So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye

The sun has gone to bed and so must I.

I’ll try to make this as short and as sweet as I can as I return the keys to John.

Thank you. To all of you for making me feel at home for the short time I was here. It was an honor to meet and interact with some of the best and brightest the interweebs has to offer.

Thank you to Mykal, Mary, Nora and John (and Brandon) for wonderful guest posts during my stay.It was truly amazing to be surrounded by such esteemed company.

Lastly, a thank you to John for entrusting me with such a huge and humbling responsibility. I had an absolute blast.


This Concludes Our Broadcast Day

Somewhat sad news for me, Whatever readers, but don’t worry. It ends on a happy note for you.

I’ve had a terrific time guest blogging here for the last six weeks, but as Chaucer said, there is an end to everything, good things as well.

I’d like to thank John for allowing the other guest bloggers and me the opportunity to take over the Whatever airwaves for a bit. It’s been a treat.

I’d like to thank John Anderson, N.K. Jemisin and Mary Robinette Kowal, as well. It has been an honor to be considered among such esteemed company. I hope we’re all able to meet in the real world, sometime soon.

I’d like to send huge thanks to Kate Baker for running the show around here in John’s absence. She kept this train on the rails, and did a great job wielding the Mallet of Loving Correction. Such a great job that I hardly noticed that mallet swinging at all.

Finally, the biggest thanks of all goes to you, Whatever readers. You’ve been kind hosts. It’s worth noting that in the last six weeks I’ve only posted one photo of a cat, yet you kept reading and commenting. I think it has been the commenting that has been my favorite part. It is true that Whatever readers are some of the best around (I’m not just sucking up here,) and I’ve really appreciated everything that you’ve brought to the conversation. Thoughtful responses, witty, maybe a little snark; I’ve even appreciated the opposing views, as they’re always delivered with respectful courtesy. So thank you, friends. It has been a pleasure to spend this time with you.

Here comes the good news. While this is my last post, John will be back tomorrow, and my guess is that after a six week break he’s got a lot to talk about.

Thank you all again. This has been a great time. I’m sure I’ll see you all in the comments section from time to time. Maybe I’ll see you on the Twitters, too. Occasionally I post something amusing (@mykalburns.) Should we happen to meet in the real world, I’ll look forward to that as well, but I ask that you please just come up and introduce yourselves; watching through binoculars from your car across the street is a little creepy.

My Life In Women’s Roller Derby

When John introduced the guest bloggers here several weeks ago, he mentioned that, among other things, I am a roller derby referee. It has also been said that I have more fun than anyone I know; probably more than anyone you know, too. By far, the most fun that I have is in roller derby.

I hear you thinking, “Roller derby? Like in the movie ‘Whip It?'” Yes, somewhat similar to that.

Photo of Mickispeedia by Stalkerazzi f/8

So often when I talk about roller derby (and I talk about it often,) I get questions like, “What’s roller derby?” And, “That’s a real sport?” And, “Awesome! I’ve always wanted to see that.” (That last one isn’t a question, but it comes up a lot. More on how you can see it live a little bit later.)

In answer to one of the most common questions, yes, roller derby is a real sport. Its origins date back about 125 years, but the most recent iteration began in 2003. Something I hate to even mention because people have a tendency to latch on to this idea (please don’t) is that in the 70s & 80s, roller derby was somewhat similar to WWE wrestling in that it was largely scripted, with predetermined outcomes and a lot of fake fighting. No more. Modern roller derby is a fast paced, aggressive, full-contact sport. There is nothing fake about it. Also, no fighting; there’s a rule against that.

Tough Cookies vs. The Swarm by Stalkerazzi f/8

If you were unaware of roller derby, I’m honestly a little surprised. What started out as a mostly underground sport is growing at an incredible rate. There are currently approximately 20,000 women skating in about 500 leagues worldwide. Wherever you are, there is probably a roller derby league near you. Just Google your area and “roller derby.” Then go watch and support your local league. You will not find a more exciting sport.

I know Whatever readers like books, so let me recommend a couple on the subject. First, if you’re a regular reader here, you’ve already met my friend Pamela Ribon (aka May Q. Holla.) She wrote a terrific novel called “Going Around In Circles,” which our mutual friend John featured in The Big Idea in April. Another great book which serves as a primer on all things derby from the history of the sport to a quiz to determine if you’re a derby girl is “Down And Derby: The Insider’s Guide To Roller Derby,” by my friends Jennifer “Kasey Bomber” Barbee and Alex “Axles Of Evil” Cohen.

The league that I referee is the L.A. Derby Dolls. While most leagues play on a flat track, the Derby Dolls have a banked track (the outer edges of the track are at an incline,) which makes the game faster and (if you ask me) more exciting.

The Derby Dolls have their own practice/bout facility, The Doll Factory. It is a 65,000 square foot former ice cream cone factory that has been fitted with a banked track, bleachers and stands for fans, video screens and score boards, and a giant disco ball-like mirrored roller skate.

The Doll Factory by Stalkerazzi f/8

Every few weeks a couple thousand screaming fans pack the house to see the most exciting sport around. They come to see incredible athletes who literally put their blood, sweat and tears into being the best at their sport that they can be. It doesn’t hurt that those athletes are attractive women skating really fast (25 mph+) and knocking each other down.

Being so close to Hollywood, the L.A. Derby Dolls are very lucky to have the best (all volunteer) audio/video production crew available. RaD (Research and Development) produce, among other things, our live boutcast on game nights, as well as amazing promotional videos. I promise you will not be disappointed if you click through to see examples of their work here and especially here.

While the skaters are certainly the stars of the game, I am most proud of my own team, The Enforcers. Quiet professionals, we are the referees who enforce the rules to ensure the safety and integrity of the game. Roller derby is a game and we’re having fun, but it’s a game that we are all very serious about. Like the skaters, we are at practice every week (sometimes several times a week) building skills, training on the rules, and constantly working to make sure we officiate every bout and scrimmage to the best of our abilities. It’s that level of commitment that make The Enforcers one of the most respected ref crews in the country. Worth noting: my team is undefeated; the refs always win.

Enforcers post-bout team photo by Stalkerazzi f/8

I’ve only really touched on the surface of what an incredible sport this is. I can tell you how exciting it is to watch, to be in the middle of that screaming crowd of fans, but you can’t really know until you see it for yourself. But, see it once, and you’ll be hooked; I was.

Photo by Shutter Thug

Find your local roller derby league and go see a bout. If you’re anywhere near Los Angeles (or coming for a visit,) come out to see the L.A. Derby Dolls. If you’re not in L.A., check the schedule (previous link) and watch the bouts live (and free) on the internet. Find me at the bout and say hello. Just ask for Third Degree Burns! and I’ll see you there.

(BTW, all of these photos are clickably gigantifiable, and look better large. Stalkerazzi and Shutter Thug are great photographers. Clicking will take you to their Flickr streams, where you can see lots of other fantastic roller derby photos.)

Postmodernism in Fantasy: An Essay by Brandon Sanderson

Today is my last day as site manager here at the Whatever.  As I prepare to hand the blog back to John, I thought I’d give you a surprise for making me feel so welcome. At first, I was going to tape bacon to my kids, but I figured someone would call CPS on me. Instead I’m happy to present Brandon Sanderson as a last-minute guest blogger! He has written a terrific and engaging essay concerning postmodernism in fantasy. Which is super fantastic as I’m taking multiple literature courses this fall. Thanks, Mr. Sanderson!

Brandon Sanderson is the author of Elantris,  the Mistborn trilogy, the Alcatraz series of novels and Warbreaker. He was personally chosen to complete the Wheel of Time series originally penned by Robert Jordan, with the latest installment due in November. If his packed panels and readings at Dragon*Con were any indication, he is an author well on his way to rock star status. If you haven’t jumped in and bought some of these books, you are truly missing out on wonderful reads. So without further ado, I’ll let him talk about his new novel, The Way of Kings.

You’re welcome.


The Way of Kings is out. I’ve been thinking a lot about the novel, what it has meant to me over the years, and why I decided to write it as I did. I’ve had a lot of trouble deciding how to pitch this novel to people. It’s a trouble I’ve never had before. I’m going to explain why this one doesn’t work as easily. But I’m going to start with a story.

There’s a particular music video I saw quite often when working the graveyard shift at the local hotel. I worked that job primarily because it allowed me to write at work (I wrote some eight or so novels while sitting at that front desk, including both Elantris and the original draft of The Way of Kings). However, part of my job there was the do the night audit of the cash drawer and occupancy, that sort of thing. As I worked, VH1/MTV would often become my radio for an hour or so, playing on the little television hidden behind the front desk.

The video was by Jewel, and was for the song “Intuition.” We’ll pretend, for the sake of defending my masculinity, that I paid special attention for the literary nature of the video, and not because I have a fondness for Jewel’s music. And there was something very curious about this video. In it, Jewel transitions back and forth between washed-out “normal world” shots of her walking on a street or interacting with people, and color-saturated “music video”-style shots of her engaging in product promotion while wearing revealing clothing.

The tone of the video is a little heavy-handed in its message. Among other things, it is meant to parody rock star/music video culture. It shows Jewel in oversexualized situations, having sold herself out in an over-the-top way. It points a critical finger at sexual exploitation of the female form in advertising, and juxtaposes Jewel in a normal, everyday walk with a surreal, Hollywood version of herself promoting various products.

Now, what is absolutely fascinating to me about this video is how perfectly it launches into an discussion of the literary concept of deconstructionism. You see, Jewel is able to come off looking self-aware—even down-to-earth—in this video, because of the focus she puts on how ridiculous and silly modern advertising is. The entire video is a condemnation of selling out, and a condemnation of using sexual exploitation in advertising.

And yet, while making this condemnation, Jewel gets to reap the benefits of the very things she is denouncing. In the video, her “Hollywood self” wears a tight corset, gets soaked in water, and prances in a shimmering, low-cut gown while wind blows her hair in an alluring fashion. She points a critical finger at these things through hyperbole, and therefore gains the moral high ground—but the video depends on these very images to be successful. They’re going to draw every eye in the room, gaining her publicity in the same way the video implies is problematic.

Deconstructionism is a cornerstone of postmodern literary criticism. Now, as I’m always careful to note, I’m not an expert in these concepts. A great deal of what I present here is an oversimplification, both of Jewel’s video and of postmodernism itself. But for the purposes of this essay, we don’t have time for pages of literary theory. The title itself is already pretentious enough. So, I’ll present to you the best explanation of deconstructionism I was given when working on my master’s degree: “It’s when you point out that a story is relyin’ on the same thing it’s denyin’.”

That will work for now.


Before postmodern literature can start appearing in a genre (and therefore, before deconstructionists can start pointing out the irony inherent in that postmodern literature) you need to have a body of work with dominant themes and concepts. You need an audience familiar enough with those themes to recognize when they are being molded, changed, and built upon.

Fantasy (and the epic in particular) hit a postmodern stage with remarkable speed. Tolkien was so remarkably dominant, so genre-changing, that reactions to him began immediately. And, since so much of the audience was familiar with his tropes (to the point that they quickly became expected parts of the genre), it was easy to build upon his work and change it. You could also argue that the Campbellian monomyth (awareness of which was injected into the veins of pop culture by George Lucas) was so strong in sf/f that we were well prepared for our postmodern era to hit. Indeed, by the late ’70s, the first major postmodern Tolkienesque fantasy epic had already begun. (In the form of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever.)

During my early years writing, I mixed a lot with other aspiring fantasy novelists. A great number of us had grown up reading the Tolkien- reaction books. Brooks, Eddings, Williams, Jordan. You might call us of the rising generation Tolkien’s grandchildren. (Some of you may have heard me call him, affectionately, “Grandpa Tolkien” when I talk about him, which is an affectation I think I got from a David Eddings interview I once read.) A lot of my generation of writers, then, were ready for the next stage of fantasy epics. The “new wave,” so to speak.

During those years, I read and heard a lot of talk about “taking the next step” in fantasy. Or, “making the genre our own.” It seems that everyone I talked to had their own spin on how they were going to revolutionize the genre with their brilliant twist on the fantasy epic. Unfortunately, a lot of us were a little unambitious in our twists. (“My elves are short, rather than tall!” or “I’m going to make orcs a noble warrior culture, not just a group of evil, thoughtless monsters!”) Our hearts were good; our methods were problematic. I remember growing dissatisfied with this (specifically with my own writing, which was going through some of the same not-so-original originality problems), though I couldn’t ever define quite why.

I think I have a better read on it now. It has to do with a particular explanation one writer gave when talking about his story. It went something like this: “Well, it starts out like every other ‘farmboy saves the world’ fantasy novel. You know, the plucky sidekick rogue, the gang of unlikely woodsmen who go on a quest to find the magic sword. But it’s not going to end like that. I’m going to twist it about, make it my own! At the three-quarter mark, the book becomes something else entirely, and I’ll play off all those expectations! The reader will realize it’s not just another Tolkienesque fantasy. It’s something new and original.”

There’s a problem in there. Can you spot it?

Here’s the way I see it. That book is going to disappoint almost everyone. The crowd who is searching for something more innovative will pick up the book, read the beginning, and grow bored because of how familiar the book seems. They’ll never get to the part where you’re new and original because of how strongly the book is relying upon the thing it is (supposedly) denying. And yet, the people who pick up your book and like it for its resonant, classical feel have a strong probability of growing upset with the novel when it breaks so solidly out of its mold at the end. In a way, that breaks the promise of the first three-quarters of the book.

In short, you’re either going to bore people with the bulk of the book or you’re going to make them hate your ending.

That’s a tough pill to swallow. I could be completely wrong about it; I frequently am. After all, I’ve often said that good writing defies expectations. (Or, more accurately, breaks your expectations while fulfilling them in ways you didn’t know you wanted. You have to replace what they thought they wanted with something so much more awesome that they are surprised and thrilled at the same time.) But I think that the above scenario exposes one of the big problems with postmodern literature. Just as Jewel’s music video is likely to turn off—because of the sexual imagery—people who might have agreed with its message, the above story seems likely to turn away the very people who would have appreciated it most.

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