A Bleary-Eyed (And Slightly Furious) Post World Con Recap

Galactic Starry Space

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.


On Nostalgia and 25 Years of Vampire: The Masquerade

Vampire Avatar

Many gamers I know started with Dungeons & Dragons. Shadowrun and Vampire: The Masquerade and Obsidian: The Age of Judgement were my (un)holy trilogy because those were the games I could connect with, the fans I could relate to. Ravenloft and All Flesh Must Be Eaten followed shortly afterward, too, but the games I strayed toward in the beginning were dark and edgy. Hell, I remember goths of all stripes owning the convention halls. Our black leather pants. Our satin shirts, shock red hair, and corsets. Our kick ass boots. Our heart-thumping, heart-twisting music. Our dice. Our game, the one where we f-bomb’ing owned the night. We were known, when we walked the hall, as Vampire players with a capital “V”.

Around the same time, I started applying to different companies to write for them, and opted to start out with small press publishers. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the reason why I didn’t try to write for White Wolf or Wizards back in the day, is because I internalized that I would never be able to. The gods of gaming, like Justin Achilli(1), were key word: gods. I connected with other fans, I was heavy into the lore (e.g. the novels, TV show, and Bloodlines) and progressed through other World of Darkness games and themes including Mummy, Wraith, etc. The LARP, not as much, because by the time I connected to the game in that way, there were established groups and I find that to be intimidating. But, I didn’t either recognize or realize that I could work on Vampire, because I perceived that door was closed.

My perception began to change, slowly but surely, as new writers were added. Namely, after meeting my friend Jess Hartley and falling in love with her work. As my relationships grew, slowly but steadily in the industry without the benefit of social media at the time, I took bigger chances. By that time, however, a new game had arrived called Vampire: The Requiem. Vampire: The Masquerade, the game I started with, fell into the category of “classic” for a time. And, while some of the same writers and designers still worked for White Wolf, in all its iterations, it was clear to me the company and its staff was evolving to add a diverse range of writers that matched its players and its fan base.

ScenesEventually, as my portfolio grew, I did submit to White Wolf. I come from a literary background, as many of my readers know, so it should come as no surprise I submitted a Promethean: The Created short story for their then-magazine, the White Wolf Quarterly, which was published in…2006 if I’m remembering right. No, that isn’t Vampire, but that came out of my love for the game, because by then the new World of Darkness (which is now known as the Chronicles of Darkness) was the company’s primary focus. Eddy Webb gave me my first assignment, and I was very intimidated following in the footsteps of Will Hindmarch to design and write Scenes of the Embrace for Vampire: The Requiem.

Strange Dead Love | Vampire: the RequiemMy first draft sucked, and I totally missed the mark. But, thanks to Eddy’s style of collaboration and development, I nailed the second draft. He understood that writing for White Wolf was new for me, but he also knew I was willing to do the work to make it right. It’s partly because of this experience that I give all of my writers the chance to suck on their first drafts, because without that I wouldn’t have been able to keep writing for the company. Then, developer Rose Bailey hired me (along with Jess Hartley and Filamena Hill) to write for Strange, Dead Love which tied neatly into what I learned through the RWA, my feelings on one of the origins of the Western European vampire myth (e.g. the dead, blood-drinking lovers returning from their graves), and the opinions I had on the paranormal romance genre in general.

Ironically, I was able to write for Vampire: The Masquerade, but that didn’t occur until the (now) Chronicles of Darkness were well established. I wrote one of the Paths of Storytelling as an April Fool’s joke in 2011–a satirical take that was, very specifically, meant to be silly while tapping into canon. Ahem. Then came Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition later that Fall, a book written and developed by well established designers who had written 1000s of words for White Wolf over the years.

Dread Names Red ListIt wasn’t until last year that my first book in the V20 line came out. Developed by Matt (“the Masquerade encyclopedia”) McElroy, we initially planned Dread Names, Red List as a simple update to Kindred Most Wanted. Instead, we turned this supplement into a new way to play Vampire: The Masquerade where fans could play an Alastor and hunt down the Anathema.

This June, Ghouls & Revenants debuted as well, which also offers a nuanced look at the line and an additional way to play the game. This time, instead of playing vampires, a group could play ghouls and revenants and have enough agency to tell a compelling story. Both were done with an eye to provide value to fans, while trying to add something new to Vampire within the confines of the line, since metaplot was not our primary focus.

Now, in 2016, the list of writers has grown to include more voices, more perspectives since those early days. I hope that the landscape will continue to change to be more inclusive, just like David A Hill, Jr. did for V20: Dark Ages to hire more women, to bring better representation to the line. It’s definitely something I thought about when I put together the list of writers for the upcoming V20: Dark Ages anthology, and I feel seeking out new and existing writers have made the collection stronger as a result.

Ghouls & RevenantsOf course, it’s always a challenge writing for a setting that is, as of this year, 25 years old–not only because a lot of material already exists, but because the fan base is much more diverse than it has been in the past. There are die hard fans, Kickstarter backers, folks who have never heard of Vampire: The Masquerade, and fans who lost touch with the property. As a result, there are several who either don’t remember or understand the cultural impact this particular game had on the vampire genre as a whole, either.

For me, the DNA of Vampire: The Masquerade can be found populated throughout novels and comics, movies and video games, songs and art and TV shows–and this is something that I think should absolutely be recognized. It isn’t always, due to the fact that the internet was not around when this phenomenon happened, but also because games have often had a stigma associated with them. Fortunately, this is beginning to erode the more authors talk about their early influences. I’m of the mind that even if a vampire-loving author isn’t consciously aware of the effects that Vampire: The Masquerade had, it still influences us in other ways because of its significance in the 90s and on so many other works.

So, I mark this anniversary with a sense of pride and gratitude for, not only have I contributed to its storied legacy in the small way that I have, I have also gotten the opportunity to watch and experience Vampire: The Masquerade‘s many iterations as both a fan and a professional. I have no idea what the future holds for the property going forward(2) or how I might intersect with what’s to come, but I am grateful for my experiences. I hope that the combination of the old and the new, the past and the present, will inspire Vampire fans for years to come. To me, that’s what matters the most.

Happy 25th Anniversary Vampire: The Masquerade!

(1) I know and have worked with Justin et al, so this is not meant to be a slam on them at all. This is more in the context of identity as opposed to anything else.

(2) Even if I did know, I couldn’t say anything more out of professional obligation.

Progress Report #10: On Writing Like the Wind

I just realized that my last progress report was from December of last year. Whoops! Rectifying this today, so I can keep you apprised of any new announcements coming up.

In Project #9, I talked a lot about the importance of doing research when writing historical era research, and how if you are writing about the past it’s quite possible you’re going to get things wrong. As an addendum to that, I think it’s important to remember that even though writers are very, very smart, because we know how to research and look things up and talk to people, that doesn’t necessarily mean our intentions or our work will be interpreted the same by every reader in a cultural, intellectual, or emotional fashion. This is pretty exciting, in my mind, because it means we can have conversations we couldn’t before and learn from them–provided we’re able and willing to listen. Sometimes, however, that’s a bit of a challenge as there might be constraints as to what the next steps might be, or parameters (especially on bigger named properties like Star Wars or what have you) that writers are bound by. Regardless, I see this as an opportunity rather than a challenge, and though I cannot be perfect (nor do I want to be), I feel this spells nothing but good news for the relationship between writers and readers.

I should also point out that a lot of work listed below is past tense; I’m always open to discussing new opportunities. Thanks! On to my tips for writing like the wind!

To Write Fast, Write Smart

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote 10,500 words in one day, and I “think” my fastest slog was 25,000 in two days back in college. I have written 12 or 13,000 in a day, too, but I’d much rather write 3 to 5k at a steady speed than lose my humanity, hurt my writers, and/or fall into the black hole that is my brain. However, there are some reasons to write fast like…procrastination, zombie projects (e.g. manuscripts you thought died but came back to life and need to be shot in the head. again.), shifting deadlines, life crap (being sick), etc.

Retention-wise, when I write fast I average between 90-95%, and ironically I retain more when I’m sprinting than when I’m not. A couple things to remember, though: I started writing when I was very young and focused on literary fiction through college, so I’m not new to this writing thing. Do I get neurotic or forget to exercise my story brain muscles if I’m too focused on one thing or the other? Ab-so-frigging-lutely. Writing is not a static thing for me, and it never has been. However, I feel that my experiences are important to mention, because sometimes I find folks put a lot of pressure on themselves to soak up all the writing advice they can to poop out great stories and write fast or write perfect when in all actuality? The only solution to figuring out what works and what doesn’t is to keep writing. It’s really the only way to internalize processes that are external to start–and yes, those processes can be forgotten or buried depending upon what your focus is. Something along the lines of… If you want to write novels, then write novels. Don’t write short stories or games and expect to know how to write a novel. Or, more to the point, my favorite acronym ever (K.I.S.S.) is sometimes the best way to proceed. If a thing doesn’t have to be complicated, why make it so?

Anyhoo… In order to write fast, I feel it’s important to take into account what you/I know about your/myself as a writer. I think that some of the self-analytical bits are hugely important, because if you don’t know what your process is or how fast you write in different areas, then it’s really hard to plan word count as a metric. I should point out that I do map a lot of my goals to word count for Day JobTM sorts of things, but haven’t done that for the spec stuff in a while, even though I’m starting to do that now.

Some examples of things I know about my writing speed are:

  • If I have to worldbuild during or after a project, I write slower.
  • I hate wasting time on a draft, only to throw it away.
  • I worry that my bad habit of using filler words (e.g. that) in a draft will make the story uninteresting.
  • Research is my kryptonite, because I love to do it.
  • Writing cold is the hardest thing for me to do.
  • I know that I can write, consistently, somewhere between 3k to 5K per day if I’m writing full-time.
  • Writing a variety of characters/scenes/etc. is slower going than a chapter on “a” topic.
  • Writing a chapter on a single topic bores me to tears.
  • I need to hear the character’s voice in my head before I write them.
  • I write fastest/best when uninterrupted for short periods of time.

So, my solutions to this knowledge help speed up my writing. I think of these things as prep work, and they might include:

  • Elevator pitch – If I don’t know what the story is about, then that is wasted effort. Yes, sometimes I need to write to find the character’s voice, but that’s a different and intentional exercise to solve a separate problem. Even if I don’t have an outline, at bare minimum an elevator pitch or short synopsis will keep the story contained.
  • Word sprints – For this, all I need is a timer and an hour of uninterruptions. Then, I write as fast as I can for that hour, after my prep work is done. I’ve written (at most) 1,300 words this way.
  • Milestones – I use milestone planning when working on larger projects, to set smaller goals. This really helps because if a deadline shifts, I can use word sprints after doing massive amounts of planning (e.g. research, character/dialog sketches/word lists) to get the project done.
  • Write to the beginning – This tip came from John Hornor Jacobs, but it’s a really good one. Instead of writing to the end of a scene, write the first couple of sentences in the next section to mentally prepare yourself for a head start.
  • Revision checklists and filler words – I plan to be wrong or to have errors in my work, and this reduces my anxiety about writing drafts as well. I know I use filler words, so sometimes I have word lists, character names/place names, etc. Sometimes I’ll put words in brackets or use a highlighter; I almost ALWAYS read my work out loud and change the font/spacing, to give me a different perspective on my work.

For me the key to writing fast is to do prep work both before and after, knowing that the in between bit (the actual writing) is the middle of my process–and not the end. Freaking out about the end is what significantly kills my ability to write, so I remove that anxiety by shifting the work and emotional weight to a multi-step process. This both occupies my mind and helps me the more I write a specific kind of project; this is partly why doing anything “new” can freak me out more, so I tend to overcompensate by planning more up front work.

Often, I have to remind myself that I cannot revise a blank page, and I cannot sell the story that hasn’t been written yet. Sometimes, to push through that, writing fast is the only way to get over that anxiety, because then I have a draft to edit and revise–which is more than I had to begin with.

Hope this helps you find your own process. On to the updates!

Games

I’ve got some new updates for you on the games front. Huzzah!

  • World of Darkness: Dark Eras – Wrote the Hunter: the Vigil supplement for this book for 1690s Colonial America. This is now available for fans to purchase.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade: Ghouls & Revenants – Contributed and edited this book. This is now available for fans to purchase.
  • Robert E. Howard’s Conan RPG – This hasn’t been released yet, but my understanding is that it will be shortly.
  • Codex Infernus – The Kickstarter was successful, and it’s now available for fans to purchase.
  • World of Darkness: Dark Eras II – Contributed to the Geist: the Sin-Eaters supplement for the 1580s-90s Roanoke Colony. This hasn’t been released yet, but it will likely be available this Fall.
  • Hunter: The Vigil 2nd Edition – I’m the developer for this, and I’m working on the outline and putting together my team of writers. The submission guidelines are available here.
  • Court of Shadows – I designed a new setting for Shadowrun with Jason Hardy, and contributed several thousand words to this unique supplement. The book will be out this Fall.


Fiction

  • Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling – We raised ~24,000 on the Kickstarter and had close to 1,400 backers. We were able to bump the pay rate for our storytellers and add two essayists. The collection is in proofing right now, and I’m working with Jason on delivery and timing.
  • Red Byte – Revisions put on hold.
  • Pratchett on Acid – 25K into the new novel, and it is…creative? Inventive? Heh, heh. Though, I’m going to flip this into a novella, because I think the story will be stronger in that format. I’m having TOO MUCH FUN with worldbuilding.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade Dark Ages Anthology – I’m editing a collection of stories for this setting, and we are now in second draft stage.
  • TBA times three – Wrote three media/tie-in short stories for [redacted], [redacted], and [redacted]. Two of those collections will be debuting this Fall.


Comics

Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

  • Anthos – Two rejections.
  • Sparkle Mega – Full pitch is still in the works for a short-term series. The pitch window hasn’t re-opened yet, so this got put on hold. Found out the publisher doesn’t pay, though so am confirming this before moving forward.
  • Red Sigma – In addition to pitching, I am going the small press publishing route for a collection. Still in planning stage.


Non-Fiction

Super yay!

  • Worldbuilding Book – Pitches are being sent out. Yay!
  • The Gorramn Shiniest Dictionary in the ‘Verse – This language guide for the Firefly TV show is now available AND it has an entire section for the Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin) AND an interview with the fabulously talented Jenny Lynn!.

Thus endeth the latest update!

Seeking Publisher Sponsorships for Charity Event



Instead of e-mailing folks personally, I wanted to post this publicly in an effort to gather interest. I am running an event at World Con in Kansas City (Build-a-World) this year, and I am hoping to find publishers willing to chip in a small amount for charity. Because this is for World Con, I would prefer publishers who offer fiction. (Please note as a separate item, that if you are an RPG publisher, I am in an advisory position for the RPG Creator Relief Fund, and they can always use donations.)

The Build-a-World event pits two teams of writers against one another, and I do have some small prizes for them already. However, I was also hoping to give the winning team the option of selecting a charity of their choice, and their “winnings”, which would be donated by a publisher, would go to that organization.

Here’s where the publisher’s involvement would come in:

(1) I’d mention the sponsor during the event
(2) The winning team would identify where those funds would go
(3) I’d communicate with the publisher what charity was chosen
(4) Publisher would handle the money and donate on behalf of the winners (e.g. no money would change hands; publisher would control all of that)

If you’re interested, please let me know. In past years, the amount was small ($50). It may not seem like much, but participants and audience members really do enjoy that little bit extra to make the world a better place.

I haven’t gotten multiple publishers interested before, in part because I didn’t do the leg work of asking, but if we do the process is the same. However, I will do something a little different and splashier if we get multiple folks; there’s room to add some cool bits to share surprises and whatnot.

You can either reach me via my contact page or through monica AT mlvwrites DOT com.

Thanks for listening.

On the Complicated Feelings of Being Professional

Maleficent Queen Avatar

I don’t know how to write this post today, but I’m going to give it my best (uncensored) effort. You see, I recently came to the realization that my coping mechanism for dealing with the bullshit (-gates and puppies and conspiracy theories and what-have-you) was to shut down emotionally. I was bewildered by it, but at the end of the day the only thing I can control is the manuscript in front of me. That was my coping mechanism.

But it’s not always a good one. You see, as an artist in all things I do not believe that my purpose for being (or my work) is static. As I grow, the art does, too. In media/tie-in, I take an established world through the lens of multiple examinations; here’s what you fell in love with, and here’s something new to help you fall in love with it all over again. That “new” bit stems from deeper analysis about what worked and what didn’t, and often this means thinking critically to set aside the emotion, to rip a work apart, see what makes it tick, and put it back together again. I thrive off of critiques as opposed to reviews, and in recent years there’s been a surge in 140 character reactions and reviews based off of back cover copy, which drowns out necessary critical analysis that helps all of us see what we cannot from various perspectives. To improve, then, I either rely on my own observations or by taking a broad statement and seeing how it applies.

Critiques, reviews, and product reviews(1) are not the same thing, and it’s impossible for me to keep up with social media to ferret out the difference between the three. I have, mind you, lurked on public forums and whatnot to read what the general consensus is, but again that passes through a lens of scrutiny and not emotion. What I haven’t realized until very recently is that emotional reaction can be a type of review in some cases, but due to the way we reward extremes–especially online–I typically don’t pay attention to them. This means that I am missing valid judgments, because those emotional extremes are off-putting.

Let me back up for a second and share with you some conventional wisdom. Picture a bell curve. With the production of any work, there’s 10 percent who will love you no matter what, and 10 percent who will hate you no matter what, on both ends of that curve. What I want, is to see what the other eighty percent is thinking and feeling. I mistakenly assumed most of those people have been bullied into silence by both ends of the spectrum; the loud defenders of an author who can do no wrong vs. the vocal naysayers who can’t stand whatever this person does(2).

Here’s what I missed, though: some valuable opinions are being expressed, and they’ve gotten louder because in order to be heard, they need to amplify their voices, too. Otherwise, they get drowned out, and that means creators like myself who want to learn, who are listening and thinking and reading despite the constraints of the projects that I work on… Well, creators like myself suffer the most, I feel. Because all of the shouting blends into one major argument where no one is heard. Add in the fear–one that I very much feel–of death threats and doxxing and calls for being fired for having a differing opinion or a bad cover or what have you(3)… I shut down. I shut down those voices, I turn to something positive instead, and I continue making art and doing the best I can because that is all I can do. And, since I do not create art to prove anybody wrong, this taps into why I make art in the first place. My identity is not wrapped up in “a” release, it is tied to the long years of my life, and my desire to continually learn and grow and improve.

I don’t know what to do about this, because there is another side to this story. Folks on the outside of an argument, who don’t have anything to do with the -gates or puppies or what have you, now believe that an entire industry is toxic as a result. And that, my dear readers, is flatly not true. It’s not. But, this is the state of things today: a few assholes can, do, and have supported the illusion that they have negatively impacted The WorkTM of hundreds, if not thousands, of people. When, in reality, it is not the work that’s been affected, really, it’s the people. I have not talked to a single writer or artist or editor or what-have-you that has stopped making art because of the cultural shifts and toxicity that’s been spreading both online and off. I have, however, heard from several new folks who are avoiding certain industries because of those assholes, though, because they do not have the knowledge, experience, or patience to wade into a battlefield where none are perceived to be welcome(4).

I’ve said it before, but people often go where they feel welcome. And, sometimes this means going offline entirely, or shutting up about the assholes, or avoiding drama altogether. (Or in my case, saying that “YES, YOU ARE WELCOME!” when hiring or inviting people to things.) Sure, these are all coping mechanisms, but I see now that there is something else being lost as a result. There are good people fighting to be heard, to be recognized, to reach creators with their views and they are not quiet. They are loud simply because the volume is turned up on both ends, which means the folks that would normally be in that middle bit of that bell curve are also boosting their volume, too.

I don’t know what to think or do about this, because I feel (the space) is focused on calling out the assholes as “assholes”. Being positive is not rewarded in this era of yellow journalism, but being a bully or a smart-ass (typically male, mind you) most definitely is–and I fear what that is teaching the new generation of artists, what that is bringing out in all of us, and how “being loud” is now a metric. I would much rather eviscerate someone in iambic pentameter than spend energy online engaging in cyber wars, in part because there are many conversations I feel I should not be a part of(5) or I choose to walk away from because of the many time constraints I’m under(6).

Right now, there’s very little emphasis on the complex spectrum of emotions and behaviors that go hand-in-hand with being a healthy human being who happens to be a professional artist or what-have-you, and I have to wonder who will suffer the most in the end. Is it the fans who feel that they need to shout no matter what? Is it we the professionals, who feel it’s simultaneously risky to have strong opinions and expected of us? Is it the new writers who are now more scared than ever to enter into a mine field? Is the folks who have, thus far, remained silent because they feel they cannot speak up for fear of being bullied?

I just don’t know, for I realize that I have been one of those people bullied into silence(7). And I don’t know how to feel about that, either, but I do know and want to express one very important thing: for those of you who are upset, who are expressing yourself now because you feel you have no other option but to be louder than the bullies, I see you. I see you, I feel you, and I will do the best job that I can for you, and I hope together we can return to a place of joy and complex discussions as we take this journey together.

Thanks for listening.

(1) Like Amazon. Please, let us not forget that Amazon reviews are to benefit their customers on their store. Yes, they are a publisher, but they are a retailer first and foremost.

(2) I should mention, too, that it’s impossible for me to know who has actually read the thing folks are talking about in its entirety. If a work has not been published yet, I throw those opinions out because marketing does what marketing does, but if it has? Still challenging to know.

(3) The utter lack of the ability to resolve business-related conflicts in a way that doesn’t hurt or bully one side or the other is a consequence of this.

(4) I am certain there are some artists who have abandoned working in the industry, but if there are people who have given up on it entirely by no longer finding anybody to work with, then I am not aware of those folks.

(5) For example, the discussion about diversity in fiction. Do I believe in it? Yes. Do I feel comfortable being on the front lines talking about it? No, and I would much rather signal boost the many diverse voices of marginalized writers that are already doing that work. To put it bluntly: not every cause is about me, personally, and I recognize that. That is my choice.

(6) This ties back into the old adage that “time is money”. For me, this is true. I have to be very careful about how I spend my time, because if I were to get swept up into talking about books and games all the time, I wouldn’t actually write them. Marketing accounts for a fair bit of my time, but I earn the most value by focusing on writing and producing new stories.

(7) A very, very personal thing.


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