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a little bit goes a long way

I’m in the middle of outlining a romance novel that has a lot of potential endings — and several of those possible ending are polyamorous in nature. It’s making me realize one of the weird ways fiction doesn’t necessarily mirror reality.

Romance fiction tends to be, largely, monosexual — one person meets one person, they fall in love, happily ever after (HEA). On some rare occasions, though — and this appears in both original romance novels and in romantic fanfiction — you get a polyamorous solution to everyone’s will-they-won’t-they.

When an author chooses the polyamorous option, they’re trying to demonstrate how it works for an audience that may not necessarily have any experience of it in real life. And in fiction, it looks great. There’s support, there’s a lot of love, there’s frequently really inventive sex scenes. Two things I’ve noticed, though:

  • The kind of poly that tends to show up as the HEA is polyfidelity, or maybe “kitchen-table poly“. In polyfidelity, everyone’s in a relationship with everyone else, like a closed triangle (or whatever shape the polycule is). In kitchen-table poly, everyone might not be in a relationship with everyone else, but they’re all involved in one another’s lives to the degree that they could sit around the kitchen table in their pajamas.
  • You don’t see a lot of parallel or solo poly — at least, not being practiced by the main character. In parallel poly, multiple relationships are being maintained separately; in solo, the poly person maintains multiple relationships but is “settling down” with no one person in particular.

I don’t think kitchen-table or polyfidelity or any of those big group styles of poly are the default of poly — and I don’t think they’re necessarily better than parallel or solo poly, just because we see it in fiction more often. Rather, I think that it’s difficult to write parallel or solo poly sympathetically, in the manner that we’re used to writing about mono relationships.

Writing (for me) is all about having a toolbox of ideas and hacks and methods to convey particular ideas, tools that allow me to translate the messy story in my head to something that looks relatively similar in a complete stranger’s head. If I try to convey one character’s love and desire for multiple other characters, and those characters are all separate or otherwise don’t interact… that sort of writing exists, but generally it’s used to denote a cheater. Even if the author explicitly states that that’s not the case, the author has to contend with their reading audience’s years’ worth of experience decoding and interpreting monosexual fiction — and their own experience writing it. It’s just… easier to write polyamory as if it’s just very complex monogamy.

The truth is, though, that it’s a different bird. And that can land some readers in trouble, particularly those who use fiction to game-test ideas in a sandbox before playing them in the real world. If they’re presented with a type of relationship that looks like it solves their own problems, and then don’t do any research outside of fiction… well, let us consider the example of 50 Shades of Grey and BDSM, and move on from there.

So in working on the ending to my romance, I’m stuck trying to come up with the HEA while at the same time maintaining what I’d like to think is reality for a large subset of the polyamorous community (and shouldn’t they get to see themselves in fiction too?). It’s frustrating work — but, I suppose, that’s why authors do it. Maybe I’ll be the one to crack the code.

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the writing life (and the lies we wish were true)

I’ve recently joined one of those movie theatre loyalty programs, where you get to watch multiple movies over the course of a week for the cost of essentially two movies a month (which I would do anyway, so this works well for me). Because of it, I end up seeing a lot of films I wouldn’t otherwise, which is useful to expand my basic collection of storylines.

Recently I saw both Knives Out (a cozy murder mystery comedy with attractive sweaters) and Ford v Ferrari (a historical bio-pic Fast and Furious with more engineering porn). I enjoyed both very much, though only Knives Out had really been on my radar. But getting the opportunity to see both let me make some connections I don’t think I would’ve otherwise– specifically, how the two movies frame owning one’s own business.

Without going into spoilers, Knives Out features the patriarch of a family that has become vastly wealthy because he is a best-selling mystery writer. His millions allow for a giant weird mansion and supporting two generations of wastrel children — all without (SOMEHOW) film, audio, or any other adaptations of his work. This is a depressingly popular trope — when I was a kid, I used to think very dark thoughts about anything that depicted writers as effete artists wandering around sipping martinis in their Manhattan penthouses while lushly dropping marabou feathers from under layer after layer of silk robes.

“Maryanne!” they’d faintly screech, staring at the distance, cradling their own elbow while sipping an artisanally cheap whiskey. “Fetch the typewriter.” They’d take a drag from their cigarette. (There’s a cigarette now.) “And call Mr. Spielberg.” Exhale. “I’m ready to talk.”

Blargh.

In contrast, Ford v Ferrari features not one but two small car-related businesses — one of which is even fairly successful, all things considered — and both are constantly cutting corners with sales, flirting with bankruptcy, and willing to put up with a considerable amount of bullshit to make ends meet. This I’m familiar with– talk to any working writer (or read Kameron Hurley’s breakdowns of what a successful writing life actually pays, or listen to piles of excellent Ditch Digger podcast episodes) and it’s basically the same scenario. There are very few (very few) authors who can survive without a regular day job and/or a support network that subsidizes their work. There are several terrible true-life stories of authors who try to have the marabou feather life and discover that it is wildly impossible.

And yet, Knives Out showcases that trope again, and the regular public nod sagely and take it as a given.

The closest I’ve come to figuring out the difference here is a double-punch of:

(1) Writing is still a Vast Mystery, unlike blue-collar and mundane car repair businesses. There are a sufficient number of people who either know or are blue-collar workers that it’s not a real question how and where money goes. Cash and accrual businesses, with hourly/shift work, are basically the options at play — as opposed to the labyrinthine nonsense of incremental portions of leased rights across multiple companies and languages, etc etc, that makes up a typical writing career.

(2) Writing produces Art, which is a luxury, and luxuries cost money, and therefore… artists are rich? (This goes back to the Mystery aspect of how money works in publishing.) Whereas cars are, for many, a basic life necessity. Someone’s getting rich, but it’s probably Companies run by rotund men in glass-windowed offices, laughing over stock reports while burning Kobe steaks to light their bespoke cigarillos. In fact, it would seem that the popular trope of the martini-drinking artist frames writers as essentially being on par with capitalist fat cats.

I don’t have a particular solution to this, aside from more writers accurately portraying themselves in fiction (which is also my solution for accurate robots, accurate children, and accurate dark gods of New Hampshire). But it’s still very fascinating to see the exact same lifestyle appear at the exact same time in the exact same media– and have those expressed in their stories and to their audiences completely differently.

fiction

like fine print, so hard to read

by Anna Katherine

Originally published on The Anna Katherine Co-op of Evil, April, 2012. “Anna Katherine” is the pseudonym of Anna Genoese and Katherine Crighton; this story is a prequel to the Door-world book SALT AND SILVER, 2009.

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Rian Corveau is fifteen years old. He lives about twenty minutes north of the border, speaks French better than he reads it (and he only does around his Quebecois family, anyway), loves hunting better than fishing, and has just had sex for the first time.

Michelle is six months older than him, and lives in town, and is so beautiful he doesn’t know words in enough languages for it. Her skin is the color of milk. Her lips are wide and thin around her mouth. Her laugh is rough and catches in the air when he tries to kiss along her skin like he’s seen in movies. She smells like spice and snow.

Everything, everything in the world, is amazing.

Continue reading “like fine print, so hard to read”
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mirabilis in miniature

The first story my parents remember me writing (or starting, at any rate) was titled THE STORM. Its opening line? “It was a beautiful day at the beach.”

The first story I remember writing was in first or second grade, shortly after I’d had a teary tantrum over something, and I proceeded to write a story about a crying witch. My parents lent me their computer to do so, which was magnanimous considering the fuss I remember putting up just shortly beforehand. I can still remember the final scene, though — I don’t remember how I wrote it, but I remember imagining what I wanted, and the urge to get it down right.

I myself have children now, and they’ll sidle up next to me and ask if they can “work” on my laptop, writing their own stories. My youngest gets frustrated at how slow her typing is, but when she dictates to me, her story about the Power Sisters joining the Teen Titans is a charming and imaginative one.

My oldest, on the other hand, has crept from her bed at night and said, wide-eyed and excited, that she has a story she wants to write. On the one hand, I could send her back to bed– but I know what it’s like to feel the urge to create, and the sweeping joy of a finished work. So the night that this happened, I handed over my laptop, and let her peck out letters of a ghost story, one hand to her mouth as she smiled, delighted, at her own words.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, except– it can be rare, I think, to watch someone else’s muse strike, and watch their brains light up and their voice get excited and their hands move in rhythm to their minds. We should encourage it when it happens, and be respectful of the tiny miracle we’ve been allowed to witness.

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Writing without engagement (or: livejournal was really great, right?)

For the last several years, I’ve engaged in micro-blogging: Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr. All of these create an “active” online presence that doesn’t have to actually create anything new (though many do) — one can instead just like, or reblog, or provide a two-word comment, and be considered alive and well.

The other day I went trawling through my old and now very much defunct livejournal, looking for a particular essay I’d written describing the lead up to the “Sicilian Vespers“. And what with one thing and another, I ended up rereading huge swathes of posts, going back years. It was… strange. I had posts about my daily life; posts about my thoughts and feelings; posts with bad jokes; posts where I excitedly shared something I’d learned, or commented on the happenings of the world, or just trolled my friends at length. It was a very different sort of engagement than I have with my current apps and platforms — instead of sharing what’s clever, or attempting to dip into meme status, I just… wrote what I wanted to write. A diary with an acknowledged open audience.

So I might just go ahead and start writing like that again– because why not? It’ll either be read or it won’t, but I will have written it, and I will be able to read it in the future, and shouldn’t that be enough? The act of writing is an exponential exercise — every word becomes ten more at some near-distant point. And even if it didn’t… there’s value in writing for oneself. Of looking inside and writing what one sees without first transmogrifying it into fiction. Of writing something meant to be experienced separate from the “engagement” of social media.

(And also I want another venue to talk about the Sicilian Vespers without having to count my characters or use shitpost styling to go viral. It’s a wild bit of history. Fuck ~engaging~ my audience.)

fiction

The Invasion

by Katherine Crighton

Originally published on tumblr, April 2, 2015

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It began on a Tuesday. Aliens arrived, in swirling disco-ball orbs that were very shiny, and started laying waste to everything in sight and more than a few things in important bunkers. Munitions were destroyed; surrender was denied; the destruction of the world was both imminent and inevitable.

The cats of the Eastern seaboard decided, in a group vote, that the humans had finally proven themselves useless.

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fiction

The Words Are the Breath

by Katherine Crighton

Originally published on tumblr, March 13, 2015. Written for whitesheepcbd​. Warnings: offensive treatment of developmentally disabled children/adults, referenced child abuse, referenced filicide, blasphemy. I tried to be respectful of the developmentally disabled community and their concerns – any errors of fact or misrepresentations of their experience are entirely my fault and, at any rate, I should not be seen as any sort of source for more information (there are many self-advocating groups/blogs both on tumblr and on the web in general that are much better spokespeople/resources than me — start with the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network and go on from there).

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Six.

Sunday school was one of the things that Sam was supposed to pay attention to. His mama walked him to the door every time, which didn’t match what the other parents did; it bothered him. He dragged his feet, trying to get her to stop and go back to her pew, but she thought it was because he didn’t want to go, and just kept moving. It was backward. She was getting it wrong and he couldn’t tell her and she wouldn’t listen anyway.

He stood in the door once she pushed him inside, like he always did, and waited there, watching, until she went back to her pew and the sermon started up again. He checked the church – everybody was matching again. Good. Now he could go into Miss Sarah’s class and sit in circle time for today’s lesson.

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fiction

Honey, I’m the Best Time You’ll Never Have

by Katherine Crighton

Originally published on tumblr, February 10, 2015. Written for schatze-loco-pola. Warnings: Early 20th century American-level offensive and racist language/epithets, violence.

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There was a guy in a suit, big and fancy, a round silver piece on his watch chain that had to be worth at least five dollars all by itself just hanging there like it was nobody’s business, and he was walking along Minnie’s piece of street like there was nothing to worry about on such a fine, fine Manhattan morning. 

Minnie was short, sure, and kept herself to herself, but she had fingers like her old auntie’s tweezers and nobody looked twice at newsboys walking with no papers. She slipped up to the guy and started walking behind him, just a little to the left, waiting for the moment when the crowd would shift and she could shift her hand right into his pocket and across his waistcoat and get that watch for herself.

The crowd shifted, sure, lady and her fella falling behind, businessman with his briefcase cutting right, light and easy, she wasn’t even a spit away, and–

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fiction

Fifty Silver Bells and Nine

by Katherine Crighton

Originally published on tumblr, February 2, 2015. Written for laurlovescookies.

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It was one of the house-party days, the ones when Alex pretended he had a grand salon, a modern-day Algonquin Round Table with himself firmly in the role of Dorothy Parker. Becca had come by, and Sadie, and a few of the old crowd from college and the new crowd from the gallery, before Alex had had to quit. Thom’s role on days like this was, generally, to keep the food coming and provide the occasional set-up lines for Alex’s wit. 

Not so officially, and not so anyone would notice, Thom kept a careful eye on Alex, watching for when he was starting to flag so that guests could be directed gently out while the feeling of triumph was still high, before the exhaustion of the illness crept back in.

The ability to dismiss guests with aplomb was one of Thom’s more minor talents, compared to some of the other things he could do.

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fiction

Après nous le déluge

by Katherine Crighton

Originally published on tumblr, January 26, 2015

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it starts

“I feel like a stupid American,” Ben says, staring up at the glass pyramid in front of the entrance to the Louvre.

“That’s because you are a stupid American,” says Alyssa, or at least that’s what he thinks she says, because she says it in perfect French and while beating some insane level of Candy Crush on her phone, which is completely unfair, she’s not even looking at what even he knows is kind of a big deal in terms of art, okay, Ben is not the philistine here. 

The rest of the Albert Finch Memorial High School language club is scattered around the wide courtyard along with the other tourists, snapping pictures on their phones (except Lucas, with the DSLR), running their hands through the shallow water in the fountain that surrounds the pyramid. The sun is high overhead, though some clouds are in the distance, sweeping closer, and it’s summer-warm. The light, though, is still somehow brighter than the light they had in New Hampshire – which doesn’t make a lot of sense, because it’s the same sun, isn’t it? Then again, Paris smells weird, too, like Boston stink and the perfume Alyssa likes to wear, all at the same time.

Ben looks around, at the too wide, too Rococo buildings, and the sudden breath of modernity the glass pyramid represents. He isn’t really here for France, when it comes down to it. His French is limited to bonjour, merci, and combien? Which, so far, has been good enough.

Ben studies Spanish. He’s saving his phone’s available memory for the Sagrada Família.

“I’m going to get my revenge when we hit Pamplona,” he says mildly. He scratches his fingertips over Alyssa’s screen, messing up her level. She looks up and scowls at him. “I’m going to order squid for you and tell you it’s chicken.”

“They are related languages, Ben, it’s not as if I can’t–” She stops, suddenly, her mostly put-on annoyance dropping from her face as she looks over her shoulder. “Ben,” she says. “What the hell is that?”

He’s been fooled by her before – distraction is a well-worn tactic – so he sidesteps her before he turns to look.

It’s–

The sky is boiling.

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