We’ve finally finished watching all three seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I’m going to go ahead and say this is one of the best shows I’ve ever watched. Here’s the official show description from the website, for anyone who’s unfamiliar with it:
Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Only the Avatar was the master of all four elements. Only he could stop the ruthless Fire Nation from conquering the world. But when the world needed him most, he disappeared. Until now…
On the South Pole, a lone Water Tribe village struggles to survive. It’s here that a young Waterbender named Katara and her warrior brother Sokka rescue a strange boy named Aang from a cavernous iceberg. Not only is Aang an Airbender–a race of people no one has seen in a century–but they soon discover that Aang is also the long lost Avatar. Now it’s up to Katara and Sokka to make sure Aang faces his destiny to save the tribe–and himself. Did we mention he’s only 12?
I don’t know how best to talk about a three-season, 61-episode show, so I’m just going to randomly celebrate some of the things that made it work so well for me.
The Characters: Almost without exception, every character has his/her own personality and story arc. The Big Bad Fire Lord was pretty much the only one who struck me as one-dimensional, and that’s partly because he barely even shows up until the very end. Everyone else felt fully human. They struggle. They make mistakes. You can connect and sympathize with almost everyone, even the villains. These are interesting people, and I wanted to spend more time with them.
The Animation: This is a beautifully animated show, from the background artwork to the various spirit creatures to the different cultural styles of dress and architecture to my particular favorite, the gracefulness of the four styles of bending. It’s gorgeous to look at.
The Joy: Aang’s backstory is incredibly painful. He’s the last of his people, a hundred years out of his time, and is tasked with saving the world. At the age of twelve. Yet he never loses his joy in the world. He jokes, he laughs, he plays, he dances. He believes in people … but not to the point of foolishness. The show hits notes of both very real pain and ridiculous silliness (poor cabbage guy), and the full range in between. That’s a hard thing to do well, and incredibly powerful when done right.
I’m putting the rest behind a cut tag, because of spoilers…
My favorite office job was Manager of Reference Services at the law firm where I had practiced law for seven years. The library staff was wonderful, my boss was ideal, and I loved helping the attorneys I’d worked with in other capacities. We were fortunate to have a large collection of print materials, and we regularly shared those materials with other libraries.
Every year, at that job, we had a lovely holiday lunch with the other librarians in our office building, hosted by Connie Dickson, the head librarian at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Connie invited us to the lunch as a “thank you” for the inter-library loans her firm enjoyed during the year. The lunch was a catered event, but Connie and her staff brought in home-made desserts. Connie was famous for her pumpkin cheesecake.
Connie was a librarian from a different era. She wore wool skirt suits and sturdy shoes. Her hair was always “done”, and her lipstick was never lacking. She was strict with her staff, and she had very set ideas on specific library functions.
Connie was unfailingly polite. For years, I saw her at local theaters (several times a year, at several different venues), and she always took time to chat with me about the shows, even when they were far too risque for her refined taste.
The last time I spoke with Connie in person was at Shakespeare Theatre. I saw her at intermission, and I went over to chat. She was — as always — dressed beautifully, and she greeted me with a warm smile, and a handshake. But it became clear after only a few moments of talking that she didn’t remember who I was. My talking to her confused her greatly, and while she remained gracious, I could see the fear and disappointment in her eyes.
I’d heard that Connie had dementia (or Alzheimer’s, or some other rumored illnesses). I decided after that encounter not to trouble her again, and when I saw her at a later show, I did not interrupt her conversation with the young woman who was her companion at the event.
Last week, as I was flipping through the Metro section of the paper, I saw an obituary for Constance P. Dickson. She died of a heart attack, at an assisted living facility. When I read about her life — as the wife of a foreign service officer, as a member of various academic honor societies, as mother and sister and grandmother — I thought of her pumpkin cheesecake, and the “good old days” in local law firm libraries.
This morning I slept ridiculously late and then we headed out to try to find a snow hill. I figured we’d drive east until we hit more snow, but I was vetoed and we instead veered off the highway to a place that had too little snow to go down more than a few times. Ah well, next time. Anybody (Hey Joyce!) know where there’s a good snow sledding hill in the general vicinity of Salem/Portland/Eugene? I’m willing to drive an hour or two. I just want to be able to let the kids sled when we get there.
The dogs had a blast. They apparently have missed the snow. I finally clipped their toenails, for which they were most ungrateful. They called me names and whimpered. Without me even touching them.
I then came home and continued to put things away in my office on the shelves. All my books are put away. Well, there are a few that need a home upstairs, but they are crochet books. So I think I can say all done. Course now I have to put away a bunch of other supplies. They will never fit. So now I have to do some more serious sorting and then giving away. I found more empty binders. So it looks like I’ll be doing some getting rid of stuff this week. All in the name of making room for a tree, and oh, yeah, trying to get the house in order like we actually live here. You know, when I’m not working.
Did I not finish The Hounds of the Morrigan when I read it as a kid? Did I not finish it during a re-read a few years ago? All I know is that when I read it this evening I was a) bored and b) baffled and I seem to have got bits of it mixed up with Patricia Lynch's The Turfcutter's donkey.
It seems to be written in three parts:
a) intrusion/urban fantasy a la Nesbit. b) portal treasure hunt fantasy c) fairy tale with Champions*
I have almost no clue what happens in the end except that it clearly didn't need most of the middle to get there.
*animals and humans with special skills put at the service of the protagonists in return for earlier kindnesses.
Here's a short rant from bestselling author Jennifer Crusie about set-ups. Her point is, set-ups are not story. And if you spend too much time with a set-up, you lose people. I try hard to jump into a book, even when I write lyrically. People will figure it out, and I hope delight in their discovery. If my first reader doesn't figure it out, well, then I have to slide more info in. But I don't add an additional three chapters at the front of the book!
Crusie uses recent television to make her point, so if you're watching TV drama, you will get this immediately, and even if you aren't, you will still get it. Take a look.
The other day I read a brief review of Allegiance that summed up the character cast as "...nobly born protagonists (the males' names tend to start with the letter K and sound vaguely Slavic) plus a few others..."
It would be easy to say the reviewer (a woman, by the way) was careless or rushed, but I still have to wonder. How can you overlook *all* the women? Is this part of the SF/F culture, where any guy takes over the book, simply by existing in the pages? Do we, as readers, unconsciously place more importance on the men in the story?
One of the joys of novel writing–no, really, it’s a joy!–is remembering that, at least for me, every novel is different.
Different characters, different feel, different process.
I’m currently writing a new novel. I’m in that messy middle, where things aren’t coming together and I don’t know where I’m going. (About 40,000 words in.)
I spent much of today throwing out what I’d already written–completely tearing it out–and having to replace those words with new words.
I know what the next scene is. I can see it in my head.
I can’t for the life of me figure out how to get that character into that situation.
Normally, I “write into the dark.” I have no idea where I’m going. I just make up stuff as I go along.
For this novel, though, at this time, I’m going to need more planning.
I’m throwing in the towel for tonight. Tomorrow, when I get up, instead of trying to write more words, I’m going to plot out where I’m going. Because I think that’s what this novel needs, at this point. Just writing into the dark has had me stymied and throwing out a bunch of words.
So yeah. Every novel is different. The process is always different. And that really is a joy.
Once you figure out why you’re stuck.
Crossposted from my website. If you'd like to comment, you can do so here or there.
We did some touch up painting on my office today and installed the shelves. Had to cut out some molding here and there to make it work, but the shelves are installed. Turns out one of the shelves is not such a good fit, so I’ll have to take it back. I started getting into boxes to put away books and realized that many of those boxes are full of stuff that is office related, but it’s not going to fit. I am going to have to dig deep and get rid of things. Hopefully this week I’ll be able to get it all cleared out by next weekend to get the Christmas tree. I was really hoping to be further along in the unpacking. Like done. But it looks like it’s going to be quite awhile yet. Darnit. But hopefully this week will see a lot of progress. I also hope all my research books will fit. I’m just not sure.
I may also find out if I’m having a problem with my printer. We moved it, and when we did, it dumped ink out, but on the opposite side of the printer from where the cartridge loads. I hope that doesn’t mean the printer has gone to hell. I guess I’ll find out.
I still have to touch up other paint. Unfortunately, the tape we used pulled up paint and I’m going to have to sand and repaint that. After the new year. OMG. It’s almost 2014.
I just posted this over on Tumblr, but wanted to share it here as well.
I’ve criticized The Big Bang Theory for things like its ongoing obsession with fat jokes, its casual sexism (OMG, girls don’t read comics/play D&D/etc), the handling of Sheldon’s autistic/OCD issues, and an ongoing sense of laughing at geeks instead of with us.
But I want to give a shoutout to something the show did recently in “The Itchy Brain Simulation.” Leonard discovered a DVD he had forgotten to return for Sheldon, and started worrying about how Sheldon would react. Because we all know Sheldon can’t let anything go, and would be completely annoying and freak out about the unreturned DVD, right? And then we the viewers can all laugh at the neurotic genius and ask why his friends put up with him.
Only it didn’t play out that way. Sheldon countered by asking why Leonard didn’t consider how annoying and difficult these things were for him. As far as I know, this is the first time Sheldon’s ever stood up for himself in this way. He took it a step further, saying he’d remain calm about the DVD … if Leonard wore an itchy sweater he had gotten as a gift until the DVD was returned.
Animated gifs ahead. (I did say this was being copied from Tumblr…)
(Site news: 1) Here’s the Saturday post I’ve owed you guys for 3 weeks! I’ve finally written far enough ahead I can post a bonus post! 2) Yes, yes, if you would like to see what happened during the J/Daron make-up sex, make a donation and I’ll write it and send it! 3) And tomorrow, there will be liner notes! -ctan)
The next day I felt better but worse. Better because I felt like I’d gotten a lot off my chest, worse because I felt like I’d been run over by a truck. They use that phrase “through the wringer” to mean emotionally, but physically I felt about the same, tender and stiff.
I had one of those hot showers where most of what I did was stand there with my hands against the tile, letting the hot water hit me in the head. The sound of the water isn’t “soothing” so much as numbing. It blots everything out like static on the radio.
What the hell did you do, Daron? Did you really just agree to stay with him?
There continues to be discussion of authors responding to critics and readers. I hear of twitter storms (since I don't do Twitter) and see links to furious exchanges--the latest being the Felicity Savage one.
Sarah Palin says the atheists are "trying to abort Christ from Christmas." With the synergy of ignorance and stupidity that has made her what she is today, she attributed that view to Thomas Jefferson, who in boring old real life rewrote the Bible to eliminate the idea that Jesus was divine.
Pythagoras discovered the so-called irrational numbers. The ratio of the diameter of a clrcle to its circumference is 3 1/7. But if you try to turn this into decimals, it is impossible; the decimal for one-seventh begins .142857, and then repeats ltself an infinite number of times. So Pythagoras' belief that the universe is built out of neat whole numbers was exploded.
It got scary icy today. I took the kids to school and all was fine, but then snow began to fall. No big deal. I’m from Montana. Easy to deal with. Only the snow melted and put down a layer of ice before it started to stick. Still not an issue (or so I thought) because all the cars have four wheel drive. But then I began to see people sliding down the hills on either side of our house. Through the stopsign, up onto sidewalks. One guy ended up on one of those electrical boxes with all four wheels off the ground.
I ventured out just shortly before noon. My husband’s employer is changing insurance companies and I was supposed to be at the meeting to ask any questions. It’s all of a mile away with several large hills in between. I backed out of the driveway and didn’t hit the gas. Just rolled down the hill. And I couldn’t stop. I tapped the brakes because I kept starting to slide. I should have put it in a lower gear (driving an automatic), but didn’t think about it. I kept control, but I noticed that there were people on the sidewalks, a lot of them, and a lot of cars parked along the roadway. I kind of slid through the stop sign at the bottom of the hill, luckily I didn’t have a problem with oncoming traffic.
Next up, big freaking hill. Going up was no problem. I got over into the bike lane to take advantage of the snow–that does give some traction. Going down hill, I kept control and only started to slide twice. I did stop at the light and was able to go through without issue. I went to Burger King to pick up lunch for the man. Oh, yeah, I’d promised him lunch. Got in all right, but nearly slid into a corvette coming out of drivethrough. I steered into it and stopped. Then I went to the man’s work.
By the time I left, they’d put gravel down on the roads (but only halfway up the hill we live on–incidentally there are two schools uphill and that road is a regular one for kids to walk on and parents to drive on). I got home just fine, but again, passed a lot of cars who got stuck going up the hill (no four-wheel drive), and the tow truck removing that one stranded car that was hanging up on its chassis. The tow truck had chains on and it had a hard time getting traction to go up hill even without pulling a car.
It’s not going to warm up much in the next couple of days, so I anticipate not going anywhere much. Hope I don’t need anything at the store.
Finished with regular classes at Avery Point: the rule is that you have to have a meeting when your final exam is scheduled--for me that's Friday the 13th--but they don't have to write the exam in the 2-hour time. So I gave out the question weeks ago, and handed out the exhaustive (and exhausting) instructions at Thursday's last class meeting. I included everything except "And don't put beans in your ears!" (so I guess I should be expecting some students on 13 December who can't hear me because of the beans in their ears). At the official exam time, I've scheduled a free-for-all discussion and a party. Those who participate in the discussion get extra class participation credit. Those who don't, don't--no penalty. Of course, I know what will happen: those who already have "A" class participation grades will be brilliant. Those who could use the extra credit will not volunteer. But I'm really looking forward to the experience. Not sure what their favorite treats would be, so I'll bring a range.
I'm already scheduled to teach the same Brit Lit I class next Fall semester. I even have my days and times. I'm hoping that the word of mouth will be good and won't scare off potential students.
Off from the internet so I had time to run errands in town. In 25 degree weather. Before the snow fell this morning in 18 degree weather. Not a lot of snow, just light and feathery powder that's drifting under the force of a bird wing. But there's ice under that snow left over from last Friday's 1.5 inches of hail followed by 1.5 inches of snow.
Hunkering down in the house to work on the WIP that is due all too soon.
While many of you in America were chowing down on cranberry sauce & watching football, I spent the day in a rather uneventful airplane flight to Indiana to work on Joan of Dark's new book Geek Knits, a followup to her second book "Knits for Nerds".
They're both books of knitting patterns for people who were in the AV club in high school and spent their summers sitting in trees reading Madeline L'Engle and Isaac Asimov. The difference between the two is that for Geek Knits we're getting geek celebrities to model the finished pieces for this book. So I went out to Indiana to photograph some actors from Star Trek and Deep Space Nine and ubergeek John Scalzi.
You may recognize Rene Auberjonois as Odo from DS9, but he's been in a million other things as well, including the movie M*A*S*H. He was super-nice, very professional, and an exceptional model. It was great working with him because you could see that a) he'd done this before, a lot, and b) he took it very seriously, even when he was being goofy, he was being goofy to get you what you needed. We got to talk a bit about Shakespeare, and Macbeth and he modeled this Top Sekrit Thing.
Some of the people we photographed were on extremely tight schedules and this was another "two weeks of preparation, four hours of setup, ten minutes of photography" things but it went well, even when people arrived half an hour early and surprised us. We had a lot of down time and a lot of prep time. I ran into science fiction writer Michael Z. Williamson who's in my book Armed America who I hadn't seen since I photographed him in 2007. I also got to throw a Frisbee for a corgi and I realized that I had not understood what joy was before I saw this dog experience it in it's complete distillate form.
One of the great things about working on this book of roller derby portraits is that I can work on it in my down time wherever I am. And, because Joan of Dark is also a Rollergirl she hooked me up with the Naptown roller derby and we celebrated a days worth of successful photo shoots with some quick rollergirl portraits. This project has been going really great. So it was scifi geekery and rollerderby athleticism and playing tug-of-war with a dog in between. Plus having Joan and Dill's bird stare at me like she wanted to eat me a lot.
The ongoing discussion about diversity in fiction is, well, ongoing; that's sort of what ongoing discussions do. (Also, I have been neck-deep in edits for the past month, so the fact that I used "ongoing" three times in the prior sentence feels deliciously naughty.) On the one side, you have people saying "representation matters." On the other side, you have people saying that the urge for diversity in fiction is "selfie culture" (and somehow that's bad?), and that fiction should show us new things, not just be "a representative of the self," and that it's "jarring" when they encounter "minority characters" who don't somehow fit a list of cultural and social ticky-boxes that would justify those characters existing as anything other than straight, white, male. "Cis" doesn't even need to be spoken. There's no way a trans* character could exist for any reason other than to talk about their genitals, and that would be the ultimate in jarring, thanks.
And people wonder why I spend so much time wanting to set the world on fire.
I think it's very telling that the people who say it's wrong to want representation in fiction are almost overwhelmingly white. If I want to read about white people having amazing adventures and doing incredible things, being heroes and villains, simple and complicated, handsome and hideous, loved and hated, all I need to do is pick up a book at random. There is a literally 90% chance that I will get all those things from whatever book I've chosen, especially if I'm going for the "classic literature" of the science fiction/fantasy/horror world. 90%! And that may honestly be low-balling the number! If I were a straight white man, of course I wouldn't see any issue with representation in fiction—I'd be on every page I turned! Even as a straight white woman, I'd be on a lot of pages, even if half those pages would have me either naked or screaming (or both, if I had happened to grab a Gor book). There's no problem with representation here!
But I've never been a straight white man. I've never been a straight white girl, either. I was a bisexual kid with a lot of questions and not very many answers, and it wasn't until I encountered ElfQuest that I actually felt like I saw myself on a page. No, I didn't think I was an elf, although I sort of wished I was, because elves are awesome, but it was Cutter and Leetah and the rest who introduced me to the idea that I could love boys and girls, and not be a bad person. I wasn't indecisive or wicked. I just had a lot of love to give, and my set of criteria for who got it wasn't based on gender.
Let me restate that: I was already bi. I had already been attracted to girls, guys, and a kid in my class who went by "Pup" and refused to be pinned down to either gender (and my second grade teacher never forced Pup to commit either way, which was pretty damn cool of her, given that this was the 1980s). Books did not make me choose my sexuality; books told me a) that my sexuality existed, and b) that it was okay, it was natural, it was not proof that there was something wrong with me. And especially in grade school/middle school, sexuality is invisible in a way that very little else is. No one knew I was queer until I came out. It wasn't even a matter of openly hiding it; sex wasn't on the table, I didn't feel like sharing, I didn't share. No one knew that I was different. Everyone thought that when they read their books about little white girls having adventures, they were reading about me, too.
You know what's not invisible? Race. "I don't see race" is bull. When we read those books about little white kids having amazing adventures, we knew that it was white kids having adventures, because adventures are for white people. At the age of eight, we all understood that our non-white classmates were not represented in the books we read, and very few of us had the sophistication to jump to "this is a lack of representation." Instead, we jumped to "I guess Oz doesn't like black people." Because books shape your view of the world, books remake you in their image, and the books we had said little white kids go on adventures, little kids of any other race are nowhere to be seen.
This is a problem.
So some of us grew up, and for whatever reason—maybe it affected us directly, maybe it affected our friends, maybe it was just pointed out—we started trying to show a world that looked more like the world we actually lived in, where everything wasn't a monoculture. And for some reason, this is being taken as a threat. How dare you want little Asian kids to go on adventures. How dare you want queer teenagers to save the world. How dare you imply that transwomen can be perfectly ordinary, perfectly competent people who just want to not get eaten by the dinosaur that's been eating everyone else. That's selfie culture, that's diversity for the sake of diversity, that's wrong. And after a great deal of consideration, I have come to this conclusion:
If that's what you think, you can go fuck yourself.
That's not politic, and it's not nice, and it may cause a couple of people to go "what a bitch, I'm done," but I don't fucking care. Because I am tired of people needing to thank me for making an effort. I am tired of receiving email that says it was distracting when so-and-so turned out to be gay, or asking why I have Indian characters in three separate series (and the fact that having an Indian woman show up and never speak a line is apparently enough to put Indexing on the same level as Blackout for some people just makes me weep for humanity). I am tired of "oh you feel like you're so open-minded" because I write about gay people, bi people, poly people, people who are exactly like the people that I know. I want to be unremarkable for my casting choices, and only remarkable for my characters being awesome (because let's face it, my characters are awesome).
A lack of representation in fiction leads to a lack of self-esteem, because selfie culture is important: we need to see ourselves, and the people who keep trying to dismiss that as somehow selfish or greedy or narcissistic are the ones who've had a mirror held up to them for so long that they don't even see it anymore. White becomes so generic, so default, that it's not mentioned when describing a character ("blonde hair, blue eyes" vs. "oh, she's black, of course, that's the biggest thing"). Humanity is huge and diverse and amazing, and saying that only a small, approved sliver of it belongs in fiction is a dick move. If diversity is distracting, it's because it's so rare.
The DVD's for "A Doll's House" arrived today and they look wonderful. We decided to address all the envelopes by hand because it just seems wrong to print out labels on something like this. All the packages headed overseas I've been drawing little things on while we listen to Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken toys on the stereo. The house is stacked with DVD's and envelopes and photographs, which go into some of the envelopes, and it's slowly coming together, despite Roswell's help.
Thanks to everyone who backed the Kickstarter. I'm looking forward to the time just a few days now where you'll be able to sit in front of the television and see this play that only so few people were able to see during its very short run.
Brian did a great job with the Behind the Scenes, be sure to watch those too.
I wrote that title, making progress, like I actually am. But it’s snail’s progress. The office will be ready for furniture and shelves by Saturday. It would have gone faster if I didn’t want two colors. Tonight we’ll touch up and finish the trim painting. I say we, but if I want to trim paint, I’ll have to battle the two kids.
I’d really like to get a second home on the coast. Maybe like a mobile home. I’d want it to be on the west side of 101 and within walking distance to the beach. Maybe rent it out part of the year or something. I wonder if that’s a feasible thing. Which is to say, I wonder if I could rent it out enough to cover the mortgage, taxes, and insurance.
Incidentally, it’s very difficult to type when trapped between two corgis on the couch. One is on the arm of the couch and sliding over so that I have to lean, and the other is on the other side nosing me about petting him. Both are releasing hair like dandelions. Clearly I need to brush them and still need to trim toenails.
I’m only making slow progress on my revision. Not because it’s hard, but because I’ve not been sleeping well, and frankly, I’m not in my office. Apparently I have less discipline while sitting on the couch. It isn’t that it’s making me watch TV, but just that I’m not focusing on the work very well.
I had a really good review of Bitter Night yesterday. It’s really nice to see people are still reading it. Think of my books at Christmas time when you’re thinking about gifts. Or any other time you’re thinking about gifts.
So it's, like, holiday time. And stuff. And sometimes this means that people want to give people things they think those people will like, which frequently translates into "here, have a book," because we're all enormous book nerds. Being a person who like, writes books, I am very interested in this phenomenon. Moreover, I'd like those books to be as cool as possible. So! Do you want to give a signed, personalized book to the person of your choice, after exchanging money for it? Here's how!
1. Contact Borderlands Books (http://borderlands-books.com/) in San Francisco, California. You can contact them by either email or phone; check the website for specific options.
2. Order books! You have to tell them which ones, naturally, and whether you want them signed and personalized, or just signed. Personalized books must be paid for up-front. You can request a specific inscription. Some inscriptions (ie, my phone number) will be refused, although your book will still be signed.
3. While you're at it, order anything else that you'd like to get. I mean, hello, bookstore, and you're already paying for shipping, so why the heck not?
4. Give the store any information they need, like shipping address and billing and stuff.
5. The store will contact me, and I'll go in and sign things!
If you want your book or books shipped in time for Christmas, you need to contact the store and place your order by December 12th. That's still not a guarantee, especially if you're in like, England, but at least it's a ballpark.
But wait, you cry! What books are currently available?
TOBY: Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation, An Artificial Night, Late Eclipses, One Salt Sea, Ashes of Honor, and Chimes at Midnight.
INCRYPTID: Discount Armageddon and Midnight Blue-Light Special.
NEWSFLESH: Feed, Deadline, Blackout, and the Newsflesh box set.
VELVETEEN: Velveteen vs. The Junior Super Patriots and Velveteen vs. The Multiverse.
ANTHOLOGIES: The Living Dead 2 (Newsflesh-universe story); Home Improvement: Undead Edition (Toby-universe story); Zombiesque; Westward Weird (Incryptid-universe story); Tales From the Ur-Bar; Human For a Day; The Modern Fae's Guide to Surviving Humanity; Other Worlds Than These; Human Tales; Grants Pass; The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination; Glitter & Mayhem; Raygun Chronicles; Carniepunk (Incryptid-universe story); Oz Reimagined; Coins of Chaos (Rose Marshall story).
Because Borderlands does not carry non-fiction, none of the Mad Norwegian Press titles are available from them.
(Post concept gleefully stolen from John Scalzi. I love you, John!)
This afternoon there came a strange and wonderful package in the mail with the return address of "Gaiman". It had the joy of all unexpected packages and we waited as long as we possibly could, looking at it, before anticipation got the better of us and we carefully opened it.
Inside was a beautiful edition of The Ocean at the End of the Lane that I didn't even know existed, with a cut slipcase and illustrations by the inimitable Dave McKean printed on paper so heavy you could crack oysters with a single sheet of it (if you needed to do that sort of thing).
Yesterday afternoon, Twitter called my attention to the following comment on a listserv of SF/F conrunners:
“Instead of insulting us, [Hines] could be using whatever influence he has in social media to help recruit more PoC into our circles. They need to know they’d probably be much more welcome here than they might be elsewhere. (After all, many of us would love to befriend extra terrestrials or anthromorphs.)”
I’m told that others on the listserv quickly pointed out how messed-up it was to compare people of color to aliens and monsters, and that the individual apologized, so I don’t want to spend much time rehashing that part of the comment. I doubt it was deliberately intended to be racist or offensive. But I think it’s worth emphasizing that this kind of unintentional and unthinking hurtfulness is, in my opinion, a big part of our problem.
I did post a snarky and sarcastic comment on Twitter in response to that “recruiting” comment:
Knock, knock. “Hello, I’ve come to spread the good news about fandom, where we love aliens, monsters, and even PoC!”
For the record, I consider myself part of fandom. I love our community. I love the friends I’ve made here. I love this part of my life. But I’m not going to ignore the serious problems we continue to struggle with when it comes to sexism and racism and inclusiveness and so on. And when individuals made racist remarks, or conventions botch their handling of sexual harassment, or another convention chair congratulates themselves on their “colorblindness” when their convention is 97% white, I’m going to keep pointing that out.
On Twitter, I was accused of driving people from SF/F fandom, and making our community look bad. I admit to being rather baffled by this. I thought things like conrunners making ignorant racist remarks were what made the rest of us look bad, not the acknowledgement and criticism of such remarks.
This bugs me a lot. It resonates with the dynamics I’ve seen in abusive families, where the most serious crime isn’t the abuse, but talking about the abuse outside of the family. So yeah, this hits a big old button for me.
Then there’s the complaint that I’m not using my “influence” to recruit other groups into fandom. Which got me thinking more seriously about the suggestion that hey, maybe I should work to try bring more diverse fans into fandom.
I’m sorry, but what the hell do you think I’ve been trying to do???
There are a lot of ways to try to make fandom and conventions more welcoming, and to try to encourage others to join our community. Which do you think is actually going to make people feel wanted — comparing them to aliens and monsters, or publicly denouncing the people who make such ignorant and hurtful remarks? You’ve got voices in fandom saying black people don’t come to cons because those people don’t like SF/F. Then you’ve got voices in fandom saying, “That’s racist bullshit, we don’t all believe that, and we as a community need to do better.”
I know which category I’d prefer to belong to.
Some of the ways I see to try to build a more welcoming community include:
Listening to people who feel excluded or unwelcome, and acknowledging their experiences.
Challenging racist and sexist statements. Even the “unintentional” ones. Both online and in person.
Encouraging conventions to take steps to be more actively welcoming and inclusive and safe.
Examining my own racism, sexism, homophobia, and general ignorance, and trying to learn to do better.
Acknowledging when I screw up.
Publicly acknowledging and applauding the conventions and people who get it right. (Example: Readercon’s follow-up to their sexual harassment screw-up. Yes, the initial response was a mess. But their follow-up should be a model to conventions everywhere.)
Using my platform as a moderately well-known fantasy author to encourage others to recognize and push back against sexism, racism, homophobia, and so on.
I’m not asking for cookies, and I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always get it right. I’ve messed up plenty of times. But yeah, my goal is, in fact, to make fandom a more welcoming place, and help it become a community that a broader range of people will choose to be a part of. Not by going door-to-door so I can drag a token black woman to my local con, but by trying to address the underlying problems making so many people feel unwelcome.
You know what isn’t going to encourage people to be a part of fandom?
Pretending we don’t have any problems, and that things like our “colorblindness” and “genderblindness” have resulted in a utopia where all groups feel welcome.
Using our own privileged experiences to invalidate the lived experiences of others. (“Well, as a 39-year-old white dude, I haven’t experienced any sexism or racism in fandom…)
Continuing to make the same mistakes again and again. (How many times do we have to talk about conventions failing to address accessibility or create harassment policies?)
Reacting to criticism with an aggressively defensive “Us vs. Them” response.
Worrying more about burying/denying/minimizing evidence of racism or sexism or harassment than about the fact that these things keep happening in the first place.
Dismissing criticism as ignorance and maliciousness (which provides a convenient excuse to ignore said criticism).
Pointing to what progress we’ve made to shut down discussion of the work we still have to do.
I’m rather fond of this quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.“
There are a lot of good people trying to make fandom a better and more welcoming place. Some of them are on that listserv I mentioned in the beginning, where I’m told there has been some good and productive conversation lately. I’ve worked with some great people at cons and on panels. I’ve linked to some of them online. These are folks I believe are working to bring a broader range of people into fandom. Not by dragging or ordering them to attend, but by trying to acknowledge and fix our flaws, and to reshape fandom into a thing more people yearn to be a part of.