For me, the “p” in publishing is about people–the good, the bad, the garbage fires–and sometimes I need to center myself and remind myself of that, because while there is no replacement for simply sitting down and doing The WorkTM, I find that pursuing a career in writing is also about learning how to build, maintain, and strengthen relationships.
This year, I went to World Con(1) with my Red Sofa Literary agent, Jennie Goloboy, who treated me like gold, my friend and fellow agent Laura Zats, and many of the authors from our agency including the illustrious Tex Thompson and Foz Meadows. This fine network of people was supported by my relationships with Apex Book Company and magazine, the publisher of the upcoming anthology Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, and many other fine and storied individuals including Catherine Lundoff, Carrie Patel, Gareth Michael-Skarka and his amazeballs wife Laura, Gary Kloster, Michi Trota, Maurice Broaddus, Lynne and Michael Damian Thomas, Lee Harris, David McDonald, Michael Underwood, Fonda Lee, Esther MacCallum-Stewart, Martha Wells, Sunil Patel, Rachel Swirsky, Nick Mamatas(2), Ferrett Steinmetz, Karen Bovenmeyer, Brian Nisbet, and so, so, so many others whom I hope will forgive me if I have forgotten to mention you(3).
Part of the issue, however, with managing relationships is dealing with the fallout when they are strained or broken. Hurting people is what the Sad Puppies and Rapid Puppies and -gates and garbage fires do, especially online because they are attempting to push forth their perception of the universe as “The Only Solution” and make everyone else suffer for it. They actively hurt authors and artists and game designers and dealers and editors and anyone who is simply trying to make art and do the best they can, because now making a game or writing a story can include the fear of being doxed or the anxiety that comes from receiving multiple death threats for writing a story or creating a character which is, quite possible, “the” most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. World Con reinforced the notion that the loud, vocal minority who are threatened that their world is changing and they don’t like it are, in point of fact, a teeny tiny selection of individuals who do not, in any way shape or form, stop authors, artists, and game designers from continuing to make great art representative of the world that already exists.
As I said in my game development presentation, everyone deserves to see themselves as the hero, to play as the hero, to be the hero. And this, my friends and dear readers, is why the Hugos were so significant this year. It’s not just because love won, it’s because the garbage fires do not stop us from making the art we want to make, nor does it stop those who are making great art be recognized for their efforts. Is it harder? Yes. More complicated? Yes, especially when you toss in the fact that many publishers expect us to be online. But, as I’ve said multiple times before, ninety-five percent of the people I work with are not assholes–and this is true of everyone else, too. That doesn’t mean that personality conflicts don’t exist, because they do, but that’s not the same as someone specifically and intentionally harming total strangers because they don’t share the same views. That also does not mean that problematic five-to-ten percent does not, and should not, be dealt with. What this does translate to on a broader level, however, is that so many of us are doing the best we can to be welcoming, to be supportive of new and existing writers, to show support whenever possible and to build the future our readers and players would be honored to participate in.
Many of these “big picture” efforts can be challenging for the simple fact that different people go to different cons for different reasons and, at a show like World Con, there’s a heavy emphasis on readership and meetings for so many people. This is where I think Programming can fit within that niche, because panels can be representative of topics that people want to listen to and think about. They were for me (with the exception of one which I’ll get to here in a bit). I felt very comfortable being on programming this year, in part because I knew the folks behind-the-scenes and their efforts to keep on top of managing it. It is not easy to run a convention, especially on a volunteer basis, when there are 1,000 logistical nightmares that can and do happen. I had a great selection of panels, and I felt that readers and professionals of all stripes could have benefited from the advice of my fellow panelists. I did run Build-a-World with a smaller audience, due to being up against the Masquerade, Tor party, etc. but everyone had fun and we raised $200 for charities selected by Michi Trota and Rachel Swirsky–$100 of which was donated by World Con itself.
Of the programming I was on, I want to focus on a highlight before I get to the one issue I had. My game development panel was packed, and I was able to drop a lot of knowledge following on the heels of being an Origins University presenter, Gen Con Industry Insider, etc. Presenting on this topic, by myself, was easier because this is an area that I know very well, and I got the feedback from the audience that some standalone panels are necessary just because of the expertise of the speakers involved.(4) More than that, however, this is the first time I’ve been in a non-gaming convention environment, speaking about games. The reception was warm and positive, and I was able to get instant feedback, too, on how I approached the diversity and inclusion aspects–which was great for me(5). Here’s something I said which I feel might be useful for those of you working on games going forward. I said that if you are working on a game and you are queer, for example, and the developing aspects of a game make you feel uncomfortable, you should absolutely speak up and talk to your developer. Our job is to balance varying perspectives and make the best game possible, and we can’t always do that if we do not get feedback from the people we are working with.
I did, however, have one problematic panel which I do need to follow up on with World Con itself. They are aware I had an issue, too, and multiple individuals recommended I give them feedback. If you had a problem at the show, please consider reporting it. Anyway, first I’d like to give you a little context. I was concerned about my Firefly panel, because I have had awful experiences before where I have not had to speak about the work myself and others have done to expand the ‘Verse, and the panel devolves into why fans love Firefly. To address that, I did three things: a) I raised the issue with World Con programming back in January talking about my concerns, and that if this could be addressed I would be happy to be on the panel b) I asked other friends and professionals for advice on how to deal with this situation, which included learning where I was falling down on the subject and the possibility of withdrawing from the panel and c) I exchanged e-mails with our moderator and fellow panelists ahead of the show. As far as I was concerned, I had done my due diligence and assumed that the panel’s topic “The Golden Age of Firefly” which specifically began to address the ancillary projects including the comics, games, etc. would help rein in the discussion and focus on the expansion of the ‘Verse.
Unfortunately, it did not and as all of this information is public knowledge, I have no problem talking about what happened. The academic on our panel, Dr. John Tibbets, became increasingly fixated on his points about how Firefly was so great and nothing else can compare. His behavior included laughing when the Mandarin Chinese was brought up, and while I was lauding the efforts of a great writer and human being Jenny Lynn, the show’s translator, he continued to laugh into his microphone while I was speaking. Jenny did an amazing job providing and presenting the translations, but she also offered a very candid interview where she discussed her role on the show and dived into the Mandarin Chinese spoken and presented in the episodes as well. Let me be blunt: it is not acceptable in any way shape or form to laugh at a fellow panelist or dismiss the work they are recommending, and I am honored that I got to include Jenny Lynn’s work in the Gorramn Shiniest Dictionary & Phrasebook in the ‘Verse. The panel continued to devolve from there, into a conversation about how modern day superheroes aren’t like they used to be, and ended with Tibbets saying: “No offense, but Firefly was perfect as a standalone season and nothing else should have been made.”
Here’s why I walked away from that panel angry, upset, and pissed beyond belief: I have worked on this property since 2012 with dozens of individuals, both new and experienced, balancing the needs, desires, and goals of the projects for Margaret Weis Productions, FOX TV studios, and Titan Books while carefully respecting, analyzing, and building upon Whedon’s work. I would not be working on Whedon’s Firefly and expanding the ‘Verse if I did not enjoy doing so, but this has not been my fandom in the sense that I admire or think about Firefly from afar, this has been my job. Firefly is not just about personal feelings for me, though I have many of them, it has been a significant portion of my career for the better part of the last four years–and Tibbets did not only disregard that, having been told this in an e-mail beforehand, he completely and wholly disrespected everyone I have ever worked with. This. Will. Not. Stand. Say what you want about me, and I can make a decision whether or not to respond, but do not–ever–attack, dismiss, or laugh at anyone else I’ve worked with in front of an audience. Awful, awful behavior and, as a result, watch for an upcoming post where I laud Jenny’s efforts and discuss how she made me a better human being.
To make matters worse? This panel, my dear readers, was also being recorded and I knew it, too. Imagine what would’ve happened if that panel would’ve turned hostile, especially since I wasn’t the moderator, or if I would have told Tibbets what I was actually thinking. Instead, I tried to do the best I could under the circumstances and attempted to directly include author Tex Thompson who wrote a series of her own because she was inspired by Firefly. Pro tip? Do not–under any circumstance–piss on fans, viewers, readers, etc. who do not share your personal loves and joys in front of me, especially on a panel. There is a difference between attacking someone’s emotions and thinking of a work critically, and this was not the latter. To put a pin in this: I expected a lot more from an academic. I hope those listeners out there who wanted that discussion got a few useful bits from the little I could offer given the circumstances.
To sum up the show: it was great to reconnect with everyone(6), programming (with the exception of that panel) was good for me, I was impressed with how the show was managed and handled, thrilled by the outcome of the Hugos and the many great speeches, and feel secure I have made the right decisions to build my career. I love you all! Now, please go write your assess off and tell us a kick ass story or design a great game. To me, that is the highest compliment you can give me. Go make some f-bombing art.
(1) I deeply apologize for not giving you a recap of Gen Con. As an Industry Insider, I had a different focus this year and had multiple meetings on top of networking and hanging out with friends. So sorry!
(2) Haikasoru is the publisher he works for. Check ’em out! They rock!
(3) Con crud. Oy.
(4) I had the pleasure of moderating a panel with Kij Johnson, for example. Highly, highly recommend her.
(5) I consider myself the perpetual student, because the day I “know everything” is the day my work stagnates and suffers.
(6) Karaoke was the highlight of my con, and I wish all Clarion West graduates and instructors the best in their oh-so-bright futures.