Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Enduring Awesomeness that is TNG



I was just thinking about an episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation (“The Outcast”) that included a gender-neutral species—the J’naii—known for actively discriminating against and biochemically “reconditioning” any member of their species who identified as male or female. This was a deeply unsettling episode for me as a kid because it dealt with issues I’d never considered, and it was also unabashedly philosophical/moral in nature, with virtually no explosions or phaser battles to distract the senses. However, that turned out to be a good thing because the episode got under my skin and it got me thinking about something that most other television shows didn’t even bother to address.


During one pivotal scene toward the end of the episode (meaning you should stop reading now if you want to avoid spoilers), a J’naii named Soren—who identifies as female and enters into a relationship with Commander Riker (because of course)—gives an impassioned If-you-prick-us-do-we-not-bleed type speech. Throughout the whole episode, Soren has been fairly restrained in her physical mannerisms, which some critics mistook for wooden acting but which I actually think was done to set up a contrast to her speech (“What makes you think you can dictate how people love each other?”). Given the fact that we're talking about the final few minutes of a serial sci-fi show, you might expect a fairly easy resolution, but Soren's speech falls on deaf ears and Soren is essentially led off to the gallows.

Predictably, the moral clusterfuck that is the Prime Directive gets brought up in this episode, though Picard’s attitude seems to be that he’s willing to turn a blind eye should Riker decide to intervene on Soren’s behalf. As for Worf (the ship’s fairly conservative traditional male warrior), he goes from being decidedly put off by the J’naii to risking his life in an attempt to save Soren from reconditioning. However, that seems to be done more out of loyalty and friendship to Riker; Worf doesn’t actually witness Soren’s courageous speech, though I wish he had because he, at least, might have recognized her courage for what it was--and not how Soren's judge sees it, which is simply as the sad ramblings of a pitiful deviant.

There’s also an important point buried in the episode: as an allegory for LGBTQ rights, it’s stating that of course it’s genetic, not a choice. After all, if it were just a choice, why would the J’naii even need whatever inquisitor-like machine of doom they keep waiting in the next room? That brings us to the episode’s gut-wrenching conclusion, wherein the writers make a bold and unexpected decision: Riker and Worf arrive too late; Soren has already been reconditioned to the point where her old identity has been completely [brain]washed away.

The backlash from bigots comes as no surprise, but what did surprise me when I researched this episode was a mention in a couple forums and on Wikipedia that it apparently also got some criticism from the LGBTQ community. As the story goes, some took Soren’s fate as actually advocating such reconditioning (or at least implying that gender identity is so superficial that it can be effortlessly wiped away). When I heard that accusation, I got all geared up to leap to the episode’s defense, and maybe even toss in a clever line about how its critics must also think that Blade Runner is secretly in favor of the enslavement and murder of synthetic humans. However, I looked around and… well, the only criticism I could actually find came from Star Trek fans who thought the episode was preachy and boring.

That struck me as odd, though, because the scenes that receive the most criticism—Soren’s speech, for instance—are incredibly emotional. That brings me to my next point: I wonder how many of the people criticizing the episode as “boring” actually feel that way (which is perfectly fine), and how many are just doing what far-right talking heads do when they pooh-pooh Jon Stewart’s scathing and hyper-articulate political diatribes by saying they’re “not funny.”

Also, the episode wisely shows Soren’s judge as misguided but seemingly earnest and sincere in her concern… just as, on some twisted level, those trying to “cure” away the gay probably actually think they’re doing the right thing. And in contrast to the accusation that the episode is ham fisted, one important scene shows Riker and Soren trying to save a couple other J’naii from dying in space. Needless to say, they activate the transporter without stopping to ask what the dying J’naii think about the same reconditioning process that has Soren living in constant terror. Nor does Riker or anyone else approach them later and ask how it feels to have their lives saved by a “deviant.” So in my loudmouth estimation, what seems at first like a passing and fairly meaningless action sequence could actually be taken as the whole point of the episode.

Indeed, this episode as a whole can even be seen as embodying the very ideas of the whole Star Trek franchise, which were always less about warp-chases and rogue nanites than the kind of moral quandaries that come about when a species wields near god-like technology but still can’t shake off the age-old problems of ignorance and moral ambiguity.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Submittable Tips (and Warnings)

The proliferation of journals accepting work through Submittable.com has unquestionably made the submissions process much easier for all involved, but it has also led to a few bad habits that can easily irk editors and give your work a higher chance of being rejected. Luckily, these habits are easily corrected.

But first, let’s talk about how to make your life easier…

It’s a good idea to keep a template for a cover letter saved somewhere on your computer. Remember, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s the general consensus among editors that cover letters should be short and sweet. After all, this is a cover letter, not an interview. Still, even if you have a template, cut and pasting your cover letter can be tedious, especially if you’re the kind of writer who sends of dozens or even hundreds of submissions. Luckily, Submittable has a feature had allows you to add a template cover letter, which will then be automatically added to every submission (though you can tinker with it before you send your work). Just click “profile”. Then, in the “Bio” box (which, admittedly, should be called something else), simply type your template cover letter.
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In my case, I leave certain things in CAPS so that I remember to change them before I actually send a submission. Also, underneath my template cover letter, I add an actual bio. 
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Now, when I go to submit to an actual journal (Hayden’s Ferry, for instance), here’s what I see:
So all I have to do is add the name(s) of the piece(s) I’m submitting in the “Title” box, tweak the Cover Letter to include the write names, and I’m good.
WHAT NOT TO DO:

A growing number of writers have figured out how to amend their profiles so that their bios are automatically included in submissions, but then they submit their work without adding a cover letter. This means that when editors (like me) get a submission, all the “cover letter” box lists is their bio. Why is that bad? Well, for starters, it’s a good way to give an editor the impression that you know zero about their journal, and you’re really just shot-gunning submissions to as many journals with as little effort as possible.
Yes, simultaneous submissions are a good idea. No, editors are not gods who need their asses kissed. But if you’re going to ask someone to consider your work and possibly publish you, this is just the wrong approach. Remember the golden rule when it comes to cover letters: do no harm. Not even including one (unless the journal specifically instructs you to, which almost no journals do) definitely counts as causing harm in the eyes of most editors.

Another Bad Habit:

Maybe this is just me, but I consider it a professional courtesy to inform editors if my submitted work is under consideration elsewhere. That isn’t just a statement of honesty; it also lets the editor know that I checked their submission guidelines to make sure that simultaneous submissions are allowed at that particular journal, meaning that I know a little bit how this process work and I respect the editor’s time and attention.

Reading Fees:

This is where things get a bit contentious. While most journals (including Atticus Review) do not charge reading fees, a small number of journals do. How small? About three bucks. This is hardly earth-shattering (I spent less at the coffee shop where I sat down to write this), but some writers oppose such fees on principle, while others (myself included) have no problem with them. After all, it’s not like journals are raking in money hand over fist. Financially speaking, most journals are barely scraping by, and most editors (myself included) work FOR FREE. Reading fees are just a small pittance to help keep the lights on. Still, if you have an ideological objection, that’s fine. Submit elsewhere.

If your work is accepted…

…email the editor and thank them. After all, this is something of a partnership and as any couples therapist will tell you, no partner likes to feel unappreciated.

If your work is rejected…

…don’t send hate mail. Seriously. Don’t send hate mail! I get that you’re upset, but no matter how justified you think you are, you aren’t. Think of it this way: remember that time you asked somebody out, they said no, and you were disappointed? Well, did you immediately call them a bitch/asshole and try to make everyone else hate them? If the answer is yes, that’s probably why you’re having trouble getting a date.

If you sent work simultaneously, one of the poems gets accepted, and you need to withdraw it from other journals’ consideration... 

...check the journal’s guidelines. Some journals want you to email them, informing them of the withdrawal. Others want you to withdraw the entire submission on Submittable, then resubmit from scratch with the accepted poem omitted. But most journals opt for an easier method: just add a note to the submission, visible to the editors, saying which poem is no longer available. To do this, click on the submission, then click “activity”, and add your note.
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When in doubt, go with that final option. And remember, no matter what you do, the same rule applies: be nice, or stay lonely.

Monday, February 29, 2016

For those who haven't checked out my fantasy series yet, I wanted to announce that I'm currently running a 99 cent sale on Wytchfire (available on Amazon, Nook, iBookstore, Kobo, and Google Play). I also have a blog tour starting tomorrow, which will kick off with a radio interview. Thanks in advance for the consideration!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

It's kind of my New Year’s Eve tradition to repost this poem from my third book, Damnatio Memoriae (lit. "damned memory"), winner of the Brick Road Poetry Book Contest. Happy New Year, folks!

FATHER TIME AND BABY NEW YEAR

There he goes, toddling off-stage
with that gnarled scythe resting
crosswise a sash in last year’s fashion,
his dripstone beard, his great
nose like a pilgrim’s plough-blade.

And here comes his successor—
a drooling infant dressed in a top hat
and star-spangled diaper,
blissfully unaware how he will age
three months each day in office.

Father Time could say something.
He could warn the poor toddler
of the need to arm himself,
to get a handle on more than his bowels
if he wants to hold this mess together.

But Baby New Year just grins
like a pacifist and the old man departs,
yielding at last his gothic hourglass
of sand made from the bones
of dinosaurs, sea cows, Babylonians—

all that expires under Time’s watch.
Meanwhile, the Dutch launch fireworks,
the Greeks bake coins in cakes,
Japanese monks ring temple bells
and the Scots gift coal and shortbread.

But here, we Americans just kiss
and kiss while that old drama plays out
on confetti-fogged billboards,
the tips of noisemakers blaring up one
strangled, universal note to the sky.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

I’ve been thinking a lot about Albert Huffstickler lately. If you’ve never heard of him, I’m not surprised. Despite being well loved and widely published before his death, he stuck almost exclusively to the small press scene, usually in and around Austin, TX.
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I chanced across his work because of my interest in “eastern” styles and forms, and right away, something clicked. Huffstickler (or “Huff,” as he was often called) has a style that’s about as far-removed from academic verse as you can get. His poems are mostly short, very accessible, and resonate with a sardonic humor that reminds me of Issa. I suppose you could also say that he’s a grittier version of Billy Collins—or, conversely, that Collins is “Huff Lite.” Anyway, most of Huff’s poems were untitled—like this one, probably my favorite of his, which became one of those roadside poems when I was trying to develop my own style.
Only when I’m
writing do I
understand my mother:
that kind of
caring that
wants more for
something to be
than for itself
to continue.
Anybody who’s read my poetry can probably figure out what draws me to that poem. (Side note: I’ve been accused of “uterus envy.”) More than that, though, I think I’ve always felt a kinship with him, even know we never met (I learned about his work in 2001 or so, and he died a year later). As I said, Huff published mostly in underground journals, though he did dabble in university-affiliated magazines from time to time. I’m kind of on the other side of that. I have a lot of publications in indie places (including my fantasy novels, which are all in a small/indie press), but a lot of my poems are in university-affiliated journals. Nevertheless, I get the feeling that we both simultaneously inhabit different worlds (though I think he was probably better at it than I am). For example, neo-hipsters usually don’t like me because I use bad words like craft and revision. I also use “traditional” punctuation (aka “punctuation”) and I have no patience for broets (whom I equate with bullies). But academic poets don’t know what to do with me, either, because I despise pretension. Put another way, I’m willing to write about shit—I mean, literal shit—which is something an academic poet probably wouldn’t do, but I’d sooner die than do what a neo-hipster would do, which is simply write a shock-jock piece that is nothing but synonyms for feces (a routine I must have seen at least four times at AWP now).

OK, enough about me and my ranting. If you haven’t checked out Huff’s selected, Why I Write in Coffee Houses and Diners, please do. In the meantime, here a few more of his poems, some of which don’t have titles.

Cafe Poem

The woman in
the corner,
white on black,
white skin,
black hair,
black dress,
lights a
long, white
cigarette,
the orange flame
bright
against her cheek.


The Lost Poem

My father carried a poem with
him all through his internment
in Cabanatuan prison camp in
the Phillipines, carried it
with him for four years, showed
it to me one day folded and
refolded, print blurred, coming
apart. I, in my teens, not
thinking, nodded and went on
and forgot. Years later, I
tried to recall what poem it
was, even a single line of it
but it was gone. The years
go by, my mother’s dead this
long time. There’s no one to
ask. So I ponder it. And
ponder motivations, what drives
us, ponder what drives me still
to write with the same intensity
after all these years. And ponder
the lost poem. Perhaps that’s
part of it: I’m driven to create
that poem I can’t recall, the
poem that carried him through
four years of Hell and home
again. Or perhaps I’m driven
to write a poem that will serve
someone else as well. It’s a
nice thought anyway: my poem
in someone's pocket, bent and
faded, nourishing him, healing
him through his own private
Hell. A man could do worse
with his life. I evoke my
father’s image, our eyes meet,
he nods in agreement, starts
to speak then turns and walks
off into the distance, bearing
the lost poem with him.


Write on my tombstone:
Once so easily distracted,
now focused.



We forget we're
mostly water
till the rain falls
and every atom
in our body
starts to go home.



I think there is a way
to sculpt silence.
Perhaps that’s what
poems are:
sculptures of silence.



We have to learn
not to replace
perception with knowledge.
Forget science.
Pierced by starlight,
I know what a star is.


Claiming the Dead

They asked him if he
wanted the body. He said
No, he didn't want it.
They said Somebody's got
to claim it. He said Why?
They said So it can be
buried. He said You mean
they won't bury it if
nobody claims it. They
said Well, after a while.
He said Well, there's
no hurry. They said Well,
most people want to
claim the body and
give it a decent funeral.
He said Do you think
she gives a damn? They
said We can't make you
claim it. He said Then
I'm not going to. Any
business we had ended
when she did that. I'm
not mad but I was never
anyone to clean up after
anybody else and I don't
intend to start now.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

If you like awesome poetry (and who doesn't?) you really need to check out this latest Poetry Feature at Atticus Review, this time including the work of the wonderful Allison Joseph!


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Dammit, Hollywood, You’re Drunk Again!

OK, I understand that the trailer for No Escape makes it look laughably racist and stupid and, as illustrated by this piece in Cracked, it’s worth pointing out its unapologetic xenophobia. That being said, I would also like to draw our attention to the fact that the hero’s name is… drum roll, please… Jack.


And now, for our latest self-promoting installment of today’s “Meyerhofer called it,” here’s one from my second book, Blue Collar Eulogies.

HOLLYWOOD JACK

I am tired of men named Jack
locking swords with pirates, falling in love
on the decks of sea-faring death-traps,
traveling to parallel worlds
to challenge exiled Egyptian gods.

Always the same story—Jack
must come out of retirement to perform
spinal surgery on a crying child,
then lead a manhunt after stolen nukes
before acknowledging his feelings

for a fellow rancher whose hat
perfectly matches the color of his horse.
You’ve seen Jack many times
since he axed that giant beanstalk—
he has the best one-liners,

earns hegemony over desert islands,
wrestles angels by the throat
then saves brunettes from runaway trains.
He is the one who gets too involved.
He is the skeleton who loves Christmas.

He is the coiled jester inside boxes.
Sometimes, he inspires strangers to dance,
steal, lift things, masturbate.
That show-hoarding verb of a man
who goes through sidekicks like syllables.

See what he’s done to pumpkins,
forests, how he’s infiltrated every deck
of playing cards—bowing still
to the hoity king and queen, sometimes
the ace, but it’s only a matter of time.