I Love a Parade

View from the Dragoncon Parade

Especially when I am in it!

Because I am the literary guest of honor here at Dragon Con this year, I was put into the parade. I got into a Camaro convertable, sat on the back seat, and waved and smiled at the folks as we went by. As I understand it the parade route this year was closed to everyone but Dragon Con attendees, all of whom had to be vaccinated (or testing negative). There were still quite a lot of folks. It was fun.

Hope your weekend is also going fabulously.

— JS

The Big Idea: Matthew FitzSimmons

Progress happens all the time, but when do we notice it, and as importantly, when do we stop noticing it? The dynamics of progress is something Matthew FitzSimmons has been thinking about for his novel Constance, and how we humans adapt to it… or don’t.

MATTHEW FITZSIMMONS:

My grandmother, Mary Eleanor Hughes, was born in 1921, fifteen years before the Rural Electrification Act of ’36 (at a time when only 3% of American farms had electricity). By the time she passed in 1999, America had been to the moon and back. It had invented and dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. The automobile, the television, the telephone, the computer, and the internet – these are only a handful of the technological miracles that reshaped the world she would live in. We take them all for granted now, but what must have it been like to witness the world change with such breathtaking speed? What must she have felt boarding her first jet airliner in her forties? I thought about her life often while writing Constance.

Once I began the world-building for the book, I knew that Constance wouldn’t be set in a time when human cloning, like air travel before it, was taken for granted. That’s why I chose to set the book in 2040, a mere nineteen years from now. That way the arrival of human cloning would be new and transformative and immensely disruptive. For all of human history, death has been a finality. But then without warning or fanfare, what if it became possible to upload and store an individual’s consciousness? In the event tragedy befalls that individual, their consciousness could be downloaded into a cloned body – an insurance policy against death. How would society react to so radical a revision to the fundamental assumptions of human life?

As a species, we’ve adapted the planet to our needs primarily though technological innovation. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that those same technological innovations have been adapting us right back, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. A current example of this endless cycle is Deepfakes, the video manipulation software. There was a time when the journalistic expression, “a picture is worth a thousand words” was a truism. However, the trustworthiness of photographs and videos is being rendered worthless by technologies such as Photoshop and Deepfakes. What are the positive applications for Deepfakes that justify the havoc that it will wreak on societal confidence in information? That question clearly doesn’t concern its creators who are too busy inventing for the sake of invention, while we are having far too much fun inserting our faces into our favorite movies to amuse our friends online. Meanwhile, Deepfakes continues to undermine society’s ability to believe what it sees.

That has been the way of things over the last five hundred years as the pace of innovation accelerated dramatically – technology arrives, society is forced to adapt. In Constance, I wrote that, “Humans are very good at inventing solutions and very, very bad at anticipating consequences.” Rarely is society given the opportunity to consider whether to let a particular genie out of a particular bottle. That decision is taken out of our hands, but the long-term effects are ours to contend with. Perhaps that is the price of progress.

So what would be the consequences of human cloning? It was a fascinating thought experiment. Would human cloning be accepted or envied or reviled, perhaps all three simultaneously? I remembered the reaction to the birth of Elizabeth Jordan Carr in 1981, the first baby born in America using in vitro fertilization. She was cruelly dubbed a “test-tube baby” and the attending controversy, stigma, and moral outrage continued for years before eventually subsiding. Four decades later, over a million babies have been conceived through IVF. Would human cloning follow a similar trajectory – an initial period of outrage followed by acceptance and adaptation, or would resistance become ingrained?

It also occurred to me that cost and access to IVF remain a barrier for most women experiencing fertility issues. IVF can cost upward of $100,000 and only seventeen states have laws requiring health insurance cover the procedure. Cutting-edge technologies are never distributed equitably – I give you the parade of middle-aged billionaires taking environmentally catastrophic joyrides into low-earth orbit – so what if human cloning were also prohibitively expensive and only available to the one percent? How would the rest of us respond to being left out, left behind?

Those were the questions that I hoped Constance would inspire.


Constance: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

Somehow the Pets Always Know

Sugar, having mysteriously divined that we’re about to head out on vacation for several days, has graciously made sure our clothes have sufficient cat hair on them even without her to provide it daily. Really, such a sweet cat. So giving.

Also, yes, Krissy and I will be on our way to Dragon Con tomorrow, where I am the literary Guest of Honor. I will be masked and vaxxed and ready to meet fans. It’s been 18 months since I’ve been at a public event of any sort, so I’m hoping I actually remember how to, you know, talk to people. I think I remember? We’ll find out, in any event. If you’re at Dragon Con this weekend and see me, by all means say hello. And come to my events! I have, like, a dozen. They’re all on the schedule which you can find on the Dragon Con app.

I’ll pop in here from time to time, but likely only briefly, kind of like, uhhhhh, I’ve been doing all through the last month. Like that! Only more so!

Anyway. Off to pack more things while Sugar is distracted elsewhere.

— JS

The Big Idea: Jaye Viner

In the journey to publication, Jane of Battery Park went through many incarnations — and so did the world into which it would eventually be released. Author Jaye Viner is here to talk about both.

JAYE VINER:

In high school I wrote a book report on Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale. Because I’d read the book in school, I thought of Atwood as a literary author, not a speculative (genre) writer. I had no idea how much this trouble this ignorance would cause for the launch of my writing career.

Fast forward to 2012.

I had a bit of a hot-and-bothered thing for Richard Armitage, so I binge-watched select seasons of the BBC MI5 show Spooks. In Series 8, episode 3, anti-capitalist terrorists put a billionaire on a live-stream show trial and ask viewers to vote him innocent or guilty. Sparks flew (no, not from Richard, though he’s not too shabby). I had this first vapid hint of an idea.

Internet show trials. But not of the one percent, trials of celebrities.

A brilliant beyond brilliant idea!

Let’s pause here for me to air some sketchy laundry. I am a missionary kid who grew up in the Evangelical church, and thus have a particular way of dividing the world between secular (bad) and Christian (good). Even though I was already deconstructing this binary thinking in 2012, part of my brain had not turned off this sight. This sight had taught me that celebrities and Hollywood (read liberal entertainment media) are one of the big problems with American culture. And if we can improve the morals of Hollywood and our famous role models, America will be a more godly place.

Christians have been trying (sometimes succeeding) to infiltrate entertainment for an eternity. So it seemed plausible, in the vein of Atwood, that our future could contain terrorists who kidnapped celebrities and put them on show trials for their sins with the goal of improving our culture.

But because I still thought of Atwood as only literary fiction, and Spooks was a spy show, not science fiction, I wrote the thing as a literary novel without any thought that other people might think otherwise.

This was first a problem in 2014 when I took a screenplay version of the story to a workshop and people started asking me about Orwell and big brother and a far future American Fascist state. And I was like, WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? This is our world. It could happen tomorrow. It’s just like what we watch on TV.

Also 2014, I started sending queries to agents. Many responses mention timing. “The market isn’t good for this kind of story right now.”

In 2015, I did an MFA and workshopped yet another draft of the novel. No one mentioned genre. They asked about characters, and description. They said, “This could be a cult book.” And I began to get nervous. “Isn’t it like Handmaid’s Tale?” I asked. “Plausible imagining of a possible future?”

In 2016, a literary agent read my entire manuscript. She discussed the ideas with a fellow agent who was appalled that someone had written a book where American terrorists did such things. But the agent reading my book gave me good notes. She thought I should make it into a love story.

I panicked. I thought of Handmaid (not a love story). I thought of Spooks (also not a love story). I wanted to tell this agent that the thing I was writing about was the gap between two extreme American cultures. I wanted to tell her the gap was important.

Six months after my conversation with this agent, Donald Trump was elected president. I went to sleep on election night in one world and I woke up the next day in another. In this new world, the culture gap had become The Thing.

My grandiose self thought, America needs this story. I’m going to explain this thing they don’t understand. I will do whatever it takes.

So, I took out all the chapters with the terrorists’ POV, which was meant to be exactly half of the two culture representation. I molded what remained into a love story about a woman related to the terrorists falling for the brother of a blockbuster movie star – very Romeo and Juliet without the tragic ending. This version became Jane of Battery Park and was accepted by Red Hen Press, a literary publisher.

This must be a literary novel!

But along the two years from acceptance to publication, I did some market research. Because I needed comp titles to make those cool insta reels that go, “If you liked this book…read this!”

I returned to Atwood, then I read everything that seemed like it had cults. I read books about Christianity in various real and fictional forms. I read romantic thrillers because it seemed this was also a possible genre I could tap into now that I had a love story.

How many genres can a book have? I began to call it a ‘speculative literary thriller in the vein of Romeo and Juliet’. I prayed this marketing tactic would somehow work. I waited for someone from Red Hen to send me a disgruntled email about audience and branding.

On January 6th, 2021, people stormed the capitol building determined to reinstate Donald Trump as our rightful president. I thought, Now we really have Christian terrorists. Do I remove the speculative part?

Along this journey, many people have told me genre is flexible and labels don’t matter. But I’ve decided that’s not true. In fact, labels are a very important shorthand that tell readers what to expect from a book. Even if a book is many labels, an author needs to know what they are and how to use them. Jane of Battery Park launched yesterday. We’ll see if all I learned pays off.


Jane of Battery Park: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

Never Fear, Smudge Is Here to Help You Bid Adieu to August

Smudge, very regal.

I know you were worried you were going to have to head into September alone. Nah, bro. Smudge has got you.

My own “I’m not doing a whole lot of anything” time, I will note, extends to next Tuesday (this is not actually true, as I will be working at DragonCon this weekend, my first in-person convention in 18 months, but I mean in terms of worrying about posting deeply thinky stuff here). You’re likely to get a few more cat pics between now and then, I suspect.

— JS

The Big Idea: Elayne Audrey Becker

A picture, they say is worth a thousand words. But as Elayne Audrey Becker is about to tell you in this Big Idea for her novel Forestborn, two pictures may be worth an entire book.

ELYANE AUDREY BECKER:

The idea for Forestborn began, not with words, but with two pictures in my mind.

The first: a girl who was a shapeshifter, alone in the forest, with a castle just visible in the distance. I didn’t know her story, but I could feel her sadness. Her loneliness.

The second: a group of giants swinging enormous vines among the treetops, causing the stardust stored there to come spiraling down. I didn’t know the exact reasoning, but I knew they were doing it at the behest of a king, and I knew he was a good king.

These two images coalesced into Forestborn, my fantasy novel about shapeshifters and a quest for stardust hidden deep in an unpredictable, magical wilderness. The story’s foundation took shape in my mind fairly quickly. But to assemble those pieces into the best version they could be, the true story I wanted to tell? That process took years of trial and error, draft after draft after draft.

Here is where I’d like to say that I wove those strands into a single central conceit. To pare the novel into one effective hook and share that “big idea” with you in this piece.

I tried. For days, I tried to find the right words. I thought—maybe I can talk about the fact that I knew, early on, I wanted to write a story about the long-term effects of trauma. How a difficult experience or set of experiences can shape a person’s life and continue to affect them years after the event itself. Thus, each of Forestborn’s main characters are dealing with their own form of hardship and emotional damage.

Next, I thought—I know. I’ll write about the deep love of nature and wildlife ingrained in me from a young age, and how I wanted to challenge the notion that nature must come second to human interests. I will tie that to the fact that Forestborn is a celebration of the untamed, an epic fantasy in which the land is part of the magic system and functions almost as a character itself.

Finally, growing nervous now, I thought—I should write about how angry I become when I consider the fact that so many people are still persecuted and punished for nothing more than being themselves. How, between certain facets of my family history and the world in which we’re all living today, I felt compelled to write a narrative that speaks to the danger of othering. This is why Forestborn explores the multifaceted wrongness of forcing one’s misconstrued beliefs on another person’s shoulders.

All of these would be true. But equally true is the fact that ultimately, it’s difficult for me to identify one big idea behind the book.

That feels vulnerable to admit. As if doing so makes me less of a “real author,” a demotion I’m already wary of receiving as both a woman and an author of Young Adult fiction. But there you have it. I cannot identify one central hook behind the story.

And yet—

Yet, perhaps that is the idea behind Forestborn, the story of a girl who feels as if she’s been unfairly placed in a box throughout her life. A girl who fears she’s too selfish to be good, before she realizes she can be selfish and selfless both, and still be worthy of love. Many strands weave together to create the whole. A story, an individual.Each person has more sides to them than what one sees on the surface. Wilderness can be frightening and generous both, and one can be shaped by pain from the past and still find ways to walk toward the light.

In the novel and in life, I call this idea the grey space. It’s more than the idea that life doesn’t have to be, cannot be, black and white. Rather, the grey space blends the two and reminds us that something can be sad and happy at once. A step forward and a step back. It’s the fact that we all carry the good and the bad, past and present, sorrow and joy, in a single self, and it’s fine for these pairs to coexist. We have room inside for both.

I can’t tell you Forestborn’s big hook, but I can tell you the pieces that come together to make the whole. A pair of images in my mind. An investment in writing a book about trauma. A passion for the natural world, and the ever-present desire to see a better world going forward.


Forestborn: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

Whoops

Today was a day full of prepping for Dragon Con and having phone meetings about things I can’t talk about yet. So, uhhhhh, hello? I’m late updating? And have nothing particularly interesting to say? Here’s an Olivia Rodrigo video. Teens being snotty to exes! What’s not to like?

— JS

Today’s Deep Thought of the Day for Today

There are many ways to voluntarily turn one’s brain into a pudding, but for true mental discombobulation, you can’t beat a two-hour nap in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. I woke up barely able to remember my own name, which is, to be clear, Joe Piscopo.

How are you?

— JP

These Sticky Buns Were Fire

The short story of the event here was that some of the sugar glaze of the sticky buns escaped the pan and fell to the bottom of the oven, where it started to burn and scorch; this necessitated the evacuation of the buns from the oven and opening up all the windows in the lower half of the house to let the smoke out. The good news is that the mess was quickly addressed and cleaned, no one came anywhere close to being hurt, and the buns themselves were completely fantastic. Lesson learned: put the bun pan on a cookie sheet next time.

And now, because it’s obviously appropriate here: A song.

— JS

Today’s Distraction From the Internet

A friend who is visiting has brought boxes of Lebanese food and desserts, and so I’ll be spending the day hanging out with them and utterly destroying my normal daily calorie count with these very delicious foods, and not being online. While it seems unlikely you will be having the same specific events transpiring for your Friday, nevertheless I hope it’s a similarly excellent day.

— JS

“Automated Customer Service” Gets an Emmy (and LD+R Gets Four)

Still from Love Death + Robots

Specifically, “Automated Customer Service” won an Emmy Juried Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation, going to ACS character designer Laurent Nicolas. Love Death + Robots got three other juried Emmys as well, going to Robert Valley, Patricio Betteo (both for “Ice”) and Dan Gill (for “All Through the House”). Four Emmys is a nice haul, and the series is up for a couple more in the competitive categories as well. Here are the details from the Emmys site.

Naturally, I think this is pretty damn cool. This is not my Emmy — it’s Laurent Nicolas’ — but I’m delighted that something that came out of my brain gave someone else the opportunity to show off their talents and skills at a high enough level that their peers decided to award them for it. And justly so: There’s nothing out there that quite looks like “Automated Customer Service,” and, clearly, it’s all the better for it.

Congratulations to Laurent Nicolas, and to the other Emmy winners from LD+R, and to everyone who did work on the series. It’s a good day for the show, and for animation.

— JS

The Big Idea: Cassie Hart

As a madeleine was to Proust, so was a video game to Cassie Hart: A thing which spurred something inside, which then became art — the novel Butcherbird.

CASSIE HART:

It started in Minecraft. Glancing up from the water between two rows of wheat I was thrown back into my childhood when we used to play hide and seek in the swamp on the family farm.

It started with an ache of longing in my chest for those days, and that land which played such a formative role in who I am both as a person and a writer. There is something fraught and brutal about the environment there: harsh winds, chilly tendrils reaching down from the mountain, a crispness to the air that you don’t find in a lot of places. The way the land rolls, a reminder of when lahars flowed from the mountain, shaping the landscape around it permanently.

The constant reminder that this land is vital, vibrant.

Growing up on the farm grounded me in the beliefs of my culture, the bone deep knowledge that we are descended from the land. She is known as Papatūānuku in Māori culture, where everything comes from the atua (Māori gods). Where we are all connected: people, mountains, rivers, stars, sea, the sky, the land.

There is a concept in our culture called tūrangawaewae. It translates means that you have a place to stand, a place where you belong and is tied into the land. When Aotearoa was colonized, the shape of the country was changed irrevocably. Colonizers fought, stole, claimed land that was not theirs, much of which was siphoned off to farmers – my family among them. It’s a thing that no Māori tribe avoided. This theft of our culture is part of the make-up of our generational trauma.

It’s a weird space to live in when you know that not only are your ancestors the very people who were responsible for this trauma, but that you also have ancestry on the other side of the war as well. You are both aggressor and aggrieved. Descended from the people who benefitted from the violence and colonization of Aotearoa, and also those who were ripped from ancestral lands, forced to give up their (our) language and culture, to assimilate.

I have spent years grappling with the discomfort of holding these two sides of the colonization of Aotearoa New Zealand within me, and that informed and influenced the writing of Butcherbird. It’s an uncomfortable place to be, but such an important one for growth and understanding. For healing.

Trauma in Butcherbird, as in my life, is personal as well as intergenerational. Jena returns to the farm she was born on to dig into her history, to find out the truth about what happened there nearly twenty years ago when her family died.

Walking through the house and the land that she was banished from, she is haunted by ghosts in a literal and figurative sense; walking in both the past, and the present – the future is barely tangible. The only thing that really grounds her is the land beneath her feet, the timeless quality of it, the knowledge that no matter what else happens it will always be there.

Jena needs to reclaim what was hers, in a sense – memories, knowledge, physical objects, connections with those who came before her. It’s a journey that I’ve been walking myself as I reconnect with te ao Māori (the Māori world), and the language that should have been mine from birth. In learning te reo Māori (the Māori language) I’m able to access some of the magic and mana of my people, to find a touchstone, a safe place, somewhere I feel a deep sense of belonging. In Butcherbird, I wanted to explore how Jena could do the same.

Even though my version of the family farm has been sold and I will never walk those fields again, never pick blackberries from the bushes, or explore the reeds in the swamp, it lives on in Butcherbird. That place is Jena’s tūrangawaewae, the place where she can make her stand, discover who she truly is, and reclaim her life.

Sometimes we have to go back, before we can move forward.


Butcherbird is available digitally via universal link, or directly from the Huia website.

Visit the author’s website. Follow the author on Twitter.

Charlie Watts, RIP

Here’s an obit from Variety. I’m sure in the next few days we’ll see many more.

He was one of the best drummers, in rock or outside it, and equally, the coolest drummer in rock by far. He dressed for the job he wanted, and the job he had.

And while there are any number of performances of his to list as the best, here’s my personal favorite, from “Start Me Up,” where the initial snare hit is as iconic as the opening guitar riff. It all works exactly as it should, and Watts makes a magnificently on-point drum performance look like no big deal. It’s a big deal, folks. Behind the preening of Jagger in the video is Watts’ rock-solid beat. You couldn’t have the first without the second.

— JS

The Big Idea: R.W.W. Greene

Cover to Twenty-Five to Life

Author R.W.W. Greene has someone he wants you to meet. It’s a person — well, entity — you’ve met before. And for Greene’s new novel Twenty Five to Life, it’s someone who was very important in setting the stage for the events detailed therein.

R.W.W. GREENE:

Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb! – Allen Ginsberg, Howl, Part II

Moloch – be he a god, a demon, or a method of human sacrifice (claims vary) – is an asshole. Ginsberg used Moloch as a metaphor for consumerism; Karl Marx pegged him as a stand-in for capital. No matter how he’s invoked, the big guy represents our willingness to borrow against the future to make our present more comfortable… throw the kids (preferably not our own but, ya know, The Other Kids) right on the fire so we can have a bigger flatscreen and a vacation home. Note: Our own kids will do just fine if no one else’s are handy.

Moloch has his fingers all over human nature, which is why we’re living and writing about him ALL. THE. TIME. Twenty years of illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that our kids will never stop paying for? Check. Coughing up kidneys and lungs to keep senior citizens alive in the short story, Caught in the Organ Draft? Yep. Underfunding public schools to keep our taxes low? Hells, yeah! Two kids from every district volunteered yearly as tribute in The Hunger Games? You betcha. Mainlining petrol in spite of scientists warning us about climate change for fifty fucking years? Right there, pal! Taking a hard pass on gun-law reform in wake of school shootings? Moloch, baby!

Our simmering, half-chuckling fear of robots and AI stems partly from him, too. We want our electronic children to do all the work that’s too dirty, dull, and dangerous for our soft hands, and the idea they might want something else scares the hell out of us. But screw ’em, right? We’ll be dead by then, after a long happy life of padded toilet seats, home ownership, and cheap electricity.

This reverence for Mighty Morphin’ Moloch is the motor behind Twenty-Five to Life, a book I banged out over the past decade and that Angry Robot kindly offered to publish. The number in the title refers to the new age of majority in the world of the book. To protect the economic and political power of the longer-and-longer-lived older generations, The Kids can’t vote or even move out of their parents’ houses until they are twenty-five years old. There’s some science behind it – adolescent brains don’t really set firm until that age – and, besides, who cares what the kids want? Youth is wasted on the young. Give them agency, and they’ll spend it all on avocado toast and earbuds.

The ‘fictional’ years leading up to the events of Twenty-Five to Life reek of Moloch. Climate change! Protagonist Julie’s ancestors could have raced to address it one-hundred and fifty years before but kept kicking the can down the road in the name of convenience and the economy. Instead, they lived through a slow apocalypse that kept Greta Thunberg up all night instead of doing things that kids ought to be doing. (Necking behind the windmill farm, maybe. Smoking pot under the solar array.) Post-Gen Y generations moved inland and rewrote the Farmer’s Almanac because their elders and Moloch were too busy K-I-S-S-I-N-G the future away to care.

A big chunk of post-apocalyptic sci-fi came true in 2020. We peered over our masks at a world that looked all too familiar because we’d read it or watched it in a film a dozen times or more. Isaac Asimov, a problematic creator but a creator nonetheless,  and an icon of the sci-fi genre said (or wrote), “Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable.” Steven Spielberg, less an icon, maybe, but also less problematic, said of the genre, “Every science fiction movie I have ever seen, any one that’s worth its weight in celluloid, warns us about things that ultimately come true.”

Good sci-fi comes true. I won’t bestow the title of ‘good’ on myself, but here’s the Big Idea behind Twenty-Five to Life: If you are under forty right now, today, Moloch is drinking your milkshake and grinning his ass off. Sorry ’bout that.


Twenty-Five to Life: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

Administrative Notes and an Editorial Comment, 8/23/21

As noted in the day’s previous entry from Athena, today’s post from her marks her last contribution to the site for a bit, as she starts up school again and focuses on classes. I am, of course, 100% in support of this plan, but it does mean a few changes around here, which I will detail now.

First and most obviously, Whatever is going to go back to being largely handled by me, all the time. Some of this is back end stuff, which you won’t necessarily notice — for example, I will again be posting the Big Idea pieces, which Athena had been handling during her tenure (I had invited her to continue posting them, just for fun, but she declined). It also means that aside from the Big Idea, everything here will be generated by me.

Which is a little sad for me! I’ve enjoyed the variety that Athena’s pieces added to the site — it made the site more “Whatever-y,” if you will. That said, it reminds me that the site ethos is to offer up a wide range of topics and thoughts on them, some serious and some not, and I think going forward I’m going to keep that ethos a little more present in mind as I write and present material. How will that manifest itself? We’ll see, and we’ll see probably after Labor Day, since I’m still on my “Take August Easy and Don’t Do Too Much” plan, which I think has been an excellent plan for me, by the way. I do have ideas, however.

As the site is going back to being mostly me, I’ll be dropping the side photo for now; it’s not needed to differentiate posts between authors, and you all already know what I look like, I suspect. If you have any confusion on the score, the byline is still at the top of each post.

Athena mentions in her piece that after a month or two back in school she’ll reassess how much (if any) time she wants to devote to Whatever. Again, I’m 100% in support of this. School takes precedence and Whatever, by design, is a side hustle (it’s my side hustle, after all, and has been for going on 23 years). Right now there is no concrete plan for her future contributions; they may happen, or not, depending on her time, circumstances and inclinations. No plan, but what Athena has is an open door to post when and if she feels like it, on whatever it is she is thinking about. If she wants to, she can and may! If not, she won’t and that’s fine, too. She’s not banished, she just has other things to do. To reflect this new status, Athena’s masthead designation has changed from “writer/editor” to “contributor.”

(I’ve also changed the picture of the two of us that shows up on the front page of the site, to suggest that Athena may still be present on the site from time to time, just, you know, looming. Don’t worry, I cleared its use with her.)

So those are the administrative notes for the site at the moment. With those taken care of, let me talk briefly as an editor and a father about having Athena be part of the site.

Clearly I knew Athena would be taking a break from the site to focus on going back to school, and inasmuch as we have weekly staff meetings to plot out what’s going up on the site, I knew she would be writing a “farewell” piece as her last regularly scheduled post. I didn’t know what the specific content of it would be prior to her submitting it, or that she would talk about her time at Miami University and her thoughts about it.

I have nothing to add about her time at Miami; that’s her story to tell and it’s not my place, nor do I have an interest, to drop in my two cents there. I will say that we supported her taking time off, first to recalibrate, and then, when COVID hit, because trying to focus on education in the middle of a pandemic for which there was no vaccine wasn’t going to go great for most people in general (this suspicion has, I should say, been borne out). I’ll also say that when it looked like Athena would have an extended hiatus to her formal education, I asked her to come work for me on Whatever.

Three reasons for this: One, because a year-plus of unstructured down time is not a great idea for anyone, and the other job options in the area available to her were mostly retail, which again in a pandemic had their own issues, exposure-wise. Two, having her work on Whatever would let me focus on my own writing a little more while the site was tended to, which was an actual benefit to me, and worth paying her for. Three, because Athena is a legitimately good writer, and here was a chance to give her the time and opportunity to work on her craft on a regular basis, with someone who actually had editorial and journalistic experience. The nature of Whatever is loose (write on whatever subject interests you), but writing regularly and competently takes discipline and skill.

Of those three reasons, number two was the least successful; even with Athena taking over administrative tasks on Whatever I had a bad focus year in 2020, and the only mitigating comment here is that just about everyone else in the world felt similarly. Otherwise, I think Athena’s year on staff at Whatever was a success. The growth of her unique and specific voice as a writer is measurable over that time, as is the confidence in which she approached the topics she addressed. I am biased, of course. But I am not that biased. Athena is a good writer and she got better in her year here.

It’s not the year she or frankly any of us were expecting, but it did not go idly by. And the result was her honing a life skill that will be useful to her out in the world. I’m proud of that, and, obviously, very proud of her.

Which is a thing I feel I should say publicly: I’m proud of my kid. Life is a complicated and messy thing, and rare is the person whose life goes exactly to plan (and to whose plan? Theirs? Or someone else’s?), if they even have a plan at all. Some things are in our control and some things aren’t. I finished college in four years, right after I finished high school. Krissy got her college degree at 35, after years of fitting in classes where she could. Athena will do her thing, and it will take the time it takes. I’m not too worried about that. In the meantime Athena is a good and decent person, one of my favorite people to talk to and snark with, someone whose presence in the world makes me happy every day. And also, a hell of a good writer, and getting better as she goes along.

Again: the last year was not the year she or any of us were expecting. But I wouldn’t trade this last year of working with her for anything. For me, it was a joy, and I will never not look back on it as one of the best of times. Given the time in which it happened and everything that surrounded it, that’s saying something. It was a privilege to be her editor, and is a privilege to continue to be her father.

Me and Athena.

— JS

The Truth About My Time At Miami University And Why This Is My Last Post (For Now)

Athena ScalziHello, everyone, and welcome to what will be (spoiler) my last post for a while.

There have been several times I have wanted to talk about my time at Miami University on here, but I have such complicated feelings towards the whole thing that I always shy away from it. I don’t just avoid talking about it on here, though, I avoid conversating about it in person, too.

I dread when people inevitably ask me about it. I abhor any mention of my path to higher education. I detest any conversation about college. But as I said, it’s inevitable, right? I’m a college-aged kid, of course people are going to ask me if I’m in school. And if they know I’m in school, then of course they’re going to ask how it’s going. People ask because they’re curious, or because they care. No one ever asks with ill intent or malice, so why is it so upsetting when people bring it up to me? I can’t be mad at someone for mentioning a topic just because I happen to have a lot of negative emotions surrounding that topic, right? Right.

Long story short: I totally failed out of Miami.

Long story long: My freshman year at Miami, I started out with six classes. And for the first couple weeks, I went to every class, and did all the assignments. And then after those first few weeks, I thought to myself, what if I just didn’t? And so began my long, long period of never going to class and never doing any schoolwork. Semester after semester.

Why go to my 8am class when I could just sleep instead? Why go to my noon class when I could grab lunch with a friend instead? Why do an assignment on a Friday night when I could be having a movie night with my dorm pals instead? Why do any of it when I could just do something else, something infinitely more fun, instead?

Obviously, this mentality led to some problems. Put that on top of the mentality of “well if I just don’t look at my grades, they don’t exist”, and soon enough you’ll have an entire semester of straight Fs. It happens very quickly, and once it does, it is quite literally impossible to fix.

So, every semester, once I hit that point of no return, where I knew no amount of trying hard the remainder of the semester could fix what I’d done up to that point, I considered it a loss and told myself I’d try again next semester, but since this one was a total loss, I didn’t have to do anything for the rest of it since it would all be for nothing anyway.

After the first semester of straight Fs, Miami gave me an “academic warning”, which basically meant if my next semester was below a 2.0 GPA, I’d get put on “academic probation”. I also had to take an online course about why failing is bad, and how to avoid failing. It was honestly kind of humiliating.

Funny enough, I actually passed one class that semester with a B, but the rest were Fs, and Miami put me on “academic probation”, which is like “academic warning” but more serious. Basically, if I got less than a 2.0 the following semester, I’d get “academic suspension” and be kicked out for two semesters.

At this point, I had almost no credits to show for my freshman year. So I decided to take two summer classes. They were online, and I took one in June and one in July. I passed both, one with a 92% and one with a 102%. Things were looking up! So I started sophomore year off optimistic. I was in a new dorm that was directly in the center of campus, so all my classes were a one minute walk away, unlike my previous dorm which was on the outskirts of campus and gave me all the more reason not to go to class.

That semester, instead of an online course about not failing, I had to take an in-person class about not failing! That was just great. So nice to be surrounded by fellow failures. I don’t think it really did much for me because I ended up failing that semester too! And Miami was ready to kick me to the curb.

Obviously, not a great situation, so I had the genius idea to blame everything on my disability. Poor narcoleptic girl, falling asleep in every class, falling asleep every time she cracked open a textbook to do any studying, falling asleep every time she opened her laptop to write a paper. Truly tragic.

I have struggled with my narcolepsy for years, in many ways, but college made me realize how debilitating it truly is. I am still trying to figure out “did my disability actually disable me, or am I being overdramatic? Am I falsely blaming my disability when the true problem is me, and my disability is just an easy cover-up?” You know, I don’t really know. It’s a mix of a lot of things.

I genuinely did fall asleep in every class, which in turn made me not want to go because that shit is fucking embarrassing. But I also didn’t go because I didn’t feel like it. And I really couldn’t make it through a paragraph in a textbook without nodding off. But I also didn’t really open my textbooks very often to begin with. It was truly a co-morbidity.

So, yeah, I told Miami, “wait, don’t be mad at lil’ ol’ me, my brain is broken!” It took several doctors notes, and several forms, but I got Miami to erase my entire freshman year. All those Fs, just wiped away, and I was back on academic warning for the semester I had just goofed. However, I didn’t have to retake the courses about not failing, so that was cool.

Moving forward to spring semester of sophomore year, I was now registered with the disability services, so I could request accommodations from my professors. But what was there to request? There’s not really anything to be done about my problem. Like, yeah, if a professor happened to see me sleeping in class, they could wake me up or something, but what else is there to do? And how can I expect my professor to even notice me sleeping when there’s dozens of other kids in class?

In the end, nothing changed, and I failed again. This time around, there was much less “I would rather hang out with my friends than do homework!” and much more “I can’t bring myself to get out of bed until the sun has gone down, and I haven’t showered in three days”. So that was a lot of fun.

Once again, I got put on academic probation. I decided my best course of action was to take online courses over the summer again, since it went so well last time. I took three, all at the same time, and it did not go well. But I couldn’t risk failing them all, so I dropped all three of them. Total loss, yet again.

Finally, my junior year (though I wasn’t technically a junior in credits since I have like none)! I was still on academic warning, but I was determined that this year would be different. I was in therapy, I was in a nice dorm, I was feeling good! The first two or three weeks were great, and I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing. But then assignments got harder, and I had to do more reading, more work, and my god I just simply did not feel like it. So I didn’t! Needless to say, I got straight Fs yet again.

Time for academic suspension, wheeee! Academic suspension, by the way, is where they don’t let you come back for two semesters. If you were to come back after that and fail again, you would get academic dismissal, which means you come back never. (However, you are allowed to petition for readmission after two full years has passed.)

I went with the classic, “you can’t fire me! I quit!” And I dropped the fuck out. I’m not good enough for Miami, ey? Well, maybe they’re not good enough for me! Yeah, take that!

So, I did not return to Miami for Spring Semester 2020. Fuck school, I thought, I’ll get a job! So I became a hostess at Applebee’s. Wheeee. After three weeks, I called it quits because that fucking sucked. I decided to try out a local restaurant/bakery instead! Also sucked. So I quit.

And then COVID happened! Boy oh boy did I pick a good time NOT to go to school. All my friends, along with literally every other student in the world, had to pack up and head home not even two months into the semester. And they spent the rest of their semester online. So, I didn’t miss out on much.

But I figured I’d return in the fall of 2020, once this whole pandemic thing had ended. Obviously, the pandemic thing was very much not over by that point, so I held off on going back, and started writing for the blog instead, because I was literally doing nothing else with my time.

Fast forward a year, and now I’m going to my first day of college in over a year and half. That’s right y’all, I’m enrolled at the local community college, and I’m working towards getting my General Associates In Arts. Assuming I don’t fucking fail again, I should have a degree after two semesters. So by Spring 2022 I should have my little piece of paper.

Why am I getting a general degree instead of focusing on a field? Well, it’s basically because all the classes I did pass over the years don’t really lean in any direction, they’re all pretty scattered, so I can’t really get a degree towards anything in particular.

When I was in high school, I took College Credit Plus courses, which meant that classes I was taking in high school counted as college courses, and gave me credits through Urbana University. Through this program, I got credits for things like anatomy, math, and English.

Then, I went to Edison (the community college I’m going to now) for my senior year of high school so I could graduate a semester early. While I was there, I passed Intro to Psychology, American Sign Language, Human Sexuality, and Composition II.

Going into Miami, I had 36 credit hours from high school alone. At Miami, I passed Children’s Literature (but it got erased), Classical Mythology, Creative Writing, German, Writing For Media, the Academic Probation Class, Ballroom Dancing, and Introduction to Poetry. That gave me 20 credit hours from Miami.

This semester at Edison, I’ll be taking Cell Biology, Race & Ethnicity, Intro to Communications, and Intro to Humanities.

With all that technical info out of the way, let’s talk about my feelings, because that’s always a blast.

I feel kind of excited, I think. The usual “back to school” rush of adrenaline. Got a new backpack so you know I’ll be looking spiffy. But mostly I’m anxious. My fear of failure is as prominent as ever, and I don’t know what I’ll do if I do fail, so I just have to continue on under the assumption that I won’t. Because I’m out of options if I do.

I’m not necessarily looking forward to any of my classes, especially cell biology. I mean, it’s certainly no Ballroom Dancing, but I genuinely feel like I’ll make it through this time. I know I’m capable of passing, I have 56 credit hours to prove it! I just have to pass consistently, and that’s honestly hard for me.

I know that I have to give it my all this semester, and that is why I’ve decided to take a break from writing on here. I have to put all my focus towards my classes. At least in the beginning, anyways. Once I’ve taken a month or two to settle into things, I’ll decide if I feel like I have enough time and/or brain capacity to come back to Whatever. (Though, I’m sure I can manage a monthly snack box review post every now and again!)

With all that being said, it’s been a great year writing on Whatever, and I hope to write for you all again very soon. For now, though, I’m going to go to class.

-AMS

The Dragon Curse

John Scalzi

Krissy and I went to a Dayton Dragons game today (the Dragons being Dayton’s minor league baseball team), and something happened that always happens whenever I come to see a Dayton Dragons game at the field: They lost. And, this time, not by just a little. The final score was 8-3, after a particularly disastrous second inning in which the opposing Lake County Captains put up six runs, staring with a home run and then all sorts of singles and doubles. It was a real mess and while the Dragons did all right in the rest of the game (not counting the second inning, they outscored the Captains 3-2), that’s an inning that’s very hard to come back from. The Dragons did not.

I was sad but not surprised. I go to a Dayton Dragons game once every couple of years, and over the twenty years of being in Ohio, I have yet to see them win a game. I show up, they lose. Every single time. Which purely as a matter of statistics shouldn’t happen — The Dragons win roughly half the games they play so just as a matter of a coin flip I should have seen a couple wins by now. But, nope.

Therefore: Clearly I am a curse to the Dayton Dragons and should stop going to their games, or at least never go to games that are critical, like playoff games or the final game of a league championship. This is a heavy responsibility and I will endeavor to live up to the challenge. Unless whoever is opposing them wants to bribe me, in which case, I am listening.

— JS

Someone Wants In

And to be fair, it’s warm and humid outside. I want to be inside, too. However, if I let this critter in, the chances that it’ll be hugged by one of the cats’ teeth in the very near future approaches certainty. It’s probably better where it is. Pretty specimen, though.

Hope you’re having a fine Saturday.

— JS

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