Daily Archives: March 22, 2012

A Doctor on Transvaginal Ultrasounds: Now on Jezebel

Those of you miffed that I closed up the comment section to the “A Doctor on Transvaginal Ultrasounds” entry will be happy to know that the piece has been reprinted in its entirety on Jezebel (they asked permission, before you ask, and the doctor who wrote it said “yes”). I am sure they will be delighted to accept your additional comments there! Bwa ha ha ha hah ha ha!

Seriously, though, it’s nice to see this piece getting out there in the world.

To encourage comments there rather than here, I’m turning off comments on this particular post.

Reader Request Week 2012 #6: The Cool Kids Hanging Out

Lance in Huntington Beach asks:

Wil Wheaton just Tweeted Chris Hayes about Rachel Maddow. Why is it that everyone I follow on Twitter, watch on TV or read seems to know one another? Is the world really that small? Does a bit of notoriety buy you immediate acceptance from other notables? Or is there a special club you all belong to and once again, it’s me being picked last for dodgeball? Please explain.

First: Dude, it’s totally you being picked last for dodgeball, man. You’re too slow. You keep being taken out first! And your throwing arm? Sheesh.

Second: Just because you tweet someone about someone else on Twitter doesn’t mean you know them to any significant degree. Twitter just gives one the ability to send a comment to anyone else on Twitter, and if you’re following one or both of those people, you’ll see the tweet. I could tweet, say, Fred Durst about the Dalai Lama, it doesn’t mean I know either of them. Fred Durst could even respond to me (or for that matter, so could the Dalai Lama) and it still wouldn’t qualify as “knowing” either of them in any meaningful sense. So that’s an important thing to remember about Twitter.

Third: It’s not that the world is small, it’s that who you are interested in as notables is specialized enough that there’s a reasonably good chance they might know each other.

As an example: I am notable, to the extent I am notable, primarily for being a science fiction writer — many of the people who follow me online one way or another (although not all) did so at least initially because they heard of me as a science fiction writer. This means there’s a pretty good chance they read science fiction and fantasy and also consider other science fiction and fantasy writers as notable to some extent or another.

As a science fiction writer, I attend a reasonable number of conventions, where I’ve met other science fiction and fantasy writers; I’ve also been a member of The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for nearly a decade, and through that I have also had contact with a large number of SF/F writers. Over several years of seeing these folks over and over, some of them have become friends — some of them very good friends — because we have similar life situations, professional concerns, and recreational enthusiasms. Many of the rest of them I’ve come to know professionally as peers, particularly after I became president of SFWA and these writers became my constituency.

So if you’re a sf/f fan for whom these writers are important, and you see me chatting online with my friends who also happen to be sf/f writers, it looks like all the cool kids are hanging out, doing cool kid stuff together online, and so on. And how cool is that? Pretty cool. Of course, if you’re not an sf/f fan, and you saw me chatting online with my friends who also happen to be sf/f writers, it looks like a middle-aged dude doing a whole lot of procrastination on Twitter with a bunch of other mostly lumpy 30-, 40- and 50- somethings. That is, if you’re looking at my Twitter feed at all, and if you’re not an sf/f fan, why would you? And thus we learn the truly specialized nature of “notability.”

I know sf/f writers because I am a sf/f writer, and this sort of professional association is why (of course) a lot of your favorite actors will know other of your favorite actors, why your favorite musicians will know other of your favorite musicians, why the cool scientists out there seem to know the other cool scientists, and so on. Beyond mere professions, there will be other sorts of situational overlaps. One of the great cultural questions of our time is why do very successful musicians and actors always seem to date other very successful actors or musicians (or supermodels). The answer is, well, who else are they going to date? It’s not as if someone like George Clooney can put up an OK Cupid profile like a common schmoe. They’re going to date other famous people because a) they’re the people they know, b) they’re the people who understand the life and can (possibly) tolerate all the crap around it. An actor dating a supermodel, or an actress dating a musician, is the famous person equivalent of a corporate VP dating a manager in human resources.

The actual mundane rationales for the surface fabulousness of the famous (or at least notable) aside, there is one advantage to being a notable of any sort, which is that it makes it slightly easier to make the acquaintance of the people you nerd out over, because it’s possible they already know who you are and may even be fans of your work (or you). And while mutual admiration is not a good foundation to a lifelong friendship, it does make that initial encounter a lot easier, because you each already think positively of the other.

Look, I’m not going to lie: like any other person, “notable” people geek out at getting to meet and hang out with the people they admire. I mean, shit, man: The fact that Robert Silverberg knows me? Seems to tolerate me? Does not in fact recoil when I enter the room? There have to be multiple universes because this one universe cannot contain all of my squee. If you have the chance to meet the people you admire, chances are pretty good you’re going to take it. If it turns out nothing comes of it, then no harm done. But if it turns out you like each other and become pals? Then you’re living the fanboy dream. Which you never say out loud, of course. But even so.

And then there’s the fact that when you’re friends with someone notable, they often have other friends who are notable, who you then get to meet, and thus your network of notable acquaintances grows, simply because your friends have friends, i.e., you meet people like any person meets people, i.e., through your friends.

Now, there’s the flip side, which is you meet someone you admire and then find out they’re kind of an ass. But I’m delighted to say that at least so far, this has not been my experience. Also, notable or not, you don’t want to be That Social Climbing Dick, i.e., the guy who becomes friends with someone and then immediately starts looking to trade up in their friend circle. People aren’t stupid and don’t like being used. And that, too, is a constant in all human relationships, whether the people in them are “notable” or not.

But basically, Lance, when you see all the folks you consider the “cool kids” talking to each other online, it’s that fact that you consider them the cool kids that makes it seem like something special. Believe me, they probably thank you for it. But someone else who does not see these people as notable might see it as what it is: a bunch of folks who know each other to varying degrees, doing what people do online — letting each other know they’re part of each others’ lives. And possibly planning a dodgeball tournament.

The Big Idea: Stina Leicht

A fantasy novel is not a place one generally expects to find a good car chase — but then, why not? Fantasy takes on more forms than simply swords and sorcery. To that end, in her latest fantasy novel And Blue Skies From Pain, author Stina Leicht found that for her fantasy, she needed to learn a little bit about car chases. And boy, did she throw herself into her research.

STINA LEICHT:

When I was a girl I worked on the family car with my Dad. Herbie the Love Bug was my first car crush. (The second was a neighbor’s Jaguar. The third? A 1969 Mustang Cobra Jet with a Shaker scoop — I do so adore the throaty sound of a muscle car engine.) Of course, not long after that I discovered The Avengers and Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel. She became my new hero, and the Lotus Elan entered my vocabulary.

After that, I was hooked. Car chases are exhilarating to watch. I love them. So, when I decided to write about Northern Ireland and knew my main character would end up in the IRA, I naturally chose to make him a wheelman. The first thing I did was watch what are considered some of the best car chases in cinema — Bullett, The Italian Job, Ronin, and The French Connection. Then I followed them up with Gone in Sixty Seconds, The Fast and the Furious, and The Transporter. Once I had a good idea of what I needed to do, I decided to find novels with car chases in them to see how others had done it… and drew a blank.

I asked friends who are very well read, and the only novel anyone named was The Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski.* (It’s a great novel, by the way.) After that, I decided to talk to friends who were into rally racing because I knew rally racing was the closest I’d ever come to a real car chase. (It’s the closest I ever want to come to one too.)

At that point, I lucked out. My friend Sondra Sondregger not only races, but she runs rally racing events. So, I called her up, and we discussed vehicle requirements and specifications. Then she offered to put me in contact with the owner of a local race track (Harris Hill Raceway.) I owe her a debt. Not only did she set up a meeting with the owner, but she also arranged for him to take me around the track in her boyfriend’s (Jack’s) Porsche. That wasn’t all. After a few laps, Eric pulled over and made me drive.

Seeing how much I enjoyed it, Sondra and Eric made arrangements for me to participate in Sondra’s upcoming racing event. The next thing I knew, I was flying around a racetrack in a Lotus with a driver who could compete with Emma Peel. (The spin-out during the race was the most incredible thing. A red flag went up. The other drivers followed safety procedures and stopped. Meanwhile, my driver had everything perfectly under control. Although I knew better, it was as if he’d done it on purpose.) During the rest of the event, my instructors guided me through races with the other newbs. I returned home with a giant grin and tons of information.

After that, I picked another friend’s brain. Troy Hunt knows quite a bit about vintage cars, and with his help, I decided on a year, make and model for Liam’s favorite ride. The final bit of research was a series of recommended rally racing videos on YouTube. With all of that information packed into my brain, I was finally ready to write a car chase — a bit intimidated, but ready.

Since I didn’t have much to go on, literary precedent-wise, I approached it like I would any other action scene. At their base, car chases are fight scenes. So, I chose to use similar methods — short sentences and punchy verbs. I used all the senses including smell to keep the point of view tight and real. I blocked out the action, using model cars just as I use silly action figures to block out fight scenes. I thought back on how a car feels while I drive — particularly the older, heavier cars. I imagined the weight of the machine around me, and the way the driver can sense the tires on the road as well as the other vehicles. I remembered what it felt like to be in a car wreck, the huge sound of metal crunching into metal, and (just like in fencing or Kung fu) how one doesn’t always know where the blow comes from. The rest was easy.

When the time came to write the second Fey and the Fallen book, I knew I had to fit another car chase in there because I enjoyed writing the first two so much. However, I wanted to do something different, something smarter.

So, for And Blue Skies from Pain, I interviewed a San Antonio police detective. We talked about the things I’d already worked into the first book and the ideas I had for the second. Joe explained how these things wouldn’t work now due to traffic cameras — definitely not something I was worried about — but might work well in 1971-77. He also talked about how a wheelman might think, and some of the biggest mistakes made in films.

All in all, Joe was a tremendous help. However, it’s clear to me that next time I’ll have to interview a cop who has served in Northern Ireland. I’ve a hunch there are big differences in how security was handled there in the ‘70s versus how it was handled in the States.

(* I’m sure there are others somewhere. There have to be.)

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And Blue Skies From Pain: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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