My head superimposed on leonardo dicaprio accepting the oscar

Awards Season Is Upon Us #1: My Eligibility

Hugo Award voting opened not long ago, and the Nebula nominations are out. Awards season is in full swing! And that means it’s time (long past time, actually) for me to mention that I generated some award-eligible content last year. And I’ll be honest: I would indeed appreciate you considering me when you fill out your ballots[1].

My head superimposed on leonardo dicaprio accepting the oscar

I didn’t publish any fiction last year (damn novel taking up all my energy), so all my eligible works are in other categories.

Best Related Work: io9 Newsstand

“Works of literary criticism” fit in this category, and my io9 column fits that label. Every week I posted links to short fiction (stories, novelettes, novellas) that I loved and wanted everyone to read. I hope I also shined a light on stories and authors the io9 audience wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

Best Fancast: JEMcast

Just in case you think Jem and the Holograms was not a genre show, I will remind you that it was about a woman who changed her appearance via hologram-generating earrings controlled by an AI that was magically able to connect to government computers via wireless Internet, which did not exist in 1985, when the show happens. And that’s not even getting into the time travel.

Every week on the JEMcast we analyze (and sometimes make fun of) an episode of the show. We also provide commentary on Jem-related stuff, such as the movie we’ve already all forgotten exists. I love our little show and I’m very proud of the episodes we produced last year and continue to produce this year.

Links to some of my favorite episodes:

Best Fancast: The Tempest Challenge

Fancast includes vlogs, and thus my challenge videos are also eligible. I didn’t produce that many last year, though, so I’m putting more effort into boosting the signal for JEMcast. However, I will not stop anyone from nominating the videos as well.

Some of my best:

Best Fan Writer: K Tempest Bradford

Writing from my blog is what counts toward this–well, the blog and social media posts and such, perhaps? I’m not the most prolific blogger these days. Though when I do write I tend to drop a bunch of stuff at once then go back to social media.

Here is the link to all my 2015 posts and here are a few I’m particularly proud of from last year:

And that’s it. As I said, I hope you will consider me when making your nominations. In my next post I’ll list the stories and other stuff I loved from last year that I think you should also consider.

 

Footnotes

  1. Do I need to put a disclaimer here saying NO SLATES, OH GOD, NO SLATES? I doubt it. Just in case: No slates, y’all. Nominate stuff you love and vote for what you think is best.[]
conventions

Expect More From Your Regional ConCom

There are so many conversations going on right now sparked by Mark Oshiro’s report[1] detailing what happened to him at last year’s ConQuesT convention that it’s hard to just focus in on one aspect to talk about[2]. There is one thing I want to jump in and speak about right away, which is what should be expected of con staff and ConComs. I decided to write this post after reading Rachael Caine’s post on the situation, in which she says:

But you know what? It’s not necessarily the fault of the volunteers throwing conventions. Audiences and panelists must hold each other accountable if fandom is going to continue as it began. ConComs are not gods. They can’t vet moderators, they can’t interview panelists about every panel topic to see if they’re qualified. They are organizers of a show for which they don’t get paid, and while they do shoulder the burden for responding to bad behavior, WE are responsible for responding immediately to the bad behavior in the first place.

I agree with the overall point of Rachel’s post: that fans and panel participants and pros all need to look out for each other. Many of us already do that because we long ago figured out the importance. It’s the bolded bits that I take issue with. ConComs are not gods, but they sure as hell can vet moderators and can put systems in place to up the chances that panelists are qualified to be on the panels they’re assigned to. I speak from experience as a programming volunteer myself.

I work on the programming committee for WisCon and am most familiar with our system and workflow. I also know a bit about how ReaderCon does things. Both of these cons are relatively small, just as ConQuesT is, both have a volunteer staff, and both have very involved programming.

WisCon programming is a highly collaborative process. We solicit panel ideas from WisCongoers and allow the members to vote on which panels they want to see based on the list of all qualified panels submitted[3]. You can read an overview of the process on the WisCon blog, if you want more details. After we figure out which panels will happen, we have to decide who gets to be on them. Again, this is a collaborative process. Folks volunteer to be on, to moderate, and the Program team uses a combination of database wizardry and hand selection to get all the panels staffed.

In past years, there have been big mistakes made in this department, such as having a panel about [insert marginalized identity] with only one person of that identity on it (or none), or panels with problematic descriptions, or panels with moderators that just made everything terrible and harmful and triggering. One of my goals in joining the Program staff was to help this not happen–and I don’t think it’s presumptuous to say that all of us on staff have that as a major goal. To that end, we’ve asked for, and received, changes to the programming database that help us identify which volunteers would be best for a panel or, hopefully, which people should not be on certain panels. Some of it is still a function of knowing the folks at WisCon since we’re all long-time attendees as well.

Though our system is very useful, it is not perfect. It’s still evolving, too. We still make mistakes. We try hard not to make the same ones, to be aware of problems that could crop up and nip them in the bud–such as by making sure we mark panels to hand staff so the database’s random assignments don’t put a cis person on a panel about trans people talking about trans issues, for example. We strive to be proactive because we want our attendees and guests to have as great a time as possible.

conventions
This is what it looks like when people are having an awesome time on a panel

This is a lot of work, yes. This is necessary work. It’s work that fan cons should do–yes, even if the staff is all volunteers. Because this is important.

Just look at what happened at last year’s GenCon Writer’s Symposium. A dude who is well known for being a problem, especially about women’s issues, was allowed to moderate a panel on women in comics even after The Mary Sue pointed out that the original panel was made up of All Men. ALL MEN. Even after that bit was addressed–hurriedly–Bill Willingham was still allowed to moderate. Marc Tassin, the Writer’s Symposium Track Director, should have known better. Willingham’s viewpoint and attitude are not a secret. And yet.

I expect GenCon to do better, and that con is far, far bigger than ConQuesT. Kansas City fans have pointed out that it is the very essence of a local con. Most folks running it and putting people on panels know each other well and know the panelists. Robin Wayne Bailey[4]  is a local and, from what I can gather, a regular at that con. Selina Rosen, who pulled down her pants, is apparently a serial pants taker off-er at that very con. Yes, this is a small local con. That means it’s probably even easier for programming volunteers to know that they’ve staffed a panel about diversity and erasure with one person of color and a bunch of problematic white folks who are prone to undressing at the slightest provocation.

It is certainly not possible to predict the behavior of every person, to know the specific background and identity details of every guest and panelist. And there is always room for error. I really need us to not pretend that there aren’t ways to be better, that we shouldn’t demand better while also saying “I will be an advocate and activist about this, too.”

ConComs and programming staff have to be proactive. They have to know what the potential problems are, where the common pitfalls lie, and pay attention to what has happened at other cons so they can avoid making the very same exact mistakes. Nothing that happened at ConQuesT regarding those panels Mark talked about hasn’t happened elsewhere many times[5]. All of it was avoidable.

Large con or small, the ConComs and program volunteers absolutely must be proactive and address these issues. When they do, it helps to empower the kind of personal response Rachel talks about. And I’ll reiterate: I agree that this is important, too. We, all of us, con staff and guest and attendee, have to look out for each other, speak up, create the kind of spaces we want at our fun community gatherings.

 

Footnotes

  1. Mark posted about his experience as a Fan Guest of Honor at ConQuesT in which he was treated so horrendously by staff, other guests, panelists, and attendees he was triggered into an anxiety attack, among other things.[]
  2. To wit: here’s one of my Twitter rants about the cost of publicizing bias in the community. That’s just a small smidge of what we talked about there and on Facebook today.[]
  3. By the way, the program survey is now live. Go tell us which panels you want to attend and be on![]
  4. Did you see his comment on Mark’s Facebook post? Here it is.[]
  5. Maybe not the thing with the undressing. What is wrong with people??[]
Write Gear episode 3 The Whole Body Is The Mind A conversation with Andrea Hairston

Who Needs Handwriting? The Write Gear vs Freakonomics Radio!

Write Gear episode 3 The Whole Body Is The Mind A conversation with Andrea Hairston

This week’s episode of my new podcast The Write Gear is almost the entire raison d’être I finally got this project off the ground. I recorded the conversation therein several years ago at ReaderCon, and ever since that time I’ve said to myself “I need to make this podcast happen so everyone can hear what Andrea Hairston has to say about writing by hand and creativity and journals and fountain pens.” After much help from my producer over at Hologram Radio, it’s finally out in the world.

Listen to TWG #3: The Whole Body Is The Mind – A conversation with Andrea Hairston right here or subscribe in iTunes

      The Write Gear: Episode 3

I’m happy it happened during the Month of Letters since this is the time of year I spend with my pen and paper people. And by total coincidence, it went out over the series of tubes the same week that Freakonomics Radio pushed their latest podcast, “Who Needs Handwriting?” Who, indeed?

The opening asks whether writing something down is “as outdated as saying that you’re going to “dial” a phone number…” The first person host Stephen Dubner talks to is Anne Trubek, former professor at Oberlin College who focused on the history of writing and writing technologies, and writer of the controversial article “Stop Teaching Handwriting,” which you probably read or heard about if you’re a handwriting nerd. Dubner also talked to Princeton’s Dr. Pam Mueller and professor Daniel Oppenheimer, who co-authored the paper “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking,” which, again, you probably read or heard about if you’re a handwriting nerd.

Trubek is of the opinion that the trend of schools not spending time teaching cursive or penmanship is excellent, and that we’re better off in general moving on to newer technologies that are more democratizing. She feels this, in part, because of her son’s struggle with writing in the third grade. From the article linked above:

My son… spends much of his school day struggling to learn how to form the letter “G.” … Simon now fears taking up a pencil. Repeatedly being told his handwriting is bad (a fine-motor-skill issue) has become, in his mind, proof that he is a bad writer (an expression issue). He now hates writing, period.

That doesn't even look like a damn GI get that the emphasis on correct cursive can be detrimental, especially when you bring in the fact that some people may not have the fine motor skills to write the perfect G, and it’s silly to expect them to as long as they can write a G of any kind and recognize the letter and understand what it does in a word. And, let’s face it, the way we are taught to make Gs in cursive is ugly and dumb.

However, I feel like there’s a conflation with handwriting and cursive going on in both her essay and in the Freakonomics piece that I don’t think is warranted. One can write by hand and not write in cursive. One can get the benefits of writing by hand and not write in cursive. I agree with Kate Gladstone (handwriting cheerleader), who says:

Handwriting matters, but not cursive. The fastest, clearest handwriters join only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping others, using print-like forms of letters whose cursive and printed forms disagree.

I do what Gladstone points out a majority of handwriting teachers do: a hybrid where I mix “some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.” I go for what is fast and legible.

Handwriting does matter, and even moreso for creative people. In our conversation, Andrea talks about why writing by hand at certain points in the creative process are key.

I believe that the whole body is the mind, and so when I write with the pen I’m using my whole body. There have been a lot of studies that say when you write cursive it engages your whole brain because it engages your whole body.

I want to get into the dance of the words and the dance of the words can happen when I have a fountain pen. When I have a piece of paper that’s sort of like parchment and it’s got textures… and I am basically conjuring the words.

When I go to type, I don’t feel like I’m conjuring the words.

Andrea is quick to say that she loves and uses all her devices for writing, including her tablet and computer. They each have a role to play in the various steps of creating.

Anne Trubek would have you think that the only reason people cling to handwriting is to romanticize the old or as a purity test for the authentic self[1], and that the entities behind studies about handwriting are just “companies that make their money off of penmanship and curriculum,” and that people should embrace new technologies such as keyboards and voice recognition because they’re better for people without fine motor skills. This leaves out two important aspects. The first is that new technology includes digital pens for writing by hand, even if you’re not writing on paper. The second is that writing by hand has an impact on how we process information; a different impact than typing.

That second point is illustrated by Mueller and Oppenheimer’s research linked above (which was not funded by the evil pen and paper lobby, thank you) which talks about how your brain processes more when taking notes by hand as opposed to on a laptop. From the podcast:

Mueller’s argument is that because handwriting is slower, you’re forced to decide as you go what’s worth writing down. And this gets your brain engaged in processing the information as you go.

MUELLER: And when you process something more deeply, it’s more likely to stick.

There have also been studies that scan the brains of small children just learning to read and write to see what happens when a child writes out a letter vs identifying and typing it on a keyboard. Andrea talks about this, too. How forming a word with your pen different from typing it on a keyboard. With keys, the motion is the same. With a pen, the motion involves much more of you and is unique to you.

I found it odd that the Freakonomics episode failed to include any discussion of digital pens and styluses for computers and tablets. The iPad Pro is relatively new, yes; the tech behind it is not[2]. I’ve been using a Galaxy Note to create digital, handwritten notes for years. And there are many ThinkPad users who’ve been rocking stylus input for over a decade. In less than 10 years we’ve gone from having to memorize Graffiti strokes for Palm Pilot input to natural handwriting recognition on phones and tablets and laptops, no training necessary for you or the machine.

This wouldn’t have happened if handwriting wasn’t seen as necessary or desirable by consumers and business users. All those iPad Pencils and SPens and whatever they call the thing that comes with a ThinkPad aren’t only for artists. People still like to be able to write by hand, and find it less cumbersome than on-screen keyboards. That you can now save your writing digitally as strokes or as regular text is a big deal[3].

I reject Trubek’s thinking that the march of progress is going to leave handwriting completely behind. Not because I see it as the pinnacle of human expression, but because it has tapped into something in our brains that appears to be a key element in our development right now. Something that just typing doesn’t. That need not mean that we won’t keep using keyboards of some kind, and it doesn’t mean voice recognition or direct brain downloads aren’t the wave of the future. I think what it means is that we won’t leave handwriting completely behind–not for a long time–just because it isn’t new.

Your thoughts on any of this are, as always, welcome in the comments.

Footnotes

  1. Real talk: she’s not completely wrong. There have been more than a few people who go full hipster when talking about this topic.[]
  2. Apple didn’t even revolutionize the concept, they just made a tablet that does what Galaxy Note tablets and smartphones have been doing for about 6 years now.[]
  3. I’ve written several pieces on this in the past and I still ride or die for my LiveScribe pen as a journalism tool. Looks like I need to make an episode of The Write Gear about digital pens and stylii.[]
K tempest Bradford meets George RR Martin

12 Days of New Years – Day 2: Take More And Better Pictures

Another day, another resolution! Today is all about the images.

If you follow me on social media you probably noticed a spate of photo albums coming from my Google+ account. My phone auto uploads all of my pictures, and I finally got around to collecting them into albums. I’m sharing a few each day on G+, which auto-posts to Twitter, FB, etc. You can see them all here.

I took a ton of pictures, but looking through them all I don’t have as many as I thought. And while I am a proponent of experiencing life and not just taking 10,000 pictures of it, I’d still like more of a record of all my traveling and hanging with people.

I’d also like to get better at photography. Learn to use something other than Auto mode on the fancy camera I drag everywhere. My smartphone will continue to be my primary camera, but I want to be more deliberate about when I break out the real thing.

So sometime this year I will take an online class and learn some photography techniques. I bet this will help me up my selfie game.

communication chat

12 Days of New Years – Day 1: Communicating More With My Peeps

communication chat

It’s a new year and even though there’s always a wave of anti-resolution-making in the air around this time, I am going to make a few. 12, in fact. Because I like to use arbitrary demarcations of time as ways to kickstart changes in my life. Last year it was packing up my stuff, leaving New York City, and traveling around the country (did I mention that here? I should probably write a post. *marks that as a resolution*). Now to decide what it will be this year.

2016 Resolution #1: Communicating More With My Peeps

One of the best things about the past year has been spending time hanging out with and talking to fabulous and wonderful people I usually only see at conventions. And, in some cases, I haven’t seen them at conventions at all due to life stuff. I enjoyed reconnecting with my friends a great deal, but I can’t be in every city every month, still. Damn you, teleporter technology Apple is clearly keeping from us.

One way of keeping up with folks that I’ve found useful over the past two years is Google Hangout group chats. On Hangouts you can instant message one person or several people. If you create a group chat, you can even name the room the way we used to on AOL or ICQ back in the day. Google will save that group of people as a chat entity even if you close the window.

I’ve been part of an ongoing group chat for over a year now and love it. We pop in to talk to each other whenever someone is around, and if everyone else is busy that’s just fine. Anyone can initiate a video call, though no one is obligated to answer it. Having a pre-existing group also makes it easier to reach out to people when I want to talk. I know I’m not disturbing them, and they know they don’t have to answer me right away, just when they see the message and have time to respond.

I want more of this in my life! So over the next few weeks I’m going to start setting up group hangouts and seeing if people are down with it. If you wanna start one with me and we’re already friends on G+ or GMail, all you have to do is add me + one other person to get it going. You can add more people later.

I have a few other communication ideas (including more snail mail!) that I’ll implement throughout the year. The exact medium isn’t as important as being more in touch with people I love. We can’t all always be in the same city or at every convention, so let’s make use of this lovely SFnal technology!

Drew Coffman Writer's Block I

Last Minute Gifts For Writers: Put An Online Class Under The Tree*

Drew Coffman Writer's Block I

It’s Christmas week. And you still don’t know what gift you’re going to give the special writer in your life for the holidays. They have everything—a great laptop, a tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard, a copy of Scrivener, fully paid Dropbox, and a Pro subscription to Evernote. What else is there to give?

Lean in close and I will tell you.

Give them the gift of an online writing class.

Classes help writers at any level build skills as well as community, equally important for writers who wish to pursue a publishing career. The big name workshops such as Clarion, Clarion West, Viable Paradise, Odyssey, etc., require both a monetary and time commitment not all writers can afford. But an online writing class makes it possible to do everything from home and fit the classwork into an existing schedule. Some online classes only ask for a weekend commitment.

And for those weekend classes, you know what else makes a great gift? The promise that you will arrange things for that weekend so the writer you’re gifting doesn’t have to worry about anything else, from kids to cooking meals to walking the dogs, except the class. That right there is almost as amazing a gift as the class.

I can see I have you convinced. But, you ask, where can I find online classes for the writer in my life? Once again, I have the answer:

Weekend Classes

Short Story Intensive taught by Mary Robinette Kowal

Think you never have time to write? Think again. Mary Robinette Kowal wrote her first Hugo-nominated short story “Evil Robot Monkey” in ninety minutes. If you have ninety minutes, you can have a story — all it takes is understanding how to make every word work double-time. In this workshop, learn the same techniques she uses to create new fiction. Through exercises focusing on viewpoint, dialogue, and plot, you’ll learn how to let nothing go to waste. By the end of this three day workshop, participants will be given a writing prompt and complete their own short story.

Price: $275

Dates

  • February 26 – 28, 2016
  • March 25 – 27, 2016
  • April 22 – 24, 2016

 

The Art of Writing the Other – Weekend Intensive taught by Nisi Shawl and K. Tempest Bradford

Writers know that it’s important to write about characters whose gender, sexual orientation, religion, racial heritage, or other aspect of identity differs from their own. But many are afraid to do so for fear that they will get it wrong–horribly, offensively wrong–and think it is better not even to try. In truth, it is possible to write the Other sensitively and convincingly, and this workshop can start you on the path to doing just that.

Price: $250 + service fee

Dates: January 1 – 3, 2016


 

Multi-Week Classes

Creative NonFiction Workshop SPRING 2016 taught by Brooke Benoit

This 8-week workshop is designed to do a whole bunch of things for you and your craft. Firstly, assignments simply motivate some of us who are otherwise floundering in our writing practice. Engaging and varied exercises are planned with flexibility to meet your needs and to get you writing. Then there is the opportunity to acquire some new skills through direct feedback on your work from a professional editor and writer, as well as all the helpful little tips I will be providing you with. You will also get fresh weekly reader feedback through peer reviews of your work.

Price: $220

Start Date: February 2, 2016


 

The Architecture of Fiction taught by Nick Mamatas

Where does your story start? How on Earth do you keep it going? What’s the difference between ending a story and just stopping it? Regardless of genre, length, or form, every story has a beginning, middle, and an ending—in no particular order. Beginning writers often start their stories in the wrong place, confuse action with plot, and then end a scene a bit too early… or too late. In four weeks, award-winning novelist, anthologist, and editor Nick Mamatas will guide you up and down the path of storytelling—through the architecture of fiction. This workshop will give you the tools you need to move through a story with confidence—whether it’s a novel, novella, or short story.

Price: $350

Start Date: January 21, 2016


 

The Brainery Online Workshops for Speculative Fiction Writers

Classes begin the week of Jnauary 25th and are scheduled based on student availability.

Novel Workshop and YA Novel Workshop taught by Jilly Dreadful, Ph.D.

Designed for writers with a complete (though not necessarily finished) manuscript in need of a full critique. The goal is to help shape first drafts into stronger second drafts and to help writers develop strategies for revision and expansion. Students will receive in-depth critiques from their peers and the instructor.

Price: $500


Short Fiction Writing and the Other taught by K. Tempest Bradford

A brand new class designed for writers who want to include characters in their fiction whose gender, sexual orientation, religion, racial heritage, or other aspect of identity differs from their own, but are hesitant to do so for fear that they will get it horribly, offensively wrong. Students will learn strategies for writing the “Other” sensitively and convincingly as well as strengthen their short story writing craft in general through a combination of readings, analysis of published fiction, writing exercises, peer critiques, and developing, writing, and revising stories in a safe, supportive atmosphere. In addition to instruction and in-depth critiques from Bradford, students will also benefit from guest lectures exclusive to this class from authors Nisi Shawl and Max Gladstone.

Price: $575


 

Short Fiction taught by Valerie Valdes

A workshop designed for speculative fiction writers looking to produce submission-ready short fiction in the form of flash fiction, short stories or standalone novel excerpts. Participants will deepen their theory and practice through the discussion of course readings, a continually evolving feedback loop from the instructor and classmates, as well as the kind of accountability that a community of peers can provide. Writers work on four submissions during the program: two new and/or original works, up to 7500 words in length, a revision of one of the two previously submitted pieces, and a work of flash fiction 1000 words or less.

Price: $475


 

Science Fiction Fairy Tales taught by Jilly Dreadful, Ph.D.

A hypoxic-style workshop designed to push students to challenge themselves as writers and to question the conventions and limits of what it means to remix fairy tales in modern ways. Every week students will consider a different fairy tale and science theme pairing, and remix it using experimental methods. Students will write (on average) 750-1500 words weekly, as well as discuss each other’s work.

Price: $500


 

This represents classes I’m aware of that are open to enrollment right now. If you know of any other online classes that fit this description, please add them in the comments.

Now, get to those links are give the writer in your life who has everything else a craft-building class of amazeballs and be a holiday hero.

*Yes, I know, not everyone celebrates Christmas and thus has a tree. But really, the image of putting the Internet under a tree is too good to pass up.

Share a little bit of yourself screenshot

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!

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.

Footnotes

  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.[]
historical accuracy on twiter

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.

Footnotes

  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.[]
hugo nominations from 1990

Unintended Consequences – A Post About The Hugos

There’s a fun irony in the fallout from the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies Hugo thing.

There are now over 8,000 members of Sasquan (WorldCon). The con gained over 2,600 supporting memberships since March 31st of this year and about 350 attending memberships. I think it can be safely assumed that several of the 1,948 people who bought supporting memberships before March 31st were slate voters and GamerGators. Not a majority, perhaps, but a sizable chunk. And some of the post-March 31st folks might be puppy supporters. However, I’m fairly sure that an overwhelming majority of these new members are anti-slate or anti-puppy.

That’s thousands of people who don’t think that diversity is a dirty word, who don’t consider the larger number of women and authors of color on previous year’s ballots to be affirmative action or diversity for the sake of diversity or political correctness gone wrong.

That’s thousands of people eligible to nominate for next year’s Hugos, and with a big incentive to do so.

Uh oh. *giggle*

Let’s back this up. Back in 2007 when the list of Hugo nominees came out, folks quickly noticed a problem with them: almost every single nom in the literature categories went to white men. The only woman to be nominated for a work of fiction was Naomi Novik. The other woman nominated in a non-media/fan category was Julie Phillips for her Tiptree biography in Related Works. The only person on the list who identifies as POC[1] is Samuel R Delany, nominated in Related Works for his book About Writing.

This was cause for much discussion. Not only about the Hugos, also about the deeper issues is SF/F publishing that led to a nearly all white male Hugo ballot that year. There was a wide-ranging discussion of gender bias in publishing as well as conversations about the lack of racial diversity that simmered for a couple of years before becoming RaceFail09.

I participated in a lot of the conversations, and one of the things I remember very clearly was that many people felt the solution was to get more lovers of SF/F actively involved in Hugo voting. Those who couldn’t go to WorldCon were encouraged to buy supporting memberships. There was even talk of attempting to establish a fund for people who couldn’t afford the $40 or $50 for supporting memberships, though I think it was scrapped because certain people said it would be buying votes and soooo wrong[2]. Still, the solution was always presented as: there are amazing works of fiction by women and authors of color out there that deserve recognition from this award, so let’s get more people voting, more people discussing and recommending fiction, and let’s get magazine editors thinking about diversity in new ways.

Don’t take my word for it. Read posts from the time and see for yourself[3].

And then a funny thing happened. Things changed.

Not right away, but over time[4]. The next year there were four women nominated in the fiction categories. Two years later nine women ended up on the ballot. The number kept going up. 2014 was a weird blip, but there were 7 or 8 women and that’s not horrendous. I don’t have the numbers for authors of color or other minority groups, but I would guess that those numbers have been rising as well.

hugo nominations from 1990
click to embiggen[5]

This happened for a lot of reasons. Many of those seeds were planted in 2007 in online conversations about gender bias and racism. It took a while for some of them to take root and grow strong. Because even with all the shouting and discussion, the larger world of fandom didn’t participate or even know about it. Did some WorldCons gain more supporting memberships after 2007 due to these issues? Maybe dozens, maybe hundreds–thousands? I doubt it.

No, that took puppy power[6].

A much wider group of people are paying attention now. What’s going to grow from these seeds, I wonder?

Footnotes

  1. as far as I know. corrections welcome.[]
  2. And yet this year some people did this exact thing. Yes, some people cried out VOTE BUYING but those people were quickly drowned out by all the clapping from enthusiastic supporters.[]
  3. I could only find a few representative links because my Google-fu is not that strong. Plus, it looks like several blogs and forums where much of the conversation happened don’t exist, anymore. Where are the archivists when you need them!! If you wrote or remember a post about this stuff from the time, please post links in the comments.[]
  4. Numbers from this paragraph come from Jed Hartman’s analysis[]
  5. Something to notice about this chart: in the 90s there was a pretty decent showing for women nominees, then we get to 98 when there’s only 1 and throughout the 2000s there’s a huge imbalance. Why we lost the gains of the early 90s I’m not sure. Clearly gender imbalance was a problem for several years before 2007.[]
  6. This is further proof that the way to enact change is to forcefully get people’s attention and knock their heads together a bit. Unfortunately for the puppies, the attention they brought to themselves dissolved more than it reinforced their position. Ah well, can’t have everything, I guess?[]