrews Sisters. Very sweet harmony, as is their wont.
  31. Mele Kalikimaka – late 40s Hawaiian carol. Turns out Hawaiian doesn’t have Rs or esses, so it’s the way you say the words ‘Merry Christmas’ using the Hawaiian alphabet. News to me. KT Tunstall’s version is my very favorite version of this song.
  32. ‘Zat You, Santa Claus? – Louis Armstrong. Because Louis Armstrong. If you think Santa is creepy, here’s your song. Muppets Electric Mayhem version is also good.
  33. Aires de Navidad – Willie Colon & Hector Lavoe. As they tell us, whether you like it or not we’re coming to sing about Christmas. Good warning.
  34. St. Stephen’s Day Murders – The Chieftans and Elvis Costello. Finally GET RID OF THEM. Yes. Carcas of the Beast. Yes.
  35. The Wren in the Furze – Traditional Irish carol. Because Jesus is a bird, or something. But if you don’t kick up your heels a little bit you might be as dead as the Wren, and we’ll need a penny for to bury you.
  36. Una Limosna Para Este Pobre Viejo – the version I have is by Yuri. Why is Pancho Villa in a holiday song?
  37. Mambo Santa Mambo – The Bobs. Shake it, Santa!
  38. Good Morning Blues – Ella Fitzgerald. Because Ella is my favorite.
  39. The Christmas Blues – Dean Martin. Oh, Deano. So crooney, and so drunk.
  40. Santa Claus Baby – Joan Osborne. I find I like her more and more.
  41. The Princess Who Saved Herself – Jonathan Coulton. It’s not really a holiday song, but I put it on my holiday list anyway, because I forget why. There was a reason, though. And it’s a great song.
  42. The Hat – Ingrid Michaelson. Lost love, Xmastime, knitted hats. Much holiday. So Winter. Wow.
  43. What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve – 40s big band tune. I like crooney, so sue me.
  44. Christmas Everyday – The Temptations. I really like the bass guy. Hey hey hey hey. And what is a holiday without the Temptations? No holiday at all.
  45. Chad Ga Ya – One Little Goat – Uh, actually a Passover song. Turns out. Oh well?
  46. Hard Candy Christmas – Dolly Parton. I don’t care, I love this song and I love Dolly.
  47. Seasons of LoveRent. I love all of these shnuggums, and I love this musical, and it’s a holiday show, so there.
  48. Winter Weather – 1940s Fats Waller big band non-holiday-specific winter tune. You can find it performed by just about anyone, from Peggy Lee to Vanessa Williams. I love Fats, and so do you. It’s a fun song with which to end my list.
  49. Ma’oz Tzur – thought to be from the 13th century. A liturgical Hebrew poem made into a song. The version I have is by Craig Taubman. Very pretty.
  50. Chocolate – The Smothers Brothers. Not a holiday song per se, but still. If you don’t laugh at the line where he yells “CHOCOLATE!” I don’t know how you merry. Hooray, Chocolate! (Lara, this one is totally for you. Because SB, and Chocolate.)

OK, 49 and 50 weren’t posted up, but I can’t end the list at 48! That would be weird! And not in a good way!

So there you have it – lots of songs you can look up, and add into your own lists if you liketh them. If you don’t, well, no skin offeth my nose. I liketh them. And tomorrow I will playeth them all one more time as I taketh down the few decorations we put up, and packeth things awayeth. Thus we finish the holiday season on New Year’s as is MY wont. Others can end on the 6th, but I’m not a 12th Night holiday person. At this time. Things change; you never know.

Happy New Year, my lovelies! I hope your next year is full of love and happiness, and boogie. And singing. And chocolate.

December 22nd, 2014

I’ve let the post I wanted to write languish for a few weeks, due to life stuff, general end of year busyness (as opposed to business), and the insanity that is this planet right now. And also for an editor approved reason – I’ve been working on book 2, and that writing is kind of more important. And it is on the move! It’s not done, not even close, which is what I was aiming for. But it is at the thick of the middle, which is better than nothing. My goal now is to have a finished (enough) rough draft by the end of January to send to Fabulous Editor Jak ™ so that we can look at the structure and discuss what comes next.

That will be the first time I’ve done that – handed off an entire rough draft, that has pieces missing, and weird tangents that I either will have to develop or take out but we don’t know which yet, and entire scenes of “[things totally happen here. Probably. It might involve explosions]” that I haven’t done anything with yet. So I’m nervous about that, because I like to rewrite and polish before I show my drafts. It’s one thing for your writing group to see a scene or two like that. It’s another thing to send your editor an entire draft of that, with bonus terrible dialogue that you know has to change BUT TO WHAT, and the occasional REALLY SPARKLING BRILLIANT LINE that you are afraid you’re going to have to cut, anyway. On the bright side, it is a step forward in this process, being a professional writer. I am going to aim for that like a steam train (chugging and occasionally having to stop for fuel, but totally going over that mountain) and ignore all the wailing voices of “it’s not good enough yet” in my head. Shut up, voices. I’m ignoring you.

The draft is going the way drafts go, I think. I mean, I’m writing this differently than I wrote the first book. But it’s still me, still writing, and I’m still the queen of “[whosits], [yaddahoodie], and [whatsherbucket] go to the town of [thatoneplacebytheriver] to [do super important things]. [maybe they stab someone?] [No wait! They stop that one guy stabbing that other person but [yaddahoodie] totally gets stabbed by mistake! AND HE’S SECRETLY IN THE PAY OF [DUKEOFSOMEPLACE]!]” So yeah, it’s me. Luckily, even when I don’t understand my notes to myself, I can usually make something out of them. Now I just have to get around to typing up what I’ve written so far. I’m almost out of another notebook, too, so it’s time. Since I’ll be taking 4 day weekends off of work for the next two weeks, I’m going to spend copious time at my desk. (Now that I’m not sick.) (Much.)

I did spend most of the last 5 days super sick with tonsillitis, something I didn’t get diagnosed but I had it so often as a kid, I should know the symptoms pretty well. Sharp, pointy rocks in the throat? Everything tastes bad? Headache? Hurts to swallow soup? Would rather drool than swallow? Able to hear esophagus from the inside? Checkity check check check. I didn’t take my temp, but if I had a fever it was pretty low. Still; aches, exhaustion, and a desire to numb my entire neck seemed pretty indicative. I’m feeling better now, only having a few mid-sized marbles rolling around in the tonsillar areas, instead of pointy rocks. And now that I’m getting better, the runny nose has begun. So this will morph into a sniffly cold, just in time for holiday food. Of course. Scott and I are both crabbily sick, but dealing well enough. I did have to miss two Dec bday parties for friends, and I’m super bummed about that, but what can you do? I held off getting sick through November, even after visiting plague-infested niecephews: it was bound to catch up with me.

Despite being sick I did write some, and had one 1000 word day where I got some cool character development sorted. Hooray! And set up some more plot. I’m going to set up some plot today, and introduce some new people, maybe. It’s a messy process, and some of the scenes I’ve written are only half done, and I’m scribbling away like a mad thing, hoping to keep ahead or just behind of my brain, which likes to wander. But it’s coming along.

So that’s the state of the sequel. I’m planning some more blog posts about other things, but this is the one I have the energy and brain power to write at the moment.

“A Ragged Magic” is out and about, and people are telling me they’re reading it, or it’s in their queue of TBR – which is fantastic. I heart you all! The most wonderful present for any writer is to hear that people are buying and reading their stories. The 2nd best present is to write a review and put it up where others can see and enter into a conversation about it. If you’re still looking for last minute holiday gifts for folks, ebooks are great presents, and reviews are a gift for everyone.

I hope all your various and sundry holidays and end of western calendar year plans are going well, and that everyone you love is happy and healthy. Take care of yourselves, and have a peaceful Yule/Solstice/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/Christmas/(super late) Diwali/Arba’een/Saturnalia/Festivus/New Year.

November 24th, 2014

Before I write up a post on how well my reading on Friday went (Spoiler: It was great!), I want to do a quick review of the movie Mockingjay: Part 1 that I saw this weekend: I really liked it. The more I think about it, the more I like it.

It’s not an action movie, exactly, although there is some action in it. In the way that Katniss both is, and is not, an action hero. She’s an action hero in that she’s completely competent in the things she does well, she’s confident in what is right vs wrong, she’s able to take actions and save people. But she is never, not once, in charge of her fate. And she knows it to her core – she is smart, and her anger and lashing out are justified. Whenever she tries to be in charge of her fate, someone rips that from her grasp. That never stops her from trying. But it does unavoidably break her, in ways that this part of the story explores.

When we start out this movie, the very first scene clues us into the fact that this narrative portion will be mostly psychological. I don’t want to spoil the plot for people who haven’t read the books, but I don’t think it’s a secret that both previous parts of this story involve horrific things happening to and around Katniss, over and over. And she has a psychological reaction to it. Not a good one. (Note – I will try not to, but there may be spoilers for plot below, so if you haven’t read the books, proceed with what caution you like.)

I know people who dislike the 3rd book because nothing happens in this part of it, that there’s a lot of mooning around, and everything is boring. But I think that’s a misreading of the text. I mean, you get out of it what you get out of it. But I don’t think you can have all of books one and two happen, and then just get right to the action for book three. Not with a human. Not with any human. Not and still be really writing out how actual humans actually react to trauma. Katniss is dealing with multiple, awful trauma. And it keeps happening. What this story shows is how she works to pull herself together – it’s a hugely important part of the story. And, I would say, a hugely important thing to show in story. I don’t think we show it enough, how people pull themselves together and what the costs are of, specifically, this kind of (war, psychological) trauma. And how much work it takes, and how different people heal differently.

Add to that mix the fact that both leaders – Coin and Snow – are fighting a psychological battle with each other, and with the minds of the people they lead and oppose. They’re using the tools they have: tools like Katniss and Peeta. They’re using them against not only each other, and each other’s people and fighters, but using them against themselves – Katniss and Peeta are tools each to batter the other, and are trying not to not be. I think that hit me in this movie harder than it did in the text. The framing of the parts outside of Katniss’ point of view were particularly strong in this film. That may have helped. I know people who have seen this movie and found it slow, or boring, but again, I think they missed the point. The point that I get out of it, anyway: war breaks people. Unrelenting war unrelentingly breaks people. Broken people can fight, but you won’t always get what you’re expecting. The cost is always too high, and leaders are always willing to pay that cost with other people’s minds and bodies.

This movie does set up the end really well. I wasn’t convinced, going in, that we needed 2 movies for the last book. But now that I’ve seen it, I can see their reasons, and I agree with the decision. It may have been made for money, but the writers and director made some pretty inspired choices. They’re continuing on the trend of the earlier movies to show you how propaganda is used, how spies are used, how people are used, to further government agenda. And as before, they are showing you the human cost of those uses. The end of this movie is not a reason to cheer. It is a reason to question every war, every prison, every covert action any government has ever taken in human history. If you aren’t both chilled and heartbroken, then I think you weren’t really paying that much attention to the narrative. Your call, but I feel you missed out.

PS All of the acting was fantastic: Solid kudos to all the actors. It was sad to see Hoffman and know he’s gone.

Originally posted at my website, lindseysjohnson.com - comment here or there.

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