K. B. Spangler’s Brute Force

Some parts of Brute Force are funnier if you’re familiar with the rest of Spangler’s work. It’s probably an inevitable part of being the fourth installment in a series that is itself set in the five year gap between two narrative parts of a webcomic. But the thing that struck me and moved me to stop reading and start writing this post was a mention of gardening – any mention of yardwork becomes tragicomic when you’ve read about Spangler’s misadventures in rebuilding the Randall Jarrell house.

I’m reading the first seven chapters of Brute Force early, because I’m a Patreon supporter of Spangler’s. If you’re not familiar with the platform: basically old-school patronage of the arts has met crowdfunding and everyone is winning.

But to Brute Force itself, with no spoilers because the preview isn’t even publicly available yet. The pacing is exactly what I want in a thriller: it starts with a bang and the ball is rolling and it doesn’t stop, picking up pace and urgency even as they need to do large-scale logistical things like meetings and tracking press conferences. Rachel Peng continues to be a fantastic protagonist: she’s a (technically) blind Chinese lesbian, and these are all facts that inform her character without making the story about those facts, making her the kind of representation we so desperately need. She’s smart and goal-oriented and observant while still being a team player in ways more than just the obligatory ones.

Spangler puts a lot of research into her novels. This one is no exception. The hinge point of interest in this one is something I studied some in university, and wow do I appreciate the research. I’m also incredibly excited for the rest of the book at this point – the tension is mounting, and I want to know what happens next.

Brute Force goes on sale November 29th.

Writing Project Results

So I got massively sidetracked. It still feels like summer, but it’s Labor Day weekend, which means it’s time to admit it’s over. My original summer project list:

  • at least one essay as Emah
  • finish a fic I deleted
  • finish rewriting the werewolf thing
  • finish the Regency polyamory

What I ended up doing:

  • rough draft of my Statement of Purpose
  • write 60,000 words of fiction over 10 different works, none of which are on the above list
  • working a lot
  • getting my hair dyed pink

The last two had nothing to do with writing, but were significant time sinks. Only one of the projects I was working on was original: the rest were transformative works. I mean, that is a fair chunk of writing and I’m happy to have done it. I’m also really glad I deleted the one work I was planning on finishing, because it had become less than fun and I didn’t give in to the sunk cost fallacy.

My goals for this fall have more to do with grad school and getting options narrowed and essays written, but I think I’m also going to try to get some original fiction in there, when I’m not organizing gift exchanges of fanworks.

Branding

I know a couple of people right now who’re moving into either online presence for existing entities or starting a business from scratch. So this is mostly advice geared towards small, creative businesses.

Spelling Matters

Typos are a thing that can happen to anyone, and I know my spelling consistently trips up on double consonants and basically goes completely to uncapitalized shit in private chats. But spelling is part of communicating clearly to an audience, and I think at this point all browsers have a built-in spellcheck.

Tone Matters

Look, the people who say you can’t tell tone over text are lying. Like, maybe they can’t? But all of us do a lot of communicating in text these days, so interpreting tone from text is a skill we’ve picked up. So choosing a tone for communicating on social media and website content is important – do you want to be silly? dry and informative? You’ll obviously want to adapt based on what it is you’re communicating, but deciding on a style and being deliberate about it can make you a more coherent and engaging brand.

Engage on social media

tumblr_inline_n1fcqdixa51s3zet1It’s where the people are!

Seriously, you want to control a Facebook page, your Google page if you’re going to be publicly listed as a business, and probably also a Twitter. If you don’t feel like social media is really your thing, you can stop there, and only post updates that you think people will definitely want to know. But if you’re producing any kind of audiovisual content, you probably also want a Youtube, Instagram, and Snapchat. If being on social media is going to be a fun part of branding for you, maybe also a Tumblr. There are services, like Buffer and Hootsuite, that let you push to multiple platforms from one place, but that can get kind of complicated. Hashtags on Twitter are part of the body of text and a huge part of joining ongoing conversations; tags on Tumblr are a separate field and commonly a platform for metacommentary. Pushing from a central platform is a great way to streamline getting news out, but not a good way to engage more deeply with a community and join in on things.

Don’t be everything to everyone

People are interested in what you have to offer because it’s unique: diluting that for more ‘mainstream’ appeal just makes you less interesting. The essence of branding is just an extension of being who you already are as either an individual or a group, only more so and in public.

Summer Projects

Tomorrow I take my last two final exams of my college career. Friday, I move. A week after that is Commencement.

Over the next year, there will be more changes, including applying to and then sorting out the logistics of various graduate programs as well as one of the more important Presidential elections I’ve seen. But the summer stretches out before that, before any decisions need to be made, with only work as a necessary draw on my time.

So I’m going to write. And knit, of course, but that list of projects isn’t relevant here. What I hope to write:

  • at least one essay as Emah
  • finish Silver In The Sun
  • finish rewriting the werewolf thing
  • finish the Regency polyamory
It’s a short list, but they’re mostly long projects, and it’ll be satisfying to have them done.
What are your writing goals for the summer?

You Are Not Alone

It’s the night before the end of Homestuck.

There are other things going on in my life right now, but that’s the one singing note of tension that keeps coming back to me. I’m planning to wear a Homestuck shirt tomorrow to campus, and drop everything to look at the finale as soon as I can.

Homestuck, obviously, has been important to me. It won’t stop being a fandom when it’s over, but the impetus for obsessive reflection about what it means to me will be gone – we’ll have the end to talk about, after all.

Homestuck was the first fandom I really got into – I’d read fanfic other places, sort of desultorily because it was free and more about characters I liked. But Homestuck let me reach out and make friendships and talk to people about stories and their nature pretty much as things happened. It was the first really immersive fan experience I’d had, and the first fanfic I wrote. The experience of being in fandom has been a massive and transformative thing for me, letting me connect with a whole bunch of talented, kind new friends.

And fandom has a really interesting relationship with Homestuck – the narrative was originally driven by fan prompts, fans have been involved with art and music and merchandise, and it changed some of how fandom is done. It’s been kind of a wild ride.

Part of the reason it grabbed me so much was that it opened the door to talking about stories with more people in different ways – and to talking about the specifics we look for and the shapes they can take with no interest at all paid to originality, because this was after all transformative works. And one of the conversations that came up around Homestuck, and came up repeatedly, was at the core of Homestuck itself: the ways in which we reach out and connect.

The interpersonal narratives in Homestuck are, at almost every level, about knowing that you are not alone. They myriad ways that’s expressed are a gift in and of itself. And for something that starts with a bunch of isolated kids, it’s a gift seeing them all gain strength from that connection.

It reminds me of what I love about Person of Interest: a repeated refrain of “in the end you’re all alone and no one’s coming to save you,” with the characters then proving over and over with their actions that someone indeed will come to save them. For those characters, the emotional growth is in unlearning their isolation and slowly growing to trust each other, but they’re adults and more jaded and it’s a slower process.

In Homestuck, the kids don’t have quite as engrained in them the idea that they’re alone, and there’s more joy and hope in their learning, and less of a focus on their unlearning. One of the reasons that the fandom is so obsessed with Homestuck is that the very nature of fandom, and particularly Homestuck fandom, means that those people who are caught up in the culture around Homestuck also get to reach out and feel that they are not alone.

Homestuck has brought people together in remarkable ways, and I’m not quite ready for it to be over.

Fiction As Learning Tool

Do you remember in Health class when you had to watch Degrassi videos?

I ask this in full expectation that it’s a universal – I know we watched some in Canada and some in the U.S., and expect that everyone in North America at least had to watch episodes of TV about pregnant teenagers as part of either class or homework at some point.

But that’s not where I meant to start.

I’m taking a class right now called Technology and Social Responsibility. It’s all right up my alley, from the discussion material to the class meetings on Twitter, and it’s made me think about how we establish stakes in issues, and the power stories have. Because this is a university class about technology and social responsibility, we don’t have Degrassi to watch: mostly we read relevant articles, but one session we did have to watch episodes of Black Mirror. I’m not particularly a fan of the show, aside from it’s odd prescience in one incident, because it shows such an unrelentingly bleak view of our future with technology. I’ve found myself making reference to a lot of other novels and TV shows, though, such as Person of Interest and Orphan Black, because they also extrapolate on current issues with technology and IP and ideas of ownership and privacy. And the reason I come back to them is this:

Fiction answers the question “why should I care?” before it even raises the issue it addresses.

Some of the things we’re talking about in Technology and Social Responsibility are easy to think of in the abstract, because so many of the issues sound science fictional and like a future problem, but a lot of the issues we’re talking about, such as if we really own our own DNA and how secure our data is, are things that impact us right now. There are current court cases about these issues, not least the FBI fighting with Apple over whether we’re allowed effective encryption on the devices on which we store our whole lives.

Fiction makes these things real, and immediate, playing out the consequences of treading wrong in a way that’s easier to hold on to than an abstract thought experiment. Fiction allows for exploration of worst-case scenarios without explicit fear-mongering.

And for me, at least, fiction shows me the things I want to work to prevent.

Intellectual Property and Trolling

The phrase ‘fight like a girl’ is trademarked.

Yep – the phrase used as a title in this comicthis movie, this comedy sketch, this self-defense program, and the song below is trademarked, and not to any of these people.

So who owns it? Well it’s one company – they’re not hard to find, but I’m not linking them, because they try to support a particular thing that I am generally in favor of, but either their lawyer needs to be put back on a leash or they are, corporately speaking, massive dicks.

They’re dicks because they have been suing independent artists using the phrase in their art. By specifically targeting independent artists trying to make a living, they can try to control the proliferation of the phrase while not ending up embroiled in court with people who can actually fight back. Because, realistically, the company in question doesn’t have a leg to stand on. It’s a common phrase. It’s a phrase that empowers a lot of women! Except, y’know, when a business that purports to support women uses that phrase to attack their ability to sell their art.

It’s an ultimately doomed effort – even Band-Aid ended up changing their jingle to ‘stuck on Band-Aid brand’ because their brand name had become the common name, and Band-Aids aren’t as tied up with feminism and the policing of art as Fight Like A Girl is. So the company is currently trolling, getting themselves more press, and being dicks.

Intellectual property is more complicated than declaring that one owns a segment of language forever, but it’s really difficult for independent artists to get legal fees. As an independent author or artist, you’re a lot more vulnerable. So while legally when nuisance cases like this come up you could fight back, you might not have the resources. It’s deeply frustrating, partly because even if one can dispute a DMCA claim on solid grounds one’s distributors might not want the hassle. I don’t have any kind of easy solution, just a lot of frustration on behalf of my artist friends. Fair Use doesn’t even come into this, as far as I’m aware, because these works have nothing to do with the company that owns the trademark. No one cared about them until they started suing.

So hopefully it’ll die down soon, or there’ll be something class action on behalf of the artists. In the meantime, it’s worth it to know your rights, even if you won’t always be in a position to exercise them.

Fight Like A Girl by LettieBoBettie, from DeviantArt