The 6 Elements Of A Good Author Website

The other day on Twitter Sofia Samatar laid down some truth:

Yes. All the yesses. +1, co-sign.

Every author should have a website, even if you’re just beginning and have only one thing published. Heck, even before you have things published. You should always take as much control over your online presence as you can. That starts with having a good website[1].

Having a good, clear, professional-looking website does not require a lot of technical knowledge, a lot of money, and a lot of maintenance. But if you’re not very technically inclined and feel intimidated by creating a website, there are people who are happy to help you. Some will do so for free, some for a small fee, and some who are pros and charge pro rates. But before we get into that, let’s break down what an author website should have on it.

The six elements you need:

  • Homepage
  • Blog
  • About
  • Publication List
  • Events page*
  • Contact


With many author sites it’s a good idea for this to be a static page. Yes, my homepage is my blog. I regret this decision! Especially now that I don’t blog here as much. I’ll likely change it soon. Having a static page allows you to highlight what’s new–such as a new book or story–and give an at-a-glance view to your visitors to the important info about you and serve as a portal to the rest of the site plus other important sites[2]. This is where you’ll list the social networks you’re on and your profiles on Amazon, Goodreads, etc.


BUT I DON’T WANT TO BLOG you might be screaming right now. That’s fine. Just because I say you should include a blog it doesn’t mean you have to update that blog every day or hour. You don’t even need to call that section Blog. You can call it News, Announcements, or something similar. The purpose of this section is for you to have an easily updatable place to put the kind of news and info readers like. Not just when your book is published, but when it gets a nice review, when it’s nominated for or wins an award, if you’re interviewed or otherwise mentioned in the press, pictures from your book signings or other appearances, when you publish a new story, when you start selling merch, or whatever.

Of course, if you want to have a traditional blog, even better. But don’t feel compelled to make your blog section an online journal if that’s not your speed.


In addition to talking about yourself and your amazing work, your About page should contain or have links to your official bio (I have a public Google Doc with a long and short version), your official photos (link to the hi-res versions of images, don’t embed them) and photo credits, and hi-res versions of your book covers. This makes it really easy for folks to grab this info without you having to search it out each time.

This is also the place to list your social network and other profiles.

Publication List

This one is self-explanatory. The only thing I’ll suggest here is that you make it attractive! However, a simple list with links is fine, too.

Events Page

This one had a star next to it because it’s only really necessary if you make a lot of personal appearances and do many signings. Those who’ve published a book will need this section, maybe not if you’re just publishing short stories at the moment. In that case, the announcements on your blog should suffice, just be sure you have a blog category called Events or something like that so they’re easy to find.

There are lots of ways to maintain an Events page and I have no particular best practices. Check out what other authors do for ideas. I do suggest including info on this page on how people can request to book you for events, signings, and the like.


Always have a way for people to contact you! Always. I prefer to have contact forms because then no one is getting your actual email address unless you email them back. And it cuts down on spam. And if you don’t mind if fans ping you on social media, mention that here, too.

I Am Not Tech-Savvy And Can’t Make My Own Website

That’s okay! There are several options below for creating a website easily without needing technical acumen. But if you still feel nervous about it, there are people who will help you. Some for free, some will charge a fee.

I used to design websites for a living. I don’t anymore, but I still set up WordPress for folks who need it because, for me, it’s simple and doesn’t take much time. If you really need an author website and have $75, I will set it up for you on and walk you through the basics and show you how to update it on your own.

If you need a more complex website, or want an installation on your own host (explained below) and a customized design, there are other folks who can help you. My friends Stephanie Leary and Jeremy Tolbert are both WordPress experts and make beautiful sites. They charge pro rates. They are worth it.

If you’re a person willing to help authors create simple websites for free or for a fee, scroll down to the comments and let us know! Please say whether you work for free or charge and include a link to your website or portfolio.

What Should I Use To Make My Website?

I always suggest that people use WordPress to make author websites. WP is a blogging platform, but it’s easily used as a whole site management tool. It makes updating simple, and you can get a nice look without knowing any code. It’s also free. You can set up a site on or get your own hosting and set it up on your server for free.

There are other options, such as drag and drop site builders on SquareSpace or similar. I’m not a huge fan of those, but as long as they allow you to have all the elements mentioned above with little fuss and at your level of technical comfort, go with what works for you.

I do not suggest using Blogger, because it sucks. LiveJournal and DreamWidth won’t work because they are mainly blogs with a little bit of functionality for static pages, but not enough.

Tumblr is a possibility because you can create static pages, add your own domain name, and mess around with themes enough to customize. However, I find it all really hard compared to WordPress and the resulting site not as functional or easy to maintain. or Host It Myself?

If you want to set up a site completely for free, then you can go with Someone on Twitter asked if a site URL like projected an unprofessional vibe. In my experience, not as much as or an email address. It looks perfectly legit to be on the .com site.

If you’re still nervous about it, you can put your own domain on a site so it looks like even though you’re still using on the backend. WordPress will sell you a domain name themselves, but it’s a bit less expensive to buy the domain elsewhere and pay the fee to attach it to your site. I use NameCheap where .com domains cost less than $11 a year.

The drawback with is that you have to use the WP themes they list[3], you can’t install one you just find somewhere. You’re also restricted to specific plugins. Plugins are awesome–they add extra functionality to WordPress and there are a handful I cannot live without.

For the most control over themes, plugins, and domains, you’ll need to get your own hosting account. My main advice here: DO NOT GET GODADDY. It’s just best to look elsewhere. I use MDD Hosting and pay less than $20 per month. There are tons of good hosting options out there–ask for suggestions on social media if you don’t already know of a company. And always read the reviews before you sign up.

Not sure if you need a hosted site or can just stick to Start out on You can migrate everything, including comments and images, over to a hosted WordPress installation later if you decide to switch. The process is easy.

You Need A Good, Clear Website Of Your Own

You don’t need to spend any money to get one started, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get the little extras that make it feel even more professional, and you don’t need to know anything about code to create and maintain it. If you need help, help is available. If you have questions, ask. Let there be no barriers to you having a good, clear website.


  1. After you have a website, the next step is to create profiles on high profile social networks and other author-related websites so that you can craft your Google search results the way you want to. But that’s a different post….[]
  2. If you want an example of a site with a static front page, look at this other site I built[]
  3. These days there are way more good-looking themes than there were when I moved away from For author sites, I suggest checking out Satellite, Writr, Fictive, and Wilson. There are many more free themes to choose from.[]

I Challenge You To Support and Signal-Boost Marginalized Voices

Rise Together

If you’re not a person who follows news about gaming or gamers, you might have missed a thing that happened. Tauriq Moosa, a media critic, left social media due to sustained harassment over something he wrote on the Internet. Yesterday, Moosa wrote something else that I want you to read. I’m quoting extensively. Still, read the whole thing.

Lots of folks are trying to show me support. I really appreciate it, but what I would appreciate it more if you took your energy in fighting battles with people who don’t care about me to raise the voices of minority folk. Maybe use this time to try get more people employed who aren’t straight white men.

Instead of the collective being one that shouts down marginalised folk, let the default collective be one that raises us up and doesn’t let us be drowned out by bizarrely angry and dismissive others. The status quo is broken and solidarity for marginalised voices should be a constant for progress, for looking and moving forward; solidarity shouldn’t only exist for when things dissolve. Things are already broken and supporting one another is how we continue.

As you might imagine, I know Moosa’s feel on this one. And I agree 100% that the status quo should be about raising up voices and not focusing on whatever asshole flavor of the month comes along to push us down. I’m not saying don’t argue with them and don’t challenge them–you can’t change their minds. I have proof. You might convince someone watching, though–I’m saying don’t let that be the whole of your work.

There are some defenders (not just of me, in general) that I can count on to ride out of the darkness and skewer obvious bigots on their lance. It’s not hard. And it makes everyone feel better. But then how much work do these defenders do when there’s no prejudice monster to slay? How much public work? How much energy do they expend on taunting the enemy vs touting marginalized artists?

The SFF community has quite a few popular people with giant platforms, and the majority of these people are generous with their platforms. Because the majority are great people! However, I wish that those big platform people would take a minute to look through their last 40 promotion/signal-boosting posts, their last 40 shares on Facebook, their last 100 tweets, and count up how many times marginalized voices get the boost vs people from the dominant culture.

You might be surprised by what you find[1].

Don’t cry about it, though. Seriously, I do not want to hear you crying about how you tried and you do sometimes and you didn’t mean to and and and. What I want from you is to commit yourself to doing better in the future.

Make conscious choices to promote more marginalized voices. Seek out more books, short stories, music, art and the artists and writers who create them. More guest posts, more cover reveals, more vlog embeds, more links, more GIFs. Write thoughtful responses and companion pieces to media criticism that focuses on the issues marginalized people face, and always link back prominently. Give credit to other people’s ideas loudly, in boldface, so that it’s harder for people to say only you and others like you are the expert voices on this stuff. Don’t feel like you know enough or know enough people to do more? Ask your friends, ask the Carl Brandon Society, ask Twitter. Go for balance, or go for imbalance in favor of folks not from the dominant culture. Keep a literal tally so you know for sure.

Take all that anger you feel when someone like Tauriq Moosa is hounded off of social media or when someone like me gets dozens of hate-filled tweets and turn it into a cavalcade of attention for artists and writers who need it (that includes the artists and writers under attack).

Side benefit: it really pisses off bigoted haters when the person they’re trying to tear down gets built up by people with more social and cultural juice than they have.

Main benefit: it gives marginalized voices a better chance at recognition, which could lead to more opportunities for them to get paid for what they do and thus do more of it.


  1. Or, you may find that you’re already building up more marginalized voices than not. Awesome! I appreciate the heck out of you. Do me a favor, though? Nudge your high profile friends, please. Thanks.[]

Coming this September: In the Shadow of the Towers anthology

In the Shadow of the Towers cover

Douglas Lain put together a fantastic new anthology called In the Shadow of the Towers: Speculative Fiction in a Post-9/11 World, and I have a story in it! Until Forgiveness Comes, to be exact. I’m quite honored to be in the company of so many great stories. Particularly There’s A Hole In The City by Richard Bowes, still one of the best post-9/11 stories I’ve ever read.

Pub date is September 1, and you can pre-order the book now from Powell’s or Amazon.

The version of the cover I grabbed off of Amazon is different from the one I saw on Doug Lain’s website a while ago. That version did not have my name on the cover. No idea which is the final, so I guess it will be a fun surprise! (I honestly don’t think it’ll be this version.)

I’m trying to decide if there’s still a chance at getting the radio play version of this produced before September. The script is done, I’d just need a cast, a place to record, a director…. You know, minor stuff.

This Week’s Episodes & Assorted Links – June 13

A new episode of the Tempest Challenge is live. Second ep wherein I turn over challenging duties to the friends I saw at WisCon.

This week’s books feature women in lead roles, queer characters, lushly drawn worlds, women of color wrestling with the future and the past, plus deep questions about the role of religion in human history.

Our guest challengers: Meghan McCarron and Chesya Burke

Between the two of them they recommended three standalone novels and two series. That officially brings the Tempest Challenge reading list up to 37!

If you missed any previous episodes, do not fear. There’s a playlist. Or, you can go through them on the new Tempest Challenge Tumblr.

I quite enjoy having special guests! I’m looking forward to this being a regular thing when I go to cons.

Share a little bit of yourself screenshot

Episode 9 of the JEMcast is also live now. This week we discuss “The World Hunger Shindig,” one of my favorite episodes. Though I am somewhat irked at the white savior complex issues that pop up in the Holograms videos. The part where they ride off on a rainbow while shooting glittery, magical grain into African soil is a bit over the top.

Also, I continue to hate Rio.

Assorted Links

As always, please watch, listen, and share widely!

Sometimes Allies Are Bad Actors

How to be black

“Stop attacking your allies!” –White Proverb

Okay, it’s not really a white proverb. This is the favorite rallying cry of a certain kind of ally[1] — the kind that assumes their self-proclaimed ally status means that any disagreement with them is an attack. And those in need of allies should be careful of attacking, else they will have none.

There’s a lot of bullshit wrapped up in this.

The main problem being that just because you’re an ally doesn’t mean you magically always act in the best interests of the group you’re allied with, and nor should you assume you are. An ally is not some glittery state of being in which you can do no wrong, in which your presence is always wanted or helpful, in which the loss of you represents a great loss to the cause. Sometimes allies are more here for themselves than they are for others.

“Sometimes allies are bad actors.”

That last is a quote from the panel “What Happened With WisCon Last Summer?” Mikki Kendall was the one who said it. She said it in response to Pat Murphy, who expressed sadness that the actions of some people on the WisCon ConCom caused longtime volunteers of the same to drop out of the organization. The people who left are those who have done a ton of work for the convention and for the fan community. This is not in dispute. They are people who have worked to build a feminist space within SF fandom, and are committed to their feminist values. This is not in dispute.

They are also people who, at some time or another over the past two years, have failed to be good allies to people in their feminist space who are not from their same generation, their same race or ethnicity, their same class.

That doesn’t mean they’ve done no good work, or that all their good work is moot. Plus, no one is perfect. Even the most hardcore social justice warrior (or paladin, cleric, rogue…) can fail to be a good ally to someone from a different group or identity at some point. What matters, what always matters, is how you deal with your fail. Did you apologize? Did you sit with yourself and examine what happened and why? Did you think about what being a good ally really means? Did you recommit yourself to being a better ally in the future?

Or did you double down with the idea that you’re an ally, not one of those bigots out there, and you marched with King, and you supported some feminists in 1973, and you’ve done all this work, and therefore you didn’t do anything wrong, you find nothing objectionable in what you did (or failed to do), and so the problem must be with the people you’re allied to, and not with yourself. In other words: did you center yourself?

The kind of people who say Stop Attacking Your Allies are the kind who tie their allyship to specific behaviors from the group they’re supposedly interested in helping. They, the ally, want to dictate the terms of the relationship and want to be the one to say “Now it’s the time to address this thing,” instead of allowing the marginalized and oppressed folks to make that determination. The ally wants to set the rules for what is appropriate discourse, to determine the parameters for politeness, and the conditions under which they will use or set aside their privilege. Do I need to explain the problems with that?[2]

Are we really “driving away” our allies, or are we making it clear that we won’t accept an ally relationship that is about the needs and comfort of the allies above everyone else? Yes, we might be making that clear with harsh language. And yes, in making that clear we might hurt some feelings. That happens when allies don’t listen to the polite, patient words that come before the yelling.

We are far more patient with our allies because they are allies. Because we know, on some level, that they do get it. And we want them to understand. We need our allies.

But we don’t need them so much that we’re willing to be treated like they know what’s best better than we do. Nor so much that we will tolerate them not listening or being dismissive when we say “this is wrong, hurtful, damaging, dangerous, and deadly.” Allies that do? We don’t need.

Sometimes allies are bad actors.

Do you want to be a good actor? To be the real ally you consider yourself to be? Then I suggest you read this guide to allyship & interracial friendships on The Feminist Griote, as it breaks allyship down extremely well. The article focuses on white allies to POC, particularly women of color, but the kinds of questions raised–Do you, white person, have any POC friends? Do you allow your closeness to POC to give you an excuse to not police your whiteness?–apply to many an ally relationship.

Read that article, sit with it, and consider whether you have been a bad actor in the past. If you have, then the best way to make up for that is to do better going forward.


  1. I have an acquaintance who just loves to whip this out when someone confronts her on her less than sterling attitudes about progress and diversity.[]
  2. Nevermind, I’ll let Dr. King do so: “I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”[]

Your Microaggressions Aren’t Welcome Here


Two years ago I proposed, then moderated a panel at WisCon called “Speak To Me In Your Native Language!” And Other Things You Should Never Say To Anyone (clicky for description). The panel title comes directly from something a WisCon-goer said to a friend of mine; and that’s just one of the othering experiences she’s had at the con and why she hasn’t been back in a while. I brought up other examples on the panel having to do with inappropriate touching/moving–of hair, of assistive devices such as wheelchairs–inappropriate interrogation–“You’re not blind, so why do you need a service dog?”–and similar instances of Othering[1]. I created this panel because I wanted to try and figure out how WisCon and the community of people in it should address the problem and maybe even strive toward fixing it.

The panel didn’t go completely to plan because we got derailed several times by one of the panelists[2]. I also don’t remember us coming up with any actionable solutions.

The most obvious one for me is to be that person that calls folks out when I witness such situations and encourage others to do so as well. That’s only workable so long as there are people willing and around. You can’t be everywhere. And while that could eventually grow and grow into awareness for everyone, that could take time. And while that’s happening some people still won’t feel welcome at the con.

What didn’t occur to me is that WisCon the organization could do something to address this behavior[3]. As of this year, we are.

The Safety chairs made it clear that con goers should, if they felt comfortable doing so, report such behavior (labeled microaggressions[4] ) to Safety, and that the on duty staff as well as appropriate department or con chairs would take steps to address the problem with the involved parties. That could mean having a discussion with someone about their inappropriate words/behavior and giving them guidelines around further contact with the person who filed the complaint (such as: do not approach them again), as happened this year. That’s not the only recourse. The idea is to make WisCon a safer space for everyone, not just some certain kinds of people. To make WisCon the type of con where you are not required to let things roll off your back and ignore or laugh off microaggressions and othering so you don’t disrupt everyone else’s good time[5].

I never realized until recently that there could be an official response to these kinds of actions. Or even what that response would look like.

I know that going forward I’m going to have to fight my own impulses to shrug off such behavior and only share and get understanding over how much it sucks from friends and fellow POC. For so long that was the only recourse I had–well, that and talking about it on the Internet. I got used to that being the status quo. I’m grateful others shattered the status quo.

I’m also glad that as a community we’re more and more giving the signal that addressing Othering and Microagressions is a community effort, not just an individual one. At WisCon, Debbie Notkin noted that when she was young, individuals (mostly girls and women) were expected to deal with sexual harassment on their own. That it was your job to remove yourself from that person, your job to find friends who could help you, your job to be on the lookout and not get in their sights again. Now folks take the stance that it’s the responsibility of the community as a whole to deal with harassers. By actively removing harassers from our community spaces, by identifying harassing behavior and making it clear it won’t be tolerated, by ensuring that people can safely report harassers and feel supported when they do.

As a community, can we make it clear that othering is not okay? That microagressions are not appropriate? Can we make it our problem to address as a community and not only a burden individuals have to deal with? Can we agree that allowing this crap to drive people away (and it does) is untenable?

Can we, community?


  1. Othering is viewing or treating a person as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself. Doing so allows you to say or ask completely inappropriate stuff that you would never if you saw that person as fully human as yourself. Here’s a deeper breakdown.[]
  2. He kept saying things like: “You just need to let things like that roll off your back.” and “I don’t see how getting angry does anyone any good.” These can be valid strategies for getting along in the wider world, but were counterproductive in the context of the panel and the con itself.[]
  3. It should have. That it didn’t has a lot to do with the organization’s reluctance to move on certain things in the past.[]
  4. the top image is from this vid on microaggressions.[]
  5. I should also note that the Safety folks at Arisia are doing something similar and have been proactive in addressing this problem at their con.[]

My WisCon 39 Schedule

When I decided to be programming co-chair I swore to myself that I would not overload on panels this year. “Overload” seems to mean 8 panels. I’m on 5. Huzzah?

Misandry, Reverse Racism, and Other Imaginary Creatures (aka Drinking the tears of my enemies Part 2) Fri, 4:00–5:15 pm Assembly
K. Tempest Bradford, Tanya D., Mystery Guest, Isabel Schechter, Na’amen Gobert Tilahun, Michi Trota

Cultural Literacy or Cultural Appropriation? Sat, 2:30–3:45 pm Capitol B
K. Tempest Bradford, @SoosheBot, Sally Wiener Grotta, Andrea D. Hairston, Mikki Kendall

In our diverse culture all thinking and reading individuals are influenced by a wide range of heritages, histories, and mythologies. Let’s talk about how to articulate the boundaries and borders of what’s appropriative and what’s okay in fiction, dance, craft, and other art. In the end, who gets paid? And who gets propped up as an “expert”? In what ways can artists and creators engage with cultures without being harmful and destructive?

If you’re coming to this panel we’re collecting questions ahead of time here and will accept questions via Twitter while the panel is happening via the hashtag #LiteracyorAppropriation

Sparkymonster, K. Tempest Bradford, Chesya Burke, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Mikki Kendall, Na’amen Gobert Tilahun

The seventh installment of this popular and amazing panel! Writers of color working in F/SF face unique challenges, it’s true. But, at the end of the day, being a “person of color” is only one aspect of what makes up our identities as writers. While it’s very flattering to be asked to be on panels, most of these panels never crack the ceiling of Race 101. With that in mind, wouldn’t it be nice for multiple writers and fans of color to sit on a panel that isn’t about race at all? Here’s our chance to do just that. So, what are we gonna talk about, instead? Practically anything! Presented in game show format, THREE-PART TRILOGY BASED ON THE SINGLE BOOK OF THE NOT ANOTHER F*CKING RACE PANEL brings together writers and fans of color to get their geek on about any number of pop culture topics—none of them race related.

Chips On Our Shoulders: The Wearable Tech Trend Sat, 10:30–11:45 pm Senate B
K. Tempest Bradford, BC Holmes, Stephanie Krislov, Neil Rest

One of fastest growing trends in gadgetry is wearable tech: not only expensive and well-known products like Google Glass but a huge variety of devices designed to be strapped on a wrist, clipped on clothing, perched on our head, or even worn on our feet. These gadgets are getting smaller, less noticeable, and literally woven into the fabric of our lives. In this panel we’ll explore the implications wearables have on health, personal interaction, privacy, and social issues through the lens of science fiction literature that addresses these themes and our real world experiences. 

How To Tell POC Apart: The Game! Sun, 1:00–2:15 pm Senate B
K. Tempest Bradford, Tanya D., Jackie Gross, N. K. Jemisin

So many POC writers these days—how can we tell them apart? This game-show format panel will sharpen your skills while earning you fabulous prizes! (Books!) Ted Chiang or John Chu? Nalo, Nnedi, Nora, or Nisi? You decide.

We’re still accepting contestants for this panel. Ping me in the comments if you want to play!

The POC Dinner @ WisCon – It’s A Tradition!

A few days ago Jaymee Goh asked me for some historical info on the POC Safer Space at WisCon, which got me wondering if there were any public posts chronicling the POC Dinner as well. Not exactly. The first formal dinner we did was in 2009, and with that we just met in the lobby and went out to a restaurant. However, that grew out of similar POC lunches and get-togethers that were mainly the result of coordinating the Safer Space.

Very quickly this event became an important part of WisCon for me and other folks of color. Meeting other people from the community in a welcoming and supportive environment is so important. As is meeting people you can go to if the con gets rough in a specific way. And, if you’re new to WisCon, the dinner serves to ease you into the con experience.

We eat, we talk, we joke, we introduce, we create community. It’s one of my favorite parts of WisCon. I want it to be yours as well.

This year’s POC Dinner will take place Friday May 22 at 5:30pm local time (the dinner break) in room 629. Who can come? People who identify as people of color, which is a pretty broad umbrella. We’re not about checking your POC cred at the door. We’re about creating community. Consider yourself welcome[1].

Important Details

If you plan to attend, please, please, PLEASE buy a ticket ahead of time. This allows us to not only know how many people are coming but how much (and what kind of) food to order. I’d love it if everyone bought a ticket today, but you can buy one up until 12pm local on Friday. That’s when we’re putting in the final order for food.

If you cannot afford the dinner price you can still come. Generous folks have already donated extra money to cover the costs for people with limited budgets. Your name will only be known to the dinner coordinators and will be kept confidential. Just nab a free ticket at this link.

The menu for dinner is at the link. If you don’t see any food you’re willing to eat, you can still join us. Just bring your own food. Also, nab a BYOF ticket at this link (it helps us to know how many people are attending even if you’re not eating so we get enough tables and chairs).

If you don’t buy a ticket ahead of time you can still come! Just bring cash to pay for dinner.

And if you know a person of color attending WisCon who might not know about this dinner, please pass this post along.

I’m so looking forward to breaking bread with y’all this year and many years to come.


  1. This is usually the point where obnoxious people will say “I have a color: white! So I should get to come!” If you’re that dedicated to being obnoxious, good on you. See how well that works out at the con.[]

Good Writers, Coasting, and How You Can Avoid Joss Whedon’s Mistakes

Joss Whedon sad

There are a ton of great articles examining Joss Whedon in the wake of Age of Ultron and plenty of crunchy debates to dive into because of them. In this piece, Sady Doyle illuminates something about Whedon that I’ve understood on a subconscious level but not been able to crystalize until now. To wit:

My ultimate take on Joss Whedon’s “feminist” screenwriting is that it’s a byproduct of good writing, period. The writer he most reminds me of is Charlie Kaufman: They’re both deeply personal writers, who clearly have a wide variety of sexual hang-ups, and to the extent that these hang-ups center on women, they probably do affect their perceptions of real-life women in many ways. Plenty of women have noted that Whedon’s fixation on emotionally vulnerable, eighty-pound teenage girls is disturbing and off-putting, and I would tend to agree. Charlie Kaufman’s apparent belief that a sexually awakened, self-realized woman wouldn’t need him, and would therefore abandon him to a hostile universe, is also kind of weird and upsetting, or (at least) a good reason not to ask Charlie Kaufman out on a date. However, because Kaufman and Whedon are good writers, who understand why stories work, when they sit down to write a story, they feel the obligation to make all of the characters identifiably human, including the women. This is, sadly, so rare that their female characters are often more well-rounded and interesting than almost any other characters out there, including a lot of characters written by people with better sexual politics.

When I read that a light shone down from heaven because YES. This is not just a Joss Whedon issue, it’s an issue with a lot of writers who hail from the land of privilege.

I (and others) have said many times that when you write stereotypical or downright offensive minority/marginalized characters, it’s almost always due to bad writing. If you’re a good writer, you don’t reach for the easy stereotypes, you don’t pull from the box of overused ideas, you aren’t a lazy thinker making lazy choices. And that often results in passable minority characters that might even be considered amazing and revolutionary[1]. Especially when compared to a sea of characters that are nothing but two dimensional offenses to all good taste.

Sometimes that’s even enough.

When you’re thirsty in a desert, even cloudy, contaminated water looks great.

However, it will not always be enough. That situation is a place to start from, not a place to kick back in and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Yet that is what many, many writers do. Whedon certainly seems to have done. As Ashly Nagrant points out, we’ve now had 20 years of Whedon doing the same thing over and over, coasting on his talent instead of building on it.

Joss Whedon has failed to evolve as a writer and a director. People who are longtime Buffy fans saw Age of Ultron and complained about how quippy the dialog was. That quality has always been part and parcel of a Joss Whedon project — it has long been one of his trademarks. When the question was how could people who loved Buffy be surprised by this, I could only venture a guess:

We are suddenly, sadly realizing Joss Whedon is a one-trick pony.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy those tricks and there is nothing wrong with that! I am in no way saying that I haven’t enjoyed Joss’s work and won’t continue to in the future. But it does hit a point where it is almost 20 years since the debut of Buffy and you suddenly realize Whedon is just writing the same thing over and over again. No matter how much you like garlic bread, you can’t eat it all the time or you’ll get sick of it.

What’s the solution? Continuously work on becoming a better writer.

Pay attention to evolutions of thought on representation and be aware of the kinds of tropes that most media properties–be they TV, movies, or lit–engage in. Listen when your readers critique your minority/marginalized characters, particularly if they are the same identity as said characters. Accept people’s lived experiences as valid and learn from them.

Read books and articles on this subject. Writing the Other: A Practical Approach is an excellent place to start. Invisible and Invisible 2 are also excellent resources for delving deeper into representation.

Take classes and workshops that address this specific skill. Yes, I teach them, and so do others. Both in person and online. (If you want to find one, I can help with that!)

Read fiction by authors who have a reputation for writing amazing, deep characters. Examine how they do it, absorb it, learn.

Basically all the things you’re supposed to do to become a better writer, anyway. All the things truly great writers do, even after they’re hailed as being great.


  1. This accounts for a lot of Steven Moffat’s success as well. He’s clearly a good writer when he’s on his game. And that good writing can distract you from some underlying problems. And because the writing is good you want to ignore the underlying problems. There comes a point for many of us when that’s impossible. Like Whedon, that point arrived when his popularity meant a large body of work to examine.[]

The Historical Accuracy Fallacy

historical accuracy on twiter

One of the more ridiculous aspects of this week’s discussion around Game of Thrones is how often people try to trump any complaints about (among other things) the abundance of rape or the dearth of POC characters with agency with: But Historical Accuracy! The number of people I’ve seen talk about how things were back then with all seriousness would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad.

Public Service Announcement: Game of Thrones is a fantasy novel, not a historical one. It does not take place in the past, it takes place in a fantasy world that shares some aspects of our actual past with many elements that are made up, including dragons, White Walkers, and people who can come back from the dead.

All of the elements in Game of Thrones are there because George R.R. Martin put them there. He, as the author, made choices and decisions and continues to do so. He uses history as a guide, but guess what: he’s allowed to do whatever he wants because he’s the author.

If a woman is raped in the story, it’s because he wrote it that way, it didn’t just happen because “that’s the way it was.” If all the brown-skinned people are slaves or savages[1], it’s not because anyone forced him to conceptualize them that way.

No speculative fiction author is bonded to historical accuracy, even when writing historical SFF. If you’e allowed to add magic and dragons and elves, you’re allowed to add brown people where folks think they didn’t exist[2] and you’re allowed to leave out the sexual assault.

Anyone who tries to argue otherwise probably has no real clue what’s historically accurate, anyway, and they also don’t understand how speculative fiction works.

The Grace of KingsWant an example of an author who gets this? Come here and let’s talk about Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings.

The novel is set in an alternate world in the island empire of Dara, a fantasy analogue for China. The series depicts a fictional, fantastic version of the fall of the Qin Dynasty and the rise of the Han Dynasty. There are several analogues to real people and real events in this first book. There are also major differences, especially in the technology available. And then there’s the treatment of women.

Minor spoilers ahead.

It’s easy to go with the default assumption that all past cultures were patriarchal in nature and therefore women have to be confined to certain roles and no man ever questions this or does anything about it. Liu doesn’t do that. He does the opposite.

At one point the two main characters are hunkered down in a town with an army waiting to destroy them outside. The army general can’t get them to come out and fight, so he attempts to lure them out with taunts. Flyers descend depicting the men dressed in women’s clothing and accusing them of being cowards with “feminine hearts.” The gendered insults are many and varied, but they all boil down to: these men are like women and therefore weak.

One of the main characters responds by asking “what is so bad about being compared to women? Half the world is women.” He later gives a speech about the courage of women, using events seen in the book up to that point as examples, and concludes:

“By custom, we wield the sword and wear the armor, but who among you does not know a mother, sister, daughter, friend, who exceeds you in courage and fortitude?

So let us no more think of being compared to women as an insult.”

Think this isn’t historically accurate? It might not be. But Ken Liu made a choice to give his character, a pragmatist, a logical reason to reject sexist nonsense.

This kind of thing happens more than once in the book. On top of that, all of the major and minor women characters get complex personalities and backstories. Some fit in to what might be considered traditional roles or types, many do not, all of them are well drawn[3]. I won’t say the book is some feminist utopia. I will say that the choices Liu made feel deliberate and considered. He didn’t let “Historical Accuracy” get in the way of creating characters that weren’t insulting to modern readers.

Every spec fic author has this option, this power. They are the creators of the world inside their books. Every aspect of a fictional world is a choice, even if the choice is “it was like that in the 1300s in England so it’s like that in my world, too.” That’s fine, but let’s not pretend that that isn’t what you chose and not something forced on you by God, History, or The Rules Of Writing.

Acknowledging this means that we have to stop responding to “There’s a lot of unnecessary rape in these books” with “That’s the way it was” and instead with “The author chose to include all that rape. Why? Is it really integral to the plot and character arcs, or is it down to laziness? Misogyny? A fondness for rape?[4]” Pushing aside that convenient excuse leads to a number of uncomfortable questions, doesn’t it?

And Historical Accuracy is an excuse, not a reason. Period.


  1. I’ll point out here that I don’t know if this is true, I’m saying if it’s true.[]
  2. And hey, guess what, they probably did.[]
  3. I have several specific examples but they are all spoilers and best discussed with folks who have read the book.[]
  4. I’m going to nip this in the bud right now: I am not accusing George R.R. Martin of liking rape or of being a rapist.[]