Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Marion Deeds

We were very pleased to have author Marion Deeds join us on the show to talk about her work and her interests. I started by asking her what her favorite thing is in writing. She told us that she really likes cultural things - language, clothing, how status is communicated, etc. She told us that for a long time she wasn't at all interested in economic topics, but now that she works on fiction she finds herself quite intrigued by them, and by currency systems in particular.

I asked her about the stories she has written which are set during the Prohibition era. Marion says it was a very interesting time, and her version of the era also has magic... which, it turns out, is the prohibited substance! Marion told us that she had family members living in Massachusetts during Prohibition, and they would take regular "vacation trips" to Canada, after which their back room was open for business. The husband of the couple would apparently come back, kiss his wife goodnight and leave her gift bottle of alcohol on the bedstand.

Apparently, during this era, Canadian laws on alcohol were a patchwork by province. The French territory islands were not hard to get to, and helped people to find a way around the Prohibition.

Marion told us about an appearance of a man by the name of J. I. Rodale on the Dick Cavett show, in which the man declared "I'm going to live to 100" and then died of a heart attack on the show a mere ten minutes later. J. I. Rodale was one of the authors of "The Said Book," which suggests that "said" is such a boring speech tag that one should never use it, but find a flashy verb with a flashier modifier. She then explained how she wanted to "inflict the Said Book" on the story of the Maltese Falcon and turn it into a comic pastiche. A magical curse is the MacGuffin in this context... the idea is that there is a grimoire that, when you hold it in your hand, causes you to "see" in purple prose. Naturally, people think they can control it, but they're wrong. The main character, a parody of Sam Spade, is called Rick Rake. In this world, magic is known and codified. San Francisco is a bit lawless, though, and not limiting it much. Her origin story for the Bridget O'Shaughnessy character, "Never Truly Yours," appeared at Podcastle.

In this world, magic is accepted. It's exploited, controlled, accepted by different people. Some people are superstitious. There's even a tax system associated with it. Marion calls it "not terribly alternate history." She says that magic appeared in this world around the same time as the Spiritualist movement.

Marion also told us about her work in progress, which she describes as a portal family where the strange an exotic fantasy world is actually our world - specifically, Vallejo, California. Vallejo has an interesting military history which includes a base which closed, possibly as a result of "realpolitik." It also has Muir island.

The people coming through the portal are non-human magic users who are something like fairies but not fae. They can pass for human 99% of the time, but some humans can see them. A young woman encounters them. She has post-traumatic stress disorder from having been through a domestic terrorist bombing. Something else has also happened to make her think she's delusional. However, she can see through glamour.

One of the interesting concepts here is that glamour is a sort of magical technology, and while the first arrivals have a form of it, they anticipate that second wave arrivals might have an even better glamour that the first-wave magic users can't see through, but which the protagonist can.

Marion described doing some interesting things with posture and body language in this world. Lowering of the head is a challenge because they have horns. Raising the head is submissive because you're exposing your throat. She wanted a lot of things to be different.

One of the key characters is a hereditary ruler of the magic-users who fled after surviving an assassination attempt as a child. Her experience is portrayed in a flashback. There are elements of the story that resemble first contact, and others that have the flavor of alien invasion. Politics is also important, as one faction of magic users wants to put the fallen ruler back into power. These people laugh at the idea of democracy. Their magic manipulates electricity, but they struggle with our world because we manipulate electricity differently. Cell phones, for example, freak them out. They are smaller than us.

One really interesting aspect of the story is that the visitors aren't necessarily able to digest the same food we do, so at the start they struggled to find food they could digest.

The struggle of the fallen ruler is in part that she's stuck where no one really knows what she looks like, and she has lost her family and her cultural practices, and even her way home.

We were all intrigued by the idea of a character living in the Bay Area and not being able to find things to eat. Everyone would either imagine she has allergies or is extremely picky!

Miranda, the human character, undergoes a magical procedure that helps her understand the newcomers' language, which sounds like bird calls if you haven't had the procedure. We discussed some of the challenges of portraying alien languages in a written story, and how one can alter English prose to express difference without having the language sound like Yoda, or sound silly or stupid. One important thing can be maintaining a willingness to experiment, and to recognize that it might take more than one attempt to get the language right.

Che told us about a book she read which had been written in the word order of American Sign Language, which sounded fascinating. ASL has different syntax and grammar, but also a unique culture of directness.

Kate remarked on how international students coping with English can have trouble because of our ridiculously massive lexicon of vocabulary.

Marion told us that she wanted no king or queen, and no kingdom. She wanted to use metaphors about the ocean because the land of the newcomers was coastal.

Kate mentioned an interesting method for creating profanity suggested by Ben Rosenbaum and Monica Valentinelli. The example given was that when water is a sacred space and the place you live in, "one who litters into water" would be a terrible insult.

Thank you so much to Marion Deeds for coming on the show and giving us a peek into her thought processes! This was a really fun discussion.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018


This was an interesting discussion about something that often flies under the radar. This is about body habits. It's about furniture design. What kind of angles do we like for our backs? What kind of seats do we expect to sit on? Many of the objects in our lives are designed assuming a particular body size and proportion (or lack of size). Think about what kind of body position is the result of first class or economy seats in airplanes?

We should not lock our knees. When I was in band, we were taught never to lock knees while we were on review, or we would pass out.

What does "holding your back straight" mean? Do you hold your back straight when you lift things?

How much are people expected to stick their butts out while standing or moving?

Are certain postures considered sexual?

Gender has a lot do do with posture, as when we compare keeping knees together vs. manspreading on public transportation.

Ergonomics became very lucrative at a certain point; it relies on a certain kind of knowledge of science and a certain degree of expectation in terms of body posture.

Clothing is designed to affect your movement. It can improve your posture, or restrict your posture. Military uniform collars force you to hold your head high.

Men's suits are designed to standardize their appearance, regularizing the width of the shoulders, etc.

Dancing and yoga improve your posture in regular daily activities. Yoga can reduce spine compression. Exercise develops your muscle tone, and habitual slouching can lead to not being able to straighten.

Think about the environment of the world, and how you inhabit it. Many things can affect this, including clothing and accessories, architecture, furniture, etc. Kate remarked how her bifocals were designed incorrectly, and she has to bend down to see through the upper part of the classes.

I told a story about crossing the street one night with a group of friends in Salt Lake City. I had my head and shoulders back, and was striding long, and my professor told me that it was a very American way to walk. Culture influences posture expectations, and we imitate the posture of those around us. Kate said she could pass for Indian if she didn't move or speak. Habits of movement can definitely indicate the culture we came from.

People pay close attention to posture and body language. Depending on who you are, misreading these cues can be literally dangerous. Women will often match themselves to the amount of space taken up by others. Men engage in unique forms of posturing like the chest-out confrontation posture. There are many ways for people of any gender to make themselves look large (for the purposes of driving off mountain lions, if nothing else!).

The body language of other species is very different from ours. Dog body language varies a lot even between subspecies. Cat body language is also different.

In cultures with a bowing habit, there are different kinds of bowing styles and postures. Much of it relies on the idea of making yourself smaller. How far you bow, and the angle of the back when you stop, can both be important to the meaning of the bow.

Kimberly told us about a friend she had who was a diplomat in training, and how they had materials to review on body language and how to return respect appropriately to people from different cultures.

Throwing down a gauntlet or other object relies on the idea of forcing the opponent to bow.

Dogs make bows when they are inviting you to play. Cats can have a tummy-up posture to invite play. Kate told us that her cats stand and beg for treats.

In martial arts, there are ways to indicate that a bout is for practice or serious fighting.

We talked a little about our cats' postural habits. My boy cat will indicate whether he accepts your hug by either looking me in the eye (no) or resting the top of his head against my neck (yes). My girl cat will not accept being picked up except when she consents to let me serve as her conveyance from one room to the very next place where she finds a surface within jumping distance. She indicates her disdain by remaining poised to jump even when I carry her.

Kate told us that when she worked at Disney, employees who wore giant heads were encouraged to smile inside the head because it changes the way that your body moves. Just as you can hear a smile in someone's voice, you can see it in the way someone moves their body. It's very difficult to stop your body from moving if you are talking, which is why they tell you not to talk when you have an MRI.

Do you tilt your head when you talk? Do you move your hands?

Kimberly noted that when you are doing animation, you have to remember that it's not okay for only the character's lips to move during speech. The whole body must move. She said that in long shots of characters, small strapped studios will sometimes cut the extra movement from the animation of visual effects. I remarked that I had seen character selection rooms where every character's shoulders are moving up and down in eerie unison. Kimberly said that movement was very important to the realism of the characters.

What is "creepy posture"? What kind of body movement is creepy? Getting into someone's personal space, or standing too close. Holding someone's eyes for too long, or prolonging touch, can be creepy. We remarked on the unique skill of actor Brad Dourif in portraying creepy characters.

We don't have fully conscious control over our body posture. Many of our stances we take involuntarily, or at least without purposeful planning.

Ready stances differ between different martial arts, and from different styles of dance. The "string out of the top of your head" straight posture is not the posture used for Tai Chi and some others where you round your shoulders and soften your head.

American Sign Language has a formal speaking posture, but also has a hip-forward foot-forward posture which allows more upper body movement.

When people take formal photos, they often have particular postures suggested to them, and those postures differ depending on how the photographer perceives the person's gender.

Female superheroes and women on book covers tend to be placed in the back-breaking "boob and butt" pose, which Jim Hines marvelously critiqued in his own series of posed photos.

People socialized to one gender will have to re-learn how to do the body language for their true gender.

Are you supposed to stand up straight with your hands out of your pockets? What do you do with your hands in a photo? What do you do with your elbows? These choices can be very gendered. Brian remarked that male royals from England often stand with their hands behind their back. Kate noted that this is true also of parade rest, and it keeps you from having to decide what to do with your hands.

There are different kinds of hand gestures, which can lead to problems when you see things like white suburban kids affecting gang signs.

There are different kinds of nods, like the chin-up nod, and the chin-down nod. There are also different kinds of walks. You can see them most easily in places where a lot of people walk around, like big cities with public transportation.

Do people get out of each other's way while walking?

Do elbows get thrown on the dance floor? How polite is your mosh pit?

Have you ever noticed that ballerinas walk differently from other people?

Different dances have different neutral dance postures. It is possible to dance "with an accent," or even to ride a horse with an accent.

How far do you bend down to talk to a small child? Do you squat? Do you do anything to avoid looking down or looming over the child? Do you choose to take yourself out of a large authoritative posture? Why? How does it reflect your relationship?

Thank you to everyone who attended. Today's hangout will be at 4pm, and we'll be discussing Entering the Story World.


Monday, April 2, 2018

Personal Weapons

We always knew this one was going to be interesting, but the place we started was in fact...


At a certain point in history, women would hold their hats to their hair with pins which could be as long as 6-7 inches, and would use those for self-defense. They were effective enough that they were actually outlawed.

Personal weapons can be obvious or concealed. They can also be repurposed things like hatpins and knitting needles. People have carried corset knives. Skin-hugging clothes make hiding weapons difficult. The American TSA seems to think black women will hide weapons in their hair, even though they don't. Jason Momoa might, though, in one of his shows...

Eliminating pockets for women was a response in part to women carrying weapons in their pockets.

Guns are considered personal weapons, at least in the US.

A sugar hammer, which was once used for breaking up blocks of sugar, could be used for other purposes. Ice picks have featured in various movies. High heels can be weapons.

If you are writing a story set in a secondary world, consider under what circumstances people might carry weapons. Would those be tools that could also be used as weapons? Would they be something you needed to carry with you every day? Why or why not?

Some weapons can be specifically banned by a society.

Kat talked about a person having a set of the Amendments to the American Constitution printed on steel, which was to be a propaganda tool against the TSA. The sheet of steel was just as likely to cut you.

Jurisdictions can be important here. Different regions will have different rules and laws.

What happens if you are a traveling chef and have to carry knives with you?

TSA has weird criteria and they are often theatrical. Would they confiscate a titanium pry-bar with no blade? Would they consider pots and pans bludgeons?

Apparently, once a suffragette threw an axe.

The surrounding circumstances of a character have a lot do do with whether they carry a weapon. Are they out in the woods? Are they in a higher-tech city? Do they carry lightsabers? What about tasers? Pepper spray? Sonic weapons?

Which weapons in the society you are creating are legislated against? Which are allowed?

People who carried eating knives would have an available weapon any time.

What is considered a weapon? Do different types of people carry different types of weapons? What is a weapon and what is a tool? What is a toy?

Can you get killed for carrying a cosplay weapon? Racism has a lot do do with what kinds of things will get you shot at in American society. Is there something similar in your fictional society?

There have been periods in history where being weaponless was considered "not completely dressed."

Kat described how Marguerite Reed discusses the culture of weapons in her book, Archangel. There is a designated hunter who is also a defensive specialist. Her weapon must be stored carefully and separately from her ammunition.

Could we have rules requiring all weapons, say, all guns, to be identifiable by chip?

Are your weapons defensive or offensive? Against whom are they intended to be used?

Who is allowed weapons is often a political question. One reason they were allowed on the frontier, Kat explained, was not just because there were bears, but also because there were conquered people there. We do tend to create narratives that hide the purpose of weapons.

Would people disarm if all the menacing fauna had been killed or removed?

Why is a weapon personal? Could it be communal? How would the two differ?

Is there a dueling culture in your society?

England has a relatively safe natural environment. Australia is actually not that dangerous (seriously, folks).

A shovel could serve as a personal weapon against a rattlesnake. You don't have to have a gun to face down a cougar. What story do you tell yourself to justify your weapon? How true is that story?

You don't shoot a deer with an AK-47.

There may be an understory about the possession of weapons in this society, that is taboo or otherwise going untold.

Is violence glorified?

Have you outsourced personal safety to a neighborhood watch? A police officer?

The narratives about weapons may not be consistent, as when people in the US talk about supporting the troops but also about being ready to shoot them.

Army bases are gun-free zones. The idea that a gun-free zone is a place where "stuff happens" is a false narrative. Tamir Rice was killed for holding a toy gun in an open carry state. What narrative was used to justify that? Are there similar narratives in the world you are creating?

Toddlers with firearms are a huge problem in the US, but people don't like to talk about it.

1984 and Brave New World featured government propaganda. Is there government propaganda about weapons in your world? What might it be?

Lois McMaster Bujold sets up an interesting situation where you are required to wear two swords, but you get a death sentence if you use them.

What is violence? Is ordering people out to die also violence?

Where is the line between the scientific explorer and the conqueror? Expeditionary force tools can become weapons. People can weaponize their surroundings.

Are there remote distance weapons?

Are the most commonly used weapons high-skill weapons (light sabers) or low-skill weapons (phasers, blasters)?

What happens when there is a disparity in technology levels? Does the high technology always win? Delicate mechanisms associated with high tech can break. Some weapons on Earth have been de-mechanized for sandy conditions that might damage them. A high-tech weapon is not necessarily one that requires less skill to operate.

The kinetic energy capacitor in Black Panther's suit was cool.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this interesting discussion.