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bear by san

March 2017



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phil ochs troubador

Thank you for those items that you sent me. The monkey. And the plywood violin.

booksquare links Brenda Hiatt's List of $$$--she's compiled a bunch of information on what publishers are paying Romance authors.

Useful information, no?

In other news, I want to talk about sweetness in stories, but I'm not quite sure what I want to say. By which I mean, those stories that buymeaclue calls "small, sweet stories." Stories that are compassionate, that occupy a place diagonally across the range from edgy and/or gritty stories, without being overly sentimental, twee, or one-dimensional. Connie Willis writes stories like this, sometimes. So does Peter Beagle.

I think they're not trendy, necessarily. But they're important. Edgy stories, painful stories, may feel moe important, may be more obvious in their importance. But I'm not entirely certain they mean more than the stories that embrace compassion as well as complexity, as long as they can do it without oversimplifying.

I think stories that attempt to do this may find themselves dismissed, or may make people uncomfortable, because nobody wants to have the label of sentimental and schmaltzy pasted over them. But there is a place for things that aren't sentimental, and are still emotionally honest.

Honesty is not, after all, only about cynicism. And cynicism in storytelling, taken to an extreme, produces stories that are as one-dimensional as the overly sympathetic stories.

Interesting. And I wonder how one would go about writing a story that was edgy and compassionate, all at once. It has to be possible.


Charles de Lint often does edgy and compassionate well. I also find Elizabeth Scarborough's Godmother series both edgy and sweet.

I love the small sweet stories. They're the literary equivalent of the movies that I call "life-affirming" and which sit on a special shelf in our living room.

But I do think those sorts of stories get little respect. And I think that they're valuable because isn't there enough edgy and dark out there in everyday life?

Marina Fitch also does a really good job on stories that have sweetness in them. And I think sweetness in stories is important, probably for the same reasons that I think that stories are important in the first place.
I've practiced every night, and now I'm ready...
Edgy yet compassionate. Hmmm. Depends on what you consider edgy. There's a Karl Edward Wagner story about a masochist who finally finds the sado-domme of his dreams that might meet the criteria. There is also the small, perfect, heartbreaking John L'Heureux story, "The Expert on God," about a priest who struggles with doubt.
I sold one to Flytrap, but that's the only one I've managed to sell, and I've had it called "maudlin" to my face. (and nobody will review it, apparently--or even mention its existence in the issue. *g*)

Which is okay, yanno. It's a maudlin flying dog story. That's cool.
Can I get a definition of "edgy," please?

I think I know it when I see it. Just wondering what other people see.
Um. "What I'm pointing at when I say edgy."

I'm sure it is possible. In fact I think I've read them, though my maddening brain is refusing to cough up a title. I think it's because edgy, to me, has more to do with the quality of the dilemma -- with setup, in other words -- and compassion has more to do with the resolution.

Except, I suppose, for those people who seem to believe a desire for resolution at all, let alone a hopeful one, is inherently reactionary, to which I can only say, oh thhpppft.

I agree with you about cynicism. It's an easy trap to fall into, and it can lead to a total relegating of positive emotion or experience to the category of "poor deluded fools" but honestly, vast swaths of humanity *are* happy, and how very odd of us it would be not to talk about it.

For me the trick is to make the ending a little bit checkered, not too perfectly neat with all the ends tied in a bow. Like an off-rhyme. And also to make the choices sufficiently grey that it's not a foregone conclusion.
It's not small, but I think Russell's The Sparrow is both edgy and sweet. or Card's Speaker for the Dead. They deal with disquieting issues, they deal with them without pulling punches, but also with allowing for the possibility of hope, and forgiveness, and community, and grace.
I love small sweet stories. There's almost always something very strange about them if they are truly sweet to me. Faking sweetness gives me no pleasure, but truly evoking it in writing lights me up.
I'd say that a world with no kindness in it is as flawed a depiction as a world with no horrors.

Those who haven't given it much thought are often amazed at how much kindness and compassion people out on the edge can demonstrate, when you'd think all their energy would have to go into simple survival. However, I think most of them figure out fairly quickly that some kindness is essential, although they can be very selective about who they'll show it to.

I remember a friend, who was a door-gunner in a helicopter in Vietnam, recollecting that one of the things they'd carry with them when they went to pick up troops who'd been out on patrol for a month was carry extra canteens full of clean water, since the guys were invariable thirsty, and hadn't had any clean water since they'd left base. One of the chaplains helped them scrounge a cooler, and suggested they carry along bits and pieces of old uniforms as well, since the patrol unit's clothes were usually rotting off, and anything clean was an improvement. You'd think, given what a Huey crew had to deal with on these runs, this would be a lot of extra trouble, but they brought it every time they had enough notice to grab the extra water, and so did a good many other crews. It was a very small, basic kindness, and everyone involved (giving and receiving) was either a stone killer, or ready to be one if he had to, but they carried the water all the same. They wouldn't, in their young male minds, have called it "kindness", let alone "compassion"; it was more like "Anybody would really want a clean drink of water after all that time out there".

Light makes the shadows darker, and the shadows make the light brighter.

"Anybody would really want a clean drink of water after all that time out there"


I've tried to capture some of this in Hammered. I dunno if I swung it, but that was exactly what I wanted.
I think that John M. Ford is the absolute master of stories that are both edgy and compassionate.

Would Zenna Henderson come under this heading?

Anyway I love these kinds of stories, if the observations about human beings ring true. D. E. Stevenson used to write this sort of story and was enormously popular for decades--and now, in Edge Times, she's unheard of.
I haven't read Zenna Henderson. *adds to list*
Would Jennifer Crusie's books like Faking It count?

*I*'d think so. Her Bet Me touched for me what I think is the same nerve that matociquala's describing as hit.

Does that sound right?

That's what I try to do in my fanfic

Honest but that means honest to *everything*, including tenderness and high romantic glory and Just Plain Weird that humanity (and I assume other sentients as well) also possess. That's why I get a bit confused when people call my work "darkfic," because I think of "dark" as meaning something very different - this is one of those socially awkward moments because ideally I'd name names, but then people might get upset if I diss a favorite author and seem to be scorning them, so trying to keep it general, I see "dark" as having no love for the characters as persons rather than as pawns or experimental animals.

This means that there is no warmth, no affection, no empathy for them, even the ones who get killed, even the Bad Guys™ - there are authors who I think write beautifully that I won't read any more for that reason. And it's a fine line - there can be different motivations for a "character torture" story, after all.

But essentially - in my stories there are no "extras," no redshirts, there are only people with more screentime, whose story is being told right now. Give me a little while with them, and I will know who that spearcarrier is and what her motivation and ethical philosophy and oddball hobbies and perhaps hint at them and perhaps not, depending on the needs of the story, but they'll be there.

Thus one reason why I don't think of even my most violent stories as "darkfic" is that they are written from the point of the sufferer, not the transgressor or a faux-dispassionate one. I have a long theory, too long to spam your comments with, that the latter are common becaues we don't want to empathize with characters who are going to die, or be permanently damaged, because it reminds us of truths about mortality/morality we'd rather avoid/evade, and so the "redshirt" phenomenon, where among your three Player Characters and Ensign Smith, it's obvious that it's the latter who's going to be randomly eaten by a monster or left deranged by the alien device.

So Designated Victims are set off from humanity from the start, by most authors/filmmakers, so that you know not to get too close to the chosen sacrifice. It may be by objectifying them into a goopy pity-recipient, as in a "weepie," or by having them be anonymous cannon-fodder - but to avoid this somehow is to write something that is both edgy and compassionate. (FWIW, I learned a lot about this process myself as a reader from the Faded Sun and Chanur books.)

Re: That's what I try to do in my fanfic

I agree. I have a hard time with fiction where I feel the author dislikes *everybody*.