On WFC, and doing what you can when everyone thinks you’re wrong

Once again. the 2016 World Fantasy Convention is on the horizon, and it’s plagued by the same sorts of problems it’s had for at least the last several years. The big issue this time is the programming and the programming head, Darrell Schweitzer, who’s online in various places doubling down on the racist, sexist, ableist, old fashioned, and out of touch panel descriptions people have been arguing against since they were first announced. #SFWPro

Some people have pushed back against this, in various ways. The fabulous Ellen Datlow has stepped in to create a couple of new panels (2 YA, 1 MG, and one on contemporary Asian authors) but that’s all she can do, since she wasn’t on programming in the first place. Fran Wilde put herself in the bullseye, using her position as a well-liked and popularly-selling author to force a change in the worst panel descriptions by refusing to be on programming, and didn’t agree to be on one of Datlow’s panels until those changes were made public.

We had already bought our memberships, when they first went on sale in 2015 and we could get 2 for same price as 1 would be later — entirely because it was in Columbus, and my partner was from there. Wanted to show me around. We can’t afford to take the time/money for a “vacation” but combining it with a convention, where we could see friends and do some business… That made sense.

After talking it over with him, I publicly announced that we weren’t going to attend WFC 2017, and wouldn’t buy a membership to 2018 (or any other year) until we saw real change in the con. And then I went to work figuring out how to use my attendance this year to make the most difference.

Which is when I ran into the same problem I see time and time again: When issues arise in the genre community, there’s no right answer. For a lot of us, situations like the current WFC drama are unwinnable. Someone — that you care about, or work with, or need to not piss off because it affects your career or your personal life — will announce that you’re wrong no matter what you do.

For example, here’s my possible choices and what I’ve already been told about them:

  1. If I participate, I’m “committing to a terrible con”.
  2. If I don’t, I’m throwing away the money I paid to go, without it affecting the con runners in any way — I’m not important enough for them to care, and they already have my money.
  3. If I sell the membership, I’m giving up my spot to someone who wants to be there enough to buy a membership, so who probably won’t stand up for what’s right the way I am/would.
  4. If I don’t go, and make a big public point of why I’m not going, I get drama from people who like the con as it is, and that includes industry people, which affects my career.
  5. If I go, appear on a panel, and use that time to broaden the panel description, point out that the original was wrong and why, help enlighten the audience as to the bigger picture they may not be aware of, I’m “showing the programming head he was right to have that panel in the first place, by being on it”. I get drama from people who want the con to change overnight, exactly their way, and that includes industry people, which affects my career.

I want to do what’s right, make the con better, support my friends who are doing the same, and not let the bad parts slide. My decision was to:

Let everyone know we’re not attending 2017 and possible skipping future years too, unless there’s a concrete and visible improvement. Keep reminding programming that I suggested other ideas which were ignored, the panels don’t have a single 100% great topic/description, and they need improvement. Go this year (I have the memberships), be on one panel only, do item #5, and educate people as much as I can. Not buy new memberships until change happens. Keep talking about this issue. If there’s an opportunity to be more involved and fight for more change from the inside, I’ll take it.

And yet… that’s not good enough, or it’s too much, or I’m not being enough of an activist, or I’m causing trouble for no reason. I don’t mind causing trouble, good trouble, when I’m standing up and pushing for change. I can handle the people that don’t like my SJW ways; I am willing to risk my career over doing what I think is right.

But the folks who say they’re allies and activists and then get dismissive and rude because I’m not doing *enough* or “other writer” isn’t? You’re ignoring the emotional effort it takes to do this work in the first place. The people who hadn’t bought a ticket and weren’t going anyway but expect those who were to just drop out now? That’s easy for you to say, isn’t it? You already weren’t invested.

The truth is that big, old fashioned, institutions like WFC can stand to lose a couple of dozen left-leaning people who don’t attend regularly; they can ignore the people who aren’t buying memberships. Readercon and Wiscon didn’t change because people stopped going — they changed because people who cared enough to GOT INVOLVED and made those cons better. We need bloggers and Twitter shouters and people who’ll stand up and say, “This is wrong and it needs to change,” but we also need the people who’ll draft the programming and be on accessibility committees and show up. The people who sit on those panels and bring something new to the audience, rather than the stale and repetitious same old.

To those who want to keep things rooted in the past, in some imaginary world where white men were the bestest most influential writers, and women and PoC and queer folk only had a few good books or stories so we don’t need to talk about them much: you’re missing out on unique, beautiful, entertaining and moving and memorable stories by those people you’re ignoring in favor of your long-dead heroes. You’re missing out on the way the genre community is changing now, growing and evolving and becoming something amazing to be a part of. If you insist on fighting against the tide, we’ll eventually drown you. I welcome you to get on the boats with us, though. Make a place for all of us, and we’ll ensure there’s still a place for you.

To those who care more about being able to say that they are right than actually doing right: You’re not just tearing down the institutions. You’re tearing down the people who are working to make bring those institutions into the 21st century. You’re making it harder for people to stand up; you’re wearing on us, just the same way the folks on the other side of the fight are. If you want real change, support everyone who’s making an effort, at least a little, and save the derision for the ones who stand in our way.

To those who are taking heat from both sides to make WFC — or any other part of the genre community — a better place: I love you, and I’m with you, and you’re going to make a difference. Don’t give up.

Even when it feels like everyone thinks you’re wrong.

Snokone/Boskone Recap: Escape from Blizzardopolis

We were all set to leave for Boston bright and early last Friday morning, when I got a 6 am email that my son’s school was closing for the day. The morning ended up being a mix of looking for a sitter, enjoying a comfortably-paced breakfast at home with the whole family, and worrying about which panels we’d have to be late to. (For the record: I missed the “Food in Fiction” panel, and the SFF Poetry panel.) I managed to get a hold of someone, we packed up the car, and had an easy 5.5 hour drive to the convention. It seemed the worst part of the trip would be out of the way at the very beginning.

There was just enough time to drop off luggage, pick up badges, and for me to down a large Manhattan, before the 8 PM panel “Father, You Made Me”. Well-moderated, smart people saying smart things. Then Don‘s reading, which was attended by multiple people, even though the room was… a boardroom. Complete with a gigantic oval table that we all sat around. But he made it work, and read both previously published and in-progress work. After that was food — love the casualness of that Irish-style pub, and thoroughly enjoyed what turned out to be the only meal we ate in Boston — and sleep.

Saturday started off right in the hotel room with pour-over espressos and paczki we brought from home. Then, a tour of the art show. I don’t remember doing that last year, but there was an amazing private collection of 20th century SFF-related art, including a lot of original book cover art that I adored. I also was given a beautiful pair of huge garnet earrings that made me feel pretty right before my noon reading, and slightly distracted me from being nervous. I ended up reading “Annabelle Tree“, and wasn’t entirely prepared for that request, so while I read it through just fine, I have to admit that I teared up at the end. I hadn’t read the story in a long time, and I don’t think I’d ever read it for an audience before, so it was a little bit new to me again. I’m glad I got the opportunity to experience it in that way.

Because of my reading, I missed the beginning of “Finding Diverse Fiction”, but it was worth attending just the second half. I was pleased to see that the panelists themselves were a diverse group of people, and again, it was a group of smart people saying smart things about finding and creating diversity in the work we read and write. I wish I’d have been there for all of it. I spent an hour prepping for the rest of the day: making plans to meet up with folks, record an audio interview, and spend several hours finishing up the newest issue of Lakeside Circus so I could roll that out. (I had 7 hours free before my 10 PM panel on Jodorowski; plenty of time!) The panel — Non-Western Folklore and Fairy Tales with Ken Liu and Max Gladstone — was so much fun. It was just the three of us, but as I later declared on Twitter, you can easily have an amazing panel that’s just Ken and Max in conversation with each other. I am comfortable admitting that I added useful things to this particular conversation, but seriously, if you want intelligent fiction written by incredibly intelligent, well-read people whose interests include non-Western fiction, check out their work. I know Ken well from working with him several times before, and Max I’m getting to know from having attended some of the same conventions and being on some of the same panels; they’re authors I can trust the passion they have for literature to their work. Or panels. Or the bar. Or the one time we stayed up late drinking in the hallway at Readercon and listening to Max explain how social-status drink buying works in China.

Um. Right. Back to Boskone. The plan was, go to Fran‘s reading at 3 PM, then get a proper meal, do an interview, be a bit social, and buckle down for a chunk of editing/formatting/web page building work before a late dinner and then the JODOROWSKI PANEL. (I love Jodorowski’s work, I suggested this panel, and I knew at least one other panelist had spent the last several weeks prepping for it the way that I had.)

None of these things happened.

While in Fran’s reading, I got a text from my sitter asking if we’d be able to be back by Monday morning, or whether the winter storm we knew about — which had morphed into a blizzard without us knowing about it — was going to strand us at the hotel into Tuesday. Note: we’d planned to leave Sunday after my last panel, like usual. Checked the weather reports, and within a few minutes realized that our choices were to leave right then, or plan to stay until Tuesday, because travel on Sunday would be “nearly impossible, and life threatening” given the 50mph winds and white out conditions now forecasted. Monday was expected to be less snowy but actually colder. With work and a child at home, we decided there was no choice but to leave, and were out of the hotel 30 minutes later. And… much snow-covered driving ensued.

But don’t feel bad for me. Thanks to the wonderful programming committee, I got to have a great time at Boskone 52, even though I was there for less than 24 hours, and let me just tell you this: the best Valentine’s Day present ever might just be finding out who’s got your back during a blizzard.

Note: “Snokone”, name for the snowy alt-version of Boskone, was coined by Fran Wilde.

#SFWAPro

Boskone Recap: So You’re on 4 Panels and No One Knows You’re Going Deaf

Two weeks ago, I attended my first Boskone, and I had a great time. It was the best mix of fun and friends and panels – four of which I was on as an invited panelist – and there was really only one big “oh hell no” moment of the whole convention (more on that later). But before I can talk about the drive, the food, the hotel, the wonderful people, I have to talk about something I’ve been avoiding:

I’ve lost a lot of my hearing in the last few years and I can’t hide it anymore.

To begin with, I wasn’t purposefully hiding it. A few years ago I’d noticed that I wasn’t hearing as well as I thought I should, and had it checked out. After a hearing screen revealed a significant amount of loss, I had more tests, saw specialists, had an MRI, and was diagnosed with otosclerosis. I looked at the treatment options, which basically consisted of surgery, and decided that I could live with where I was. Rather than have someone stick a scalpel into my ear and wiggle it around, I’d just accept and adapt.

That worked fine for a while. I learned to take seats up front in class, make sure I was facing someone when they spoke to me, and got much better at reading lips. Compared to the disabilities many people have to live with every day, this seemed like an annoyance but not truly disabling. Except that otosclerosis doesn’t get better over time, or even level out. It gets worse, and mine got worse faster than I was hoping.

I’ve lost 70% of the hearing in my right ear and 40% in the left. I’ve lost mainly low tones – which cuts out people speaking, especially men. I’ve lost enough that I can’t play the violin anymore, and after it sitting in my closet for a year, I donated it last week. I can still hear my son speaking (his little kid’s voice is high-pitched still, and he tends toward being loud anyway) and music when loud enough or I’m wearing headphones to cut everything else out, but I get startled easily because my boss has walked up behind me and I didn’t hear it. I have to say, “I’m sorry, what?” or “Are you talking to me?” on a regular basis. I’m starting to speak too loudly or too quietly because I can’t tell the difference; in my head I’m still the same volume as before. It’s difficult for people to tell how much I can hear when they can see that I still notice higher pitch sounds coming from the other room, but don’t always understand what they’re saying to my face. In addition to all of this, I get intermittent ringing in my ears as I lose new tones, and the fuzzy white noise of my own blood moving through my head can be very loud at times, and sometimes I lose all sound/sense of space on my left entirely.

Having people assume you’re not bothering to pay attention is hard enough when it’s coworkers and friends. What about when it’s late at night and you have to ask someone sleepy to repeat what they just whispered, and what you missed was, “I love you”? My persistent (but totally unfounded, I know) worry is that someday they’ll get tired of saying it twice.

Boskone really brought the depth of this problem to the forefront. Being on panels meant I had to position myself at the far right of the table, so the other panelists would be on the side most likely to be audible, sometimes after other panelists had already taken their seats. (Everyone was very nice about moving once I explained.) I didn’t hear the entirety of the conversation up at the panelist table, and I didn’t hear almost any of the audience questions, because there wasn’t a mic for the audience members. I smiled at more than one person, when hanging out in a group of friends, hoping that was a suitable answer to what was probably a comment aimed at me. I participated in the Sunday morning flash challenge, but lost points when the judge on the end couldn’t hear my reading since I’d spoken too quietly without realizing it. A man standing next to me on an escalator said something I couldn’t hear, and when I said, “I’m sorry, what?” his response was “Don’t worry, it wasn’t sexist.”

He’d assumed I’d heard him and just didn’t like what he’d said. That happens a lot.

So. Now what?

I’ve told my work that I have this issue, and we’ll see if that helps there. I’ve started the process to schedule the surgery, which scares me but at the same time I no longer feel that I have a choice. The surgery isn’t guaranteed to fix my hearing, by the way. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but if it’s successful it will most likely only stop (for now) or slow the progress of my loss. I’ve started telling people what’s happening with me, so that at least I’m not offending people who don’t understand that no, really, I’m not ignoring you on purpose. (Those who know and choose to be jackasses are not my problem, but so far, that’s not been many.) I’ll continue to work to make it easier for me to understand others, including moving my work desk this week, making sure I’m facing people when they speak to me, and being honest about what I can hear and what I can’t.

What can you do?

If we’re at a convention and you’re on a panel with me, sit on my left. If you’re moderating the panel, please repeat an audience question before any of the panelists answer it (not just for me, but for the rest of the audience, too). If I’m speaking too loudly or too quietly compared to the rest of the people in the conversation, assume I don’t realize it and let me know. Move to where I can see your face if you’re speaking to me, or do something to make sure I know you’re speaking to me (instead of someone else in the group) before you address me. Saying my name works just fine, and so does tapping me on the shoulder or arm.* Know that listening to one person in a quiet room is vastly easier for me than listening to one person speaking as part of a group of five or twenty people speaking all at once, or in a crowded bar or hotel lobby. This means that you might not have to make any adjustments when we’re hanging out alone but suddenly have to be more conscious of how you speak to me in a restaurant.

Remember that I want to hear you, I don’t mean to be ignoring you, and I don’t mind putting effort into making our conversation easier, if you just let me know that you want to be heard.

I hate the idea that I’m making anyone go out of their way for me, and if it only impacted what I heard/understood, I wouldn’t be publicly saying this at all. Unfortunately, my hearing loss has started to affect what others think of my opinion about them, and I don’t ever want to make a fan or friend feel that I just didn’t bother to listen.

Thank you.

* I know this opens me up to being touched by strangers, which isn’t ideal at all, so please use your best judgement about whether tapping me on the arm is really the only way to get my attention at that moment. If it is, and you’re polite about it, I’ll understand.

Edited to add: Someone mentioned this on FB, and I agree. Please do not say, “Oh it wasn’t important,” when I ask you to repeat yourself. You’re assuming that I didn’t want to listen the first time, and you’re feeling slighted when in fact I just couldn’t hear you and actually want to know what you said. And then you’re making me do even more work to coax it out of you, because I don’t want you to feel slighted, and I do want to be a part of the conversation. Plus, refusing to repeat it means you’re excluding me from being able to continue as a part of the discussion, and deciding for me what is and isn’t important to me. You’re important to me, and I wouldn’t have asked you to repeat it unless I did really want to hear it the first time.

#SFWApro

Where to find me at Boskone

Attending Boskone this weekend? Here’s where to find me:

Saturday

Gender Roles in Doctor Who (1 PM to 1:50 PM), Harbor III

From the description: “The characters (Companions, foes, etc.) in TV’s Dr. Who have included men, women, and “other.” How have they all conformed to “expected” gender conventions? Discuss notable breaks in tradition, giving examples (this will not be graded.)” With LJ Cohen, Max Gladstone, Julia Rios, and Laurie Mann (M).

Capes, Canes, and Superhero Comics (3 PM to 3:50 PM), Burroughs

From the description: “How we treat our superheroes and villains provides a unique view of our own culture’s beliefs and values regarding ability and disability. Panelists explore the complementary and conflicting nature of superpowers and disabilities. What do the cane bearers and cape wearers from comics reveal about ourselves, our health concerns, and our treatment of those with permanent disabilities and chronic conditions?” With Dana Cameron, Christopher Golden, Brianna Spacekat Wu, Daniel P. Dern (M).

Warning: I have to run after the end of this panel if I’m going to make it to the next one, so I won’t be available to talk immediately after.

From Pixels to Print: The Challenges of Running a Magazine (4 pm to 4:50), Harbor I

Note: I’m moderating this.

From the description: “Got a great idea for a online magazine or podcast that will feature exciting new content, authors, and artists? How do print versus online models compare? Figuring out what you want to do may be the easy part. Now let’s talk about funding, staffing, and managing your organization, and then printing (or enpixeling), distributing, and publicizing your precious products. Successful magazine and podcast veterans tell you how they do it all!” With Scott H. Andrews (Beneath Ceaseless Skies), Neil Clarke (Clarkesworld Magazine), and Shahid Mahmud (Galaxy’s Edge).

Sunday

Flash Fiction Slam (9:30 AM to 10:50 AM), Burroughs

Performing a never-before seen flash fiction story, in under 3 minutes! I may write it the night before! Who knows? Come and cheer me on as I compete against several other authors, some of whom may even be prepared and/or awake!

Writers on Writing: Sex Versus Romance (1 PM to 1:50), Harbor II

From the description: “Authors share ideas and experiences about writing scenes that are erotic as compared to scenes that are romantic. Which is harder? Which is more fun to write? Does your protagonist’s gender or preference make a difference? How do you accommodate audiences of different ages or sexual orientations? Is romance just sex in soft focus?” With Anna Davis, Nancy Holder, and Darlene Marshall (M).

And then I run away home.

The rest of the schedule is online here.

#sfwapro

Post-Con Pile of Thoughts: Readercon 2013 edition

I’m home and somewhat rested, so in between all the things that must get done today (and this week), I’ve got to start my Readercon posts. I wasn’t so good about them last year as I was the year before, and this time the plan is to look–in depth–at what this convention was for me. First up, some notes:

  • The logistics were not good. Travel meant driving to Boston Thursday, and home Sunday, and of the three people in the car I am the only driver, so it was me behind the wheel for 7 or 8 hours each way. Add to that never getting enough sleep at conventions, starting the trip tired since my son was sick all week, and other annoyances, meant it was a unpleasant experience getting to the con and a miserable one getting home. Changes for next year include potentially: staying until Monday so that Sunday can be relaxing, visiting with friends, and getting enough sleep; taking the train (which means driving an hour to the station, and getting from the Boston station to the hotel) or flying (never a non-stop because our airport is small, and still commuting from airport to hotel), or… I’ve got time to weigh the options.
  • The hotel had problems. No bar, no lobby. They lost my books for a day even though I had delivery confirmation and asked the desk staff in person four times. This was after I’d called ahead to confirm they could handle deliveries to guests, had a box of my new collection shipped to the hotel, and paying for faster, Thursday, shipping. The staff finally only found them after I planted myself in the registration area and waited for 45 minutes–while the person sent to look went, came back empty-handed, saw me, sighed, went off again, and then found the box. I called down Sunday for a luggage cart, to be told there was a wait and I should be downstairs 30 minutes later–only to then be told there was no list, no plan, and people should just hang out til one comes by. The sandwich cart they provided a few times a day sold out quickly and they left again instead of getting more food; the promised “pub food menu” didn’t include the chicken strips/chicken wings/other bar staples we usually ordered; internet you paid for in your room didn’t work in the meeting rooms (where panels were held–technically the 3rd floor, and the room internet worked on the 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 6th floors). Oh, and the smaller of the two Sunday brunch buffet options was still $25 a person.
  • I saw nearly everyone I meant to see, and a hundred other people besides. Since most of that was, “Oh, hey, you’re Carrie Cuinn, I wanted to meet you!” as I was walking to one panel or another, I missed most of the panels I wanted to attend. But the conversations were often important, the people were almost entirely friendly, and I got a lot more work done than I was expecting.
  • SFWA was on a lot of people’s minds. I had five different women recognize my name from the online forum and make a point to tell me how much they appreciated my posts there. They all said they felt uncomfortable posting themselves. They worried they’d be shouted down, dismissed, insulted–and they were glad I was saying the things they’d have said themselves. I was floored, and grateful. I didn’t set out to be anyone’s hero, I just wanted to make the Bulletin a more professional publication, and ended up saying the things I thought were obvious, logical, and true, during the discussion of that and other topics.
  • Many, many, other SFWA members and officers took the time to say hello, too, reminding me that the organization is generally a welcoming place, with a smaller percentage of grumpy iconoclasts and a much larger percentage of forward-thinking, open-minded, community-oriented writers and editors. Between hanging out all weekend with my friends Eugene Myers (now our East Coast rep), Fran Wilde, and Wes Chu, an hour-long conversation with Treasurer Bud Sparhawk at the official party Friday night, catching Ken Liu and Mike Allen between panels Saturday and Sunday, chatting with Ellen Datlow, Neil Clarke, and Kate Baker (who had a TARDIS skirt!) at a party Saturday night, and meeting up with Gordon van Gelder, Scott Edelman, Michael Burstein, and Athena Andreadis on Sunday–as well as others who stopped for brief greetings as we passed in the hall… I felt I got time with a good spectrum of the members. It’s nice to be able to point to an event like Readercon as proof that our members are a spectrum–there is no one type of member, or SFWA style of writing, just a bunch of professional writers who all think SF/F is a genre worth promoting.
  • A quick dash into the dealer’s room turned into an hour of chatting with Ian Rogers and Gemma Files, a reminder that I need to read more of their work. I bought Ian’s SuperNOIRtural, and he bought my collection.
  • I took part in Saturday night’s Speculative Fiction Poetry Reading. It was my first time reading poetry aloud, and the piece (a pantoum about a robot, an interstellar treasure hunter, and who we choose to be with at the end) was well-received. Since I only finished it a few minutes before the reading, I’m revising it today. I like it better already, and by request will be sending it to Mythic Delirium. Continue reading

Sexual Harassment at Cons, Part 2: How to Stop It (and other thoughts)

On Sunday, I wrote about sexual harassment at genre conventions. By the time I sat down to write this, Tuesday morning, that post has had over 5,400 views. I expected a few hundred. Instead, everywhere I go online, there it is. I’ve spent the almost 48 hours since dealing with the reactions to it–good, supportive, confused, and trolling. It’s been pointed out to me that it’s the most personal thing I’ve ever said in public, and that’s true.

It’s probably for the best that I didn’t expect such a big response. I’m not sure if I would have lost my nerve. I often point out that I’m an introvert, because online you can’t really tell, but when I say important things, personal things, I always have to hold my breath before I hit the button that makes it visible everyone else. I rarely do it. The more my writing and other work gets known, the more I have to take a deep breath and push forward, though my natural tendency is to hide under the covers until everyone goes away. I love the majority of the interaction I have with people, it just takes energy that is only replenished by quiet time, without the majority of the interaction I have with people.

But this needed to be said. And it’s telling, to me, that I honestly didn’t think me sharing those moments would be a big deal. There are a couple of examples from that list which are unusual, horrible, and clearly harassment, obvious to pretty much everyone (including me, at the time) but most of it is the little things, the everywhere-you-go, background radiation of attending a genre convention. It’s there, and we all see it, we all experience it, and we’re so used to it that it’s the accepted price we pay for being women in genre. I stopped going to cons for several years, put my nascent career as a writer on hold, just to get away from it all. I came back because I love writing. I love writing science fiction specifically… and going to cons is part of the work we do as writers to get our stories out there. I wonder how many women leave genre, never to return, because of incidents like these. How many fans do we lose? How many go to a convention and never come back?

We can’t let that stand. Fixing it, though, seems so hard. As I said in my quick update this morning, “The power needed to break free from the gravity of this mess is astounding.” It is exhausting. But there are ways to stop it, and that’s what we need to do next. Continue reading

Well. That Happened.

A few days ago I posted (here) a list of things I’ve experienced over 20 years of attending conventions–a few “big ticket” items that were obviously horrible, and several “smaller” things that are still definitely harassment, but only sometimes get considered that (and, as always, context is key, but we’re talking about things done by strangers who usually hadn’t even introduced themselves first). I expected it to be read by my usual readers, and thought it was a good way to lend support to the other women doing the same thing right now; instead it’s been spread around the Internet and I’ve spent the almost 48 hours since dealing with the reactions–good, supportive, confused, and trolling–to it. I’m introverted by nature, and the whole thing has been a bit overwhelming.

Almost everyone said they’d only seen one or two of the big bad things, or maybe not seen any, but at the same time, the smaller things? Everyone’s seen or experienced those. I’ve heard things ranging from “oh I thought it was just me” to “well, I’ve seen guys pick up women they didn’t know and carry them out of the room, and no, no one even tried to help those women even if they were protesting, but is that really harassment?” to “you should be grateful a guy wants your attention”. I realized that not saying anything sooner was an example of the problem: we’re so used to it that we notice, enough to roll our eyes and mumble, “Jerk,” when it’s over, but don’t do anything about it.

We’re worn down. Tired. I’m exhausted just from talking about it, and having my experiences talked about, for less than 2 days. Imagine how hard it is to speak up when you’re a regular con attendee and you’ve been convinced that this is an inescapable something that happens. The power needed to break free from the gravity of this mess is astounding.

I’m writing up a post now about how to deal with harassment at cons. UPDATE: Part 2, Stopping Harassment, is here.

Please stop touching my breasts, and other things I say at cons

UPDATE: Part 2, Stopping Harassment, is here.

I wasn’t going to post this today, because I have a lot of other things going on, and another post I need to make this afternoon, but I’ve put it off long enough. Not only do we–as writers, and women–have to deal with sexism, and the agressive insistence from some men that we all just settle down, but we also have to deal with being harassed at conventions where we’re supposed to be fans, writers, editors, and publishers. (Those links go to other writers saying the same thing.) Worse, because so often it goes unreported, many people’s response has been, “I didn’t know that happened.” How can you stop something we don’t talk about? So, okay, let’s talk about the details.

Hi, I’m Carrie, and I’ve been sexually harassed at genre conventions. (Putting this behind a link because triggering. You’ve been warned.)

Continue reading

My Guide to Conventions #1: The Five Best Questions To Ask A Panel of Writers

(Please note this is snark, based on things I’ve seen con goers do time and time again. Do not do these things.)

Winter lingers on but spring is right around the corner, and already this year’s conventions are underway. Once we start to think of ourselves as writers, it’s natural to want to be around our own kind. Conventions offer ample opportunity to meet authors and other publishing professionals, as well as take in educational panels that might improve our careers. The programming committee puts together a string of panels on various topics and invites participants to spend an hour talking about that topic.

The first thing you have to know is which panels you want to attend. Of course the subjects are important, but ignore that for the moment and focus on the names. Which of your favorite authors will be speaking? Check off those panels first, because this is a great opportunity to meet your heroes without coming across as a “fan”. After all, you’re going to be sitting in front of them for an hour, learning about writing. They’ll know right away that you’re serious about your craft because you bothered to be at their panel. Schedule the rest of your activities around these choices, and make sure to give yourself ample time to get there early and score that front row seat. Middle of the aisle is the best, even if you have to step on a few toes to get there.

After that, just pick a bunch of panels that sound cool. If there’s a topic that you feel you could have been a panelist for, definitely go to that. The programming committee will have spies in the audience to see who asks the best questions, and those people often get invited back next year. Don’t you want to be on a panel? I thought so.

Once in a panel, in your seat, pay very close attention to what the speakers have to say. Unless, of course, you found the panel with the idiot speaker (there’s always at least one, the cousin or girlfriend of someone on programming) who’s talking about things you already know, in which case you can ignore them until question time. Tweet something, or check Facebook or catch a quick nap. People will respect you since they’ll realize that you know so much about writing that you didn’t even need to pay attention.

When you’re ready to be an active participant in the discussion, raise your hand. Usually the moderator will ask to hold all of the questions until the end, but that’s just for people who don’t know what they want to say. You will have read this post and come prepared, so you can ask your questions at any time. Pick from the following list, and be sure the read the notes at the end:

  1. If you’re in a panel about anything related to publishing, anything at all, describe your current novel project and ask for a list of publishers who would be willing to buy it. If the answer is, “We can’t give you a list, you’ll need to submit to publishers you think would be interested in your kind of work until you find the right fit,” just know that this is a test. The gatekeepers want to know if you’re serious about getting published. Do not give up the floor. Do not back down. Insist that they give you at least a few names to start with, and make sure to have a pencil and paper ready to jot down that list. That’s how you make an impression.
  2. If you happen to be on a panel which is largely made up of female or non-white panelists, don’t let them shortchange you! Obviously, these people are only on the panel because the qualified white male authors weren’t available. Ask for a list of the people who were supposed to be on the panel instead, so that you can look up their work. It will balance out whatever information the second-string panelists gave you, and you’ll get a more well-rounded experience.
  3. When you don’t have a question because you already know more than the panelists do, be sure to share your knowledge with the rest of the audience. Raise your hand, but instead of asking anything, begin by saying, “This is a more of a comment than a question…” That way every knows to pay attention to you instead of waiting for a panelist to answer. Then mention a few of the key points from earlier in the discussion – so everyone can see you know what you’re talking about – and explain how those points are wrong.
  4. If the panelists are discussing the history of fiction, genre, conventions, the publishing industry, or anything else, be sure to ask for an annotated bibliography. All of the best panels prepare these handouts in advance, but they’re like prizes for the most astute audience members. You have to ask for them. If the panel refuses to provide you with one, sigh heavily and sit down. Eye rolling is good here too. That way it’s obvious that you know the panel failed in one of their most basic tasks.
  5. Often the panel won’t get to everything about the topic, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to talk about it. If you think they left out something important, no matter how loosely related to the discussion that’s been had, don’t hesitate to bring it up! This could be your chance to get your questions answered from two panels ago.

Once the panel is over, be sure to get to your favorite author, or the one you most need to correct, as quickly as possible. They take the first three audience members and will answer additional questions at length, but time constraints prohibit them from taking more. Those lucky three will get to talk as long as they want about anything they want, so don’t miss your chance! Some of my best times at a convention were hanging out in a bar or even author’s hotel room, talking late into the night about my writing, because I was persistent enough to catch their eye after a panel was over.

Lastly, there are some ways to get more attention if you feel the audience or panel isn’t seeing you. If the panel is dull or the moderator ignores you when you have your hand raised, feel free to leave the panel right then. Even if this means that you have to step over people, make noise, or otherwise interrupt the discussion, that’s okay. Everyone will see that you were too important to be ignored, and they won’t make that mistake again next time.

You should also pay attention to the volume of your voice. If your panel has been full of noisy people, the best way to get them to keep it down in the future is to ask your question in a very quiet tone. You may be asked to repeat it a few times, but don’t get any louder. This will remind people to be respectfully silent when you are speaking. Conversely, if raising your hand isn’t working, you can always just shout your question. Most likely the moderator didn’t see you, because they certainly would have called on you if they had.

Yes, this post is meant to be sarcastic, a list of things con goers certainly shouldn’t do or expect. It’s also a list of behaviors I see at every convention I attend. I hope that by putting it all together, it’s so absurdly over-the-top that readers get they’re not meant to actually do any of it. Plus, you seem like it when I get a bit snarky 😉

Oh, did you hear my latest SF Signal podcast appearance? Episode #175 is The 2013 List of Conventions You’re Looking Forward To This Year, with Gail Carriger, Jaym Gates and Patrick Hester (February 4, 2013).