Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Writing Excuses Marathon

I recently decided to go back and listen to all of the episodes of the Writing Excuses podcast. First, the background, then my analysis.

Background Info
Writing Excuses is a panel discussion on issues related to writing by Brandon Sanderson (fantasy), Howard Taylor (webcomics), Dan Wells (horror), and, starting in Season Six (iirc), Mary Robinette Kowal (fantasy, sf, and puppetry).

Each episode is about 15 minutes long and they frequently have other guests to discuss other issues. They do everything from live shows with random questions from the audience (most random question: "Would you like a bagel?") and very focused issue episodes: What is first-person narration? What is cyberpunk? How do you write a query letter?

I started listening sometime in Season Five, so this is my first time listening to some of the early episodes. And there's some roughness there which are smoothed out in later seasons; for instance, they first tried to hum "shilling" music when one of them was mentioning his own work. In later episodes, they more simply just explain how they did what they do, which is what we come for if we want to hear people with experience in the field.

There are many interesting episodes, but I don't know if I can suggest marathoning as I did to catch up. Rather, since there are 259 episodes, it's probably better to pick and choose and concentrate on those episodes that offer the most help for your particular issue at a particular time.

So, if you have trouble with structure, just go to the website and find episodes about structure. If you want some help with character, look at the character posts. (It's also very nice that a dedicated fan has been writing down transcripts of each episode, and his use of tags might be superior.) If you're interested in a career as a writer, Writing Excuses probably has something for you; and if you're just interested in one or two topics, it's relatively easy to dip in for an episode or two (though they do have running jokes and other callbacks, especially easy since they appear to record many episodes all at once).

Saturday, October 13, 2012

He said/He heard/He heard at the VP Debate 2012

After the VP Debate, I was incensed at a conservative tweet that characterized Biden's answer on abortion as evidence that he was a "shitty Catholic." I stupidly got into a conversation with this conservative, which helped clarify the difference here. Spoiler: the difference is that this person assumes the worst of liberals.

When Biden explained that he acts according to his religious belief but he doesn't force those beliefs on others, I heard a rousing call for religious tolerance, which, you know, is kind of a big deal in America.

What this conservative heard was something more like "I support eugenic genocide." Now, before I get accused of casting his argument in an absurd light, let me note that this is actually what he said on his blog:
The modern abortion debate is simply early 1900s eugenics tied up with a pretty bow labeled “woman’s rights.” Eugencis are all about rating humanity on an arbitrary scale of usefullness, and then manipulating it accordingly. (cite
Yup, "woman's rights" is just the pretty bow we use to hide our thirst for baby blood and a desire to weed out undesirables, which, in this case, is all babies ever. So, how do we have a political discussion over this?

In slight defense of this terrible argument by this conservative, I will say that he pivots quickly from "this is a religious belief" to "this is the scientific and moral truth." Of course, that has no bearing on the VP debate where the abortion issue was starkly cast in a Catholic frame, so it's a terrible argument on his part. But it does help clarify his POV, which is that abortion is a moral issue removed from religion. I do wonder who told him that fetuses were the moral equivalent of living women, but that's another issue.

Also, for comic genius, I can't beat a Romney supporter claiming that Biden is just being political expedient in his answer. Seriously: I cannot beat that for unintentional comedy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Andrew Sullivan's Gut Has Shit For Brains

Alternately titled: "Andrew Sullivan is not America."

Andrew Sullivan is a useful blogger to follow for a few things; quiet introspection is not one of them. If you follow Andrew (affectionately known as Sully), you saw his meltdown over the first presidential debate, with such carefully titled posts as "Does Obama Want Out?" and "Did Obama Just Throw The Entire Election Away?" Since then, he's run some dissenting emails and some supporting emails, but the general message has stayed the same; even in a short post on how Clinton said something, Sully throws in a jab at Obama: "Could the president switch off ESPN for a second and take notes?" (cite)

Over at the Awl, Ken Layne pierces Sully's narcissism and hyperventilating. Layne notes that "There are no small moments in Andrew Sullivan's online world": everything is always the end of the world--as long as it affects Sully directly. (Seriously, check it out: he grudgingly admitted that there was a GOP war on women though he found the term "shrill"--and then he turned around and declared that there was a war on gays. Because if it affects Sully, then it's a serious issue in his world.)

So when Obama had a disappointing performance, it's not just a political issue for Sully, it's a personal attack and affront. Which leads to the second problem with Sully: overestimating his own feelings and thoughts. This is a common problem for pundits, who often claim that "politician X would be doing a lot better if only he embraced the issue that I care about." With Sully, this is Bowles-Simpson, a ridiculous grand bargain that smart people on the left call "the cat food commission" because of its likely outcome: slashing care for the elderly and needy. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Obama can safely lose the gay Anglo-American Irish Catholic Oxford-educated PhD vote without significantly altering his electoral chances. Only Sully's pride will be hurt.

This is Monday Morning Quarterbacking at its best: histrionic and self-assured. And what really drives home the lesson today is Sully's "woe is me" comments on moving to New York City with a very lucrative contract, a ridiculous post titled "New York Shitty" that ends with the plaintive cry of the oppressed: "Please tell me it gets better." Oh, pobrecito! Let's all make sure Sully finds New York bearable with his $1m blogging gig.

No, let's be honest: New York can be hard to deal with; Obama had a disappointing performance at the debate. And yet, the world still somehow goes on. Sully will often excuse his kneejerk wrong reactions by noting that he's thinking in real time (unlike the rest of us who somehow get extra time from our hook-up with the Gallifreyans?) and responding with his gut, but maybe it's time for Sully to take a deep breath and admit that his gut has shit for brains.