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Last year we made the decision to host a party at this year’s WisCon. At the time we did not know what all that would entail or how to go about making it happen, but we were willing to learn.

And we did. And there were some bumps along the way (for instance: we not only ordered more of certain materials than we needed on the principle that if we could fit it in the budget it would be better to have more than we needed than less, but we found out as we were setting up that we had more than we’d even ordered, and no clear plan at the time for what to do with it all), but there were also some happy accidents and serendipities and flashes of inspiration, and all in all, the whole thing came off rather well.

I may have another post up later today that’s more analytical about what we did right and wrong, less for purposes of self-recrimination than for the fact that this way we won’t have to remember all of it for a year.

This post is about why we threw a party, and what it meant to us to be able to do so, and how much it means that it went well.

The proximate cause for the party was the realization, a year ago, that this June was going to be the tenth anniversary of the start of my most successful story project to date, Tales of MU. That was a milestone that meant a lot to me and that would be significant to the subset of the con that’s been fans of my fiction writing.

(I’m forever in a weird place where far more people are fans of my existence, of what I say and what I bring to people around me, than my actual work. Which is not a terrible place to be! It’s just surreal sometimes.)

But the deeper cause was the desire to do something for the con, to give something back to it. As I said in an earlier post today, I’m not suited for committee work. I can’t run the con. I don’t have the wherewithal to communicate directly with specific other people on a regular, frequent basis. I have barriers to traveling on my own. I work best when I just… do things, because the mood and muse have struck me. That’s not how you run a thing as big and complicated as a con.

But… I could throw a party.

The actual function of parties in the framework of the con is pretty important. This is the part where a lot of people would say something about “networking”, but I’m talking about what the parties do for the con as a whole.

See, when you throw a party, you’re helping to distribute the load of keeping people entertained, engaged, and fed. You’re taking on a portion of the catering bill and meal/snack planning. You’re providing an on-site space for socialization that’s not one of the bars, a narrow hallway, or noisy lobby, and you’re taking responsibility for that space so there’s always someone accountable even in the moment that Safety is not making rounds through it.

It is an important function. A vital function. And yes, the people who throw the parties are usually promoting something (I sure was), but I also approached it as an important trust and responsibility, and a chance to give a gift to the con that has become my home in fandom.

I would like to thank a few specific people who really helped make it happen:

Sooshe and Gretchen from the WisCon party committee who were quick to answer questions and fulfill our requests with precision and professional aplomb. The answers we got were timely and detailed.

Lynne let me borrow her expertise and a few moments of her time, giving me some advice that helped lessen my second-guessing and sooth my pre-party jitters at a time when I was really worried.

Theo showed us a different vision of what a con party could be last year with their chill, laid-back launch party for the coloring book The Robot’s Guide To Love. It was just such a different scene from the typical industry-oriented wine/cocktail party (which of course is not possible under the current rules binding the con and the hotel), and it gave us the confidence that we could pull together a party that would be more enjoyable for more people.

Cabell provided logistical support in receiving party supplies and arranging transportation to the Concourse.

Sarah, who was not in on the planning with Jack and myself, but pitched in on the execution in a big way and helped straighten out a hitch in the catering plans.

And last but not least Kit, for providing an impromptu conversation piece that was surprisingly on-theme.

Then, of course, there was everybody who showed up, and everybody who didn’t make it (to the con or the party) but who wanted to. The good news is we’re going to be doing something very similar next year, with refinements and improvements. I seriously think that now that we have experience and firmer numbers we could do the even better with half the budget, or less.

So if you’re bummed that you missed the party, or you didn’t know that there was even anything to miss… don’t sweat it. You’ll have another shot next year, and honestly, we’d love to build this into a WisCon institution.

I’ve spoken before (most often while in the planning phases of this) about how the WisCon party culture is changing, the convention party culture as a whole is changing, and how this isn’t a bad thing. There’s still a bar right there in the hotel for social drinking and people still have the option of throwing their own private shindigs and providing whatever legal substances they feel like providing. Grousing that the officially programmed parties can’t fill this need anymore is counterproductive and unnecessary. I honestly feel a lot safer to drink and enjoy drinking in the spaces that are left for it than I ever did on the party floor. That’s a bit of a tangent and might be worth its own post.

The point is: we looked at what is possible and permissible and built our party concept around that, and I think that’s got a lot to do with how much we just hit it out of the ballpark on our first time out.

I wasn’t sitting there with a clicker counting people coming in or anything, but I know for a fact we went through just under 100 serving glasses of drinks (with most guests only having one), and our food supplies that were calibrated for somewhere between 75 and 100 people were all but wiped out. (There was a bit of the juicier fruit tray selections left, probably because I blanked on getting forks.)

There were some people who came through and sampled the wares and left, and I count that as a success, again, part of the function of the party is to feed some portion of the con some portion of their daily intake, shouldering a bit of the burden of that task. There were people who stayed for however long it took them to eat a plate and drink a drink, or as long as the craft table kept them occupied. And there were people who were there for an hour or more, going between talking to me about my work and my life and talking to each other, or even just talking quietly in a corner with the same friends they came in with.

Every single one of those people are part of the success story of the party. None of them were ~*partying wrong*~. My goal was to provide a space that was safe as it could be and structured for people to be entertained, and I think I delivered.

All in all, I think the future of WisCon’s party culture is on a solid footing. It just takes a different mindset than “buy booze, set booze out, commence boozing”.

The Uncanny Magazine party was a great model of what’s possible and what works. They had a theme (SPACE UNICORNS), an attraction (sparkly unicorn cakes!), and an activity (balloon sculpting). Again, Lynne Thomas helped reassure me about my catering levels, but it was also just reassuring to look at their set-up and note they had the same basic sorts of elements we’d aimed for: a theme (which had become superheroes by the time the con rolled around), an attractor (the mocktail bar), and an activity (the mask crafting station).

I’d say anybody who wants to throw a party at a con with an open party floor should try to include those three things. It’s a great formula. It gets people in the door and it gives them a reason to stick around for a while, and something to talk about.

I’d guess the fourth element would be something visible and distinctive for them to carry out onto the larger floor. For a lot of parties it’s the craft element (like the crowns and tiaras that come out of the Carl Brandon Society party), but for ours it seemed to be the fancy glasses we brought even more so than the superhero mask. I was just looking for something that looked more like a real bar glass while being lightweight and safe, but it really did the job of getting people out in the hall and other rooms asking our former guests what they were drinking and where they’d gotten it from.

 

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

alexandraerin: (Default)

What even are friends? Like sandwiches or gender, I think we’ve all got *some* kind of idea what a friend is. We certainly have strong reactions to recognizing what a friend isn’t. But trying to come up with a definition that is anything more than rough description is sort of a fool’s errand, and trying to come up with a test…

There was a turning point in my childhood where my definition of “friend”—the people I saw everyday and enjoyed talking to, a class of people that contained basically all the people in my class—underwent a sudden shift when an older kid taunted me for having no friends and when I asked my classmates to refute him, I discovered that was painfully close to true. At the very least, I had nobody in the room who was a good enough friend to say as much in front of the others.

As formative experiences go, that… wasn’t great. I had amicable relations with some of my classmates, there were ones I spent more time hanging out with and goofing around with during classes or extracurricular activities, but it was never the same after that. And the whole concept of friendship became fraught for me. My working definition was shot and I never really got a better one.

As a result, I’ve always pulled back from people if I feel like we’re getting too close, out of a mixture of the fear that I’ll be hurt or that I’m inflicting my presence, unwanted, on them. WisCon has been good for me in this regard in that it’s a space where more people are more frequently open and honest and explicit about their feelings and intentions than in outside spaces, and because there are so many structured times and activities to practice interaction.

It’s weird. Most people at the con we see once a year, twice at the very most. We’re trying to improve that a little, particularly with the people who are vaguely local. (If there are any other WisCongoers from western Maryland, I haven’t discovered them yet, but we do know of a few in the state/region.), and we certainly keep in touch through social media, but by and large it seems like it should be a glancing association.

Yet these are the people I feel about the way adults in TV shows feel about their friends from high school or college. Some of them I have shared quite intense and deeply personal moments with, in the weirdly compacted and dilated continuum of convention time. Some of them it was just moments. My friendship with each of them is probably different in at least one important way from my friendship with anybody else, because, again, friendship is like sandwiches or genders or any other noun/concept outside of the abstract and theoretical: even while there are clearly things that are friendship and things that are not-friendship, there are as many ways to friendship as there are friends, and none of them are wrong.

This year, a man saw me in a hallway and came bounding down the steps towards me, saying something like, “Hello, FRIEND!”

I’ve had only a handful of conversations with this friend, all of them memorable. I’ve only known him for a year, or really, a few hours out of a few days, since we were at three conventions together and nowhere else. I know his partner even more in passing. But, man, I am delighted to see them, and I never need to doubt this man’s friendship the way I distrusted my classmates’, because I can see how his face lights up when he sees someone there to support him in the audience of an event and because he didn’t just say he was my friend, he yelled “FRIEND!” in a hallway with other people.

There’s a family that I basically had one meal with some years ago and since then I’ve followed their work and interacted with them online, and they were absent from the con for a while and recently came back. The first time I saw them back, I said that I was so glad they’d returned, and I hadn’t thought about what I was feeling until it popped out of my mouth and I knew it was true. There’s a feeling of relief that they’ve returned, that their absence was not permanent and the them-shaped hole in the con has been filled.

There were old friends, new friends… people I’ve known for what seems like ages online who I met face to face for the first time this year, and people I never knew. There’s a line that comes to mind every year: “There’s not a word yet for old friends who’ve just met.” This year, someone who’d seen or heard me saying it even quoted it back to me. It comes from The Muppet Movie, Gonzo’s surprisingly introspective number “I’m Going To Go Back There Someday.”

There were people who didn’t make it to the con this year for reasons financial or personal or the pull of scheduling, and there’s sadness on both ends about that. It happens every year. If I and the con both live long enough, the year will come where it’s me who has other commitments or inadequate opportunities.

Friendship is complicated. You don’t become friends by the physical act of sharing a drink or a meal with someone, but it can be through that act that you suddenly realize that perhaps you are.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

alexandraerin: (Default)

Well, last weekend was WisCon. Very late last night or very early this morning, I made it home from there.

I told a dear but distant friend who was at the con for part of it but whom I missed in both applicable senses of the word that I was having a silver/gold situation this year: lots of old friends, lots of new ones, and not enough time to go around. Another very good friend told me that she did not even go to any official programming this year, which surprised me until she laid out how she was prioritizing her time and I realized that if I had the same constraints and I had to choose between programming and seeing my con friends, I would have made the same choice.

In fact, I largely had. For years I’ve dealt with the problem of too many panels/not enough time-turners by setting my priorities around which people I wanted to who I hadn’t seen yet. This year, every single programming item I attended had one or more person on the roster I was there to see. I also realized that the general trend for me has been to attend fewer formal programming items over time.

The first years, when I knew few people, fewer of them well, and fewer still from anywhere face-to-face, attending panels and readings and speeches gave me a structured way to participate, to interact, and to meet people. A lot of the people I’m now unabashed fans of and even friends with, it started with seeing them on panels.

And a lot of my friends have had a similar arc.

A con is, at its core, people (most things are, babies), and if you keep going to a con long enough, then past a certain point what you’re really going for there is the people, both the individual persons whom you know and the amorphous, energetic, memetic organism that is generated by the interactions of these people in large numbers.

So there is always the danger (and frequently, from what I hear, the reality) that a long-running con will grow insular at its core, reach a tipping point where it’s pulling inwards more than it is reaching outwards. It’s not an absolute (few things are, babies), and there have certainly been shades of that at WisCon. There likely still are, in places.

While the con was ongoing, though, there was a conversation that kept happening from two different ends, which I kept or hearing or having.

From the one side, it always started something like this, “Every time I tell someone this is my first WisCon, their face just lights up. Like they’re really happy to see me. Like they’re really happy for me.”

From the other side, it went more like this, “There are just so many new people this year, I’m so excited for them. It’s such a great energy this year.”

And it’s such a great feeling, to be part of a con that can be so warm and welcoming, that doesn’t hold with the idea that people have to “pay their dues” in some fashion other than literally paying the actual membership dues before the con is “for them”… and I know there are gradations of this, I know there are multiple factors at play and that there are still doubtlessly a few people who cling on to the con with both hands while grumbling about how all these newcomers are changing the tone, but in the terms of trends and prevailing factors: I like where this is going. I like the way the wind is blowing.

One of the secrets of congoing is that whether anyone is going out of their way to make you feel unwelcome or even if someone has gone out of their way to make you feel welcome… a lot of the time, you do have to kind of stick with it a bit before it’s really actually as fun and rewarding as you feel like it should be. There’s impostor syndrome, and there’s also just not knowing how to navigate the event in a way that you get the most out of it… believe it or not, going to cons is a skill. In fact, I’d say each con is its own skill.

And some cons will never be worth it for you personally, so you’re taking a risk by putting the time, money, and effort into it. And the hypothetical best con in the world might not be worth taking that chance for a year or two or three, when it might never pay off and the harm you suffer in the meantime is still real.

And there’s really no way around that, just like there’s no way to make a space filled with people safe in an absolute sense rather than safer, always a little safer than it was or would be without the effort. But I like to think that at WisCon, we’re doing what we can to speed people through the adjustment period, invest them with the skill of being at WisCon, and give them a softer landing into con culture. It’s both a formal effort by the people doing the hard work of running the con (the volunteers and the committee members) and it’s part of the feeling on the floor, as it were.

I tried the committee thing a while back and found that it’s outside my strongest skill sets and current level of ability, but nonetheless, I’m doing what I can to be a good member, a good representative of the WisCon brand, a good guide for newbies, and a good ambassador between the con and the world outside. And while I can hardly take credit for the still ongoing improvement myself, I feel confident I can say I’ve been helping. It’s part of why I was so committed to throwing a party for the con this year.

Last year, when I was talking to a new friend about the almost inevitable impostor syndrome that almost everyone feels their first year, she told me that she must be weird because she didn’t feel that way at all. I thought this must be something special about her (and she is pretty special, to be honest), but maybe that was also partly just a sign of our progress as a con, because I heard from a lot more people saying the same this year.

This was also the year I had the most people coming up and talking to me, instead of finding Jack when I’m not right by his side and telling him that they’d wanted to do so, but were too intimidated. Maybe part of that is the fact that I spent an entire year, off and on, telling the internet “I’m going to be at WisCon and I’m there to see people and this includes anyone who wants to see me, for real for true.” Maybe part of it is the con’s increasingly welcoming atmosphere making the whole experience less scary. Maybe I’m just figuring out how to be more approachable.

I’m sure a part of it was the fact that more people than usual this year were there specifically to see me, but the thing is, the heartbreaking thing about the people who tell Jack (or tell me later, online, after the con) that they were too afraid to say hi is that some of them have always said that.

This is so far the year where I have heard the least stories of how the con as an entity egregiously failed, harmed, or let someone down. It’s not perfect. It will never be perfect. But a science fiction convention of all things should never let the impossibility of reaching the heavens prevent it from reaching for them.

Mikki Kendall has a post up about her own complicated relationship with the con. In her post (which you really should be reading in full), she pushes back against the too-prevalent idea that people of color attending the convention aren’t investing in it, a notion which baffles* me as women of color in particular (including Mikki herself) have saved the body and soul of the con often at great personal effort and cost.

But as she also notes: new people are coming in all the time. They bring with them new ideas and new energy. And a con is, at its heart, people. New people make a new con.

And as I said up above: I like where this is going.


(*I mean, it doesn’t really baffle me, because I know that racism and sexism, and their painful intersection, exist.)

 

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

alexandraerin: (Default)

Okay, so, last year as part of a fiendish plot to lure some awesome people to my “home con” of WisCon (both specific people and awesome people in general), I made a post about the logistics of it all. Now that my plan has worked, I have some friends who have told me that they’re coming but are nervous because they don’t really know what to expect.

So, let’s talk about that.

The Environs

The convention is almost entirely contained within the Madison Concourse Hotel. They have an extensive photo gallery on their website, if you like to have something to visualize. You can see the check-in desk, you can see the grand staircase that connects the lobby downstairs to the main convention area up stairs. You can see the conference/ballrooms, done up for some kind of banquety thing. Those are the same rooms where the larger panel discussions are held, albeit with fewer tables and more chairs.

Almost all of the conference rooms, meeting rooms, and event spaces in the Concourse have themed names and the theme is “state capital”. When you see a con event is being held in “the Capitol”, it’s talking about a room in the hotel’s event floor, not the big pretty building on the square behind the hotel. Trust me, that had me scratching my head the first year.

The hotel can seem imposingly large and intimidatingly posh, especially when you realize it’s the type of hotel that’s used to hosting lobbyists and guests of state officials. If you booked through the con website, you got the con rate for your room. The rack rate is listed on a placard on or near the door, in accordance with state law, so you can see for yourself what it would cost to stay there normally.

Don’t be intimidated, though. The hotel knows us. They might not know you, but they know us in general, and we’re friends going back decades. The Concourse hosts the con every year in a very symbiotic relationship; the con is held in a hotel that mostly does state government-related business on a government holiday weekend, so we turn a slow weekend into a full house for them. We do need to remember that we are not the only guests (there’s often an airline pilot convention and sometimes some other events overlapping our convention, to say nothing of miscellaneous tourists), but everywhere you go in the hotel you’re more likely to be surrounded by WisCon people than not. And within the “event” floors, everybody there should be a con member.

So, you don’t have to explain yourself to the staff when you’re checking in or whatnot. It’s not their first rodeo. At the same time, they will be very cognizant that it might be your first rodeo. They don’t mind answering questions or giving directions. Just bear in mind that the hotel staff and the con staff are separate; the hotel staff can tell you where the Senate Room is; they can’t tell you what event is in it. But there’s an app for that, as well as pocket schedules.

The hotel is the type of hotel that’s meant to impress people. The food options there are all some degree of “fine dining”, with prices that reflect it. If you go out the hotel and take a left, at the end of the block is State Street, which has dining options for all budgets from “state government bigwig” to “college student”; it’s got a capitol building on one end of the street and a college on the other, so, you know. There are quite a few delivery options, too, and yes, they will deliver to the hotel.

In recent years, the Concourse redid its lobby to be a huuuuuge open seating area with smaller arrangements of seats. During the con (and just before and after), this is the setting of the informal event dubbed “LobbyCon”, also known as “people just hanging out together”. It can be very crowded and noisy during peak times, but very chill. If it’s late at night and you’re too jazzed up to sleep, there will usually be people in the lobby hanging out. It’s well-lit, it’s comfortable, and there will be at least a night auditor on duty at the desk. It’s a great place to go at any hour to be outside your room and have the possibility of hanging out with people.

There is a bar open to the public on the first floor. Like everyone else, the bartenders know the con is coming, they know the drill, most of them are into it. There’s usually a special menu of sci-fi/fantasy-themed cocktails available. Light food options are on offer at the bar; hours may differ from the bar’s hours of operation.

Most of the programming is on the first and second floor, with some of the sixth (“the party floor”, aka “the loud floor”). The sixth floor is the location of the Con Suite, which does its best to provide food to con members who can’t just go out and buy food, for whatever reasons.

The third floor has some controlled-access (i.e., you need a room key) areas of interest, including a little kitchenette with microwave, the fitness center, and the pool and spa. There is a biiiiig hot tub attached to the pool, and a sauna and a game room off the pool deck. No extra charges for using any of the amenities or equipment here.

You wear your swimsuit in the sauna. There’s a big button right outside the door that starts it, and a bucket of water with a ladle for getting steam. It’s all pretty straightforward. If you’re finding yourself with a severely scratchy throat after a few days of talking loudly in crowded rooms, try popping a cough drop or lozenge in your throat and sitting in the steam. It’s magical.

The top three floors of the hotel are the “concierge level”, here known as the Governor’s Club. The rooms there are pricier. The elevators will not go to these floors if a card reader is not swiped using a keycard from them. They also have their own express elevator that *only* goes between the 1st and 2nd floor (the hotel’s public spaces) and the top floors, which means that it can’t be used to access the pool or the party floor. There is a bar up in the Governor’s Club levels called the Governor’s Club lounge (often just referred to itself as the Governor’s Club). It is not open to the public, it has a more limited stock and some restrictions (no shots, no long islands; e.g., nothing designed to get people very drunk very quickly), and so doesn’t have the specialty menu, but it is gratis, here meaning “you’re paying for what you drink out of the price of your room”.

On the subject of elevators: There is a bank of three elevators plus the express elevator. They get very busy and very slow at peak times (especially around meals). If you have an issue with crowds or claustrophobia, or you have time-sensitive dietary needs, it may be worth your while to play your meals for off-peak times so that you aren’t trying to get up and down the elevators when everyone else is.

If you have the mobility and spoons for stairs, there *is* a grand staircase connecting the second floor (where a lot of evernts are) to the first floor (where the hotel exit) is, and of course, there are flights of staircases recessed behind doors on every floor. These doors are controlled access! You can open them from the hallway without a keycard; you might not be able to get back in at your destination without one. Make sure you have your keycard with you before taking the stairs. If no one’s there to let you out, probably call the hotel’s front desk.

On that subject: the Concourse’s internet infrastructure is severely taxed with a buncha freaking nerds hanging out, and there are some cellular dead spots in the hotel’s architecture (notably the elevator banks). So don’t rely too much on time-sensitive electronic communication to keep in touch with your people.

Bathrooms are just about everywhere, because a lot of the smaller event spaces are meeting rooms that have their own dedicated bathroom in the back. These are all single occupancy and are all any gender. The hotel provides refreshing ice water stations throughout the convention space, and believe me, proper hydration will make a huge difference. I know it sounds hokey, but. Drink the water.

At least during the con, the hotel does not have a door person (there is a revolving door and an automatic door; I just mean, there’s not a person in a smart uniform holding it for you), so don’t worry about tipping on your way in. I’m sure assistance getting to your room with your luggage can be arranged if you need it, but they don’t have a bell stand with a bell hop there to just do it, so again, no worries about having a tip ready.

If you take the shuttle from the airport (instructions in previous post), that is an appropriate tipping situation. A buck, two bucks, five bucks. Use your budget and your discretion, particularly if you have  a heavy suitcase that the driver loaded and unloaded for you. Tipping housekeeping is certainly appropriate; there are guidelines for the basic expectation in the con’s literature. It’s not a lot. You can always tip more.

Tipping waiters and bartenders in the hotel bar and restaurant is normal. If you’re coming from out of the country and you’re used to people being paid for their labor in a straightforward fashion without this layer of subterfuge: servers are being paid with the expectation that they’ll get most of their wages in the form of “gratuities”, with an expectation that it will be 20% (1/5th) of the bill. So, you have a 20 dollar meal, it’s a 4 dollar tip.

This does not apply to “counter service” restaurants (which includes all fast food chains), which is generally any place where you order standing up at the counter, even if the food is then delivered to your table. If there is a “tip jar” on said counter (it will usually be labeled as such), that usually means that tips are accepted (e.g., for exceptional service or because your change is inconvenient) but not expected. If there is no tip jar on the counter, the staff is likely unable to accept tips. Again, this is for “counter service” restaurants, where the menu’s on the wall and you pay in advance at a cash register behind a counter, not “table service” or “wait service” restaurants, where you order at a table, from a waiter, off a paper or electronic menu.

The Convention Itself

WisCon is, properly speaking, a literary science-fiction and fantasy convention. It is similar to but distinct from media science-fiction and fantasy conventions, comic book conventions, and video game conventions, though there has been and will continue to be quite a lot of overlap and convergent evolution among these groups. WisCon started out to talk about books and writing and reading, but topics of discussion encompass movies and TV shows and, increasingly, video games and roleplaying games. Programming is set by members and ran by members and staffed by members, so we talk about whatever members want to talk about. This means if we have enough members who want to talk about the Jem cartoon, we might have a panel or several about the Jem cartoon.

So, it’s “literary” in the sense that the focus is on writing and reading. There is also an academic track (people present papers they wrote on various sf/f topics). The main events are panel discussions, though, which is a group of people having a conversation among themselves and the audience on a variety of topics. Each day is blocked out a bit like a school day, with events happening in time slots in pre-assigned rooms and a “bell period” between them for people to get where they’re going next. There are breaks built into the programming for lunch and dinner.

With the packed schedule and so much to see and do, it can feel overwhelming. It can also feel like you’re back in school, only you’ve been assigned every class and no one gave you a time-turner. Here’s my hard-won wisdom – take breaks. Giving in to Fear Of Missing Out will lead to burning out and missing more. Part of the con is going to the panels. Part of the con is chilling with people, hanging out, meeting people, and just taking it all in.

I have been on panels about self-publishing, about trans issues in fiction, about social media dynamics, and about what it’s like when a group only gets representation via villains (such as the queer-coding of villains in Disney movies.) Just all over the place. The panels are usually pretty informal and conversational.

Every panel is facilitated  by a moderator. The moderator as well as the panelists are all members who volunteered to speak on this subject because they felt they had something to say. There are some panels built around the guests of honor (the only special category of con member) and their areas of expertise or famous works, but WisCon panels are not really a case of “here are special people being paid to speak”; there will also be panels about the guests’ work that are other people (fans as well as scholars , and many who are both!) discussing them.

The moderators have a lot of leeway to set the tone. Sometimes (often!) the moderator will be a panelist as well. Sometimes a panel is short a moderator. I’ve been plugged into the schedule as moderator a couple of times because the original moderator had something come up. In cases like that, the moderator is more likely to sit back and play traffic conductor for the conversation than join in as a panelist. In other cases, the moderator is the person who really wanted the discussion to happen (pitched it to the con) and wants to be a part of it but doesn’t have much to say, so much as to questions to ask. And in other cases the moderator is basically just another panelist.

The moderator can steer the format towards more Q&A with the audience, or more discussion among the panelists. Some panels become an organic conversation between the panel and the audience. Some are more structured. The size of the crowd and the room and the sensitivity of the topic can affect this, as can the judgment and style of the moderator. Some moderators welcome the audience throwing out discussion points; others swiftly crack down on “My question is really more of a comment.” Again, it depends on the topic and the composition of the crowd.

The panelists can be pretty entertaining. A lot of people (myself included) pick which panels to see in large part based on who’s going to be on them. It’s not that the topic doesn’t matter, but at any given time slot there’s going to be three or four panels that sound interesting. The panelists can make and break them. If you’re going to WisCon, you might already recognize some of the panelists’ names from the spines of books or from your favorite social medium.

Now, if panelists can make a panel, they can also break them. You might find yourself sitting in a panel with a panelist who takes it over, talks over everyone else, runs roughshod over the moderator, and is basically just there to be the contrarian to the very premise of the panel. It happens. It’s absolutely fine for you to get up and walk out if this happens. It’s your time and you paid to be there! Feel no guilt about finding something better to do with your paid time.

It’s also fine for you to use your question, if you can get called upon, to direct the panel discussion towards the other members.

And it’s fine for you to make a note of the panelist and mention the experience in the member survey.

Believe me, the programming people (and they are top-notch people) pay attention to that sort of thing. They can’t solve a problem that they don’t know exists, and sometimes they suspect a problem exists but they need the concrete reports to fix it.

I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea and think it’s all just a trainwreck or a minefield. But I also don’t want anyone to think that we’ve achieved perfection. Fail happens.

WisCon billed itself from the beginning as a feminist science fiction and fantasy convention. It’s now grown to be (or at least strives to be) a progressive convention along all axes. It is not itself perfect or free of -isms. I’ve encountered transphobia from WisCon members, direct and indirect. I know people who have encountered racism. The same generational and demographical divides that are present elsewhere in fandom exist in WisCon. If WisCon has an advantage, it’s that the idea of trying harder and doing better is written into the event’s image. Every year I’ve been there, it seems the crowd is less homogeneous, that the people who were on the margins the year before are closer to the center.

One thing that we’ve been seeing more and more of is the “let’s blow of some steam” panels, for people who find themselves being asked to explain and defend their experiences over and over again on the Serious Discussions About Diversity Panels. The original panel of this format was the “Not Another Race Panel” panel. They’ve been getting more elaborately named since then. The people on them are some of the most top-notch speakers and entertainers in the WisCon returning retinue; they wind up needing these panels in part because they’re in such high demand.

There are also usually some game/activity panels that go along the lines of “Let’s Create A World”, where the panel (with some prompting or seeds or input from the audience) does a world-building exercise (or something similar) over the course of the panel’s length.

You can usually get some kind of hint about how serious a panel will be by looking at the title and description.

There’s also spontaneous programming, which is to say, there are some small rooms that aren’t being used for formal programming and anybody can go to a marker board where they’re on a grid and claim one for a conversation not being had. Say there’s a TV that just started and no one was thinking of it when programming was being developed. Say there’s some development in the sf/f world or in politics that just happened. Say you just want to continue digging into a topic that was touched on in a panel you saw. You can claim a spontaneous programming room for a particular time block and hold your own discussion there. Just make sure to tweet and such so people know it’s happening.

Other Attractions

WisCon has an art show most pieces for sale!), a dealer’s room (mostly books, some games and comics, and some crafts such as jewelry), a bake sale to benefit the Tiptree Award and the famous Tiptree Auction. There is a reception at the bookstore A Room of One’s Own on Thursday, the night before the con proper, where traditionally the guests of honor read from their works. There are readings by poets and authors (none by me; I get stage fright that is easier to manage in a panel discussion, but every year I work up a little bit closer to the nerve needed), some of which are at a coffee shop just a bit down the street from the hotel (Michelangelo’s). Show up early to those ones to get a seat; they get crowded fast.

There is traditionally a dance party on one of the weekend nights, sometimes with a theme.

On Sunday night, there are the guest of honor speeches, which are preceded by a ticketed (as in, you have to pay extra to get in) dessert reception. The speeches themselves aren’t separately ticketed and are open to all members, though the people who attend the dessert reception are already seated so they might have the best spots.

It is entirely possible and acceptable to go to WisCon and skip the big events like the reception at the bookstore and the guest of honor speeches, if big crowds in echoey spaces put you on edge, for instance. It might seem like these highlight events are “the point” of going, but the people who do go to them benefit from the fact that a lot of people don’t. The speeches are always great, but transcripts and videos are usually available before too long. I’ve both gone to them and skipped them, various years.

The Crowd

 I have to say, there’s not “a” WisCon crowd, but several overlapping ones. It can seem like everybody there knows everybody, especially if you’re new and feel like you know nobody, but it’s really more like most people know somebody. I am sorry to report that there are a number of Old Painfully Hip White Guys Who Probably Mean Well. There’s also some pretty rad genderqueer and trans people who I think of as The Youths and who are probably actually all like 29.9999 years old because I am An Old. And so on. It’s not just a mixed crowd, it’s a mixture of crowds.

Basically, picture a mix of old hippies, author photos come to life, and whatever comes to mind when you read somebody with a Pepe avatar talking about “Social Justice Warriors” and “Tumblrinas”. That’s what you’re going to see at WisCon.

A lot of people are there, essentially, working. It is functionally an Industry Event, with a lot of Industry People (“Industry” here being sf/f publishing). There are also a lot of independent artists, authors, and creators there to network and get their name out there and such. There are also a lot of people who are there, essentially, to party and as a vacation. And a lot of people who it’s a bit of column A and a bit of column B.

It’s not unusual to feel like everybody else is there to Do Something, leaving you at a loose end or as an impostor or whatever. If it makes you feel any better, a lot of the people there to Do Something feel the same way.

There are a number of official “icebreaker” type things designed to get you into the flow of things. The first day of actual programming on Friday is kicked off with The Gathering, which is a structured party that I compared to a school carnival in my previous post – held in the big ballroom-sized event space, with stations for games and activities. When progamming breaks for dinner, there are several “First WisCon Dinner” groups that form up and sally forth down State Street to various restaurants. These are mixed groups of experienced congoers and newcomers. If you’re good with large groups, this is a good chance to both meet other newbies and prove to yourself you’re not the only one, and meet people who have been coming for years and who are still interested in meeting new people.

There’s also a lot of informal measures along the same line. While there can be people in any group who seem insular and cliquish (though in some cases, it’s because they are as shy as you are and also don’t know who’s new and who’s not), there are people who take it upon themselves to act as a welcome wagon and guide, make introductions, etc. I benefited from several people doing this my first few years, and I’ve been trying to pay it forward.

Mealtimes at WisCon are prime socializing time. They can be lonely at WisCon if you’re there by yourself and don’t know anybody. Let me tell you a secret: most of the people around mealtime are looking for more people to eat with. Not everybody. Some people have specific plans, some people don’t want a big crowd. But if it’s time for dinner and you say in a loud, clear voice, “Hey, does anybody want to get dinner?”, you might find yourself approached by other lonely newbies, or invited to join a group.

If you’ve got a smart phone, you can also tweet that you need lunch or dinner plans, using the WisCon tags. See if you don’t get an invite. And I keep telling people this and I keep having people not believe me, but if you’re stuck for plans and can’t find anyone, tweet @ me or moofable (my boyfriend, Jack, who is more likely to see it, though I do turn my notifications up for the con). If we don’t have sensitive plans with someone else, we’ll be happy to meet you. If we do, we’ll try to match you up with someone.

Now, there are ~1000 people at the con. I don’t know all of them and no one can vouch for them all in a vacuum. Use your normal rules and rubrics for your personal safety, of course, and feel free to decline anything that seems sketchy or that you can’t trust. There is no WisCon Rule of Politeness that says you have to accept an invitation. But mostly I’m talking about eating in a public place with a group of people.

There is a dedicated lounge inside the con that’s a posted safer space for people of color. If you’re looking to dine away from the white gaze, I am told that popping in there before mealtime can be a good way to hook up with a group, just in case you’re feeling shy about broadcasting that particular need on Twitter. If you witness something on a panel that you need to unload about or process, you’re probably not alone and you’ll probably find other people heading to the same destination for the same purpose.

In recent years, we’ve added a trans/genderqueer space and a disability/access space for similar purposes. If you find yourself overwhelmed by all the crowds and you need to find your crowd, there are some shortcuts.

Party, Party, Party

WisCon’s party culture can take a little getting used to, and it’s still evolving. Each individual party is thrown by an individual or group who are members of the con. They provide a theme, decorate, cater, etc., basically all themselves (and/or pay someone to do so). Each party takes place in an event room/space on the sixth or second floor, and since you wind up with a whole floor of individual parties serving slightly different appetizers and whatnot, mostly it winds up being treated as one giant metaparty, with a lot of people circulating from room to room and grazing.

Parties might have activities appropriate to their theme, like making a magic wand for a book release party about wizards, or designing a mask for a “masquerade ball” theme. It’s just, no one party has a ballroom-sized space, so the theming of something like “masquerade ball” can only go so far.

Now, the larger convention party culture started as a mixture of cocktail receptions sponsored by publishers and the like and authors/congoers hosting keggers in hotel rooms and/or swimming pools. The two have sort of merged together over the years, and now that convention culture is growing up, the drunken debauchery is starting to get roped in a little.

There’s been some grousing mostly from the older generation that WisCon’s deal with the hotel prevents WisCon parties from serving alcohol (due to stuff involving their liquor license and insurance and the fact that a lot of WisCon’s parties are now happening in what is de facto public space on the second floor instead of private space with controlled access). It may be important for you to know that alcohol will be being consumed in and around the parties, but the parties are much less centered on alcohol than they were.

(There are cash bars set up near the parties, and if a party host absolutely needs to serve alcohol for some thematic purpose, their booze can be given to the bartenders to be dispensed. I don’t know how much anyone’s taken advantage of that.)

Be advised that the party floor is hot, enclosed, crowded, and noisy when the parties are in swing (generally 9 PM through the wee hours). The hallway on 6 is marked off so that there’s a traffic lane and a social loitering lane; please observe that to keep things safe and accessible. If you’re looking for a less crowded time but don’t want to miss out on the social – party hours are also a great time for visiting the lobby.

Cosplay and Consent

Cosplay has not been a huge part of the WisCon culture, though every year I have gone there has been a little bit more of it. I certainly would (and have, and am!) encouraging cosplayers to come and bring their craft to the con. I think it’s a tremendous addition to it. Certainly it’s the right crowd to be impressed with and recognize cosplay. I see this as similar to the greater emphasis on other media in addition to literature, and the youthening and broadening of the con membership. There’s a lot of the lowkey styles of cosplay, like the people do modern Disney Princess equivalents or wear dresses in superhero colors and patterns. I dressed as Maleficent for the Gathering last year and will be doing so again this year.

WisCon practices a culture of consent. If you see someone in cosplay, please remember that this does not entitle you to touch them, physically turn them around, stop them with your hand or otherwise physically control them, demand they pose, or take their picture without their consent. There are no dedicated cosplay events, so if you see someone in a costume, they’re a member like you and they may well be heading towards a panel they really want to see. Be delighted in their creativity, but you’re not entitled to their time and space.

Now, for people who want to cosplay, do bear in mind that there aren’t dedicated cosplay events, so if you’re going to dress up, keep your comfort in mind. I did my Maleficent cosplay on Friday because it’s not a full day of programming, and a few hours of that are eaten up by the Gathering, so it’s not like I spent all day going from panel to panel and sitting in, frankly, fairly warm rooms with my cloak and horned hat.

A lot of people who want to dress up, whether it’s cosplay or just being silly or glam or steampunk or whatever, wear comfy clothes during the programming day then change after dinner, so they’re dressed up for the parties. You can wear anything that doesn’t violate decency laws and people won’t bat an eye after 9. There’s not a huge cosplay culture, but there is a decided dress-up culture into which cosplay can neatly slot. There’ll be people with unicorn horns and top hats and cat ears and corsets and capes and whatnot.

Like I said, I encourage people to cosplay at WisCon. I’m going to be doing at least one cosplay on at least one day (and I’ll certainly be dressing up spiffy on other days), so if you come, you won’t be on your own. There is a culture at WisCon (there are *several* cultures, in fact), but it’s driven by the membership and it’s fluid. We can make cosplay at WisCon a bigger thing just by doing it.

Health & Hygiene

WisCon observes safe food handling standards in the ConSuite. A number of volunteers are certified for that. (They always need more help! You don’t need to be certified to pitch in, but if you’re coming back next year, you could volunteer in advance and get the certification on WisCon’s dime. They’d be very grateful! Volunteering is an excellent way to become a part of the con!)

There are generally hand sanitizers and wipes around. I recommend carrying some of your own. “Con crud”, or a variety of gastrointestinal and respiratory infections that propagate through the close quarters of a convention, is a real thing and it can hit you hard during or after a con. Best practice is to wash and/or sanitize your hands regularly. If you are flying to and from the con, sanitize your hands in the airport and plane, and wipe down any surface you’re going to be touching with antibacterial wipes.

That horrible travel cold you thought you got from breathing recycled air? Probably came from a germy surface. This is a life-changing trick that I picked up from a family member. I went from spending a week to three weeks knocked on my back by a chest cold about every other time I flew and every single time I went to a con, to almost never being sick. They’re called “airborne viruses” because you sneeze and breathe out droplets and whatnot, but mostly they wind up adhering to surfaces that are rarely if ever disinfected and you get them that way.

As I mentioned before, there is water, water everywhere and it’s there for you to drink. End of May in the midwest can be surprisingly sultry if you haven’t lived through it. It’s not nearly as hot as the end of July into August, but when you’re at a literary convention it’s easy to overlook how much exertion you’re getting. The con is a workout.

There are also trashcans everywhere! Please do not treat the convention space or hotel at large like it’s a restaurant with full busing service, or worse, a trashcan. Yes, there is hotel staff who will go around and collect empty water cups and trash and clean it up. But there’s a trashcan right there, for most values of “right there”. Don’t make things harder for the staff and don’t make things worse for your fellow congoers. There was one year where every time I walked into a conference room, there was an orange rind or a banana peel somewhere. In one case, there was an orange peel left piled on the table for my panel by a previous panelist.

It’s not that everybody is sloppy and thoughtless. This is a case where a few people can seriously impact the entire convention for the negative. Trash in places trash should not be (which consist of “the trash can”) is a safety hazard and it’s just gross and disrespectful.

It’s mostly not new people doing this. It’s mostly, in fact, old people who should know better but have internalized the idea that Surely Someone Will Just Take Care Of This. I just want to throw it out here, though, because I’m bringing new people in and I don’t want to wind up adding to the problem.

 

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

alexandraerin: (Default)

Today, the world mourns the loss of Carrie Fisher, the woman who showed us—onscreen and off—what it means to keep going when your whole world is blown to pieces. She shared pieces of her struggle that were deeply intimate and so important to so many people, while fighting to protect her privacy from the all-consuming eye of the Hollywood panopticon. She fiercely and quietly brought up the quality of movies, both the ones she was in and the ones whose scripts she touched up with a firm and knowing hand.

Carrie Fisher was more than just a big screen icon, she was Twitter’s cool Space Mom. She gave us permission to falter, to fumble, to fall, to fail, to feel. She gave no quarter to hatred or fascism, and was in her last days a light in the darkness and a comfort to many, a beacon of mirth and humor against the gathering storm clouds. She was our new hope.

She did the best she could, and it meant so much to so many.

 

O General! my General! your fearful war is done.
Your burden you have set aside, the peace you sought is won.
Your rest is near, the bells I hear, your people all sore grieving,
While teary eyes turn to the earth, your starbound soul is soaring.

But o heart! Heart! Heart!
O the pining of my soul,
where on the bed my General lies,
fallen dead and cold.

O General! my General! Lie still and rest your brow.
Lie still—for you, the race is run—for you, it’s over now.
For you the grief and tweet’d thanks—for you the net’s a-teeming.
For you we call, in disbelief, our hearts so close to breaking.

O General! Dear Space Mom!
This sadness we can’t hide!
Is it some joke that on the net,
you’ve taken sick and died?

Our General does not answer, her Twitter quiet, still.
Our princess does not hear our pleas, she has no pulse nor will.
I swear to gosh, this fudging year will be the death of all.
But we’ll fight on until the dawn, as sure as night must fall.

Rebel O web, and ring O bells!
While we, with due remorse
fight the fights our General fought
ere she joined the Force.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

alexandraerin: (Default)

Before there was the DC Cinematic Universe, before there was the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there was the DC Animated Universe.

This term is still used sometimes to refer to the constellation of animated features and shows that Warner Bros. puts out using DC characters, but most of those are in their own little pocket dimensions of continuity, a few consecutive adaptations of Jeph Loeb’s Batman/Superman comics notwithstanding.

The DC Animated Universe proper started with the Batman cartoon launched off the popularity of the Tim Burton film and grew and evolved through the related Superman series and reached its apotheosis in the animated Justice League series. There were a couple spin-offs/tie-ins set in a future timeline, too.

Justice League Unlimited, the final incarnation of the Justice League show, was also the final on-screen incarnation of the DCAU. It didn’t have to be. Warner launched unrelaed cartoons based on the young hero properties Teen Titans and the Legion of Superheroes that were both originally at least briefly developed as spin-offs from the Justice League, set in the same continuity.

The Legion show was even launched by a backdoor pilot that had the Justice League Unlimited version of Supergirl going off into the future with the DCAU version of the Legion… only for the actual show to be a separate continuity, featuring Superboy.

It would be a mistake to attribute any one single factor to these decisions, or to the general decision to pull the plug on a surprisingly coherent and much-loved multimedia franchise, but one thing that was almost certainly a factor is the parent company’s paradoxical fear that the sub-franchise was getting too popular. A generation of fans had literally grown up with these versions of the characters. Changes made for the TV show were familiar to more people than the original versions. There was a danger they would come to be seen as the “real” version of DC characters, which would be bad news if the company ever, say, tried to reinvent them as movie characters.

If every DC animated property were clearly its own little thing in its own little walled garden, on the other hand, no one would ever see it as more than an adaptation or a spin-off.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think this kind of thinking is backwards and wrong-headed. The DC Animated Universe was successful because it was good. It resounded and endured because it worked. If DC Comics wants to reboot their universe back to an “iconic” version (as they so often seem to want to), they really should be looking at the DC Animated Universe as their model. It took what was great and familiar about the comic book universe and magnified it, while fixing or cleaning up or reinventing other areas.

The DC Animated Universe gave us the character of Renee Montoya because one episode of Batman needed there to be third cop to provide a different point of view than the established ones for a Rashomon-like take on the dark knight. She was popular enough to migrate over to the comics, and even became a legacy costumed hero when she inherited the mantle of the Question.

It also gave us Harley Quinn, Lex Luthor’s ultracompetent valet/henchperson Mercy Graves, Superman villain Livewire… notice how these new characters are female? Moving to a new medium and trying to capture a new audience gave the people calling the creative shots both the need and the freedom to invent characters that made the genre more diverse.

It also allowed them room to breathe new life into old characters. Only a year or two before he appeared on the little screen as a tragic comic book villain (and years before he appeared on the big screen as a tragicomic movie villain), a forgotten Mr. Freeze appeared in a strange limbo-like dimension off the actual margin of the pages of the comic book Animal Man. (Grant Morrison liked to do that sort of thing.)

Freeze insisted he was one of the greatest of Batman’s foes, but lamented that no one had ever explored his heart. He was sure he was ripe for a comeback, though, just as soon as someone represented the great tragic potential he represented.

I didn’t read the story when it was new. When I saw it in a compilation, it was a surprisingly effective punch in the gut. Did Morrison predict Freeze’s revival? Did he cause it? However it happened, it happened, and the DCAU took a forgotten, one-note theme villain and reinvented him as a truly unforgettable character.

As the grim and gritty (or maybe I should say stark and schlocky) cinematic universe DC Comics is allowing Zack Snyder to weld together continues to be a screeching trainwreck, I find myself looking back at the animated universe that was all the more fondly for all the things they got right, for portraying superheroes as human beings (or people, in the case of the ones that weren’t human), for recognizing that comic book action adventure doesn’t have to give up its sense of fun to also be moving, and for the strides it took towards representation.

With that in mind, I’m going to share some of my favorite moments from the DC Animated Universe, all of which are basically just moments. Not big fight scenes, not giant set pieces, just moments… moments that are rooted in great characters, and from which great characterization can bloom.

Moments like…

A Bit of Holiday Magic

The web feature “Texts From Superheroes” is hilarious in large part because the people who make it really get comics and the characters involved. Even when they’re making fun of comic book logic, it’s clear they’re coming at it from a place of understanding.

This is one of my favorite ones:

It’s one of my favorite ones because it reminds me of an actual Justice League comic book, where Batman discovers an invasion plan by “white martians” by following reported ghost sightings. He explains to his sidekick of the moment (let’s say it was Nightwing) that he knew it had to be white martians because “there’s no such thing as ghosts.” The sidekick responds by listing off all the ghosts that they know personally.

I love moments like this. I love Batman the kneejerk skeptic who is sure that the ghost sightings must be phony but can wrap his head around invisible, shapeshifting, telepathic aliens because that’s just superpowers and anyone can have superpowers. I love the gradual evolution in that era of comics from Batman not believing in magic to just hating it to grudgingly deploying it for his own benefit.

All that said, that’s not the DCAU, and the moment I want to highlight isn’t about Batman, but about Superman. Batman doesn’t believe in ghosts even though he’s met ghosts. But Superman?

Superman still believes in Santa Claus, even though he personally has a secret hideout at the North Pole. You can also read it as Clark insisting on keeping up the pretense for the benefit of J’onn, but let’s face it: that’s less fun.

“Comfort and Joy”, the first and only Justice League Christmas special, is the only episode in the original run of the show that isn’t a multi-parter. Cartoon Network even aired the run first of the series in back-to-back blocks, making each pair of episodes a single hour-long story the same as any TV drama. It was an amazing era of animated comic book-style storytelling that I don’t think had any real precedent in western animation and that I don’t think has been replicated since.

But a planned three part series finale left them with an extra episode in the production schedule, and rather than trying to cram the kinds of stories they’d been doing in ~40 minutes into ~20 minutes, the creative crew decided to give us a look at the team’s downtime around the holidays. Even with a short episode weaving together multiple subplots for the members of the team, it still came off as a surprisingly intimate look at the characters we’d been following for so long.

This quiet moment, among many other similar moments, always stands out as both being a bit like a self-aware parody but also a perfect character beat.

Lex Luthor Learns The Flash’s Identity

This one requires a bit of set-up, though not much: in the episode “The Great Brain Robbery”, Lex Luthor is in the body of the Flash, and vice-versa, because of stuff.

It’s another one that could have been ripped from a Text From Superheroes scenario (imagine sending the wrong person a selfie), but which works as a perfect character beat. Written funny, acted just right, executed perfectly. It’s a marvel of comic timing.

For an added meta level, Michael Rosenbaum (here voicing The Flash) played Lex Luthor on Smallville.

MEANWHILE IN THE BATHROOM OF DOOM

From the same episode, a counterpoint scene with  the Flash in Luthor’s body, in the men’s room of Luthor’s evil hideout, where he executes the perfect imitation of a depraved criminal mastermind.

 

I love when actors play each other, and Clancy Brown does a pretty good imitation of the delivery style of Michael Rosenbaum. The way Flash thinks Luthor would behave here reminds me of a beat from the first episode of the second season of the current live-action Flash, where Barry Allen is in an elaborate fantasy sequence where all the stuff that went wrong… didn’t.

One of the things that tips the viewer off is that Captain Cold, the smarmy, sly supervillain played with panache by Wentworth Miller, is shouting somethign like “I’M GOING TO KILL YOU, FLASH!” with a tone of voice and style of delivery that seems borrowed from Snake the career criminal on The Simpsons. This is a character who always keeps his cool, and not entirely (though mostly) because that fits his villain theme.

The CW’s take on Captain Cold is so dedicated to the gentle art of theme-villainy that he still makes the requisite cold puns even when he’s lost his empowering technology and is just a guy punching other guys. He doesn’t even stop to get a real gun to replace his cold gun because he can’t figure out how to keep the ice bullets from melting.

And when the Flash tries to imagine a fight with him, he winds up yelling “I’M GOING TO KILL YOU, FLASH!”, which is exactly what a little kid playing with action figures would make the Captain Cold one yell.

Even though they’re different Flashes (Wally West is the Flash of the Justice League show), these moments both nail something essential about the character. It’s not just that the Flash is a dork, it’s that he’s an earnest dork. He’s too straightforward in his worldview to think like a villain. When he reaches for villainous behavior, the best his imagination can come up with is, “Well, they’re bad, right?”

I AM THAT I AM

So. If you haven’t read many comics, you still know about Thor. The comic book character of Thor and all the associated comic book mythology is really the result of Jack Kirby really being enthralled with the Venn diagram between “gods” and “superheroes”.

It’s not just “What if gods are just sufficiently advanced aliens and magic is just sufficiently advanced technology?” And it’s not just “What if characters like Superman and Wonder Woman are the modern-day heroes of legend and gods?” It’s both of those things crammed together, with focus on a sort of interstitial creation space where both things can be true: Thor is both a god and an alien superbeing. Mjolnir is both magic and technology, and not like some funky Final Fantasy magitek sort of way.

It’s the kind of creative exercise that wouldn’t really become “hip” until the 90s, and a lot of people don’t really realize that Kirby was doing it, at first with the Asgardians and others at Marvel and then with his “New Gods” for DC Comics. So many people on both sides of the page try to parse them wholly as divine beings or superheroic ones, and historically the interpretation has fallen on the side of the line that was less likely to lead to moral panic and calls for boycotts: so the New Gods have superpowers, they wear capes and tights, they hang out with Jimmy Olsen, and apart from calling themselves “gods” they don’t really do anything terribly god-like in most of their appearances.

And then we come to Darkseid, the main evil New God, and his first meeting with Superman in the DCAU canon.

Superman has just watched a superstrong, nigh-invulnerable foe apparently be atomized in front of him by this strange figure and he demands answers. “Who are you? What have you done to him?”

ZAAAAAAP.

That is who I am.”

That is the first time Darkseid ever registered to me as being more like a god than a generic world-conquering megalomaniac supervillain. No amount of shouting “YOU DARE CHALLENGE A GOD?” makes someone come off god-like. In fact, there’s a real danger that doing so just emphasizes how much like a god you’re not. As the male version of Ghostbusters pointed out years ago, it doesn’t take any special kind of credentials to say that you’re a god. But by the same token that anyone can do it, it doesn’t exactly prove anything.

Darkseid’s retort to Superman is a Biblical powerplay. You don’t tell people that you are God. You simply assert that you are. You are power. You’re majesty. You’re beauty, you’re grace, you’re Miss Outer Space.

Darkseid never worked for me as a character before this moment. He’s rarely worked so well since then, but this one scene earned him a lot of goodwill. As establishing character beats go, it’s a doozy.

SHOOTING ARROWS INTO THE FOURTH WALL

The Justice League cartoon’s version of Green Arrow is not my favorite version of the character. He’s kind of been de-clawed by turning the liberal sensibilities of the comic book version into a sort of populist skepticism about “Big Justice” or the superhero-industrial complex. He was also introduced in the Justice League Unlimited era of the show, when the hour-long stories about a tight-knit ensemble of seven superheroes was replaced with shallower half-hour stories about an ever-shifting and expanding cast of characters.

I’m not saying I didn’t like the JLU version of the show; on the contrary, I think its expansive view of the past, future, and present of the DC Universe at large helps cement the DCAU as a definitive vision for the property. It did things the previous incarnation of the show couldn’t.

But at the same time, no “Unlimited” character got quite the same deep, thoughtful treatment as the original line-up did.

Anyway. As I said: the animated version of Green Arrow is not my favorite version of the character, but on the subject of great moments, there is still this:

You don’t have to really know what’s happening there beyond the obvious: yes, it’s a submarine stealing a frozen viking ship. And yes, that’s Green Arrow humming along to his own theme music. That is his personal action theme, not the show’s general background music. It’s the song that specifically plays when Arrow is launching himself into danger. And he’s humming along to it.

Now, this is not a fourth-wall-breaking show, and he’s not a character who is prone to moments of meta-awareness in the way, say, the Joker or Deadpool might be. So what we have to take away from this isn’t that he is actually aware there is a theme song playing.

What we have to take away from this is that Green Arrow is the kind of man who imagines exciting instrumental music playing whenever he’s doing something that strikes him as particularly badass, and the kind of music he imagines is exactly the kind of music the people making this cartoon came up for him.

It’s this moment of winking at the audience that lets us know that the JLU crew knows Ollie is a theatrical blowhard, and that’s how the character works best.

Now, I started this saying that I was going to be talking about quiet little moments, not great big fight scenes, but sometimes, just sometimes…

…THE MOMENTS ARE FIGHT SCENES

For instance, there was the time when Flash apparently ran away from a super-super-powered version of Lex Luthor only to run all the way around the world to suckerpunch him at near-light speeds. Again. And again. And again, almost dying in the process himself. That’s a good one, but understanding what’s happening and why would take a lot of getting there.

So let’s just jump to this one, from the end of the last season of the last show in the DC Animated Universe.

First of all, notice how much less imposing and inspiring Darkseid is when he’s growling about how he’s a god than he was in their first meeting. But enough about him. There’s some good stuff about Batman in there as an aside, but let’s talk about Superman.

One of the things that the DC Animated Universe did right was making Superman a bit less powerful. This made it easier for the writers to provide him with challenges and for the rest of the team (who were also de-powered to varying to degrees) to shine. He lost a lot of his ancillary powers. He was almost impossible to injure, but he felt a lot more pain than most versions of the characters. He was never quite as strong or as fast as long-time fans expected him to be.

And here, we find out that this whole time, he’s been holding back. Just a bit. And even though he’s Superman, even though he represents the best of us, even though he still believes in Santa: he finds it frustrating. He wants to cut loose.

And in the last big fight scene of the last episode of the last show in the DCAU, he gets to.


Alexandra Erin is a crowdfunded author, commentator, and poet. If you enjoyed this, please tip accordingly.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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Today, November 20th, is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s a day to mark and remember those we’ve lost to violence and prejudice, and to remind others of it, to let them know that hate kills, that discrimination kills, that even apathy is an accomplice to murder. It’s a day when we share names and statistics and stories; cold, hard facts and chilling stories of humanity denied and lives cut short.

I will let others post the rolls of the dead this year, because my mind is overwhelmed with one thought: it’s going to be much longer next year. 

Hate crimes are already on the rise, and they’re not going to go down once the man who emboldened them takes office. Just since his election, he’s made more tweets than that trying to take down Hamilton and Saturday Night Live than he has spent words to his followers to curtail violence. Each.

With a thin-skinned autocrat who hates criticism set to take power in January, you might be heartened to know that GOP leaders in congress have promised to pass a First Amendment Defense Act and that our next president has promised to sign it. You might think that’s a positive sign.

You’d be wrong.

Versions of the First Amendment Defense Act are being considered or even passed by many state legislatures. None of them have anything to do with freedom of speech, expression, assembly, or even religion in a general sense, though that’s the fig leaf being used to cover what is actually happening: legalized bigotry. Legalized discrimination. Legalized hate.

If a so-called “FADA” bill passes and is signed into law, it will be legal to discriminate against me and people like me in every state in the union. Anyone who can claim it goes against their principles could refuse me or someone like me accommodations, whether it’s a place to live or even just room in an inn for the night. I could be refused service in a restaurant or at a grocery store. I could be refused life-saving medical care, not just care that relates to being transgender but any care.

If I called an ambulance in Trump’s post-FADA America, whether or not I received emergency treatment and was taken to the hospital would depend entirely on the personal choice of the ambulance crew who arrived on the scene. If they decided they had a personal problem with my existence or that it would be too icky to touch someone like me, I could be left to die on the pavement.

All because I live my life in a way that they define as immoral, because my existence is something that they define as immoral.

That’s what freedom looks like, in the America that’s coming. That’s the “religious freedom” that the First Amendment Defense Act wants to protect.

People will die if FADA becomes the law of the land. They will die because they were denied treatment, denied medicine, denied essential services, denied a place to live. Some of them will hasten their own ends by their own hands, because the denials stack up over time and add up to an irrefutable denial of humanity.

And those hate crimes? They’re going to get worse if FADA passes. Not because FADA will make such violence legal, but because it will make the hatred behind it acceptable. Unofficial violence always rides out ahead of official violence. When the legal means of attacking a people increase, those who would resort to illegal means move accordingly.

This is not alarmism. This is not hyperbole to try to gin up support for the next election in advance. This is not a plea for attention or sympathy. This is simple fact. We are being told that we need to wait to see what sort of a president Donald Trump will be, as if we hadn’t all just watched a campaign during which he laid the case out for that quite clearly.

Well, if you wanted to wait and see, here’s your sneak peek: as president. Donald Trump intends to make it legal for the EMTs on an ambulance crew to take one look at me, say, “I don’t believe in that,” hop back in their ambulance, turn off their lights, and drive off, whistling nonchalantly.

It’s couched as a matter of protecting religious freedom, but somehow, I don’t think it’s going to apply to all religions equally. And I don’t think it’s very religious. The religion it’s meant to protect, Christianity, has many different forms and denominations and practices, and they don’t all believe the same thing about people like me.

But every form of Christianity that I’m aware of tells the same story of the good Samaritan, the person who saw someone bleeding in a ditch and stopped and rendered aid, even though they were of different cultures and faiths.

If the current FADA bill (it’s focused on marriage, both dismantling same-sex marriage and controlling relations outside it) passes, others will swiftly follow that build on its foundation. The idea behind it all is to make it legal for self-proclaimed Christians, even Christians who have a duty of care or who have taken an oath to serve their community, to be bad Samaritans.

Supposedly it’s to protect them from having to go against the tenets of their religion, but it’s really there to cover them if they don’t really feel like turning the other cheek, helping those in need, or judging not lest they be judged. It means those who claim Christianity as a legal strategy can be exempted from rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.

And it means that people like me are going to die in record numbers, from burning hatred and cold neglect.

What can you do about it? Write your senators and congresspeople to let them know that you do not support any so-called First Amendment Defense Act that legalizes discrimination. If you’re a Christian, tell your political representatives (and, when necessary, your fellow Christians) that you feel your Christian values are mostly being endangered by laws that enable and encourage Bad Samaritans in the name of protecting religion.

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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If my summer had gone a little more smoothly, I would have talked about this more. I’d hoped to even do an interview with some of the people involved to sharpen my semi-journalistic skills, but I just didn’t have the time and spoons to make that happen.

Anyway! Last year, Jack, Sarah, and I had the pleasure of attending GOLDBLUM, a quirky water ballet by Baltimore-area aquatic performance group Fluid Movement. I livetweeted the experience (scroll to the bottom, then read up.) I intend to do the same this year with their current show, SCIENCE FAIR!.

We’ll be attending the 5 P.M. show on Sunday, August 7th, at Patterson Park Pool. If you would like to join us, you can get your tickets online at fluidmovement.org. Don’t wait to long. They sold like hotcakes last year. I should be easy to recognize: look for the giant floppy sun hat and rainbow hair. I will also likely be one of the few people covered pretty much head to toe regardless of the weather. My skin does not stand up well to the sun.

If you’re a fan or follower of mine and going, please give us a holler at blueauthor@alexandraerin.com and also let us know if you’d be interested in some kind of offsite meet-up with me beforehand. We might go out early and hang out at a coffee shop or something, if so. I don’t get out to Baltimore very often, so this might be a good chance for that sort of thing. Otherwise, we’ll just see you at the show.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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Yesterday was surreal. The first thing that happened in the morning was that I saw the news about Charles Kinsey, the Black man shot in the leg while in a state of complete compliance and surrender. He wasn’t the police’s target: they were aiming at his autistic patient, sitting curled up on the pavement, legs crossed, clutching a toy truck that is not only clearly visible as a toy truck but has been identified as such by the helpful Mr. Kinsey.

When the links first started popping up on Twitter and Facebook, I read “shot” and thought “killed”. When I caught a reference to Mr. Kinsey speaking to reporters, I was so relieved. And then I read what he said about it, and I started putting it together with a lot of the more brutal things that have come out through recordings of police: people on camera giving execution-style finishing shots or ignoring and withholding medical attention from a victim who is bleeding out on the ground, the rash of gun deaths ruled “suicides” involving fully restrained prisoners who had been checked for weapons, the recordings and eyewitness testimony involving captains and other officials issuing shoot-to-kill orders and advising their officers not to leave a victim alive to testify, etc.

And I wrote a series of tweets. I was conflicted beforehand and throughout, about the utility, necessity, and appropriateness of a white woman talking about the absolute callous disregard the police as an institution hold for Black lives and the deadly consequences this holds. I went ahead and did it because I thought the things I had to say did need to be said.

I’m not going to rehash it all here, as it’s all been said already. I storified the tweet thread, to make it easier to share and read. The reason I’m making this blog post is to describe what happened next, as the tweets have resonated so much and spread so far that many of the individual tweets have been retweeted over a thousand times, the rest several hundreds. I have gained more than 300 followers on Twitter, meaning that more than 10% of my current followers came along in the past 24 hours. My notifications are utterly flooded if I don’t keep them on the friends-only setting. The Twitter app on my phone crashes if I try to check them. I think I’m getting something like a hundred notifications a minute, almost 24 hours later.

I had been having an emotional week for personal (and, to some extent, physiological) reasons already. I was tired when I made those tweets. I was exhausted afterwards. I tried to have a normal wake day, but I didn’t make my status post and I didn’t even take my morning pills until 3:30 in the afternoon.

Because it needs to be said: none of this is a complaint about the attention. It was not my goal and when I realized my tweets were blowing up, I added a link to Black Lives Matter’s donation page to the end of the tweet thread rather than trying to profit off it myself. I suspect that there will be a net gain for me either way, whether I sought it or not, even as I kind of suspect a lot of the new followers will bounce within a few days. It’s just the nature of things.

This is not a complaint, but a report: what happened yesterday, why I didn’t make a status post, why there was no chapter draft. I don’t regret that my day was taken over by this. But for those who don’t do Twitter or don’t follow me there, I believed an explanation was in order.

Today, I’m going to do my level best to have an ordinary work day, trying not to get distracted by a still climbing follower count or people’s responses, which includes a growing amount of negative backlash by people who want to debate me using racist and erroneous assumptions about crime statistics, or who want to read my tweets as a generalization about all police as individual officers rather than statements about the police as an institution. Having my notifications set to “only people you follow” is all kinds of help there, though regrettably it means I’m likely missing attempts to contact me.

…well, I just wrote this paragraph about an ordinary work day, and then got a text about a family member and a medical emergency. I don’t know the nature or extent of it, and can’t guess what affect it will have. Ah, well. No one ever knows what the future will hold.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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I was just tweeting about this, and I decided to make it into a blog post.

I acquired two new patrons today, one at $5 and one at $1. The $1 happened in between when I noticed my total had gone up by $5 and when I finished posting about it this morning. Obviously I appreciate both of them, but I think many people would be surprised to know how much I appreciate the $1 patron.

It rarely fails that when I draw attention to my Patreon, I’ll get someone telling me “I’d love to support you, but I couldn’t afford more than a dollar a month and I’m sure that [would be insulting/would devalue your work/wouldn’t be worth it after the fees].”

As I said on Twitter, I think if everybody who had ever read any of my work and thought about giving me a dollar but then thought better of it for one of those reasons had done so, I’d already be rich.

In Sir Terry Pratchett’s Making Money, the ever-astute Moist Von Lipwig makes the observation that there are a lot more poor and struggling people to do business with than wealthy ones, even if as individuals they can’t afford to do much business each. There are certainly more people who can afford to tip the occasional dollar or sponsor an author to the tune of a dollar a month than there are ones who can drop a hundred dollars or pledge ten dollars a months.

The simple fact is that the fees taken out of an online transaction are never going to cost more than the transaction itself grosses, and whatever is left over is more money than a crowdfunded artist would have without the donation. This is true whether we’re talking about recurring sponsorship through Patreon, or one-time transactions such as PayPal tips.  The fee structures we deal with are also often different and usually better than the ones you’d be using as an individual on a personal account.

And far from being insulting, the simple receipt of a dollar is very rewarding. It’s an almost tangible reminder that the work we do has value, that it is valued. We know—or at least I do—that if someone gives a dollar as opposed to five or ten or even two, then a dollar is probably what they have to spend at the moment.

And honestly? I don’t think a dollar is a bad price to pay for the type of entertainment I’m typically peddling. You can buy a lot of songs and some TV episodes for a dollar. I’ve tried to sell short stories for a dollar, with somewhat mixed results, but I think it’s a good price point for such. I need to ultimately make more than $1 total for a short story to be “worth it”, but that doesn’t mean any one person has to give more than a dollar. Or even that any one person has to give a dollar.

This is the thing about crowdfunding, and I’m saying this a lot lately because it needs to be said, but the “crowd” must always precede the “fund”. The only thing worse than people not giving $1 because they’d feel guilty is people not reading my work because they feel guilty. If you’re part of the crowd, be part of the crowd and know that I welcome and appreciate you.

So be very clear, when I talk about this whole “I assure you, a dollar is worth it” thing, I’m addressing people who have a dollar and are on the fence about plonking it down because they can’t convince themselves it will be worth it or appreciated. If you don’t have a dollar or aren’t sure it would be worth it in the sense that you might need it yourself, all I can say to you is: thank you for reading. I hope you continue to enjoy my work, and tell your friends if you think they’ll like it.

Don’t worry if your friends can’t afford to pay, either. This isn’t a pyramid scheme. You don’t have to recruit paying members to move up the ladder. If I post something in a place the public can see it, I’ve made a decision that the public can read it. No guilt. No shame. Enjoy, and spread the word.

But for those of you who have the dollar: please, trust me when I say that it’s worth it. It’s super worth it. Believe me when I say that there is more security to be found in several thousand appreciative fans paying a dollar each than in a single wealthy party like a publisher an advance of several thousand dollars. If I had my choice of either scenario, I would go for the multitude of individuals with their individual dollars every single time.

Simply put, a large number of small patrons accords more security and independence than a small number of large ones. That’s part of why I chose this path.

The problem is getting people to realize and believe it. As exciting and helpful as it is to get a notification that says I have $10, $25, or even $100 waiting for me as a token of a reader’s appreciation, I think if we can normalize the idea of the $1 tip as a standard nod of respect to the creator of something one has enjoyed or learned from, there will be a lot more security in being an independent creator online.

How to get there is really the challenge.

Writing and blogging about this topic is part of how I’m working towards this. Pitching my Patreon as a one dollar bet or dare is part of it.

If you want to help? Throw a dollar into my jar, or someone else’s. Join my Patreon as a $1 donor. And tell people you did it. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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So, last week I wasn’t watching my Medium stats (a thing that pretty much consumed me the week before that) nearly as closely, because vacation. I was watching and cheering as July’s short story “The Numbers Game” crossed the 1,000 hit mark pretty early on. It both hit that mark more quickly than I expected and slowed to a trickle more quickly than I expected after that, but not by much on either count.

What I really didn’t expect is that when I got home and dived into the referral stats, I found a whole lot of nothing. Most of the incoming links are from social media (Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook) or internal to Medium. My quick search for such shares/mentions suggests this was mostly done on a personal level, with few big pushes from big names. My previous Medium hits, both the unqualified runaway viral smash and my other short story that did respectable numbers and generated some nice tips, both had some clear “turning points” where you could see them catching fire, and both had referrals showing up from unexpected places (such as Ravelry). This story didn’t have any of that.

Now, this is not a lament. I’d love it if everything I did caught fire the way “Infidelity Will Be The Death Of My Marriage” did and then some, but if everything I did had to catch fire to be worth doing, I would never do it. And also, just because something doesn’t immediately catch fire doesn’t mean it has no value over the long term. It did generate tips (immediate money) and possibly got some more patrons (though there’s more guesswork there). It did provide value for my existing readers. It’s something I can sell. And I think it forms an important part of the body of my work, along with other recent longer pieces “Infidelity” and “Women Making Bees In Public.

It’s also not a lament because I see many positive indicators here. This story did not catch fire. It did not go viral. It did not receive a strong push from any particular quarter. Yet it reached the benchmark of a thousand hits very quickly, it generated revenue. It was, by every measurement, a successful story.

So that’s a good sign. There’s an audience. There are people watching, looking for my stuff. They don’t need to be told it’s there. I can just release it with the usual fanfare and it will be read.

The other takeaway is that it’s always better to give a story a distinctive title than not. I can very easily figure out how often “Women Making Bees In Public” or “Infidelity Will Be The Death Of My Marriage” was mentioned by name on Twitter or discussed in a particularly public forum. “The Numbers Game”, not so much. The phrase crops up on Twitter several times an hour, usually in conjunction with sports.

This isn’t to say that you should never use a common phrase for a story title. My time travel short “Those Who Fail To Learn” has the perfect title for itself. I’m less happy with the title of “The Numbers Game”, though. The phrase does appear in the story and the action/conflict at the heart of it involves a phone number, but I don’t think it really describes what is happening. I suspect if I hadn’t been in a hurry to finalize it before I went on vacation, I might have come up with a better title.

I don’t think think I’m likely to change it, though, unless and until I package it to sell in a different format (like an anthology). Whatever marginal value would be created by giving it a more unique or better-fitting title would be erased by the confusion it would create.

Again, not really a lament so much as an observation: giving something a distinctive title makes it easier to track, but that should really not be your sole or main criteria when naming something. The DigiPen class that would go on to create the game Portal named their class project Narbacular Drop specifically because they could track mentions without getting false hits, but the much more popular and successful follow-up game was called Portal, a common noun that is used heavily in sf/f games and as a term of art in web architecture. Yet calling it Portal was undoubtedly the right move.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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…you don’t actually have to think like a fly does, as some would have it. I wouldn’t advise doing so if you could. I don’t advise trying. While animal cognition is a good deal more complex than a good deal of us like to think, I don’t put much stock in trying to think the way a fly does, particularly if your goal is to swat the sucker.

Among other problems with this proposition, I don’t believe your average fly to be particularly good at swatting flies.

If you want to swat a fly, though, what you need to do is think about how the fly sees the world.

Perceives, I should say. I mean, they do see. They have a field of vision like you wouldn’t believe, and couldn’t understand. They have other senses as well, though. Their senses of smell are quite acute. I don’t know that they hear, exactly, in the way that we do, but they can sense vibration and motion in the air. They’re highly attuned to motion in general. Some scientists believe that their ability to process motion visually is equivalent to that of a human, which is an accomplishment given the relative size and simplicity of their nervous systems in relation to ours.

We’ve been trying to swat at flies for as long as our genuses have known each other, which is significant because this means we’ve been helping flies to evolutionarily select themselves for at not being swatted for several million generations. Flies aren’t just good at processing motion, they’re excellent at detecting danger and are always, always calculating possible angles of attack and escape vectors. Peter Parker’s famous spider-sense would make a lot more sense if we were to understand that the spider that bit him had just finished feasting on a radioactive housefly.

So if you want to swat a fly, you have to understand that you’re dealing with a creature that has evolved specifically to not be swatted by you. Every instinct in its tiny little head is screaming out warnings from the moment it detects your scent. Every instinct in its head is plotting against every instinct in yours, and evolutionarily speaking, it’s no contest. If you rely on your instincts, you’ve lost.

So if you want to swat a fly, you can’t rely on instincts. You have to take what you know about it, and extrapolate from there. Its field of vision. Its sensitivity to air currents. Its knowledge of aerodynamics. Its endless internal catastrophizing and wargaming.

When I was a child, I always took a fly swatter and swung it like a lightweight hammer, like you see in cartoons. Line it up and swing for the fences. Swing for all you’re worth. That’s what we all do, isn’t it? And sometimes we get lucky. Sometimes it works. Usually, though? You might catch a mosquito or a moth that way, but a fly is nature’s perfect swat-evader.

But it doesn’t take that much force to kill a fly. You can do it with your hand, without the extra leverage afforded by the length of the swatter, if only you can catch it. The advantage of the long handle isn’t that it lets you swing hard. It’s that it lets you move in to an optimal position and come at the fly from a different angle.

A fly will always see a threat coming, always. It has a 360 degree field of vision. And from the moment it sees the threat, it’s working to counter it at lightning speed. It needs far less than a tenth of a second to detect an incoming threat and respond.

If you Google for scientific tips to kill a fly, you’ll learn that there’s a science to the fly’s initial reactions, how it adjusts its posture and jumps and takes off in response to a threat from certain angles, and if you’re coordinated enough, you can use that information to improve your odds of actually hitting the fly, by “leading” your swat to take into account its initial counter.

Of course, if you fail, it’ll be on the wing and in its element, and good luck hitting it out of the air. Oh, I know some people can do that, and I applaud them for their prowess. I can’t. I have real difficulty tracking rapidly moving objects. It’s a mitochondrial thing.

If you can’t reliably swat a fly out of the air, then your best bet isn’t to guess the fly’s initial move and try to lead your shot, it’s to hit the fly before it knows anything is happening, before it takes off, before it even tenses to jump.

It’s going to see a swat coming, but it’s not necessarily going to care about a swatter being moved near it. Do it slowly. Take care that neither your shadow nor that of the swatter falls onto the fly. Inch it into a position where a simple flick of your wrist will be enough to hit the fly, and then… do that. You might want to practice the motion a few times before you actually try it in the field. You might also have to practice the slipping into position a few times.

A caveat: while this method is really good for killing flies, they’re almost certain to evolve past it if it catches on. So, you know, enjoy it while you can. Your descendants might not be so lucky.

As for why I’m writing this post?

Well, it’s useful knowledge to have, and I’d like to share it. I do have another purpose, though.

Every once in a while someone stumbles across one of my parodies like “Infidelity Will Be The Death of My Marriage” or the Sad Puppy Book Reviews or my definitive takedown of Vox Day’s inexplicably commercialized grudgewank and says something to the effect that they don’t envy me for the time I spend getting into the heads of such malcontents and miscreants. I got some indirect feedback on my red pill horror story “The Numbers Game” that ran in that direction, too.

I just wanted to reassure all those concerned for my mental well-being that, while it I have spent a lot of effort in researching and understanding the mindsets that I riff on, critique, or otherwise write on, it’s not actually that hard on me in the sense that you might think.

Because if I want to swat a fly, I do not bother with trying to think like the fly does myself.

It is sufficient—necessary, even—to understand how the fly thinks.

All else follows naturally from that point.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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…my total earnings on Patreon, between my personal Patreon and the Tales of MU one, simultaneously exists in all four categories of “things which are not too shabby”, “the most money I’ve ever made specifically on Patreon by a wide margin”, “a good start”, and “not enough in the long run”.

One of the reasons it was up in the air is that the MU one is pledges per chapter, but patrons quite sensibly have the option of capping their monthly commitment so that it doesn’t overrun their allotted budget. Patreon’s dashboard doesn’t show what an individuals limits are, and it doesn’t show how much money is pledged per entry until the end of the month when they process. So it’s only today that I’ve learned that while I have upwards of a dozen MU patrons pledging a total of about 50 per chapter, for the last several chapters of month I was making only $15 from five of them.

I’m going to have to work on bringing that number up.

Now, to be breathtakingly clear, I would much rather have people use the caps to pledge what money they can than think things like, “If I’m not supporting every chapter, it’s not worth it.” or “If I’m not paying for the whole month, I’m not a real patron.” Nope! You do what you can, because you must. I’d rather have a thousand people paying a dollar a month than one person paying a thousand dollars. There’s a lot more security the first way.

I’ve just been on tenterhooks about this because I couldn’t do much financial planning until I saw how things shook out. And how they did shake out: not as well as I’d hoped in my wildest dreams, but about what I expected? I mean, I cleared around $240 from Tales of MU patrons this month, and $200 was my most conservative estimate for what it would be.

So, definitely in the range.

As big as the growth has been, I’d be in bad shape if my current Patreon money was my only source of income, but while it’s my largest stream, it’s not my only one. Even ignoring the GoFundMe money that’s either been spent or is earmarked for specific things and the emergency grocery money, I had a good month. My ebook revenues always nosedive in the summer, but since those payout on a slow schedule I am currently reaping the benefits of a fat spring bolstered by Hugo news, and hopefully my patronage will continue to grow through the summer and fall to avoid the shock.

Now, while this has been a good month, I do have some hefty one-time expenses to pay for, so a good chunk of it is already gone this morning. But still, I’m going to start this month with more money in my account after bills are paid than any previous month for longer than I can remember.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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Hello, internet and all the ships at sea! If you’re reading this, then chances are good you either know who I am and what I’m about, or you’ve read my recent viral rebuttal to a terrible essay. In the first case, hi, how are you doing? Great to see you again! In the second case, let me tell you a little bit about myself, and then make you a proposition.

My name is Alexandra Erin. I’m an author. I started doing crowdfunding and micropatronage before we had the words for those things, much less the tools we have now. My life has had its ups and downs. I wrestle with severe anxiety, intermittent depression, chronic insomnia, and a mitochondrial condition that produces chronic fatigue symptoms.

I’ve always been good at writing. The real challenge of my life the last few years has been learning how to do that while other things are happening. In April and May of this year I started to really hit my stride with this, and in May I made some bold plans. June—the month of my 36th birthday—would be the month I started my year of being completely awesome.

Way back before anyone knew who I was, the few people who had heard of me were calling me the most prolific author on the net. I don’t know about “most”, but I was certainly up there, and I meant to get there again. After struggling for years to more narrowly define the focus of my work, I decided to embrace the breadth of it and think of my output as being more like a magazine: you get some humor, you get some commentary, you get some fiction, you get some poetry, you get something of everything.

So I made a checklist of the bare minimum I would produce each month (one work of satire or other humorous piece, one piece of flash fiction or poetry, some amount of commentary, one short story, and a continuation of a longer story). Some of this would be posted for public consumption, some would be reserved for my patrons, but all of it would be rounded up after the end of each month and put out as an actual zine.

I decided I would do this separately from my longest running project (Tales of MU), as that has its own established following and enough backstory (about a thousand chapters of it, and counting) to be daunting for newbies. As of this month, its funding is separate.

I’m writing this at the end of June and despite some personal upheaval and setbacks including illness, my first month has gone better than I could have expected. I’ve met or exceeded every goal I set for myself, in terms of producing work. Getting attention for it has been a bit harder, at least until I had the dubious fortune of encountering the infamous sad boner confessional piece I so recently satirized.

So here I am, with hundreds of new sets of eyes on me, setting aside my insecurity to put myself forward. Are you here because you liked something I wrote? Well, I bet you’d like other things I’ve written, and things I’m going to write in the months ahead. How much do I bet? Well, I’ll bet the time it takes me to write it all, against a a dollar. One thin dollar.

Here’s how it works: you go to my Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/AlexandraErin) and pledge as little as a dollar a month. That pledge does not get processed until the end of the month, so if you do this any time between July 1st and July 31st, you won’t even be charged. But as soon as you’re pledged? You gain immediate access to anything I post to my Patreon stream.

Now, I bet you that by the time the end of the month rolls around, you will agree that the entertainment and insight you have gained from my writing will be well worth your dollar, but if I’m wrong? Heck, you cancel your pledge, and it costs you nothing. I still wrote what I wrote, and you still read what you read, but you’re out nothing. How’s that for a fair shake?

Of course, you might not have a dollar to bet, and you know what? That’s fine, too! I don’t want you feeling like my work isn’t for you just because you can’t pay. A lot of what I put up in June was free for the public to read and so will some of what I write in July, and through successive months. There will be times when my patrons see something early that everybody else gets to read later. The entirety of Tales of MU is available to the public, and I have no mind to change that.

See, the “crowd” part of “crowdfunding” is as important as the “funding” part. You can’t have one without the other. I don’t much mind if you enjoy my work and you’re not able to pay anything. I don’t want you to feel the least little bit of shame about that. Shame is not a productive emotion, as far as motivators go. If you like my work, I want you to be proud that you read it. How proud? Proud enough to share it. Proud enough to tweet links and recommend it to your friends you think might enjoy it, too. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.

To my way of thinking, if one reader in a thousand is able to pay me a dollar for my work, what I need to do isn’t find the other nine hundred and ninety-nine and shake them upside down for spare change. What I need is thousands and thousands of more readers! There’s no such thing as a freeloader. Just by reading you’re giving me a little boost. If you have it in you to tell a friend, you’re giving me a bigger one.

But if you’ve got a dollar?

Pledge it.

I bet you’ll think I’m worth it.

 

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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Well, I’ve mentioned that yesterday I lost some work, but I wound up finishing the short story that was damaged by it, and posted it as my story for June. Today I had a very similar thing happen… not the exact same error, since I was guarding against that, but another in the same family. And again I recovered and powered through and finished the short story I was working on.

So, that’s two short stories in two days. Both of them started with a single germ of an idea but were written in their entirety in a single day. The first one, “Women Making Bees In Public“, is already available to read online. The second one (working title: “The Numbers Game”) will go up next week as my short story for July, while I’m on vacation.

“Women Making Bees…” has only been read by around a hundred people so far, but I’m quite proud of it and it has already attracted some nice comments from people whose opinions I value. I am hopeful that it will find a wider audience, particularly as I believe it has the potential to resonate with many of those who enjoyed my most recent satirical post.

In addition to writing an entire 3,300 word short story from the ground up today, I also wrote a 3,300 word chapter draft for Tales of MU. I call it a draft because that’s what they are until posted, but honestly, it’s pretty well finished. I’ll take a look at it again before I turn it loose to non-patrons tomorrow, but I would be comfortable posting it as is.

I feel super good about this because Tuesday’s chapter was such a slog to write and (as is often the case when the words aren’t flowing easily) I’m not 100% confident I hit my goal for it, which was admittedly a bit esoteric and not likely to pay off soon either way.

Before I got sick the other week, I had really hoped I’d be working a week ahead on MU stuff by this point so I could be confident of a vacation posting schedule. I’m not, but at the same time… well, I can remember when being sick would scuttle weeks or even a whole month for me, and now it’s more like a hiccup. I’m sure a lot of you can remember that, too. I also remember when losing work would make it impossible for me to proceed on a project until some indeterminate point in the future, if ever. I’ve come a long way.

If I have a day tomorrow like the last two days… and I’ll mention that these days have not been free of inconvenience, interruptions both good and bad, and emotional ups and downs… but if I have a day tomorrow like the last two days, then I’ll finish it up with a couple solid chapter drafts for Tales of MU and my vacation will just mean that I’m blogging less for a week. If not… well, there will be the short story. I’ll miss the money that comes from MU chapters, but I think the schedule and my renewed work momentum will survive.

I mean, travel used to disrupt my writing, too, but I started this steamroller of a month off the day after I got back from WisCon.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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I thought that thing I wrote this weekend was slowing down, but it crested 10,000 views this morning. The referral notes on it and on my related blog posts are showing traffic spikes from all kinds of places. The Nashville Scene was one of the earliest outliers; they included both the original and my parody without comment in a miscellaneous link round-up. There’s apparently a thread on a ravelry board that have sent a few hundred readers. There’s a thread on metafilter.

The weirdest and most concerning was a couple of errant clicks from the most bigoted corner of the anon image boards. For a moment I was concerned that they’d found common cause with me taking potshots at a man they’d consider a “beta cuck”, but I followed it back and found that no, their take on all this is that I’m jealous of a straight white man’s “success”.

Listen, as I said on Twitter last night: I do resent the fact that his privilege allows him to get away with having such a mediocre hustle, but that’s not that all that particular to him? But in terms of success, I’m not sure what there is for me to aspire to. He wrote one thing that went viral and got picked up by Huffington Post. My most successful viral hit has still likely been read by a hundred times the audience his reached, and it paid exactly the same (i.e., nothing).

Actually, it was interesting reading that and then seeing some of the discussion on metafilter. Among the fringes, there seems to be two emerging narratives of what’s going on: I’m either a big bully established author stomping down on a plucky underdog with spirit, or he’s the established, well-respected professional and I’m a nobody scrabbling to grab his shoelaces.

Both opinions seem pretty firmly in the minority, so I’m not really worried about either wildly distorted view taking root. According to this guy’s CV, he’s had some success in the field of pointing cameras at things and convincing people to look at the footage. I’ve had some success in the field of writing things and convincing people to read the words. Trying to figure out any kind of 1:1 comparison is hard enough between two artists taking different paths through the same field, much less wildly differing paths in completely different fields.

My one piece will never reach as large an audience as the original did. That’s the nature of the beast. Its target audience is a subset of the people who read, saw, or heard about his. And only a subset. The people who read his and see a man talking about feelings and are willing to accept that this makes him honest, sensitive, and mature even when the specific feelings and circumstances reveal the opposite aren’t going to get my piece. The response is never going to have the same legs as the original. I could write a broader piece that takes down the general concept in more general terms, and it might take off, but that’s not what I felt the need to do.

I say this all not as a lament. I’m not bothered by any comparison in the numbers between one piece of mine and anybody else’s. My earnest wish is that everybody who read the original and recoiled from it would know that my response is available, but I never write anything longer than a chat post on Tumblr or a single tweet and think “I want literally everybody to see this.”

Everything I write has an audience. I don’t write anything for everybody. When I write a thing, I want for it to reach as much of its potential audience as possible, but I hate the idea of shaving bits off of something to widen its appeal.

I looked at the dude’s Patreon page a couple of times during the first day I was aware of his work. At the time, I was doing better than he is on that one metric, even before you add in my other revenue streams. I still might be. I don’t know. I’m not tracking that. A little while back when N.K. Jemisin and a few other trad-pubbed authors either made the jump to Patreon or upped their efforts in using and promoting their Patreons, I had a bunch of people in my social media inboxes trying to stir up some kind of feud by asking me if I was jealous.

It didn’t work for a variety of reasons (including the fact that these people are my peers and friends, which makes it pretty easy for me to be happy for them), but chief among them is the fact that I don’t measure my success against other people. I didn’t do it when I was the only person I knew who was using micropatronage. I see no reason to start now that it’s a legitimate phenomenon.

I will admit that the petty part of me that saw that the guy’s Patreon pitch revolves around inviting people to be part of “The First One Thousand” (i.e., his initial funding milestone is $1,000 a month) thinks it would be hilarious if I make it to a thousand before he does, but, I mean, reality check: I want to get there anyway, regardless of what he’s doing and whether it works or not; we’re not competing for the same dollars, so if I’m at a thousand I’m not making any more or less based on what he’s doing; and above all, basing a business model around spite is just not all that sustainable.

I’m sure that my takedown piece seems kind of mean, but I didn’t write it to hurt the author or spread hatred. I wrote it to provide joy and relief and mirth to the people who felt anger or pain over his writing. There have been a few times on Twitter when my frustration with his entitled cluelessness has boiled over, but ultimately, the reason I write parodies is to give people something to laugh about in the middle of a mess. That’s bringing something positive into the world.

I said on Twitter last night that everybody has a hustle, and I try to keep mine simple: I provide value in exchange for value. I’m not going to write a hit piece or hate piece for the purpose of stirring up outrage or a sense of righteousness in the reader. I can. It’s not hard for someone of my talents to do that kind of manipulation.

But it’s not very… to borrow a word from the original piece in question… worthy.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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Someone who read my status post yesterday decided to let us know (by means of messaging Jack through social media, which by the way is a totally not creepy way to respond to something I wrote, as well as something that doesn’t happen way too often) that if I didn’t want to go out grocery shopping myself and couldn’t send my card along with him, then we should just have our groceries delivered, an option that exists in this far-flung year of 2016.

The problems of grocery shopping when I don’t drive is quickly becoming my new insomnia, in terms of how many people are quick to chime in with the same completely useless and unasked for advice. If you have a grocery delivery service you like, then I’m happy for you, but take it from me: the odds that anyone you meet on the internet who has difficulties getting to the grocery store has not thought to check for online shopping options are vanishingly low.

Grocery delivery services are regionally limited and often prohibitively expensive. Outside of something like a personal concierge service, there is nothing in our area.

If you happen to learn that a grocery delivery service that is dirt cheap and not reliant on an uber-exploitative and uber-dangerous company like Uber has just opened or expanded into an area that specifically includes western Maryland and I haven’t said anything about it? Sure, let me know!

But if you’re the next person to tell me that Grocery Delivery Services Exist or that Some Grocery Stores Deliver Now on a day when I happen to have developed intercontinental psychokinetic powers, then I am very sorry for what happens next, and I will be happy to return the favor by recommending a good carpet cleaning service to your bereaved next of kin.

What I’m saying here is don’t.

Just don’t.

Edit

Someone actually just replied to this post on Twitter to give me advice based on what they imagined my issue with getting to the grocery store was. They were wrong, but their response to having it pointed out what they were doing was to insist they weren’t “giving advice”, just “sharing solutions”, and to defend their right to “have a personal response” to what I wrote. Note that the medium they chose for “solution sharing” was a medium that meant I was the primary, if not only, audience for their solutions.

To repeat what I said above:

Don’t.

Just don’t.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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August 2017

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