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Am I allowed to talk about Luke Cage?

October 5, 2016

marvels-luke-cageBinge complete. I just finished watching Luke Cage on Netflix. Much like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, it was very well done. I’m not sure I should talk about it much further. I will, because I often do things I shouldn’t do, but I’m probably asking for trouble. Yes, that is largely due to the color of the stuff that keeps my internal organs internal.

By the way, there may be some small spoilers here. I’ll do my best to avoid it, but no promises.

I have seen a fair amount of online criticism about Luke Cage being too black. Not the character specifically, but the cast and plot as a whole. I’ve seen even more criticism of this criticism. I’m not here to criticize but to consider why Netflix/Marvel made that choice and why I agree with it.

lukecage_sdcc_2Let’s acknowledge that the cast is mostly black. (I can say that, right?) Not all, but mostly. I’m pretty sure Detective Scarfe and Shades are the only white guys with major roles. (Maybe that one politician, and the racist corrections officer, and the doctor…but it’s not about keeping score.) So what? We’ll skip over the argument that many shows would be hard pressed to find two major characters cast by minorities because it’s been done to death and really isn’t relevant.

_51047076_harlem_pop_464graThis is a show set in Harlem. Yes, Harlem. Are there only black people in Harlem? Of course not. However keeping Harlem black is one of Mariah Dillard’s driving motivations. Is that racist? Part of the point of the show is to make us ask that question. Us being all of us, not one race or another. Wanting to preserve art and culture aren’t racist. Wanting to see your neighborhood thrive without driving out the lower income families that live there sounds like a great goal. Wanting to exclude people of other races sounds kinda racist. But the goal and motivation turn out beside the point when you look at the methods being used by Mariah and her cousin Cottonmouth to accomplish that goal. It isn’t the motivation that makes the bad guy, it’s the actions.

I felt that the show went out of its way to paint Harlem from a lot of angles. Yes, there is crime. Yes, there is culture. Yes, gentrification is occurring. Yes, there is a strong resistance to that by the locals. This is what makes Harlem a compelling setting. There is a lot of conflict and stress and hope and despair inherent in the neighborhood itself. Harlem is a character in the show, probably the most complex character in the cast. A setting that contributes to the story, even drives the story, is a huge asset to storytelling. And that setting is viewed the most intimately through the eyes of the people most connected to it.

I’ll admit, I had a few problems with the storytelling. The ethnicity of the cast wasn’t on the list. Why didn’t they ever mention the bar that Luke was working at in Jessica Jones; you know, the one that blew up? (Maybe I missed that reference.) How did Luke and Claire apparently make a round trip from New York to Georgia in a car in a day? harlemsavannahWhy didn’t Luke’s childhood boxing training come up in the prison scenes like they did at the end? (I don’t think that qualifies as a spoiler, does it?)

There were also elements of the storytelling that impressed me, particularly because they didn’t pull the punches (much) on race-sensitive issues. The suggestion that “all the black fathers are gone” was pretty hard-hitting, even if that stereotype (like most stereotypes) isn’t accurate. The relations between the black community and the police was perhaps downgraded (especially considering the current climate) but not ignored.

So why are people complaining about it? Because Luke Cage was different in a way that made people uncomfortable. I confess, I felt a little uncomfortable at times watching the show. Not in an offended way, but in an outsider-looking-in kind of way. I felt like I was seeing into a world I wasn’t meant to see. (That feeling lessened the further into the show I got, when the hero/villain plot took over the story.) Being an outsider is uncomfortable, but also eye-opening. And somehow the show managed to give me that feeling without completely alienating me. I don’t need to have the same skin color as a character to empathize with them. I was able to feel for Luke and Misty and Pop, even at times Cottonmouth and Mariah. That’s good storytelling, anyway you slice it.

It’s about time

September 15, 2016

It’s been quite a while since I submitted anything. I think I tossed one into the abyss a great many months ago. Well, today I sent out two, plus one micro story based on a photo prompt. Will anything come of these endeavors? More than I was getting leaving them in the drawer…

Yog’s Law…it has nothing to do with picnic baskets

July 27, 2016

YogiI’m always up for a picnic basket and Berra has some of the most iconic quotes ever, but I’m not writing about Yogi; this is about Yog’s Law as posed by  James D. MacDonald. It simply states that “Money flows toward the writer.”

Let me back up a bit. I was checking out a local writing group’s Facebook page and followed a link to an article about lessons to be learned from one writer’s first novel sale. One of the lessons was to hire an editor before you submit your manuscript to agents and/or publishers. My Yog alarm started wailing.

For the record, this is not exactly the issue Yog’s Law warns against. Hiring an editor is a choice made by a writer using money the writer controls. In fact, hiring an editor is definitely advisable if you plan to self-publish your book (as noted by John Scalzi in his Corollary to Yog’s Law). But the alarm still sounded and I consider the advice dangerous.

YogsLawIf you’ve been here before, you probably know that I don’t write for a living, but I do write. I do know how to write. I am pretty good at it, but I definitely make mistakes and almost everything I tap out on a keyboard could use some improvement. I could use an editor. That said, I’d like to be published by someone that has editors on staff to do that job. If I can’t get that kind of contract, then I’ll consider hiring my own editor and going the self-pub route. But to suggest that I need to hire an editor before I submit to agents? I don’t see that necessity.

A moment of clarification. The article (okay, I should probably link to it) stated that the writer spent $700 on developmental editor and $2300 on a line editor before getting agent representation. I’m sure this improved the work in question. But was it necessary? And my bigger concern, how much was the advance on this first novel?

I do not mean to knock the role of freelance editors. They are surely honest, hard-working individuals who are good at what they do. The editors I know certainly are. However, the suggestion that a writer needs to spend $3000 before they can expect to gain representation and/or sell a novel is pretty dangerous. Compared to a $50,000 MFA (as the article compares it to), yes, 3 grand is a bargain. If your manuscript really needs it, an editor can probably help. Probably.

Let’s face it, if an agent rejects your manuscript because it has three typos in the first hundred pages, you don’t want that agent. Three typos on the first page? That’s a different issue. As for publishers, they have editors to handle that kind of thing. This paragraph would work better a page earlier, that description is confusing, there’s a better word to use there… You don’t have to have a perfect manuscript to get it published. You do need a good one.

Ask publishers (the term should be editors, but that gets confused with the freelance editors) these three questions. (1) Ask if they’ve rejected manuscripts over issues that a freelance editor could have fixed. They have. Every one of them. (2) Then ask them if they’ve accepted manuscripts that could have used a pass by a freelance editor. They probably have. (3) Have they accepted a manuscript because it was well edited? That one is a lot less likely to get any support. Novels are published because they have unique voice or compelling plot or interesting characters or great research or riveting suspense or popular appeal inherent in the story.


The phrase “you have to spend money to make money” appears in the article. This is an entrepreneur’s adage, not a writer’s. If you’re publishing the book yourself, then yes, you need to spend to make. Otherwise it’s the publisher that needs to spend to make. If you’re paying for the leg work upfront, what do you need them for?

All that will mean more after I have my own first novel anecdote. I’ll be sure to link back here and follow up once I do.

Agents of Shield

July 14, 2016

I’ve been catching up on season 3 of Agents of Shield. Gotta love Netflix. It’s been a while since I’ve watched this particular show. Season 2 was a bit of a rocky one for me. Skye’s family drama was way to drawn our for my taste. I’m enjoying season more, though I’m only a third of the way through.

It occurred to me watching it that the dialog, while not always smoothly delivered (I enjoy the show, but the acting isn’t stellar), I feel like it’s well paced most of the time. It makes me want to write since it reminds me of how dialog feels on paper. I can practically see the dialog tags and beats as the show progresses.

I’m not suggesting the show is brilliantly written, but is competently written, particularly the dialog, at least when it isn’t being used to force plot. It’s a happy reminder of how dangerous forcing things can be to the integrity of the work. It’s also a reminder that there is a balance to maintain between the art of the words and the needs of the story. 

Maybe it’s just good for me to be thinking about this kind of thing at random again. It’s been a while. 

Time to sit in front of a keyboard for a while.

Why I go to cons

July 10, 2016

Hello friends, readers, fans, and people who accidentally wound up here looking for something else. I’m at LibertyCon this weekend so I thought I should blog about it. (This is where I don’t mention that I don’t blog enough.) Rather than focus on this one con, though, I thought I’d  discuss cons in general. 

I don’t go to a while lot of science fiction cons. I don’t travel far to attend them. It’s not that I don’t want to, goodness knows I do, but there are only so many things I get out of a con. Here’s my top five reasons I go to my local cons.

5) Selling books. Ooh, do I like selling books! And going to a con usually affords me the opportunity to do that…two or the times over the weekend. I think my peak is five. I’m not a known author, I only have one product to push, and short story collections aren’t exactly the top seller these days. So the book sales aren’t exactly passing my way, but they feel good. Notice that this takes the bottom slot (top of the page, bottom ranking, for those directionally strict) because it’s more a perk than a reason. In fact, I didn’t even bring books with me this time, so sales are tough to pul off.

4) Networking.I’m a terrible networker. Terrible. Mostly because I’m ever so slightly socially awkward. (Never thought you’d find a socially awkward person at a science fiction convention, did you?) I pretty much need to be planted next to someone to accomplish anything. Cons often plant me in the right place when I need to be there. I’ve gotten at least one story sold this way and made some very good friends the same way. 

3) Feeling knowledgeable. I’ve been doing this worrying thing for a while now. I’m pretty decent at it. The things I’m not decent at, I know about and know I need to improve (most notable: keyboard time). But it’s easy to forget that I know stuff when I’m not using the stuff I know. It’s good to be on a panel and be able to talk about writing or space travel or zombies or comedy and contribute to a discussion, and have people react to what I day as if it had value (whether they actually think it does or not, I appreciate the illusion). It also feels good to listen to other people on panels and think “yup, I knew that” or “they should mention this” or even “what are they talking about?” I admit, that’s more the reason I attend panels these days than any hope of picking up something new. That doesn’t mean I don’t learn new stuff, it just means I don’t expect it. That knowledgeable feeling is what I like. (Maybe too much honesty there?)

2) My people. Being in a small southern town made finding my people (geeks and nerds) a daunting challenge. I’m finding it no easier now that I’m in a big southern city. I know they’re out there, but how so I find them? Go to where they congregate, of course. This isn’t even about making friends, it’s about feeling comfortable in my skin in a large group (see socially awkward above). The conversations I overhear make sense to me as worth discussing. Even if a debate over whether zombies or vampires are more terrifying isn’t any more productive than whether soccer is better than, football or Trump is better than a mannequin wearing a badger, at least I get desire to explore the z/v contest. One con I went to had a room full (very full) of people singing along with a showing of Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. If that’s not finding muy people, what is?

1) Inspiration. It can be hard to write when so many things in life are demanding your attention. Kid, girlfriend, selling a house, buying a house, day job, dog…that’s just a few of the top of my recent list. Sometimes it takes a fire under my butt to get my fingers burning across a keyboard. People at cons have that kind of fire. Sometimes it’s “wow, I want to have a book launch party like that guy”, or its “I want to talk about a project with passion like she does”, but just as often it’s “if this idiot can get a book out, why can’t I?” I’m not proud of that last one, but inspired is inspired. I’m still at LibertyCon and I just pumped out 2000 words on my middle grade novel that has been nothing but stalling for the past month. If it weren’t for the refueling I get from a con, I’m not sure there would be a writer in me anymore. 

EP Contest, SCA, and other updates

April 22, 2016

Well, the Escape Pod contest was fun, but my story got trounced in the final round. Technically I don’t think it should have made the final round (edged out by a vote at the end), but they let 3 stories through each semi-final group instead of the 2 from the original rules. I’m in full support of the stories that won, so no hard feelings. I’m just glad to see that story garner as much support as it did in the earlier rounds.

I recently attended my very first SCA event. For those unfamiliar, it’s kind of like a Renaissance Fair(e) but covers a full weekend. It’s a little more about the dressing up and experiencing than I think most Faires are, but I’ve honestly not been to one of those, so I can’t say. I enjoyed it. It turns out I look great in a tunic and arguably even better in a kilt. I will definitely be going to more. I consider it research for future fantasy stories, and I’m pretty sure I can get my taxes to reflect that.

After eight long months, I finally sold my house. Now I only have to pay for one place to live (plus a storage unit for my stuff to live in).  Maybe that will allow my stress levels to come down and help me get some writing done. Maybe.

Speaking of writing, my next project will have me dipping my toe into middle-grade fiction. I’ve written on that level before (Brother Goo, Faerie Belches, Ten Seconds), but I’m tackling this at the novel length. My daughter inspired me with her sudden interest in my stories, and I want to do something targeted at her. Plus we’ve been reading the Fablehaven books together, which are very good; I’d be honored to have my work shelved next to books like that. More on that as I tackle it more fully.

Escape Pod’s Flash Contest

March 21, 2016

I know I’m late to the party on this one, but I thought it might be worth mentioning that Escape Pod, the preeminent audio podcast for short form Science Fiction, is in the midst of its annual (soon to be more often?) flash fiction contest. And by midst I mean getting close to the end. Voting is in the second round, closing in the early a.m. hours of March 26th.  There is one final round after that. Top three stories get purchased and published with the audio treatment.

There are things I can tell you about this contest and things I cannot. For instance, I can tell you that I submitted a story to the contest. However, since the contest is anonymous, I can’t tell you which story is mine.  Since the bylines have been released on all stories that didn’t make the first round cut, I can probably tell you that my story made it to the second round of voting. But I still can’t tell you which story is mine. Nor can I say which of the four groups it’s in.

Voting is for forum members only (to keep the contenders classified as “unpublished”). Forum membership is free, so if you’re interested in voting and reading some pretty good flash, go check it out. Complete rules and voting schedule are here.

Good luck to all that are still in it. There are some great little (500 words or less) stories in this contest. It’s an honor just to be still in it.