Introduction 2015: The Instrumentality of Women

My perspective has broadened a bit since 2014.

Introduction

When I was 13, one of the most popular songs was “At Seventeen,” by Janis Ian. I had a record player. There was no such thing as an iPod. If you played a vinyl record enough times it got a grayish tinge and started to crackle and pop. After a few months, I could hardly play Janis’ album any longer and it was gray as hell. I not only idolized Janis — her “look,” her fashion, her voice, her poetry – I related to this song just like every other teen girl. It turned out, later, that the song really was about Janis at age 13, my exact age.

I learned the truth at seventeen

That love was meant for beauty queens

And high school girls with clear skinned smiles

Who married young and then retired …

I had no sense I was “beautiful,” and as far as future career path, I pictured being the secretary to a wealthy and powerful man. I wanted to marry a handsome, strong man. My ideal wedding dress was an “empire” dress — but I didn’t know what it was called back then. I wanted two children: a boy and a girl. Sure, I wrote storylike objects and I painted pictures and I made things. I “whittled” and woodcarved and banged stuff together with old nails. I foraged and hunted and hiked and explored with my dog. I shoveled the manure out of my pony’s stall —

It had been nigh upon three years since I’d gotten a copy of A Wrinkle in Time from my aunt Donna.

The summer I was 13, as I listened to “At Seventeen” over and over, I read Lord of the Rings front to back four or five times. I got the “pancake tan” (didn’t want to turn over so brown in front, white in back). I read Dune. I read Warm Worlds and Otherwise, stories by James Tiptree, Jr. I read through all of Ray Bradbury. I read England Swings edited by Judith Merril. I read Dangerous Visions, and Again, Dangerous Visions. Those were edited by Harlan Ellison. He looked like a handsome guy, judging by his picture. But I wouldn’t have said anything like that to anyone. Admitting I was reading this stuff was beyond weird and nerdy.

Nobody told me I couldn’t be a sci-fi writer. Somewhere in the back of my head this idea took root. I liked to imagine things. I couldn’t help it. I imagined things whether I wanted to or not. These things: they were stories. Not about me. About people I didn’t know, lots of the time. Places, sometimes very far away in space and time, from where I was.

Then my grandfather died and my grandmother didn’t talk to me for a year, and then I moved away to Hollywood and then I came back to Redlands.

I was a different person; I’d lost a year. The normality of my life before was gone. I no longer imagined I’d marry a wealthy, powerful man, although that seemed like a pretty good plan if it ever did happen. I just wanted to survive from day to day.

And so it goes.

This is my third collection of short fiction. Three stories are fantasy; eleven are science fiction. All are about women. Although the fantasy stories are told with male viewpoint characters, their linchpins are the women.

The degree of prior professional publication and recognition on these stories is directly graphable by age. The younger the protagonist, the easier the sale — in fact, “To Kiss the Star,” the first story, was a cover story of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and nominated for a Nebula Award. Its protagonist, Mel, is seventeen, just like Janis Ian’s song. And I realize now what song I heard when Mel looked in the mirror after the ISA “cowboy” doctor gave her sight. In stories I have written, the older the female protagonist, the less likely the story would be to appear in a top publication. At best, these appeared in small press or anthologies edited by friends.

Now, these stories about women age 30 and over are in a book that is published in e-book form by Book View Cafe, the first, largest and most-successful author publishing cooperative, and in trade paperback, by Chameleon Publishing, the publishing company I founded.

Instrumentality of women 600 x 900Here are the stories and who they are about:

To Kiss the Star

Mel Armstrong – 17 – wheelchair-bound, blind, spastic, chosen for spaceflight

The Renascence of Memory

Carol Meyers – 80 – Alzheimer’s patient, former wife, mother, college professor

This Monster

Grendel’s Dam – ageless

Jenny, With the Stars in Her Hair

Jenny Julian – 28 – addicted to extreme cosmetic surgery

The Color of Time

Gia – 21, Nana – 81, Faith – 31

Smiley the Robot

Miss Gia – 85

Everything I Have is Yours

Helene Bacon – 50 – famous film director, Sarah Bacon – 16 – her daughter

Heart of Jade

The Lady – 30-ish and thought barren – daughter of 20 Rabbit, the last great king of Copan

Shakespeare in Hell

Emilia Bassano – 35-ish (actually died at age 74) – reputed “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets

The Ruined Gods

Ginger – 28 – a cat woman; Rikki/Roxane/Roksana – 73

The Gods That Men Don’t See

Ginny Baumann – 33 – primatologist, unmarried

Digger Lady

Vi Elliott – 73 – paleontologist, never married

Incandescent

Paperwhite – a newborn Vogue girl

Her Name is Jacqueline

Lori Johnston – 36 – attorney, married, male genes, female nature

For many years, I did not know that nobody wanted to read a story about a woman over age 30, or a story with a female character over age 25 who wasn’t a “black widow,” a canny elderly detective or nosy old lady next door.

Of course I know that now.

Of course I know there should be romance stories for women, men and transgendered people. There should be stories about crises of conscience for men. How stupid is it, for example, for there to be a story about Helene Bacon, the first female film director to receive an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award? There’s some sci-fi for you. Imagine that this successful, powerful director never had time to get married, but she did have a daughter, Sarah — a daughter very much like her. And right when she has achieved the height of her recognition and power, Helene learns she’s dying of lung cancer. Only a total lung transplant will save her. And Sarah’s not just her daughter: she is her clone. Oh, what to do? God, what a ridiculous, idiotic story. Its mate (architect dying of cancer learns that only his cloned son can save him) was a Writers of the Future winning story. When people questioned that a man would consider using his son that way — what about a mother? — the story was born.

“Digger Lady” has not so much been rejected, but rather – lost, three times, by three different editors of two major sci-fi/fantasy magazines. It is inspired by a lady I got to know at age 17 — some coincidence? — Ruth “Dee” Simpson, the archaeologist at the San Bernardino County Museum. That was my first real job — the “intern” at the museum. The character inspired by “Dee,” Vi Elliott, is explicitly said to be 73 in the story. She is being forced into retirement. There are few women who can claim to have discovered Early Man in the Southern California desert along with world-renowned paleontologist Dr. Louis Leakey. Ruth “Dee” Simpson is one of them. Nobody wants to read about someone like that.

I think they’d rather read about a naive 3-day old genetically manipulated prostitute who is bound to save the world from an alien plague, all the while being beaten to a pulp by a vicious, burned-out case who learns at the end, the value of what he valued so-little. I did write that story and it is in this book; I will not continue to write dozens of them.

It makes me sad when I think of the stories I was given to read while in school (this includes college and graduate school). “The Yellow Wallpaper” – a classic by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The husband’s name is John; the young female narrator has no name. This story was written well over a hundred years ago.

My life, oddly enough, was not over when I turned 25, nor 30, nor even the dreaded 40 and unholy, impossible, “no man will ever want you!” 50. Such adventures I have had – and still have.

The best stories are those which tell themselves. It isn’t “who writes the stories” that is so important; it is the stories themselves.

These are the stories that came to me, as they came to me. For a long while, I didn’t realize that I was, as far as getting paid or getting anybody to read the work, literally wasting my time even attempting to write stories outside the conventional genres (romance, mystery) and genre conventions (like Ellie Sattler in the Jurassic Park movies – she retires, is married, has children and becomes a children’s book writer) about women. Now I do understand that.

I’m writing them anyway. I’m publishing them anyway.

At 13, at 17, at 53, it was and is my job to listen.

Amy Sterling Casil

Aliso Viejo, CA

December 2015

 

The Instrumentality of Women: January 19

 

 

Instrumentality of women 600 x 900 instrumentality-of-women-wrap-cover (1)

You can read stories about women in love, women’s problems, or women’s issues.
Or, you can read stories about the future of women.

In the Nebula Award-nominated “To Kiss the Star,” gravely disabled Mel Armstrong gets the chance to explore the stars, but doesn’t want to leave the man she loves behind. In “The Renascence of Memory,” nanotechnology returns 80 year old Alzheimer’s patient Carol Meyers to her former youth and beauty — but everyone she knew and loved is dead, except her former young lover — he is now too old for her. Famous female film director Helene Bacon will be the first woman to win an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award — but she’s dying of cancer and her daughter is the best donor. How will she choose? The Lady, the only daughter of the last great ruler of Copan wishes to be a man, so she can save her father and her city. Dr. Vi Elliott believes she’s discovered Early Man in the Southern California Desert — maybe she has, and maybe she has not — but she does run across a couple of mint-addicted intergalactic eBay traders in this sequel to “Mad for the Mints.” And lawyer Lori Johnston is happily married to insurance guy Jack — until he tells her he’s committed to gender reassignment to save his job. What Jack doesn’t know is that Lori appears and is female, but her biology is male: born with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome.

The Instrumentality of Women

First eBook Edition Book View Cafe
18 January 2016
ISBN: 978-1-61138-584-7
$4.99

First Trade Paperback Edition Chameleon Publishing
4 April 2016
ISBN: 978-1-46380-239-4
356 pages
$14.99

This is the original introduction: it will be changed now but probably will still include the information about Asimov’s.

mm mm good!

Gluten Free and Dairy Free Chicken and Dumplings

Hello, Hollywood and Redlands Woman here with a family- and man-pleasing recipe for dairy-free, gluten free comfort food! How do we make food that is healthy, comforting, affordable, and makes our family members happy? Focus on freshness, real ingredients, and read labels carefully if you are using prepared foods. There are a couple of “prepared” ingredients in this dish, especially Knorr chicken broth. The American version of this product has whey and wheat (gluten) products. But the Mexican version, at least as is currently sold, does not. And guess what? It is more affordable than the US-made Knorr cubes! You can always use your own or gluten-free-dairy-free stock or broth.

One of the recipes my grandmother made that was genuinely delicious was chicken and dumplings. She didn’t make it very often, but I remembered that the dumplings she made had parsley and maybe some other kind of green herb in them.

This recipe is similar to the one she made except no dairy (in the dumplings – she wouldn’t have put any in the chicken stew part) and no wheat!

First – the ingredients. For serious gluten-free, dairy-free eaters, I use Mexican Knorr dried chicken bouillon (buy in Mexican sections of supermarkets, it is a different formulation from US, definitely no whey) and Bob’s Red Mill 1-1 gluten free flour, and gluten free yellow corn meal.

Ingredients for Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Chicken and Dumplings

Chicken and Broth/Stew
2 T olive oil
1/2 C Gluten Free flour (Trader Joes or Bobs Red Mill)
4 bone-in chicken thighs, 2-4 drumsticks
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1/2 t Smoked Paprika
1/2 t Powdered Garlic (I use organic dried spices, they have more flavor)
1/2 to 3/4 C diced carrots
1/2 to 3/4 C diced celery
3/4 onion, diced
1 T fresh chopped parsley
1 T fresh chopped chives
4 C gluten free chicken broth (see above and picture)
1/2 C apple juice or cider
1/2 C unsweetened cashew milk or almond milk (it is thinner)

Dumplings:
1-1/2 C Gluten Free flour (same brand as above)
1/2 C Albers or other brand yellow cornmeal (gluten free – it should be!)
2 T Vegan margarine (I use Earth Balance)
1 T baking powder (use gluten free)
1 t Kosher Salt
1-1/2 C unsweetened cashew milk
1-2 T minced parsley
1-2 T minced chives

Instructions and Pictures for Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Chicken and Dumplings

First, rinse chicken and pat dry. Cut off any excess chicken fat that is not needed (some provides flavor – you don’t need the large pieces that sometimes come on chicken thighs).

Then, combine 1/2 C gluten free flour, salt, powdered garlic and smoked paprika. This also makes a great coating for any meat or fish you would like to lightly pan fry.

 

dry ingredients for chicken

Then, dredge the chicken pieces in the gluten-free flour mixture. Heat the olive oil in a 5-6 quart heavy-duty pan for which you have a good cover. This is a 5 quart Mexican rice cooker I use for many dishes like this. It is lighter weight than a typical Dutch oven.

chicken frying

Fry the chicken in two batches on medium heat. Allow 7-8 minutes per side to brown it well. It does not have to be done in the middle because it will be returned to the pan later. After the pieces are nicely browned, remove to another plate.

vegetables ready to chop

While the chicken is browning, chop up your vegetables. This is plenty!

chopped vegetables

When they are done they will look like this (1st batch of browned chicken in background). Brown these in pan for about 4-5 minutes. While this is going on, make the chicken broth. I included a picture of the Mexican type so you could see what to look for in the store.

knorr gluten free dairy free broth

Chop up enough fresh chives and parsley to go into the vegetables and chicken AND the dumplings. Our market carries fresh, unpackaged herbs and spices – I included the chive one (.99 cents) so you could see the brand. These are crazy good in scrambled eggs.

chives and parsley

After you have chopped the herbs while the vegetables are browning, return the chicken pieces to the pot and cover with approximately 4 cups of chicken broth (see above) and 1 cup of apple juice or cider (I stole this one from Pioneer Woman … she’s all about dairy and wheat but the apple juice and cornmeal are goodies and not full of gluten/dairy).

 

chicken before dumplings 2

When you put the chicken, broth and apple juice back in, it should look like this. Cover and simmer on low- to medium-low for 20 minutes. While this is cooking, make the dumplings.

dumpling dry ingredients

Mix the dry ingredients together. Cut in the 2 T vegan margarine in with a fork. Dumplings are basically drop biscuits. So you have to give the “drop biscuit aspect” some thought. Pioneer Woman had a very good idea with the apple juice to enrich the stew/broth part of the dish. She also got that these ultratough or noodle type dumplings are bleeeah! With gluten free flour, you do not have to worry about “gluten-toughness.” These babies will be delicious, light and fluffy!

chicken before dumplings

Your broth and chicken should look like this. Pour the 1/2 C of cashew (or almond) milk in at this time.

dumpling batter

Your dumpling batter should look like this. Drop it by tablespoons on top of the chicken/broth/vegetables in the pot. Put the cover back on and cook at low heat for another 20 minutes or so.

If you open the cover and it looks like this — it’s ready to dish out and eat!

chicken after dumplings

And mmm! Good!

mm mm good!

Elephant Seals and the Circle of Life

At 7:00, I tell Bruce that if we want to see Big Sur, we had better get going. My plan is to drive north out of the fog and into the sun. We leave Moonstone Beach and about ten minutes later we have entered Hearst’s Maxfield Parrish fairy tale domain and I spot a sign that, for all my years in California, I had never noticed.

baby elephant sealIt’s the California Elephant Seal Rookery. “Should we stop?” I ask. I needn’t have, but we were just getting to know each other.

We walk toward the rocky, low beach. Below us is a small cove rough with black volcanic rocks circling smooth, tawny sand. Lying in the sand is a hideous, grunting, scarred behemoth. A 5,000 pound male elephant seal. His snorts and exhalations are gruesome yet wondrous.

The surf ebbs and flows, the water glittering bright green-blue in the early morning light. Out of the surf emerges a creature with a lovely face and large, soft brown eyes. This is followed by a sleek-furred, round body. She is the mate to the grunting, farting elephant-snouted monster breathing raggedly by the rocks at the edge of the cove.

Bruce looks at me and I at him. We’ve known couples like this. A beautiful delicate female mated to a brutish beast.

“It looks like he’s about to tell her, ‘bring me a sammich, bitch,'” I say.

Bruce agrees, and we start a tete-a-tete about this mismatched pair. The female elephant seal works her way slowly up the beach to the side of her massive mate, heaving her body from side to side in the wet sand. The word “rookery” echoes in my mind. I wonder if she’s pregnant, but I say nothing.

We decide to walk farther south down the boardwalk, and soon realize, this single pair is by far the outlier. On the beach are hundreds of elephant seals, from a distance appearing like gray and brown beach umbrellas scattered along the shore. Here and there are small dark forms squirming in the sand like tiny leeches: the pups.

Up close, the faces of the pups appear exactly like pit bull puppies. The females are a vast array of shapes, sea colors and sizes. Most of the males are scarred fur-covered torpedoes like the massive beast from the small cove.

We see just one other couple, a serious-appearing pair with a tripod and massive camera with a telephoto lens focused on the beach. We pass them and watch a large group of females and pups, with the males arrayed closer to us along the beach, sunning their vast bulk and lying in a row like hideous fat cigars.

At once, about twenty seagulls converge on the beach, shrieking and jabbing their wicked beaks at something. I think that perhaps one of the seals has some fish and they’re grabbing for it, but say nothing. It’s cool and Bruce has his hand around my waist, the newness of this a shivering pleasure.

The moment is snapped like celery by the sudden appearance of a fifty-five-ish blonde woman with a severe haircut, wearing khakis and a dorky blue windbreaker, who rises behind Bruce’s shoulder. “They’re after the afterbirth,” she says, grinning.

Bruce’s eyes flash, but he merely smiles.

“I’m a volunteer docent,” she says. “You’ve just witnessed something people come here for years to see. Usually they give birth at night.”

“Oh,” I say, “Wonderful.” Bruce’s eyes say something very different.

On the beach, the mother seal is circling her darling black pup desperately. I see a spot of blood on her flank, but no sign of afterbirth. A perfect sand circle has emerged and she’s energetically digging it deeper amid the flock of shrieking, fiendish gulls.

“They’ll peck at anything bright,” Volunteer Docent Woman says. “They want to peck the pup’s eyes. She’s protecting him.”

Her eyes shine like bright pale blue crazy pennies. I remember the mismatched couple from the cove we’d seen before, and tell her about them.

“Oh that cove floods. They can’t be there,” she said.

“Well, we did see them,” I say. She’s as certain of her facts as Dr. Quest in a Jonny Quest episode. She mutters a few more things, then directs her attention to the couple with the telephoto lens: they’re the experts. On the beach, the elephant seal mother continues to circle round her beautiful sleek black pup while the males grunt and fart in the sun.

As we continue down the boardwalk, we talk about Volunteer Docent. She had appeared out of nowhere, a frenetic jack-in-the-box stuffed with natural history and expertise, wedded not to human life, but to these massive animals by the shore.

Bruce says, “I thought she was going to demand that I leap down on the beach and bag and tag the afterbirth.”

I laugh.

“She liked you better than me,” he says. Likely; however the seals, she liked best of all and moreso, perhaps a massive orca waited offshore to take her true love.

We get back in the Jeep and head up the coast to Big Sur. While we sun ourselves on a high patio overlooking God’s country, a burned-out hippie asks Bruce, who is wearing a Longhorns t-shirt, “Are you from Texas?”

Of course he is. Philly, Texas.

In quiet moments, I remember the exquisite face of the female elephant seal, about to give birth. She’s far too lovely to bring that monster a sammich.

Heinlein Fans Will Believe Anything

Occasionally File 770 will feature something about Chameleon Publishing or something I might write. I have always gotten a lot out of my conversations with generous and gracious readers – I think the run-downs and countdowns of different posts and information on File 770 are extremely informative.

A bunch of HowiesSo there’s the crazy uproar about the World Fantasy award changing to something other than a stylized head of H.P. Lovecraft, known to those of us in the field as a “Howie.” I don’t know about most others but I can speak from personal experience that on the few occasions I’ve shared the look of a “Howie” with those who do not know what the award is, reactions have been less than enthusiastic. They’ve ranged from “WTF???” to “He’s so ugly!”

One author who is new to me, Gray Rinehart, wrote his opinions about the situation. He said he had run for political office in his local community and also been nominated for a Hugo Award. Gray’s website notes that he is “the only person to have commanded an Air Force satellite tracking station, written speeches for Presidential appointees, had music on ‘The Dr. Demento Show’ and been nominated for a major literary award.”

So, Gray wrote about the Howie situation and noted that Heinlein had written in Friday that “Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms . . . but a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.” Gray’s position was, I think, that people in SF/F fandom are being horrible to each other. Fair enough.

But if we’re talking about real cultures and societies … i.e. let’s say … well we just went to see Bridge of Spies with Tom Hanks, which is about Brooklyn attorney James Donovan’s negotiation of a Cold War spy trade — one Soviet for two Americans — one famous (U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers), and the other, less-famous (economist and then-student Frederick Pryor). So let’s say we’re talking about a culture like early to mid-20th Century Germany. Most of these folks in the film were very concerned about being polite with each other while segments of their government were plotting each others’ deaths due to global thermonuclear war. Very politely, teachers were teaching students how to duck and cover in case of nuclear attack. Donovan’s young son in the film politely showed his father a drawing of the effects of an “air burst” 10,000 feet over the Empire State Building, which would definitely cause some damage at their Brooklyn residence. I estimate the young man was about 9 or 10 years old.

BLACKSTONEFriday500So this is pretty much the time period when Heinlein wrote a lot of his work (Cold War), although I think Friday, which I know as the “busty lady” book, was published rather later (1982).

So, about this “loss of politeness means cultural death” thing —

It might mean “loss of control” but it hardly means “cultural death.”

I don’t think hardly anybody talked back in Nazi Germany. I think they mostly were very polite to each other unless they were taking part in officially sanctioned impoliteness like Kristallnacht.

I think a lot of women were pretty afraid to be impolite back in pre-19th Amendment days, before they got the right to vote. Many students today don’t believe me when I ask them to read and paraphrase Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Declaration of Sentiments (1848) which is based on Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. “What do these things mean?” they ask. What is “deliver chastisement?” they ask, among other things. I ask them to write down the list of things that Stanton and the signatories listed.

“They are so many,” they say.

Women were extremely polite in 1848 when this Declaration was written. They were pretty darned polite when I was a little girl. I remember us being quite polite when I was in college. To this day, I consider myself polite. It takes great force of will to call someone a name or mock them in public.

So I’m not going to make fun of Mr. Heinlein or call him a name when I say this statement is absurd and prima facie, false. Somebody speaking up and being perhaps in your opinion, impolite, isn’t the nicest thing in the world; neither is it a sign of cultural death worse than a riot.

This is my friend Kalev Leetaru’s GDELT Project (Global Database of Events, Language and Tone). It tracks things like riots worldwide and the “tone” of official reports in an ever-growing group of nations, media (including Twitter) and languages. It begins in 1979. It is big data, all right. It has been compared to Asimov’s “Future History.”

GDELT proves Heinlein false, in that it can accurately predict wars and uprisings based on patterns of riots, unrest, and increasingly, “language and tone” related to such things. See, it’s the riot part that’s the problem, and the accuracy part — “impolite” is cultural death? How about threats prior to violence?

It probably can predict b.s. too –

 

 

 

 

 

Anderson at Computer (with puppets)

Five Reasons Movie Audiences Are Smart

Have we really come to the point where a film that’s suitable for all ages, genders, viewpoints and tastes, a simple, charming and spellbinding fable about how the earth might have gotten its start, is “too smart for the audience”?

Anderson at Computer (with puppets)

While it wins “audience favorite” and “best visual effects” at dozens of film festivals, some experts say that The Looking Planet is “too smart for the audience.”

Here is the teaser:

One of the reasons I enjoyed this short film so much — in addition to its visual excellence, engaging story and characters (even though they have only eyes and mouth, no nose), and charming way of explaining how the earth is such a paradise for life, thanks to our special relationship with our moon — was that it was about life.

It features a family: an irascible father, an attentive mother, a wayward, daydreaming son named Lufo, and numerous other brothers/sisters. The Looking Planet’s story covers a pretty big engineering project: the whole galaxy. Lufo’s family was working on one tiny part: our solar system.

In my humble opinion, The Looking Planet took a huge subject and made it into playful, joyful learning. I would definitely qualify it for a “common core” lesson on cosmology. Heaven knows that students need to learn about the universe and they might as well have their spirits uplifted and imaginations engaged while doing so.

Having just watched the PBS documentary about Walt Disney, I was reminded that somebody else took that approach as well.

I tell everyone, “we can only do something about books, we know nothing about film or television.”

But.

I am far from “normal.” Nobody should do market research off me. But I’m so, so tired of films where everyone is blown up, shot to bits, women are portrayed poorly, or what passes for a story is simply a reboot of an old TV show, old movie, or old comic book.

I think people might have gotten tired of horses and buggies too.

I really think this is where we are. When people stopped saying “Man wasn’t made to go faster than 20 miles an hour!” and “Man can’t fly!”

There are only seven different stories?

Why, men can’t watch movies about women unless they are sex objects. A white person can’t enjoy a movie with brown actors (as if they make a whole lot of those …). It not only has to be one of these seven stories, it’s best if the people who are dumb enough to pay $8 for a bucket of stale popcorn recognize the “brand name” from a toy or a movie their parents enjoyed.

Lufo is a speckled light gray color. He doesn’t even have a nose. His body bears resemblance to the characters in the “leaky pipe people” ad. He wears little brass wings that look like 19th century protractor parts.

This one of the seven stories! It really isn’t one of them, any more than you could shoehorn 2001: A Space Odyssey into that mold. They don’t call it “mold” for no reason.

moldy cheese

So, since we know that posts that list reasons are far more read than others, here’s your five reasons movie audiences are smart — and ticket sales are stagnant — and the schemes like computerized script analysis and endless remakes of films made only half a decade ago are driving customers away, not bringing them in:

  1. They are human beings who want to be entertained and uplifted
  2. They have hearts and minds
  3. Even though anybody can make a movie these days, not everyone desires to do so — they expect something better than they could do on their own — not worse
  4. Just because Pew-Die-Pie is the #1 YouTube celebrity doesn’t mean people want to pay $12 to see a movie about him
  5. Just like cheese, ideas can go beyond “aged” to stale … moldy and inedible.

 

lufo and the looking glass

If This Film Does Not Spark Your Imagination …

maybe you don’t have one!

That was courtesy of the Los Angeles Film Review and I agree with them. The Looking Planet is an incredible short science fiction film by USC film school grad Eric Law Anderson that is real, honest-to-goodness science fiction.

lufo and the looking glass

Bruce and I were part of the audience at the Laguna Film Festival yesterday and of all the short films by talented filmmakers that we saw, The Looking Planet was …

Well, ya don’t see stuff like that every day! Fantastic! Amazing! More uplifting and enjoyable than pretty much anything that I’ve subjected myself to in a theatre for a long, long time.

I’d like to say that maybe this year’s Comic-Con in San Diego would be notable for showcasing panels about things that are mind-blowingly excellent: The Looking Planet had a panel there (in addition to Is SHE Available?).

Wonderful and entertaining need not be mutually exclusive. And I find it hard to imagine anyone, of any age, not being enthralled and entertained by The Looking Planet.

Did I mention, “It’s real sci fi”?

The Looking Planet [trailer] from Eric Law Anderson on Vimeo.

I’m not going to sit around like a slug myself, but there are fewer “likes” on this unbelievable film’s Facebook page than on my piece-of-you-know-what FSFW page.

Quit gazing at your own navel, quit complaining and grow some imagination. Somebody else already did: Eric Law Anderson. I guarantee you if you ever enjoyed one minute of an actual real, good sci-fi film or liked a real sci fi short story you will adore this. If you have a heart and are breathing you will enjoy this!

Lufo! Time to go! Better luck next universe!

(The Looking Planet is in some ways a meditation on the special relationship between the earth and moon and where that may have come from).

 

Will Authors Hang Separately?

At the signing of the American Declaration of Independence, Ben Franklin famously said, “We must all hang together, or we most assuredly will all hang separately.”

benfranklinjohnadamsgifIt’s like that for writers these days.

In nearly every area, people have figured out how to make money off the creativity of others. I just reviewed the education app Nearpod this morning. It is primarily aimed at K-12 teachers and classrooms. While very interesting in terms of providing a tool for interactive classroom content (especially for tablet-enabled classrooms – it is mobile oriented), I was little surprised to learn that the “App” requests teachers who have made their own Common Core-friendly lessons to apply to be “authors” who will be able to sell their lessons to other teachers at prices ranging from $2.99 for a single lesson to $40 and $50 for “bundled lessons.”

The time and effort to make a decent Nearpad interactive lesson (the app’s beauty is it allows teachers to pace the lesson and break it up with assessments – quizzes, questions, etc.) is far in excess of being paid a few dollars here and there, most certainly what the Nearpad people would offer for the “lucky” teachers “selected” to be “Nearpad Authors.” There are a few such authors featured on the service. There are many more professional “educational content” companies listed. These in turn pay the people who make their lessons as little as possible, usually piece rates for “work for hire,” while making huge amounts of money from it.

We turn to “self-publishing” where authors are encouraged to make their own money and told it’s the “new frontier” enabling them to have creative and financial freedom.

The reality is, there is less freedom than ever. As to financial freedom, the small numbers who are making good money right now … or at least purported “experts” like Jane Friedman (who make money from aspiring writers and conferences and fees) … appear blissfully unaware of the writing on the wall.

writing on the wall

Search engines are going local. Mobile advertising and customer contact is going local and device-specific. Because retail stores aren’t going away. People will probably *never* buy everything online and after more than a decade of every algorithm known to man developed in the absence of direct human contact …

What any real salesperson will tell you is: you can guess about the customer but you won’t know until you talk to them in person.

Which authors other than James Patterson and J.K. Rowling are going to be able to afford targeted mobile ads? Everyone who was previously successful in self-publishing has gone for a traditional publishing contract if possible.

Why would that be so?

Because if we do not hang together, we will most assuredly, hang separately. They have some type of partnership with their publishers.

Yes, that is the future. It was the past – it was exploitive. It broke down. Now authors are being exploited individually.

Of course there’s a better way. But it sure as he** is not going to come from “subject matter experts,” “book formatting experts” or “author assistants.”

I have been a professional writer since 1996. I have worked in nearly every aspect of the publishing industry, from educational to trade fiction to magazines, and every conceivable type of online “content.” I’ve also worked as an executive in the nonprofit world, with government, foundation and private funders and a huge range of projects, and as a business development professional, with over 160 businesses. And, I’m a college teacher.

Writers, by far, have the least ability to work together to benefit each other of any group I have ever worked with. They are at present, hanging on every word of gurus that promise riches and hanging separately.

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Uparshin.

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maui high school robotics room

Grief, Joy and Pride, all Mixed Together-Like

Gee whiz, shouldn’t that headline be “12 Ways Irving, TX High School Failed Ahmed Mohamed”?

Or, “Texas School Officials Apply Racial Profiling to Young Inventor.”

So, here is the Stillwater High robotics room in Minnesota.

stillwater hs robotics room

With all the boxes, circuit boards, backpacks, power sources and without a doubt, beeping stuff in there, the mentality that handcuffed and arrested Ahmed Mohamed in Irving, Texas would be calling in the Navy SEALS for support.

Here’s the robotics and engineering room at Maui High School:

maui high school robotics roomSo I’ve been looking at these fantastic projects and schools . . .

And I looked up what STEAM meant:

Adding “art and design” to “science, technology, engineering and math.”

I’m so proud of these students. Not just Ahmed, who is so praiseworthy, but also all the other hard-working, gifted young students learning and building and making. My heart is filled with joy to see how creative their educational experiences are.

By the way – is it possible for them to MAKE these things in isolation? Via some sort of remote, mobile app?

I have news for Peter Diamandis and the educational “Learning Management System” providers I’ve recently been in contact with: Learning isn’t “knowledge transfer.” It occurs by doing. How this can somehow be separated from personal interaction for things we actually make and do — is beyond me. Moving little pictures around on an app or watching someone build a robot is NOT the same as building one.

In order to learn how to write anything coherent that communicates, one must first read many different things, and must also follow all the steps in the writing process. They are more than just “in the absence of anything else, just write.”

But grief: I am not sorry for Ahmed Mohamed and his family. Their troubles have turned into what must certainly be a blessing. The horrible incident in Texas is paying off in plenty of education and awareness for others. I hope many teachers see this and realize the trap of unconscious (or conscious) racism, racial profiling, bias — and just plain being behind the times. I put those pictures of our young bomb-makers to show just how out of touch anyone at that school would be to see Ahmed’s clock project as a bomb. Also to show how irresponsible his engineering teacher was, to not help him present his project to the class — instead of telling him to hide it and not show others.

No, I’m grieving because when I was in third grade, somebody gave a chemistry set to our elementary school. It didn’t have enough supplies or equipment to outfit an entire class. It was really just enough for 2-3 students to use at a time. And of all the kids at the school, they gave the chemistry set to me. They put it in an unused room next to the library, told me to go one period a day and figure out experiments. I was even put in charge of inviting kids to do experiments with me. Of course I asked my friends to come along. I’m sure I left plenty of kids out that I should have asked. I was by myself the day I almost set the school on fire.

The best thing I did out of that set was grow hydroponic vegetables that were in the school office for at least two years. The worst? Almost setting the school on fire by setting parts of my lunch on fire.

Yes, back in the day, they let a 3rd grader play unsupervised with a Bunsen burner.

So, by the time I got to high school, I failed Chemistry. I was assigned a lab partner who referred to me as “Stupid American Girl” and who didn’t get what we were supposed to be doing. He didn’t believe in lab notes. I didn’t know how to stand up to him so I went along with his cockamamie schemes. We failed together.

So it just kind of breaks my heart to see these young women making things and building things.

My option was to paint and write. I did it, and I have made a lot of things.

But for me: I wouldn’t have been able to make something like Ahmed. Not after third grade or so. That was when it became uncool for girls to be interested in things like that. Girls needed to be interested in sewing, cooking, fashion, home decorating. It was suspicious even that I liked to read — not to mention the stuff I *did* read.

Yeah well, so I’m feeling sorry for myself.

I do wish this could have been me.

ahmed-robotics

So, if you are an English teacher, familiarize yourself a little with robotics and engineering courses today. Go visit the robotics club or engineering classroom. Learn to recognize circuit boards, power sources and other commonly-used components. Educate yourself on things like Arduino chips.

Look into 3-D printing. See what can be made in addition to the endlessly-shown dumba** with the 3-D printed rifle. Most recently, it’s been Hershey’s chocolate. One of the experts in it thinks the biggest long-term use will be 3-D printed food.

I think my job is to bridge the gap between the generations. Those who came before, and those who will come after.

Yesterday I got into it with a gender-biased guy who thinks there’s nothing wrong with himself. Many of my friends continue to search for valid reasons why Ahmed was treated so poorly at his Texas high school. I’m sorry to say, there are no good or valid reasons, any more than it was right for my high school chemistry teacher to partner me with a failing student because he was sure I’d fail, too and furthermore it didn’t matter. It wasn’t any more right for one of our high school counselors to tell my friend to go to our local community college and “get her Mrs. degree.”

It’s like some of my recent interchanges with the “Learning Management System” people (Canvas, Blackboard, D2L, Fedora, etc.) Just as Peter Diamandis thinks that mobile technology will somehow make people learn (like … the existence of books makes people learn?) and negate the need for classrooms and teachers, these folks think that the ability to put a handout online, include a powerpoint, and have papers turned in via computer (or mobile device – hey!) constitutes improvement in learning. Without the human connection, testing and feedback: no. It doesn’t.

That’s a woman’s opinion. Because of how school was when I grew up – even with the opportunities I was given – I didn’t get the chance to build these things. And that makes me sad.

 

 

How Will The World End? Is There a Clue From The Easter Island Heads? They Also Have Bodies!

Did you know? The Easter Island heads have giant bodies that are buried below the surface!

AH2B07The end of the world came sooner for the Rapa Nui (Easter Island) people than for the rest of us.

While people remain on the island today, all the trees of this once-tropical paradise are gone, and the secrets of making the giant statues are forgotten. This rare picture shows the size of the head compared to the buried body.

easter island head bodyThere are more mysteries on earth than we can possibly imagine!

I am often inspired by one of my favorite media personalities, Giorgio Tsoukalos. Giorgio’s open mind helps us to see many possibilities that we otherwise would not consider.

Aliens may very well have started the human race down the path of civilization. They may also have been a source of much ancient knowledge that has been forgotten today. From the ancient Mayans to the Easter Island Rapa Nui people to the ancient Greeks and Romans, many have predicted the end of the world or apocalypse.

Hundreds of predictions have not come to pass, but here are some of the threats coming up soon:

“There is an asteroid with our name on it,” British television astrophysicist Brian Cox told the Daily Mail. tv astrophysicist brian coxAn asteroid nearly impacted the earth in 2014. We almost died in a cataclysm similar to the one that destroyed the dinosaurs.

But, we didn’t.

Now, as many as six world-shattering asteroids could be headed our way, with reported impacts predicted for the days between coming between September 21 and 28 … less than a month from now!

The “Blood Moon Prophecy” originated with Rev. Efrain Rodriguez. Additional pastors, including the Revs. Mark Blitz and John Hagee, have told their followings of tens of thousands that the fourth “Blood Moon” this year will herald the arrival of a giant asteroid. This monster-sized rock the size of a city block, is supposed to hit the earth near Puerto Rico, causing a 300-foot tsunami, vaporization of Puerto Rico and surrounding areas, and a magnitude-12 earthquake.

jumbo jet sized asteroid

Asteroids “bigger than a jumbo jet” come close to earth on a monthly basis, according to NASA, which regularly updates the public on near-misses.

And guess what?

By anywhere from 1 to 2 billion years from now, the earth will for certain be burned to a cinder due to the inevitable expansion of our Sun. Some experts now predict that the end may come even sooner than that — as soon as 100 years from now. According to Reuters, children born today may live to see humanity’s end as a result of global warming above 2C.

Just in case …

You can read up on all of these doomsday scenarios and more!

For $15, you can get a bunch of classic disaster novels from StoryBundle, and donate to the Challenger Center for Science Education! Featuring FIRE by Alan Rodgers (there are some nuclear challenges in the book, but mostly a horrible virus that brings the dead back to life — including meat in freezers! — is on the rampage) and great books by Kevin J. Anderson, David Sakmyster, Laura Anne Gilman and more! If you have never heard of StoryBundle, check it out! You can get top-quality, best-selling books for a single low price, you can name your own price as well, and let them know how much of the proceeds you would like to go to the author, to StoryBundle, and to a designated charity!