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Have you got a strong preference for one or the other of these paragraphs?
Rainbow Dash rocketed into the sky, her wings working hard to gain the speed she would need. Pinkie Pie applauded and cheered as Dash trimmed her wings and tilted her head back, throwing herself into a spin. Pinkie whooped even louder as Dash began sending a spray of water droplets in all directions.
Rainbow Dash rocketed into the sky, her wings working hard to gain the speed she would need. Pinkie applauded and cheered as the rainbow-maned flier trimmed her wings and tilted her head back, throwing herself into a spin. The pink party pony whooped even louder as Dash began sending a spray of water droplets in all directions.
3 comments · 89 views
What time is it, kids? It's time to crash your browser!
It's a hard story to read, what with its mix of subdued tone and dramatic events, and rapid switches between fast and slow narrative. I think he did a good job. Plus, British accent.
(The Greek letters always look like "Elric" to me. If only.)
Other readings of my stuff:
The Saga of Dark Demon King Ravenblood Nightblade, Interior Design Alicorn, chapter 1, read by Wuten AiE:
Big Mac Reads Something Purple, read by The Living Library Player Society here. Really, by one guy from the Living Library Player Society. Fun fact: When a Swede imitates a southern accent, it sounds like Ren from Ren & Stimpy.
Did I miss any?
Now, I want you to do one little thing for me: At exactly 11:37PM Greenwich Mean Time, open your windows, turn up the volume, and press play on all the videos. Make sure to start them all within 2.7 seconds of the first, or the subliminal programming won't work you won't get the full effect.
67 comments · 465 views
I'm settling into my new home in Western Pennsylvania, where we have people with a diversity of preferences (both Presbyterian and Catholic, Winchester and Remington, checked flannel and solid), and people watch Fox News for a fair and balanced viewpoint. Folks don't ask me if I go to church; they ask what church I go to. So I am a little hyper-vigilant lately about cultural homogeneity. And it occurs to me that maybe what this idyllic setting needs is children's books written by Bad Horse.
Not just like that. First I accidentally wrote a children's book. (Though after I thought about it I realized it was a children's book for old people, and more specifically a children's book for me.) Then I thought, "What do I do with this? Can I sell it?"
So I browsed the web to find how one sells children's books. The first mistake most people make is getting illustrations for their book before trying to sell it. That is the mark of an amateur. Text, fortunately for writers, doesn't go out of style as quickly as illustrations do. Choosing a book's illustrations is like choosing a cover: It's marketing and fashion, not artistic sense. That's why you can always tell a self-published book by its cover. It may be a fine picture, but there's something not quite Madison Avenue about it that makes the sophisticated book-buyer shrink back from it in horror.
The second mistake is writing too many words, and fitting them onto the wrong number of pages. A book is made by combining sheaves of 4 sheets folded over, each sheaf making 16 pages. A standard children's picture book has 32 pages. 2 of these are glued to the front and back cover, and the 4 pages on inside of the covers and next to them are traditionally left empty, I expect as offerings to the tree spirits. 2 pages hold copyright, publisher info, and title. That leaves 24 pages for the story. You can add one or two more sheaves, for 32 or 40 pages of story. Your story should fit one of these numbers exactly; there are no blank pages at the end of a children's book. We adults have learned to pass over small mysteries such as blank pages without noticing them, whereas a child can be stopped and frozen in place by such enigmas, possibly all through naptime.
(The third mistake is telling the artist what to draw, but I'm totally doing that.)
I went to my little sister's house and stole an armful of picture books, to see how many pages they each had, and get a feel for how they read. The first one I read is "Die Sterntaler" (The Star Coin) by die Brueder Grimm. This is a charming story about a little girl who has nobody and nothing in the world except the clothes on her back. She goes on a journey (since she has nothing else to do and nowhere to be, really), and gives away all those clothes, one by one, to people less poor than her, because they ask for them. Finally she stands alone and naked in the snow. Then on the last page, we have:
Und wie Mathilda so dastand in der kalten Nacht, fielen unzaehlige Sterne vom Himmel, die sich sogleich in glaenzende Silbermuenzen verwandelten. Und obgleich Mathilda erst gerade ihr letztes Hemd weggegeben hatte, trug sie jetzt ein neues Kleid aus feinstem Gewebe. Glucklich sammelte Mathilda die Silbermuenzen ein und steckte sie in die Taschen ihres Kleides. Von dieser Nacht an musste Mathilde nie mehr Not leiden.
And as Mathilda stood there in the cold night, countless stars fell from the sky, which immediately turned into gleaming silver coins. And although Mathilda had only just given away her last shirt, she now wore a new dress made from the finest fabric. Mathilda happily gathered the silver coins and put them in the pockets of her dress. From that night on, Mathilde never again suffered poverty.
Translation of the translation:
Bitch died and went to heaven. It was ballin'.
And this is from the Brueders Grimm, who are on the short short list of folktale-tellers with the balls to tell disturbing stories.
Yeah, "...and so she froze to death in the snow and went to heaven" is not exactly Disney. But this shit is still too idealistic, and BAD for kids.
First, it's lying about what happens. It would be more honest if they said "and then she died and went to heaven"; but then the kid might have objections: If God could take her up to heaven, why didn't he just give her another coat? Because she was too stupid to live and would have just given it away again? No; tell the kid something nice happened, and then, later on in life when people tell her about heaven, she might think, "Wait, that really doesn't make sense," but some part of her mind will think "It makes perfect sense; it's like that nice story Die Sterntaler!" The story tricks kids into believing in heaven.
Worse, here's the moral: "Being generous is always good, no matter what. If somebody asks you for something, give it to them. If you meet a family that has inexplicably brought their child out into a snowstorm without so much as a blanket, and they ask you for your undershirt, which is the only thing in the world you have left, because they're too selfish to give the child one of the scarves or hats or jackets they have on, don't ask questions. Give them your shirt. That is being generous, and being generous is being Good, and God will reward the good. (That's why we do good, kids: To get rewarded for it.) Doing anything less, ever, is failing."
The idea here is that if you teach kids to be really, extremely, over-the-top good, maybe sometimes they'll be just a little bit good in real life.
Only, wait, that isn't the idea. It isn't "extremely good". Telling someone who has nothing but a shirt to give it away because God wants her to is evil. Teaching kids that being good is impossibly hard, and they can never ever attain it, at least not if they want to live, is evil. Teaching that "good" means "never thinking about the consequences" is evil. That's nearly the opposite of good. The whole thing is a mindfuck worthy of Screwtape.
Old-country children's stories didn't shy away from disturbing stuff. They had horrible things happen to kids who disobeyed their parents or violated social taboos. Or, like Die Sterntaler, they explained why their simple folk-deontology was just perfect, thank you very much, and didn't need any fancy logic or thinkin', just the Hand of God every now and then.
Sometimes I play a game called "people are smart": Pretend, for a minute, that people understand what they're doing. None of these old stories are really about how to be a good person, so what are they about?
They're about how to be normal, do what you're told, and not ask questions.
A lot of contemporary children's stories and movies shy away from sad or disturbing things, at least things that aren't fixed in the course of 24 pages. Gotta protect the kids from sad thoughts, or they'll grow up twisted and write stories about ponies getting killed by asteroids.
(They may have a point. I read the Bible when I was 6. Fortunately my parents took it away because I was taking it literally.)
Yet it's okay to tell kids about the crucifixion. Or to tell them stories from the old testament about, oh, committing genocide against people with different beliefs, or sacrificing your kid on an altar to prove your devotion to God. I was at my kid sister's house for dinner a while ago, and her kids started talking about their dreams. Turns out they all dream frequently about getting martyred. Burned alive, boiled alive, shot with arrows, and more variations on that theme. It's fine to tell little kids hundreds of stories about innocent people being tortured to death if it's what you believe in.
Let's play "people are smart" again. Why would we (a) tell kids gruesome stories about what happens to kids who disobey, (b) tell them gruesome stories that are part of our religion, (c) tell them about kids freezing to death in the cold to teach them not to think about morality, and yet (d) be afraid of anything violent or sad in any other kind of story?
Because what parents are afraid of isn't violence or sadness. They're afraid of open questions. They're afraid of stories that pose questions and don't have the answers immediately at hand. 
The old stories were explicitly meant to teach kids how to think. Now we know it's safer just to stop children from thinking. To pen their little minds in, whether with thorny walls of Teutonic threats, or soft downy cottonballs of fluff, any time they're in danger of thinking. So that they can grow up just like their parents, whether they want to or not.
But do nice-nice children's stories even work at that?
Die Sterntaler does at least one thing that not many children's stories do: It makes kids feel sorry for the little girl. Parents today, and corporations even more so, are terrified of telling their kids sad stories like Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid". I'm no psychologist , but I've got a theory: Sad stories teach kids how to feel sympathy.
So what do you get when you raise kids and never let them hear any sad stories?
Selfish kids, I'd bet.
Likewise, it takes stories that are disturbing in other ways, or just weird, to make kids ask questions and think. Maybe like this odd 24-page Beatrix Potter book, "The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse," in which everybody is selfish, neurotic, deceptive, and/or larcenous, and Jackson Toad is in the habit of eating uninvited guests. It's oddly heart-warming that they more-or-less get along (the ones who weren't eaten, anyway) in the end. Or maybe this nicely-grisly one by Aldous Huxley, of all people, "The Crows of Pearblossom", in which birds conspire to kill a snake who eats their eggs, and in the end use his corpse to hang their laundry on.
I hated "The Giving Tree", but even its creepiness is a breath of fresh air in the nursery when it's shelved between "Make Way for Ducklings!" and "The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners". The book doesn't actually say "This is a healthy relationship." It's in-your-face with its weirdness and unanswered questions.
I don't know what age is appropriate for what kind of stories. And nice stories are nice. But when we give kids nothing but nice, inoffensive, non-problematic stories, it isn't for their sakes. It's for ours. We're unconsciously hoping to stop them from asking themselves questions, in the deluded hope that they'll grow up like us. 
I don't think that's what will happen. But one thing is clear: As a clever Austrian once said, he who controls the youth, controls the future.
I gotta get me a piece of that action.
 I'm not talking about my sister specifically, who is pretty chill about these things.
 Okay, I minored in psychology, neuroscience, and linguistics. But I still claim non-expertise.
 Or maybe we just don't want to be around a 6-year-old with a lot of questions. It can be exhausting.
28 comments · 218 views
Convert dates to Unix time:
$ perl -e 'use Time::Local; $x = timelocal(0,0,0,1,0,2013); print "$x\n"'
1357016400 [Jan 1 2013, in seconds since 1970]
$ perl -e 'use Time::Local; $x = timelocal(0,0,0,1,0,2014); print "$x\n"'
1388552400 [Jan 1 2014]
Number of people who've written since Jan. 1 2013:
sqlite> select count(distinct(uid)) from story where date_modified > 1357016400;
Number of people who've written since Jan 1 2013 and wrote more than one story:
sqlite> select count(distinct(u)) from (select uid as u, id as id1 from story where date_modified > 1357016400 and exists (select id as id2 from story where uid = u and id2 <> id1));
Number of people who wrote since Jan. 1 2014:
sqlite> select count(distinct(uid)) from story where date_modified > 1388552400;
Number of people who've written since Jan 1 2014 and wrote more than one story:
sqlite> select count(distinct(u)) from (select uid as u, id as id1 from story where date_modified > 1388552400 and exists (select id as id2 from story where uid = u and id2 <> id1));
("date_modified" is the date the last chapter was created, or maybe submitted or approved. It doesn't change when you edit a chapter.)
Fraction of writers who've written more than one story for fimfiction who wrote in 2013 but not 2014:
(8823 - 5947) / 8823 = .326
Also: Will you please agree that SQL is a stupid, stupid language?
1 comments · 67 views
Location: Jared L. Cohon University Center, Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, 412-268-2107. Free parking.
11:00 am – 1:00 pm, YA Writing Workshop: Caroline Carlson will run a writing workshop called “Blueprints for Enchantment: Constructing a magical world for your fantasy novel” [advance registration required; $10 suggested donation] in the Danforth Lounge. [Online registration appears to still be open.]
2:00 pm – 3:00 pm, YA Author Lecture “Keeping it (Un)Real” with Nalo Hopkinson: Free lecture; McConomy Auditorium.3:00 pm – 5:00 pm, Book Signing in the Conan Room of the University Center. Books for the signing can be purchased in the CMU bookstore or brought from home. No reservation is needed for the main lecture by Nalo Hopkinson or the book signing. They are free and open to the public.
Caroline Carlson is the author of The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, a funny and fantastical series of novels for young readers. Her first book, Magic Marks the Spot, was a New York Times Editor’s Choice, an American Booksellers Association Best Book for Children, and a Junior Library Guild selection. The Terror of the Southlands was published in 2014, and a third book in the series is forthcoming, all from HarperCollins. Caroline holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Massachusetts and now lives in Pittsburgh with her husband.
Nalo Hopkinson, born in Jamaica, has lived in Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana and for the past 35 years in Canada. She is currently a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, USA. She is the author of six novels, a short story collection, and a chapbook. (Novels: Brown Girl in the Ring,Midnight Robber, The Salt Roads, The New Moon’s Arms, The Chaos, Sister Mine. Short story collection: Skin Folk. Chapbook: Report From Planet Midnight). She is the editor of fiction anthologies Whispers From the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction, and Mojo: Conjure Stories. She is the co-editor of fiction anthologies So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction(with Uppinder Mehan) and Tesseracts Nine (with Geoff Ryman). Hopkinson’s work has received Honourable Mention in Cuba’s “Casa de las Americas” literary prize. She is a recipient of the Warner Aspect First Novel Award, the Ontario Arts Council Foundation Award for emerging writers, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, the Locus Award for Best New Writer, the World Fantasy Award, the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic (twice), the Aurora Award, the Gaylactic Spectrum Award, and the Norton Award. A new short story collection, Falling in Love With Hominids, will be a 2015 release from Tachyon Publications.
By the time Celestia had resolved all the pending petty disputes between neighboring farmers, and some even pettier disputes between great nobles, the sun's rays slanted low into the great hall. There was only one case left, and no way of putting it off any longer.
Celestia sighed. "Bring her in," she called.
The guest, or prisoner, was escorted down the red-and-gold carpet, one very serious-looking guard on each side, eyeing her as if they expected her to bolt for the side door at any moment. Sometimes one's own propaganda caught up with oneself that way. But if the guards were hoping for excitement, the prospects seemed dim. With her head sunk toward the floor so that her white mane fell over one eye, and looking naked (half the ponies in the room were naked, but only she seemed self-conscious of it) without her cape and hat, the bedraggled sky-blue unicorn looked neither great nor powerful. She shuffled to stand in front of the dais and look mournfully up, not quite meeting Celestia's eye.
"So," Celestia said, "I meet the Great and Powerful Trixie at last."
Trixie blushed with shame and looked down again.
"Trixie. We are very cross with you." Celestia only ever used the royal "we" to indicate that she also spoke for Luna. "Do you understand why?"
The magician said, in a small, repentant voice, "Because I am a selfish and arrogant pony."
Celestia's lip curled in a bitter smile. "Then I should be cross with half the ponies in this room. No, Trixie. Try again."
Trixie risked a look up, and a look of worry crept into her face, which was more convincing than the repentance. "Because," she said experimentally, "of the damage that the Ursa did to Ponyville?"
"Closer." Celestia leaned forward in her throne. "Trixie, can you tell me what our rule of Equestria depends on?"
Trixie's legs bent backwards even as she bowed her head forwards, as if her rear half were thinking about bolting and leaving the front to fend for itself. "Power?"
Celestia shook her head. "No, Trixie. Not power." She calmly watched Trixie squirm and waited for an answer.
"That's very flattering of you to say so, but no."
"Ancient mystical rocks?" Trixie guessed with a weak grin.
Celestia shook her head in a disappointed fashion. "No, Trixie. Trust. Our rule depends on trust. I sit here on a throne in Canterlot, and govern counties so far away it takes days for news to travel back and forth. How do I know the ponies in all those far-off places are acting as they should?"
Celestia smiled. "Now you've got it! And, more importantly, why do the ponies in those far-off places obey the commands of a princess most of them have never seen—who might, so far as they know, not exist at all? Why do they not come stomping down to the castle in a mob, and make angry demands, or scheme silently against me in their distant secret places?"
"I'm... supposed to say trust, aren't I?"
Celestia snorted. "You think it's the guards, the army, and my terrible sharp horn. But it isn't, Trixie. It's trust. Trust makes Equestria go round." She stood up off her throne and took one step forward, towering over the much-smaller pony at the bottom of the steps, whose knees were beginning to tremble. "And when you lie to ponies, and you pretend to be something you aren't, it isn't a little thing of no consequence, Trixie. It teaches ponies not to trust. That makes it an attack on the foundations of Equestria. That makes it a threat to our peace."
"I didn't mean it like that!" Trixie protested. "I... I just wanted ponies to respect me!" Trixie glanced round her at the guards and the spectators, but found only stony faces.
Celestia let out a disdainful bray. To the shock of everypony, she stomped down the steps of the dias and stared directly into Trixie's face, their horns almost touching. "You wanted respect!" she spat. "You wanted admiration! What a despicable reason to deceive ponies!"
The guards standing beside Trixie backed away a few steps, giving up any pretense of guarding Celestia from Trixie, and glanced at each other nervously. Celestia paced slowly around Trixie, from her head to her tail and back again, never looking at the unicorn mare. "Do you understand what could have happened if you'd gotten away with it? More lies, more lies to cover up those lies, more respect. More unearned trust. More ponies depending on you to do things you can't, like those foals rushing out to find an Ursa because they were so sure you could fight it off."
The crowd of onlookers had fallen absolutely silent, staring open-mouthed at their princess. The guards looked to the old chamberlain, who had served the Princess since before they were born, and he looked back and shook his head as if to say, No, I've never seen her like this either.
Celestia's heavy hoofsteps echoed loudly as she began pacing faster. "You were building your own cage out of lies. If not for this Ponyville fiasco you might have gone on for years, building it bigger and stronger until you couldn't have gotten out of it if you'd wanted to. You don't know how lucky you are that you were caught so soon!" She came to a stop back in front of Trixie and glared at her, sides heaving, and now it was Celestia who was trembling.
"I'm sorry!" Trixie bawled. "I'm so, so sorry, I—"
Celestia spun around and looked away. "Escort her from my palace," she said, without looking back.
The guards snapped out of their daze, and saluted Celestia's hindquarters. They escorted Trixie out, and then the stunned audience gradually trickled out, until only Celestia, still staring into the back corner of the room and breathing heavily, and her guards remained.
"Get me Shining Armour," she called.
The captain of the guard galloped in minutes later and drew up before her, blowing his dark-blue mane out of his eyes with every breath as he huffed from running. "Your majesty?"
She set off immediately toward the private section of the palace, and he fell into step beside her. "Your shield," she said. "Have you managed to teach Purslane how to cast it?"
"He's working on it," the captain replied.
"I take it that means no?"
"Well," he said apologetically, "what with the wedding in a few days..."
Celestia came to an abrupt halt and turned towards the captain. "I apologize for keeping you somewhat in the dark about this. I did not wish to start a panic. But it is high time for somepony to start panicking. Allow me to explain. Are you familiar with vamponies?"
The captain pursed his lips, and said diplomatically, "I was under the impression they did not exist."
"They do not. They are merely symbolic representations of something too terrible to speak of in stories. Imagine, Shining, a being which drained you not of blood, but of love. A being which left you alive, but with no feelings for your fellow pony. All the feelings you had for your Cadence, for your parents, for your sister, would be gone, fodder in the belly of a monster to feed it for a day or two. You would live the rest of your days in uncaring selfishness, nothing more than a pony-shaped machine."
A shadow passed over the captain's face. "That would be a fate worse than death."
"Indeed," Celestia agreed.
He inhaled slowly. "We will not fear," he said. "We have faith in you."
Celestia looked him in the eye, and he looked back, his honest face full of admiration and trust.
"Teach Purslane the shield," she said.
She left the captain and hurried to the second-floor sitting room at the front of the palace. The sky was turning red as the sun sank toward the horizon. Celestia stepped out onto the balcony overlooking the courtyard. She smiled at the crowd of ponies, and a cheer went up. Many of them had travelled days just so they could say that one day they had watched the Princess raise and lower the sun. The pages standing at the corners of the balcony raised their trumpets and sounded them, and she aimed her horn toward the sun. It began to glow gold with magical energy, turning white as it grew more brilliant. She took a deep breath, screwed up her face in a look of intense concentration, and once again pretended to lower the sun.