The Importance of Being Busty

There has been much discussion in the halls of Genre fiction lately about sexual discrimination and chauvinism in this field. There has been talk about ‘what makes a strong female protagonist’ and ‘why do we want those?’ There has been talk about how female authors are treated differently than male authors, both in person and in terms of what they can and can not get away with in writing.

All of these discussions have made me hyper-aware of sexism in genre fiction of late, which in turn has made me aware of a double-standard that, so far, no one else seems to have commented on.

Male authors (mostly, although some females do it to) feeling the need to inform the reader of the female protagonist’s bust size at the earliest (and often every) opportunity.

I was reading a book (I won’t say which one, or by whom) recently, and this was brought home to me with blinding swiftness. The author, a man, made it all the way to page three before revealing the size of the heroine’s breasts.

We knew how large (or small) her breasts were before we knew her hair color, eye color, skin color, weight, middle name, father’s name, mother’s name, brother’s name, sister’s name, family dog’s name, favorite food, favorite music, favorite movie, sexual orientation, IQ, shoe size…

In fact, the only things we knew about the character BEFORE learning how large (or small) her breasts were was her name (which might be a nickname), her age, her height, and her profession.

That’s it.

This evening, I went to a rock concert, and while standing in line, Jenn and I started talking to another fan of the band, and we started talking about the craft of writing (don’t ask, it was a strange conversation with many a twist and turn). I happened to mention this book and that bit about the heroine’s bust size, and the guy I was talking to, who was a highly intelligent man with excellent opinions on many subjects other than this, expressed confusion. Why was this a problem? his expression seemed to say.

The problem is two-fold. One, it encourages us to think of women in terms of their sexual attributes first and foremost. We don’t even know if the character is smarter than a well-trained chimpanzee, but we know the size of her hooters, by god! The second problem is, it’s a double standard. You never see this happening to men. In fact, while I have read a great many books where a woman’s breasts are described, I have yet (short of porn) to see a book where guys get the same treatment.

This annoys me. We’re better than this, as a species, as a culture, and as writers. Or at least, we should be.

To this end, I have decided to offer the following bit of Creative Commons, Open-Source text. Feel free to copy all or part of it for your own stories. You do not need to credit me. Drop in the name of a character from your own works, and the occupation of the other people he’s with.

 

[Name] looked at the other [occupation]s sitting at the table with him. Jose was telling a joke, but [name] wasn’t really paying attention. The 22 year old [occupation] was busy thinking about other things. [Name] was tall for a [occupation], being 6’5″. He had an abnormally small cock, which he wore baggy pants to conceal.

Come on, folks. At LEAST tell us her hair color first.

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The Claim

“Hey Milt!”

Agnes’ voice made Milton cringe. Her voice always made Milton cringe, but this time it was worse. This time, he knew, it meant he had a client. He glanced at the clock. 4:58. Two more minutes, and he would have made it. Now, he had to deal with this. He could feel his stomach churning already. This was totally going to ruin his dinner plans.

With a long-suffering sigh, Milton stood up and waved the client over. Milton was on the wrong side of 46, with thinning brown hair and a fleshy face upon which stubble simply refused to look manly. Any muscles left over from his high-school football days and a brief stint in the Reserves had long since lost the battle to sedentary lifestyle and donut infatuation. In short, Milton looked exactly like what he was: a middle-aged insurance adjuster.

The client wove through the maze of cubicles to Milton’s. Milton tried not to judge people, but it was hard not to in this case. The man had clearly not bathed in days, and a wave of stench preceded him that made Milton’s eyes water. The man’s clothes were shabby and torn, deeply stained with what Milton did not care to speculate upon.  His hair was matted where it didn’t stick up in tufts, his skin was an interesting shade of used motor oil, and his teeth would give nightmares to all but the most strong-willed of dental hygienists.

Milton was a professional. He tried to ignore how much the client’s presence made him want to vomit, and offered the man a chair. “Hello, and welcome to Lifeways Insurance, Mr…?” He let the title trail off in invitation. The client bit.

“Garr.”

“Mr. Garr,” Milton nodded smoothly. He started to offer his hand to shake, but thought better of it. There was something in the client’s eyes, some strange gleam of anticipation, that made Milton reconsider. Instead, he merely sat down and turned to his computer. Wiggling the mouse to shut off the screen saver, he said, “Now, what can I do for you today, Mr. Garr?”

“Gar,” the man corrected him. Milton frowned briefly, the shrugged. He started typing ‘gar*’ into the search engine. When in doubt, the twenty year old kid who came in to teach them about the new software upgrades had told him, always use wildcards. As he typed, the client reached a filthy hand into his coat and produced a piece of paper which he dropped unceremoniously on Milton’s desk.

Even as Milton reached for it, he could see that it was a standard form 1217, Proof of Life Insurance (Insured Copy). The paper was wrinkled and torn in one corner, and had multiple grease and dirt stains on it, but Milton was still able to read the name of the Insured: George Weatherby.

Milton looked at Mr. Gar and cocked his head, waving the paper. “Yes? What is this? Did you find this somewhere?” Milton began to wonder if he should call the police. Maybe this filthy homeless man had killed Mr. Weatherby and stolen his life insurance papers. Not that it would have helped him if he had, Milton thought,  since the money only ever gets paid to the beneficiary, not random people who show up with papers.

Milton opened his mouth to explain this to Mr. Gar when Mr. Gar slapped his chest with his hand and said, “Aaaah!” There was an unpleasant wet sound from the vicinity of Mr. Gar’s sternum when he slapped himself, and a fresh wave of putrid stench almost caused Milton to vomit. He held down his lunch by sheer force of will and the dedication to his craft of 26 years.

“I’m sorry,” Milton said, “I don’t understand you.” He was, however, beginning to get a nagging suspicion. It lodged in the base of his spine like an ice cube, and Milton was unable to suppress a shiver.

The client growled wordlessly and slammed a fist on the desk. Milton leaned back in his chair in alarm, one hand reaching for the phone to call the police should the client turn violent. That happened sometimes, especially when a claim was denied for whatever reason.

Mr. Gar lurched to his feet and put one hand behind his back. Milton had the phone in his hand and had gotten as far as 9-1- before he realized that the client was reaching for his wallet, not a gun. It took some doing to retrieve: the client was so angry his hands were shaking noticeably. At last, he managed to retrieve the wallet and dropped it practically in Milton’s lap.

Milton placed the phone back in its cradle gently and picked up the wallet. He opened it, and found the ID card inside. It belonged to Mr. Weatherby. Milton was one second away from calling the police to report a murder when he noticed that Mr. Weatherby bore more than a passing resemblance to a much cleaner and less sickly Mr. Gar. He held the ID in his hand and peered at it closely, then at the client, then back at the picture.  Slowly, he put the wallet back on the desk.

“Are… are you Mr. Weatherby?” he asked the client.

The client nodded vigorously. “Aaah! Aaah!” He slapped his chest twice more.  Milton thought he heard a faint ‘crack’ on the second impact.

Milton leaned back in his chair and gave Mr. Weatherby a long, careful look. He noticed things he had dismissed earlier, such as the way that Mr. Weatherby was missing a small piece of his lower lip, or how the various cysts and pustules on Mr. Weatherby’s face looked gangrenous.

Milton sighed deeply.

“Mr. Weatherby,” he said, reaching again for his computer. He typed a little typing, clicked a few clicks. Behind him, a laser printer whirred to life. “Mr. Weatherby,” Milton repeated as he collected the papers from the printer tray. “I’m going to print out the full contract you signed with us one more time,” he said, although in fact he had already done so. “Now, I urge to to please, please pay attention to Clause 3A.” He placed the appropriate paper on the desk, turned so that the client could read it, and Milton pointed directly at the clause in question.

“As you can see here,” he said, tapping the paper twice with his index finger, “Lifeways Insurance is not responsible, and will not, under any circumstances, pay out in cases of ancestral curse, voodoo, necromancy, contagion, or any other situation that results in the Insured becoming Undead. I simply cannot help you. Now, I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave now.”

Milton hustled the confused Mr. Weatherby out, who departed with a final, confused, “Garr?”

Once the door was locked, Milton turned to glare at Agnes. “How long have you worked here, Agnes?” he asked, his voice deceptively soft. “You really should know the rules by now. No zombies!”

 

Brunch! is over, and other updates.

Well, my idea of having Brunch! The Page Where Spam Goes to Die was cute and all, but sadly the spammers aren’t very clever. They keep sending me the same six or seven basic messages over and over, rather than keeping it interesting. As a result, I’ve decided to take down the Brunch! page and simply squash the spam as it comes in.

With a HAMMER!

In other news, the first week of my serial novel read-along-as-I-write-it was a success, in that I wrote just over 2200 words. Today’s update is complete also, bringing us to 2700 words. It is up here on this site (here) as well as on my Watt Pad account, should you wish to get your reading done that way.

Lastly, let me just say that driving around on brakes that are failing is quite the ‘exciting’ experience. I don’t recommend it.

-Mike

Back from the dead, new Thing happening

Hello faithful readers (both of you!).

Yes, I’m back. I know it’s been a while since I posted anything. Life has been happening. I finished a novella, decided to upgrade it to a novel, then decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do right now, and started another book. A ‘trio of four’ as DNA might have said. Maybe.

Who knows.

Anyways.

Back in February of this year, Chuck Wendig put up a blog post about how to write a novel in a year. It turns out, it’s not that hard if you break it up into small chunks. He recommends 350 words per day, five days a week.

So that’s what I’m going to do. Here, with you. This is, mind you, in addition to the other books I’m writing offline. However, here online, I’ll be posting between 350-500 words per day. Yes, it’s a serial novel! And you thought those days were over, didn’t you? Admit it, you totally did. That’s okay, I did too.

Starting today, you can head over to the Serial Novel page and follow the progress. It’s free, it’s only 500ish words a day, and it’s free. Did I mention it’s free?

It’s totally free.

So kick back, crack open a cold bottle of Liquified Flobotinum, and enjoy!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Departure

First off, let me begin this by saying, ‘Go see the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.’ It was a very fun movie, and I can’t wait to see the Goblin Town sequence in a video game (hint hint, designers).

That said, there were a few decisions that the production team (writers, director, and producers) made that seemed out of place, strange, or just plain pointless.

Warning: Everything below is a spoiler.

Continue reading

The Blame Game

On December 14th, 2012, a man picked up several firearms, went to the school where his mother taught, and began killing people. This was a horrible, horrific event that shocked and sickened me to my core. That this was not the first time something like that has happened in no way lessened the horror.

In the aftermath, as I watched the feeds on Twitter and Facebook, I began to notice two trends.

The first trend was people expressing their emotions: offering condolences to the families of those slain, or expressing their disgust and outrage, as personal tastes dictated.

The second trend I noticed was people using this as proof that either all guns should be banned, or as an example of why every American should be packing a gat on their hip. Some day, I will find the humor inherent in the fact that both the pro- and anti-gun lobbies are using the exact same event as ‘proof’ that their beliefs are correct. Not today, however. It’s still too close.

But then I made the cardinal mistake: I replied to the FB post of an acquaintance.

I really should know better.

My acquaintance posted a link to an article on Thinkprogress.org titled, “It’s Easier for Americans to Access Guns Than Mental Health Services.” I responded flippantly that there are many things in America it is easier to get than mental health services. Then I sarcastically named a few, including garbanzo beans (because I really like that word. Garbanzo).

An acquaintance of my acquaintance then jumped in to berate me for ‘making mental health care seem ridiculous.’ This surprised me, as that was not the point of my reply at all. All I was trying to do was shine a light on the fact that the author of the original article was using this tragedy as a platform for his own personal anti-gun stance, and doing so in a deliberately misleading and frankly absurd way.

‘Guns are easier to access than mental health.’ No s#!t, Sherlock.

Guns are physical, manufactured items. I’m not an expert on firearm factories, but I can’t imagine it takes more than maybe half an hour to manufacture a Glock on the assembly line? And given the asking prices, I predict it costs somewhere in the vicinity of $50-$100 to make one. On the other hand, to ‘manufacture’ a therapist takes years and years of college, and tens if not hundreds of thousands in school loans. And once you’ve ‘made’ your therapist, curing someone of whatever mental ailments they suffer from isn’t instant, that also takes time and money. It has been a while since I last looked at the prices for an hour of therapy, but back then it was around $200. For $200, I can get a LOT of garbanzo beans.

But as I sat here and thought about this semi-argument I was almost having with a complete stranger, I started to think about what this says about us as a species and a society. I composed several follow-up posts in my head, and although I never posted them, they got me to thinking.

See, here’s the thing. Right now, a lot of people are blaming this tragedy on guns. Leaving aside the absurdity of blaming the tool for the way in which it is wielded, this is simply the latest in a long line of excuses that society has come up with in order to avoid having to put the blame for events like this where it actually belongs.

In the ’60s, it was Rock’n’Roll music. If someone killed someone or committed suicide, it was Rock’n’Roll’s fault. In the 70s, it was Heavy Metal. In the 80s, the cause of every evil was Dungeons and Dragons. In the 90s it was video games, and in the 00s, it was violence on TV and in the movies. And now, the fault lies with guns.

It is interesting that we’ve moved beyond the social and are now blaming the method, but that’s not the point. The point is, we keep pointing fingers at things that are, at best, peripheral influences on unstable people and crying ‘Satan is in the Rock’n’Roll/Heavy Metal/D&D/Video games/Violent TV shows/Guns.’

The fact is, sometimes people go crazy. They’re broken. Maybe it’s environmental, maybe it’s genetic. Maybe it’s a chemical imbalance, maybe it’s a non-supportive home life, maybe it’s stress. But people sometimes go nuts. And sometimes, when they go, they take others with them. It’s horrible and sad and scary, but it’s not exactly ‘news’ that sometimes people snap.

So why do we blame these other things, these external forces? Why does society feel the need to point fingers at rock’n’roll or heavy metal or video games or guns and cry ‘Demon! Unclean!’?

I ask this, but the truth is, I know why.

Fear.

Each and every one of us, in the darkest hidden parts of our minds, where we don’t like to go and hate to even acknowledge that we have, we know that the guy who picked up a gun or a knife or a bomb and killed a McDonalds full of people could have been us. ‘There but for the grace,’ and all that.

But we don’t want to believe that it could be us. Our subconscious minds, quite often, refuse to even accept the possibility. But if ‘crazy’ is a result of environment or stress or genetics, all these things that we tend to believe we have no control over, then we have no control over going crazy. And that is simply unacceptable.

So we find other reasons. Reasons that we, ourselves, don’t do. “That kid who did these terrible things played video games,’ your mind says. “But I don’t like video games, and I don’t play them. Therefore, if video games are the reason he went insane, then I’m safe. It can’t happen to me.” And just like that, we have rationalized away our fear that we could be next and put the demon of insanity into the sacrificial pig of things we don’t like, things we don’t do, and things we’re safe from.

A man picked up several firearms, went to the school where his mother taught, and started killing people. And because someone doesn’t like guns, it’s the guns’ fault.

Obviously, that’s horsecrap. People were going insane and killing each other long before we had easy (or any) access to guns. If there were no guns, that man (he was 24, according to the news report I read) could have gone into a liquor store and bought several bottles of Everclear and made Molotov cocktails out of them. Or made a bomb from various products found at Home Depot. Or picked up a knife (20 of the 28 people he killed at last report were children).

We are all descended from someone. We all live in environments and we all eat and breathe. We all have stress in our lives. So if those things cause insanity then we’re vulnerable. You are vulnerable.

But if you don’t like guns and don’t own one, then guns are a ‘safe’ target. Guns can be the culprit, and you are secure in your invulnerable ivory tower of sanity.

Good luck with that.

FJJ Investigations, Inc. – Prologue

Loosely inspired by a friend’s Facebook post. Merely a prologue. 

 

It was after midnight and the music was pumping at Z-Rez when the suit approached me for the first time. We were there celebrating, never mind why. Red had poured herself into a skin-tight black Keshiro Takeda dress, and guys were lining up to buy her drinks. Vee was, unsurprisingly, over at the DJ’s station checking out the newest Zeiss Ultrabass thumpers, and I had lost track of Mutt and his ward hours ago.

Me? I was enjoying a well deserved Ichiban when the suit darkened my booth.

“Mr. Jones?” his voice held just the slightest note of uncertainty, which told me that he only knew me by verbal description. Whoever he was, he didn’t have a file on me or he’d know my face. I hadn’t been reprofiled over a year. I had been considering trying a stint as a brunette, but always decided against it. My hair was pretty much my signature.

“Mr. Johnson,” I nodded back. Someday I’m going to meet a suit whose name really is Johnson. Or maybe the bigger suits know that’s what we call them, and never assign anyone with that name to low-level grunt work like this.

He smiled, an expression as plastic as his features: handsome in a bland, non-threatening way. The perfect corporate shill. No doubt the result of extensive reprofiling. “I represent certain people,” he began, slipping into the booth opposite me. “Certain people who have heard of you and your team. We want to hire you.”

My own smile could be measured in picoseconds. “Of course you do.” My voice was heavy on the sarcasm. It’s good, in these negotiations, to establish dominance from the very beginning. And nothing does that better than feigning disinterest. If he was any good at his job, he knew I knew that, and I knew he knew, and so the dance went. “Let me guess,” I went on, “your boss did something and now someone else knows about it and you want expendables who won’t be missed come next quarter’s accounting to go sort it out. That about sum it up?”

He paused, for just a fraction of a second. Maybe he wasn’t as good at his job as I had thought. “No,” he shook his head. “That’s not it at all. Someone broke into our offices…”

I nodded as he trailed off. “And you want us to find out who and retrieve whatever it is they took.” It wasn’t a question, but it was wrong as it turned out.

“No,” he shook his head again. His composure was back, and I realized that I had guessed wrong and forfeited the advantage. Dammit. “We know who did it and we have already recovered the property,” he continued. “What we want you to do is figure out how they did it.”

“Why not just make them tell you?” I asked, and from the self-satisfied smirk, I knew the answer as soon as I asked. “Oh,” I nodded, “no one left alive to question.”

He nodded smugly. “We want you to recreate the event. Figure out where how they did it. The pay is quite good by your standards.” He produced a small holopad from his suit pocket and slid it across the table at me. The figure displayed was as handsome as his face.

I thought quickly. The fact that, even after catching the perps, they still didn’t know how it was done implied certain things. “You think you have a mole,” I said, and he nodded again. “Double that,” I said, pointing at the display. It was a gamble, but I was pretty sure he would go for it. Most people don’t come to us unless there is something so incredibly wrong with their problem that usual avenues of inquiry just wouldn’t cut it.

I was right: he nodded without hesitation. “Done.”

I should have asked for more. Damn. “Done,” I repeated and it was sealed. He collected his pad and slid a card across the table in its place. The card was for the Senior Vice President of Information Security at Grünenthal Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH. I stopped myself from whistling just in time. I pocketed the card and nodded.

“Tomorrow, 8 AM,” he said as he stood. He smoothed out his suit, flicked an imaginary speck of dust from his shoulder, and turned to go. He was swallowed up by the crowd in seconds.

I sat there for a time, thinking about the case. GBI was one of the Big Boys, an Orbital with connections and branches in almost every nation left on Earth. It was said that they flat-out owned the Greater Southern California Republic. If someone was stealing from them, and they couldn’t figure out who did it, it had to be someone very powerful. And that meant very dangerous. We would have to be on our toes the entire time.

I clicked my jaw to activate the subdermal and called Vee. “We have a job,” I said without preamble when she acknowledged me. “Find Mutt and Shag, and meet me at the Van in ten. And give Shag some DeTox. I need him coherent for this. I’ll get Red and meet you guys there.”

“Of course you will,” Velma’s voice dripped sarcasm, and I flushed. My infatuation with Daphne was a long-running source of amusement for the others in the group. I disconnected without replying. Sometimes it’s best not to respond to that kind of thing.

Still, I was in a good mood. We had a new job, so close on the heels of the last. If this kept up, we’d be able to afford those new Nokia plugs Shaggy wanted, and upgrade the Mutt’s biodermal implants. Things were looking good for a change.

I should have known better.