The biggest difference between radicals and progressives is that radicals distrust the power of the state

g-cvr-111002-oaklandPortProtests-824p.grid-8x2I’ll never be a radical. My upbringing was too affluent, and my social circles are too steeped in power. You can’t be a radical when you have more to lose from the overturning of the system than you have to gain from it.

But in Oakland and Berkeley it’s impossible to avoid spending time with radicals, and I find them to be really interesting. Like all progressive-type people, I was raised with a distrust of radicals. Progressives believe in a neat coloring-within-the-lines view of social justice. The struggle for gay marriage is a perfect example of a progressive social movement: highly educated people and well-funded organizations that carefully used the ballot box and the court system in order to enact social change.

Radicals are different. They’re less organized. Less coherent in their plans and their appeals. Progressives are always complaining that radicals, whether it’s Occupy or Black Lives Matter, have no platform and no concrete set of demands, and no matter how much the two groups talk to each other, they can never make each other understand.

Progressive: “What do you want?”
Radicals: “To overthrow the system.”
Progressive: “Okay, yeah, but what laws and government programs do you want.”
Radical: “The end to entrenched systems by which a small part of the American population is able to perpetuate its control, year after year, over all the major institutions in American life.”
Progressives: “Okay, yeah…so…some kind of redistribution of wealth? And student loan forgiveness? And an end to three-strikes laws?”
Radical: “Yeah…all of that. Plus also that think about ending the entrenched system…”

I think progressives find it hard to understand that radicals genuinely want to live under a very different social system. They see this one as corrupt, and, to a large extent, they see progressive programs as a means by which the existing system perpetuates itself. Redistribution of wealth is fine, but when that redistribution is accomplished through a massive government program, then it becomes a sword that can be used, as was the case with welfare programs, to break up families or to keep people in servile situations. Or they can be implemented selectively, as was the case with Federal mortgage loan guarantees, so that white people benefit and nonwhite people don’t, with the end result being a world where black people, in particular, have no part in this nation’s largest source of middle-class wealth

I find that this comes up quite often in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco with regards to our rent control laws. These laws are not economically or politically efficient. They provide benefits indiscriminately, so that it’s possible for tech people earning 100+k to live in $500 rooms or $1200 apartments. And they don’t take money from the richest–the millionaires and billionaires–they take it from small landlords. Not poor people, obviously, but not the largest sources of wealth amongst us. Furthermore, they distort the housing market, reducing the number of free units. And they reduce the amount of political will for increasing the amount of housing stock, since long-time tenants who are protected by rent-control tend to also exhibit some of the same not-in-my-backyard sentiment towards new construction that we normally associate with landlords.

And progressives know this. They say that rent control isn’t the answer. The answer is an increase in low-income housing and an expansion of Section 8 housing vouchers. They say the solution is more and better development, and more and better public transportation, so that people who live farther from town can still commute in an efficient way.

And because radicals keep advocating for an expansion in rent control, progressives shake their heads over how unsophisticated these radicals are.

But what they don’t understand is that radicals don’t trust their social programs. Radicals don’t even trust rent control laws, not really. They know that rent control is something you can only assert by going to the courts. But rent control laws tend to be enacted through ballot initiative, and they tend to be simple and easy to understand rights. And once the law is passed, rent control isn’t something that can be taken or given away by a bureacrat. it’s not something that can be applied selectively, or that can be slowly stripped away. It’s a right. Radicals might not trust the system, but when they deal with it, they prefer to have rights that are simple and well-enshrined. If a bureacrat denies you a Section 8 voucher, what do you do? Who do you go to? How do you fight the housing authority? But if a landlord claims your unit isn’t rent-controlled, then you can sue his ass. That’s the difference between a government program and a right. Radicals like to fight and they know how to fight and they tend to support programs that privilege the fighters.

COVER REVEAL for my debut! (or, no, I have not forgotten you, my dear blog readers)

By now, my cover should’ve appeared on every other social media outlet in which I’m active…except for this one! Here it is. It was designed by Maria Elias over at Hyperion Teens. I love what she’s done with it. I think it highlights the playfulness of the book, which is not something that’s necessarily come through before now in the way I’ve spoken about it.


The book is done. It is copy-edited. It is being bound and advance reader copies are being printed up. It’s a little crazy, considering the book still has literally one year before it will come out. Seriously: ONE MORE YEAR!!!!

Which leads me to consider: what is the point of this cover reveal? Why am I trying to generate excitement for this book when it’s entirely likely that the excitement will have dissipated by next August? Which is why there is a final part of this reveal! Tomorrow, on my email list–you know, the one that I almost never email to–I’m going to reveal the back cover and inside flaps of my galleys! This is basically the whole package: what the book is going to look like on the shelves. It also contains some very good promotional copy and some well-chosen excerpts. And, most importantly, it’s available nowhere else.

So if you want to see that stuff, you could, I dunno, maybe sign up right now for my email list? I don’t email it very often (less than once per month), and my plan is to send it all kinds of things that will never be released online. You know, stuff that might perhaps be too sensitive or rights-bound to be published openly on the internet…

To sign up, just go to the following link!

Finally coming up to the end of THE DOLL

Most weeks, I look at my television and am like, “Why would anyone ever want to watch that?” But about once every three months, I get into a phase where all I want to do is watch TV. During these periods, I can’t imagine reading. I mean, I look at the book in my hands, and I’m just not interested.

That phase came and went during August (I mostly watched BoJack Horseman and old episodes of How I Met Your Mother) while I was supposed to be reading Boleslaw Prus’ The Doll.

It wasn’t any problem with the book. If it had been, I would’ve just abandoned it. Unlike most people I meet, I have zero trouble abandoning a novel halfway or even 3/4ths of the way through. I think the latest I’ve ever abandoned a novel was The Three Musketeers. I was much closer to the end than to the beginning of that rather weighty book, but I realized that there was just nothing there.

This book did not have that problem. It is true, though, that it is a bit uneven. The book has three main protagonists who have vastly different amounts of pagetime. There’s Wokulski, the businessman / romantic hero. There’s his love, the aristocratic and slightly shallow Isabela. And there’s his longtime clerk, Rzecky. The first two are in third person, while Rzecky’s sections are told in first person (his chapters are always called The Journal of an Old Clerk). And his stuff is so tedious.

He just has no story. He’s an old guy with a poodle who lives above the store that he manages. There is nothing else to him. I mean, he’s wistful for the days of Napoleon. He wishes that Wokulski would stop being so lovesick. But because he seems to have zero ambitions for himself, his chapters end up feeling rather inert.

Still, I’m glad that I read this book, and I will have more thoughts on it once I am finished (right now I’m racing to finish it before heading off to Burning Man, because I’m fairly sure that I’m not gonna do any reading once I’m there).

It takes a lot of work to make things simple

bojack-horseman-2Been watching this animated show, BoJack Horseman, on Netflix lately. It’s pretty decent. It’s about a former TV star who’s also a horse (in this world, animals can walk and talk) who is generally depressed and kind of a terrible person. And each season revolves around him trying to be better and then failing. What I find masterful, though, is that at the last moment, Bojack always pulls upwards out of his spiral and managed to reach some sort of homeostasis again. I feel like that’s the show’s main narrative innovation. Just when you think things are as terrible as they can possible be, they’ll get a little bit better. The show does this over and over, in episode after episode, and it never fails to affect me.

Everything in the show is very simple. I admire that. An episode begins with some hijinks. BoJack will try to help someone or try to make someone like him. It will go wrong. But it’ll be funny. Then, in the last three minutes, it’ll cease to be funny, and will become terribly serious. And then the episode will just end. Frequently with no real plot resolution. Many hanging threads. But the character arc always seem satisfying. There’s movement. You’ve got up episodes and down episodes. Episodes where he feels redeemed and episodes where he feels damned.

BoJack’s progression over the course of a season is simple, and almost invisible, since it’s hidden under so many sitcom gags, but it’s very real, and leaves you with a sense, at the end of the season, that something has happened.

I admire this. It takes a lot of work to make thing simple. I don’t know why that is. I often look at the books I love and think, “Oh my god, this book is so simple” and then I look at my own books and think, “Why is this such a mess?”

Lately I’ve been working on revising my novel-for-adults. It’s very slow going. I wonder if I’m going to completely manage it. This book is not simple. It has too many plots and too many character motivations, which gives the protagonist something of a fragmentary feel. I’ve been feeling really depressed about it over the last few days, but just today I had a realization about the book that crystallized a lot of things for me. I’d been trying to figure out who the antagonist of the book is. In the middle of the book, it’s clear. The antagonist is her daughter, since her daughter hates her. But at the beginning and the end, it’s less clear. So I was searching around for some antagonist, some way to make things work. Complicating this is that the protagonist is very stupid, so she’s not capable of intricate plots. She doesn’t have many resources, other than pure willpower, so most antagonists would be able to defeat her with relative ease, probably.

Then I realized something. The antagonist is….her daughter.

Obviously. There was a reason why I chose her daughter in the first place–it’s because her daughter is the one person who she could maybe defeat. And what I need to do is to go back and rewrite the beginning so her daughter is more clearly set up as the antagonist.

But then I thought, wait…why didn’t this occur to me before? It’s so simple?

And I’m still not sure. I think it’s because I’d envisioned the main conflict in the book as being something different: I thought it was the individual versus society–and having the daughter as the antagonist clearly doesn’t work for that. But then I realized it was about belief in yourself. The daughter represents the forces of inertia and conventional opinion–she doesn’t believe in her mother’s dreams…she just wants to do ordinary tween girl stuff. And in overcoming her daughter’s opposition, the mother is fighting against all the forces that tell her that she can never be who she wants.

But, of course, this is is a conflict that’s not particularly clear in the current draft, so now I need to go through the whole thing and revise it with this conflict in mind. And probably that will create a whole bunch of other weak places in the structure of the book, and each time I encounter one, my temptation will be to erect some more scaffolding in order to get us through the book. And you do have to do that sometimes. All books are messy, and sometimes you just need a subplot or a weird setting element in order to bridge things. But it’s also a temptation that should generally be avoided. Except that avoiding it often means going back and doing more thinking. And in order to correct the weak place, you need to then change everything else in the book in order to bring everything into line. It’s exhausting. And it’s a bit thankless, too, since even when you’re done, it’s completely possible that the end result won’t be any good.


Have all these things to do before I head off. Freelance projects to finish, mostly. But also I need to finish reading THE DOLL. I hate traveling. Every time I wonder why I can’t just stay home. It’s something that I do to myself, though, so I suppose there’s no sense in complaining about it. 

Soon I will take my longest-ever blogging holiday

In a week, I’m going to be at Burning Man! Apparently it is full of insects this year. Not good. I thought the one benefit of going to a harsh desert environment that’s inimical to all forms of life would be it’s, you know, inimicalness to pestilential life. But no luck. Apparently it’s been a wet year and the insects are breeding.

It’s my first time. I imagine I’ll be extremely uncomfortable. I get headaches from even mild physical discomfort, so I’m not sure what will happen during ten days of intense heat and cold and high altitude. Sometimes I, a little bit, regret that I’m doing this, but I really can’t start bailing out on things just because I’m afraid that I might be uncomfortable. Anyway, there will be no posts (or any communication from me at all) from August 28th to September 7th.

Feeling very energetic about my writing but also very in transition

Sent off my proposal for my second YA novel. About to get a second round of notes back from my agent on my middle-grade novel. And making some revisions to my adult literary novel (the sociopathic mom novel, now with 100% less sociopathy). And I should be getting bound galleys from my publisher sometime in the next month. Are those the same as ARCs (Advance Reader Copies)? For seriously, I have no idea. Nobody explains anything to you when you’re a new author. They just assume you know it all, I guess. I do try to be unafraid to ask questions, though.

Feeling much less stalled in my writing than I did a few months ago. Right now I feel like I could sit down and write a novel if I needed to. And, for perhaps the first time in my life, I feel like I’m choosing between different ideas. In fact, for the first time in my life I feel like I’m capable of sitting down and generating ideas. Actually, maybe that’s what I’ll do for the next half hour. Just sit down and generate fifteen story ideas.

But now that I feel like I’m moving again, I’ve started to feel, like, well…like I’m moving again, you know? I’ve lost that feeling of stasis that I’ve had ever since I sold my book. In a very short amount of time, my book is going to exist as a physical object! And in one year, it’s going to be out in the world! More and more, the fact that strange people will read my book (and write about it on the internet!) has become a terrifyingly real to me. It’s definitely a hard thing to get used to.

Over time, I have changed how I feel about horn use

chinese-use-car-hornsThere’s a Louis CK joke where he says something like, “Hey, want to know if you’re an asshole? Yeah? Well, if, when you’re driving, you ever use your horn to honk at someone, for anything, then you’re an asshole.”

And for many years, this how I felt. Honking always felt very aggressive and I know it makes me feel bad–indicted–whenever someone honks at me, so I never did it.

But somehow I’ve changed. Now I honk at someone at least once every other week (perhaps even more often). I try to only honk in the spirit of gentle correction (“Hey, you’re about to hit me” or “Hey, the light is green and you should go”) but I do sometimes honk at nervous drivers–people who’re taking way too long to take a left turn. I am torn about whether this is a good thing to do or not. On the one hand, I know that it doesn’t ease their anxiety, and that it probably contributes materially to the stress of turning. But, on the other hand, I also want to let them know that there are standards. I feel like driving is such a personal thing–you’re mostly alone in the car and, unless you’re driving with your dad, people are reluctant to critique their friends’ driving (note–if you critique my driving while we’re in the car together, I’m never gonna drive you anywhere again), so I think it might be valuable to people to know that they’re being a little too nervous, because otherwise they might never know that it is possible to be better at this.

I like to think that I am Zen, about this. I honk, but never in anger. However, that’s mostly an illusion. I’m frequently annoyed when I honk. But I try to be better! And maybe someday I will be.

Sent out my proposal!

And now it’s on to the next thing!

Not sure that’ll be. Revising some longer work, I guess. My agent emailed today to say that he’d have notes for me on my middle grade novel, Everyone Hates You, by the end of the week. So I guess I’ll do something with that. And I’ve also got my novel for adults, Hugs and Kisses (a title that will definitely change). Recently I mapped out the book, though, and I gained some big insight into how to revise it. I’m excited, actually.

And someday I suppose I’ll have to write a new novel, as well.

Reached my 1400th short story rejection!!!

rejection-letter-quote-signYep, reached the big 1.4k a few days ago. These milestones haven’t felt as large since I hit 1,000. In fact, I didn’t notice this one until a few days after it happened.

My submission volume is way, way down. I’ve gone from writing 20-30 stories in a year to writing, well, fewer than that. Although this year I’m already up to ten, so who knows?

1400 is the close of a decent century. I sold a story to Lightspeed, “Here Is My Thinking On A Matter That Concerns Us All” is going to be in their November issue. And I sold a story to Nature: not sure when “Corridors” is going to appear, but I think it’ll be before the end of the year.

As always, previous rejection milestones are listed below:

That’s nice. This blog has been around for so long! And I’e been submitting stories for sooooooo long. I’m sure nobody will do this other than me, but it’s interesting to go back through the milestone posts and see the change in mood over time. There are some pretty major variations in my level of optimism re: my writing prospects. Nowadays that anxiety has simmered down a little bit, especially with regards to my short fiction. I’ve certainly had better years, in terms of selling stories, than this one. But it also hasn’t been terrible. I feel like nowadays I’m in it for the long haul.


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