Aug. 22nd, 2016

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When an actor receives something like a Screen Actor’s Guild award, they often say something along the lines of “It means so much more to me, because it comes from my peers.”

The most direct equivalent of this in the U.S. genre literature world would not be the Hugos, but the Nebulas. The Nebula Award is a guild award, presented by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and voted on by the membership of the same. The Hugos are awarded by WorldCon membership, which in practical terms is fandom in its most institutional sense; picture the busiest, most accident-prone intersection between genre creators and genre fandom (specifically, the subset of genre fandom most directly descended from fandom as it existed 74 years ago), and you’ll have the WorldCon general membership.

I say this with some amount of affection, being one of them now.

The Hugos are awarded by fandom, but it’s a subset of fandom whose most prominent voices are mostly people who not just grew up in fandom but grew up to be the sort of people who have fans. Being a literary convention, even many of the people who just show up hoping for a glimpse of one of their glittering idols do some writing. Or game design. Or drawing.

So while the Hugos are not a guild award, there’s not a sharp line separating them from “awards given by our peers”. In the modern genre literature fandom, there is an extent to which our peers are our fans and our fans are our peers, and it’s wonderful. I love it.

I did not win a Hugo. I was not on the shortlist. But I was on the longlist, the tabulated nomination data released immediately after the Hugo Awards. I knew I would be, because people told me they had nominated me. As those who follow me or people around me on Facebook and Twitter might have intuited, I was actually the top of the longlist for one category, Best Fan Writer; “top” here meaning “excluding the shortlist”. I was the next alternate selection, the first runner-up to the nominees.

This is a signal honor to me. When I decided I was going to WorldCon whether I made the ballot or not, it was because I regard the fact of being thought of in these terms itself as something of a prize. I talked about this on Twitter back when the nominees were being announced, I repeated it the morning of the Hugos: awards mean nothing without the warm regard of our fans and peers to back them up, and the warm regard of our fans and peers means everything with or without an award.

So, it’s easy for me to say that when I’m not winning awards, right?

Well, if you’ve been following WorldCon stuff, you might know that this isn’t exactly true. There is probably some debate happening somewhere about whether the Alfie Award is a real award or just something that somebody decided to hand out based on a mixture of objective criteria and personal decision. I am not about to wade into that debate, lest I pull back the fragile veil that separates the minds of mankind from the bleak and terrible true reality from which our senses shield us.

Instead, I shall simply say that it is a real award, insofar as it was really awarded. To me. On a stage. By George R.R. Martin. I was in such a daze that I walked off in the wrong direction, then left my trophy backstage.

And I have to say that it was a thrill, obviously. I wasn’t so awestruck because it wasn’t a thrill. But it was a thrill precisely for the reasons I outlined in my blog post. If only the dozen or so people who had told me beforehand had nominated me, I would have been deeply touched to know this. If it had only been them and the dozen or so more who told me this at WorldCon, I still would have been just as touched. But the ballot data has been released and I came in with 213 people who nominated me for Best Fan Writer.

Out of every single person who thought enough of the topic of who the best fan writer in all of 2016 was, just over one in eight of them thought enough of me to throw my name in. I had just 30 fewer nods than Mike Glyer, the man who won and who had my vote, a man to whom I would have been ecstatic to lose and to whom I am quite happy to have lost the bottom place on the shortlist.

And yes, I am quite certain that Mr. Glyer both deserved the spot on the ballot more than I did, and that he deserved the win completely. I was not much of a fan writer before 2015. I don’t expect to be much of one in the future. I wandered into a fray in progress, made a few observations and quips, and I wandered out. It got me a bit of attention, in no small part because Mike Glyer took it upon himself to be such an excellent chronicler of the whole mess. I know he’s not the only one who shared my work, but I can’t for one second imagine I would have finished as high as I did without his kind assistance.

Indeed, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that our nomination totals are so close. I have to imagine that the Venn diagram of people who thought he was worth a nod and people who thought I was worth one had some comfortable area of overlap.

(Which is to say: Thank you, File 770 commentariat. I’m so pleased I got to meet so many of you in person!)

Now, George R.R. Martin instituted (or perhaps I should say initiated, as the man himself is darn sure he doesn’t want it to become an institution of any kind) the Alfie Awards last year to be given out mainly to the person who came closest to getting on the ballot in categories affected by slates.

The Puppies, for all their talk about fun, neither seem to have much of it or understand it when other people do, so they seemed a bit confused about the point of the exercise. Several of them referred to the Alfies last year in terms of being “the real Hugo, given out to the pre-selected winner anointed by the clique”.

But of course, it’s nothing of the sort. It’s possible that in some cases, the person who received the Alfie would have won the Hugo Award, absent a Puppy slate, but it is not inevitable. If the person who receives the most nominations always received the most votes, we wouldn’t need a round of voting.

The truth is that the Alfies are a bit of a joke, which is exactly why they have been so important and so wonderful these past two years, because what we need is a bit of a joke. Something to take a bit of the sting out of being left off the ballot and wondering about what might have done. Something to remind us about our history. Something to celebrate.

There was a lot to celebrate on Hugo night anyway, with many well-deserved wins by well-deserving winners and a total, 100% refutation of the many shifting premises under which the Puppies perpetrated their campaigns this year. We can still mourn the ballots that might have been, the opportunities that were lost to another year of this nonsense, of course, but there’s plenty to celebrate.

N.K. Jemisin checking the internet to make sure it still said she had won a Best Novel Hugo even after she woke up is one of my favorite moments from WorldCon, and it didn’t even happen at WorldCon.

Anyway. With this year’s landscape being so different than last year’s, and the outcome different as a result, I wasn’t sure that George would do a repeat performance for the Alfies. Even knowing that I had been the unofficial “first alternate” in my category, I wasn’t at all sure there’d be one for me if he did. No one can say that Mike Glyer didn’t deserve his trophy, so it’s not like I was robbed of my chance.

But he did, and he gave out an award for all categories affected by a slate, however slightly, and that means that instead of losing to Mike Glyer, I won an Alfie. It’s an actual hood ornament, off of what I believe my father-out-law identified as probably an Oldsmobile, shaped like a rocket plane and artfully attached to its base.

So I received an award after all. Do I stand by my words? More than ever. Because now I have the proof of my supposition that awards mean nothing when there is nothing behind them. I was jumping around the room like Daffy Duck thrilled when I saw where I’d placed, and the notion of getting anything for that besides the knowledge couldn’t have been the furthest thing from my mind.

Then a man called me up on stage and handed me what is literally a piece of garbage—vintage garbage, even collectible garbage, and certainly very artful garbage, garbage artfully arranged, but garbage nonetheless—and it meant the world to me because of what it symbolized. It is a visible, tangible, and ever-present reminder that enough people thought enough of me to get me up on that stage.

Not every trophy is a part of a car bolted to re-tooled scrap metal, but they’re all made out of something and when you get right down to it all that something ultimately consists of is just stuff. The Hugo rocket is stuff. The Oscar statue is just stuff. Shiny stuff, well-made stuff, sometimes precious stuff, stuff formed into iconic shapes, but just stuff.

Having been handed one of the stuffy-est (if not exactly the stuffiest) awards around, I can say that I was right on the money. It is the good opinion and warm wishes of our peers and fans and (as juried awards exist) even sometimes our idols that imbues them with meaning. The Alfie I was given is a symbol of that which I have won for myself and that which I have been privileged to be given, and that is your respect and admiration.

I wish I had thought to say something like that on the stage. I wish I had been as insightful as I am in my best blog posts or as clever as I am in my best moments. I wish I would have thought to say, “They say an award means the most when it comes from your peers, and as I’ve just been handed one by one of the living giants of fantasy writing, I’m going to go with that.”

I wish I would have remembered to explicitly thank the people who had brought me there, in the figurative sense of giving me the impetus and the literal sense of crowdfunding my presence on the stage. I hope my parents raised me well enough that I said thank you at all on autopilot, though I have no memory of having done so.

All I really had the presence of mind to do was hug George, remind the audience that I had received twice as many nominating nods in the category as he had, and then run. I was bowled over. I was gobstruck. I was beside myself.

But the moment only meant something because it was real, and it was real because something real was behind it.

George has been very clear that he doesn’t want the Alfies to become an institution or tradition that is necessary beyond this year. I hope he gets his wish, but I also hope the tradition doesn’t die out completely. However much personal cachet there might be in being one of the very select crowd of recipients of what I’m thinking of as the Alfred Bester Award for Adjacency to Excellence, George speaks so endearingly of Alfred Bester’s place in the history of the Hugos, of WorldCon and the Losers Party, that I’d love to see him continue to be honored in some way.

Ah, well. If there’s one thing the gap between WorldCon 73 and WorldCon 74 has taught me, it’s that not even science fiction writers can predict the future.

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.

alexandraerin: (Default)

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.

alexandraerin: (Default)

…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.

alexandraerin: (Default)

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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