ideatrash

Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

The Responses To Our Request About Steampunk Universe, And Our Decision

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[edited to correct a pronoun referent; my apologies.]

About ten days ago, I asked folks to comment on the state of Steampunk Universe, and I want to thank everyone who did so - whether on Facebook, on the blog itself, via the web form, or in an e-mail to me. I'm going to summarize the responses here before giving our decision, using a few selected quotes (which were either made publicly or I got permission to share here). I chose public quotes whenever possible to ensure that the context was transparent.

While some of the people who responded (and I quote below) are those who submitted or perhaps even got tentatively accepted for the anthology, it's worth noting that I directly solicited feedback from those who criticized me most harshly on Twitter in Feb.. Some of them responded, some didn't. And one of the people I quote below I actually disagreed with (and still do) about their reading for the call for submissions. It is especially good to hear from people who don't automatically agree with me.

First, the biggest critique I got was from Rose Lemburg, who, sadly, didn't share it directly with me, but instead on Twitter without tagging me personally or tagging the publishing account. While I feel that their comments on Twitter reflected many of the same concerns that I'd brought up in the initial blog post, they raises many good points succinctly, and is well worth checking out. I collected the tweets using Storify at //storify.com/uriel1998/a-critique-of-my-call-for-critiques.

There were several comments that delved into possible reasons why we may not have gotten as many responses as we expected in the calls for submissions. These were good reasons. For example, as Elizabeth Hopkins said that the conditions for submission felt stifling to her because "[w]hen you said that steampunk had to be relevant to the disability, I didn't see how that would work unless they were using a specific form of technology (which limits it to wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, hearing aids etc.)"

Liam Hogan, who did submit, echoed this in an e-mail: "I wavered because [the idea I had for a story] was only ticking one of the boxes for your brief, and then I had a horrible feeling I was shoe-horning something that wasn't very good merely to meet the brief."

Dale Cameron Lowry added, "I got the sense from the anthology call that you all were trying to accomplish too many things at once with your call for submissions, given the time frame. Are there lots of steampunk writers who can write from a disabled perspective? Yes. Are there lots of steampunk writers who can write from a non-white perspective? Yes. Are there lots of steampunk writers who can write from a non-Western perspective? Probably fewer, but still significant numbers. Are there lots of steampunk writers who can write from a non-English-speaking perspective? Probably fewer, but still significant numbers. Are there lots of steampunk writers who can write from all of these perspectives? Probably not. ... Are there people who can write from all four of these perspectives but never considered writing steampunk? Huge numbers."

There were other comments about ways to continue encouraging diversity of submitting authors, which were all well-recieved ... even when they pointed out possible shortcomings in my own efforts. Rose Lemburg said on Twitter "[Y]ou don't know how to diversify your slush/ToC? 1) Solicit. Solicit. Solicit. Solicit. Solicit. Solicit.". She also shared the link to her essay "Encouraging Diversity: An Editor's Perspective", which was published in Strange Horizons, and is an excellent read.

But when it came to the work itself, and the questions I asked in the blog post, there was near-universal support from authors, readers, and fellow editors/publishers.

Stewart O'Fee said "Even if you do not have 100 percent diversity in the writers themselves it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go ahead with what you have collected as publishing this book will open more doors and create more discussion which will encourage more writers with disabilities to come forward with their stories through a creative medium."

Sami Clara echoed that thought, saying "As for me, as a reader, I can tell you that I suffer from an extreme case of obsessive compulsive disorder, BPD and depression, and I am always, always reading novels, short stories and poetry that speaks to me, that tells my story. I crave that solidarity with the character. But never have I been concerned whether or not the writer is disabled or suffers from a mental illness themselves. So long as their story is engaging, and their characters real and represent the true side of what I live through, I am more than happy to read their words."

Dale Cameron Lowry continued this thought, saying "As for whether the authors are disabled themselves, I don't feel strongly about this as long as they portray characters realistically (given the world they've built) and tell a good story. I am disabled, but I don't have every disability that I write about in my stories. I am queer, but not in all the manifestations that arise in my stories. I am multilingual, but sometimes write from the perspectives of people who are fluent in languages I'm not really good at. I don't think it's a problem when I do it, and I don't think it's a problem when other people do it, as long as they use empathy and research."

Liam Hogan in an e-mail said "I get the doubts. But, if I may, maybe you're trying to hard. I'm very keen on publication calls that encourage a wider range of protags and indeed, authors."


Jess Nevins said on Twitter (1 & 2): "I think that if you've exhausted your efforts, then you run what you've got. I don't know what more there is you can do. If you've done all that could be expected of you, then there's nothing more to be done."

Matthew Bright added, "I respect your reservations, and I respect the idea that, in an ideal world, this might be edited and entirely written by a non-abled/non-neurotypical editors/writers, but it's not an ideal world, which I think is important. There are very few other anthologies coming close to trying to dissect the assumptions and prejudices of the genre, and having read Steampunk World I can certainly confirm that your commitment to the diversity of the collections and ensuring the representation is not exploitative are solid. I am a supporter of the idea of 'own voices' insofar as I would encourage people to seek out minority voices telling their stories; if perhaps there was an ocean of writers or editors putting out anthologies as diverse as this perhaps I'd be less sure, but the bottom line is, you are one of very few, and we would be far better off for this anthology existing."

Matt Sloan said "While these fears are valid, you are doing something wonderful and commendable. The world needs this anthology and others like it, and you have already gone above and beyond to give a voice to the marginalised, without even considering the suggested add ons."

So it's full steam ahead! I'll be setting up the Kickstarter soon (I've got to finish some things for the last one first!), so stay tuned either to this blog or to the official e-mail list.


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The Soundtrack To the Future We Were Supposed To Get, Or: "Stranger Things" got me listening to synthwave

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I can imagine the elevator pitch for Stranger Things going something like this:

"Okay, we're going to mash together Escape From Witch Mountain, It, The Goonies, and E.T. into an eight-episode miniseries with a retro 80's soundtrack..."


The series lives up to its promise (though unlike all but It, I'd give it a PG-13 or maybe even a soft R for occasional language, some teenage sexuality, and some alcohol use, and violence; watch with your kids). While there's "kids in peril", the kids still have agency like, say, in The Goonies, rather than being a MacGuffin that someone else has to save.

But the soundtrack. Oh myyyyy, the soundtrack. Aside from the pop and alternative hits of the time period, the title track (apparently by the Austin band S U R V I V E) is just a slice of synthwave awesome.


After watching, I found myself wanting more of that kind of music. And luckily, it exists. And unlike mere nostalgia, where the originals aren't quite as great as you remember Check out these tracks from Droid Bishop (who has more recent work on Soundcloud), Lazerhawk, and Mega Drive to whet your appetite, then devour the full albums for the soundtrack for the future we were supposed to get.










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Mrs. French's cat is missing. A Review: Pontypool

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Just listen to me.

In some ways, I'm cheating by including Pontypool, as Alasdair Stuart wrote about it for the "Tropospheric Outlaw" issue of recompose. But it was while formatting his essay for the issue that I first learned about it... and have been an evangelist for this movie ever since.

It's hard to describe this film without giving away the major elements that make it so compelling. So let's just say that the acting is top-notch in what could be almost considered a "bottle episode" of a film.

Ignore the trailer. It makes this movie seem like it's some run-of-the-mill movie.

It isn't.

The challenge I've offered a number of people is this: Watch the opening credits. Listen closely to them. And then, if you want me to turn the movie off, I will.

If you're the type of person who likes intellectual horror, who enjoys a good mind-f##k, who loves the use of language... well, you should plan on watching this film after seeing the opening credits.



If, for some reason, you're unable to watch the film, the CBC re-edited the audio of the film into an audio drama.



Because something's going to happen. But then again, something's always going to happen.

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Really, the guidelines are there for a reason.

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I'm simply stunned by the people who don't follow submission guidelines.

I don't mean vague things like "themes" or genre elements or stuff like that.

I mean basic things.

For example, I've written twice about cover letters (here, and more recently here). The latter post is explicitly linked to from both the guidelines page for recompose and in the actual submissions manager itself. For clarity's sake, here's a screencap of Leslie's example of what she wants to see as a cover letter:

And yet I had reason to make this meme:


Not joking, folks. Seven pages, single spaced.

blurred and anonymized, but otherwise untouched

Contrast those two cover letters, if you will.

On top of everything else, it was a reprint, after we stopped taking reprints. And sent by e-mail, after the submissions manager was put in place.

Did I notice it? Oh yes... but not really in a good way.

Remember, your cover letter serves to introduce your story (or poem), not take the place of it. It gives your contact information, what the work is, and if relevant, what credentials you have for writing the work. Beyond that is the work of the story or poem, not the cover letter.

(And following the rest of the guidelines is probably a good idea, too.)

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Evolution doesn't mean that greed is "good" - it can actually mean the opposite

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Much like functionalism and economics, evolution - and especially evolutionary sociology like sociobiology - is frequently co-opted not as an explanatory model, but as a justification for someone’s own behavior. You’ll frequently hear references to The Selfish Gene followed by some handwavium explanation that justifies supply-side economics, letting the rich get away with not paying taxes, or other greedy behaviors.

In these sorts of arguments (yes, we’re looking at you, disciples of Ayn Rand), greed is laudable and praised as the analogue of “fitness”. The idea is that since the greedy amass the resources, they are then evolutionarily superior…. with an implication that things should be that way.

That is such rank bullshit, and quickly tells you that the person spouting that argument is not only one of those greedy people (or desperately wants to be one of them), but further that they don’t even understand their own argument. They’ve cast “fitness” into some kind of Puritanical perversion that simply serves as an excuse for their own greed.

The reason - aside from massive overgeneralizations and a whole hodgepodge of correlation being mistaken from causation - is pretty apparent when you start thinking about actual evolution and actual biology.

Take antibiotic resistant bacteria1. Pretty scary things, really. We’re less than a hundred fifty years into the antibiotic age, and it might be almost over. Clearly the antibiotic resistant bacteria - so called “superbugs” - are the fittest. Clearly they should be the ones eating all of our flesh.

Except for three huge problems.

First, when placed alongside the regular varieties of their bacteria, “superbugs” are often crowded out by the “regular” strains. This is called “fitness cost of antibiotic resistance.” This clearly demonstrates that “fitness” is not the same thing as better overall, just better in this specific set of circumstances. When those circumstances change, what counts as “fitness” does as well.

The second is about time scales. Yes, the resistance to antibiotics has appeared quickly in evolutionary terms. But it’s been generations and generations and generations and generations and generations (etc) for the bacteria. Likewise, evolutionary pressures are going to be “selecting” for long-term persistence of the species, not the success of any particular member. When resources become amassed too greatly among one strain of a species - say, one variety of potato - it becomes vulnerable to any sudden change and may be ruthlessly wiped out. Therefore, any strain of a species that became too prevalent and amassed too much of the resources runs the risk of putting the whole species on the chopping block.

Even typing the sentence above kind of hurt my brain, and illustrates the third major problem: We talk about “selection” and “risk” as if there’s some kind of intent at work in evolution, and there isn’t. Evolution, unlike society, has proceeded without design, plan, or intent for millennia. Mutations just happen. Species just die out. Some beat the odds. Some are slaughtered when the odds are with them.

Trying to compare or draw analogs between society and evolutionary processes is roughly akin to drawing comparisons between a Pollack and a paint spill. Maybe they look a little similar. Someone who doesn’t know anything might say they’re the same.

But they’re a hell of a lot different.


1 As with other overgeneralizations, this one is incomplete as well. There's evidence that the fitness cost of drug resistance isn't universal after all; regardless, the point distinguishing the difference between the good of an individual and a species remains.

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Pokémon Go as a source of good for communities

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There's a lot of reasons I like this game, but one of the most awesome ones is seeing people (including groups of friends and whole families) out and active in the neighborhood.

And if you haven't considered it yet, they're also a crime deterrent. At the same time, they're potentially vulnerable to those who would take advantage of them.

So if you see folks walking about with thier phones out at all hours, greet them and ask them what team they're on. Be nice to them.

If you're a player and see something suspicious, stop and call the cops.

This game can be a HUGE source of good for everyone.

A non-players guide is here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/07/11/the-non-gamers-guide-to-playing-pokemon-go/

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State of (Steampunk) Universe: Your Comments Sought ASAP

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TL;DR: Steampunk Universe, as it exists, has a few potential issues. I want to hear your thoughts about these issues along with possible solutions - or if we’re just imagining it. Enter your comments into the Google form (requires sign in) at http://goo.gl/forms/tS0MHsJXCPhRi87F2 or send an e-mail to opinion@alliterationink.com . We are on a bit of a time-schedule here; while I'm accepting comments through Friday, the earlier the better. 

There’s been two big times I’ve talked about issues around Steampunk Universe already - first in February about the way we handled criticism of our second call for submissions, and then in May, when I talked about when a criticism was a bit less about validity than finding something to complain about. As Ze Frank says:

Let me remember that the impact of criticism is often not the intent of the critic,
but when the intent is evil, that’s what the block button’s for.
And when I eat my critique, let me be able to separate out the good advice from the bitter herbs.

And that advice is what brings me to you today.

Steampunk World addressed a very specific problem in a very specific subgenre that was still gaining in popularity. Likewise, there was a growing popular demand for representation of people of color in all types of fiction - and steampunk was as near-perfect an example as you could find where that needed to happen, and loudly.

Though Sarah and I recognized the need for Steampunk World, we were nervous. We’re both white, so we were concerned that others would misinterpret our efforts as exploitative. But we did not see anyone else doing a collection like we were doing, and saw how excited others were about the idea. So we did it, despite our fears.

And its success - not just for itself, but in the success of other anthologies, films, and more both featuring and edited and written by people of color - is exactly what we hoped for. Our goal was to kick down the door and change what steampunk meant for others.

So when we approached Steampunk Universe, we explicitly did not want to do the same thing. And that led us to focusing on disabled and aneurotypical people - another category of people who are rarely featured in fiction outside of the occasional use of stereotype, as Abed points out here:


Unlike Steampunk World, both Sarah and I have personal ties to either the disabled or aneurotypical community. And despite the terminology mistake we made with the second call for submissions, we really want to see full-fledged disabled characters represented in all kinds of fiction - and especially in the kinds of fiction we love and read ourselves. We don’t want to see “token” characters, and we definitely don’t want to see tropes and cliches; these are people like ourselves and our loved ones we’re talking about here. (For reference, TvTropes has collected a handy list at http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DisabilityTropes). We agree with Kayla Whaley’s essay ( http://www.cbcdiversity.com/post/68062820761/diversity-101-the-disabled-saint ), particularly her closing paragraph:

I’m honestly not sure where I stand on the “no representation is better than bad representation” debate. But I do know I want to see a) more representation of disabled characters, and b) better representations, including fewer “disabled saints” (read: no more ever). I encourage you to add disabled characters to your stories, but I also encourage you to question your preconceptions, to research, to talk with disabled people. Ultimately, it all comes down to being intentional and respectful.

And that’s where the problem arises.

After determining which stories were of high enough quality, we discovered that there we had several problems.

  • The  tentative table of contents is considerably less diverse than what I normally publish. I’m committed to working hard to ensure that there’s diversity throughout the process while maintaining quality in the books I publish.
  • One author withdrew their story - and perhaps others didn’t submit - because they worried that since they were themselves not disabled, that writing a disabled character was ableist itself.
  • This also led to us being concerned, because while there are a number of disabled authors in the tentative table of contents, it is less than 50%
  • The tentative table of contents as it stands will be somewhere in the 60,000 word range. By comparison, Steampunk World was approximately 90,000 words.
  • Most importantly: unlike Steampunk World, at this point, we’re actually concerned that we won’t be advancing the dialogue in the way we intend. Perhaps it’s just because of the earlier mis-step, but since this is something we care deeply about, we don’t want to make things worse.

We’ve brainstormed a few possible things to add on to help further our goal of greater representation - including things like ensuring there’s visual representations of both disabled and PoC in both the book and as part of the publicity process and making a portion of the proceeds go to programs that work to develop and encourage writers from marginalized groups - but we again worry that these aren’t enough.

So I want your comments. This isn’t a simple popularity poll (not least because online polls are easily swayed). Enter your comments into the Google form (requires sign in) at http://goo.gl/forms/tS0MHsJXCPhRi87F2 or send an e-mail to opinion@alliterationink.com . We are on a bit of a time-schedule here; while I'm accepting comments through Friday, the earlier the better. 

Thank you.

Thank you.

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Interested in a No Fireworks Sign? Let me know so we can all get them cheap.

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I've heard from enough people that liked the designs I came up with (the images in this post) that they'd want signs... but would like to have someone order them for them. Admittedly, getting individual signs at Kinko's is ... not cheap.

But I think I've found a source for signs that will be less expensive. In order to gauge exactly how much less expensive, I need to know how much interest there really is.

So if you'd be interested in any of these signs (or perhaps a PTSD/Veteran's related one), please either comment below or send me an e-mail to with a subject of "FIREWORKS SIGNS" specifying what you'd like and what you're interested in, and I'll see what we come up with.  

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I'm tired of fireworks season.

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(If you're interested in getting in on a group buy of such signs, please check out the post at http://ideatrash.net/2016/07/interested-in-no-fireworks-sign-let-me.html .)

I hate fireworks season.

I get it that there are fireworks displays around the 4th of July.

I don't get why there were fireworks going off - in the rain - until well after midnight last night.

I don't get why fireworks started before 4pm this afternoon - in the rain - and are still going on.

I don't get why this will probably be a nightly thing through - and past - Labor Day.

And I live in a state where setting off such fireworks is quite clearly illegal.

But it's not because it's against the law that it bothers me. I don't give a damn if you smoke pot, or whatever.

I care about fireworks season because of her.


This beautiful, 65 pound dog, a loving and active dog who was abused as a puppy and has learned to love and care again, ends up like this during fireworks season:



She can take up most of my mattress when she wants to. And she has somehow managed to fit all of herself under my desk in fear.

I remember having small children live in my house. I remember the annoyance when they'd finally gone to sleep, only to be woken by someone setting off fireworks.

But this... to do this to a sweet, innocent dog for your jollies... well, fuck you.

If you feel similarly, or have a similar problem, I encourage you to call the police. Repeatedly. And after doing a little bit of research on the effectiveness of sign design, I've come up with the following. Click on the sign to be taken to github (https://github.com/uriel1998/fireworks_signs) where you can download a PDF or print-resolution PNG for each (or the smaller one for social media). The yellow ones are sized for US letter sized paper, the interstate sign looking one is sized for 22" x 28" posterboard.


https://github.com/uriel1998/fireworks_signs/tree/master/kid_warning

https://github.com/uriel1998/fireworks_signs/tree/master/pet_warning

https://github.com/uriel1998/fireworks_signs/tree/master/police

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Review: The Brainwashing of My Dad (e.g. The Perfect Documentary for July 4th)

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http://www.thebrainwashingofmydad.com/
I backed The Brainwashing of My Dad when it was a Kickstarter project for pretty much the same reason that the filmmaker decided to make the film at all: A family member's personality had radically changed, and we couldn't understand why. And in many ways, this is exactly the documentary you should be watching on the 4th of July.

In both cases, the family member changed from a moderate or liberal and kind point of view to one that spouted venom and anger from a very conservative point of view. It was almost as if their whole personality changed, mystifying and hurting those around them.

The Brainwashing of My Dad uses the very personal story of Jen Senko's father as a touchstone to explore and understand a very radical change in the media in the United States. Spoilers: It's been deliberately and concertedly changed by right-wing political groups. Not only have they changed how the media - including the news - is presented, not only have they changed the way we think about the media and the news (and not for the better), but they've done so in a way that is self-reinforcing.

This kind of effect is seen elsewhere (and I'm getting more technical than the film does, which is a good thing) in politics, surveys, and even the world of advertisement. Once someone has made their mind up about something, it becomes extremely difficult to change their mind. Our minds have a very bad habit of immediately dismissing or discarding information that challenges our pre-decided notions.

Questioning your own decisions and thoughts is something that requires both deliberate self-awareness and a willingness to let go of one's own ego. The current media culture- and particularly on the political right - reassures people that they're correct, tells them they don't have to question themselves, and even pre-dismisses any other form of media for you.

Whether we like it or not, our brains tend to go with the option that requires the least amount of effort, unless we deliberately and mindfully examine our own actions.

The Brainwashing of My Dad is a great overview of not only the concerted right-wing media takeover, but a personal story demonstrating the tragedy of losing a loved one to Rush Limbaugh. You can find the video at thebrainwashingofmydad.com.

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A little bit of irony given current events...

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So it just occurred to me how ironic it was that Britain, after being one of the largest still-existent prior colonial powers, decided they couldn't deal with not being fully independent...


Anyway, Happy 4th!


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For your weekend: Sock Puppet Parody

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I'm not quite sure how I managed to be unaware of the SockPuppet Parody YouTube channel for so long, but you shouldn't be unaware of them for a second longer.



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