Tag Archives: Top Ten

White People Code

Using language to hide racism.

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White people talk in code. We say things that don’t sound at all offensive, but are filled with racist subtext. It’s a code that’s not really code at all, since the meaning is so plain.

But it’s hidden just a single layer below the surface of deniability. If called out, the white person can instantly backpedal into “what I really meant was…”

I’m a white lady who hangs out with other white ladies. I was taught this code from birth and speak it fluently. I’m also done tolerating it. I need to come for my own, and that starts with stripping away the euphemisms and translating these bullshit phrases into plain English. Here are ten things white people say and what they really mean.

10. Good school / good neighborhood  White school / white neighborhood

9. Mainstream  Used in Hollywood for movies and New York for books. It means white.

8. You’re very articulate  You’re black and I’m racist.

7. A gentleman by the name of…  I’m a liberal white person who wants other white people to know I’m talking about a black person.

6. We don’t know what happened before the cameras started rolling  The white police officer can’t be wrong, therefore, the black victim must be at fault.

5. I don’t see color  I would like to pretend racism isn’t systemic.

4. I’ve been discriminated against, too  I would really, really like to make racism all about me.

3. #NotAllWhitePeople / #AllLivesMatter  I’m this close to saying the nonsensical phrase “reverse racism.”

2. You’re being divisive  White feelings matter more than black safety.

1. Racially charged  I think calling someone a racist is worse than being racist.

It’s code.

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes science fiction short stories and novels and doesn’t listen to nonsense. 

The Ten Best Things About a Michigan Winter

Who needs to go out?

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Most top ten lists about winter are full of stuff like skiing and ice skating and enjoying the snow.

Wrong.

Winter in Michigan is cold and gray and way too long. It’s front-loaded with all the good holidays, leaving a long slog from January to March. I love Michigan and I’ll always live here but everything I like about winter involves staying inside and staying warm. Which is actually pretty great, especially for an introvert. I mean, nobody can expect you to actually go out when the weather is like this, can they?

So here is my list of ten things to love about a Michigan winter.

10. Slippers. Cute, fuzzy, warm. The funny thing about slippers is that they don’t always match your outfit, but they always match your personality. Is it any wonder we northerners love our slippers? And they often go on sale in January, in case you didn’t get a new pair for Christmas.

9. The movies you missed last summer are all on DVD now. In the summer, we’re often too busy enjoying the actual sun to sit in a dark theater. But now, we can ignore all those serious Oscar-bait dramas, stock up on popcorn, and enjoy the blockbuster action flicks without leaving the house.

8. Electric Blankets. Is there anything more inviting than a pre-warmed bed waiting for you to crawl into it?

7. Darkness. Michigan has short winter days and loooong winter nights. For light sleepers who need darkness and quiet, winter is the time to get some rest. A late sunrise means no birds waking you up at five in the morning.

6. Soup. The ultimate comfort food. Chicken noodle, hot and sour, even that weird vegetable soup that’s supposed to help you shed the excess holiday pounds. I don’t know about you, but soup is what gets me through the month of February.

5. Fancy lattes. Nobody wants a hot, milky, sugar-laden coffee in August. Just sayin’.

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4. Baking. Is your house too cold? Bake bread. Have you eaten all the Christmas cookies? Make more. Exhausted from having to put on six layers every time you leave the house? Bake a huge lasagna and you won’t have to cook for days.

3. Sweaters. Sweaters will both hide winter pounds and embrace you in cozy warmth. Never has there been a garment so wonderful. It’s like a blanket you can wear.

2. Feeling like a badass just for driving somewhere. “Yes, I know the drugstore is only half a mile away, but I could have died.”

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1. Cuddling. Whether it’s cuddling people or pets, summertime cuddling just sucks. Ten seconds in and you start sweating all over each other and nobody can breathe. But wintertime? Let me grab my loved ones and not let go.

Hope everyone finds someone they love to cuddle today. Happy winter.

About the author: Alex Kourvo is secretly writing romance novels. She is currently cuddling a puppy.

[center photo: David Wong. Licensed under a Creative Commons attribution generic license]

Top Ten How-to Books for Writers

There is a writing book for every problem.

When people find out that I review how-to books for writers, they often ask me, “What’s your favorite?” I always sweat and stammer and give a vague answer, because how can I choose just one?

I have over 200 how-to books on my shelf, and those are just the keepers. My favorites are the practical ones. Airy theory is nice, but I prefer the books that get right into the trenches with me, through concrete examples and positive action steps.

Even though I can’t recommend a one-size-fits-all book, I’m good at recommending specific books for specific problems. So here are ten books to take with you on your novel writing journey. Whether you’re looking for help with character, plot, or just getting your butt in the chair, these are my top ten problem-solvers.

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For help with plot, read Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. This book breaks down popular novels to show you exactly how they were put together. Understanding story structure is the fastest way for a writer to “level up” her craft.

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For help with characters, read Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress. This book gives authors tools to create three-dimensional characters. All the examples are positive ones, focusing on what works, rather than what does not.

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For help with emotion, read Writing with Emotion, Tension and Conflict by Cheryl St. John. This is the book to read after you’ve mastered plot and character, because the deeper you can make your readers feel things, the more they will connect with your novel.

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For help with dialogue, read Writing Vivid Dialogue by Rayne Hall. This is a book I’ve wanted for years. There are dozens of very bad books about dialogue on the shelf. Ignore them. This is the one you need.

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To learn about stakes, read Story Stakes by H.R. D’Costa. It will give you tools you to make your stories as gripping as possible. There’s an art to upping the stakes, and this book will show you how.

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For help with outlines, read Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland. It’s truly the outline book for everyone, whether you’re a meticulous plotter or a fly-by-your-seat pantser. This book will show you how to use an outline and why you should.

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To learn good habits, read Lifelong Writing Habit by Chris Fox. It’s guaranteed to help you get your butt into the writing chair every day. The books listed above are great for story craft, but it’s the daily grind that will make a real writer out of you.

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To learn time management, read Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy. It’s the book you need when just getting to the writing desk is a struggle. This book will help you beat procrastination once and for all.

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To push yourself, read Writing Fiction for All You’re Worth by James Scott Bell. It’s inspirational, but it includes solid instruction along with its cheerleading. This book is about never-ending self-improvement, stressing the inner work a writer must do to have a long-term career.

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And for a dose of wisdom, read Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel by Lawrence Block. For so many reasons, this book will always be special to me. It’s a practically a complete writing course in one volume and is so full of good advice it’s like having a paperback-sized mentor you can consult at any time.

 

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes science fiction short stories and novels. She gives back to the writing community by reviewing how-to books on the Writing Slices blog.

Ten Conversations I’m Tired of Having About Nazis

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

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It usually happens on Facebook. I’ll post an anti-Nazi meme like this one, or this one. Or I’ll suggest that hey, maybe as a community, it’s our job to bail out antifascists  who were arrested while protesting Richard Spencer.

And then the pushback comes. And it always, always comes from nice white folks—people who look like me. And those well-meaning white folks always, always want me to ignore the Nazis, because they’ve never had to look beyond their own privilege to see why that won’t work.

So here are ten arguments I’m sick of having about Nazis, because it’s time for me to come get my own people.

1. Why are you protesting Richard Spencer? All you’re doing is giving him publicity.
More publicity is a good thing. It’s important for people to know what the alt-right stands for and what they’re capable of. I think what privileged white people are really saying is, “It makes me uncomfortable to read about this in the news.” But rather than sit with that discomfort, they’d like to blame the antifascists for calling attention to the problem of Nazis in our midst.

2. Just ignore them! Wouldn’t it be funny if the Nazis came out and nobody showed up? 
No, it wouldn’t be funny if Nazis came to my town and no one showed up. If we all cowered at home while Richard Spencer and his ilk marched through our streets, it would mean we’ve surrendered the public square to them. They would then know that they could go anywhere they wanted, do or say anything, and the citizens would just go along with it. I don’t find that funny at all.

3. All you’re doing is making them mad.
Upsetting Nazis is a good thing. Besides, they’re already plenty angry. Perhaps this well-meaning person is telling me not to provoke the Nazis, which sounds a hell of a lot like victim-blaming. Like the abuser who tells his victim it’s her fault he hit her, because she made him mad. And please, miss me with your respectability politics.

4. The Nazis just want attention. Why are you playing into their hands?
No, they don’t just want attention. They want my children dead. That’s not an exaggeration. My children are mixed-race and queer. According to Spencer and his Nazis, they should not exist.

5. But what about freedom of speech?
Richard Spencer and his followers are calling for ethnic cleansing. They advocate domination of one group over another by violent means. This is not free speech, it’s hate speech. The US supreme court has ruled that this kind of hate speech—the kind that is inciting violence—is not protected under law.

6. All he wants to do is share his ideas! Can’t you debate his points on their merits? 
It’s adorable that someone thinks that Spencer wants a civil debate. But more importantly, freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences, and it doesn’t mean a guaranteed platform. Straight, white, rich men often mix these two things up, because up until now, they could say anything they wanted without pushback, and they always had an arena in which to say it. But these days, Spencer and his cohorts will show up to an event with a dozen supporters and come face to face with a wall of hundreds of protestors. And suddenly, they start squawking that their freedom of speech is being infringed somehow. Nope, we’re just using our own freedom of speech to shout louder.

7. But you’re trying to silence the alt-right! That makes you the fascist!
This is propaganda, pure and simple. Nazis love to brand all antifascists as dangerous extremists. They use that to create a convenient cover for their own, more dangerous, extreme views. Remember: hate speech is not protected speech, antifascists have the right to speak out against Nazis, and ignoring Nazis will not make them go away. Besides, when has “they’re just as bad!” ever been a valid argument?

8. As Voltaire once said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
First, Voltaire never said that. Second, how nice for you, that you can defend Nazis. How nice for you, that your skin color protects you from them.

9. But why should we fight the Nazis? If they’re being disruptive, shouldn’t the cops handle it? 
Let me tell you what happened when Richard Spencer and his Nazi brethren came to Michigan State University this week. Hundreds of protestors showed up. They were peaceful, but they made noise. They made their presence known. Police, wearing full riot gear, lined the streets hundreds deep. As soon as Spencer and his followers arrived, the police took the Nazis in small groups and escorted them into the building. Sometimes, the cops would put the Nazis into their cars and drive them through the crowds. Basically, the police acted as the Nazis’ personal bodyguards, while beating back protestors with their bikes and their clubs. The police “handled” it by protecting the Nazis.

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10. Now you want me to help post bail for the protestors?
Yes, that’s what I want you to do.  All of us in the community should do that. These brave young people were arrested for trying to stop Nazis from recruiting.
Arrested.
For trying.
to stop Nazis.
From recruiting.
Over twenty people were arrested. You know what the most common charge was? “Failure to obey a police officer.” I don’t know about you, but that sends a chill down my spine. The message is clear: obey the Nazis’ bodyguards, or else.

You know what the others were arrested for? Trespassing, disorderly conduct, and obstructing police business. A few were arrested for peeing in public. Only two were arrested for having weapons, and it’s not specified what those weapons were. (Water bottles and rocks qualify, if the officer felt “threatened” by them.)

We should be sending a clear message that Nazis are not welcome in our towns, and if they come here, we will protest them, and if we can’t protest them, we will support those who do. Please give to the bail fund.  Even small amounts help.

Have you ever wondered what you would do if you lived in Germany in the 1930s or in America in the 1960s? That’s what you’re doing. You’re doing it right now.

And I know what I’m going to do.

Update: One week after Richard Spencer came to Michigan State University, he posted a YouTube video in which he said he was rethinking his whole approach, because anti-fascists were shutting down his speeches. He is no longer going to try to go recruit or give speeches on college campuses.

Directly engaging with Nazis works.

Ten Life Lessons from The Princess Bride

 

Because I love this movie like Miracle Max loves a nice MLT.

The Princess Bride is a fairy tale that turns the cliches upside down and inside out, while at the same time, giving us every familiar theme we love. I’ve seen this movie an inconceivable number of times, but I’ll always happily watch it again. It’s a comfort movie, perfect to watch when I’ve been mostly dead all day.

The Princess Bride is both modern and timeless, with nifty life lessons in some of the most quotable dialog ever. So, what can we learn from a kid’s fairy tale—a (gasp) kissing book? Well, let’s just start with what we have. (It’s for posterity, so I’ll be honest.)

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10. Kind of like when you mix up your and you’re on the internet.

 

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9. …And if you haven’t got health insurance, you’ll soon have less than nothing.

 

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8. There is such thing as a fatal amount of confidence.

 

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7. Being right is no good if you’re also too late.

 

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6. Every time you stand in line for something, you pay twice: once in money and once in time.

 

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5. If Westley can survive the Pit of Despair, you can survive your Monday morning meeting.

 

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4. You went to the grocery store on an empty stomach.

 

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3. Those conspiracy theories your weird relatives spout off? Some of them are true.

 

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2. Karma will always catch up to you in the end.

…and the best, most important thing to remember:

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1. There is nothing better than sharing a book with someone you love.

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She never goes against a Sicilian when death is on the line.

[Photo credits: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / Act 111 Communications]

 

The Ten Weirdest Places I’ve Written

 

The muses find me whenever I’m sitting still.

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Like most writers, I don’t believe in boredom. Sitting still is my favorite thing. Park me in one place for more than five minutes and I will almost always whip out a notebook and scribble something down. Although I mostly write at home, I can do it literally anywhere. Here are the top ten weirdest places I’ve written.

10. Car dealer. When I called ahead to reserve the car I wanted, and make an appointment to pick it up, I assumed that meant my salesman would have my paperwork ready. Nope. During our transaction, he left his desk at least four times to make copies on the world’s slowest copy machine. Guess what I did while he was gone?

9. Ice Rink. It’s freezing in there, but that’s okay, computers like it cold. And I typed as fast as I could to keep my fingers warm.

8. Dojo. This one was hard. The noise. The smell. But I was trapped in the waiting room while my kids took classes. I usually wrote only about four paragraphs a week, but it was good writing. I kept most of it.

7. Hospital. It turns out you can get a lot done while waiting for a relative to come out of surgery as long as you can ignore the blaring TV.

6. Courthouse. Nothing gets done quickly here. Nothing. I had two choices: wait and get nervous or write. I chose writing.

5. Picnic. I had to go to this picnic with people I didn’t like. So I got a plate of food and made small talk, then snuck off and wrote a synopsis while the water fight was going on.

4. Vestibule. In the small space between the inner doors and outer doors of an auditorium at the University of Michigan music school. I was kind of hiding, trying to get away from people because something had upset me. I also thought I’d feel better if I wrote about the upsetting thing, so I sat on the floor and poured my heart into my journal.

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3. Concert. I go to a lot of orchestra concerts and I’ve taken a lot of notes in the margins of programs. What can I say? Music is inspiring.

2. Church. I unknotted a tricky plot problem during my niece’s confirmation ceremony and scribbled it down between prayers. (Sorry, Lily!)

1. Disney World. Not at the parks, but at the hotel, overlooking the fireworks, which I probably should have watched from my balcony. But I had an idea…

The more I write, the more I realize I’m not in complete control of this process. The muses will visit me whenever they want, not much caring if it’s an appropriate time or not. As long as I’m sitting, I’m fair game for them.

I’ve learned to keep a notebook handy at all times, just in case.

How about you, writer friends? What’s the weirdest place you’ve written?

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. Not only do the muses visit when she’s sitting down, they also live in her shower and accompany her on long car trips.

[Photo credit: Thomas Hawk, under a creative commons license 2.0, via wikimedia commons]

 

Ten Ways Being an Adult is Super Awesome

Don’t believe the coffee cups, t-shirts, and internet memes.

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“I can’t adult today” is one of the internet’s favorite sayings.

And I honestly don’t get it.

I’ve wanted to be a grown-up since I was five years old. That’s when I realized adults don’t have a bedtime and can say “no thank you” to green beans. Now that I’m actually grown up, it’s even better than I thought it would be and I don’t understand why everyone else doesn’t love it, too.

Of course, I’m not talking about people who have depression or anxiety. Sometimes those issues can deplete someone’s daily store of energy before they even get out of bed. And I get that. I do. Self-care is important. In fact, self-care is part of being an adult. You get to do that now.

And you get to do so much more. Here are ten great reasons being all grown up is the best thing ever.

10. You’re in charge of you. You can choose your own bedtime, what to wear, how to color your hair, and your own music in the car. You can eat your dessert without finishing your vegetables and you will never, ever be grounded, no matter how sassy you are.

9. Coffee. Wine. Sex. Swearing. Would you really want to trade in these adult pleasures for fewer responsibilities and a daily nap?

8. You can choose your own friends. Heck, you can choose your own family if you want.

7. No one asks you what you want to be when you grow up, because they can clearly see you already are. You get to have your own identity. You’re not just “so and so’s child,” you’re you.

6. Knowing how to do things feels really, really good. Grown-ups can drive a car, cook a meal, program the DVR, vote, and write in cursive. Or at least do some of these things. And these things are awesome.

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5. Paychecks > allowance.

4. Your parents get smarter every year.

3. You can watch all the scary movies you want. And read books with sex scenes in them. And see TV shows with lots of blood and maybe naked butts.

2. You don’t have to sing with your classmates, exercise with a group, deal with mean girls, or fill out a bubble form with a #2 pencil ever again. If you want to learn something, you get a book and learn it at your own pace. :::Wipes away a tear of joy:::

1. You can have children if you wish, and spend time with them feeling like a kid all over again.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend the afternoon building a blanket fort and then I’m going to sit inside it eating graham crackers while reading books. Because I’m an adult, which means I get to spend my free time any way I want.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. Her books are not for children.

Ten Life Lessons from Mad Max Fury Road

Life lessons are everywhere, even in the Wasteland.

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Mad Max Fury Road cleaned up at the Oscars on Sunday, winning six Academy Awards. So, of course, I had to watch the movie again. This time through, I thought beyond the plot, beyond the subtext, into the deeper meaning behind those iconic lines.

Here are ten life lessons that I learned from Mad Max Fury Road, that we can all use to make every day more shiny and chrome.

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10. Get your rest. If you go to bed at 2:00, you’ll be wrecked for work the next day.

 

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9. Someone’s always wrong on the internet. Don’t waste your time.

 

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8. Know your goals. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never arrive.

 

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7. Don’t settle.

 

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6. Don’t waste your effort. If someone didn’t listen to you the first time, he won’t listen to you the second or third time, either.

 

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5. Tell your friends about your achievements. They want to be happy for you!

 

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4. Standing your ground isn’t always the best course. Sometimes, you gotta get the hell out.

But also…

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3. Never leave your friends behind.

 

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2. Everyone you meet is a human being, and worthy of respect.

And remember…

 

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1. There’s always something to be thankful for, even when you’re driving into a fire tornado.

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and is working on a science fiction series. She lives each day shiny and chrome.

[Photo credits: Warner Brothers/Village Roadshow pictures]

The Top Ten Benefits of Being a Low-maintenance Gal

The less I care about how I look, the more I feel like myself.

I’ve had exactly one manicure in my life and that’s because someone gave me a gift certificate to a spa. I don’t color my hair. My favorite lipstick is chapstick. I’m always clean, well-groomed, and appropriately dressed, but everything else is optional, and I prefer not to opt in.

This is my current twitter picture.

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No makeup, unfussy hair, not even trying to hide the circles under my eyes. But it’s exactly how I look day-to-day and I want to be my authentic self online. My authentic self is a low-maintenance gal.

Being low-maintenance does not mean I’m lazy or I don’t like pretty things. Nor does it make me less of a lady. I smile a lot. I flirt. I love to hold babies and my favorite color is pink.

My style icon is Firefly’s Kaylee Frye.

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She’s sweet, she’s feminine, but she’s just not interested in obsessing about her looks. Kaylee dresses up sometimes, but only when it’s fun to do so.

So in honor of Kaylee Frye, here are the top ten benefits of being a low-maintenance gal.

10. I don’t spend money on makeup. I slap some sunscreen on my face and I’m good to go.

9. My bathroom is tidy because I don’t have a zillion little jars all over the counter. There is always room on my countertops and in my vanity drawers.

8. I travel light. That TSA rule about 3 ounce bottles in a quart-sized ziplock? No problem.

7. I can walk for miles and miles in my very cute, very flat shoes.

6. I’m a good role model for my kids. I’m showing them what a healthy, confident woman looks like. I don’t criticize my own looks and I hope they never criticize theirs.

5. Getting dressed up can be fun sometimes. It’s even more fun when it’s outside my usual routine. And special occasions feel even more special because I’ve made an effort.

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4. I have nice skin. Maybe it’s because I don’t put makeup on it. Or maybe it’s the other way around and I don’t have to put makeup on already good skin. Either way, I’m happy.

3. I can get ready to go at a moment’s notice. You want to go somewhere fabulous five minutes from now? Come pick me up. I’ll be ready.

2. I’m compassionate. With my own very low beauty standard, I’ve got no place to judge yours. I have never—not once—commented on someone’s weight, hairstyle, or clothes, not even in my own mind. Because I literally do not care. I notice what people wear and how they fix their hair. I enjoy their efforts. I don’t keep score.

1. I’m never going to be the prettiest or best dressed person in the room. It’s incredibly freeing. I’m the opposite of self-conscious. I’m okay with not being the pretty one or the cool one or the fashionable one. I can just be.

Other people like to go all-out with clothes and shoes and makeup and that is great. A chic hairstyle and flawless makeup is a joy to behold. Fashion is an art form. It truly is.

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Like Kaylee, I appreciate all the pretties. I love that these women make our world a more beautiful place.

And I especially love that they never ask me to go to shopping with them.

About the author: Alex Kourvo writes science fiction short stories and novelsHer characters are usually too busy chasing (or running from) bad guys to put on lipstick.

[Photo credits: Fox Film Corporation / Mutant Enemy Productions]