DOMA and Prop 8 Unconstitutional

When you wake up in the morning (hey, it was still morning) and your in-box is full of joyful announcements that the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 [both PDF links] have both been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, that’s a damn fine way to start a day.

My usual demeanor is pretty cynical, I’ll be the first to admit — the things people do to one another, around the world and particularly here in the US, have contributed to that throughout my life. One of the most ridiculous, hateful, fearmongering trends in recent years has been the insistence by so many social conservatives that same-sex marriage is bad, wrong, evil, unnatural, and a threat to “traditional” marriage. The people who support this vile drivel have been masking their hate and fear and general negativity about the issue by insisting that they’re trying to “defend” marriage. Even with many thousands of gay and lesbian people getting married in the US in states where it’s been legal, even with the hundreds of thousands (maybe millions?) of gay and lesbian people getting married in countries around the world where it’s legal — including Canada, right next door — fearful, scowling folks keep insisting that gay marriage is somehow dangerous, that it threatens traditional man-woman marriage.

You know what? My traditional marriage doesn’t need defending, certainly not by people like them. When Jim and I were living in California, about 40,000 gay couples got married during the five months that it was legal, if I remember the numbers correctly, and hey, we’re still married! Imagine that! All those people, men marrying men and women marrying women, and there was never a morning when either Jim or I woke up and said, “Hey, damn, I feel this overwhelming need to divorce you and marry someone of my own sex!” We have a great marriage, it’s as strong as ever, and all those gay people joyfully marrying each other did nothing whatsoever to damage our marriage. Heck, we got a double dose of this dangerous threat to our union when our new home state of Washington legalized gay marriage last year — you’ll be happy to know I’ve still felt no impulse to divorce my husband.

One of my favorite sayings to come out of this situation is, “The only threat to traditional marriage is traditional divorce.” Halle-freaking-luiah.

If you want to defend the institution of marriage, how about taking all the money and energy and other resources that’ve been poured into trying to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying and instead use it to, I don’t know, offer free counseling to couples whose marriages are actually in trouble? That’d be a constructive focus for the beliefs of the social conservatives, one that’d help a lot of people while hurting nobody, unlike DOMA and Prop 8 and related efforts, which are purely destructive and have caused a lot of hardship and misery.

Just a suggestion for any defenders of marriage who are trying to figure out what their next move should be.

So, the Feds now recognize any legal marriage, no matter what the plumbing of the married people looks like. And gay people are free to marry once more in California, which is awesome.

This news actually chips away a tiny bit at my natural cynicism. If the other 37 states ever get with the 21st century and let gay couples marry, I might actually turn into a complete optimist! Let’s work toward that, shall we?


Make Your Own Keyboard

Okay, this is seriously cool. πŸ™‚ A guy named Jay Silver invented a computer interface called MaKey MaKey that you can hook up to just about anything with alligator clamps, and the thing(s) will act like a mouse or a keyboard. Bananas, playdoh, buckets of water — it’s wild. πŸ™‚ Some people are just fooling around with it for fun, but others are using it to create custom interfaces to work for someone with a disability. Check it out:

MaKey MaKey Video


Chuck Wendig on Being a Happy Writer

Thanks to Tobias Buckell for linking to Chuck Wendig’s post, 25 Ways to Be a Happy Writer, or at Least Happier. One of my favorite bits:

20. See Failure as an Instruction Manual

Failure is illuminating. It reveals every broken board beneath our feet, every crack in the wall, every pothole in the road. Do not shun failure. High-five it. Hug it. Engage in lusty pawing with it. Failure means youÒ€ℒre doing. Everybody fails before they succeed. Failure is how we learn. Failure is part of the grand tradition of figuring out how to be awesome.

Totally correct. About anything, really, but in particular anything having to do with the creative arts. It takes a lot of practice, a lot of experimentation, a lot of try-fail-try-fail-try-fail, and did I mention a lot of practice? to make it up the Creative Arts Mountain. If you can’t learn from your mistakes, you’ll never make it to the top of that mountain, and if you’re afraid of making mistakes, you’ll be so paralyzed you’ll never make it past the foothills.

Read them all, noting that most of them are delightfully profane. πŸ™‚


World’s Best Dad, Seriously

This guy needs to get a huge trophy for being a completely fantastic dad.

He runs a triathlon every year and brings his daughter with him. She’s thirteen and has cerebral palsy. She’s not watching — she’s in the race with him. Massive awesome, click through for a pic.


A New Year Starting With Free Stuff

I hope everyone had a great holiday and is humming along back at work. I’m doing well — could hardly be worse after 2012 — and have a couple of major goals for this year. One is to write at least 250K words of fiction. I’ve done that before, should be able to do it again, and have joined a challenge through one of the mailing lists I’m on to help encourage me along the way. On track so far, yay.

The other is to get into indie publishing this year. I have backlist stories that are sitting on my hard drive, unavailable to anyone who doesn’t hang out on pirate sites, and I need to get those back up and available. I also have stories that’ve collected multiple positive rejections — the kind that say, essentially, “Good story, well written, not buying it, enjoyed reading it, looking forward to reading more from you.” If you have to be rejected, that’s the kind of rejection you want to get, but it’s still a rejection. I have some stories that’ve gotten multiples of these, from multiple professional editors. I figure any story that multiple pro editors thought was well written and enjoyed reading would probably be enjoyed by readers too, so I’m going to start putting them up myself.

To help me along with that, I downloaded and printed out the Smashwords formatting guide, figuring that was a good place to start. Then, in a great piece of serendipity, I heard that Adobe is giving away free copies of a lot of its older-version software, stuff that it’s been using phone-home DRM on for a number of years while newer versions have been released. It’s no longer cost effective for them to maintain the validation servers for their older packages, so rather than cut off all the customers who’ve handed them money for their software packages, they’ve released free, non-DRMed copies of this stuff, and it’s open for anyone to grab. The list includes both Photoshop and InDesign, and I’ve grabbed copies of both. If you’re thinking of indie pubbing, or if you’re doing it already but have been saving up for expensive high-level software, I highly suggest you grab it too: Free Adobe Software. I have no idea how long this is going to last, so get it while you can.

And major props to Adobe for being cool about this. Plenty of companies in the same position just say, “Too bad, buy the new version, here’s a percent-off coupon,” and leave it at that. Making sure that the honest customers who’ve handed them money in the past can keep using the software they’ve paid for is a class act. Letting other people (like me) try these older versions for free is also very classy, and might make them some money in the future, if I like these tools and decide to upgrade.


Aicardi Syndrome and a Pose-Off

Fantasy writer Jim Hines did a blog post asking fans to donate to the Aicardi Syndrome Foundation, an organization that raises research money for Aicardi Syndrome, a disease that affects 1 in 105,000 little girls. He says, “It causes brain malformation, visual problems, seizures, developmental delays, and other medical complications. Most research puts the life expectancy for people with Aicardi between 8 and 16 years.”

The Aicardi Syndrome Foundation is the only source of funding for research into this disease. It also helps families with daughters who’ve been hit with it. It’s a great cause, and I urge everyone reading this to throw some money their way, even if it’s only a few dollars.

If you do donate, and report your donations to Jim, he’ll do another set of book cover poses at each milestone. If you haven’t seen this post before, check it out — Jim demonstrates the ridiculousness of the positions SF/Fantasy/Paranormal female characters are twisted into on book covers by attempting to get into those positions himself, and having his picture taken. It’s hilarious, and also underscores some serious shenanigans on the part of the big publishers, ’cause seriously dudes, this is stupid, and it’s all based on the idea that the men who buy these books just want to see boobs and butts, and the women who buy these books will go along with stupidly impossible objectification on the covers, because women will sigh and shrug and buy whatever makes the men happy. [cough]

[If you’re still going, “Wait, what–?” then check out this pic, parodying one of the Avengers movie posters. In the real poster, Black Widow is doing the boobs-and-butt pose, but all the men are in normal, tough-guy-ready-for-combat poses. This artist turned it around, giving Black Widow a normal pose and putting Captain America into the standard female boobs-and-butt pose. The other men are just displaying their butts. It’s awesome. πŸ˜€ ]

And as if that weren’t enough, Jim is challenging John Scalzi to a pose-off at two of the milestone points, $1000 and $2500. I really hope they make the $2500, because the pose-off should be great.

Aside from which, Aicardi Syndrome sucks, and deserves support. Please help out.


Teenager Discovers Possible Cancer Cure

You know, if anyone wrote a book about this girl, it’d be labelled pure genre — fantastical, unrealistic, a popcorn sort of story. But it’s real. Angela Zhang won a $100,000 prize in a science competition for her project, “Design of Image-guided, Photo-thermal Controlled Drug Releasing Multifunctional Nanosystem for the Treatment of Cancer Stem Cells.” Wow. Check out the article on TheMarySue.

As someone in comments over there said, this is potential Nobel Prize stuff. Not bad for someone who’s not old enough to vote yet. Heck, I’d let her vote!

What’s weirdly cool about this is that she goes to my little brother’s old high school — Monta Vista in Cupertino. (Not mine, though — we moved right after I graduated, and he’s seven years younger than I am.)

Anyway, I’ll just get back to, umm, writing my urban fantasy novel. Yeah.

Seriously, though, massive kudos to Angela Zhang, from another Angela who’ll never make half as much of an impact on the world. Props, hon.


Flash Mob in Dubai

This is great fun to watch — a song-and-dance type flash mob in the Dubai Airport.

You know, we in the US think of Saudi Arabia as being this horribly oppressive culture, and it definitely has its issues, but can you imagine something like this happening in an American airport? o_O Just thinking of how Homeland Security would likely react — OMG it might be a DIVERSION for a TERRORIST attack!!! — just turns my stomach. Good on Dubai for being mellow and able to enjoy it.


New Orleans

Wow, I haven’t blogged about GayRomLit yet — I should probably do that before I forget what-all happened. πŸ™‚

The conference was a lot of fun, more than I expected, actually. I’ve always loved meeting internet friends in realspace, and I got to meet one of my very best online friends, plus a bunch of other people I knew, people I sort of knew, people whose names I’d seen around, and people I ran into for the first time while I was there. One thing a lot of people have commented about is how awesome it was to hang out with a bunch of people who are all into m/m romance. I’ve never been to one of the big romance conventions, but people who have talk about been sneered at, snubbed and otherwise marginalized, on a ratio of four or five to one versus people who say everyone was great and they had no problems. Gay romance is the redheaded (bastard, drug addict) stepchild of romance, and it seems to be very stressful, to say the least, to be an m/m romance reader or writer at a general romance convention. This one was for us, everyone was in the same group, and no one was asked, “But why do you read/write that stuff?” with even curiosity, much less hostility or distaste. Good stuff.

I got majorly fangirled a couple of times, which was pretty darned cool. [beam] I even had about half a dozen people ask for my autograph, which was ??? because I don’t have any paper books out and wasn’t expecting it at all. The first four or five I was trying to actually SIGN a name I’d never signed before, and I’m sure no two were alike, LOL! My usual mode of writing is a rather weird printing style I’ve developed since I was like eleven, though, so for the last couple I ditched the whole cursive-signature thing and just printed my name. It’s still very curvy and doesn’t look like anyone else’s printing, so that should work fine. Also, it’s readable, which my cursive most definitely isn’t. [cough] Also-also, this matters less with a pseudonym, but in general you don’t want your “autograph” to be the same signature you use on checks and credit card slips, so that’s another good thing, just on general principles.

It wasn’t all wonderful, of course. I had some tote bags made up with the title and author name (same fonts and all) from A Hidden Magic to give away, and had my vendor send the box directly to the hotel. They lost it. [headdesk] They found it eventually, but it took about a day and a half, and the first couple of people I talked to (two separate occasions) seemed pretty convinced it’d never arrived, despite UPS’s web site showing that it had been delivered to the front desk. The third time there were three people hunting for a while, and the bell captain finally found it and brought it to my room, yay! I gave him a nice tip and was very happy to have my stuff.

The day after I arrived, I went out with three friends to Cafe du Monde, where the coffee’s great and you have to excavate through the mountain of powdered sugar to find your beignets. That part was good, but there was an older guy right outside the fence, like twelve feet away from us, who was alternating between trumpet music and very loud singing the whole time we were there, such that we had to shout at each other to have a conversation. [sigh] I know the street performers have to make a living too, but the whole captive-audience thing sucks. It’s one thing to do your performance on a street corner, or around the perimeter of Jackson Square where a bunch of performers and artists and fortune tellers hang out, so that people passing by can stop and watch/listen if they want. But when we’re in a cafe having coffee and beignets and want to talk, it’s very unpleasant having music blaring in our ear the whole time. And courtesy dictates that you stop what you’re doing to applaud whenever a song finishes, whether you enjoyed it or not, and that got old as well. The guy was all “Thank you for your thunderous applause” whenever there wasn’t much, going passive-agressive on people who hadn’t chosen to hang out and listen to him in the first place — so that kind of sucked. He’s the one who chose to foist his very loud music on people who just wanted to sit down with coffee and beignets and conversation; if his audience wasn’t universally delighted with his offering, that was his doing and nobody else’s. If I ever go back, I’ll definitely look for a table inside, or way in the back of the patio.

After that, we took a carriage ride around the French Quarter, which was fun. Our driver knew a lot about the history of the area (I’m assuming they all do, but still) and it was nice to see things while sitting down. The carriages are pulled by mules these days. The driver said it was because mules are stronger and can take the heat better than horses. They used to use horses, but there was trouble with the horses being overworked and generally in bad shape, so the city passed a law saying that the carriages had to use mules, which is good. They all seemed to be healthy so far as I could tell — no hip bones sticking out, no limps, nothing I recognized as abused animals, which isn’t always the case with animals who work this way, so that was cool.

I had some “lightly” blackened red snapper later on which was way too spicy for me (I have pretty much zero appreciation for capsaicin type heat in food) so I only ate half of it, although the rice and veggies were good. And on the last evening before I left I had a fried oyster poboy with sweet potato fries, both of which were very yummy. And I had breakfast a couple of times at the hotel restaurant, including my first try at grits. I expected to like them — I’m Italian and grew up eating polenta — and I did. Grits have a lighter taste, less corny, if that makes sense. I imagine it’s something to do with the chemical processing that turns them white. They’re still good to eat with butter, just like polenta, and I’d definitely have them again.

I didn’t do any of the walking tours the con had set up — they did cemetary walks and vampire tours — and from what I heard I was glad I didn’t. It sounded like they were too long and with too much standing around for someone with my mobility issues. I have to be careful what I commit to, and I had a feeling these wouldn’t work out for me.

A lot of the planned events of the conference were based on alcohol — hurricane party, wine and cheese party, pub crawl, that kind of thing — and I didn’t sign up for them because I don’t drink. Various authors and/or publishers were sponsoring all these events, and they had to pay so much per head based on how many people signed up. I could’ve gone just to be sociable, but I didn’t think it was right to make someone pay for booze for me that I wasn’t going to drink.

I haven’t mentioned any panels because… well, I can’t quite say there weren’t any, but there weren’t supposed to be. The organizing committee decided not to hold panels because they, as individuals, don’t care for panels at conferences. All right, it’s their show, they can do what they want. But there were panels anyway — two that I ran into, and I didn’t try to get to everything — so it seems at least some of the attendees and sponsors want them enough to go impromptu if none are organized. This would be fine, except that the rooms weren’t set up for panels. The idea with the smaller events was that authors or publishers or whoever was hosting a social or signing or whatever would be sitting behind tables around the perimeter of the room, and people would walk in, chat a bit, pick up swag and/or autographs, and leave. The first panel I encountered was in a small room intended for a meet-the-authors social sort of event. A friend was in there and I wanted to go say hi and see how things were going with her, but I found a panel going — people were asking questions, writers behind the tables were answering them, and everyone was listening to the answers. That’s a panel. The room had about six chairs in it, aside from the chairs behind the tables for the authors, and they were all full. There were people standing along the walls, packed into the corners, standing here and there in the middle of the room, and packed very tightly in the doorway and in the hallway right outside the door. I couldn’t even get close enough to the door to peer in and see my friend, and I could only hear every fourth or fifth word. I stood around for a few minutes, but then my knees and back started griping so I left.

The second one was a publisher’s reception. They were supposed to be hosting a hurricane party on the patio around the pool, but the hotel was going through some rennovation and fumes from the paint had drifted out the windows and made the pool patio uninhabitable most of the afternoon, so events that were supposed to be near there were hurriedly moved. I hadn’t signed up for the hurricane party, but I wandered past their relocation room (which was way too small for a party, but they were moved back to the pool patio a bit later, after the painters had gone home and the fumes dissipated) and saw that the publisher was holding a panel. The room was packed again — there were eight or so chairs that were full, people lining the walls and packing the corners and standing in all the free space, plus people sitting on tables and assorted other things that weren’t meant to be sat on. The publisher had been invitation-only up until recently, and one of the bigwigs (I didn’t catch her name so I don’t know exactly who) was speaking about their preferences in submissions, what they’re looking for, how they deal with covers and promo, and generally the sort of thing an author who might consider writing for a publishing house would want to know. I’m happy where I am, but I wanted to hear what the publisher had to say anyway and there was a spot on a table near the door, so I perched for a while, along with a number of other people. Seriously, though, if this sort of thing continues, one of these times someone or a group of someones is going to sit on something that isn’t meant to be sat on and break it, and the hotel is going to bill the conference. I get that the organizers don’t care for panels, but if they’re going to happen anyway, they’d best be organized and scheduled and put into rooms that are set for panels, with plenty of chairs. Otherwise the committee should start setting aside money for a surprise on the hotel bill, because it’s going to happen.

I got to meet my own publishers in person for the first time, which was pretty cool. Shawn and Lorna of Torquere Press had a table at the big signing event — which was on a riverboat — and invited me to sit with them for a while. That’s where I got asked for most of the autographs. πŸ™‚ A lot of writers in this genre don’t have paper books, so readers were going around with notebooks and such, using them as autograph albums. One lady was having people sign her e-reader cover, and one of the mods of the M/M Romance group on Goodreads was having people sign her Don’t Read In The Closet knapsack, which was pretty cool. That’ll be an awesome souvenir.

Later some of us Torquere people gathered in the hotel bar — which was around a corner and down a long hall and pretty dead unless there was a conference event in it, which sort of surprised me — with Torquere hosting. Shawn ran a tab, which I’ve never seen anyone do in real life, and which amused me beyond reason. Okay, I don’t go to bars, I’m sure everyone else is eyerolling right now, but it was pretty cool from my point of view. πŸ™‚ I had a couple of sodas and we talked about stuff. One thing that sticks out was confirmation that when the second Hidden Magic novel comes out, they’ll bring both it and the first out in paperback, yay! Seriously, that was awesome to hear; I’d suspected they might, just because it makes no sense to bring out Book 2 of a series in paperback but not Book 1, but it’s great to hear it officially. I know paperbacks don’t sell terribly well in this genre, but I’ve been wanting a paperback book with my name on it that I could autograph and give my mother for ages, and now I know I’m going to get one. Even if sales are lousy — which I hope they aren’t! πŸ˜€ — just being able to give her that will be worth it.

Oh, one of the street performers I saw while walking around the Quarter was excellent!! I was on the way to a nearby drugstore and was passing by Jackson Square, and there was a guy who was a police car transformer, and it actually worked!! πŸ˜€ He walked around with pieces of police car hanging off him like armor — I think a lot of it was sturdy cardboard or light wood, it certainly wasn’t plastic or metal, but still — and then he’d sort of squat and fall forward and the car assembled itself around him with the four tires on the ground and his feet tucked up out of the way. He must’ve had an electric motor in there somewhere because he could drive around!! Then he’d stop, then put his feet down and stand up, and the car disassembled back into an armor-y thing again! I definitely dropped some money in his bucket, ’cause that was freaking awesome. [beam]

On the whole I had a great time, and I’m looking forward to going to next year’s conference, which will be in Albuquerque. Hot and dry instead of hot and humid, so a bit better to this California native who’s not at all used to humidity. It’s the people who make it a great time, though, and I expect that to be just the same, only maybe a little bigger with any luck. I can hardly wait! πŸ™‚