Gone Fishing

Hey everyone –

Here’s the deal. I just put a busy-as-hell week behind me. I’ve got another one ahead. And things are likely to return to something resembling normalcy after that, but right now…I’m exhausted. Physically, mentally, emotionally. That last post, especially, took a lot out of me. That’s not a place I like going back to, and it always takes its toll. I could try to force some posts out, and I do have a few ideas…but I want to get this stuff right. I don’t want to post something I can’t be at least a little proud of. And I don’t want to keep letting my schedule slip the way it has been lately.

So I’m taking the week. I’m going to spend a little time on my mental health. I’m going to focus on writing the next couple chapters of Fall. I’m going to recharge my batteries, and I’m going to come back fresh.

See you in a week. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

– Cass

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On Bullying

TRIGGER WARNING: violence, bullying, suicide.

There will be no Fangirl Fridays post this week. I was hoping to write one – albeit a delayed edition – but, frankly, I’m not in the mood. I don’t want to half-ass it, and I don’t want it to draw attention from what I have to say now. I just had a brief conversation on Twitter that got me thinking about some old demons, and while the conversation really wasn’t at all contentious, it still put me back in a very dark, painful place. I’ve literally spent the last hour in tears, and I need to get this out. I don’t know if my words on this subject are all that important. I doubt I’m saying anything that hasn’t been said before. Still: the spirit has moved me, and so I speak.

There’s been a lot of talk about bullying lately. The Weinstein Company’s Bully is, of course, in theaters: unrated, because the MPAA is full of cowards and moral guardians who chose to rate a vitally important, socially relevant documentary R for their own inexplicable reasons. (I confess that I have not seen Bully myself yet, and I probably won’t until it’s on DVD/Netflix. I don’t trust myself to control my emotional reaction to the film. I’d rather watch it in a safe space.) After a wave of teen suicides, the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota has finally revised a policy that blatantly required teachers to withhold support from GLBT students even in the face of horrific bullying. Sadly, the trend of teen suicide, particularly among GLBT youth, continues unabated despite such efforts toward change, with Jack Reese of Utah joining the too-long list of the dead just last week. Bullies and bullying are everywhere, and at long last, we are beginning to recognize the problem.

Hurrah.

Please forgive me my cynicism. Please forgive the snarky sci-fi nerd that has nothing to say to this but “All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.” Forgive the sarcastic ass who can’t get over all the suffering and pain and death she has seen as a result of bullying, and can’t quite believe that anything is actually going to change this time. Because I have seen schools try to address the problem of bullying. I have seen them bust out mediation and role-playing and peer counseling and God knows what else. And maybe this is the outsider perspective talking, maybe the folks on the inside actually are seeing real change…but I don’t think so. I just see more empty promises waiting to be broken. I just see another false start that will never become a sustained movement. I just see the latest trend flashing across our radar, to be replaced the second the media grow bored.

Let me tell you a story.

From the age of eight, I was homeschooled. Before that, I was in a public school, and I was bullied. I say bullied. Let’s call it what it was: for two years, from my first day of kindergarten to my last day of second grade, I was emotionally and physically abused. You want to know what I learned in public school? I learned not to bring or share anything I truly liked, because the odds were good it would be stolen, vandalized, destroyed. I learned not to show any sign of weakness, because my classmates would gleefully exploit it just to see me cry or vomit again. I learned that my best friend could become my worst enemy in an instant, for no apparent reason. I learned not to trust classmates who wanted to ‘show me something’ because I would never like the result.

I learned that I could be beaten until scars formed on my back, and the teachers and administrators would do nothing to protect me.

In fact, I was blamed for all of this. I needed to break out of the ‘victim mentality,’ they said. I needed to stop being weird. I needed to stop playing crazy games of pretend. I needed to stop spending my time on the playground with kids a grade or two behind me – younger children, by that point, being the only ones I could trust not to hurt me. I needed to stop playing with the girls and start playing with the boys. I needed to learn to defend myself.

My parents asked the principal, out of idle curiosity, what would happen if I used violence to defend myself from violence. They were told I would be expelled, of course. The same teachers and administrators who turned a blind eye to my being beaten, who took no action against the students responsible for any of the treatment I faced, would expel me in a heartbeat if I threw so much as a single punch.

I did not understand the politics in play then, but I do now: I was assigned male at birth. The school saw a little boy who preferred the company of girls, who liked Rainbow Brite and dolls and playing pretend, who wished (though I did not then realize that anyone could tell) in the dark of night to be like all the other girls, and they panicked. At best, I was a freak. At worst, I was a mob scene waiting to happen. Add that to this: I was WAY ahead of my classmates, and my parents were agitating for me to be skipped a grade, or placed in a gifted and talented program, because I was terminally bored by my classes and it was beginning to show. The school did not take kindly to them rocking the boat. I was a crooked nail to be hammered down until I didn’t stick out anymore. The bullying was just another tool in their toolbox.

I was fortunate in that I had a truly ferocious mother. When I was beaten within an inch of my life – when I was left scarred and bleeding and broken in body and soul – she marched me down to the home of the boy who’d done it and showed his grandfather my wounds. Said boy was grounded. Said boy later snuck out and came to my neighborhood to see his friends there. That was one of the most terrifying experiences in my life. I have never since put so much effort into being invisible.

What did I learn at school? I learned that adults, even with the best of intentions, cannot always protect you. I learned that too many adults won’t even try.

Eventually, when it became clear that the teachers and administrators would continue to sit on their hands, to watch and wait and secretly hope that my suffering would mold me into the good little robot they wanted, my mother pulled me out of there altogether. That was not the end to my suffering. I’m not sure there was ever really an end to it. But the pain was eased. I was protected. I was loved. I made friends. Slowly, cautiously, I let myself become visible. But even now, my danger sense is too powerful for my own good. Even now, I find myself shrinking away at times, trying to avoid being noticed. I often find myself wishing I was smaller, and I tell myself it’s because it’s hard to find pants that actually cover my whole leg, or shoes that fit right, or what have you, but the honest truth is that it would be so much easier to hide myself if I was just smaller.

People have called me brave, even fearless, for being who I am. I think my closest friends know better by now. For the rest of you, let me make this clear: I am not brave. I chose to become myself because the alternative was taking my own life. I have thought and still think about ending it all too many times to count. I attempted suicide when I was twelve years old, and survived not because anyone found me, but because I chose a rather silly method (if I can call it that) which did not work and did not result in permanent damage. I will grapple with these demons for the rest of my life. I will never be safe, and I will never be fearless. I could have been another name on that long, long, far too long list of children who saw no other choices. I will do my level best not to join that company, but there’s still time on the clock.

I can’t lay my depression entirely at the feet of those who abused me. Odds are good that at least some of it was genetic. But the seeds of my depression, and my gender dysphoria, were planted together in fertile soil. They were watered and tended by people who wanted to do me harm. And I didn’t understand. And I still don’t understand. Didn’t these people have parents who taught them better? Couldn’t they see the pain they were causing? Didn’t they care? I was taught from such a young age to show the world kindness, to be gentle with others, to use what power I had to make the world better. What went wrong? Why did no one else learn that?

I like to think that I have grown up and moved on. And it’s true that I don’t think about what happened to me most of the time. It’s true that, sometimes, I can look back on it all with clinical detachment. I can wonder, idly, what happened to the people who abused me, and to the people who were complicit in my abuse. I can wonder if they ever changed, or if they just became grown-up bullies. I can wonder what happened in the past to make them the way they were – if the boy who beat me was also a victim, caught up in the cycle of abuse. I can wonder what they would think of me now, and I can accept that many of them would probably still think I’m a freak.

But there is a dark, lonely corner of my soul where a scared, broken child still huddles, arms wrapped around her knees. Her clothing is torn and her back is covered in bloody scars, and she will not stop crying to herself. She doesn’t understand why the world wants to cause her pain. She doesn’t understand why she can’t just play Barbies with the other girls, why she can’t be grossed out by bugs and spit and blood, why she can’t even cry without being mocked. She doesn’t understand why people would want to hurt her for those things. She doesn’t understand why her kindness and gentleness isn’t enough. She just wants to be liked. She just wants to be herself. She just wants to be left alone.

That is what bullying has made me. That is what it has left in the core of my being: a broken little girl, crying to herself forever.

You can say I should move on. You can say it was just kid stuff. You can say I should let go of my pain. And I’ll say fuck you. My pain is not a choice. God, I wish it were. I wish it was something I could shut off and never have to deal with again, because I hate going back to that place. But I have been forever altered by those experiences. I will never forget them. And sometimes, in my darkest hours, I will be dragged back, kicking and screaming, and forced to live it all over again.

So I see these kids dying, and I think about how easy it would have been for me to join them. I see teachers and administrators and lawmakers making promises, and I wondered why they never even tried making those promises to me, and I wonder what happened to the last round of promises they made. I see history repeating, and it makes me sick to my stomach, and it makes me angry as hell, and somewhere deep inside me, I hear a little girl wailing.

I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know if there’s any one answer. But I know this: we need to start by refusing to turn our backs on any child in pain. We need to stop blaming the victims of bullying. We need to see ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘children are cruel’ as the bullshit it is, and REFUSE to take those excuses. We need to stop tying the hands of teachers who just want to reach out to children who are suffering for who they are. We need to stop trying to mold children into one specific form and start embracing diversity. We need to do so many things, but above all else, we need to stand up and say no and MEAN IT, now and forever.

Humanity is broken, on every conceivable level, and we have spent too many years passing our failures, our demons, our pain on to our children. We have the capacity for change. For all my cynicism, for all my doubt, I do believe that. But we need to commit to the cause.

Please don’t forget that this time. Please don’t let all those children, all that suffering, be washed away and pushed out of sight by the next big thing. This shining moment of awareness will mean nothing if we can’t follow through on it.

I can never forget what happened to me. I have too many brothers and sisters in the same boat. Those of you who can make that choice: choose to remember. And choose to make the world better. Please.

Writing Wednesdays: The Evolution of Fall, Chapter One

Earlier this week, I posted the first chapter of Fall. If you haven’t read it yet, I urge you to go and do so before you continue – this week’s Writing Wednesdays post is all about the evolution of that chapter, so it’s not likely to make much sense to you otherwise.

At this point, Chapter One has been through approximately four and a half drafts. The half-draft is my original handwritten version, which I never managed to finish. At the time, I actually wasn’t entirely sure where the story was going, so I didn’t really know how the chapter should end. Sadly (or perhaps fortunately), that draft was written before I moved last year, and the notebook containing it is still buried in the bottom of a box which is buried beneath a pile of boxes deep in the wilds of the junk room. So I don’t remember a lot of specific details. I do recall that I was still using the characters’ original names at that point, so Kira was Aisling, and Bree was Siobhan, among other things. I also recall that the story did not start with Bree’s dream. In fact, I hadn’t yet hit on the idea of giving her strange, prophetic dreams at all. That only emerged as Bree’s story expanded beyond her romance with Maddie, and I decided…

Well. That would be telling. In the words of River Song, spoilers.

Anyway, that early draft actually begins with Bree/Siobhan already on campus, heading to class with her sister. Kira/Aisling doesn’t have much of a part in that draft at all – Siobhan complains a bit about how perfect (and evil) her sister is, but Aisling runs off pretty quickly, and then Siobhan literally bumps into Maddie, who reacts to her meeting with one of the daoine sidhe with rather more fear and distaste. I had the basic idea of who Maddie was in my head, but I hadn’t yet thought through what that meant.

Really, the point of that very first draft was to get myself to start writing this story. In that, it succeeded. But I hadn’t done a lot of the groundwork, and it shows. In fact, as I recall, I hadn’t yet explored the world of the Fair in full, so at that point in time, I was just writing about the daoine sidhe. I’m not even sure I’d brought Professor Gahan and his family into it yet.

You may be wondering why that initial draft was handwritten. That’s a habit of mine that I haven’t yet fully broken. I got my first laptop at eighteen. Before that, I was primarily using the family computer. Since I was, as you might guess, sharing that computer with my family, I only had a couple hours on it each day, and I didn’t want to waste that time pondering. So I’d write out my initial drafts on hand, then type them up when I got my turn on the computer and start making corrections and revisions from there. If I ended up throwing out the whole draft, I’d write the second one longhand as well, to save precious computer time. I still tend to do this on some projects – particularly when I’m running a tabletop RPG – even though I’ve had one laptop or another available to me for most of the past decade. Further, at the time I had an extremely long commute which involved a very lengthy bus ride, and I was nervous about bringing my laptop along. It seems silly to confess that now, as I am literally writing this during my 30-40 minute commute on the Red Line, but there you are.

I do have access to my first complete draft of Chapter One, though I had to go digging through my writing group’s archives to find it. Strangely, it seems I didn’t save a local copy. Actually, looking at it now, it doesn’t seem so strange – I’ve found myself wincing at several points. But I tend to hoard old files, sometimes to my detriment, so it’s still a little surprising that I didn’t keep this one.

With the first draft, the general shape of the chapter begins to emerge. All the characters have their proper names: Bree is Bree, Kira is Kira. Looking back, I see that I’d even settled on Deirdre as their mother’s name. There was a time when I was going with Gwynn, which ultimately became the name of Deirdre’s late mother. (You haven’t heard the story of Deirdre and Gwynn yet. You will.) That said, a lot of the details differ. Most notably, I hadn’t yet figured out Kira’s characterization. In the first complete draft, she was even more bratty and obnoxious than she is now. In fact, she initially woke Bree by dumping a bucket of ice water over her head. When I put this draft before my writing group, many of them pointed out that Kira seemed awfully immature for someone who was over a century old, and her relationship with Bree was not what they would expect from someone who was already grown when her little sister was born. In the course of that discussion, someone mentioned the idea of Kira seeing herself as a sort of surrogate mother to Bree, and I latched on to that. Kira still has moments of immaturity, but it’s all artifice. We see a little of her deeper nature in Chapter One, and we’ll see more as the story continues. Kira has motivations that go far beyond simple malice.

I was also describing Kira very differently – in fact, I was describing all the daoine sidhe of the Winter Court differently. In the first draft, they tended to be short and slight, and Bree, who stood at least a head above most of them, stuck out like a sore thumb. I ultimately decided to make them all a bit more like supermodels, and that meant upping their height significantly. They’re still slender and pale and coldly beautiful, and Bree, with her healthy farm girl glow, still sticks out like a sore thumb, but the differences are there nonetheless.

Speaking of the Winter Court, Bree’s first day of college was originally much colder – cold enough to make her put a nice thick sweater over her shirt and under her jacket. Here’s the thing about early September in New England: as a rule, summer hasn’t left yet. It’s hot and muggy and actually really unpleasant. So my writing group didn’t really buy that even the Winter Queen’s ambient magic would make the first day of college that cold. In the end, I decided that there was no real point in keeping that detail if it broke the reader out of the story, so I toned down the temperature difference a bit. Crowshead still has an unusually cool climate for Massachusetts, but it’s no longer freezing while the rest of the state is still sweltering.

Crowshead wasn’t Crowshead, of course. I’ve talked about that before – it was originally Tara, which was taken as an allusion to Gone With The Wind rather than the reference to Irish history and mythology it was meant to be. In fact, the town wasn’t even in the same place in that first draft: I originally placed it in central Massachusetts, and Greymont College was actually Greyvale instead. When I was pondering new names for the town, I hit on Cape Clear, came up with some really fantastic visuals for the Winter Queen’s palace (which you’ll see for the first time in Chapter Two), and moved the whole thing to the coast. My writing group didn’t like Cape Clear, either, so I did some research into the history of my home state, looked at the names of some other coastal towns, and finally came up with Crowshead. The name Greyvale wasn’t really working for me at that point, so I changed it to Greymount, which ultimately became Greymont.

Last but far from least, the dream was much shorter, and there wasn’t a single detail in it to indicate Maddie’s possible presence. Someone still grabbed Bree at the end of her dance with the handsome boy from the dream, but I didn’t really describe that someone at all, and my writing group actually wasn’t sure it was meant to be a separate person at all! So I tried to make that clearer in later drafts. Hopefully I’ve succeeded.

So the second complete draft introduced Kira’s new personality, Maddie’s hand, the coastal town of Cape Clear, and Greymount College. One thing it didn’t introduce: Bree’s magic. The fourth draft is the first version of Chapter One in which she actually uses any magic at all. Bree doesn’t rely too heavily on her magic – certainly she doesn’t use it as freely as Kira does – but yes, she has power, she is willing and able to use it, and she uses more of it in Chapter Two. Originally, however, she didn’t use it at all until that chapter. And yet she still noticed fine details like Maddie’s hand and the bracelet around her wrist from a good twenty or thirty or forty feet away. This was something else my group called me on. I had originally thought that the daoine sidhe simply had better-than-human sight, but my fellow writers pointed out that it was very difficult to consistently and convincingly write a character with superhuman powers of perception, particularly if those powers were constantly active, and I ultimately decided that Bree would have to make a conscious effort to see so clearly across such a great distance.

The third complete draft really didn’t differ much from the second at all. At the time, I was actually submitting the first chapter of Fall (along with some other pieces) as a writing sample for a job that didn’t end up panning out, so the third draft was mostly cleanup. I changed Cape Clear to Crowshead, and I believe I made one or two other adjustments, but most of the major changes, such as they are, came with the fourth draft.

And that brings us to the present. Major changes in this draft: Greymount officially became Greymont, I added some more details to the dream, and I tweaked Bree’s conversation with Maddie as well as the scene between Bree, Maddie and Kira. I also, notably, changed Dougal’s name. It had been Doyle, but my friend Katie pointed out that Doyle was the name of a prominent character from the Merry Gentry series, and while I’ve read the first book and my Doyle isn’t really at all like Laurell K. Hamilton’s Doyle, I still didn’t want to invite comparison. Both Doyle and Dougal are derived from the old-form version of his name, which is Dubhghall, and in fact Dougal has turned up more often as the modern form in my (admittedly sketchy) research so far, so after a bit of hemming and hawing, I finally made the switch.

As I said previously, this may not be the final form of the chapter. I may still make some tweaks, cut down on some of Bree’s ramblings, and generally clean things up a bit. But I’m confident in the general shape of it, and more than ready to move on. Truth be told, if I hadn’t decided to post the first chapter on the blog, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with another draft at all – at least not until I had the whole novel sitting in front of me, ready to be knitted into a coherent whole. I have much bigger dragons to slay: namely the second chapter (where I’m introducing a character who walked into the story three chapters late and demanded a place in the narrative) and the third (which has seen two completely different drafts so far and still isn’t quite right) and, well, every chapter afterward. Still, it did help a bit to look back at where I’ve been and come up with a new working copy. If nothing else, it got my head back in the game.

Onward.

If you like what you’ve just read, or if you’d like to see more of Fall, please consider donating to my summer pledge drive. For every $250 I receive before April 30, 2012, I will post either another chapter of Fall or a short piece set in the same universe. I’ve already received a little over one hundred dollars, meaning we’re less than $150 away from the first benchmark. The same deal applies for every $500 I receive after the end of the month: a chapter from the book, or a short story exploring Bree’s world in more depth. If you can’t personally donate, you can still help by spreading the word about the blog and the novel. The more readers and potential donors I reach, the better. Either way, though, thanks for reading.

Media Mondays: The Glee Is Gone

My friend Katie recently had a few things to say about Glee. Well, I say ‘recently,’ and I say ‘a few things,’ but I mean ‘three distinct posts over the course of as many months,’ so here, I’ll just link them allGlee happens to be one of the many interests we share: we were both seriously into it at the start, and we both started to loathe it at around the same time. And good Lord in Heaven, is there a lot to loathe. But, for me, it comes down to this:

In the last season, Glee has come to embody the concept of too little, too late.

Let’s be honest: this show was always a guilty pleasure. I had plenty of friends who rather justifiably proclaimed it terrible from the start. I thought it was cute and quirky and interesting, and I’ve always been a sucker for musicals. I knew it wasn’t without its problems, but I was willing to overlook those problems for a while. And the first season had a lot going for it. The show was basically a live-action cartoon, with outrageous plotlines and no real consequences for anyone’s actions, but at the same time, it tackled real teen problems in an emotionally authentic way. Sexuality. Teen pregnancy. Bullying. It wasn’t always perfect, particularly when it came to racial diversity and actual inclusion. There were plenty of genuinely idiotic moments. But at least they were trying. And the show was suffused with a sense of good cheer, good humor, and sheer joy that made up for a lot.

I don’t really know when that sense of joy started to fade away. I don’t know when I officially became sick of Glee’s bullshit. But I do know that this past season has been a long, joyless slog, and unless the writers pull a damned miracle out of their asses and truly, deeply impress me, I’m done. When this season is over, I’m saying goodbye to Glee.

Frankly, I’m not holding out much hope. The writers have had at least two golden opportunities to impress me this season, and they haven’t done it yet. I sincerely doubt they ever will.

This should have been an emotionally resonant moment. It was totally botched. And that's what you missed on Glee!

Case in point: the recent episode on bullying and suicide among gay teens. This has been a huge issue in the last year, and rightly so. Too many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens and college students are taking their own lives, unable to bear the grief they face day after day. I have struggled with depression my whole life. I have been in that place more times than I care to admit. I could have been one of those kids.

So it made me incredibly furious to see Glee tackle the issue in their all-too-typical hamfisted manner.

I can’t point to any one specific part of the episode and say ‘There. That. That’s where they fucked up!’ To be honest, it all felt wrong. The teen who actually attempted suicide – Dave Karofsky – was a fairly unsympathetic character who had been rather awkwardly reinserted into the show an episode or two before. We didn’t see enough of his story to know exactly what he was going through. The actual suicide attempt, and his father’s discovery of his unconscious body, were certainly difficult scenes to watch. But they weren’t as powerful as they could have been. And they were diminished further simply by being on this damn show. I spent the whole five minutes or so wondering how they were going to fuck things up this time. And boy howdy, they did not disappoint.

In the moments that followed, we had a tired old story from Mr. Schue about how he was once caught cheating on a test and thought about jumping off a roof, as well as a half-assed redemption on the part of a recurring character who had actually committed assault against one of the regulars not too long before and should have been in jail. (He didn’t go to jail because Glee is stupid and everyone on the show is carrying the idiot ball at this point. Also there was something about Michael Jackson in there. It’s all kind of blurred together into an enormous pile of awful.) We had a heavy-handed scene in the hospital with Kurt and Karofsky, I guess. To be honest, I’ve blocked that out too. And then we forgot all about it and moved on to the most boring Regionals competition ever shown on the program and the culmination of one of the most idiotic plotlines of the season (which is saying a lot): Finn and Rachel‘s wedding.

I don’t even know where to start. I really don’t. This episode could have been good. It should have been good. Most of the cast is incredibly talented, and they brought real, raw emotion to their reactions to Karofsky’s suicide attempt. But you know what? For one thing, you don’t take a subject like this and turn it into the B-plot in a three-ring circus clusterfuck of an episode. For another, no, Mr. Schue, your stupid teenage overreaction to getting caught cheating does not compare to what GLBT teens face every goddamned day in any way, shape or form. We couldn’t have heard from Kurt on this? Or Santana? Or one of Rachel’s dads, maybe? Someone who might actually have a story relevant to this plotline? Maybe an anecdote that wouldn’t break the emotional tension of these events like a safety pin stuck in a damned balloon?

But when it comes to ‘too little, too late,’ this last week’s episode takes the damn cake.

Sue Sylvester racing gleefully over the biggest damn line you ever did see.

In the last episode of Glee, we were introduced to Wade, a.k.a. Unique, a young trans woman on the verge of coming out, just about to come into her own. She also happened to be a member of Vocal Adrenaline – the chief rivals of Glee’s New Directions. When she came onto the campus to speak with Kurt and Mercedes, it looked like there was yet another confrontation between the rival glee clubs in the offing. Instead, she confessed her true identity and told them that she wanted to perform as a woman at Vocal Adrenaline’s next show. Kurt and Mercedes, sympathetic but fearing that she might be ridiculed, advised against it. Not the way I would have gone, but fine.

Then Sue Sylvester – Glee’s on-again, off-again antagonist – somehow caught wind of this. And that was when I started seeing red.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty sensitive when it comes to trans issues. I get twitchy when otherwise good shows suddenly introduce transgender characters. When it happens on a show like Glee, I get downright pissy. So many shows get the whole thing so horribly wrong, even when they have the best intentions. And I no longer trust the intentions – or the competence – of Glee’s writers or producers.

I’ll put up with a lot of crap. But when you start fucking around with my sisters and my brothers, with our stories and our experiences, when you start exploiting us for tawdry drama or cheap laughs, my fuse gets very, very, very short.

And Sue Sylvester strolled right on in with a lit match. Because her reaction to this latest product of McKinley High’s rumor mill was not to commend Kurt and Mercedes on their kindness and discretion, or to tell them they should have encouraged Unique instead of shutting them down. Well…actually, it was sort of the latter. But for all the wrong reasons. Sue heard the story and thought this was the perfect opportunity to take down Vocal Adrenaline. The audience would see a teenage boy on stage in a dress and heels and the whole club would be humiliated. She even bought some ridiculously high-heeled shoes for them to give to Unique. And Kurt and Mercedes, though obviously reluctant, agreed to pass along the shoes and the message.

Let me tell you all a story. When I was 19 years old, during my freshman year of college, I came out to my friends and family. I finally admitted to everyone I loved that I felt like a woman inside, and I always had. I was supremely lucky: most of them accepted me for who I was. When I went home for the holidays, my parents helped me shop for everything I would need to assume my true identity, to become the person I had always been inside. We set up appointments with therapists and worked to get me on hormones. And then, the following February, I went with my school’s GSA to the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference…and I went out in public as a woman for the very first time. I spent the whole weekend simply being myself. And when I came back, I realized that I couldn’t go back to living a lie. Within a week, I was living as a woman full-time.

I don’t think that would have happened if there’d been a Sue Sylvester waiting in the wings to turn my first experience in public as the person I truly was into some kind of Carrie moment. I’m not sure I’d be alive today if something like that had happened. That first experience at MBLGTACC gave me the strength I needed for everything that came afterward. That strength sometimes faltered, but it did not fail, because it was built on a strong foundation. If that foundation had been undermined from the very beginning…I really don’t know what would have happened.

Unique puts on her boogie shoes.

So when Sue proposed that bullshit, and Kurt and Mercedes went along with them, it truly damned them all in my eyes. No one deserves that kind of treatment. And Sue knows that, damn it! The whole plotline was inconsistent characterization at its worst. Sue’s a bully, but she has shown in the past that there are lines even she won’t cross. The victimization of GLBT youth was supposedly one of them, as evidenced by her decision to resign rather than reverse her decision to expel Karofsky for bullying Kurt and threatening him with assault and murder. Of course, that’s gone out the window before. But she’s never gone this far. It was clumsy writing, clumsy plotting, and unacceptable behavior on the part of several major characters.

If it had ended badly for Unique, I probably would have stopped watching here and there. I would never have forgiven the characters, and to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have forgiven the actors involved for letting their characters go that far. In the end, Kurt and Mercedes did have second thoughts. They ultimately went backstage at the Vocal Adrenaline concert to try and warn Unique about Sue’s plans. And that was when Unique showed us all the kind of person she was – because she refused to abandon her plans. She refused to lie about who she was any longer. She put on her boogie shoes and she went out there in all her glory. And it was glorious. For a moment – just a moment – I saw everything I used to love about Glee come rushing back.

But one good moment doesn’t make up for a season or more of absolute shit. I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t. I have been waiting for this moment since this show came on the air. And now that they finally have a trans character on the show – a strong, confident, talented trans woman of color, at that – I find that this victory, if you can call it that, tastes like ashes. I adore Unique, but she doesn’t redeem Glee. I’m not happy that the show is doing this. I’m furious that they’re doing it now. That one of the best trans characters on television is on a show that has long since become a complete train wreck.

Plenty of organizations like GLAAD are celebrating tonight, overjoyed at seeing a character like Unique on television. But I just can’t join the chorus. I’m just not feeling it. The joy is gone, and it won’t come back. I really do wish the show’s entire cast nothing but the best. Many of them are amazingly talented, and they deserve nothing but the best. But as for the show itself, and all its latest attempts to recapture its former glory?

Too little, too late, Glee. Too little, too late.

If you like what you’ve just read, please consider donating to my summer pledge drive. If you can’t donate yourself, but you’d still like to help, please spread the word about the blog and about the pledge drive itself. The more readers and potential supporters I pick up, the better.

Fall, Chapter One

Today I’m offering up the first chapter of my work in progress, Fall, as it currently stands. The details are likely to change, and I’ll probably adjust or outright delete some of it as the manuscript approaches its final form, but at this point in time, I’m pretty sure I’m close to the final version. In this chapter, you get to meet Bree, Maddie and Kira, and you learn a little bit about Bree’s world. Chapter Two expands on those details and brings us all the way into the heart of the Winter Court itself. But that’s a story for another day.

If you’d like to see more, I’d urge you to donate to my summer pledge drive. For every $250 I collect before April 30th, 2012, I will post either another chapter of Fall – up to half the novel, in theory – or a short piece set in the same world. After April 30th, I’ll do the same each time I collect another $500 total. If you can’t donate yourself, but you want to help, or you just like the chapter and want to see more, then please tell your friends. The more potential supporters I can bring in, the better.

I hope you all enjoy this first look at Fall.

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Fangirl Fridays: Tali’Zorah vas Normandy

After time adrift among open stars
Among tides of light and to shoals of dust
I will return to where I began.

The story of the quarians as presented in the original Mass Effect will likely be a familiar ones to fans of the Battlestar Galactica reboot: betrayed by their creations, the robotic geth, they were driven from their homeworld, forced to drift through the galaxy in a ragtag fleet. Oh, sure, there are some key differences – the geth aren’t actively pursuing the quarians, for one, and the Mass Effect galaxy is full of sentient life, so though most other species distrust and mistreat the quarians, there are still opportunities for trade and diplomatic relations. But you might be forgiven for thinking of the quarians as rather derivative, at least as first. As their story unfolds, however, particularly in the subsequent games, we see how complex their history truly is, particularly where the geth are concerned. We come to understand their complicity in truly heinous acts that ultimately led to their exile and near extinction. And, depending on how you play it, we see the quarians as a people step into a bold new future.

None of it would mean a thing if it wasn’t for Tali’Zorah vas Normandy. Though she is ultimately joined by other voices, we first hear the story of her people in her words. When new information comes to light, it is her perspective that illuminates the actions and reactions of the quarian race. And it is her presence on the crew of the SSV Normandy that makes us care. Because during her time with Shepard and the rest of the team, she becomes crew. If you put in the time and effort, she becomes more than that. She becomes family – a fact that both she and Shepard will readily acknowledge.

Quick, careful, and lucky.

When we first meet Tali’Zorah, she’s Tali’Zorah nar Rayya, a somewhat disreputable young woman (solely by virtue of being a quarian apart from the fleet) on her Pilgrimage – a rite of passage all young quarians must undertake in order to prove their worth to the Flotilla and attain adult status in their society. Her information is literally vital to unlocking the next chapters of the story. You can skip meeting Garrus or Wrex if you like, but if you fail to recruit Tali to your cause, that cause is lost.

She’s more than just a key to the rest of the story, though. You may not see that if you don’t put in the effort – you can find her in Main Engineering whenever you feel like talking, but if you don’t go down there, she won’t seek you out. Those conversations are honestly one of the best parts of the game. Through those long talks in Engineering, you begin to see Tali as a whole person: nervous, shy, geeky, unaccustomed to dealing with outsiders, but nevertheless brilliant and caring. Truly, profoundly dedicated to her people, but also devoted to the well-being of everyone in the galaxy, and increasingly loyal to Shepard personally. Occasionally sarcastic, sometimes even witty, with a sly, subtle sense of humor. Every time I play this game – no matter how I’m playing Shepard – I can’t help seeing her as a surrogate little sister, imagining Shep taking Tali under her wing. Maybe that’s just my overactive imagination talking, but I don’t think so. You instinctively want to protect Tali, and more than that, to help her thrive – to shepherd her (pun definitely intended) to her ultimate, glorious destiny.

Tali'Zorah vas Normandy in all her glory.

And what a destiny it is. When we see Tali again in Mass Effect 2, she has returned to the Flotilla, becoming Tali’Zorah vas Neema, a leader among her people. Her team roams the galaxy, ranging far from the rest of the fleet, chasing down missing quarians and elusive scientific data. In fact, to some extent, you might see her as the quarians’ answer to Commander Shepard. She’s an investigator, a troubleshooter, and a staunch defender of her people. Even so, when her immediate duties are fulfilled and the opportunity arises, she readily signs on with Shepard again, rejoining the crew of the Normandy on their mission to save the galaxy…again. This earns her a certain amount of scorn among her own people, some of whom are only too eager to brand her Tali’Zorah vas Normandy – a small but definite mark of shame tied in with fleet politics and the fallout from certain events on the Flotilla. Tali, however, refuses to treat the label as such. Instead, she embraces the name, keeping it even after her path leads her away from the Normandy again and wearing it with pride. Though she loves her people, and would literally lay down her life for them, it is clear that she loves Shepard and the rest of the Normandy crew as well, and looks back fondly on her time with them.

And yet, despite her increasing importance to her people, her evolving and expanding role in the Flotilla, and the confidence and grace that come to her with maturity, she remains humble, open-minded and, yes, occasionally awkward and geeky. One of the sweetest moments in the second game comes when she tells Shepard that she’d gladly join their suit environments if she could – a gesture of intimacy (not necessarily sexual intimacy, but simply the intimacy that comes with any close relationship) among the quarians, whose already-weak immune systems have degraded in exile to the point where they must wear isolation suits at all times – and, predictably, stammers and stumbles over the explanation as the implications occur to her, her blush nearly bright enough to be seen through her helmet. In the third game, she speaks openly with Shepard about her fears and doubts – above all else, her ability to live up to the trust her people have placed in her and to fulfill the duties that come with her role as a leader. And as new information comes to light regarding the quarians and the geth, she adapts to it. It’s not always easy for her, but she’s willing to change her mind. And in the end, depending on Shepard’s actions and the conversations she and Tali have had, Tali’s willingness to change her mind can potentially lead to a new and glorious destiny for all quarians. For all her doubts, for all her fears, for all her insecurity, her power and influence are undeniable, as is the responsibility she takes for her choices every time she exercises that power.

May 30th. Check your local comic book shop.

Idealistic, brilliant, nervous, geeky, sarcastic, funny, sweet, loyal, stubborn, kind and forgiving, Tali is one of the Mass Effect franchise’s most fully realized and sympathetic characters. It’s no wonder that she’s attracted a pretty huge following, and that the quarians in general are widely beloved among Mass Effect fans. It’s unsurprising that fans clamored for the opportunity to romance her (which they got in the second game – at least if they were playing a male Shepard) and that they’re still hungry for more. They’ll soon get it: Mass Effect: Homeworlds #2, out next month from Dark Horse Comics, will give us a glimpse into Tali’s adventures before she met Shepard. Hopefully there will be many more such stories to come, filling in the gaps between her meetings with Shepard in each game, and expanding on the vital work she performed for the Flotilla. I don’t think any of us are quite ready for her story to be over. There’s so much more to tell.

Keelah se’lai.

If you like what you’ve just read, please consider donating to my summer pledge drive. If you can’t donate yourself, but you’d still like to help, please spread the word about the blog and about the pledge drive itself. The more readers and potential supporters I pick up, the better.

Writing Wednesdays: Write Now. RIGHT NOW!

As a rule, I don’t like to dish out advice that I haven’t followed. Now, it’s true that we all make mistakes, and we all learn from them, and sometimes that makes for fantastic advice…but if you keep making those mistakes, if you keep failing to take your own advice, that kind of makes you a hypocrite. So I’ll say this up front: when it comes to everything I’m about to say, yeah, I kind of feel like a hypocrite. I don’t think I’m particularly wrong about any of it, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve fallen short of my own standards here.

The secret to writing is this: you have to keep doing it.

You have to do it when you’re nursing a hangover from that party you went to the night before. You have to do it when the cat spent an ungodly hour yowling at your door, destroying the eight glorious hours of sleep you’d planned for yourself. You have to do it when you were at the office until an hour that doesn’t bear thinking about. You have to do it when the black cloud of depression is upon you. You have to do it when it’s a beautiful sunny day and you just want to spend it lying in the grass and you can’t take your laptop because the glare is just awful. You have to do it when you’re staring down writer’s block. It doesn’t matter what’s going on. If you want to actually make something of yourself as a writer, you have to stand up, put on your big girl pants, and then sit back down again and actually write.

If you wait for inspiration to strike, you will be waiting until wolves devour the sun and moon, King Arthur returns from Avalon, and the whole grand host of the sidhe comes riding down from Tir na nOg. Oh, I’m sure that some writers live in a land of milk and honey, where unicorns hand-deliver brilliant ideas on golden platters, outlines and settings and characters hand-written by their muses and sealed with big, wet, sloppy kisses. But the vast majority of us know that our muses are fickle, arbitrary jerks. That nothing comes without a price, and that price is the blood, sweat and tears we pour into turning that thin glimmer of inspiration into something full and vital and real. Writer’s block is not something that merely afflicts us, that comes for a season and drifts away on its own – it’s a dragon to be fought with everything we have, to be hacked at again and again until it thinks better of bothering us and goes back to its cave. And inspiration is not something that descends from on high: it is an elusive quarry, a stealthy beast that must be tracked and hunted and flushed out again and again.

So you have to carve out time to do the work. You have to take it wherever you can find it. And, once you’ve found that time, you have to set down your schedule and stick to it. Writing is work, and like any other work, it requires planning, and discipline, and routine. A lot of writers I know try to get an hour or two in every day. That’s a worthy goal. It’s a goal I’ve fallen short of more often than I care to admit, but it’s what I’m trying for. I do tend to get more work done on the weekends, but I try to get in at least an hour with Fall each day. In the last week, I’ve actually been taking my computer with me on the train – I have a solid forty-minute train ride between home and work each day, so even after I factor in booting up and shutting down, that’s thirty minutes coming and going, or an hour altogether. I don’t have Internet access on the train, and my iPod blasts my Fall-themed playlist straight into my ears the whole way, so distractions are minimized. I have to keep an eye on which station I’m actually pulling into, but I can manage that and still get a fair amount of writing done.

Even if you can’t actually put pen to paper – or fingers to keys – for some reason, you can still do the work. People were creating stories long before we had the luxury of computers, or typewriters, or ballpoint pens, or even movable type. If you really want to feel bad about yourself and all your excuses for not writing, take a look at the backstory behind The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a memoir composed entirely inside the author’s head and dictated to the outside world one letter at a time. I mean, I was in the hospital recently, as some of you may recall. I didn’t have it nearly that bad. I wasn’t nearly that dedicated to the work, either. Even so, I did spend my time in the hospital running through Fall in my head, and by the time I got out, I had a new character who filled in a lot of the gaps in the story. That playlist I mentioned? Well, on top of the 40-minute train ride, I have a 20-minute walk between the station and my house, and a 10-minute walk between the other station and my office. I keep the playlist running and I do my best to think about the book. Even when you’re not writing, you can be laying the foundation.

This isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. You’re not going to bang out a novel in a single sitting. Neither am I. You have to keep chipping away at it. You have to build up your stamina, find a routine that works for you, and stick to it. If you’re not writing regularly, you’ll never be anything but a wannabe. I don’t want to be a wannabe. Do you?

If you like what you’ve just read, please consider donating to my summer pledge drive. If you can’t donate yourself, but you’d still like to help, please spread the word about the blog and about the pledge drive itself. The more readers and potential supporters I pick up, the better.