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Intro, extro, it doesn’t mean excuses

In one of my moments of rest–brief and rare this week, although today’s vertigo is bad enough to require it–I followed a social media link to this post about being friends with an introvert, because hey, I’m an introvert, it’s useful to be able to point people at good advice where I can find it.

Hahahahaha no.

The more I see “care and feeding of introverts” posts, the more chances they have to get it wrong, and get it wrong they do. I don’t just mean describing types of introversion other than my own–although overgeneralizing from one sub-type is a pretty common mistake in the “care and feeding” posts. I mean just flat-out wrong, anti-useful, wrong.

Let’s take the earliest part of this post: “Without you, we’d probably spend every weekend in our pajamas watching Netflix, only making contact with another human when we open the front door to the Jimmy John’s delivery guy.” Uh…no. That’s not your introvert friend, that’s your clinically depressed friend. Or your chronically socially lazy friend. Or both. While individual introverts may depend heavily on individual extroverts to do the work of making social stuff happen for them, it’s not inherent to the personality type. And frankly, it’s a crappy behavior. For both sides.

From the introvert side, it’s an excuse for not putting the work into social situations. Because no matter what, making social stuff happen is work. It may be somewhat easier for extroverts, but it’s still work for them, and if you’re an introvert skipping along saying, “Tra la la, I’ll let Chris and Pat handle it, they’re extroverts, it’s no trouble for them!”, you’re being an ingrate and kind of a jerk. And you’re self-infantilizing: social skills are skills. You can learn them.

From the extrovert side, if you think that making social stuff happen is magic because you’re an extrovert, you’re going to be frustrated a lot. There are lots of extroverts who are terrible at this. Again, it’s a skill. Also, introverts and extroverts often want somewhat different types of social situation (or at least overlapping bell curves of how often they get which experiences), so if you’re going with the idea that introverts will never make stuff happen and depend on you, you run a couple of risks–one of never figuring out social stuff that your introvert friends would actually, y’know, like to do, and the other of running yourself ragged planning exactly what your introvert friends would like to do at your own expense.

So let’s all not do that. Social instigation takes energy. No personality type is In Charge Of it. Moving on: “When you’re around, we don’t have to do the heavy lifting to make conversation happen.” ARGH NO. Again: conversation is a skill. It is a skill that can be learned. Not all extroverts are good at it or want to be–there are highly nonverbal extroverts who just want to go dancing and not have to talk all the time, or play golf or softball or whatever. And all the stuff in this piece about introverts being good listeners: turns out that’s a substantial portion of the heavy lifting in conversation. And it turns out that neither talking nor listening is inherent to either personality type.

For people who write fanfic, writing fanfic and having fun are not actually opposites. See also: other quiet hobbies. “You came along and got me to have fun!” is one of the most toxic narratives I experienced people wanting to thrust on me in college, especially as a young woman: there were all sorts of people who knew this narrative as the slight social veneer on, “Here, Miss Librarian, take off your glasses and let your hair down. Why, you’re beautiful!” I think most bookish kids knew an adult who felt that snapping, “Get your nose out of that book!” was some kind of personal service, that we would thank them for it and feel ourselves better people for being forcibly pulled from things we liked in order to do things we were indifferent to. Fun does not mean loud and crowded; that’s another language than English.

Sometimes introverts can like someone enough to hang out with them two days in a row. This is particularly useful for people who want to, like, be married or otherwise in a permanent partnership, romantic or otherwise. Or sometimes it’s not even a matter of who you like as much as who you find easy to be around. Or relaxing. Or whatever. I sometimes score this as “you don’t count as people,” but even the people who don’t count as people eventually count as people–and that doesn’t mean I can’t go on vacation with them and go to museums two days in a row. I mean, yes, it is easier for me to get enough of a person I like than it is for someone extroverted. But sometimes there will be a special event that has a couple of days in a row–like a convention, for example–and I don’t want people dodging me on the Saturday of a convention because we talked on Friday, so obviously I am done. Yes, I will be really whumped for at least a week after. But the one day and done rule: no, not even remotely universal.

Sometimes introverts really are tired, and I resent this person poisoning that well. I have a chronic illness that is not going well at the moment; if I’ve dragged myself out to your party, I want to be able to say, “tired now,” and not have you hear, “peopled out.” Because I DO GET TIRED, PHYSICALLY TIRED, KTHX.

Sometimes introverts don’t answer your texts within thirty seconds because they don’t have their phone on their person, or because they’re up to their elbows in bread dough, or because they’re playing the piano, or any of a number of things that are not about hating you or wanting to be left alone for awhile. We’re like extroverts that way. We do things that don’t involve texting sometimes. Any time you’ve set things up so that you think someone hates you if they don’t always text you back within thirty seconds, you’ve set yourself up for a lot of misery when their phone battery dies or something else that is not about you.

…I don’t know, I think it’s almost as dangerous to make sweeping generalizations about the world from the inside as from the outside. Especially if your sweeping generalizations are the social equivalent of leaving someone else with all the dishes. The “we need you to make social stuff go” rhetoric reminds me a lot of the rhetoric you’ll sometimes see from gender essentialists about how without men we wouldn’t have dishwashers and contact lenses, and without women we would all grunt and hit each other. It’s not true of genders. It’s not true of personality types, either. So cut it out.

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New audience yay!

Today the nice folks announced the Table of Contents for Year’s Best Young Adult Speculative Fiction. Scroll down…no, farther than that…yep! There’s me!

I am particularly pleased because this story, “The Stuff We Don’t Do,” originally appeared in Nature, which is not one of your typical markets for YA, but I really do think that the story has teen appeal. Also it makes me happy that the editors, Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein, are casting a wide net when they’re thinking about the definition of YA and/or what might appeal to a teen audience. Teens are smart; they deserve YA editors who treat them that way.

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The Girl at Midnight, by Melissa Grey

Review copy provided by Delacorte Press.

On the immediate level, this book is a pretty generic teen fantasy of a type very popular in the last few years: sarcastic special girl, two races of secret magical beings–in this case there is Team Dragon-People and Team Bird-People–plus a war and lots of cute boys. It has a breezy, readable voice, but the large-scale structure is very, very generic.

Happily, the details are not. There is, for example, an antagonist character I thought was being set up for an entire trilogy worth of antagging. But no, that situation is resolved rather completely and rather abruptly, with ramifications elsewhere! There are best friends for both of the main POV characters, and those best friends have their own goals and interests, rather than living only in Sidekick City. And Grey burns plot, getting through events that some authors would take a trilogy to portray in one book, leaving one a little breathless and eager to find out what will go in the actual next book.

So this is a book for “if you like that sort of thing, it’s the sort of thing you’ll like,” sure. But it’s also a book for those who don’t particularly like that sort of thing and are willing to see how and where the boundaries of a sub-genre can be stretched.

Please consider using our link to buy The Girl at Midnight from Amazon.

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Worst boss

One of the questions that novice writers ask established writers a lot–like, really a lot–is what to do if your editor asks for a change you don’t want to make. I think they may ask it so often because they’re not satisfied with the answer we give, which is basically, “Well, decide how important it is to you and do it or don’t do it, accordingly.” In some ways it feels like they’re asking for reassurance of a just universe–that writing the book the best way you know how will turn out to have been the right thing in a way that is recognizable to everybody, or that there is a magical incantation you can do to have control without responsibility. And neither of those things is true. Control and responsibility go hand in hand, and very smart people can completely disagree on how a story should go. These are things to roll with, and you can’t really tell what someone else will come up with and how much it will matter to you until you’re in the middle of it, so there’s no closed-form answer. Make the changes or don’t, remembering that it’s your name on the cover.

But honestly, there’s a reason this is a novice question, and it’s because it’s about controlling other people. Almost all the novice questions are about controlling other people. How do I make sure that people imagine what I’m imagining, exactly? You don’t. How do I make sure that my story/book/poem/whatever doesn’t get lost in the shuffle before it even gets read? You don’t. And so on.

The journeyman and pro questions are about controlling your own efforts. I think a bigger problem than, “What if an editor wants me to do something with a story that I don’t want to do?” is, “What if my past self wants me to do something with a story that I don’t want to do?” Because that past self–that selfsame self–sometimes gets published. And then you’re stuck. Never mind working to editorial specification! You have to work around the limitations that that idiot kid (=you two years ago) put on your characters and plot. And you will see brilliant, amazing authors thrashing around trying to figure out a way around this problem. Long series are the absolute worst for follow-on consequences that you brought on yourself, that you can’t blame anyone else for–and that you still need to try to weasel out of. And yet the entire process of writing narrative is one of choosing and accepting the consequences of your choice.* Ramification is the name of the game. Try to skip out on that, and you’ll skip out on the reader’s trust and attention along with it. And yet argh, that one thing, if only it wasn’t set down in print!

*This is why it can be so difficult to write narrative while depressed, or one of the reasons. Layered on top of all the stuff that’s first-order stuff, you are making a choice per word and then more choices about going back and changing stuff so that it fits the larger scale. Writers with clinical depression have all the respect in the world from me.

I know a bunch of professional writers who joke about our “mean bosses” or our “incompetent bosses” or variations on this theme. We’re never, ever talking about editors. Editors aren’t our bosses. We are our own bosses. We are the ones who decide that character A should really be an only child when we desperately need her to have grown up with a brother in book three; we are the ones who leave a major villain alive so that the reader expects that villain will get dealt with when we are SO BORED with that villain in book six. Nobody teaches writers all sorts of useful skills, but management as self-management is one of the huge ones.

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Books read, early May

Jeanne Birdsall, The Penderwicks in Spring. Fourth in a charming series of children’s books, this one fast-forwards several years and foregrounds the previously-youngest Penderwick sister, Batty. Fair warning: because lots of time has passed, Hound has died before this book begins. Does this count as the dog dying? Well, it’s not done for dramatic effect, and the book deals more with long-term grief than with the first agony of loss, but if you need books where dog grief is never a thing, I need to warn you about this book. I think it’s sensitively and beautifully handled, but. I also really like how things are evolving, often offstage in ways that are clear onstage, as the Penderwicks grow up.

C.J. Cherryh, Invader. Reread. Holy crud the early books in this series are full of humans! Humans here and there and everywhere, and who needs ’em? Well, the plot needs ’em. But I’m glad she got less humany plots, because what I really want is Jago and Banichi and Ilisidi and like that. So if you’re starting this series and discouraged by the humans, be of good cheer, they’ll wander off soon. I think soon. Within a trilogy or two at least.

Diane Duane, Deep Wizardry and High Wizardry. Rereads. Deep Wizardry will, I think, always be one of my favorites of this series. It…well, it dives right in, emotionally. It gets to the main themes of the series and does not pull any punches. And I do love all the whales. Whales! More books need whales! High Wizardry brings in Dairine and an entire planet of silicon life, and those things could hardly be bad either.

Nicola Griffith, The Blue Place. Reread. A thriller that understands being Norwegian and Norwegian-American, is very sensory, and also is very meditative about violence and its place in different humans’ psyches. I loved this on the first read and am glad to return to it.

Hua Yu, China in Ten Words. This was a very odd essay collection. In some ways it was highly personal–it was about Hua’s experiences growing up in the Cultural Revolution and being a writer in China after. And yet those experiences were in some ways so universal that his highly personal thoughts felt a bit generic. If you haven’t read much about the Cultural Revolution for average people, this should be a reasonably smooth introduction. Otherwise–well, the opening has a really vivid story that made me hopeful about the whole thing, and then the hopes were dashed. Ah well. Not bad, mind you, just not living up to the vaccination story’s individuality early on.

Jon Meacham, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. Pffffff wow. Okay, so Jackson is an incredibly difficult subject to handle well. And yet. And yet. I feel like Meacham feels like he’s not giving Jackson a free pass from criticism in his racial policies, and yet his policies regarding African-Americans are almost completely absent from this book, and his policies regarding Native Americans…well, there is hedging. I think Meacham would say no! he says that the Trail of Tears was bad! but seriously, dude: the Trail of Tears was more than bad, and Jackson’s bad decisions in dealing with indigenous people were larger than just the Trail of Tears. There was interesting stuff in this book, but it wants context to point out its limitations, so I don’t recommend making it your sole reading material about the Jackson administration.

Jodi Meadows, The Orphan Queen. Fun, fast read with intrigue and adventure. The major “plot twist” is not very twisty, but the book’s appeal doesn’t rest on it being a major surprise. I’m interested to see where Jodi goes next with this swashbuckling YA high fantasy.

Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre, Dragons Beware!. Discussed elsewhere.

Samuel A. Tannenbaum, The Handwriting of the Renaissance. Holy crud was people’s handwriting a mess. One of the major features in this book’s discussion of each character was what it could easily be mistaken for. There’s a reason for that. This is a volume from the 1930s, by the way, which had its charming moments and a few moments of outright racism. (Yes. In a handwriting book. That’s the fabulous thing about racists! They will find a way! Wait. Not fabulous.)

Lynne Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 2. Kindle. I had already read my favorite story from this issue, Hao Jingfang’s “Folding Beijing,” online before I got around to reading the Kindle cover-to-cover, so this should count as a partial reread. This is what I mean when I say I am not trying to be comprehensive when I recommend short stories: I will read part of an issue one month and part another, in two different formats, etc. So really: I am not setting myself up as an authority here. I just like some stories. Like the one linked there.

Tehani Wessely, ed., Insert Title Here. I make a policy of not reviewing things I’m in, so: this exists! I am in it! I read it!

Herwig Wolfram, History of the Goths. Disappointingly for some of you, this is a history of the ancient people, not of the recent affinity group. It was substantially focused on the Visigoths but had a long chapter on Ostrogoths as well, and mentioned other Gothic groups somewhat. Its translation from the German meant that it dodged some common issues of Anglocentrism/Francocentrism in history originally written in English, but it could have done with many, many (MANY MANY) more maps. And also with a coherent sense of what some placenames mean absent the nation-states they refer to. When you talk about the Visigoths encountering the Spanish, for example: what group is that? Iberian Celts? Basques? Some other pre-Gothic Iberian group? “Spanish” does not cut it in these centuries. Still had some useful bits.

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I like a Gershwin tune; how about you?

So it turns out there’s a lot of stuff I like. I like our new dishwasher and how it sings a happy song when it’s done–oh, I am unreasonably gleeful about that dishwasher. I like the fact that strawberries are in season. But that’s not why I’m doing these round-up posts–I’m doing an every-so-often post of short stories I’ve read and liked, that you might like too. Or you can link things you’ve liked in the comments! Up to you.

Two of these are not short stories. One is a project–my friend Hanne is doing a crowdfunded food and domestic thought project that should be interesting. I subscribed to the last round of A Girl’s Gotta Eat, and it was full of recipe and food essay goodness. The other is a poem: a May poem my friend Peg wrote.

Okay, but on with the short stories:

Monkey King, Faerie Queen, by Zen Cho (in Kaleidotrope)

The Snake-Oil Salesman and the Prophet’s Head, by Shannon Peavey (in BCS)

Remembery Day, by Sarah Pinsker (in Apex)

Sun’s East, Moon’s West, by Merrie Haskell (in Lightspeed)

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Puzzle pieces

I am in that lovely stage of writing a book when everything is a piece that might fit. It’s the stage where there is still room for some large elements (like the infestation of naiads and dryads that occurred a few weeks ago; it remains) and a ton of small elements, and so everything is examined for whether it’s the right element.

So when I read a book as background for a future project, I found stuff in that book for three other projects, including the one I’m working on. The one I’m working on is not really a surprise: it’s what my brain is obsessively turning over, as above. But I think I’ve figured out why I keep getting so many ideas for other projects in this stage. Usually I try to approach everything with the attitude of, “How can this be awesome?” And in this stage, it’s a very specific and heightened kind of awesome. It’s not just “that’s a cool thing to know,” but “that fits into narrative in the following known way.”

It’s not that books I read out of this stage won’t contribute to other projects in similar unpredictable ways. It’s that the penny can take much longer to drop. When a book is accreting material like a literary gas giant, it all happens so fast, so I notice it more. That’s all.

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Dragons Beware! By Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

Dragons Beware! has strong messages of teamwork, loyalty, and self-acceptance. Sometimes they’re strong enough to overwhelm the actual story, which doesn’t do very much that’s new with its team of varied dragon-slayers. The art is cute, there are some cute asides, and generally…yep, cute. I think this is one of the graphic novels that probably has a strong age component to its audience, because people who haven’t read a quest tale of this type before are more likely to find it interesting/less predictable. And the age this series is aimed it is the age that can’t have read much of anything before, because they haven’t been on the planet long.

A note: this is the second book in a series, apparently, but I haven’t read the first one and did not find that I was missing much. All of the backstory was filled in quite clearly.

Please consider using our link to buy Dragons Beware! from Amazon.

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Books read, late April

Christopher Benfey, A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Mark Johnson Heade. There is less Twain than a person might hope if they were partial to Twain, but there is quite a lot of Mark Johnson Heade, and if you’re partial to obscure bird artists–which frankly I kind of am–that works out all for the best.

Jennifer Coopersmith, Energy: The Subtle Concept. A history of how we have thought about energy (in a physics context, not a colloquial one). Worthwhile even for the physicists among us for how it covers dead ends and experiments that reinforced wrong notions as well as covering progress towards decent approximations of understanding. I love mad scientists and wrong science. They are the messy way the world works.

Diane Duane, So You Want to Be a Wizard. Reread. The thing that struck me on this reread is how astonishingly filmable this story is. I am completely boggled that it has not become a movie yet. There are aspects that fall away as the series deepens, and it gets much, much better from here, and yet the basic elements are there, Kit and Nita starting to work as a team, personality from unusual places starting with Fred the white hole but also including the cabs in the dark universe, and always always placing oneself squarely against entropy. I’m going to keep rereading this series. This was a good reminder of why I love it–and how simply complex things can start successfully.

William Gibson, The Peripheral. I respect this book a great deal. A friend suggested that it might be the best thing Gibson has done, and she may well be right. The science fictional thing he’s doing with information traveling through time but not matter–that’s not something I’ve seen much before if at all, and he does it very well. I did not, however, find it particularly well-characterized. I had difficulty caring about the characters. So I respected but didn’t enjoy this book. Ah well; these things happen.

J. N. B. Hewitt, Iroquois Cosmology. Kindle. Highly archaic language, retelling origin stories from more than one Iroquois group. Somewhat repetitive and not very good quality prose, but beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to recognizing diversity/variation of Native American/First Nations pre-Columbian thought.

Megan Marshall, The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism. Kindle. Very weirdly structured. Because this was on my Kindle, I couldn’t tell that fully 40% of it was endnotes, and that therefore it was going to stop once two of the sisters were married. Their careers and interesting behaviors did not stop at that point, nor did they sink into obscurity (one married Nathaniel Hawthorne, the other Horace Mann), so I’m not at all clear why Marshall decided that this was all the Peabody we got. Other than that it was quite good, digressing in a most engaging way into the history of canals and Unitarianism in the US and all sorts of stuff, just the right amount to be sparkly and interesting but not enough to lose coherence. I also added to my list of “women Bronson Alcott screwed over; reasons Bronson Alcott should have been shaken until his teeth rattled,” which latter act I would not even have thought of without Louisa May Alcott, so…appropriate I guess. But Bronson Alcott did not take over the book, and I have hopes that he will not take over Marshall’s bio of Margaret Fuller.

E. P. Thompson, Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act. This is the book with which my ability to read nonfiction ran aground in March when I got sick. There’s a lot of dense chewy stuff about poaching and commonly held lands in English history. Worthwhile, but not for when your brain is not at full capacity.

Jo Walton, Lifelode. Reread. I still love how this all fits together, how the worldbuilding works with something this complicated. Before it came out, I was saying that there weren’t many people other than Jo I would trust not to make something like this a hot mess, and that’s still true. For those who haven’t read it: the main characters are a complex family, and time runs differently depending on where you are geographically. And it’s substantially domestic. It’s lovely, and I love it, but I can’t think who else could have written anything even with a similar setting, much less the whole thing.

Jacqueline Winspear, Maisie Dobbs. The first in a mystery series that focuses more on the effects of WWI on the heroine’s life than on the mystery, but since that mystery is also WWI-related, the imbalance doesn’t grate. I’ll be interested to see how the rest of the series works, though, since it doesn’t seem all that repeatable. The best mystery series don’t rely on repetition…but most do.

Zong In-Sob, Folk Tales from Korea. This is from 1952. All sorts of interesting pieces and parts in it, useful thoughts for later projects. Does not have everything one could want; duh, really, it’s only one book. Very glad that Half Price had it, though.