I Voted

I filled out my ballot today, and I voted for Hillary Clinton.

There are lots of other decisions on the ballot, many of which will have more practical effects on my life. I urge everyone to carefully consider everything on their ballot – it’s all important.

But in this post, I’m only going to discuss my choice for President.

Above all, I voted against Donald Trump. He is not fit to serve this country in any capacity, let alone lead it, and I will waste no further (virtual) ink on him.

I also voted for Hillary Clinton. I voted for her not just because she’s the least bad option, but because I believe she will be a positive force for this country. I can’t give her my full support, but then I haven’t unreservedly supported any major politician since Ronald Reagan, when I was too young to realize that every politician is a flawed human being.

For a start, it’s important to me to vote for the first woman to become President. Progress on equality for all Americans has been excruciatingly slow since, well, ever, and I believe that President Clinton will be a voice not just for women but for everyone who wants to live up to the declaration that “all men are created equal”.

I generally support the policy positions of the Democratic party, and much of the Republican platform seems downright extreme, especially compared to moderate party I remember from my childhood. But with the exception of climate change, which needs immediate, responsible action, my vote isn’t about whose policies I prefer. Given the extreme intransigence of the Republican party, I expect very little of President Clinton’s agenda to get through Congress anyway.

I want government to work, to accomplish the myriad things large and small that keep the country functioning every day. We clearly can’t trust the Republican Party with this task – they have spent the past thirty years trying to convince us that government is always the problem, never the solution, and that’s even before considering the spectacular ignorance of the party’s current candidate. The Democratic Party’s record is far from excellent – they usually advocate more government rather than better government as the solution to a particular problem – but I do have cause for hope. Hillary Clinton has more and broader experience in federal government than anyone who has ever run for President, and I believe that experience will make her an effective manager of the executive branch. When I voted for Barak Obama eight years ago, my biggest reservation was that he would lack the skills to run the executive branch effectively. His administration has been more competent than I expected – certainly better than the Bush administration – but we can always do better. That is why I’m voting for Hillary Clinton. She may well disappoint, but I have hope.

I do have reservations about the next Clinton administration. Bill Clinton’s policies on criminal justice and welfare reform, though universally supported at the time, have had devastating effects. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy has gotten American involved in ugly, bloody conflicts across the Middle East, resulting in death and destruction across the region. Unfortunately, no public figure has been able to articulate anything better. Though broad principles apply, every situation is different in foreign policy, and right now an awful lot of those situations are going to turn out bad no matter what.

The rest of my reservations have to do with the general haze of dishonesty surrounding Clinton. The trouble is, the haze is all we can see. In all the hype about Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi! or the email server or whatever else, we’ve seen a lot of things that look vaguely shifty or shady, but no investigation has ever produced concrete proof of anything criminal or even seriously dishonest. If there were something real there, we’d have seen it by now.

Lust

A rant from the intersection of popular culture and politics.

I’ve lately been playing a little Diablo III before bed to kill some brain cells so I can sleep (doesn’t work, but that’s another topic). The game’s setting leans pretty heavily on western notions of heaven and hell. Act III focuses on Sin, and the last mini-boss is Cydaea, the Maiden of Lust. Cydaea is a creature rather like a centaur, with a spider’s body supporting a hyper-sexualized human female torso, and she speaks with a pouty, sultry voice. This got me thinking – not about the game (it’s about a millimeter deep), but about depictions of lust in our culture and history.

The personification of lust (specifically the sexual sort) is usually female. From the tortured women carved in Romanesque stone to pretty much anything on the internet these days, Lust is a woman, naked or nearly so.

This seems backwards to me. In the world where I live, lust is more of a male thing.

I’m not suggesting that women are delicate flowers, fainting at the mere thought of intimate contact with a man; quite the opposite. Women are sexual beings, just like men, fully capable of wanting, having, and enjoying sex. Women are fully capable of lust.

But both historically and in today’s culture, men tend to spend more effort in active pursuit of their sexual desires, especially the purely physical sort implied by the word lust. According to all the available data, men on average have more sexual partners than women and are more likely to cheat in their relationships. And prostitution is almost entirely about male customers seeking female prostitutes.

So why is lust depicted as female?

In part, I’d argue it’s another symptom of the double standard. Male sexual desire, even when it’s on the edge, is the norm. It’s excused. Boys will be boys, locker room talk, etc. Female sexual desire is judged by a different, harsher standard. We have a huge vocabulary to shame women who violate sexual norms – loose, easy, cheap, slut, whore, etc. – but basically nothing for men.

I think there’s more, though. The blame for male sexual misbehavior often falls at least partly on the woman. The vixen, the temptress, the painted Jezebel. That’s sometimes justified – two married people having an affair are equally culpable; a single woman is not completely blameless if she’s knowingly sleeping with a married man.

But far too often we blame women for men’s boorish (or worse) behavior even when it’s entirely out of their control. Getting catcalled on the street? It’s your fault for wearing a skirt. Creepy guy grabbed your ass on the subway? Shouldn’t have worn those tight leggings. And how many rape victims feel like they’re being violated all over again when they testify against their accusers, only to have the defense comb through their personal lives to paint them as sluts? How many never testify, for that exact reason?

It’s no accident that Cydaea’s lower body is a spider and not some other demon creature. She’s the black widow who tempts the virtuous man into her sinful embrace and then kills and eats him afterward. I don’t blame Blizzard for their sexy spider-demon; it works in the context the self-serious piece of cultural fluff that is Diablo III.

Lust isn’t always a bad thing; sometimes it’s just sexy fun. But when it’s channeled in the wrong direction, when it reduces another person to a sex object without her consent, it can be quite harmful. The background sexual harassment that women experience every day takes its toll; serious sexual assaults can ruin lives (and no, I’m not talking about Stanford swimming scholarships).

Creative people everywhere, if you want to personify Lust in all its debased glory, you can do better. Make him male, because, obviously. Make him a bloated orange grotesque. Give him a mane of ridiculous blonde fur. Give him yuuuuge genitals (because art is not reality) and tiny, tiny hands.

After all the awful stuff that’s been spewing out of the presidential race, particularly this weekend, I can think of no better avatar for the destructive, dehumanizing power of lust than Donald Trump.

Sound Effect interview on KNKX Seattle

I went to see Hello Earth’s Outdoor Trek production of Space Seed this summer on the weekend when Marc Okrand was in town. He gave a talk about how he created the Klingon Language for Star Trek III and all that followed, and after the show, a producer from KNKX, Seattle’s public radio station, approached us and chatted a bit. When he found out I lived in Seattle and actually spoke Klingon, he handed me his business card. One of their shows – Sound Effect – was doing a series called The Ties that Bind around communities bound by shared interest, and he was interested in the Klingon speaking community. A few weeks later, I got a call from another producer, and a week or so after that, I walked up to their studio in Belltown and sat down for an interview.

You can listen to it here.

I haven’t actually listened to it myself (I really don’t like the sound of my own voice – not a useful quality for a writer, but hey), but I do know the Klingon on the show is pretty good but not perfect. I was nervous.

Enjoy.

Coronation

Just because a story ends, readers don’t stop caring about what happens next. Sometimes they have to wait for another book to find out, but they usually just have to wonder. For Kiv and Tallas of Love and Magic, I had a more definite answer in mind, in the form of a story that takes place many years later. Here it is.

Love and Magic

Love and Magic - Click Image to CloseLove and Magic exists because I can’t follow directions.

Earlier this year, I came across Torquere Press, and they had a call out for stories for their Theory of Love anthology, which they released in April. I admired Robin Watergrove, one of the authors they published, and the theme of the anthology got me thinking. I had a few ideas, including a story about a captain of a Mars Emergency Response squad, but nothing really gelled.

Sometime later, I thought of a story about two battlemages on opposite sides of a civil war, and a story came together. It wasn’t really science fiction (but, hey, SF/F are usually lumped together, right?), and it was at the outer limit of the word count they were looking for, but I submitted it anyway.

I got a very nice rejection letter telling me the story would not work for the anthology, but that Torquere wanted to publish it as a standalone novelette.  It took me about thirty seconds to say yes.

With some great editing by Deelylah Mullin and a gorgeous cover by Kris Norris, it’s now out there for the world to read.

It’s available directly from Torquere, from Amazon for the Kindle, and from other ebook retailers.

Why I Write What I Write

I’m a straight, married man, and I write, among other things, lesbian romance novels. I feel like this requires some explanation.

I’ve always been drawn more to women and their stories and life experience than to men, even outside the complication of physical and romantic attraction. I don’t know why this is; it’s just wired into who I am. Always has been.

I grew up like a typical boy, with mostly boys as friends. Societal pressure, my interest in math and science (stereotyped as male pursuits), and activities like the Boy Scouts saw to that. Still, I preferred the company of girls to boys in just about any context.

My favorite playmates in the first grade, before any of that societal pressure, were girls. In high school, as soon as I was allowed off campus for lunch, I joined a group of six girls for cheap takeout at Chop ‘N Wok, and I learned to use chopsticks when they made it clear I wouldn’t eat otherwise. Among my fellow engineering students in college, my best friend was female, and outside classes my social circle was mostly made up of women from my girlfriend’s dorm. My career choice – software engineering – skews overwhelmingly male, and it’s actually gotten worse since I graduated from college, but even there I’ve had the privilege of working with some fabulously smart women.

It’s not that I don’t value male friendship – many of my best friends are dudes. It’s just that in any group, a disproportionate number of the friends and colleagues I value and remember are female.

In my reading, too, I seek out women’s voices. I mostly read science fiction and fantasy as a kid, where women and girls have historically been poorly represented, but I still found female characters I loved. Perhaps my strongest personal connection with a fictional character was with Menolly of Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall books. Though my life was nothing like hers, I immediately understood the shy, exceptional girl who ran away from the limits of her small, closed-in life. That she was a girl didn’t make it any harder for me to relate to her struggles and her successes. In retrospect, it might have even made it easier for me.

When I read, and particularly when I write, I get to be somebody else for a while. I get to step into somebody else’s shoes. Whether those shoes are sneakers, heels, or combat boots, the foot that goes into them is female more often than not.

So that’s why I read and write female characters. Why lesbians? The simple answer is that the part of women’s life experience I find it hardest to relate to is romantic interest in men. As we’ve already established, I generally find women more interesting than men, and I’m not attracted to men at all. I perfectly happy for people, male or female, who are attracted to men; I just don’t get the appeal. Falling in love with a woman, on the other hand, is something I understand.

There’s more to it, though. Women, especially straight women, have limits in both narrative and real life that men do not.

When a woman settles down with a man, his needs expand to fill up the available space in the relationship, only leaving room for hers to squeeze in around the edges. This happens even in modern, enlightened couples – they may strive for equality in the big things, but unconscious biases inevitably sneak into the million little things that make up a marriage. It happens all the time in my own marriage (to that high school lunch pal and college girlfriend), no matter how I try to fight it. We simply don’t have the mental capacity to think through every action, every situation, so we fall back on routine, and routine is reflective of a society that undervalues women even in this age of supposed equality. There are exceptions, of course – stay-at-home dads, mothers with high-powered careers – but they’re depressingly rare. Rarer, I would guess, than women who identify as something other than completely straight.

Lesbian relationships completely upend this dynamic. They start on even ground. Differences in age, income, class, ethnicity, religion, and all sorts of other things may unbalance a relationship between two women, but the big hammer is completely absent. A lesbian is never the lesser partner just because she is a woman. Lesbians do face all sorts of other hardships, including appalling discrimination and hate, but in this one way they retain a kind of agency in their lives and relationships that straight women rarely do, even today. I find that inspiring.

More than anything else, though, lesbian stories just make sense to me, deep down in that part of me beyond thought. I saw Stop! Kiss! at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival back in 2000, and to this day I still remember it as the most beautiful love story I’ve ever seen on stage, screen, or page. I read Nicola Griffith’s The Blue Place two years ago, and it affected me more powerfully than any story I’ve ever encountered. A rare few stories have brought me to tears; The Blue Place knifed me in the gut and left me for dead.

So when I write, most of my protagonists are women, and many of them are genderqueer. I am aware that a straight man – top of the privilege ladder – writing about people who are neither of those things may make people uncomfortable or cause offense. Both the potential for offense and the writing itself make me a little uncomfortable as well, but not enough to stop.

I do the best I can to write with respect for all the cultures and social groupings – women or men; queer or straight; Asian or white or black or Hispanic; rich or poor; able-bodied or not; programmer or artist or doctor or Wizard of the Guild; etc. – from which I draw characters. I hope the results speak for themselves.

Thanks for reading.

Chemical Moments

I never expected to be a writer. I grew up studying science and math and went on to a career in software development. I got kicked out of honors English after the ninth grade, and I got a D in English 102 in college. Writing was definitely not my thing.

Then, about two years ago, I was reading amateur romance fiction on the internet. Most of it was not great, as is the case with any user-generated content site, but some of it was excellent. And while I was reading one particularly good story, I thought to myself, “Well, heck. I can do that.” So I did.

I pulled together a bunch of ideas in my head, from the wonderful play Stop! Kiss! by Diana Son to a brief, abandoned storyline in a web comic I used to read, and a moment took shape. It was a first kiss in the middle of an evergreen forest between a straight(?) woman and her lesbian best friend. That moment was the core of the story, and the rest grew around it, both the before and the after. The characters got names and families and histories and friends, and then those characters got the same, and so on.

The result was Evergreen Kiss. I published it on the site where I had been reading, and I got amazingly positive feedback. Internet comments may generally be a cesspool of hate, but the community there was nothing but supportive. I wrote another, and then another, and over two years, I amassed a collection of six full-length romance novellas, with a cast of characters that appear across the different stories. I also wrote four smaller pieces illustrating life outside the big romance, including one that ties all the characters together at the end.

I’ve published all ten stories as a collection called Chemical Moments, and it’s now available on Amazon.com. Happy reading.


Chemical Moments: Stories of Love, Art, Cooking, Chemistry, and Code


Chemical Moments: Stories of Love, Art, Cooking, Chemistry, and Code

by RE Andeen