Saving WisCon and Other Myths (my post con chair report)

WisCon 39 happened this weekend. I co chaired with Levi & we made a bunch of changes with the help of an amazing team of people. And I heard that we saved WisCon. I have a hard time with that idea because I don’t think WisCon was ever in danger of ending. I think it was in danger of drastic changes in one of two directions. Do I like the direction it went? Yes. My goal when I agreed to co chair was that we would make WisCon a safer space for the most marginalized members of the community. I think we accomplished the first steps of reaching that goal.

I am 100% certain it was imperfect & that we could have done many things better. This year was always (in my mind anyway) going to be the transition year where we had to learn old processes, improve some processes, and in some cases come up with new processes. Some people left, and new people came aboard. That is the nature of any long running annual event. Personally, I hope to make every position on the convention committee accessible to anyone who wants to do the work. We are all replaceable or should be when it comes to these kinds of events. No community event should hinge on the participation of one person, or one set of people. That way lies burnout.

We made some decisions that aren’t going to be popular. But you know, that’s life. You can’t please all of the people any of the time. Some people will likely not return to WisCon, and that’s their right. Some new people will be coming to WisCon, others who had left are now announcing their plans to return. That too is life. WisCon is changing. WisCon will always be changing. That’s not about destruction, that is just growth. Sometimes painful, often messy, and thoroughly inconvenient.

Despite the hype, decisions at WisCon remain community decisions. It’s just a question of the demographics of the community changing. Is fandom still the last refuge for outsiders from the mainstream? Well to be honest…no. Because fandom is mainstream. When we power whole industries, and are a demographic that is often courted as a financial and social force we have to let go of the myth that enjoying speculative fiction makes us outsiders. We have to stop pretending that being fen means we can’t set any boundaries with anyone in our community. Our community is global, and in order for it to be inclusive we have to learn to navigate that space, not the one of yesteryear that came about during and after Jim Crow laws in America. Part of having an integrated inclusive community is recognizing there is no hierarchy of who gets to be treated as human.

Yes, fandom spaces are not courthouses or governments. Conventions are essentially private parties with really large flexible guest lists, and many many things cannot be regulated in house. But…many things can be, and in order to make conventions like WisCon sustainable over time, one of the ways to regulate behavior is to set up clearly written community guidelines, create mechanisms to enforce them, and then for the community to hold members accountable. That too is messy, awkward, and often emotionally fraught. Because community health (like any relationship) requires a lot of work.

WisCon bills itself as a feminist sci fi con. And feminism keeps evolving. So too does sci fi. And so WisCon itself must evolve. It may not go in a direction everyone likes, but then that was always the case. The key to being a part of WisCon’s future isn’t towing some imaginary unknowable line, it is treating everyone with a basic modicum of respect, displaying some form of common sense about behavior in public spaces, and knowing that other people have a right to say no, to set a boundary, or to consent as it suits them. That’s a far cry from the draconian reputation being given to anti abuse/harassment policies. It’s not that you can’t talk to people, it’s that you can’t treat them like they aren’t human and expect that to be accepted.

We are a community that is learning to work together in new, and sometimes exciting ways. This is hard work, it will be hard work, but the potential results are worth it. WisCon is getting some much needed shaking up, and in twenty years as whoever is chairing gears up for WisCon 60, I hope they can look back as I do, and be grateful to their predecessors as well as aware of all the work that lies ahead. Thank you WisCon community for giving us something to fight for, for supporting us when times were hard, and for partying with us when times are good. We made it. Now we just have to keep moving forward. I am honored to have apparently been your first chair who is a Black woman. We’ve come a long way in 40 years.

Mary Shelley Didn’t Invent Sci Fi and other semi controversial things

So, yesterday I was finally able to announce that I’ll be writing my first ever comic in the Swords of Sorrow series. And I am so excited. But I keep seeing this claim roll around that Frankenstein is the first entry into sci fi. And it’s good, don’t get me wrong, and ground breaking for white women in fiction. But I keep thinking about the writers who weren’t nobles, the women who told stories to the children they were employed to watch and to their own children. I keep thinking about the superstitions, the beliefs, the very real reasons to be afraid of the dark, and of the people who couldn’t afford candles, much less the time, ink, and paper needed to write stories by that flickering light. And how those stories were still passed down in oral traditions that persist to this day. Mary Shelley might have entered a story of the dead being brought back to life into the European lexicon, made Frankenstein & his monster more real to the wealthy. But raising the dead and the turning on you was an old old concept 200 years before her birth. The fairytales that we think of as Grimm’s were told around fires in Africa, China, and so many other places by traders, bards, and griots. Their bones are dust, but their words live on and still carry so much weight today.

We stand on the shoulders on those who came before us. And so many of the tales we tell come from stories whispered late at night by people who couldn’t or wouldn’t write them down. I am a writer. I can claim that now. But long before I had the ability to write down a single coherent word I was making up stories. And like so much of what I write today, those stories were heavily influenced by the ones I’d already heard, the books I snuck in and read, and the tales I wasn’t supposed to know. We cheapen the craft of storytelling when we try to limit it to the first time someone wrote down an idea instead of remembering that writing it down is the last step. The first step is making up the story in the first place, and even if the story teller never writes down a word some of the best stories every told will be heard by children at bed time, adults over drinks, and in foxholes with walls that hold all manner of secrets.

My grandfather told great stories. He never (as far as I know) wrote down a single one. My grandmother could spin a tale or two as well. And she read so much, gave me so many things to read. When I write fiction, I hear the way they told stories bleeding into my work. I won’t dishonor them or the people who came before them by pretending I’m the first storyteller in the family. I’m not even the first writer. I might be the first one to write comics, but I wouldn’t even be able to do that without them making stories so accessible to me. When we rush to name a first, we should remember that the first writer of a story doesn’t make them the first to tell a story.

Scared, Not Silent

Stanek’s still writing about me and I suppose I could close up shop & adopt a new internet handle & let her frame my story to suit her agenda. But I can’t do that. I won’t do that. I told the truth about the abortion & I’m not going to lie about what happened to me to make people feel better about trying to control women’s bodies. I do want to shield my kids and my husband, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let this…creature run me off the internet or run my life. We’re moving out of Memphis in no small part because I don’t feel safe here. I’ve already spoken with law enforcement, and after reviewing some of the emails I got they suggested moving. Not necessarily out of the state, but definitely out of our apartment and preferably out of the area.

Am I stressed out these days? Yes. And what with being human and all, I can only deal with so many sources of stress at once. Moving accomplishes many things for my family (not least being free of this awful apartment including the collapsing ceiling in the bedroom), but it doesn’t mean that I’m going to be silenced. It does mean I’m going to take reasonable precautions for the physical & emotional health of my family. There isn’t anything I can do about Stanek’s fixation on me, or her stated views, but really that’s always been the case hasn’t it? I’m going to keep living my life, and people can think or say whatever they like about how I do that. Because in the end I have to be able to look myself in the eye every day. So, I’m going to have moments when I wibble, and moments when I curse, but in the end all the moments are mine to have and for now that’s enough.

Of Fairy Wings And Glittering Crowns (Crowdfunded Fiction)

As some of you already know a few months ago we packed up and moved to Memphis. On paper it was a good plan. In execution…well, we wound up in an apartment where the floors slope at an angle so steep nothing on wheels can stay in place. One of the bedrooms has a hole in ceiling big enough to stick my arm through that we’ve been trying to get fixed since the week we moved in. And then there’s the roach problem (complete with a nest inside the dishwasher), which…let’s just say that we landed with the worst landlord possible and he shows no signs of getting better. Fortunately our lease is month to month. Unfortunately, having been here for the last six weeks we have discovered that we don’t like Memphis. At all.

We’re a family of walkers and Memphis is not pedestrian friendly in the slightest. We do have access to a car, but we hate having to drive everywhere. The kids were excited in the beginning, but between the apartment issues and the lack of playmates at any of the parks (it is too hot to play outside and the pools aren’t open yet) they’re miserable. We’d rather cut our losses now, instead of moving into another apartment in a city that we don’t love in the first place. It doesn’t help that having attracted the attention of the Cult of The Fetus (aka Jill Stanek & her followers) a few weeks ago, I don’t feel super safe here. As silly as it may sound we’re ready to head back to Chicago and accept that we are really Chicago kids. But, the expenses of moving down here mean we don’t have enough cash to pay bills here, find a new place, and afford all the attendant costs of reworking our lives all over again. In theory we would eventually earn enough to swing it, but that would mean being here for months and we really don’t want to do that.

So, I’m offering up a YA novel Of Fairy Wings And Glittering Crowns to be written in 60 days and posted chapter by chapter at Atypical Princess. I’ll be posting the plot synopsis and character sketches today with an eye towards posting the first chapter tomorrow. There’s a Chip In page that’s not quite accurate (I got a couple of donations yesterday), but will still provide a way for folks to keep track of our goal. If you can’t donate I still want you to read, after all what’s the point of fiction if you can’t share it? All I ask is that if you like it, you link it to your friends and family for their perusal. Thanks so much, I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I plan to enjoy writing it.

Selena Newly grew up in a family that took the fun out of dysfunctional. Sharing a house with a mother that never wanted her, aunts who detest each other, and a grandmother that has them all at the mercy of her purse strings hasn’t exactly made for an idyllic childhood. In fact it has left her yearning for adulthood since she was old enough to walk. The day her mother throws her out is the best and worst day of her life. She is free, but she has nowhere to go, and no idea how she’s going to support herself.  When the door into Altanur opens it seems like the answer to all her childhood prayers. Her family isn’t really her family, and she’s a fairy princess. Unfortunately she’s about to learn the hard way that everything has a price, and sometimes that price may be too high.

Crowdfunded Engines are go!

Okay, so I have the Atypical Princess wordpress set up, I created a Paypal button, & I’m checking out Kickstarter & Indie Gogo as possibilities for folks that might not want to use Paypal. I took a look at the two books that were mentioned as being potentially similar (other than the basic premise they are not anything like Fairy Wings & Glittering Crowns, courtesy of my lack of fascination with the concept of the Unseelie Court), and I’m going to start posting character sketches tomorrow as teasers. Is there anything else folks want to see in the lead up to launch?

On Diversity in Writing Fiction Or Step Away From The Fail

So, you’re a member of X group and you want to write fiction that includes people who are different from you. Possibly they have a different racial background, sexuality, religion, gender identity, or are disabled in some way. First things first, why are they in your story? Aside from being different, what purpose do they serve to the plot? Is there an actual role in advancing the plot that they play? When you Google a phrase *like “stereotypes about FatLGBT, disabled, African American, East Asian, Southeast Asian, West & Central Asian, Native American, Latino people” and read the resulting links does your character fit into those stereotypes? If so, why? Is that characterization necessary to advance the story? Or did it just seem like an easy way to include some diversity in your work?

Despite the hype, no one is saying that you cannot write the Other as part of a story. What is being said is that you need to write the Other as a fully fleshed character instead of a convenient plot device or prop. When you are talking about people (of whatever background) you need to remember that they may well be in your audience. And they’d like to see themselves in the works they are reading, but they don’t want to see bigoted caricatures as that representation. The first part of being a good writer is being a good reader. That includes reading about the lives of the people you’re writing about (preferably in their own words), and really honoring their experience instead of ignoring their reality in favor of reflecting whatever biases might be convenient to your plot line.

Will following these guidelines guarantee you immunity from criticism? No. Anything you write will be critiqued by readers. But, putting forth the effort to try to get it right may well change the tenor and content of those critiques. We all have to do our research & there’s no guarantee that any of us will get it right the first time or even the first 50 times. That doesn’t mean we stop trying, but it does mean that trying to get it right includes listening when you’re told that you’ve been getting it wrong. Personally I’d rather be critiqued for my unfortunate habit of splicing commas, than for writing something horribly offensive about a group of people because I couldn’t be bothered to do some basic research.

 

 

*I am well aware that I didn’t list every possible permutation of a person that may be included in a story. Presumably anyone reading this can do some research of their own, and can take a moment to learn about concepts like intersectionality.  Also my use of Wikipedia does not indicate a belief in its constant veracity. These are basic examples & any readers should definitely do more research. Also, books like Writing The Other are an invaluable resource.

Don’t Be A Rapist: Of Survivor Parenting & Young Males

We have a lot of conversations around masculinity now since kid #1 is pubescent. At not quite 12 he’s starting to feel his way through what kind of man he wants to be and having parents that he feels he can talk to is helpful, but occasionally traumatic for all concerned. We’ve talked about sex, drugs, booze, and money at various points over the last few years. All those conversations were tough but the “Don’t be a rapist” convo was possibly the most awkward of my life.

When the story first broke about the 11 year old girl being assaulted in Texas he asked me about it. Why? Well he’s 11 and he has a ton of 11 year old female friends. Since we’ve been pretty open about the mechanics of sex he was upset & confused at the idea of a girl like one of his friends being forced to “do it” with anyone, much less with a group of strangers.

After the initial conversation about why rape happens, and a discussion of the harm it can do, I left the door open for him to bring any other questions to me or his father. Over the last few months we’ve talked about kinds of rape as he’s seen them mentioned on the news (date, stranger, corrective, etc.) and why people blame the victims. Lately, the conversation has turned to stuff like Slut Walks & how telling women to live a certain way in order to avoid being raped doesn’t do anything to stop rape.

He’s having conversations with his Dad of the “No means no”, “Alcohol, emotional upset, drugs, etc. can impair judgment”, & “Don’t hang out with guys that think a girl has to be convinced to have sex” variety. At one point during the course of these conversations I got a little worried about whether the topics were too heavy for him. Then I had a chat with the mother of his best female friend who reminded me that this is the age where girls start talking about it, because this is when the warnings about how to behave to avoid trouble really start pouring in as their bodies start changing. So, I guess if the topic isn’t too heavy for his female friends it isn’t too heavy for him either. Is it okay if it feels too heavy for me right now?

Jilted ex-boyfriend puts up abortion billboard

I saw this article & for some reason I assumed that anyone reading it would see through the hyperbolic billboard to the petty abusive personality behind it. Then I looked at the comments (I know, I know I should never look at the comments on any news story), and remembered I was awake and on planet Earth. Is it really that hard to see that even if she had an abortion she had a perfectly logical reason not to want to be tied to this guy for life?

Rape Culture & Racism

All this backlash about Rihanna’s Man Down video sounds a lot like “Think of the Poor Rapist” with a side of “How Dare She?” and it highlights (for the nth time) the influence of racism in rape culture. If this video had featured a dainty young white woman it would probably be getting hailed as a anthem by everyone from the NRA to Sarah Palin for showing a woman fighting back because she was empowered by owning a gun. Don’t believe me? Think about Independence Day & Goodbye Earl.

But a black woman who both enjoys sex and thinks she has the right to say no? Pfft, rape culture already thinks women in general can ask to be assaulted, but for WOC there’s the extra layer that claims that we never say no. We’re not just sluts for wearing tight clothes, we’re supposed to be sluts on demand for anyone that wants us and once we are in our “proper position” we can only redeemed by becoming Mammy. Sexual agency is never an option for us.

Goodbye Earl celebrates the murder of an abusive husband, and Independence Day is all about a woman remembering her mother freeing her through a murder suicide. The lyrics & the tempo of both songs is upbeat, catchy, with no sign of remorse or grief. In stark contrast Man Down focuses on her regret and highlights that having acted in the heat of the moment Rihanna regrets taking the life of her rapist. Yet, it is her song that is blasted for promoting violence. And for added…something, her abuser’s name is brought up as though his actual violence against women is less important than the fictionalized revenge of a rape victim. Interesting how the message after all these years is still one of “You don’t own your body, so how dare you try to defend it?”

ETA: A friend on Twitter hipped me to the fact that there was some backlash against Goodbye Earl for encouraging women to resort to murder in order to escape domestic violence. I tried to find links, but the song is old enough that all I can find is the stuff about the Chicks being Anti-American and some references to their being some complaints about the song. Anyone remember the size & shape of the uproar against Goodbye Earl?

 

 

Attack Of The Cult Of The Fetus

Aside from a willful refusal to read past Stanek’s misleading headline (I never admitted embellishing anything. Because I didn’t embellish anything. But hey, keep letting Stanek lie to you instead of reading for yourself.), I’m getting the same few criticisms leveled at me in the spam comments over and over. Apparently I’m cold, not graceful enough in my response to the attacks by Stanek & her followers, and too angry. Also, if I were telling the truth I’d act just the way the commenter demands (that ranges from naming the doctor to filing a lawsuit to publishing my medical records to not talking about what happened to me at all to providing them with a platform to blogging how many tears I cried), and all I can do at this point is roll my eyes and wait for the trolls to figure out that I’m not going to be bullied.

Stanek’s lies about me aren’t going to become the truth no matter how many times she plasters her delusional interpretation of my words on any site that will accept them. People that claim to be pro life demand to know why I didn’t just die that day instead of having an abortion to save my life. Others insist major surgery (that is what a c-section is for the record) was a better option than the abortion. Fascinating how many people claim to be medical professionals and then display a complete lack of medical ethics in trying to prescribe treatment for a patient they’ve never seen.

I’m 99.9% certain that most of the people making demands would swear they were acting this way out of concern for their cause or my kids or some other batch of buzzwords that masks the reality of their hatred for women. I suspect my race adds a layer to the conversation (I’m also getting lots of comments about knowing my place which would be upsetting if it wasn’t so ridiculous), but then this wouldn’t be the first time misogyny and racism have intersected in the life of a WOC. So, once more the new folks who will undoubtedly be dropping by today. Stanek is attacking my experience to raise her profile. I can’t stop her from doing that, but I’m not going to be bullied into pretending that I lied about the treatment I received. Nor am I going to pretend that this harassment is coming from any place but one of hatred.