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.

FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE #4: Dachshunds from Mars

Last weekend, I asked people on Twitter and Facebook for random writing prompts. From those, I wrote seven micro and flash fiction stories. I’ll be posting them here over the next week. (You can read #1 and #2 and #3 already.)

The fourth story is courtesy of Bryan Thao Worra, who suggested “Dachshunds from Mars”, which of course I wrote. (Dachshunds are an easy sell to my brain, right up there with dinosaurs and robots.) Here is my 467-word interpretation of that prompt:

#SFWAPro

Dachshunds from Mars

“Cut!” the director yelled. A bell rang, and the set ground to a stop. On the other side of the camera, the buxom blond teen wearing the shimmery gold bikini and fishbowl astronaut helmet froze.

“I did it again, didn’t I?” she asked, her words muffled by the helmet.

“Candy, baby, if you can’t hit your mark, I’m gonna have to replace you,” the director said. He was a portly man in his late forties with a megaphone and a look of perpetual exhaustion. “You’re blocking the dogs.”

Candy glanced down, and jumped back a little. With her out of the way, the two stiff-backed dachshunds — still holding their positions (facing stage-right, heads held high so the overhead lights didn’t reflect off their miniature helmets) — were perched at the top of a mound of red-tinted sand. “Sorry, pups,” she said, her voice high pitched and contrite.

“Places!” the director called out. The larger of the dogs, a short-haired male with a black and brown dappled coat, immediately turned, walked down to the bottom of the dirt mound, and raised one paw in the air, ready to move forward. His co-star, a long-haired female (white, with large black spots), followed him, setting herself slightly in front of him, and a little behind, so the camera could clearly see them both.

She looked over at Candy for a moment, and shook her head slightly.

“What’s that?” the director asked of the dog trainer, who was sitting in the chair next to him. “Her helmet not on right?”

“Oh, no,” the man said, “Sadie’s just… picky about who she works with.”

“Yeah, well, she’s not in charge of our budget,” the director muttered, “or she’d understand why we hired the producer’s daughter.” Louder, he shouted, “All right, ready?” through the megaphone.

Candy quickly moved to position a few steps behind the dogs. “I’ll get it right this time!” she yelled back.

“I swear to God…” the director whispered, before yelling, “Action!”

Music swelled, the dogs walked forward, backs straight, head’s high, climbing the Martian hill toward the climactic final scene and —

Candy tripped, and fell, showering the dogs in a rain of red sand.

“Cut!” the director yelled. “What’s going on? Did she land on the dogs? Somebody check the damn dogs!”

The dust settled, and the two dachshunds strode purposefully, unhurt, to the front of the stage. Sadie put her head down and used one paw to take her helmet off. Beside her, Kauaʻi did the same. As one, they looked at Candy — who was shaking sand out of her bikini — looked back at the director, and walked off stage.

“I guess we’ll be in our trailer,” their trainer said, and hurried after them.

The director sighed. “Candy, baby…” he said, “we gotta talk.”

 


Want to write like this? Take my online flash fiction workshop, beginning September 2! Registration is now open — read more and sign up here.

FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE #3: Getting To Know You

Last weekend, I asked people on Twitter and Facebook for random writing prompts. From those, I wrote seven micro and flash fiction stories. I’ll be posting them here over the next week. (You can read #1 and #2 already.)

The third story is courtesy of John Teehan, who suggested a “shape-changing battle a la SWORD IN THE STONE, but more contemporary.” Here is my 470-word interpretation of the moment when the fight is over:

#SFWAPro

Getting To Know You

Arthur lay on his side, panting heavily, his right arm still transforming back from fish to man. Across the room, Kyle was draped half across the couch, half on the floor, coughing up water.

“Are we done?” Arthur asked. Kyle, spitting out one last mouthful, nodded. “Oh, good,” Arthur said, “Your parking meter has probably expired already.”

Kyle groaned, forcing himself up into a seated position, and smoothed wet black hair out of his eyes. “You started it,” he said, not quite unkindly.

Arthur shrugged, remembered his bruised ribs, and asked, “How’s that?”

“You clicked on my profile first,” Kyle said.

“I did not. I saw that you’d been checking me out, and looked at your page. And you messaged me first.”

“You invited me over.”

“Yeah, okay,” Arthur admitted. “I did do that. But you turned me into squirrel while I was getting us a glass of wine.”

“You were cute as a squirrel,” Kyle said, managing a slight grin. “If you’d stayed a squirrel, we wouldn’t have made a mess.”

“I am not going to stay a squirrel. I am a much better fox.” Arthur felt around on the floor near him, locating his glasses, and putting them back on his face. He saw Kyle more clearly, and frowned. “Your eye is going to be black tomorrow.”

“I’ll fix it,” Kyle replied. “Or I could keep it and tell everyone you were mean to me on our first date.”

“What? You turned into a wolf and chased me around the livingroom!” Arthur gestured at the room. “Look at this mess?”

“Wolf paws are a little hard to maneuver on. They’re big,” Kyle replied. “You need a new couch anyway.”

“It was a gift.”

Kyle looked down, and then back at Arthur, catching his gaze and staring directly back. “It’s gold corduroy.”

“It’s vintage,” Arthur tried, not entirely sure whether it was or not. “Fine, it’s ugly. But you still can’t manage your paws.”

“I’ll practice that,” Kyle said back, grinning now, “If you put some serious time into your falcon. You hit every single one of these walls, flying like you didn’t know how physics works.” He leaned forward slightly, and added. “That orange and silver fish was pretty hot though. I liked that one.”

“It’s a koi,” Arthur said, blushing slightly.

“Do you want to come sit with me?” Kyle asked softly. Arthur nodded, got to his feet, and walked – carefully, stepping over bits of fabric and broken glass – to the couch, taking a seat a half foot away from his date. “I am sorry about your fish tank,” Kyle said. “My pacu form is kinda big.”

“I can get another tank,” Arthur said. “Maybe you can help me pick it out?”

“Great!” Kyle said happily. “I was just going to ask what you were doing tomorrow night.”


Want to write like this? Take my online flash fiction workshop, beginning September 2! Registration is now open — read more and sign up here.

FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE #2: Diplomatic Relations With Angry Rabbits

Over the weekend, I asked people on Twitter and Facebook for random writing prompts. From those, I wrote seven micro and flash fiction stories. I’ll be posting them here over the next week.

The second story is courtesy of Leeman Kessler, who suggested the first line of the story. I wrote the rest, for a total of 1200 words — the longest “flash” story I wrote this week — posted below.

#SFWAPro

Diplomatic Relations With Angry Rabbits

“Sorry to disturb you, Mr. Mayor, but the rabbits are back.” At least Siobhan was kind enough to look sympathetic when she said it.

Evan Mikumba smiled slightly. “Thank you,” he said. “You may send them in.” She nodded and left.

Easy for her to feel sorry for me, he thought. She doesn’t have to find a way for us to live together. He shuffled random papers on his table, trying to put the thought out of his head. He didn’t have any proof that the rabbits could read his mind, but they had an uncanny ability to discern the mood of the humans around them. Evan didn’t want his city to end up like that village, Oswald, that collapsed a few miles away.

This group of rabbits had made contact with them, first.

Evan focused on his mental list: Easter bunnies, Beatrix Potter bunnies, Pat the Bunny… He took a deep breath, and forced himself to relax.

They padded in softly, the rabbit envoy and her brood-staff, on all fours. They moved with a jerky, jumping motion that Evan carefully avoided thinking of as a ‘hop’. It as only when he stood up that the rabbits, taking their places in the room, sat back on their heels.

Evan walked around the desk, putting his hand out. “Envoy,” he said as a greeting. She put out her paw, and he shook it, once. Her huge white muzzle came to just below his chin, but the tops of her stiff ears were over his head. She watched him with enormous orange eyes.

Velveteen Bunny, Guess How Much I Love You?

“What I can do for you?” he asked.

“We agree to dig our warrens deeper,”she replied, her voice so high-pitched it hurt his ears. “No more of your buildings will collapse.”

“Wonderful! Our engineers can help-”

“Not needed,” the Envoy said, cutting him off. “We know the earth.”

“Of course,” he said. “You’re right. Thank you.”

The Envoy’s furry face was impossible to decipher. Her whiskers twitched.

“Your food offering is not acceptable,” she said. “We need more, to make peace.” One ear flicked, and from behind her, a slightly smaller, brown-haired rabbit stepped forward.

“We need food for fifty mouths more,” it said. Evan couldn’t guess at its gender. “We visit the amount again in one year.” He wondered at its color. Is this what ‘nut brown’ means? Out loud, he said, “I can get the council to agree to that, if you will fill in the tunnels by the end of the month. We have houses and businesses, whole blocks closed off. My people need to go home.”

“Yes. There is more.” The Envoy looked at him, unblinking, for a long moment. “We also needed the Elgin.”

Evan was startled. He took a step back. “What?”

“The Elgin man. We took him, to make peace.”

“I told you that Doctor Clark is an old man. We agreed that we weren’t going to turn him over. How did you get to him?”

“We took the house. From below.”

Evan jumped, startled. The largest rabbit in the back of the room, a monstrosity of muscle under black and white spotted fur, stepped forward, teeth bared.

“The Elgin, for peace,” the Envoy repeated without flinching. “You were given time to provide him. Decide now if you want peace to continue.” Without waiting for an answer, she flicked her ears, signaling the other rabbits, who dropped to all fours and filed out of Evan’s office.

Evan waited. Siobhan came in a minute later, and shut the door behind her. “They’re gone,” she said quietly. “What did they want?”

“Nothing much,” he lied. “Get Sheriff Lee and that professor from the university on the phone. Have them meet me up the quarry in 30 minutes.”

“Why do you need them, Mr. Mikumba?” Siobhan was obviously worried – her brows were furrowed and her pale blue eyes were tearing up. “My uncle was Oswald. Are we safe here?”

“It’s fine, Siobhan. We just need to organize the food for the rabbits, and we’re looking at the quarry for storage.” He moved closer to her, putting one hand firmly on each of her shoulders. “This is all going to work out.” He grabbed his coat from the back of his chair, and left.

At the quarry, Evan stood by the edge, looking down in the brackish water far below. Behind him, he heard cars approaching on the gravel road. The cars stopped; doors opened and shut.

I liked Bunnicula, Evan thought. I really did.

“What’s this about, Mikumba?” Sheriff Lee called out. Evan turned around. Lee wasn’t a big man, but his thick Texas accent and oversized swagger made him seem larger. Next to him, Dr. Kessler seemed too tall, too lanky, too pale for a man who’d lived a decade under the southern sun.

Evan explained his meeting. Lee swore at regular intervals, a colorful mix of Korean words and good ol’ boy phrases that Evan had asked him, more than once, not to use in public. Kessler was silent until Evan finished.

“I can tell you there’s no way to safely exterminate these animals,” Kessler said. “Clark tried, for decades. Explosives, electricity, fire. He was never been able to get them all.”

“What about chemicals?” Evan asked. Kessler shrugged.

“Hormones caused this in the first place. Clark kept experimenting on them, made them smaller, but accidentally made them a lot smarter, too. They evolved vocal chords. It’s, it’s…” he moved his hands in the air wildly. “It’s impossible, and yet, here they are. Creating a government and making demands.”

“I’ve been tellin’ ya it ain’t no accident they burrowed under the city,” Lee said. “They had a plan all along.”

“My studies would lead me to agree with the Sheriff,” Kessler said. “The seismic team hasn’t been able to radar every inch of the warren, so it likely extends far beyond what we’re estimating, as well. I’ve gotten reports that some of those tunnels come up higher under strategically placed targets. If we don’t comply…”

“The city falls down,” Lee finished for him. Kessler shrugged again.

“Exactly.”

“What about the National Guard?” Kessler asked. “I haven’t seen them since they rolled out last month.”

“They were recalled,” Lee told him. “President won’t send the Army against talking rabbits. He’s considering a ‘diplomatic solution’, he says. As if my 12 gauge ain’t diplomatic.”

“Didn’t some of your deputies already try that?”

“Well, I told ’em not to, but yeah, a couple of the stupid ones went off on their own. Didn’t none come back.”

“If we can’t fight them, we need to appeal to them,” Evan said. “We can’t allow them to just take man for whatever kind of justice rabbits come up with.”

“Oh, I think Clark is gone already,” Kessler said. “Rabbits fight to the death, and eat the loser. It’s, uh, really quite violent.”

“Bunnies are supposed to be cute,” Lee said, shaking his head. “I had a pet bunny as a kid. Loved that thing.” He sighed.

Guess How Much I Love You? Evan thought.

“What choice do we have? I’ve decided: we work together,” he said aloud. “For peace.”


Want to write like this? Take my online flash fiction workshop, beginning September 2! Registration is now open — read more and sign up here.

Flash Fiction Challenge #1: “Visitation of Irba”

Over the weekend, I asked people on Twitter and Facebook for random writing prompts. From those, I wrote seven micro and flash fiction stories. I’ll be posting them here over the next week.

The first is courtesy of Paul Michael Anderson, who suggested a story with an orphan and an old man, using the Christ story. All in a flash length piece of fiction. (No pressure, right?) That idea resulted in 1165 words — the top of what’s usually considered “flash” — posted below.

#SFWAPro

Visitation of Irba

“It’s hot,” the boy said, pulling at the sweat-damp fabric of his shirt with his slender fingers. “I don’t like it out here.” He sighed then, a long breath that seemed to pull his whole body down as he exhaled. “It’s been all day already,” Dominik said. “It’s my birthday,” he added hopefully.

“Of course it is, little bunny. That’s why we’re here.”

Dominik looked around. “The sun is setting.”

“I’m sorry,” the old man said. “I thought it would be sooner, but we need to wait for it to happen.” He opened a pocket on his faded grey jacket. “I have saved this for you,” he said as he handed over an orange lollipop, still in a wrapper. “It is the last one, so take your time.”

“The last one ever, Grandpa?”

“Maybe,” the man said. “I hope not. Orange is my favorite flavor.”

“Mine, too.” Dominik unwrapped it carefully, handing over the torn plastic. His grandfather tucked the wrapper into his pocket, hand trembling slightly.

“Tell me about that one,” Dominik said, pointing at his grandfather’s chest before plopping the candy into his mouth. A faint breeze kicked up dust at their feet.

“It’s when they made me a general.”

“And that one?” Dominik asked around a mouthful of lollipop, pointing at a different medal.

“That was for living.”

“You get a medal for living?”

“You do when you’re the only one,” his grandfather said quietly. After a moment of silence, he added, “It was for Volgograd. For the battles.”

“I remember that one. The smoke blacked out the sun.”

“Volgograd was lost before you were born. You’re thinking of when Leninsk fell.”

“Oh.”

The air stilled, hot and dry.

After a while, Dominik took the lollipop stick from his mouth, slightly chewed. He rolled it between his fingers, back and forth. The old man took a worn handkerchief from his pants pocket and dabbed at his brow, watching the child, but saying nothing. Eventually, Dominik put his hand out, holding the stick above the hardened dirt. He looked at his grandfather.

“Why does it matter if we drop our trash?” Dominik asked, not for the first time. He hadn’t let go of the stick, though.

“You know why.” Dominik didn’t speak. “Fine,” the man said, “you will hear it again. We’ve destroyed enough of this world. The cities are gone. Even villages like what used to be here, are gone. Your parents – my daughter Marya – all gone.” The man coughed, a tiny sound, quickly muffled when he put the handkerchief to his mouth.

When he took it away, Dominik could see spots of red on it. “I’m sorry, Grandfather,” he said. He put the lollipop stick into the pocket of his shorts, and made a show of patting his pocket. “There. It won’t fall out.” He smiled, the first time in hours.

“I need you to be a good boy,” the man said, “because I was not.” He picked up the bottle at his feet, and shook it. Only a little water remained, sloshing around the bottom.

Dominik looked at the bottle thirstily, but didn’t reach for it. Instead, he asked, “Will you tell me a story? From when you were my age?”

The man placed the bottle into Dominik’s hands, gently pushing it toward him. As the boy gulped down the last of the water, a distant rumble grew closer. The ground trembled beneath their feet, and then stopped. Dominik looked all around in a panic, but his grandfather put a hand on his shoulder.

“When I was exactly your age,” he said, “I lived in the village this used to be. We called it Irba. The stone we sit on used to be the wall of the church where I was baptized.” He coughed again – Dominik grabbed his arm, but his grandfather gently waved him off. “I am fine, little bunny. Everything will be good again soon.” But he looked older than he had that morning, and in the places where he wasn’t red from the sun, his skin was gray.

“I was a happy child,” the man continued. “I loved being here with my mother. Her name was Marya, too.”

Dominik made a face. “I don’t remember her.”

“My mother died before you were born.”

“No,” Dominik said quietly. “I don’t remember my mother. Maybe, but I’m not sure.”

The old man took the child into his arms then, holding him stiffly, without saying anything for several minutes. When he spoke, his voice cracked.

“My father died before I was born, so all of my early happiness was due to my mother. She was a saint, and she loved me. But when she married my step-father, Josef, all of my days were joy. He loved us both, and made certain we knew it.”

Something black streaked overhead, falling impossibly fast at the earth before them, trailing smoke. It crashed, throwing up debris and noise and a hot wind that rushed through the scraggly trees and blew dust into their faces. Dominik cried out, and buried his face in his grandfather’s jacket.

“It’s all right, it’s all right,” the man said softly. “It’s far away. Now listen, quick, listen – the day is almost over, so it’s going to happen soon, the reason we’re here.” He coughed, hard, then continued. “When I was exactly your age, an angel came to me. An angel, Dominik! It was glorious.”

The boy looked up, tears making his dirty face. “Here?”

“Yes, right here. This exact spot. It came to me and offered me a path to heaven. A chance to be righteous and good, to heal the world.” The old man, older now, older than Dominik had ever seen him, his eyes wet, stared directly out in front of them. “I was foolish, though. I wanted to be a carpenter like my step-father. I didn’t want my mother to see me as anything but her little boy. I said no.

“I said no, and the world died.”

Dominik jumped up suddenly, pointing at a distant figure at the edge of the treeline, too far away to make out. “Who is that?”

His grandfather squinted. “I do not know. It doesn’t matter, the sun is setting, look!” Dominik could see the sky had become orange, the color of dusk, the color of candy. “It will be any moment now, Dominik, please!” The old man grabbed the child by the shoulders, turning him around.

In the distance, the one figure had become many.

“You can say yes. You can be better than I was.”

“I don’t want to leave you.”

“You won’t. You won’t! I will always be with you. But you can fix all of this. You can save us.”

The boy was crying hard now. Far away, the figures could be heard shouting, indistinguishable sounds growing closer.

“The angel will come. Don’t be scared. Any moment now, the angel will come.”

Dominik nodded. “Because it’s my birthday, right grandfather?”

The old man hugged him tight.


Want to write like this? Take my online flash fiction workshop, beginning September 2! Registration is now open — read more and sign up here.