Watch me scintillate!

In ten days I leave for Montreal, for the new convention Scintillation. Here’s where you can find me there if you’re a member! (Memberships have been sold out for the year, but I’m almost certainly going next year too.)

Friday 20:00 Time Travel and Teens
Why do these things go together so well?
Jo Walton (M), Kari Maaren, Marissa Lingen, Suzanna Hersey

Saturday 10:00 Good and Evil
Ada Palmer has offered the thought experiment of a universe where the morally worst act ever was that somebody bought a flavour of ice cream they knew their friend didn’t like. Conversely, the Vikings ask the theodicy question backwards: why is there good? Let’s consider the space of good and evil and what interesting things we can do with them.
Yves Meynard (M), Ada Palmer, Maria Farrell, Jo Walton, Marissa Lingen

Saturday 11:00 Reading from selected works. With Tim Boerger.

Saturday 14:00 Why you should be reading John M. Ford
World Fantasy award winning author of The Dragon Waiting, Growing Up Weightless, and many other stories and poems and gaming material.
Marissa Lingen (M), Emmet O’Brien, Andrew Plotkin, Lila Garrott, Sarah Emrys

Sunday 17:00 Imagining the Future
How can we write science fiction when it’s so difficult to imagine the future?
Yves Meynard, Dennis Clark, Ada Palmer, Maria Farrell, Marissa Lingen (M), Jim Cambias


Readercon schedule!

I have my schedule for Readercon, which is in two and a half weeks! (July 12-15 in Quincy, Mass.) Here’s what I’ll be up to and where you can find me:

Defying the Pigeonhole Marissa Lingen (m), Stephanie Feldman, Chandler Klang Smith, Ellen Datlow, Michael Dirda. Thursday, 9:00 p.m., Blue Hills. This panel of readers will celebrate favorite authors who can’t be contained by a single genre—some exploring multiple genres within one work, some dipping in and out of them throughout their careers—and talk about the ways they break free of expectations to soar.

Rethinking the Dangerous Victim Marissa Lingen (m), Noah Beit-Aharon, Yanni Kuznia, Walt Williams, Tom Greene. Friday, 10:00 a.m., Salon 5. Many SF stories hinge on distress calls that turn out to be scams. In the real world, under 10% of felony reports are false; the number is even lower for false reports of general distress. Why do we return to the dangerous victim story—the story in which the person who claims to need help is not only lying but actively malicious—again and again? What exciting adventure stories can we tell about helping those who are genuinely in need?

Group Reading: Reckoning 2 Reckoning contributors including Jess Barber, Michael J. DeLuca, and Marissa Lingen. Friday, 3:00 p.m., Salon A. Contributors to Reckoning 2, the second annual nonprofit journal of creative writing on environmental justice, read from their work.

Nesbit and Eager: Works in Conversation Marissa Lingen (m), Lila Garrott, Nisi Shawl, Julia Rios, Veronica Schanoes. Friday, 6:00 p.m., Salon 6. Edward Eager deliberately modeled his work on MGOH E. Nesbit’s; to what extent did he perpetuate her politics, including her socialism? How do her early-20th-century English work and his mid-20th-century American work encapsulate and challenge the attitudes of their times and places?

Feminist Socialism in Fantastika Veronica Schanoes (m), Tamara Vardomskaya, Gwynne Garfinkle, Marissa Lingen, Robert Killheffer. Friday, 8:00 p.m., Salon 6. MGOH E. Nesbit was a noted feminist and socialist. In her honor, this panel will celebrate classic and recent speculative works that challenge readers to imagine worlds and futures of gender and class equality, and explore how those concepts have changed through the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Reading: Marissa Lingen Sunday, 10:30 a.m., Salon B.

Solarpunk for Everyone Michael J. DeLuca (m), Tom Greene, T.X. Watson, Marissa Lingen, Darcie Little Badger. Sunday, noon, Blue Hills. Solarpunk has become established as a progressive, proactive, optimistic, climate-aware, politically aware field of speculative fiction. As solarpunk authors imagine the future, how can they make sure that future includes everyone? How can solarpunk develop and showcase remedies not only the climatological errors of the present and past but the social flaws of oppression, bias, and exclusion?

Our Bodies, Our Elves: Sexual Awakening in Epic Fantasy Josh Jasper (m), Steve Berman, Marissa Lingen, Sonya Taaffe, Noah Beit-Aharon. Sunday, 1:00 p.m., Salon 6. Starting in the later 20th century, the bildungsromans of epic fantasy began to include sexual awakenings. Some are raunchy, some are awkward, and almost all are self-directed; the wise elders of the genre are mysteriously silent on this crucial topic. When authors can imagine elves and dragons, why is it so hard to also imagine decent fantastical sex ed? How do today’s writers and readers approach this aspect of adolescent self-discovery stories?

Fourth Street panel schedule (mine)

Fourth Street Fantasy convention’s schedule is up! and on it the specific panels I’ll be participating in. In addition, I’ll be one of the workshop leaders for Friday morning, but if you’ve signed up for that, you’re already stuck with me, and if you haven’t, it’s too late. Otherwise, here’s where you can see me on panels:

Saturday 2:00 PM: You Don’t Own Me: Concepts of Freedom in the Work of John M. Ford

Pamela Dean, Marissa Lingen, Elise Matthesen (M), Teresa Nielsen Hayden

Distilling the work of the late John M. Ford down to a few key points is a mind-bending and questionably plausible endeavor, but there are some recurring themes we can at least pretend to conclusively discuss in our too-short time together. One subject that peeks out from the fog of invention over and over again is that of freedom in multiple aspects. Whether it’s freedom of identity and freedom from imperial conquest (The Dragon Waiting), freedom from erroneous stereotypes and cultural traps (The Final Reflection), freedom from colonization and from the boundaries of parental control (Growing Up Weightless), or even authorial freedom from every established constraint on the demeanor of a franchise (How Much for Just the Planet?), Ford was on the case. We miss him and it’s been awhile since we talked about him deliberately. Let’s fix that.

(Note: I think that this discussion will actually be a really good intro to Mike Ford’s work if you haven’t had one–it’s a deep dive, but on theme rather than plotting. I think everyone on it will be motivated to try to make it a conversation everyone can understand rather than going into the weeds with details that will lose you unless you’re a hard-core Mike fan.)

Saturday 5:00 PM: Talking Across Ten Thousand Years

John Appel, Elizabeth Bear, Casey Blair, Marissa Lingen (M), Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Time is big. Really, really big. You might think it’s a long anxious wait to get to the bathroom after a 4th Street panel, but what about gulfs of time longer than the recorded history of our civilization? SF/F deals frequently with the concept of Deep Time, but how astutely? Can a human society really hold a consensus cosmogeny together for a million centuries? Can a wall of ice really be manned by the same order of guards for 8,000 years? We already look at the people of just a century or two ago as something akin to aliens. This panel will also address the essential challenges of communication and interpretation across vast spans of years— for example, the U.S. Department of Energy has a mandate for the permanent warning signs and symbols in place at its deep bedrock nuclear waste storage facilities. They need to somehow work ten thousand years from now, when the assumption is that our culture, languages, histories, and data will be gone… but our hazardous atomic waste will still be dangerous. How can we talk when only our words are left, and even the words have no context?

Useful Reading: This Place Is Not a Place of Honor by Alan Bellows

“We’re like a faaaaamily.”

Perhaps you saw the actor Jason Bateman disgracing himself and his upbringing around the internet recently, rushing to defend a male co-worker’s abusive behavior with bleats about faaaamily and process while the abused female co-worker cried and struggled to find space in the conversation at all. That hit pretty close to home for me, because two years ago I listened to a convention chair complaining from the dais at opening ceremonies that we shouldn’t even have to have a Safety Officer because we’re like a faaaamily. I said, in a bright, clear voice, “Because everyone knows abuse never happens in families!” And the people around me grimaced, and some of them laughed in the way that you do when something is not funny.

But I want to come back to it again just to say no to it again. No. No, again.

I am a big believer in chosen family. A startlingly large percentage of the people I mean when I say “my family” are no biological, legal, or marital relation to me; even the tag “my cousin” most often applies to a woman who is, in fact, only my cousin as a relationship approximation–which, considering how many cousins I have through biology, legal adoption, and marriage, is quite a feat.

But when people push it on you from the outside. When, instead of looking at a particular friend and saying, aww, cousin, sibling, auntie–you have someone in authority telling you: you must view this set of people in that fashion. That is an absolute red flag. And even when it’s someone who is on equal footing with you, it’s worth checking: when you choose to be family, do you mean the same things by family? are you choosing the same things? The more you’re choosing en masse–choosing one particular convention or “fandom” as your family–the less you can be sure that you are. And the more you can be pretty much certain that at least one person in that group hears “family” and thinks “people who aren’t allowed to have boundaries with me” or “people who aren’t allowed to tell anybody when I hurt them” or some set of hierarchies that you might not even be able to describe once you’ve been experiencing it for years.

Sometimes the people who are most toxic about a group being a family are the ones who are sincere about it. Other times it’s people who don’t mean a word of it but are perfectly happy to weaponize it against others. Either way: especially when it’s someone speaking to a large group–especially if they haven’t met all the members of that large group–it’s time to be skeptical.

Because abuse does happen in families. Abuse gets swept under the rug in families. But even not up to that point, some families have horrible dynamics about how no one young is worth listening to, or about never visiting the elderly, or both. Some families have horrible dynamics about who does all the work and who gets to put their feet up. And–especially in times like the interview with Jason Bateman and his co-workers. Especially in moments like the con chair at that convention undermining the safety officer. The question is: why are they using this now. To what end. Who benefits, if they start leaning on family rhetoric.

It’s really great to have chosen family. It really is. My godkids’ parents sat down with us before we accepted the job, and we talked it through: what does this commitment mean to all of us, are we on the same page, because this is a role that culturally and personally varies so much. Those people are my family. I am so glad of them every day. I really, really don’t want to undermine anyone’s actual chosen family with this post. I just want to flag how prevalent this is, in how many industries.

And if you go to report harassment, assault, abuse of any kind, and they invoke family rhetoric to try to minimize what you are reporting, THIS IS WRONG. THEY ARE WRONG. Even if they are your actual family. Even if they are your family in every way, even if they birthed you and raised you and were there for you on holidays and happy occasions and sad ones and everything a family can be. If your actual family treats you that way, I am so, so sorry. But I need you to know that THEY ARE WRONG TO DO IT.

And if someone who is not in any of those ways your actual family pulls out the “we are family” like you’re supposed to dance out of the end of “The Birdcage” with them? NOT ONLY NO BUT HELL NO. NO MORE. NO MORE OF THIS. WE ARE DONE.

Friendly questions for your con conversations

As we started to arrange for our convention memberships for the summer, one of my friends asked me about striking up conversations with strangers at conventions. What sorts of friendly questions can make this easier? friend wanted to know. Do you have a post somewhere? she wanted to know. Please note: this is not meant to dictate conversation for anybody! If you feel comfortable with what you’ve got, by all means, sally forth! But this was a requested post from someone who wanted some ideas, so if that’s also you, here we are.

So. Let’s start with the basic three, that work for people you are just meeting, and they (mostly) work for people you’ve known for twenty years, because you can answer them in any level of depth and detail:
Early con: How was your travel? Alternate: How has it been living here/what do you like about it here?
Middle of the con: Been to any good programming? (This continues through the end but you can segue to:)
Late con: So when are you heading out? How has your con been?

The convention is the basic thing you have in common. If you start with that first, you’re less likely to frustrate people with questions like, “Have you finished a novel?” that have SO MANY ways to go wrong if you don’t have background on the person. So:

Is this your first time at this con?
How did you find out about this con?
Do you go to others? What do you like about them/this one?

Depending on what con it is, the theme may give you clues for a place to start. Is there a specific theme for this year, and do you have a comment on that, one on which you can base questions to appeal to other people’s thoughts? Any comparisons to last year’s theme? Does this convention have the kind of focus where you can ask “what’s your favorite [category thing] lately?” Lately is a pretty broad term–keeping it at “lately” instead of “this month” or even “this year” means that you’re not putting people on the spot who love the focus of the convention but might feel a little overwhelmed about whether they love it exactly as informedly as the most intensely informed person in the room. “Hello, how is your imposter syndrome” is not the question we want, although sometimes it’s unavoidable.

So…sometimes “what was formative for you” or “do you remember an early favorite” can be a good icebreaker question with a new person, because while a lot of people are filled with anxiety about whether they’ve caught up on the latest and greatest, or on enough total from the checklist, what is some of your personal heart, what brought you in and feels best, is something that almost anybody can answer. And can often answer in a way that sparks more conversation, that is not just a single word answer…unless they’re petrified and literally any question is going to bring single word answers.

I don’t know, there’s a bit of a centipede problem here, because I’m trying to help my friend do something that I’ve learned to do fairly naturally. I think what I’m trying to do is give examples of approaches–think about what we already know we have in common from being at the conference, how we can find interesting points of difference and commonality to spark conversation…without making too many assumptions, without leaning on areas I’ve learned are sensitive for several people. When you’re in the audience waiting for a panel or just coming out of it, hopes and fears for the panel and/or things you liked best! Places you’ve had a good meal around the con and what was nice there! Little stories about This One Time At World Fantasy that will make people laugh and say, “oh nooooo” and set them at their ease!

There’s no perfect icebreaker question. But I think it’s important to remember that there isn’t. That a lot of times if you’re at a convention, a place to converse about a topic of mutual interest, and you turn to a stranger and make a reasonable attempt to converse on the topic at hand…sometimes there’s nothing you could have done. And if they appear to be cold and distant, maybe they’re dealing with their own stuff, maybe they’ve just had a major shock of some sort, maybe they’re overloaded from all the thoughts the convention has brought…maybe a thousand different things that having the perfect icebreaker question and the perfect conversational charm and all could not have changed, because it’s not about you at that point. But. You start with a handful of touchstones readily at hand, something brought us here and you can take that literally and ask about Delta Airlines or the other person’s Prius to warm yourself up, or you can dive right into literary influences of adolescent angst, or somewhere in between. It’ll be a collaborative effort. We’ll all get there together.

It’s not your turn, sir.

I had a really good time at ConFusion, and I am planning to go back next year. My friends are great. The programming was lovely. Yay concom. Yay ConFusion. I put that at the beginning so that you will have the context: general positive feeling, sense that the con has handled things well and is a good place to be, overall.

So let’s talk about my second panel, Disaster Response in SFF. I was moderating. A gentleman in the audience had enough of the free-flowing discussion provided by the panelists, apparently. He did not wait for Q&A or even raise his hand. He just jumped right in, interrupting the panel to lecture us with a long, hostile, rambling comment on his own theories of where this panel should go and how wrong we all were for not going there.

When we tried to address this gently but firmly, the individual was having none. He leapt into the lack-of-breach again to angrily and belligerently espouse his viewpoint. It was fairly clear that he felt that he got to direct the content of the panel, that not only did he get a voice but that he got it whenever he wanted and to the exclusion of the people who were actually on the panel, and that we were offending his sensibilities by having our panel discussion instead of the one he controlled.

At that point I had had enough and instructed him that it was time for him to let the panelists return to our discussion. With visible incredulity, he asked, “Are you cutting me off?” I told him that, as I had never called on him in the first place, I was indeed. Patrick Nielsen Hayden was one of the panelists, and he backed me up and pointed out that it was not Q&A period and not his turn to talk. This man got up and stormed out in a huff.

He went down to complain to ops about me, volubly and at length.

Meanwhile, the panel went on with some spirit, and at the end of the actual Q&A an audience member (note: not a plant!) used their turn to talk to call for a round of applause for my moderating. People kept thanking me for how I handled it. Nice of them. I note this because I was not the one who was honestly shocked at how extreme and persistent his behavior was. This was not Standard Fannish Interruption.

The same guy came into the Visions of Positive Masculinity panel to make a very similar political point. For some reason, he was able to 1) wait until the Q&A portion of the panel; 2) phrase his idea in the form of a brief and civil question; 3) not pitch a fit and storm out even though the panelists on that panel openly mocked him. The moderator of that panel has in my estimate at least six inches of height on me. He is male. All the other panelists on that panel were also male, of varying sizes and shapes. He did not complain about any of them despite the fact that they basically dismissed his idea with derisive laughter.

Okay. So. I talked to some friends, some of whom were involved with the concom/staff, and given what I was saying and what they were hearing about his behavior, they encouraged me to file an incident report. ConFusion’s ops team did everything right here. Everything. They made sure that I was seated comfortably, offered water, offered my choice of report formats (written or out loud), that I had a person with whom I was comfortable with me for the whole time, that I could discuss my statement rather than just turning it in and not knowing whether it was getting any attention. They asked after my safety and comfort and what would make me feel safe and comfortable going forward at the con.

Here’s what felt like a sea change to me. Here’s what makes me write about this: they did not minimize OR maximize response. They were proactively interested in an incident of someone being rude and disruptive. At that point I was hoping that just having the incident report on file would be enough, that not having further confrontation would allow this person to go on with his con and simmer down, focus on time with friends, other panels, etc.

That person came to the next panel I was on, Saturday morning, and the moderator (not me) was very firm about what type of questions and commentary would and would not be allowed. The disruptive man followed me out of the room after the panel. I was leaving with two male friends. He sort of lurked in the elevator lobby glaring at me and then left. He was associated with a particular fan group that must gather somewhere, but I don’t know where: I didn’t see them around con space much, and they’re visible as a group. So that allowed me to relax somewhat, knowing that this guy was off with his buddies, (I hoped) settling himself down and focusing on something else. (Turns out nope. But I hoped.)

I’m going to be careful about how I put this next part, because it’s not my story to tell: he approached someone involved with the con to complain about me again on Sunday morning. Please note that the original incident was Friday afternoon and that I did not say or do another thing related to him. But Sunday morning he felt the need to approach someone to lodge another complaint that I would not let him disrupt the Friday afternoon panel. This is the part where I feel the need to be vague: his behavior then escalated with that person. It is being handled. His continued fixation and escalation are disturbing to me, and I’m very glad that the concom/persons formally associated with the con are handling it well thus far, as well as, of course, very grateful for my friends and their support. (Oh friends. Oh, thank you, thank you, friends.)

So here’s why I’m posting this:

1. This would have been a totally different experience at many cons. I didn’t go to ConFusion ten years ago, but I expect it would have been a totally different experience at ConFusion ten years ago. There used to be a reluctance in fandom to handle anything formally. Don’t come into my mentions saying, “Not at MY con,” because you know very well it’s true, there was ALWAYS a reluctance to handle anything formally that was not a direct assault charge (and sometimes even then). “Are you sure you want to make a thing of this” was practically a mantra, and we all knew it. The difference between a convention that went into “are you really going to make us deal with this?” mode and a convention that did not want to escalate but also understood that this was in fact theirs to deal with was astonishing.

And it did not require assuming that any of the bad behaviors were definitely going to get worse at any point. I am frustrated with how often discussions of bad behavior at cons–sexual harassment or other behaviors–behave as though it’s a binary system, wherein people are cast into the outer darkness at the first peep, the first nasty glare. The only bad thing that happened to this man before his last escalation was that nobody allowed him to disrupt a panel and recenter it on his own views. That’s it. That was his negative consequence. But my positive consequence was that I knew that the convention had my back if things got worse.

Yes, I had my friends. I am so very, very grateful for my friends. But my friends and I could go on with our con without them making up a guard roster wherein I never went up to my room to drop my coat off alone, never dashed for a panel leaving one group of friends in the lobby to meet up with another in programming space. When you’ve had a bad interaction and the person from it turns up in the places he can easily find you, follows you out of them…that’s the sort of precaution your friend-group starts to assemble in a double-quick hurry.

I’ve had to be escorted everywhere for disability reasons, before I was cleared to use my cane on bad vertigo days. It comes with pitfalls. Among them: are you going to lean on your absolute closest friends for every single escort duty? If not, are the outer circle group members you’ve just met actually as trustworthy as you hope? (Answer from past experience: no. No they are not. Some of them will use this opportunity to do things to you on the theory that, hey, it’ll be better than what you’re afraid of from other people.) But even aside from that, it’s annoying. And it’s the sort of thing that adults should not have to do in a public place.

There have always been real consequences to people in my position for experiencing something like this. When you’re running an event like this, you get to choose whether there are real consequences to people in his position.

2. This was not sexual harassment. But it was gendered.

The person he approached to complain about me on Sunday was, like me, wearing some of the trappings of traditional femininity. The people who laughed in his face Friday afternoon with no complaints, no consequences to themselves? All male. All male and all masculine. And yes, I was the moderator on my panel–but he didn’t say a word about Patrick cheerfully saying, “Bye!” to him as he departed, or about Patrick backing up my moderating. There was no complaint about Patrick. It was all me.

I’ll cope with it. That’s fine. But see it for what it is.

Dealing with sexual harassment in convention spaces is hugely important. It has been hugely important for me personally. But don’t for a moment make the mistake of thinking that it is the only gendered interaction that matters. And don’t think for a moment that the dynamic would be the same if he’d decided to turn up glaring with Patrick or treat a male concom member the way he did the person on Sunday. It’s no accident he didn’t try–and so conventions need to be equally deliberate in their handling of this sort of thing. ConFusion was, and I thank them for it.

3. If our situations had been reversed, I would have had the same options as the early part of his behavior. Let me repeat that: in his position. I could have tried exactly the same things and seen what would have resulted.

Let me explain.

Let’s say that I was in the audience of a panel where the panelists were, instead of talking about how people tend to pull together in times of disaster (our actual topic of discussion, that offended him so), talking about something that offended my sensibilities to the point where I had to speak out. Let’s say I was in the audience of a panel about moderating, for example! And they were saying that women are just not capable of moderating well because we’re too weak!

I would absolutely have the option of speaking out of turn. Of not waiting for the Q&A portion of the panel to open my mouth and say, wow, you are so wrong, that could not be wrong-er. The moderator could then shut me down. And then I could take my complaint to ops and explain to them what happened, give them my side of the story, and they could decide what they felt their convention’s stance was on a moderator behaving in that fashion was.

And if the con decided that yes, that’s fine, that’s who we are as a con, I could take my woes to my friends, to the internet, etc. and explain what happened, what I said, what they said, what everyone’s position was. It’s the part where you then follow the person, attempt to intimidate the person, lodge repeated complaints about behavior that has not changed, and escalate with other people about their original behavior that really is…not an acceptable option.

This dude’s position, as near as I can describe it, was that fiction is boring if people treat each other decently. He brought that position to Disaster Relief in SFF and to Positive Visions of Masculinity. His other de facto position seemed to be that if some woman was running the panel he shouldn’t have to wait to talk, and that her making him wait his turn was intolerable enough to ruin his entire weekend and make a stab at ruining the weekends of others.

He didn’t succeed at the last part. And that was substantially because the ConFusion staff and concom did not let it. Also my friends did not let it and I did not let it. But: you have to decide for yourself what’s worth breaking the rules of discourse. You can’t be surprised if other people don’t agree with you if you don’t give them a good solid reason to agree with you. If you break the rules of discourse, you deal with the consequences of breaking those rules, even if you are in the right.

I understand that by posting about this, I risk having some people come in and argue with me, because I have used words like “angry” and “hostile” that require me to evaluate tone and behavior and allow people who were not present to decide that I must automatically be wrong. Perhaps he was not staring at me angrily when he followed me to the elevator lobby! Perhaps his face is always like that and he just had to be there! Perhaps the escalation I have not specified was utterly innocent also! (Hint: it was not.) Perhaps I am a sensitive snowflake who was utterly in the wrong and he is utterly in the right and everything would be fine if only I had not messed it up and then pointed out that it was messed up! Well. I am tired of that, and I’m not doing it any more.

I understand that some of you are very nervous that you won’t be able to read tone, either in yourself or in other people. That you will get deemed A Bad Person for reasons that you do not understand, and cast into the outer darkness thereby. Please note that that is not what happened here. If all that had happened is that this person had gotten angry and rude in my panel and stormed out–all of which, I grant, are tone readings–I would not be posting now. There were multiple escalations throughout the weekend. And still I have not declared him to be A Bad Person. Nor, you will note, have I named him to the internet. What I have done is named his behavior. More than that, I have described the excellent and supportive behavior of the convention–that latter is why I am posting in the first place.

I have a dear friend who spends a great deal of time turning backflips trying to come up with reasons why someone’s bad behavior might not be bad. Or why it might not be as bad as it seems. And I keep having to explain to him that what this means is that he is shifting the badness to other people, specifically to the people who were affected by it. That if it’s fine for someone much larger than me to complain about me doing my designated job, then follow me and glower at me, then it follows that I am being unreasonable to object to this.

We’d all like to think that conventions will handle the big dramatic cases well–the cases where police ought to be called, basically, the cases that make a harrowing story. (We’d like to think that. We’re often wrong, but let that pass.) This is not a harrowing story. It was mildly alarming, not terrifying. But I think that in some ways the edge cases are a different kind of difficult because they’re so easy to second guess. I really appreciate ConFusion’s willingness to sort this out as a case that wasn’t obvious and dramatic–as a case that could easily, if he had made different choices, have languished as a couple of incident reports from different perspectives and some eyerolling subtweets. They allowed room for everyone to make better choices from his initial bad ones, while still supporting me and making me feel safe and not making me feel like a constant burden on my friends. Having been at conventions where I had far less confidence about far worse incidents, I appreciate that more than I can say.

ConFusion programming schedule

Here’s my schedule for programming items at ConFusion convention in Novi, Michigan, January 18-21:

12pm Friday Isle Royale
The Care and Feeding of Your Subject Expert

Writing science fiction and fantasy requires a ton of research. Having the internet at our fingertips makes it easier than it used to be, but sometimes we need to ask an expert. Many folks are delighted to geek out about their specialties, but we still need to do due diligence, respect their time, and make sure we’re asking the right questions. How do you find qualified experts? Do you approach them with prepared questions? When is it ethical to pick someone’s brain for free, and when should you insist on compensating your expert?

5pm Friday Isle Royale
Disaster Response in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Many SFF stories feature cataclysmic events, both natural and man-made, that rain destruction on civilian populations. We’re accustomed to seeing the camera spend a few moments “looking for the helpers” as our heroes crash through occupied buildings or drop mines on the Klingon fleet, but what about the hours and days that follow? What opportunities do science fiction and fantasy present to educate and reflect on disaster response processes in the real world?

10am Saturday Charlevoix
Pacifism in Speculative Fiction

Representations of pacifism in speculative fiction are often unsympathetic and/or unrealistic. It seems that the only way a character can be a pacifist and a hero is if they’re not a pacifist at all. Shephard Book’s pacifism in Firefly dissolves into kneecapping bad guys as soon as the plot requires it, and Charles Xavier gets called a pacifist when he funds and trains a private army. Who are our favorite real pacifists in speculative fiction, and how can speculative fiction contend with the conflict of being a pacifist in a violent world without running for the easy conclusion that pacifism is naive, selfish, and unsustainable?

4pm Saturday Charlevoix
Reading: A. T. Greenblatt, Marissa Lingen, Izzy Wasserstein

I am still taking suggestions for what to read here, but so far my favorite ideas are unpublished flash or the first chapter of one of my novels. Fitting it into a time slot with two other people means sharing well, so getting the entirety of a non-flash short story read is pretty much a non-starter.

The email I got listed me as doing autographs after that, but I find that short story writers don’t have a fabulous time at autographings, so I intend to…not. So if there’s anything you want me to sign at ConFusion, by all means accost me and I will sign it, but not in the time slot provided.

2018 convention schedule as I know it

I posted this on Twitter, but Twitter is a less durable medium. Here is what I know of my 2018 convention plans.

January: Detroit: ConFusion. I have already gotten my flights for this. I am going in on Thursday afternoon and leaving Monday late morning, to maximize shenanigan potential. If other people are not around for shenanigans at a particular time, I will cocoon in my hotel room and write. Win/win.

June: Minneapolis: Fourth Street Fantasy

July: Boston: Readercon

October: Montreal: Scintillation. So let’s talk about this one a minute. It’s why I’m making this post right now instead of a different time. I’ve talked about Farthing Party; this is the new and improved Farthing II: Farthing Harder, more or less. Why is it a Kickstarter right now? Because there is not a large organization bearing the burden of cost. It is being run by Jo Walton personally, and in years past Jo had to ask herself, gosh, will we have enough people to make it financially viable, will I lose my own personal money that I use for eating in doing this, etc. And it was not–what’s the word–oh yes: fun. It was not fun to wonder that. So! There is now a Kickstarter model for people to say, yes, actually I would like to commit in advance so that you do not have to have that nonfun in the process of making this fun thing, please and thank you.

So! Montreal in October, lovely time for chocolat chaud. Do not make the mistake of thinking that you have to be inner circle to Jo to make it to this con! (Or me, or Fran or Ruthanna or Sherwood or Ada or Greer or Alison or Alter. Or anyone else who is coming but has not officially committed to coming in a public sort of way.) It is for persons of goodwill who want to go to a small, intimate conventiony thing in Montreal in October. So you can think about that. Sometimes you can even think with your Kickstarter support.

The Panel Not Taken

One of my friends was recently talking in Slack about his role as a moderator at a Worldcon panel, and one of the things people agreed was a moderator’s role was keeping the panelists on topic.

And I wanted to put a word in for the times when that doesn’t happen.

The times when you have all sorts of keen ideas–either as a moderator or a panelist–about what this panel will be, and you get up on the panel, and it’s interesting, and it’s active, and it’s going places, people are engaged, discussion flows freely…and the places it’s going are not where you thought. Sometimes really not where you thought. And you have to use good judgment, because when you have a panelist who has already been bloviating for five minutes about book five of their own fabulous off-topic series and takes a breath to start in on book six, it’s time to jump right on in and get that panel back on track.

But when you’re having a really good discussion among lots of people, and it just doesn’t happen to be the good discussion you thought you were going to be having? Square your shoulders, take a deep breath, and wave goodbye to the panel not taken.

It might have been a beautiful panel. A lovely panel, an insightful panel. It might have been such an important panel that you can propose it again under a different name. (Or y’know, the same name. Sometimes audience members notice that there is more–or something in the first place–to be said.) But it is not the panel you are having right now. And taking a panel that is full of inspiration and ideas and energy and turning it into a panel that has been stopped in its tracks and wrenched around is not a success condition. It’s just not.

I was on a panel at Readercon where Maria Dahvana Headley was the moderator, and she asked the panelists a question, a good question, an insightful question, a question that might have taken us interesting places. And Max Gladstone said, “I’ve been reading about hyperobjects.” I think I blurted out something encouraging like, “Good!” so this is also on me. (I have been known to encourage Max. Maria has been known to encourage Max. Random passersby…well. You get the idea.) And then Max kept talking about hyperobjects, and it was interesting, and everyone in the room was interested, and…I caught Maria’s eye…and we could both see her question disappearing over the horizon. We traded little smiles as we saw it go. Goodbye, little question, goodbye! Because then we went from Max’s hyperobjects to whatever else that made the other panelists think of and then whatever questions the audience had and then the audience still had questions but the panel was over…and it was fun and everybody was talking after with thinky thoughts…and saying, “Stop, Max, stop! do not talk about this interesting thing! Talk about the other interesting thing!” would have made everybody feel stifled and weird and the total number of interesting things talked about would almost certainly have been fewer.

Sometimes there is still time to say, “Wow, cool, that was really interesting, but I wanted to get back to this idea Maria had twenty minutes ago/the panel description/that question Beth asked that I don’t think we fully answered/whatever.” But often there really, really isn’t, and that’s okay.

And this is true in less formal conversation, too. Extremely often I come home from my monthly lunch with one friend, I think, we didn’t even get to this bit, I forgot to tell him that–or I’ll be driving him back to his office and trying to quick hit the highlights of major life areas the leisurely lunch conversation missed. The Minnesota Long Goodbye is legendary in these parts, possibly because of this, possibly because it just takes us a long time to put on winter gear and you might as well catch up on how auntie is doing in the meantime, but possibly because there are always going to be The Conversations Not Taken, and oh crud now that you’re leaving it occurs to me what they were.

I think we all know about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, and that’s relevant here, but there’s also not letting the good be the enemy of the other quite good. And you can tell yourself you’re not aiming at the perfect panel, you’re just aiming at the on-topic one, and that’s all very well, but writers and fans and sometimes editors and agents and artists being what they are…goodbye, panel that might have been, farewell, you were interesting, on to the panel that is and how it can be its best self.

Moderation in All Things, Dammit

I was talking to someone who is planning on doing programming for a convention, because I think everyone, or nearly everyone, who is on panels has opinions about how they should be done–certainly everyone who has helped with programming, which I have. And I wanted to say this in no uncertain terms: if you do not have a moderator, you do not have a panel.

I don’t care if you choose to have a participating moderator or a non-participating moderator. That’s up to you, your con, your topic, whatever. Do that as you will. Use your own judgment. But I can count on one hand the number of panels I have ever seen that would have done all right with completely freeform participation from the panelists and in the panelists’ interactions with the audience. I have seen several where the participants said they’d do fine that way. And generally having someone moderate either turned out to be the best decision or would have turned out to be the best decision; and quite often which person mattered a great deal.

Let me say that again: which moderator matters a great deal.

I know that it’s really hard to know who will be a good moderator if you’re doing programming for a large convention and you don’t know all the personalities of your panelists. You don’t necessarily know who will be shy, who will be balky, who will tend to ramble and then stop completely, who will talk over other panelists, who will talk over audience members, who will talk over audience members who absolutely need to be talked over…who will get a good balance of calling on rambly but interesting pros in the audience with calling on concise question-askers…moderating is hard, and moderating each specific panel is different. I know it’s hard to know. I’m sorry.

But you need a moderator. And you need to know more than five minutes in advance who is moderating, because panel prep is a thing for everybody, but it’s really, really, truly a thing for the moderator. The questions that keep a panel from being shallow and surface-driven can arise naturally and organically–but they don’t always. Sometimes the moderator brings them up. Sometimes the moderator brings them up in such a natural way that it looks like they’re natural and organic. The pitfalls that will make a panel truly dreadful: a prepared moderator can sometimes start to see them coming and steer frantically away.

And lately (at multiple conventions! I am not calling out any one convention!) I have seen a lot of “who wants to be the moderator?” as a means of choosing the moderator, and I’m sorry, but that is not enough. Quite a few people want to be the moderator who should not be the moderator. It is not quite to the level of “anyone who wants the job shouldn’t have it,” but…there are at least a great many obviously experienced people who have not been practicing using that experience to boost insightful voices with less experience. This is one of the cases where “I’ve done this ten million times and am comfortable with it” is maybe not always the thing to reinforce. Sometimes! Sometimes experience combines with awareness to give you a moderator who will help bring out new ideas, and that’s great. And other times you get someone who makes the panel their own personal pulpit, or who has vast experience with moderating badly, or any of a number of other problems. So: “I’m comfortable doing it” doesn’t always map to doing a good job.

Which may mean that I, personally, should not always be the moderator. I will try to do a good job when I moderate, but guess what? I will be the right moderator for some panels. And I will be the wrong moderator for some panels. I think that when someone comes in saying, you need a moderator to do these things, it can get read with an implication of like me, me, I would do this perfectly, I am the right choice, me. I want to explicitly say: nope. Sometimes it’s absolutely me, sometimes it’s absolutely not, and sometimes I’m the least of evils for the panelists you have. Me, personally.

But the worst panel horror stories invariably have someone asking, “And what did the moderator do?” And the answers are either: “Nothing!” or, “That was the moderator.” So: convention programming staff. Please, please, please. I know it’s a difficult question, I know you will not be able to get it perfect, and I don’t blame you when you try and it goes wrong. But I do blame you when there isn’t a moderator assigned. Please at least try. Think about the moderator as a careful part of how you do panels.