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Having burned through the backlog in correspondence, we are now pleased to announce our contributors for our first ever issue of Ligature Works. In particular order, we are thrilled to be able to offer original poetry and prose from:

  • Mary Soon Lee, “Feng” (epic poetry fragment)
  • EM Beck, “By The Hand Of The Witch” (fantasy)
  • Ingrid Garcia, “Signs of Life” (poetic tryptich)
  • Toby MacNutt, “The Way You Say Good-Night” (contemporary fantasy)
  • Margarita Tenser, “The Second Law of Thermodynamics” (poem)
  • Sheryl R. Hayes, “The Twisted Princess” (fantasy)

I have to say, while the logistics of our system were not the best (not that we expected them to be, our first time out), the actual process and the end results of our anonymous reading cannot be beat. With just six slots to fill for our inaugural issue, we managed to assemble a very wide-ranging collection of works by women and non-binary writers from different countries, backgrounds, and races.

We discovered as we closed out our slush pile that in the process of assembling this issue, we had rejected works by award-winning authors and poets and some dear friends and people whom we admire. The latter hurt a bit, but all in all, the results convinced me this was for the best. We picked the pieces that spoke to us and that most fit with what we’re trying to do here.

Interestingly, while we invited potential contributors to include any information about their experience or identity they felt would be relevant to our evaluation, very few chose to do so. I say this is “interesting” because I can only imagine the clamor from Certain Quarters over our emerging table of contents is that it must be some kind of affirmative action. But quality (both in the sense of “level of goodness” and “that particular characteristic we’re looking for”) stands out.

You will be able to read these pieces for free in our first issue when it goes live (projected: September 30th) at http://www.ligatureworks.com.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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The Daily Report

Well, I’ve spent way more time this week on RealmLike than I had expected to, due to a confluence of two factors: some very promising nibbles of interest my first announcements received, and some interface-breaking/compatibility-impairing bugs with the BYOND engine that runs it that threatened to inhibit that interest. BYOND’s lead developer is very responsive, though, and has been working to clear up those bugs. The browser-embedded version of the game is already leaps and bounds better than it was, and I am confident it will soon be fully functional in every way.

Before we got to that point, I spent (wasted) a lot of times assuming that the bugs were just gaps in my own understanding and trying to fix them on my own. Having the bugs I report verified and fixed is doing a lot to restore my confidence in my programming skills, and the game is shaping up into something I’m proud of. There aren’t enough people playing at a time yet for the social aspects of a MUD to start to crop up, but it really does scratch the retro dungeon-crawler itch that occasionally causes me to fire up a DOS emulator so I can play Nethack or DND.exe.

Absent spending whole days wrestling with a thing that should work but isn’t, I expect the game to progress by leaps and bounds even with just a couple hours a day devoted to it. BYOND’s programming language is easy, I’ve made the game’s basic system fairly extensible. I already extended the Cleric, the third one of the four core classes out to level 5, leaving only the Wizard as a sort of skeletal outline to be filled in.

The dungeon itself gained a bunch of features to make it less of a non-descript maze; some doorways now have doors. Random debris can litter the hallways. Statues appear in certain places. Most of it is just set-dressing, but it does help you figure out when you’re going around in circles. Now there are landmarks. Along the same lines, each level of the dungeon has a randomly assigned brick color to help you tell them apart, and the dungeon is physically lighter in the region around the up exit and darker around the down one.

In non-RealmLike news: even with the setbacks of the previous weeks, Ligature Works is still on track to publish its first issue next Friday, September 30th. I’d like to make a post announcing our table of contents/contributors, once I’m back at my desktop and can make sure I’m getting everybody’s bylines exactly right. And my Word hack of making a document template that is more comfortable for me to write in is yielding interesting dividends, writing-wise. More on that later.

Financial Status

Mostly unchanged. My attempts earlier in the month to do some ad hoc “reminder I need money to live” crowdfunding went mostly nowhere, but I am sanguine. If RealmLike’s browser interface can be made fully functional, it could well become another ongoing revenue stream. Again, there have been only a few intrepid playtesters so far, but once the browser issues are resolved I think it will easily grow some legs.

The State of the Me

Physically pretty great. Mentally a little more absentminded than I like to be. Usually when I’m as forgetful as I have been the past few days, it corresponds to high levels of cognitive fog. I have been clearheaded, but scatterbrained.

Plans For Today

Well, I have a domain for RealmLike, so I’m in the process of setting up a blog there so I have a central place to post updates without flooding this one. I’m going to be doing Tales of MU, and probably that Ligature Works post.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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So, I didn’t mean to spend the whole day bashing around with #RealmLike, but enough potential players told me they wanted in but didn’t want to have to mess around with downloading an external program that I moved making it web-accessible up a few notches on the priority table. I was due a free web domain from my host, so I snagged RealmLike.com and threw it up.

A couple of caveats: the “off-the-shelf” web interface ignores a lot of my in-game text formatting, so a lot of things look clunky and weird (and not in the deliberate style of the game). It also includes a lot of extraneous bits (like sound controls). The next iteration of the browser interface will not have those, but I’m running into a few tricky issues with building it. The [T] to Talk command does not function in the browser; you have to manually click the cursor into the chat box. I really want to fix that because it is my intention that this game be 100% playable with keyboard.

So the game is in early development, and the browser interface is in even earlier development. It is, however, playable. Upsides: making the game compatible with it also involved streamlining the training menus, and since I was redoing them anyway, I went ahead and added some things I’d wanted to. Now when you choose something, it gives you a description of what you’ve selected and asks for confirmation, and loops back to the main training menu if you still have selections to make.

Basically, every day the game gets a little more intuitive in response to player feedback.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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Caveat: single player only so far. The dungeon dimensions and other parameters that will eventually be customizable from within the game are currently hard coded in; during this early phase of testing, I’d like to limit the amount of x-factors involved when I can’t see what’s happening, in order to keep the testing useful.

Downloading the game requires a BYOND account (still free!) and a $5 purchase of RealmLike through BYOND. It’s called a subscription because that’s what the platform uses as its model, but it’s lifetime. Think of it as similar to buying a game on an Early Access model. Your one-time purchase nets you any and all future updates, and you will get notifications through BYOND when a new version is uploaded.

As an added cherry, subscribers get more character slots on the public test server and may occasionally have access to a separate private test server where newer things are being tested out. Future character classes and races will likely see the light of day there first.

The stable build that’s up for download now includes all the innovations added as a result of today and yesterday’s testing, including:

  • Longer period before scarring sets in from vicious wounds and burns.
  • Consumable items to remove vicious wounds, burns, and scars (bandages, aloe salve, and miracle cream).
  • Consumable items for navigating the dungeon.
  • Some basic color signposting and random cosmetic dungeon features to help you navigate from a level entrance to a level exit.

There is also a vastly improved communication/social system, though it’s a bit superfluous in the offline only version of the game.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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Well, a few intrepid souls have logged on and tried RealmLike out during the day. These folks will have made things a little easier for everyone who tries it out tonight, as through their feedback and my own observations I have identified a few troublesome areas that didn’t give me any problems but which weren’t exactly intuitive to outside eyes.

Stairs were previously labeled “v stairs v” and “^ stairs ^”, to indicate directions. Since the first stairs you encounter are pointing downward, this means the first thing you see is stairs surrounded by a letter v. Two of the three people I witnessed playing the game did the logical thing and pressed V to use the stairs. This is doubly confusing, as the Climb command (Z) is the only one whose key shortcut is not directly derived from its name. I’ve now relabeled the stairs as “Stairs [Up/Down] Press Z”.

The trainer in town is currently separate from the training menu you can bring up by pressing +. This is because the trainer can teach you new classes, but as this was the only intended function of the trainer when I implemented it, talking to one while you’re not ready to gain a level gave a message saying to come back when you were ready to train, even if you had other training to do. I’ve now adjusted the trainer to bring up the normal training interface when you’re not leveling. Long-term, I’ll merge the two interfaces and just give you the extra options when you access it through a trainer.

These two things created a potentially frustrating ping-pong experience for players, as you could spend precious new game energy time trying to figure out the arcane secrets of the stairs only to be told to finish your training, and then go talk to the trainer and be told you’re not ready to train. I’ve now ironed out those wrinkles.

I also made secret passages show up more distinctly; the subtle color shift when your perception is high enough to notice them wasn’t really very noticeable, and since there’s an internal “perception check” being made, a real-life one isn’t called for.

A couple of more vicious monsters had their levels labeled incorrectly so were spawning too frequently on the first level. This has been fixed.

Finally, I made a sort of “initiative roll”/delay when a monster moves adjacent to you so that it doesn’t immediately attack the same tick if its attack is cooled down. There’s no visible wind-up, but if you have auto defend on (it is on by default), your character may score the first strike, depending on their attack speed and reflexes.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

#RealmLike

Sep. 19th, 2016 01:37 pm
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So you all know I dabble in game design at an almost constant background level.

Computer. Tabletop. Whatever.

I do it most often when I’m overwhelmed by anxiety or can’t sleep in the middle of the night. It’s like meditating on an orderly world, and it somehow uses fewer processing cycles at its most intricate than creative writing or almost anything else does.

So I started a game design experiment the night before flying out to WorldCon, a bit over a month ago. And then I ignored it, only to pick it back up and poke at it during the last few of the long nights we were visiting the hospital. And then during the week after that or so that I was bombed out of my mind on cough syrup and allergy meds, I really threw myself into it.

And so now I have created RealmLike, a retro-dungeon crawler and minimally multiplayer online RPG. The name “RealmLike” derives from RLML, for “Rogue-Like/MUD-Like”, naming its two most immediate influences. It’s a functional game engine that is capable of generating a dungeon 250-some tiles across and 255 levels deep in a matter of seconds (though it’s currently set to a slightly more reasonable size, five levels deep), which can then be explored in classic dungeon-crawl style with some modern sensibilities (like skill trees, multiclass, and hotkeys for spells and abilities).

This kind of game is the sort of thing I’m always tinkering with. My projects usually stall out or fall apart because even working in a retro palette with low resolution pixel graphics, my needs fast outstrip my abilities. RealmLike gets around this by fully embracing the abstraction embodied by its oldest progenitors, though with a 21st century twist enabled by higher screen resolution:

realmlike-2

21st century text-based graphics don’t have to stick with “d” for “dog” and “g” for goblin. We have enough space to spell things out.

Game has been coming along well, I’d like to bring it along further, but it could really use more hands and eyeballs on it to make sure everything in it works as well as I think it does. If you’re interested in checking it out, I am going to be leaving a server running.

This game is made with the BYOND programming suite and currently requires BYOND’s client program to connect to it and play. You can download and install the suite here (it’s free!), after which you will be able to join the game from its hub page.

Controls are entirely keyboard based: arrow keys to move, keyboard keys are single-letter commands such as U for Use or G for Get. There’s a help page that is displayed when you first login (F1 can bring it up again) that lists all of them. Character options are a bit limited right now; four character class and four fantasy races (if you automatically and immediately know what those four are, you are probably right in the target audience) and they are capped at level 5 for the non-spellcasters and 3 for the spellcasters. But there’s some variety within them, with a minimum of two skill sets/sub-classes for each and some additional customization options for Clerics.

The game is online, so if you join the server, you may theoretically be playing with other people. You can even form a party with ‘P’ and share experience (automatically) and other resources (voluntarily). Feel free to drag your friends along. There is no PvP right now, and while permadeath is an option, it’s currently turned off.

I plan on including a full level progression, more character classes, more environments (and more details for the existing one), magic items, crafting, all the wells and bhistles, save for graphics more sophisticated than stick-on labels. But one woman can’t playtest a game herself, particularly a multiplayer one. Think of this as open alpha testing, like a Steam early access game.

You can leave feedback on the game’s hub forum, or by using the GM Chat (hit F10). I’ll be “AFK” from the game most of the day but messages sent there are logged.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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The Daily Report

Well, it took me three tries to get the date right in the title of this post. I got whammied over the weekend with a respiratory illness that I’m pretty sure I picked up hanging around the hospital, and came out of the fog enough to just barely get the chapter for yesterday in under the wire. Heck, I just typed “for tomorrow” twice trying to write that sentence. I think I’m physically fine now, but a couple quarts under on my sleep schedule and that’s leaving me a bit loopy.

On the subject of brain stuff, I discovered a weird hack for my own brain by accident. I was designing a document in Word that was meant to have a sort of retro look, so I turned the page color to black, the text color to white, and the font to a big fixed width one. Immediately I felt 200% more comfortable looking at and writing in Word.

I’ve long had this strong preference for old-style interfaces when I’m writing, probably because of the computers I grew up with, learned to type on, and learned to write with. It’s part of why I like ILYS and JDarkroom, even apart from their productivity flow-encouraging features. It’s just calming.

Word is the opposite of calming, when it comes to creative writing. I love it for structuring documents. I like its interface and its (now!) reliable autosaving across multiple platforms. But actually writing fiction in it has been a hurdle I haven’t been able to pass in a long time.

With this tweak to its presentation, though, I sat down and immediately wrote 800 words in 20 minutes, and a whole chapter in 90 minutes. It’s pretty great. The one downside is that I can’t figure out how to make a document from a custom template in Word 2016. I can save a blank black page as a template file, but I can’t see how to select it when I go to make a new document. Opening it and then saving it as my new document works, but less fluidly than I’d like. For this to really be handy, I need to be able to just open and go. If I can set it as my default template in Word, I’ll be golden.

…that just gave me the brainwave to search for “set default template” and “change default template”. I did, and the first results were from Microsoft… for Mac 2011 versions of Office. Nice. Scrolling down, though, I think I have figured out that I need to save my template to the right folder, and that opening and saving the “Normal” template will make changes to it. Something to try when I’m a little more clear-headed.

Financial Status

Not great. My ad-hoc fundraising efforts last week didn’t net much, so we’re still in the hole a bit. Writing Tales of MU again should help, but only at the end of the month. On that note, I noticed finally yesterday that when I changed my tip jar links on Tales of MU, I got the PayPal link wrong. Oops.

The State of the Me

See above.

Plans For Today

I’d hoped to make some more progress on my backlogged to-do list, but my attempts to-actually-do things keep running into absent-minded errors of the sort that make me suspect I should spend the remainder of the afternoon on more light creative things, where I can have “happy little accidents”.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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The Daily Report

Well, the hospital situation is over for now. Our family member was actually released Wednesday, which was a profound relief for all of us. My initial plan for yesterday had been to jump back into things with both feet, but the week+ of exhaustion caught up to me and I spent most of the day asleep or napping. I think I might have caught a respiratory bug from hanging out in the hospital, as I have a sore and cruddy throat and an ache in my limbs. We’ll have to see how that develops.

Financial Status

Well, my attempts at ad hoc fall fundraising have brought in a little, but I’ve had more luck beating the drum for Patreon. Topped $400/month and I would really like to build on that, as that’s where my future security lies.

The State of the Me

See above.

Plans For Today

I’m spending the day in light duty/wait-and-see mode. I’d rather go through the weekend well-rested and start next week firing on all pistons than prolong the period of fatigue and stress.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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The Daily Report

The hospital situation is very likely to be resolved this week, if at the end of it. Because things are still up in the air, I’ll be restarting Tales of MU on its regular schedule next week. Until then, I’m going to be doing what writing I can, probably mostly short things and experimental things, and working on the first issue of Ligature Works.

Financial Status

I made enough money yesterday to pay my webhosting for the month, thank goodness. I still need more to pay my phone bill for the month. Any contributions appreciated. Anything past the phone bill will go towards repaying our overruns for WorldCon expenses, then building savings. If we get that much, a fraction of it will go towards expanding our first issue of Ligature Works. More details in yesterday’s post.

I also crossed an important milestone yesterday on Patreon: the big four-oh-oh. Next I work on the big five-oh-oh. Onward and upward.

The State of the Me

Been doing better these past two days. Part of that was taking a long nap in the afternoon, though.

Plans For Today

Playing around with formatting for Ligature Works, writing, figuring out where to go with this twitter writing thing.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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The Daily Report

Tales of MU will probably resume on Friday, and then pick back up with its regular schedule. I can’t make promises; there is an ongoing external situation here that is going to take up an unpredictable amount of my time and energy. I would love to keep everyone posted but it’s really hard to gauge these things as they’re ongoing.

I have joined the site Curious Cat, a social sub-medium that I’ve seen a few people on Twitter using. It’s like a way of bringing a Tumblr-style “ask box” to Twitter, and I joined because (as I said at the time) I apparently don’t have enough regrets in my life? I don’t know. I actually joined it while waiting in the hospital looking for distraction, and I think that’s probably it’s main virtue. My profile there is up at http://curiouscat.me/alexandraerin.

I’d like to keep it light. Please do not use it for work-related inquiries. You can ask about my works (i.e., story or character questions). But anything about work, please direct to my official contact email address of blueauthor@alexandraerin.com.

If it gets weird, if it gets boundary-crossing, if it gets creepy, I might just shut it down.

Another thing I did while waiting to go to the hospital and then waiting there is write the horror story on Twitter that I referenced in my post earlier. I think this is something I’m going to do more of: write fiction directly on Twitter, for the Twitter market. I did actually start a writing account at one point when I realized how much Twitter’s format appeals to my writer-brain, but it didn’t go very far, I think because what I tried to do is use Twitter’s constraints to write a traditional novel. The Trump horror story is written within the constraints of Twitter, and it uses them. It’s closer to an oral storytelling tradition than a written one, which is not surprising since my general approach to Twitter is oratorical in style. I’m going to be experimenting more with that.

Financial Status

Well, I just launched a fundraiser for September with the specific goal of $1,000, and the more general goal of recouping some losses of the past couple months and repairing the lost padding. Hoping that takes off.

The State of the Me

Sleep schedule = way off. Nutritional and supplemental regimen = slightly off. The lingering remnants of my foot injuries (chafing and blisters) have been reasserting themselves since I’ve been putting shoes on and going out every day, something which has also been taking a fatigue toll given the lingering summer heat. I have been in a state of fog and befuddlement so far this morning.

Plans For Today

I’m going to be writing some of what I’m currently calling Hell To Pay: The Strange Facts of the Sad Case of Donald J. Trump, being the longer form version of my Twitter story. I don’t expect to finish that day, though I do expect to finish it soon. I am also planning on expanding another of my hospital-waiting-related Twitter threads into a longer form, an essay or prose poem of sorts called “We Made A Song Our King”.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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The plain and simple facts:

  • WorldCon was more expensive than I had budgeted for or foreseen, by several hundred dollars when all is said and done. I crowdfunded the budget I did have because our household in general and myself in particular did not have anywhere near the “wiggle room” to add another, even bigger convention to our schedule, so this left me in the hole.
  • August was a light month for me, work-wise, because of complications relating to WorldCon, including aggravated fatigue and leg injuries that had me on my back after it. This cost me a couple of hundred dollars at least in direct income.
  • One of my older family members is currently in the hospital, which takes time and energy, again affecting my ability to do my immediate paying work. (Tales of MU in particular suffers when my daily routine is not routine, and that’s just over a third of my Patreon income when it’s going according to plan.)

Before all this, I did have some financial padding. My goal with this fundraiser is to recoup those losses and start rebuilding that padding. I’m setting the goal at $1,000, which represents the additional costs plus the lost income plus a little bit extra to jump start savings.

I am currently supporting Ligature Works directly out of my own pocket, and this is not a complaint, mind you, because it was the plan. But as an incentive, I will say that 10% of contributions I get (up to my goal) will go towards expanding our first issue’s table of contents. That’s an additional piece we will purchase for every $250. If we go over $1,000, I’ll put aside a similar amount of the excess for future issues.

As a further incentive: yesterday: the story I wrote on Twitter yesterday about Trump’s infernal dealings backfiring is something I’m currently expanding into a longer, more traditional prose story, probably something of about novelette length. My plan is to release this as an ebook. If I hit my goal inside of a week, I will make that ebook free on Amazon and as a multiformat, DRM-free bundle on my own website for a period of no less than 24 hours.

You can contribute using either PayPal (address alexandra at alexandraerin dot com if PayPal.Me is not available in your country/region) or Square Cash.

And while direct cup-rattling, drum-beating, and general PBS-ing like this is just part of the crowdfunded life, ultimately I would really like to move past the point where it’s necessary. That means I need new blood on Patreon. While I enjoy performing for the crowd, this month already I’ve started releasing more works exclusively on Patreon, and this trend will continue. You can make sure you don’t miss anything and help me secure my present and future circumstances by joining me there.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for your support.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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I started writing this after recently becoming entangled with the early access game Subnautica, a survival sandbox game where you play the lone survivor of a starship crash on what seems like a largely aquatic world (though most spaceships that crashed on earth would think the same thing, statistically).

The world in the game is conveniently earth-like enough that you can breathe its air and consume its food and water with reasonable filtration and processing, but early on in the game, before you gather enough resources to use magical technology to construct a habitat, your home is a tiny emergency escape pod bobbing in the shallows. It’s big enough for two people, but simultaneously claustrophobic and clangingly empty with just one.

This poem started with the idea of a scenario like Subnautica’s, but tweaked. What if the water was less shallow? What if the world outside was that much more dangerous, that much less compatible with terrestrial biology? What if the lifepod was not just your first home on the new world but the whole of your world? What if you weren’t alone?

That’s what I started with. Where it grew from there is complicated, and far deeper than I initially planned or intended. Essentially, it’s a creation myth shown from the other side.

The poem consists of fourteen named and numbered segments. The first one is like this:


I – Stranded

*

Our world is a lifeboat.

*

This was once metaphor

for all humanity,

back on ancient Earth,

back before the push,

back before the spread

of all humanity

to every corner of the cosmos,

to every habitable world

beneath every sky.

*

Our world is a lifeboat.

*

Outside is a world,

not habitable,

not safe, not ours.

*

So close, on the other side

of our pod’s glasteel ports,

so close and yet so far,

too close for comfort sometimes

when the tempest rages

and the hull shakes

and we toss and twist

upon the surface

of the sea.

*

The autoevac

did its job

as best it could

with the materials

available.

*

No plotted worlds within range,

nor any habitable ones,

it put the survivors down

in a planet-sized puddle

we could almost survive.

*

The exosurveyors speak of

the Goldilocks zone;

just the right distance

from just the right star,

everything just right,

just like the old story

that only survived

because exosurveyors

still tell it to explain

about the zone.

*

The only tell half the story, though.

*

Sometimes, Goldilocks

shows up and the porridge

is thin and runny, or already gone.

*

Sometimes the bears are home when she gets there.

*

Sometimes there is no home.

*

The world outside is in the zone,

but it feeds us watery gruel indeed.

*

Warm but not the right warm.

Wet but not the right pH.

Life, but not the right life.

It can’t grow inside our bubble.

We can’t live in its world.

It can’t live in ours.

We cannot cultivate it.

It cannot sustain us.

*

The replicycle

does its job

as best it can

with the materials

available.

*

It filters the water.

It filters the plants.

It filters the wriggling

fish-like organisms

that have never encountered

a single artificial object

in their brief lives

and have no reason to fear it.

*

The water tastes like ionized nothing.

The food tastes like stale nothing.

The nutritional supplements taste,

but like nothing good.

*

Our world is a lifeboat,

bobbing on the surface

of a world we can see

but not touch,

a world that

will never

be ours.


Again, the full poem contains thirteen more segments: Fruitless, Fruitful, Benediction, Malediction, Posterity, Titanomachy, Flowering, Awakening, Foreboding, Temptation, Apotheosis, Exegesis, and Coda.

At around 5,000 words depending on who is counting, it’s long for most short stories, though not unduly so for one of mine. I have posted the whole of it to Patreon, but as part of my new approach to Patreon, I am keeping the whole of it under patron-locked wraps for now.

You can read it immediately by pledging any amount. Because we’re trying to rebuild our financial cushion, I will also unlock it for everyone to read if I receive one hundred dollars in PayPal or Square Cash tips today.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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The Daily Report

Well, my end-of-month push for August yielded mixed results. I did start (and mostly finish, more on that a paragraph down) a new piece with which I’m very happy, and which I will finish today and post as a slightly belated short story for August. But a pair of (still ongoing) family health situations did impact things.

After I made the decision (mentioned earlier this week) to basically take a fail on August, I have decided that the centerpiece of my Patreon and my planned “year of awesome” really must stand: one short story a month for a year. I think that’s the central value I’m offering. This is why rather than just saying August was a miss and taking the thing I started writing earlier this week and using it to get a headstart on September, I’m going to finish it and post it.

Now, I’m calling it a short story, but I had to some soul-searching regarding categorization. What it is, in fact, is an epic science fiction poem. I’m calling it a short story because it is short story length (it’s going to wind up between 3,000 and 4,000 words, when I’ve shored up a few passages that need shoring up) and because it does, in fact, tell a story in a distinctly linear fashion. Poetry is the form, but it is a short story.

I had some moments of going back and forth with myself about whether or not this “counted”. It already felt a bit like I was just giving myself wiggle room when I made one of my monthly goals “a flash fiction or poem”, as if I’m treating those interchangeably when they’re different things. And they are, but so are two different pieces of fiction, or two different poems.

The poem is (currently) called “Our World Is A Lifeboat”. It’s a science fiction poem that, in practical terms, is about the survivors of a crashed space ship, at least in the way that Asimov wrote stories that were about robots.

Financial Status

Awkward. Much improved from before the summer, though tight because of WorldCon, because a “nominal fee” we had planned for wound up being a couple hundred more than we’d anticipated, and because my dismal performance in the August heat means Tales of MU made me very little money, which is fair, I’m not complaining. The whole point of the model I’m using for that is that people only pay to support it when it’s being update. But it’s a fact that my income at the start of this month looks a lot more like my income back in March or April than the rest of the summer, and that’s a problem.

I have been enjoying increasing celebrity and acclaim, but the real long and short of it all is that I need this to translate into Patreon growth, and that’s not happening. I keep churning along just below the $400 mark, which has been my goal pretty much since I started, and even that is just an initial goal. I need to be making more money.

It might be that I need to cut back on how much of my time, energy, and creative output is given away for free. As much as I hew to the model of the “the foundation of crowdfunding is the crowd”, I need a better way to get the crowd to bring the funds. Do I start my entertaining and/or insightful digressions off Twitter and put them directly on my Patreon page? Start locking down my short stories, posting only the beginnings?

I have to do something different. I need to figure out what it is. Heat or no heat, con or no con, I think I would have had an easier time sustaining my momentum through August if the numbers had been growing the way I had thought/expected/hoped they would.

The State of the Me

Doing pretty good? Late night hospital visits leading to late night dining out instead of cooking at home has played havoc with my eating and sleeping habits; my choices for drinks the past two nights have pretty much been something with caffeine at 10 or 11 at night, something with sugar, or ice water. I might have to get back in the habit of carrying flavor drops in my bag. For all that I’ve been overcaffeinated the past two nights, I have slept okay… not deeply, but deeply enough. Thank goodness for high tolerance.

Plans For Today

I’m going to be finishing up my epic poem and posting it in some form, but also doing a lot of stocktaking and figuring out where I go from here.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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The Daily Report 

Well, August is almost over. At several points before, during, and after WorldCon, I considered making a post explaining that it had been a difficult month (seasonal heat, plus scrambling for/being at/recovering from WorldCon) and that I’m basically giving myself a mulligan on it, but I never actually found the wherewithal to do so.

My plan to start my year of awesome was like most of my plans: spur of the moment and hatched in the spring, when days are getting longer and brighter but the summer heat hasn’t hatched. The timing meant that July and August were months 2 and 3 of my plan. This was such a terrible idea that it wasn’t even August before I decided that next year I’m officially scheduling and announcing light duty/sabbatical during those hottest two months, but I also felt like I needed to power through and do it anyway.

So here we are at the end of August and I have not clearly articulated my situations or intentions, and for that, I apologize. I am back in the saddle after a solid week off, post-con. I may yet cross a few more items off my to-do list in the next three days. But I may not hit all of my monthly writing goals for August.

I will certainly not hit my personal zine/newsletter goals, and in fact, it may be time to re-evaluate those because my initial vision is just not coming together at all. One theme that got hammered at the writerly panels I visited at WorldCon was something that I struggle with, even as an self-declared experimental writer and publisher: if something’s not working, stop doing it.

So I’m going to be re-evaluating that. Honestly, I think August might have gone better if I hadn’t spent so much time spinning my wheels on this and trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Anyway, I don’t want to dwell too long on what’s been going wrong when I have been having such an objectively awesome time.

Financial Status

A little strained. Our transportation and food costs for the con went over the few hundred dollars I had allotted from the fundraiser; something I definitely saw coming but was too stressed to really do anything about. Our generally improved and improving financial outlooks gave us some padding to eat into, but the padding’s awfully thin and needs replacing, and we need to buy groceries in the meantime. If you’ve enjoyed my (Alfie Award-winning!) writing and commentary over the years, now’s a good time to chip in through PayPal or Square Cash.

The State of the Me

Navigating the convention and traveling left me with a lot of phsyical problems that exacerbate my fatigue (heat exhaustion, dehydration, borked sleep schedule and nutritional regimen, etc.), as well as some genuine injuries to my feet and lower legs, the least of which were blisters on each heel right at the tendon. After a solid week of rest, including a day and a half of actual bed rest, the still painful remnants of the blisters are all that remains of these issues.

Plans For Today

Back to work day. I’m basically going to open up a window and start writing whatever wants to be written. Even if I’m taking a pass on my goals for the month, I’m still going to try to fulfill as much of them as I can, ending this month well in order to start the next one with a head of steam.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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WorldCon was the biggest con I’ve participated in, by a wide margin. It was also physically larger (as in, covering more ground), during a hotter month, and involving more out-of-doors walking than my home con of WisCon. Suffice to say, it kicked my behind far harder than I expected it to. I spent the first couple of days recuperating from actual injuries sustained walking around in the wrong shoes. That’s all over except for the blistering; now I’m trying to get my sleeping, eating, and pill-taking regimens back on track.

Next year the climate might be a bit milder. We’ll be aiming for a hotel closer to the con site. And I’ll be better prepared. I remember WisCon used to knock me on my backside for a week, too, and this year I came home and started the best month of my career to date the day after I got home.

For now, I’m taking things easy. I’m trying to go as long as possible before I have to squeeze my feet into shoes, and keeping them up as much as possible. I’ve done some light writing, but my brain’s a bit too foggy to do more than finish up and fire off those WorldCon note posts I put up the other day, and tweet intermittently.

I’ll keep you posted about what’s what as I recover.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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Doing a quick status post. I am more or less recovered from the fatigue of the con and travel and sleep loss and all that, but I am going to be spending at least one day as close to completely off my feet as possible.

Due to a footwear malfunction that left me wearing my dress shoes for more than 50% of the con and the entire trip home, I have not just blisters on both of my ankles but some stressed tendons and pain in my calves from standing/walking/limping weird to try to alleviate the initial pain. Adrenaline covers a multitude of sins, so it was only on my way home that I began to realize how badly messed up my feet were.

I thought yesterday that just walking around without shoes would be sufficient for recovery, but it seems like I could really do with putting my feet up for a bit.

 

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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I just had a brief twitter exchange with Kurt Busiek that started because I saw him tweet something and I randomly remembered that he had been at WorldCon and on my “hope to meet” list. I’ve been a fan of Kurt Busiek’s work for as long as I’ve been aware of it, entirely thanks to my older brother Max and his interest in Astro City. I can’t say I’m a wild fanatical fan. I don’t own any Astro City comics. I can’t remember a lot of the character’s names. I mostly think of issues in terms of the characters and events that they’re an analog for, like the one that was people on folding chairs on the roof of the apartment building watching the fight with !Galactus in the distance. The one about the shark in the subway and the reporter is harder to high concept, but it’s one that’s stuck with me. I mean, I don’t actually remember much of the sequence of events in the story at the heart of the story. But the process of the reporter trying to report on it, and the conclusion… it’s just such a great tale.

Anyway, my exchange involved me replying to his tweet about the party saying that I wished I could have stayed later myself and maybe met him (we had an early flight the next day; I did not seriously rate my chances of getting into any exclusive parties on Saturday night very highly back when I booked the hotel and the flights, so did not think it would be worth the added expense of staying through Sunday).

And while I’m sincere about this—I had wanted to meet him, and would like a chance to in the future—I’m not exactly kicking myself over it, nor had I been craning my neck around the crowd to spot him.

There are always moments when I’m at a con and I’m wishing I were a smoother operator, socially. There are moments when I feel like I should be out there, meeting people, making connections. They rarely last long and they even more rarely go anywhere. But I do meet people at cons, people who do all manner of interesting things (whether they realize how interesting they are or not). Some of them are a kind of a big deal. Some of them will be. They’re all a big deal to me, though.

Some people think that if they can just make the right personal connection with the right person at the right time, it will change their life. They’ll be invited to some project, they’ll find a powerful patron, I don’t know. Things will happen.

The fact is that I have made connections at cons that have changed my life, but mostly they’ve changed my life by giving me this connection. I’ll sit down at a table with someone by chance because there’s an open seat and we’ll start talking and now we’re friends. I’ll see someone who looks like they need someone to talk to and they do and now we’re friends. I’ll be introduced to someone because we’re all going to lunch at the same time and now we’re friends.

And sometimes being friends with someone means that I do, indeed, have an opportunity that I might not otherwise, but more often it’s the opportunity to see something a bit before everyone else does or the opportunity to make a new friend than anything else.

At WorldCon, I was very pleased to very briefly meet Larry Niven (less pleased that it happened when I wasn’t wearing my glasses; I might have seen him a hundred times after that and never known it). I was very pleased to have met George R.R. Martin. My first meeting with John Scalzi (at this year’s WisCon) was pretty much the both of us hurriedly apologizing as we frantically raced down a hallway in opposite directions, me to meet a friend and him to find a facility of a particular sort.

But you know what? I’m really, really, extremely pleased that Jack and I had dinner with S. Qiouyi Lu after a quick Twitter confab when neither of us had plans one evening. We’d been on some panels together before, and while that was really the extent of our previous in-person interactions, S. is the kind of person you just immediately want to get to know better.

I’m really, really pleased that when all the con suite tables were occupied, we picked one that was mostly empty and wound up sitting next to M., a person who I later learned already followed me on the social mediums and with whom we became instant friends. Sitting there was easily the best decision we made all con. We kept bumping into each other throughout the weekend, in part I think because we all like finding quiet, out of the way places to sit. But M. is hilarious (“the ones who walk away from omelets”) and an endless font of interesting information, and best of all, is currently planning to come to WisCon next May.

I’m super pleased to have finally attended a con with Rose Lemberg and Bogi Takács, to have finally met these people I have long considered friends in person, to attend their events and cheer them on.

I was over the moon to get to see Mary Anne Mohanraj, my friend and sometimes fan, up on stage with George R.R. Martin, roleplaying the part of er freaking Wild Cards character. I mean, the whole stage was packed with authors, many of them giants and I’m including Mary Anne in that number, but she is my friend, and this didn’t make it exciting because I’m friends with someone who hangs out and writes in a shared universe with all these other genre literary celebrities, it’s exciting because my friend gets to do this amazing thing.

I’m glad to have met my new friend Hampus Eckerman, who gave me a tiny bottle of aquavit and another friendly face to look forward to if we make it to WorldCon 75 in Finland.

My very good friend Crystal Huff, being one of the co-chairs of that con… well, I’m not going to say she hasn’t ever helped open a door for me, or that I’ve never tried to do the same. And she’s certainly very good about making sure we know where to get the Finland freebies. But mainly what she does for us is she’s happy to see us, and we’re happy to see her. That’s friendship.

Sumana Harihareswara is someone I think of as my oldest con friend, though I don’t know what the precise definition I’m using for that. But I called her my “fairy conmother” to someone this weekend, in order to explain our relationship. She seems to make connections the way most people make carbon dioxide, and we don’t often spend as much time hanging out as I would like. We certainly didn’t this year (I had a pretty debilitating injury that kept me tethered in one place for much of the end of the con, though I appreciated her updates on where she was hanging out), though we certainly did spend more time together than we have in years.

This is how you do a con right: you make friends. You be with your friends. You keep yourself open to friendship. I know a lot of people reading this are probably feeling like I’ve just pronounced them doomed to never do a con right. I know. It’s not easy making friends, especially when it seems like everybody else around you already is friends.

But honestly: a lot of them feel the same way. And will be thrilled to have somebody to talk to about it if you’re the one who admits it. One of the best tips I can give you for making friends at a con is: be a friend. Offer friendship to people. And be willing to accept it in return.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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…was very brief, though so was the second. But the time that I was certain would be the point at which I came physically closest to the man was during one of his scheduled signings (the first of seven, in fact), when I placed a slightly worn copy of Card Sharks, upside down to me and opened to the title page in front of him.

He looked at it in what I interpreted as mild confusion turning to what I interpreted as mild surprise and delight. “Oh, Card Sharks!” he muttered, then signed his autograph over where his name appeared as the editor for the volume. I had thought about bringing one of the books in the series to which he contributed a story, but the New Cycle has personal significance to me as it was my introduction to the series and his work, and given the limit of one book per person per scheduled event, that’s what I went with.

I had looked around to see if I could spot any other Wild Cards fans in the room, but had only spotted epic fantasy tomes. I know there was a separate Wild Cards mass signing for the new book, but I was a little surprised that no one around me had brought any of them. I wouldn’t swear I was the only person in the room with one, but I was definitely one of a small number.

I suspect there may have been some mild grumbling about how the event was run, but I have to say, I was impressed and pleased. At all points during the program, wranglers were on hand to communicate clearly what was expected of us and what was allowed of us. As someone who frequently worries that I’m being too familiar or taking too many liberties, being told things like yes, we can take pictures with George in them, but don’t stop the line to try to pose one is great. Armed with explicit permission, Jack and I each got a very nice, spontaneous-looking, completely candid picture of the other interacting with the author. The event runner also quietly encouraged us in the line to, you know, say a few words to Mr. Martin like he’s a human being, which helped me find my voice to thank him.

I think it’s very much a case of “not their first rodeo” mixed with a need to get as many human beings through a line as efficiently as possible, but it all went very smoothly. The best part aside from the clear messaging was that we didn’t even really have to stand in line much. The “line” was the rows of chairs in the event hall; we lined up a bit before it began to make sure we got a good place, and we stood up with our row when the row ahead of us was through, but most of the time spent waiting was seated.

Oh, and let me take this moment to say that the chairs provided by the convention center were worlds better than the banquet hall style chairs we get at WisCon. If you say a word against the Madison Concourse Hotel and Governors Club in my hearing, I may ask you to step outside, but just between you and me, the seating at panels could be better. They’re a bit too narrow, a bit too straight. The ones at the convention center in Kansas City were still obviously the sort of chair you buy by the hundreds or thousands, but they were a nice quality modern example of such chairs.

The chairs were enough of a “casual accessibility” accommodation for us with our levels of physical disability, which I suspect means a lot of people who would otherwise have had to ask for accommodation could just show up. There were visibly accommodations being made for people with limited mobility or more support requirements; I can’t speak to their efficacy. This is a statement of neutral ignorance, not a judgment. I really don’t know. They seemed to work, though.

I heard a few questions about the set-up from people around me, a few mild complaints, but I have to say in terms of getting everybody who shows up an autograph, the arrangement could not be beat. Sure, it would be nice if we could all have a more organic interaction with the author, but how many people can you do that with in an hour? Everybody wants to sit down and talk with him for a good ten, fifteen minutes about their theory that Hot Pie is the prince that was promised, but no one would put up with the set-up that allowed it, least of all the man himself.

He donated seven hours of his time (and it is a donation) to the convention to give as many fans as possible a fleeting interaction and a keepsake that can last a lifetime and longer. The set-up lets the most people get the most out of it.

Every convention I go to, I wind up having incredibly deep, meaningful, and long-lasting conversations with authors at every level of their career. I lost track of how many Hugo winners I’ve shared a lunch or dinner with. I can think of several who won this year alone. You can do it. It can be done. But you can’t get that on demand. You can’t manufacture it. Attempts to force or finagle or finesse encounters are likely to blow up very badly.

Anyway, that was my first interaction with George (“We’re seriously just calling him George now?” Jack asks me, but honestly, there comes a point past which “Mr. Martin” sounds like sucking up, even as “George” feels too familiar), though obviously not the most significant one. Still, it had its own significance. He didn’t talk much at the signing, but by that token, everything he said was very conversational, even if most of it was quiet and too himself.

I have long been aware, or at least suspected, that most authors are human beings. I know too many of them to doubt this. Even J.K. Rowling and Stephen King and George R.R. Martin are human beings. But there’s something that changes when you’ve heard the cadence of a person’s speech in its own rhythm, when you’ve heard their own peculiar personal accent.

I heard Rose Lemberg and Bogi Takács read aloud from their respective works for the first time at this convention, and even though I’ve been reading it for a couple years now, it deepened my appreciation. I will always read their works in their rhythms now. Mary Anne Mohanraj, who I have met many times and heard read many times, read aloud from a story I had read many times, but from which I had never heard her read. It changed it, too.

I still have not heard George reading his own work in his own voice. We are skittish, somewhat introverted creatures, Jack and I, and so we limited the number of big events with which we chose to tangle, focusing mainly instead on more intimate events headed by friends. The Wild Cards Deathmatch was basically what we spent our emotional budget on when it came to performances by George. Some of what he said there may have been prepared, but it was improvisational theater so a lot of it was spontaneous.

I will admit that I have been critical (more in the proper sense of analytical, though with a certain amount of urine-absconding) about some of the writing in his Song of Ice and Fire series. I probably will be in the future, too. But hearing him speak, listening to him ramble a bit on stage or talk to himself, provides a simple and oddly satisfying answer to a lot of my “why” questions, regarding the writing and syntax and sentence structure in A Game of Thrones and its sequels: it’s a book written by a human being.

And I feel kind of silly that I needed to meet him to get to this point, especially as I’m usually the first one to fend off prescriptivism and to argue against the idea that authors need to be mechanically perfect and following some predefined standard of language. Without meaning to, though, I had been putting Martin on another level, looking at his work as though it were not written by a man but some distant, unknowable force.

Suffice it to say, I don’t think I’m going to be able to look at his work the same way again. That’s not to say I won’t look at it. I’m actually probably going to re-read it. The Wild Cards Deathmatch event was pretty close to a GMed LARP session, which means I’ve now come that close to seeing Mr. Martin (okay, maybe I can’t keep calling him George) acting as a GM. His two signature serieses both have strong ties to roleplaying games. I think it would be interesting to revisit them with that lens in place, if nothing else.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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I was avoiding saying directly which hotel I was in before and to a large extent during the con because there have been issues, but Jack and I had a very nice time in the Westin at Crown Center. We had been booked into the aging but beautiful Hotel Phillips, which is apparently undergoing extensive renovations and had to shunt a certain number of its guests to another location.

We were little dismayed to be notified of this change a bare two weeks before the convention, particularly as this put us quite a bit farther away and we weren’t sure about the logistics of getting back and forth. Even more dismaying: we were CCed (not BCCed) on an email with the information with several other congoers. I consider this to be a breach of my privacy and security, especially as there have been issues with people and boundaries in the past.

All that said, we found reasons to be excited about the new hotel. It’s connected by a covered elevated walkway to Kansas City’s Union Station, a historical architectural jewel that serves as museum space and a shopping center. I had some fond memories of a little cafe in there that I hoped to revisit (and we did!). I’d also spent a long weekend in the hotel at the other end of Crown Center around my freshman year of college (either the summer before or the summer after, I don’t recall). In the event that the convention wound up being a bust (and I had some pessimistic moments in the week or so leading up to it), there would be plenty to occupy us without leaving the area around our hotel, including a neat aquarium.

As it happened, the convention wasn’t a bust and the Kansas City Streetcar was even more convenient than advertised. Except during the times of highest crowd density, it vastly outperformed the listed frequency, and at the peak on the weekends, it still mostly hit the mark. There were three operators we saw regularly. All were personable in their own ways. One of them regularly announced that all Pokemon caught on the streetcar were to be returned at the end of the trip. A couple of them would chat about the convention. One of them saw Jack’s pins on his badge holder and gave him a KC Streetcar souvenir pin. This same one also had previously heard of me.

And the Westin… the Westin really took care of us. I am not happy at all about how Hotel Phillips treated us, but I have no complaints about the Westin. It’s a beautiful hotel. They have an indoor waterfall with elaborate landscaping around it. The lobby is spacious and full of comfortable chairs and screens that I think must have also served as acoustic baffles because it never got that echoey loudness. The people were super polite and very apologetic even about the inconveniences they had not created. We even found some lovely extras waiting in our hotel room when we arrived.

At six in the morning of the day of our departure, I went downstairs because I had this nightmare scenario in my head wherein Phillips’ ball-dropping had extended to not including the con rate in their contract with Westin and I just wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t run into a snag when it was time to go. It happens that while I was on my way down, an automated email with our invoice was sent to me anyway. But Lynette on the desk did not mind answering my questions, and when I told her how grateful we were for everything, she asked me if I was going to be around long enough for breakfast and then gave me a voucher for a free buffet for the two of us.

With the Streetcar in operation, the only downside to the distance of the hotel is that it made it harder to do things like catch a nap in the afternoon without missing significant portions of the festivities, but I have to say, if MidAmeriCon 2 were to become a regular event and we were to regularly attend it, I think we would strongly consider the option of staying in the Westin if it were proffered, and we would recommend it to everybody who was looking for a quiet place to retreat to at the end of the evening, a place where the convention and the parties can be left behind.

Yes, if MAC2 continues to throw conventions in the same venue, I think they could do a lot worse than pursuing an ongoing relationship with the Westin and promoting it to their members as the “quiet hotel”.

We might have other reasons to visit Kansas City in the future (family, renfair), and when our budget can handle a real hotel, we’ll certainly be keeping it in mind.

 

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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Often when I say critical things about Gamergate—or more particularly, about Gamergate’s roots and the conduct of the man who whipped up the initial harassment squad that became Gamergate’s core—I will get a gator in my mentions sidling up to say something like, “Oh, and of course you think that Zoë Quinn is a perfect darling little angel who could do no wrong.”

I don’t know what Zoë Quinn’s faults are, but I’m quite sure that she has them.

I’ve certainly never asked her for her side of the story told by her abusive ex, never bothered to see if she’s told it anywhere. It doesn’t interest me.

I’ve read his side, though, and even if I take everything presented as fact (i.e., just the events, not the editorial asides designed to whip up or channel abuse), the picture he paints of the character of Zoë Quinn as she exists in his story is just a relatively young, somewhat naïve woman who overpromised in a relationship that she wasn’t prepared for, someone who had these ideas and ideals about how things were supposed to be and who ultimately couldn’t live up to them.

The result, in his story, is a bad relationship that ended badly, and sheesh, could I feel him on that, if that were the story he’d wanted to tell.

But nothing in his post justifies his post, or the way he promoted it and the people he promoted it to. Nothing in his side of the story makes him look good, or even like a victim, only someone interested in portraying himself as one.

I was aware that Zoë might be present for at least part of WorldCon. I didn’t think it was likely I’d see her, or that it would be appropriate for a stranger or virtual stranger from the internet to get too invested in finding her, given her recent history, so I didn’t really put her on my “Would Like To Meet” list.

I was never that interested in her as an internet personality until very recently, when I wound up following a twitter handle she uses without initially realizing it was her. I think that was the turning point because it was the first time I was able to see her for herself, and not a character in a drama written by someone else. The ~*controversial figure*~ of Zoë Quinn was based on a real person, but I never assumed it had much to do with her.

The character in the original post is unflattering to say the least; the version of that character in the ongoing spin-off series created by Gamergate is a cartoonish caricature worthy of a political cartoon. The handle I followed on Twitter belonged to a person who said things that were interesting, clever, and funny, to varying degrees. We had some overlapping interests and some similar riffs on topics. I didn’t assume we’d have much in common beyond that.

But when I unexpectedly found myself at a party in a single crowded medium-sized where I knew she was likely to be, I found myself looking for her all the same. Simple human curiosity. The weird thing was I realized I had no idea what she looked like. I mean, that’s not that weird for me. I am not a strong visual thinker and I have medium to severe prosopagnosia. I check the license plate on my parents’ car before getting in because for much of my life, I was more likely to recognize it than them.

I think of people’s appearances in words. I store the words and use them to recreate a rubric for recognizing them in person. But I had no idea what Zoë Quinn looked like, even in words. All the words I found when I tried to call anything about her to mind were from the caricatures, from the stories people told. As it happened, they were no help in spotting her when she was physically present in the room.

Then someone who had bumped into her told me: she’s dressed as a unicorn. Well, not really like a unicorn, but unicorn-like. A unicorn themed aesthetic. Like a unicorn in human form who was still recognizably a unicorn, and also carrying several unicorn-themed accessories.

It was the shoes I spotted. If you’ve seen them, or heard of them, you’ll understand.

I will confess that in all my own human failings, I have wondered how much of the caricature is based on reality. Five seconds after I spotted the shoes, I was pretty sure the answer was 0.

First: she looked amazing.

I want to be clear here that the verb “to look” in the sentence “She looked amazing.” Is not being used as a mere passive linking verb describing her passive appearance. She did a look, and the look was amazing. She—Zoë Quinn—executed a look in an amazing fashion. That’s what I say when I mean she looked amazing.

Sometimes men who have been chastised for objectifying women and/or who aren’t fond of women getting affirmation from sources they cannot control try to draw a parallel between women complimenting each other on our looks (in an all-encompassing sense of aesthetics and fashion choices) and them commenting on our looks in the sense of “On a scale of 1 to 10…” It’s not the same thing. It’s not even close to the same thing, which I think is why my boyfriend Jack says things like “Congratulations on your life and your choices!” so often after complimenting someone, just to make sure they know where he’s falling.

But while you don’t have to be a woman to compliment a woman’s choices, there’s something magical that happens when women and femmes of all stripes compliment each other. It’s a wonderful thing that I really only discovered after I started going to cons and started getting over my shyness at them.

We spoke with each other for maybe a minute, mostly about looks. Our looks for the evening were very different. Hers was ethereal unicorn princess. Mine was… I’m not sure. Dangerous clown? I don’t know what vibe my looks put out, but I’m very particular about assembling them, particularly at cons. I’m not going for “Girl version of Kefka from Final Fantasy VI at a literary convention”, but I think I land somewhere near there. If I could put them into words, I probably wouldn’t need to use looks to get the point across. All I can say is that it’s been refined over the years, and I’m getting pretty good at it.

The main thing we talked about was each other’s hair. She told me how she had come to start coloring it, in quick and general terms, and how it now feels real, feels her, to do so. Making her outside match her inside, making her body represent itself, making it represent not just herself but her_self.

And we were actually on our way to the door when I spotted her, so we didn’t really dig into this, but I think I got it. And it provided an interesting contrast to the caricature that both of our overlapping groups of detractors and harassers have of us in general, the caricature that is the gendered form of “SJW”, the “Tumblrina”: always brightly colored hair, often fat and hideously ugly, brittle, angry, and alone.

This stereotype has as much to do with our actual lives as their caricature of “Social Justice” or “Radical Feminism” (they keep on saying those words; I don’t think they mean what they think they mean) has to do with anything we say or do. It’s not a shorthand they use to understand us, but to save them the trouble of needing to.

“Of course she has [colored] hair,” they say.

“Of course she’s on Patreon,” they say.

And of course I do have rainbow-colored hair and of course I do have a Patreon (Hint, hint.), as I’ve been crowdfunding my career since long before that was a word. But they don’t mean these things as bare, unadorned recitations of neutral facts. They’re invocations of the stereotype. They are reminders that we are not to be approached as human beings leading individual lives with distinct circumstances and personalities, but as a series of checkmarks next to a list of identifying features for target confirmation purposes.

Men even outside these alt-right, ultra-reactionary cliques make similar (if less pointed in their formulation) observations about women who sport pastel or neon or multicolored hair, and what it boils down to is something like this: she’s just doing it for attention, but jokes on her because it totally kills every man’s boner, but still a girl that desperate for attention will probably do anything…

If we complain about the attention, or tell a guy that we’re not doing it for them, we get a response along the lines of “Well, who are you doing it for?”

And the answer, as Zoë said, is for ourselves. Our. Selves. To be true to ourselves. It’s like wearing an outfit that suits us particularly well (and is often part and parcel of doing so), but a little more intimate, a little closer to the skin, metaphorically and in some respects literally. Hair color is a transitory and mutable characteristic, but so are clothes, and I think most people would agree that it’s possible to dress up like yourself and dress up not like yourself.

And the mutability of hair color, I think, matches the mutability of one’s self to a greater degree than more permanent body modifications or more fleeting changes, such as a change of clothes. A hair color might last days or weeks or months. It might change over time; mature, deepen. It might be touched up or altered. It might be allowed to grow out and fade.

Zoë’s hair isn’t much like my hair. I am not much like her. But we both looked at each other and were able to recognize that her hair was her and mine was me, which is to say, we were able to look at each other and admire each other, in this respect.

It was a fascinating exchange at the time, and one I wish we’d both had the time to delve into (we were leaving, as I’d said, and I suspect she had many more people to talk to, if not places to be, too), but in the course of sitting down and writing this post, working through what happened and what it meant to me, I’m finding myself working through so much more.

When I talked about the caricature of the Social Justice girl above, even the generalized one… well, that affects her more than it does me, as she’s a higher priority target for the people who make use of it as a rhetorical tool. I have been harassed by many of the same people, but mostly as a corollary to attacking someone with a higher level of unasked-for notoriety or someone with a higher degree of marginalization. My appearance and actions and beliefs (or the caricatured versions thereof) are used as an attack vector for people more important and more vulnerable than me.

But when I do come to the attention of the hate-hives, the way I get talked about… well, I’m not just a Social Justice girl, I’m a trans woman. I don’t just have brightly colored hair, I have rainbow hair. The last time I was told I was mentioned on a Gamergate forum, the comment on my appearance was “She looks exactly like you’d think she would look.”

At one point, someone made an animated gif meme using my face cropped from a profile pic and text representing the sort of thing that the person making the macro would imagine the character of me would say. It wasn’t something I’ve ever actually said. It doesn’t accurately represent my beliefs or behavior in the sort of discourse they were commenting on. But it’s not about me. It’s so not about me that people only two and three degrees of separation removed from me were sharing the image as a joke about “those Social Justice types who go to far”, honestly and earnestly believing that the person in the image was literally a caricature, not a real person.

When I found out about that, it freaked me out badly. I felt violated in a way that’s how to describe. I knew the reductive stereotyping the picture represented. I had even had it applied to me. But never so widely or so viscerally.
It affected me deeply. I reacted very badly. And I never really got over it, the knowledge that the picture is out there and being circulated.

But after talking to Zoë Quinn at the party, I found myself feeling better in a way that was hard to describe. I felt my spirits had lifted. I felt like I was suddenly less worried, though about what, I couldn’t say. It’s not like I’d gone around thinking about the picture all the time, or all the other pictures like it that might exist now or in the future. I wasn’t actually actively caring about it at the time, so it’s not like I could have noticed the moment I stopped caring, except in retrospect.

I didn’t—and don’t—believe that Zoë Quinn or anyone else is a precious perfect darling angel who can do no wrong. Nor do I believe that anyone can be.

And I’m certainly not the sort of person who seeks approval from certain people because they’ve been elevated to authority figures in my mind or that of society. I can get half a dozen earnest compliments on my hair in a day when I’m not at a con, and at a con it’s often non-stop. It gives me a little boost. Of course it does. And when I can return the compliment, about the other person’s hair or anything else, there’s this little moment of connection that makes it better.

It lifted a weight I hadn’t even noticed I was carrying. As I write this post, and think about the caricatures, and the way I’ve been caricatured, I realize: I’ve put the weight down. It doesn’t bother me anymore. Not at all, or at least not noticeably, not right now… it probably will flare up and twinge a bit in the future at odd intervals, but right now I’m thinking about it, thinking about how it felt, thinking about it cropping up on Facebook where I could see it, and this used to destroy me, and it doesn’t bother me.

That brief exchange with Zoë… it healed my soul. Honestly. That sounds hyperbolic, but that’s what it felt like.

Not because Zoë Quinn has magical powers or Zoë Quinn is perfect or Zoë Quinn is some kind of an authority on my very different life, not even because I know Zoë Quinn has been there done that but because I stopped and talked to another human being who gets it, not about the harassment that is heightened but about why we did it in the first place rand why we do it anyway.

Zoë Quinn, I’m told, is into body modification. I don’t know what’s true about her and what’s story. As I’ve said: I don’t ask Zoë Quinn about her life. My thing is idiosyncratic accessories. I don’t pick them to be idiosyncratic. I pick them because they are me and I recognize that they are idiosyncratic. I like wearing distinctive sunglasses—novelty, fashion, or costume—over my actual glasses. I hang them off the o-ring on my collar when I’m not wearing them. I collect hats. Just lately I’m into wearing long cardigans that make me feel like I’m wearing a wizardly trenchcoat or cape without actually wearing one. Though for that matter, my winter coat is a long black woolen cloak.

When I was of middle school age, I tried a thing for a couple of weeks where I had a bandanna tied round my neck like a scarf. The other children asked me if I was trying to be a cowboy or a pirate or what. I wasn’t trying to be anything, except me, wearing a thing around my neck that for a time made me feel more like myself.

The hair is the same, except in all the ways that it’s not. Hair is more visible than discreet body mods and more constant than any given accessory. It’s there. Always. Or at least usually.

There is a whole genre of posts that go around Twitter and Tumblr where the punchline is basically, “I don’t dress for boys/other people, I dress for the moments when I see myself reflected in a store window.” And that’s basically me, in terms of how I stopped dressing as a shapeless mass of dark cloth and started dressing in ways that make me feel like me. I still dress for the reflections, but not just dim and accidental ones in windows. I dress for how I look reflected in a mirror. I dress for the way it gets reflected back to me from other people.

My hair is part of that. It is part of me.

And Zoë Quinn was part of me internalizing that.

I know she’s not a darling perfect angel. I know she’s not some platonic exemplar of victimhood who has suffered worse than anyone in the history of the world or the internet. I know she’s not the character in her ex’s nasty little play, nor the one presented in the MS Paint webcomic drama that is Gamergate. I can’t really claim to know her as a person after sixty to eighty seconds of interaction on my way out of a crowded party, though even without that I can safely say that she is one.

And that, brief though our meeting was, I’m glad I met her.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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