20 Apr

My Male-Pattern Stupidity and Fearless Girl

I’m finding myself caught up in several conversations about Fearless Girl and Charging Bull. You know what I’m talking about, right? The statue of the little girl standing defiantly in front of the Wall Street bull and the flack that came about when the original artist, Arturo Di Modica, complained that her appearance altered his art. “My bull is a symbol for America. My bull is a symbol of prosperity and for strength,” Di Modica said in a Washington Post article. He’s charging what is essentially copyright infringement, and he wants Fearless Girl removed.

The stuff really seemed to hit the fan when Greg Fallis posted a conversation titled “seriously, they guy has a point.”

Among the responses to this I saw was by Caroline Criado-Perez, titled “On Fearless Girl, women & public art; or, no, seriously, the guy does not have a point.

The whole thing is fascinating.

On one hand, you can have some very technical conversations about copyright law. This part is interesting to me because I’m not particularly adroit when it comes to how copyright works in visual art. It’s also interesting to me because to my uneducated experience this situation appears to be unique to sculpted art. I’ve tried to equate the idea of placing two sculpted figures together to things like music sampling or call-and-response forms of literature, but it seems a different beast. Sampling and call-and-response works build on top of each other, or happen as a result of each other, but the existence of a sample or response does not keep one from enjoying the original on its own merits.

That’s the argument, right? That Fearless Girl makes it impossible to see Charging Bull on its original merits? Actually, no. That’s not quite right. As consumers of the works, we are free to view and interpret them as we wish. The argument Di Modica is making, however, is that Fearless Girl actually changes the meaning of Charging Bull.

This is where the whole thing steps into the more charged questions of artistic intent, artistic merit (which included the twist that Fearless Girl was paid for by corporate commission), and, eventually, into the idea of what a piece of art is in context of the audience who absorbs it. In other words, your thoughts on the situation say as much about you as they do anything else.

As I wrote on a Facebook comment discussing the argument:

To be simple, this seems to boil down to:

DiModica says: “I’m upset because this new art has changed the original intent of my work! Move your work or suffer my wrath!”

Fallis says: “The guy has a point, and oh, by the way, Fearless Girl was paid for by a company so it doesn’t mean what you think it does.”

Criado-Perez says: “No, the original art already contained the message brought out by Fearless Girl, it’s not our fault that you couldn’t see it until Fearless Girl showed up…and, by the way, it doesn’t matter who paid for it. Please put your big-boy pants on.”

At the end of the day, I find it tempting to say that this is one of those topics on which rational people can disagree, and leave it at that. It is, after all, true that rational people are disagreeing here. But it is also true that something being rational, or logical, does not make it true. It is, after all, logical to think the Earth is flat if you only look at the question from one perspective. Alas, however, the Earth is not flat. This means that a rational person is not always right.

If one allows me the consideration of being rational, my own journey through looking at this situation is indicative.

When I first saw the argument, I thought the guy really did have a point. I thought Fearless Girl completely changed Charging Bull, meaning the original intent was gone. After a muddled but oddly emotional discussion with Lisa, and after using another evening to silently mull it over, I came to the view that I was wrong. Di Modica’s original intent is still there—it’s just that his original intent is rife with the existence of oblivious privilege. In this sense, my own process of taking in the piece was a perfect example of why Fearless Girl works. I was oblivious at first, then slowly able to pivot to a different way of seeing it. I’m taking to calling this initial reaction my Male-Pattern Stupidity anymore. I think I’m a good guy at heart, but sometimes it takes me a little while to think through things and get to a healthy view of any particular situation. This process is, in several ways, the exact definition of privilege as applied to me. To never need to see (or be forced to see?) the full depths of meaning inherent in Charging Bull makes life easy in a particularly insidious way.

So, anyway, my first reaction to the piece was that the artistic content of Charging Bull was totally changed.

Similarly, copyright: First I thought Fearless Girls’ creators were in trouble, then I spent time reading about past cases and came to the conclusion that no, even if the existence of Fearless Girl did change the meaning of Charging Bull, it is unlikely Di Modica can win a copyright case on the technical merits of the situation alone. The arguments for this made total sense to me. But as I came to understand that the intent of Di Modica’s piece has not actually been altered so much as “more fully” exposed, the copyright argument pretty much vanished completely.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m no lawyer. I assume the case will make it through the courts, and that the courts will decide however they decide. I am, however, now of the opinion Di Modica has a very steep hill to climb.

Regardless of how any court will decide, however, for my tastes Fearless Girl is an interesting piece of art specifically because her power comes out more fully as I think through the nuances of her relationship with her surroundings. For me, she does not change the original intention of Charging Bull as being about strength and power inherent in America so much as she comments upon it. Fearless Girl was created (with help from its corporate sponsors) as a view on representation, after all. She would work in that fashion anywhere she was placed, but the aspect of representation in Fearless Girl’s presence is brought out even more fully when you place her in front of Charging Bull, just as it would be if she were placed in front of the White House, or an all-male country club, or….

In this sense, Fearless Girl’s comment on representation doesn’t change, nor does she change anything inherent in the object she is placed in front of. Instead, she points out something specific that is already within that target’s original meaning and she holds it up for people to see.

How a person sees that specific something seems to be the deciding factor in how that person will react to the situation.

So, yes, I see that Di Modica is upset, and I understand the logic for why he is. I get it. I’ve felt it myself. It’s totally logical he would feel that way.

But the fact that his discomfort is logical does not mean he has a point.

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17 Apr

Writers of the “Current”

I recently spent a week in Los Angeles at the Writers of the Future workshop, blogging daily for them and generally having much fun. Part way through it, Galaxy Press asked if I would do individual capsules on each writer. I loved the idea, so I said “sure!” Those went over well enough that they have now asked me to do a series of profiles on past winners. Of course, I said “sure!” again. I’ve got a list of folks, and I’m working my way through them.

It’s been great fun.

It’s also been different from writing about the current winners.

Writing about these past winners has this sense of looking through a time machine, of course. It feels nostalgic in a lot of ways, thinking back to when these names were truly just starting out. Fresh slates, so to speak. Some of them I know personally, and for those the feeling is doubled. Some I “grew up” with. Most are more successful than me, I would say (in a non-jealous kind of way), or at least differently successful. There are New York Times bestsellers here, Hugo winners, Nebula winners, and winners of many other awards.

Unlike the current winners, there is no fresh sense of wonder surrounding these people. Instead, it’s been replaced with this very calm sense of pace, a feeling of competence, a sense, almost, of watching a rock climber scaling a mountain. Seeing their records is like looking back down the mountain, looking at where they are is to see them calmly reach into a resin bag to prepare themselves for the next handhold. It all feels very meta, all tied up in dreams and hard work and random luck and raw persistence. The mere fact of these people’s existence is a small piece of performance art.

It’s fun to feel like I’m somehow a little part of it.

Here are the profiles I wrote for the new winners: (which I’ll try to update when the last two get released)

Doug Souza
Jake Marley
Andrew L. Roberts
Sean Hazlett
C.L. Kagmi
Ziporah Hildenbrandt
Molly Elizabeth Atkins
David Vonallmen
Dustin Steinacker
Andrew Peery
Ville Meriläinen
Anton Rose
Stephen Lawson
Walter Dinjos

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14 Apr

Big Little Lies

So, Lisa and I binge watched HBO’s Big Little Lies the past couple days. It’s a good story. You should watch it too, if you haven’t already. But beyond that, it’s an interesting piece to me specifically for the fact that it addresses plot out of order (well, that and the fact that it utilizes a totally kick-ass soundtrack that includes, among other things, remarkable use of Janis Joplin [and the Big Brother and the Holding Company’s] “Ball and Chain” and a cover of “You can’t Always Get What You Want” from Ituana, which if I remember to do it I’ll embed at the end of this little piece). In all seriousness, every piece of music this series uses is so perfectly matched to the story that it’s almost worth multiple views for this alone.

Anyway, regarding out of order (and doing my best to not give any spoilers beyond what happens very, very early in the story…I hate spoilers):

Not having read the book, I came into it essentially blind.

The story opens with a crime scene and the first episode is highly populated with snippets of interviews. It says this is a mystery, a crime story, a whodunit. And in the end, that is, of course, true. Played according to Hoyle, the next steps would be to bring the investigators in, and watch their struggle as they attempted to wrestle the truth from the suspects. The suspects would play off each other. Deviousness would ensue.

But instead, Big Little Lies goes a different direction, dropping into deep flashback to give us the lives of four women dealing with four different kinds of problems and four different family situation. No, strike that, what at first seems to be four women is actually five. The primary thrust of the story is told in that flashback, and rather than a true “whodunit” the story is a “howdidithappen.”

To a greater degree this annoyed me at the beginning.

I’m used to my mysteries being about the interaction of the investigators. I was more annoyed as the beginning of part two, when it became obvious what the structure was going to be. But by the middle of that episode I stepped back and started watching what the story was really about, and the fact is that this isn’t really a crime story at all. Of course, there’s a crime, and, of course there’s an investigation, but…well…to go further would break my rule on spoilers I think, so I’ll leave it there except to say that the structure works quite well for the story itself.

In fact, having now seen the series, I’m interested in reading the book itself to see how closely it’s followed. I assume fairly closely. In reality, I don’t know that the story could be told in any other fashion.

As a general note, and in regard to the series itself, I should say that I loved the cast of women in particular (the men were a tad predictable, but then, I suppose maybe that’s my male pattern stupidity raising up to pretend we’re not really that simple when in reality we might well be). Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley had the strongest roles (to me), and played them about as well as can be played. Zoe Kravitz is almost impossible not to watch, Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern are award-winning actors, and it shows. The child actors are all pretty remarkable, too.

Anyway, if you like character-driven stories with a hint of danger, crime and mystery, you’ll love “Big Little Lies.” And if you’re a writer wanting to see how to play with time inside your work you’ll find value in watching it even if that kind of work isn’t your usual cup of tea.

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10 Apr

Stealing the Sun, Book 5!

I’m terribly pleased to note that Starbound, the fifth book of the Stealing the Sun series, is now available at online retailers near you. This is a story near to my heart right now because, quite honestly, it wasn’t going to exist at all until the thing rose its hand up and pretty much demanded to come to life on its own. I love it when that happens, of course, though it would be easier to deal with if it didn’t wait to do it until I was smack-dab in the middle of working on a release cycle.

The life of a skiffy writer on a deadline is a wondrous thing, right? I mean, cry me a river.

Regardless, I love this book–which is technically a long novella (hence the reduced price from the rest of the series). I hope you love it, too.

Here are the details, including a handy button you can use to grab it.


Interested in starting with Book 1?



An arms race across the galaxy

Reeling from war, the United Government’s Interstellar Command wants control. In constant fear of discovery, Universe Three wants revenge.

Amid a changing starscape of intrigue Torrance Black-hero turned science ambassador-gets one more chance to find intelligent life outside the Solar System: convince the most prominent scientists alive to spend one of their precious Star Drive missions on a trip to Alpha Centauri A.

Win and he saves an alien species. Lose and his career is done. How far is Torrance willing to go?

How far will he have to go?

red-buy-now

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04 Apr

My Week at WotF #33

So, yeah, I spent the last 8 days in Los Angeles at the Writers of the Future workshop (volume 33). It’s been a total blast meeting the winners and writing about them. Along the way I got to catch up with Mike Resnick. Robert Sawyer, and Kevin Anderson, and learn once again from Dave Farland and Tim Powers–not to mention the long string of judges who stopped in to talk about the craft and the business. The contest is a major, major event in the lives of these quarterly winners, and it’s a heady experience to watch them progress through the week.

It’s going to be a great group, too. I’m sure I’ll be posting more about the gang soon, but if you’re interested in daily details of the week you can find them here:

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
The Event!

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27 Mar

WotF: Looking Back

Sitting at the airport, getting ready to fly to LA for the 33rd annual Writers of the Future workshop, which I’m privileged enough to be attending as a past winner and a “Reporter on the ground,” whatever that is. [grin] My own trips to this event as a participant were for volumes 14 and 15, when I was first a published finalist, and second, a prize winner. It’s been an interesting run since then. It will be great fun to see it all happen again.

Almost twenty years down the road, now, I’m thinking about what the contest has meant to me.

At first I thought of the event itself—the opportunity to learn from AJ Budrys (sadly now passed), and Dave Wolverton and Tim Powers and Kevin Anderson and … it’s a heady experience for a new, wannabe writer. And, of course, spending a week with other people in your position, and then seeing the book with all their work in it. My signed volumes are still prized possessions. I can pick out a bunch of these kinds of things. There are literally hundreds of great things about the event, and all of them make a difference.

But, when I look back on it I think the biggest impact the contest had on me was to change my mindset from that of a wannbe/newbie for whom the world looks like a bunch of closed doors into a one whose mindset was one of opportunity, and a world where things can and do happen. It moved me from a wannabe to a “canbe,” if that makes sense. And this is a huge jump—really, it’s probably the biggest jump I had to make. The next jump (“Canbe” to “Doing it”) is more a matter of persistence and love of craft than anything else, and it has lots of dark nooks to fall into also. But that first jump is something that tangles a lot of writers up. Running with one foot in each traditional and indie publishing camps, I run into a lot of people who have been doing this for a while, and still haven’t made it through that jump.

Now, realize, I was already a fairly major optimist about things. Life, for me was always about making things work, so at some level I always assumed some kind of success. But, still, the entry ramp to this world is mysterious and covered with mist.

The contest helped clear that mist.

For that, and for all the other things I could check off, I’m most grateful.

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25 Mar

STARBOUND Cover Reveal (and preorder info!)

Life is moving quickly along, and for me that meas we’re getting ready for the publication of Starbound, Book 5 of the Stealing the Sun series.  It also means that today I get to give you two pieces of news–first, that the book is now available for pre-order, and second that the cover is pretty danged cool if I do say so myself.

Don’t believe me? Check it out.

preorder-circle


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24 Mar

An Interview goes live!

Fun stuff today … an interview I did with Tracy Cooper-Posey is live this morning. You can find it here!


I met Tracy at a workshop last October, and was immediately impressed with her overall approach to her work and her business as an independently publishing writer. It’s a different beast to be an indie, really. The creative and production mindsets are quite separate, and it’s hard to juggle between the two. in some ways, it’s a classic Goldilocks problem: Too much of one makes the porridge bitter, too much of the other leaves it unfinished!

Tracy gets it just right.

I would strongly suggest stopping by and picking up one of her books.

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23 Mar

Stupid Question #37

Recently another writer asked me (via email) how do I know my stuff is good enough for  anyone to publish? She labeled the email “Stupid Question #37.”

Rather than being a stupid question, it’s one that cuts to the heart of what it means to write.

No one wants to pour your heart onto the page just to have some faceless editor send you a form rejection on an otherwise blank email, right? No one wants to publish a piece of fiction you’ve bled your soul into just to see…well…to see nothing happen.

Why am I doing this? you might begin to think.

How do I know I don’t suck? Or do I suck? Yes, that must be the answer. I totally suck.

The human brain is deviously twisted to the idea that success means the world is merely humoring us, and that normalcy has returned when the wall of failure slaps us in the face with the truth.

The problem, of course, is that “good enough for someone else to publish” is a question that’s out of a writer’s hands. The answer doesn’t exist until someone else, specifically an editor, says so. Editors often surprise me. They hate things I like and like things that I hate.

All a writer can do is finish. Tell the story you’re working on today as well as you can tell it, then get it in front of as many eyeballs as you can. After that, it’s up to other forces.

I’m thinking about this because I’m getting ready to head to Los Angeles to be a return winner at the Writers of the Future. This should be fun, of course. Very little beats getting steeped in a community of writers. The question above made me flashing on an L. Ron Hubbard bit about what “good enough” means—which was, as I recall it: “any art that evoked an emotional response in a reader is good enough.”

I’ve always liked that.

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14 Mar

Starclash is published!

It’s always fun to see a project move along, isn’t it? Yes, that means it’s that time again: publication week!

STS-Bk4-STARCLASH-300-200

I’m so excited to be able to announce that Starclash, book 4 of my SF series Stealing the Sun is now available! You can pick up a copy at pretty much any of your fave online book outlets by doing the clicky thing on this button:
red-buy-now

The wonders of modern technology never cease, am I right?

This volume begins to tie a few things together for our several of our main characters. Of course, in the process, things changed and I broke the volume into two pieces…meaning there will be a “new” book 5 and that my original plans for a five-book series has morphed itself into five books and a hefty novella (Starbound, which should be published at reduced price in April).

If you haven’t started this series, you can check out Starflight, which of course is book 1!

sts-bk1-starflight-ecover-600x400

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