New Story: Death Comes Calling

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Cartoon courtesy of Gary Larson

While I am still struggling to get back in the groove of writing fiction regularly, I did have a story that I cranked out a couple of months ago that I didn’t particularly like at the time but, in looking at it now, thought that it was at least worthy of putting on Wattpad so that people could shoot flaming arrows at it.  Or not, as suits them.  But I have gone so long without posting that I thought I better get off my lazy duff and post this at the very least, so there it is.

In brief, in a lengthy fit of pique over the fact that none of the financial barons who crashed our economy nor war-mongering politicians who got us involved in not one but two land wars in Asia (didn’t any of those ass-clowns watch “The Princess Bride”?), I dusted off some time-honored science fiction tropes and cranked out what is, essentially, a revenge fantasy.  It doesn’t have a plot per se; it’s one long rant.  But if you’re as PO’d as I am about the behavior of Our Glorious Corporate and Political Overlords over the last 14 years or so, maybe it will be cathartic for you.  Who knows?

Anyway, you can check out Death Comes Calling on Wattpad.

A Brief Treatise on Trolls

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photo courtesy of BeWytch Me

I’ve been online since, believe it or not, 1982.  Yes, the Internet existed then, but it was tiny, and primarily limited to universities and military or government installations.  And as luck would have it, my career in high tech has almost completely coincided with the exponential expansion of the Internet, the birth and explosive growth of the Web, and the penetration of computers into basically every home and practically every pocket.  So I have a little bit of perspective of things of an online nature.  I’m not an expert by any means; I haven’t studied it.  But I do have more than 30 years of experience in it.  For whatever that is worth.

I mention this to provide a little context for my observations about trolls.  I was thinking about this recently after reading an interesting article in Slate that cited a scientific study of trolls and trolling.  The gist is, bluntly, exactly what Slate’s title notes:  Trolls are awful people.  I had always wondered what kind of personality got actual pleasure from pissing off complete strangers, starting online fights (and then leaving them), creating havoc, and engaging in this kind of anti-social behavior.  Your assumption is that they are dicks.  And now the evidence is in, and it tells us:  Yup, they’re utter douche-bags.

And here’s the thing: They’ve always been around.  Even when I was on a university forum (text-only, limited to students and faculty), people would troll just to be obnoxious jerks.  And about the same thing that people troll about now:  Abortion, homosexuality, politics, sexism, racism, and the like.  The same damn things.  The only big difference now seems to be that more people have access, so there are more trolls.  But they’re still jumping in their with their homophobic polemics or whatever to stir people up.  It’s predictable.

And because it’s predictable, in my standard bury-the-lede style, I thought I’d outline a few common behaviors over the years to help you spot trolls sooner, and so maybe avoid some personal aggravation.  Also, I’m procrastinating on working on my novel.

  • First and foremost, trolls are bullies.  They’re not online to debate; they’re online to piss people off.  If you see someone bullying over and over, they’re probably a troll.  Do not engage.
  • They employ name-calling, often of the most juvenile sort.  I’ve lost track of the number of trolls who have called me “Moron” (sometimes with the capital “M”, sometimes not), an insult that was a tired trope in, literally, my grandfather’s day.
  • In the same vein, trolls often resort to simple, ad hominem attacks, often out of the blue.  If you push them, they won’t engage, they’ll attack.  Usually by calling you stupid, a “libtard”, an idiot, or some other juvenile epithet.
  • Some trolls like to employ ALL CAPS.  And they do this because they know that it pisses people off (see how this is a recurring theme?), and that people will respond to it.  Think of the two year-old mentality of your toddler pushing their zippy cup off their high chair just to watch you pick it up; that’s how they like to use all-caps.
  • When bullying, name calling, ad hominem attacks, and all-caps fail, trolls often switch the subject, what I call the “shiny object” method.  Say you are arguing about a particular behavior patter of Republicans.  A troll will sail in and start talking about Democrats that “do the same thing”, or start chattering about Benghazi, or some perceived right-wing slight from 10 years ago.  Anything so long as it’s a shiny enough object to distract attention away from the main point, which is that they don’t have any argument worthy of the name and are just trying to piss you off.
  • And of course it almost goes without saying that these creatures never, ever, ever acknowledge mistakes or apologize.
  • A quick and easy method to recognize trolls is:  Did this user (and they always hide behind aliases) just join up in the last few days, or even hours?  It doesn’t matter if this is just a new alias for a pre-existing troll; if they’ve just joined up, and all 12 of their posts are berating “libtards” or “socialists” or something, they’re almost certainly a troll.
  • Does this person tend to post their inflammatory B.S. and then vanish, with no follow-ups or attempts to engage?  Classic trollism.
  • And finally, your more clever troll will appear to engage you, but in reality they’re laying rhetorical traps to try to catch you so they can scream “Ah Ha!  Hypocrite!” and pretend that they win the discussion.  This type is rarer, because it takes some intellect, and most trolls in my experience don’t have all 52 cards in their mental deck.  But you do run across them at times.

So there you have it.  You see these behaviors, you have yourself a troll, and you shouldn’t bother responding to them because–to repeat–all they want to do is piss you off.  If they succeed, they’re happy.  If you ignore them, that makes them mad.  I know which option I prefer; how about you?

Tradition!

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Tradition! (Image courtesy of The Film Sufi)

When you’re Jewish, but don’t hew particularly to either the Ashkenazic or Sephardic traditions (my rabbi grew up Azkenazi, his wife was a Sephardim), it can make some choices in your Jewish life a little odd.  And when your Dad was a Catholic rather than a Jew, it gets even weirder.  (How do you mourn your dad’s too-soon death, for example?)  Many Sephardic traditions are less stringent.  For example, during Passover, Sehpardim are allowed to eat corn, while Ashkenazi are not.  The differences aren’t huge, but they do exist.

I only mention this because I was plowing through my Twitter feed today, and saw that Chris Hayes of MSNBC has had another child, and named his new son David Emanuel.  Which struck me as a pretty solid Jewish name, and reminded me of the conundrum we faced when we adopted my son.

When Sami and I had a child, like every other overly-educated couple, we over-thought the whole “naming” issue.  Not for us is the Homer Simpson method of just checking to make sure there were no nasty nicknames possible with a particular name (and of course Homer hilariously stopped at “eart”, not getting to the “f” variant); we had to do research.  We had to think about the kid’s own feelings on the topic.  How about a name that had lots of diminutives, so she could choose one herself if she wanted?  Could we honor a relative somehow?  Would we insult some other relative if we did?  Etc.  Which got us to Megan Elizabeth “Maggie” Moran.  Lots of room to dodge around the nickname issue, plus the double-whammy of it “Elizabeth” being my mother-in-law’s, my grandmother’s, and a variant of my other grandmother’s name (“Isabelle”).  Plus we just loved the name “Maggie”.  Jackpot!

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Maggie O’Connell, of “Northern Exposure”

Then we adopted our son, and that brings us back to traditions.  When it comes to child naming, he Ashkenazi tradition is to use the name of a dead relative; the Sephardic tradition to use a living relative.  And both (naturally) consider it “bad luck” to do it the other way.  So in fine, American, “smear those traditions together!” style, we did both.  I’m lucky in that my Dad, while Catholic, was named Francis Joseph, but went by “Joe”–a good, solid, Torah-based name.  So our son is Joseph Isaac, after my dad, and my own Hebrew name.  Which also gives him the initials “J.I.M.”, which he could use as well, should he so desire.

How about you; what family name traditions do you have?  And what subjects do you way overthink?

Yes, I’m Still Alive; Notes from the Doug Bunker

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Me an Dawg

If you happen to be a regular reader of my blog, first of all thank you, second of all, I’m astonished.  But for those few of you who are, I wanted to provide some explanation as to why I have been so quiet on this front these past months.  There is a good reason, and a bad reason.  (I mean, from my perspective; for you, the “good reason” may be a “bad” reason to not be blogging and vice-versa.  What I mean is . . . oh, hell, you get the point.)

First:  I got promoted at my job, and the group that I have the privilege of managing is not only growing by leaps and bounds (formerly 3 people; now 9), but also our area of responsibility is similarly enlarged.  We are important to the overall corporate effort now, and that is both exciting and frightening, and it also leaves me less free time.  Most of which I’d prefer spending with my sweetie and my family, or just vegetating and trying to recover from work, rather than spreading more of my silly opinions across the WebVerse.

But second, speaking of my family, we are going through some pretty severe personal difficulties right now (that I don’t want to relate the details of), and I need to focus on my family unit, not my silly opinion writing.  If it were critical for my livelihood, I’d still be expelling my nonsense to the world; it isn’t, so I’m not.

However, I’m hoping that things will lighten up soon, and we’ll be on a more even keel here in the Famille Moran, allowing me time to write both more blog posts, and get back to cranking on my fiction as well.

In any event, thanks for your patience, and that’s where I’m at.

Lament of the Cable-Cutters

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Image courtesy of The Telegraph

The Olympics are on.

I love the Winter Olympics, honestly. Sami and I enjoy watching the figure skating together and regaling each other with our (in my case) half-informed opinions on various skaters, techniques, and move difficulties. I have loved the downhill ever since Franz Klammer’s utterly-insane, gold medal, death-defying final run in Innsbruck in 1976, something that literally took my breath away. I love watching the ski jumping, the men (and now finally women!) flying hundreds of feed down the hill, drifting, drifting, seemingly hanging up there forever. The bobsledders, lugers, and nutty skeleton riders, barreling down the hill inches above the ice at speeds that make me nervous when I’m surrounded by more than a ton of metal and plastic. I really love it.

And I would love to watch it. Except that the network that has a monopoly on all the content–NBC in this case–is completely and utterly against people in my minority group.

No, not Jews. Not nerds either, although there is definitely some overlap there. That group is cable-cutters.

Cable-cutters are folks who gave up on cable or satellite subscriptions, and the networks (especially folks like HBO) absolutely hate us. Or at least that’s the way it appears to us, given their behavior. You see, while most shows are available via Amazon Prime or iTunes or other avenues, “special” content–anything HBO puts out, or Big Events like the Stanley Cup or World Series or, yes, the Olympics–are only available if you sign up on an app, and the only way to sign up on that app is . . . to have a cable or satellite account.

Yup, that’s right gang: If you want to watch “Game of Thrones” or the Olympics on your iPad, you are required to have a cable TV account.

Cable and satellite companies hate and fear families like ours. The way cable companies make money is to force you to buy big packages of content, subsidizing all those channels you never watch by making you pay a premium for the stuff you really want. “A la carte” cable packages are anathema to these people; if you could only pick and choose the 5-10 channels you want, they would lose leverage, money, prime deals with various networks, and I don’t know what else. They don’t want that; they want to continue their monopoly on your content by forcing you to watch what they want to sell you, their way. And people like us are a threat to that model.

And yet just like media companies when the VCR first came out, then DVDs, and then digital content, they’re missing the boat. There are millions of us out there now, consuming our video content from out Macbooks or iPads or Android smartphones, and they are writing us–and millions of potential dollars–off their books entirely. Leaving money on the table. And for a lot of people, forcing them to choose between bad options–buying a cable package you don’t want, waiting months or years to get content that is available for everyone else, or pirating it. And as you might guess, by pulling this nonsense, while blatting on about piracy and how much it’s costing them, the media companies are causing many people to choose that over waiting or signing up for cable accounts. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that when folks are pushed into a corner and forced, they don’t like it and lash out. Not very shocking. (The Oatmeal sums up this dilemma quite well.)

I want to watch the Olympics. I am fine with paying for the content; I don’t even mind watching it the way folks watching broadcast TV have to–with endless commercials, blathering analysis by former athletes, and a flood of “up close and personal” clips. But no, that’s not an option. I can either get a cable account (for two weeks of content), go to the local bar or whatever, or pirate it. And for any of those choices, my dollars are left on the table and NBC doesn’t get them.

We are nearly 20 years into the web era, media companies, and a good half-dozen deep into the streaming era. Companies like Netflix are producing shows for people to binge-watch. And you are still trying to force folks to sign up for cable or satellite contracts? Pull yourselves into the future and figure it out, or you’re going to be left behind.

Service in the Information Age

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Image courtesy of the Connecticut Real Estate Blog

Back in the day, if you needed a plumber or electrician or carpenter or whatever to work on your house, you plowed through the Yellow Pages (ask your grandparents), looked at the various ads, and tried to decide which one sounded the most likely to be competent and reasonably-priced.  Or you asked a friend or (if they lived nearby) a relative.  Basically, it was a roll of the dice.  And if you got a stinker, you told your friends and relatives so that they wouldn’t hire him or her, and you tried someone else next time.  Inefficient and kind of ridiculous, but this was the Mesozoic age as far as information flow was concerned, and we did the best we could.

One advantage of this for providers (as we call ‘em nowadays) is that word was slow to get out; if you sucked at your job, you still had a reasonable chance of obtaining enough work to live on, staying ahead of people’s accusations of ineptitude, as it were.

How quaint.

Now of course we have almost the opposite problem:  There is so much information about a given service provider that the tough thing is to filter it out.  When you go on Yelp for example and search on “Austin best plumber”, you get 8 hits just for the “downtown” area.  Eight?  They can’t all be the best, right?  So you start plowing through the reviews and, if you are an compulsive review reader such as myself, you’ll notice something:  Everyone seems to provide either 5-star or 1-star reviews.  To put it in math terms, the standard deviation is huge.  (To put it in Tom Lehrer terms, “You can get a standing ovations for pretty much anything in this country”.)  I’ll talk about how to filter in a future post–I think it’s an interesting topic, but then I’m a nerd–but the gist for today is:  How does the provider respond?

Look for some service on Yelp–doesn’t matter what.  Then just filter the results from “worst to best” ratings.  Then take a look; does the provider respond?  How does he or she respond?  Is it some kind of canned response, very generic, the kind of thing you expect to get if you complain to a big corporation or your Senator or something?  Or is it personal, well-written, to the point, and does it directly address the complaint?  I can’t under-state how much data this gives you; if the provider ignores bad reviews, or is rude in response, or only posts canned responses, that tells you a lot, don’t you think?  But on the other hand if he responds, is friendly and courteous, and provides reasonable explanations for the customer’s bad experience . . . well, that’s a lot of quality information for you.

And this is the only way I think a service provider stand out can stand out these days:  By providing good service for the money, yes, but also by providing quality customer service.  This is much more than just being polite to nasty trolls on Yelp; you have to be response and respectful to your customers in every forum.  Is your voice-mail polite, helpful, and friendly?  Do you answer phone messages within a reasonable amount of time?  Do you work with potential customers to provide them service at their convenience?  Are you responsive to complaints?  Do you charge a reasonable price, and do you make your fees clear at the beginning of the job?  All little things by themselves, but combined with vast amount of data available on line, this is the kind of thing that makes a difference.

I’m a tech writer in a marketing organization right now.  This is an odd place for a tech writer to be; we’re usually in engineering.  But one thing I’ve learned is that the marketing trope “we’re all marketing people” (i.e., we all need to sell our product to our customers, and thus constantly be thinking about that during every interaction) is especially true for independent service providers.  You may think this is trite, but think about it:  If a plumber or electrician or landscaper or whoever comes to your house and is surly, irritating, and difficult to work with, are you going to want them back?  If they are instead helpful and friendly, aren’t you going to sing their praises not only to your friends, but also on Yelp or wherever?  I think the answer is obvious.

This is the brave new world of online Big Data; the only way to stand out is via superior customer service.  That is your market differentiator.  Do with it as you will.

How Google and Searching Twists Web Sites

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The Google Penguin tyrant (image courtesy of MediaWhiz)

Not all that long ago, I was a contributor to the (in my view excellent) tech news, opinion, and review web site Gear Diary.  Gear Diary posts news items (selected from a flood of inbound email of companies wanting more press), reviews of software and tech gear, and opinion pieces related to the tech world.  For several years, I was one of the primary writers of the news posts–I would take the copy that the various companies sent us, quote a bit of their press release info about the product, provide my own spin on it, tell folks where they could read more about it, and that was it.

A while back, we discovered that the site was being relegated to “scraper” status.  If you’re not familiar with the terminology, a “scraper” site is a site that basically just reprints news posts that they’ve “scraped” from other sites whole-hog in an attempt to generate high “click-through” numbers, allowing them to get advertisers and so make money.  It’s a repulsive practice, in my opinion; it’s not all that different from sending out junk mail or spam.  And it appalled us that we were being so labeled; we worked very hard on the site, and to be put down there with the Nigerian spammers was grating, to say the least.

It turns out that Google has certain requirements in their “Google Penguin” algorithm that you have to meet in order to both not be labeled a “scraper”, and to get hits.  And so we spent a lot of time changing our templates and reworking posts to meet these requirements.  You couldn’t quote press release info that might appear elsewhere; you had to make sure the post was 250 words or more; the title bar and the first sentence of the post had to contain the right keywords; etc. etc.  It was, to put it mildly, obnoxious.  This is the world Google and their search algorithms have forced us into.

I was thinking about this just recently while reading a piece on one of my favorite news and opinion sites, Salon.  I’ve been reading Salon almost since they started, back in the mid-90s–the dawn of the Web era.  They’re a left-leaning news and entertainment site that has hosted many, many interesting writers, from Anne Lamott to Joan Walsh to Heather Havrilsky to Glenn Greenwald and many more.  But like all Web magazines these days, they have to please their advertisers, and that means they have to get click throughs.  And it seems, more and more, that the way Salon does this is by including a picture and subtitle to a post that they know their audience will click on.

Keep in mind this audience:  Liberals and progressives.  How do you get folks like that to click on something?  What kinds of pictures might interest them?  They use Grover Norquist and Sarah Palin a lot, as you might imagine.  Which is fine I suppose, unless those worthies aren’t even mentioned in the articles at which their pictures appear atop.  And that seems to be happening on Salon more and more lately.

Today I clicked on the link to a story entitled, “Sound, fury, cliche! Lazy pundits “double down” on “game changing” “narratives”“, with a subtitle of “Jon Stewart was right: From Fox News to NPR, pundits hurt the political debate by speaking in the same lazy cliches.”

And Stewart, The Daily Show, and other “fake news” commentators like Stephen Colbert weren’t even mentioned in the post.

I realize that the idea of the photos and subtitles that accompany posts have one goal in mind:  To maximize views.  I also realize that the folks who create the headlines, subtitles, and choose the photos that go with the posts are not the same as the authors of said posts.  I understand that.

Even so, the disconnect between those two in recent months at Salon has gotten absurd.  Any time there is an anti-government, anti-tax post, Grover Norquist appears in the photo, despite the fact that the vast majority of the time, Mr. Norquist makes no appearance in the post itself.  There are many, many similar examples.  And here we have an interesting post–far, far, far too long-winded and repetitive, in my view, but that is a point folks can argue–that has a picture of Jon Stewart at the top and mentions him in the subtitle, but not Stewart, The Daily Show, or his style of “reporting” are mention or even alluded to.

And that’s simply not okay.  I clicked on a post to see what impact Stewart, The Daily Show, or the (still very small) industry of “fake news reporting”–which includes Stewart, Stephen Colbert, the folks at the SNL Weekend Update team, The Onion, Funny or Die, and a few other places–has on news reporting and our public discourse, not a lengthy treatise on why and how the bloviators of the Beltway and mainstream media fake being “objective”, and give voice to their opinions while simultaneously distancing themselves from those same opinions.  An interesting topic, I agree, but not what I was clicking on to read about.

This has gone beyond the realm of click-bait and into that of false advertising.  It’s become ridiculous.  Salon is deliberately misleading its readers in an effort to get them to click on posts.  And it runs back to Google, their search algorithms, advertising, and the dynamics of the web.

I don’t have a quick or easy solution, alas; I just know that we seem to be going down a bad path, dictated by the all-powerful Penguin, and we need to rethink it.  And Google needs to get back to their “Do no evil” mantra.

Tech Writing and “Real” Writing and Their Uneasy Dance

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Image courtesy of The Chronicle of Higher Education

When I was a kid and grown-ups, as they almost invariably do, asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I was (as my mother will tell you is my habit) rather blunt:  “I don’t know,” I would say.  I didn’t want to be an astronaut, though I wanted very much to go to the moon.  I didn’t want to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a nurse.  I wanted to do something that had math in it, and science preferably, but what that was I really had no idea.  And I was quite up-front about it.  Which tended discombobulate a lot of adults.

As a result I would guess that it comes as no surprise that, even though I have been doing it for nearly a quarter of a century, I still find it difficult to come to grips with the fact that, yes, I am a writer.  Excuse me:  A Writer.  But the funny thing is that I am in a very weird, niche branch of writing called “tech writing” (about which I’ve blathered on about before), which most people have never heard of.  “I write computer manuals”, I explain, although that doesn’t even cover the half of it.  Especially now that I am a manager.

But yes, I am a writer.  I earn my daily bread by putting coherent English sentences down on metaphorical paper and making them available to the world.  But I am not a fiction writer, a literary writer, or a journalist (or even that bastard step-child of the fiction writing business:  A screenwriter), and thus people struggle with it when I tell them what I do.  And as you may guess, I struggle with it, too.

This came up for me again recently when I read another in a long line of Web posts on how the Web is making the business of being a writer so very difficult.  And I totally believe what Tim Kreider says in his article, just as I believe the very similar stories of many of my writer e-friends, particularly those who have tried to work with Huffington Post.  Being a writer now means the squeeze is on even more than ever to not get paid in exchange for “exposure”.  And as the saying goes, you can’t pay the rent of the electric bill with “exposure”.

But that’s the funny thing:  It’s different for tech writers.  On the down side, you are a wage slave to the tech industry, which is scary and uncertain in its very own ways.  But on the up side, high tech pays well.  Very well.  Writers don’t get paid anywhere near the scale of engineers, marketing folks, QA, or even IT, but tech writers still get paid well by the standards of white-collar pay.  Is it depressing to make less than a 27 year-old coder?  Absolutely.  But I still do a lot better than Mr. Kreider; my 25+ years in the industry is a huge asset in acquired knowledge, and companies like it.

Sure, a lot of companies have tried to offshore or out-source their tech writing.  Shipping it to India has been tried by any number of companies, and the results are generally pretty consistent:  Bad content that companies often have to hire native-English speakers to fix.  The ability to write graceful English sentences is difficult enough for those of us who grew up speaking it from the cradle; trying to do it as a second language is surpassingly difficult.  When you add in the additional complexity of requiring the ability to not only write well, concisely, and descriptively, but to also  have some understanding of and facility with high tech, the number of available candidates becomes pretty small.  And most of them don’t live in countries outside the English-speaking world.

(Nothing detracting from my Indian colleagues, but English is almost always their second language, and it is the rare writer for whom that doesn’t show.  How many translations of books from their original language have you read and been disappointed with?  Writing in one’s own language is hard; writing in your non-native language is really, really hard.)

And so I read pieces like Kreider’s and I squirm a bit, I must admit.  Because I am making a pretty good living at writing, even though it’s almost certainly not a type of writing that Kreider would necessarily think of as writing; it’s certainly not the type of writing he does and tries to get paid for.  And I have the luxury of writing fiction “in my spare time”, so if it doesn’t work out, or if folks don’t like it, that’s okay; it doesn’t effect the local ham&eggs issue.  When I worked for perqs and “exposure” for the tech review and news site Gear Diary, that was fine, because I really did do it for fun, and anything I got for it–free gear, tickets to SXSWi, free software to test–was a bonus for me.

But I want to be clear:  Even though I am not a “real” writer by many folks’ definition, I am firmly and absolutely committed to writers getting paid for their work, and completely support Kreider and other writers who demand it.   While tech writers, journalists, and fiction writers dance in very different circles, I think we all really do need to be dancing together on this one.

New Story: The Codex

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That is not the cover to my story, but it’s a durn interesting book!

I can never quite decide if taking time out from the two novels on which I’m working is a good thing–”Everyone needs a break now and then”–or a method of procrastination–”Why the hell aren’t you working on one of your books; how many stories can you keep in your tiny brain at the same time?”

Regardless, I find that I have been taking time out from my two novels–yes, two–to occasionally crank out a short story.  The latest entry came to me, literally, in a dream.  I dreamed the whole story, start to finish, including the title.  I woke up upon its completion, mostly because it creeped me out some, rolled over, jotted down some notes in my iPhone, went back to sleep, and then commenced work on it the next day.  It took 3 “writing units” to complete and took about a week, but on the whole it’s basically the same story as the one I dreamed.

It’ll be up to you folks to tell me if it’s any good.  In any event, it’s called The Codex and is available on WattPad.  Share and enjoy.   And if you do read it, please tell me what you think because I’m genuinely curious to find out if it’s good, or just a piece of crap.  I mean, when you dream something, it’s always hard to tell, don’t you think?

Enough with the “Bromance” Giggling; Guys Can Have Friends Too

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No, these two guys don’t have to be suffering from suppressed gay longing; sorry!
(Image courtesy of Entertainment Weekly)

I’m a Sherlock Holmes fan.  I say this not because this is a post about Sherlock Holmes, or the various new takes on Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.; Johnny Miller; Benedict Cummerbatch), or a celebration of A.C. Doyle’s birthday, or anything like that.  It’s because there’s a common narrative thread that seems to run through people’s interpretations of men when they are either close–like in “buddy movies”–or actually live together, and in many ways the Holmes/Watson pairing is the Ur-example of this.  (The true Ur-example is the legend of Gilgamesh and Enkido, but how many people know that?  Other than people who remember the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Darmok”?)

But Homes&Watson are hardly the only example of this in fiction, of course.  We also have Kirk&Spock, and Harry&Ron, and Starsky&Hutch, and those two guys in “Miami Vice”, and on and on.  It’s a very common trope.

But there’s something that quite bugs me about how these partnerships are treated.  Let me give you an example:  I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Baker Street Babes, a group of women who talk about All Things Sherlock.  I like this podcast quite a bit, even if it turns into a girly giggle-fest too often for my tastes.  But hey, I’m not the target audience, so I’m good with that.  What I have difficulty with is the damn-near constant, incessant, laugh-behind-our-hands attitude that these women often display towards the relationship between Holmes and Watson.  The subtext of this is clear:  Holmes and Watson really have unresolved homosexual feelings for each other and jeez, why don’t they just act on it?

And here’s the thing, and I’m sorry to break it to the Babes:  Men have male friends.  Sometimes close male friends.  Sometimes very close male friends for whom they would lay in front of traffic, but for whom they don’t have any romantic feelings.  So get over yourselves.

In my case, I have a (very) few male friends for whom I would do almost anything.  I have lived with some of these men, in some cases for years.  We have dated women (or men), lived our individual lives, and built up a bond of close friendship that is non-sexual.  Point being, men can have close male friends that they don’t want to jump in bed with.

(I will state that folks like Robert Downey, Jr. don’t make this any better by deliberately feeding into this “suppressed homosexual longing” thing.)

Yes, gang:  Men can be friends, close, close friends, with other men, without sex being involved.  Shocker!

Now turn this the other way:  If you have a TV show, or a literary series, or a movies series, where there is a pair of women who are close friends, who even live with each other, would it be appropriate to point and giggle and make snarky comments about “suppressed lesbian longings”?  Would we pooh-pooh people who said, “No, actually; Julie and Julia are just good friends–it’s nothing to do with sex”, and then giggle and make fun and suggest that believing–gasp!–women can have female friends without wanting to screw them makes you naive?  How would that go over?  (Hint:  Not well.)

So look:  I know it’s fun and cute and clever to point out that Paul Michael Glaser sure had tight pants and oooh giggle giggle I bet David Soul just wanted to jump his bones, or to write Ron/Harry shipping fanfic, or whatever, but the fact remains:  Men can be close friends with other men without suppressed homosexuality being a part of it.  Deal with it.

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