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.

Attention tax

One of the things that has been making me furious about sexual harassment lately–secondary to all the other things that make me furious about it–is the attention tax it imposes on women. The time spent figuring out whether there’s enough evidence for us to be taken seriously this time, whether the people who were in the “surely you misinterpreted” and “that doesn’t mean what it blatantly means” camp last time will finally take us seriously, the time spent recovering from someone shouting in our faces and someone else grabbing our asses, the time sharing stories and pooling information and cleaning up messes and figuring out what to do, what we can do, what we have the power to do. That is time not spent on other things that are frankly a whole hell of a lot more interesting.

When it’s in convention terms, the time spent discussing who did what and what to do and letting the adrenaline settle and coping is time not spent on ideas for books and stories and where to go with them. It is very directly a tax on attention that could and should be going toward work. And it makes me exhausted and resentful, and then I try to corral my attention back to my work, because that is a far, far better place for it to be. I have directly observed that when I am at a con where people are dealing with an ongoing situation of this type, I come back with far, far less in the way of inspired notes for new projects–not just coming away drained instead of energized, but the specifics of what business are we doing here, where is our attention going.

I’m lucky. I know a lot of good men. I know a lot of good straight, white men. One of the benefits of this is that when a straight, white dude is an asshole, I am clear that it is artisanal assholery that he is hand-crafting by choice, not a trait he can’t avoid by his demographics. And a lot of good straight, white men have been stepping up to share the work of dealing with sexual harassment on a community level. I appreciate it. I do. But that is a choice they are making. Statistically, on average, the nonconsensual part, the part where you have to cope with the fallout of being harassed again, the part where it happens several times in a row and then it’s on your mind and you go into the next professional situation having to have a plan for how to cope–that’s a drain on your time and attention that you cannot have back, that other people can help with structurally but not in the moment. They can donate their time but not hand you back yours, not give you back those hours and days of working on the situation and processing and coping. It can happen to men. It does happen to men. And as one woman I know never loses an opportunity to point out, it does not happen to every woman. But statistically, on average, it is an attention tax that falls much, much more heavily on women, for things that we did not ask for and cannot change.

It’s not just sexual harassment. This is not the only attention tax, and I don’t mean to talk as though it is. Racist bullshit and the people who visit it upon people of color? That is, among other worse things, an attention tax on those people of color. Having to cope with accessibility issues and prejudice against the disabled? Attention tax. Homophobia and other forms of anti-queer assholery? Attention tax. Navigating the world while neurodiverse, even in ways that do not feel like a disability internally, among people who are going to be utter jerks to any hint of non-neurotypicality? Attention tax. And while I’ve talked about men and women above, the amount of attention tax that falls on gender-nonconforming and non-binary people gets mind-bogglingly larger the more gender-policing the subculture they’re interacting with gets. One of the fundamental questions is: how much jerkitude are people going to blithely shovel on you for being you and then skip along with their day, and how much will that pull away from the focus you need to do your stuff that you do.

Do I imagine I’m the first to observe this? Hardly. But “show don’t tell” is hardly new advice, either, and writers get blog posts out of that several times a year. What I’m saying to you is: this is affecting the work of people you know and care about. All the time. It doesn’t have to. It is literally all entirely voluntary. The thing I said above about artisanal bullshit: last month I got very tired of people saying “so that’s a thing that happened” when they were describing a choice someone made. So let’s not do that. Let’s not ascribe to fundamental forces things that are actual bad choices people are making.

And also: people who are doing work through all these attention taxes, who are managing to push it aside and fight their way through to focusing on making something awesome: I see you. I appreciate you. I’m sorry it’s like this. I keep hoping that some of the draining work will gain us some ground and it will be long-term less necessary. But in the meantime, thanks for clawing back some of your own in the face of it. It’s so hard, and it matters so much.

Readercon Schedule!

Okay, mammals! Here is what I know of my Readercon schedule, since I have a minute to tell you. If you’re going to be there, look for me in these places, or in the places you would generally look for a person (the lobby, the bar, the green room, the meet the prose party, the ’90s dance where I will be wearing an authentic ’90s dress and an authentic ’90s flannel shirt against the authentic hotel air conditioning…).

Thursday 9:00 PM  Highway to the Weirder Zone. Samuel R. Delany, Max Gladstone, Maria Dahvana Headley (leader), Chandler Klang Smith, Marissa Lingen. Surrealism, magical realism, paranormal romance, and other genres of the weird have different methods for getting the reader to suspend disbelief and acclimate as the roses rain down and the protagonist turns into a cockroach. Can authors of less-weird science fiction and fantasy borrow those tricks to ease reader dislocation, or is dislocated exactly what a reader should be? Are there different approaches that work for a phantasmagoria of ideas or a phantasmagoria of sensory impressions? And what problems arise from applying the assumptions and techniques of one genre or subgenre to another?

Friday 2:00 PM  In the Heartland. Chris Gerwel, Marissa Lingen, Natalie Luhrs, Peter Straub, Catherynne M. Valente. What about the middle of the U.S. makes heartland stories such as Stephen King’s The Stand and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven so powerful? Recognizing that the U.S. is far from perfect, does the baked-in concept of American exceptionalism negatively affect these stories? What do they teach readers who aren’t American about Americans and their values?

Friday 4:30 PM  Reading: Marissa Lingen. Marissa Lingen reads a selection of short fiction.(That’s what the program says! I can tell you that it will be something that is sold to BCS but has not yet been published with them and will be published in the issue just before the first Tuesday in November. If that timing and venue gives you enough clue to content. Come and hear it! Also please keep me from reading to an empty room.)

Saturday 11:00 AM  Engineering in SFF, the Sequel: A Bridge Too Far. Scott H. Andrews, John Chu, Jeff Hecht, Marissa Lingen, Fran Wilde (leader). At Readercon 27, our panel of SFF writers with engineering backgrounds discussed bridges, flight, castle fortifications, and why engineering often gets short shrift compared to other technical sciences. They pointed out that readers never see a school at Hogwarts for magical engineering, or classes for building magical tools. This year a new panel will go deeper with some of these topics, getting into the different types of engineering such as bio, hydro, civil, and mechanical, and how these can inform your worldbuilding.

Sunday 10:00 AM  Reckoning Group Reading. Christopher Brown, Michael J. DeLuca, Marissa Lingen. Reckoning is a new, pro-paying, annual journal of environmental justice fiction [and nonfiction and poetry] edited by Michael Deluca. (And special guests who are not otherwise on the program! It will be great, you should totally come.)

Sunday 12:00 PM  The Works of Judith Merril. Andy Duncan, Marissa Lingen, John Stevens, Gordon Van Gelder. Celebrate and discuss the life and works of the 2016 winner of the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award. (Possibly also rage at the times in which she lived! Do some of both maybe!)

Fourth Street panel schedule

Saturday 9:30 a.m. Dreaming Under Darkening Skies: The Cold War Fantastic A discussion of living and creating in the decades when the world was presumed to be an atomic tinderbox waiting for someone to push the button. Many writers cheerfully assumed we’d skip right past the whole mess, and an equal number assumed we’d all be served broiled on toast. While some wrote apocalypses or recoveries, others (including Tim Powers and John M. Ford) wrote intricately paranoiac tales of Cold War magic. What did those decades give our fantasy, what did they take from it, and how much of that time is still haunting our thoughts/works?

Saturday 11:00 a.m. Plotting Agency: From Resistance to Responsibility With great power comes a wall on every side, or so it seems. Much of our fiction can be described along an axis running from Resistance to Responsibility. At one end, characters have little or no control over their circumstances, such as Frodo and Samwise barely avoiding starvation on what increasingly feels like a suicide mission. At the other end lie books like Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, where protagonists grapple with so much power that their real struggle is to break as little of the world as possible. Many stories seek to provoke or inspire by having characters travel this axis, including Lord of Light, The Broken Earth series, the works of John Christopher, and The Traitor Baru Cormorant. What do stories along this spectrum offer us? In the end, how can power become as much of a prison as deprivation?

For those who don’t know, Fourth Street is a single-track convention, so there’s no need to give room numbers. It’s all in the programming room. Wake up Saturday morning, stick your head under the shower, come down to the programming room and listen to my dulcet tones soothing and cheering you on these soothing and cheering topics.

Being able to even

I had most of a blog post written about convention programming at the intro level, the 101 level, how the internet has changed what 101 means, what “this is my first convention” implies about where you will be in conversation about genre. I like to think it was thoughtful. Maybe.

This is not actually about how the mean evil computer at my post, because it didn’t. I’m just having a hard time finding the right tone for that kind of interaction. “I have ideas about how this can be done better” is something that I want to do collaboratively. It is something that I want to do cheerfully–joyfully, if I can–with other people who want to do it well. This is what I like about well-chosen critique groups, for example. “Here is what is awesome about your book! Here is how I think it can be even better!” It is sometimes a feature of supper at my house: “This soup! It is good! With more basil, even better!” “How would you regard roasting the garlic?” “Roasting! Give it a go, why not!”

I don’t really enjoy the tone of conversation that is “you are doing something tediously badly, let me accost you about that.” It’s better than “you are doing something malicious,” certainly. But even a certain amount of “this thing: it is mediocre and can be actively good” can get to be a tedious conversation to have. Even though it can also be a necessary conversation to have for moving from mediocre to actively good.

I can’t even say no one has asked me. People have asked me. On this topic, recently. What I’m saying is: there are lots of things I’m having a hard time finding my way to right now, and last week was full of a giant pile of things, very few of which were particularly great, and right now? Right now it is very hard to wrestle my brain into the right configuration to get “I have observed very tedious examples of thing” into “how let’s do better than that together yay go team of positive people.”

I guess the positive thing I want to say is: I think giving people more credit tends to work out well–and when it doesn’t, it’s worth doing anyway. (In life! and in convention programming.) I think that saying very quickly “is everyone familiar with [idea, theory, essay, author]? no? okay, here’s the quick version” at the beginning of a panel often works far, far better than trying to pitch a lot of panels on the theory that no one is familiar with anything and you should rehash “how to write really technical hard SF” and “SF vs. fantasy: where exactly is the line” and the other ten ideas that have not only gone around conventions but also now the blogosphere and professional SF writing outlets forever.

So this got a little meta: reaching for the doing things better collaboratively conversation you want to be having. Even when you’re not at all sure it’s there. Yyyyeah.

The first question

I have a favor to ask. There are a lot of difficult conversations in this world right now, and I would like to ask you to pay attention to the first question you ask in those difficult conversations. Because it often gives a sense of your priorities–and sometimes it gives a sense of your priorities that is not the one you want.

Let me give you a couple of examples. When we’re talking about sexual harassment at conventions, if your first question is, “What do we do about the false reports?”, that tells me something very different than if your first question is, “How do we make sure that people trust us enough to report?” or “How do we keep clear records so that all the information we need is preserved?” And do I think, “I bet it’s because the people who are asking about false reports already have thorough answers to those other questions”? HAHAHA YEAH SURE I DO.

Similarly, disability and accessibility. If your first question is, “What about the times when accessibility needs conflict?”–and oh Lordy, that is so often the first question–that tells me so very very much about your priorities. And what it tells me is not great, frankly. Because again, I promise: the people and organizations who have this as their first question about disability and accessibility are not people and organizations who have smoothly and effortlessly handled all the first-tier, obvious accessibility needs and are now moving on to the hard ones.

Yeah, I know, sometimes the first thing that pops out of your head is something trivial, something random. I don’t think these examples are that. They’re too consistent to be random, and if you think they represent something trivial, you’ve probably never been on the wrong end of them.

Try to make sure your first question is not, “How do I put this problem back on the people who have been bearing the brunt of it all along?”, actually. That’s pretty important.

Oh, and if your stunningly insightful political question that “no one” is asking boils down to, “What if this group of people is actually just inferior? what if they just suck?”–guess what? It turns out people have asked that before. It turns out people ask that a lot. You are not new, you are not insightful, you are not hard-hitting. You’re just being an asshole. Social scientists have done a lot of research into whether one gender, one race, one ethnicity, etc. etc. etc. is inherently inferior to others, and it turns out that the scientific answer is, NO, AND ALSO STOP BEING SUCH AN ASSHOLE.

Worldbuilding: continuing thoughts after panels

I was on a worldbuilding panel at ConFusion that was labeled Worldbuilding 495, intended to be graduate level in contrast with another panel that was labeled 101. I’m not sure we got it that far, but we certainly took it beyond default questions. And then I went to another panel where an audience member’s commentary made me shoot steam out my ears (seriously, ask 4/6 of the panelists–maybe the other two too, but four of them commented on my face after), and so here we are with a handful of post-panel thoughts.

I think the thing I didn’t get to after my own panel was about sidelong politics and parallel social structures. We have those! We have them everywhere. If you ask who is president of the US, who is prime minister of Canada, etc.–even who is in Congress, who is on the Supreme Court–that doesn’t give you influential members of the communities that might interest you. Who’s the president of a charity, who are the major donors. Who are the people who make sure there are chairs set up for that charity’s talk. Who’s the lecturer at the university people want to hear; who’s the journalist who calls them. All of these groups have their own internal and overlapping politics. If you read about monarchs and heads of state, you’ll get one picture–and maybe that’s the picture you want to draw. But if you read about things that are less centrally about governance, a different picture emerges–sometimes overlapping, sometimes not.

Sometimes even basic social structures don’t overlap much with the official government. The work of James C. Scott has been really influential in my thinking about this. He writes about hill people as a particular category of peripheral social groups to empire, and how and when they succeed at keeping themselves out of the imperial eye. And we have a bit of that in our legends with Robin Hood, but I think there’s a lot more potential here.

I left the other panel with a strong sense of classism in worldbuilding, and I’ve just run into it in the book I’m reading too. I think it’s worth asking ourselves, especially in urban fantasy and near-future SF, how much the shorthand we’re using for “these are bad people” overlaps with “these are poor people, these are the lower classes.” I think it’s worth making some effort not to do that. And if it’s farther-future SF, it’s worth considering whether what you’re saying is “some groups of people are just squalid and awful no matter what you try to do for them because they inherently aren’t like us.” And don’t do that either.

The commenter at the panel used “eating potato chips and watching TV” as his flag for the mentally inferior lower classes. There were potato chips in the consuite and lots of panels on TV shows…but we all know he didn’t mean our snack foods and filmed entertainment, he meant their snack foods and filmed entertainment. You know. Them. And if we lived in a post-scarcity society, he went on, they would likely outbreed us, and what would happen to our utopia then?

Because, y’know, education is not a scarce resource now, nor are time and energy, so any way that they are is because of how they are. Previous situations where people’s standard of living was improved and their family patterns changed are not relevant for reasons. But it’s not racial! It’s just…about groups of people…who have inherent group traits that make it just and right that they’re poor and we aren’t. And all the nerds who have families who don’t understand them don’t count as counterarguments to the idea of being swallowed up by a growing inherent inferior class, apparently, because reasons. Because it’s so much more satisfying to create an us vs. them. Because you can say beer and cable TV, as the book I’m reading now does, safe in the knowledge that it’s not our beer (which is the good beer) and our cable TV (which is the quality shows). And if one of our people happens to like entertainment with a broad base of appeal, clearly we’re liking it differently and it doesn’t count like when one of them likes it.

“The Marching Morons” needs to go. March on. March away. Just stop doing your worldbuilding in ways that postulate that people are entirely awful by demographic group. We can all do better. And we should.

ConFusion schedule

I will be in attendance at ConFusion next week, my dears, and here is what I am doing, officially and on the program:

Saturday, 10:00 a.m., Charlevoix. What Should I Write Next? The first book or series is all wrapped up, maybe even under contract. What comes next? Maybe a palate-cleansing change of genre, or building on strength and staying close to where you started? What about a pseudonymous guilty pleasure? Experts weigh in! Dave Robison (M), John Chu, Jackie Morgan, Ty Franck (James SA Corey), Marissa Lingen.

Saturday, noon, Ballroom A&B. Worldbuilding 495. Genre fiction, in all its many forms, relies on the author’s ability to invest its reader in a world other than their own. What are some of the advanced methods of adding a sense of the real to invented worlds? How do authors get themselves out of tricky spots when deep into a series? Marissa Lingen (M), John Chu, Dave Robison, Mary G. Thompson [Anything you think is crucial to this panel but unlikely to occur to me, please put in a comment or an email. Since I’m the moderator, I feel the need for a great many more notes and avenues of possible exploration to ignore in pursuit of just going with whatever we come up with in the moment than I do when I’m just a panelist.] [Note: they have gone and put Max Gladstone on the 101 version of this panel. Where I am sure he will be interesting, but anyone interested in waylaying Max and herding him into the 495 version would be performing a service to humanity as represented by the panel audience.]

Sunday, 10:00 a.m., Manitou. Reading: John Chu, Annalee Flower Horne, Marissa Lingen. [What it says on the tin. Since it’s an hour long reading slot with three people in it, they encourage us to keep our readings short, so I will probably do “Running Safety Tips for Humans,” forthcoming from Nature this spring but not yet available to the public. I know that a lot of people read part of a work in a reading that short, but I’ve gotten pretty attached to delivering a complete story experience in the time allotted to me, so…”Running Safety Tips for Humans” it is, unless something strikes me as more suitable for the occasion between now and then.]

Fourth Street schedule (specifically mine)

The panel schedule is up for Fourth Street Fantasy con, which starts in about a week. (That is: there’s a social event Thursday night. Programming starts Friday.) I’m on two panels, and here they are:

Truth, Lies, and Meta. Friday, 4:30 p.m. Marissa Lingen, Emma Bull, Casey Blair. Fiction, by its nature, isn’t real, which means that when narration lies (deliberately or by omission), or a creator breaks the fourth wall, there are multiple layers of plausibility, trust, and ‘reality’ in play. How do the techniques we use to get readers to believe in a made-up world interact with cuing them that the narrator or a character in said world is a liar? (See also: Kayfabe in Wrestling; and accidental subtext, where authors make choices which suggest their world doesn’t actually work the way their narrative claims it does.) What makes us believe in a world or a character, what undermines that, and how can that tension be leveraged?

Disability in Speculative Fiction, 2:00 p.m. John Wiswell, Michael D. Thomas, Mishell Baker, Marissa Lingen. Representation of disability and chronic illness often comes in two forms: writing *the* experience or writing *an* experience. How much you define the character by their condition can define the story. Caitlin R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl follows India Phelps’ struggling with her schizophrenia and treatment for it, while N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Kingdom follows Oree handling bloody plots of the gods while happening to be blind. Has there been a quantitative or qualitative shift in treatment of disabilities in SF/F in its recent history?

The full listing of panels can be found here.