A good example for this panel…

One of the things Alec and I talk about a lot is how to make panels at conventions better. Because he did the programming for Fourth Street for four years, naturally some of that conversation has been from the programming side: how do you choose panelists, how do you choose a moderator, how do you write the panel description so that the panelists don’t stare blankly at each other wondering what on earth you were thinking or wander off into the weeds. But he hasn’t been doing programming, and we’ve been talking about it from the other angle a lot more lately: as panelists, how do you do panels well.

I think one of the most interesting questions is how to get depth for those who are ready without making the new people feel completely lost at sea. And one theory I have right now that I would like to propose and see what other people think of it is what sorts of things are most useful for squee and what things are more useful for analysis. Specifically: I think that if you have a clear choice, if you have a ton of examples to choose from, the most commonly known things are best for analysis, and the least commonly known things are the best for squee. With a spectrum between, and with the possibility of giving more than one example or speaking comparatively, obviously.

Of course depending on the convention there are entire panels based on squee. These are usually clearly labeled: “Professor Whom Fans Latest Season Recap: what’s awesome, what are we looking for next season?”, that sort of thing–very different from the panel where the Professor Whom fans are analyzing the Sniffling Cherub episodes in detail and what particular motifs recur in them. But I mean in general, on a panel that invites analysis, the more commonly known a work, the more people will have access to the analytical point you try to make. Or alternately, providing triangulation–if you can think of two or three lesser known examples, you increase the odds that your listener will know one of them. So that will help with what you’re saying about how to build complex character relationships, or how to do exposition, or whatever it is that you’re analyzing.

And of course squee about lesser known things gives people more of a chance to find out about something they might not have heard about. We all get overcome by exuberance for things we love, and I don’t want to stifle that if it happens that the thing you love is loved by other people. But squee after squee can make a panel shallow. I once went to a panel that was literally only a list of anime the panelists liked. Not even descriptions. Just titles. So that’s one end of a spectrum from squee to analysis that was…I think suboptimal. I think that while there was a bonding experience to be had from the people who were saying, “And I watch this!” “Yeah!”, it was perhaps not the best panel to be had. Obviously a certain amount of spontaneity is part of the point of doing panels at all, rather than inviting individuals to give prepared speeches. But if you’re one of the panelists, you know the topic in advance, so you have a chance to think through: what am I enthusiastic about that is less known. What examples can I use that might be accessible to the listeners I have in this particular audience. Am I missing a way anything about that approach, do you think? Do you have other ideas about squee, analysis, and other panel behavior that isn’t the standard etiquette advice?

Access, ability, health: this week’s round

After the debacle that has been several years of World Fantasy Con, Mary Robinette Kowal has posted a convention accessibility pledge. It’s worth a look; it’s worth thinking and talking about. I specifically want to highlight something that I know Mary and the other people who have been talking about this pledge agree with: that the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is a starting point for convention accessibility, not the be-all and end-all. Not everyone will want to sign this pledge for a number of reasons, but taking part in the conversation and advocating for accessibility is important for all of us regardless of what form it takes.

Accessibility is an ongoing conversation in part because it never takes part on just one axis. Something that makes a convention more accessible for people with one kind of limited mobility won’t help people with another kind; mobility accessibility won’t help people with hearing limitations; and so on. We understand more about neurodiversity than we did twenty years ago, or even ten, but our understanding is still imperfect.

It’s been disheartening to watch people get defensive on these issues, to see comments that amount to “I’ve tried hard and been a good person and that should be enough”–especially since “trying hard” often applies to completely different fields of endeavor: you can try very hard to have an allergen-friendly green room, and that’s wonderful, and it doesn’t do anything for wheelchair access to panels.

The post I intended to write, before this came up, was about unhelpful reactions to other people’s medical situations–thankfully not mine, no one’s in my house. I have watched people play “guess the random diagnosis” for a friend who was having enough trouble without having their random friends with no medical expertise whatsoever pelt them with guesses for diagnosis and treatment. I have listened to stories of misrecorded personal details that could have serious impact on future care. I have heard reports of care costs that were supposed to be covered by insurance and were not, to the tune of four figures–or that were covered by insurance, and were still four figures. So the main thing I wanted to say was, “Never start talking about someone else’s medical care with, ‘you should just…’ because it’s almost never ‘just.'”

And this ties back in with convention accessibility, because if you’re dealing with health problems and/or disability. Even if they’re short-term–even if you’re “just” broken your leg and “only” have to get around on crutches for weeks. You are already wrestling with a labyrinthine system that is draining your time and energy in addition to the health problem that is draining your time and energy. And then you turn to your leisure activities to relax, and you’re the one who has to put in more and more time and energy to make them baseline functional. If the conrunners don’t do it in advance, it’s the people who are already having problems in the first place (this is a known pattern across other concerns) who have to put in more time and energy that they already have depleted.

I had a miniature hissy fit while doing some revisions on Itasca Peterson, Wendigo Hunter. I was adding supporting characters, and I noticed that everyone in the book was apparently able-bodied. And I had a miniature meltdown in the privacy of my office, going, “I have to deal with disability crap both first-hand and second-hand every day. Literally every. Day. Why can’t some able-bodied person who lives only with able-bodied people be the one to notice and deal with it in their children’s book?” I am not proud of this hissy fit, and when I had finished with my meltdown, I pulled up my socks and gave one of the kickass college students Itasca looks up to a kickass walker that is painted with cool designs. Which is not the ne plus ultra of disability in children’s books, so hey, any able-bodied person who lives only with able-bodied people who wants to notice and deal, feel free. But it circles back again: the people who have to deal with this stuff, statistically, will be the ones who deal with this stuff.

So if that’s not you, one way or another…think about changing the trend somehow? Thanks.

Things I didn’t get around to saying at 4th St.

One of the great joys of a good panel is that there’s always more to say about the topic than will fit in the panel slot. When I was moderating, I had probably twenty names on my “so-and-so has a comment, call on them next” list, and almost all of them were people I already knew, and all the people I already knew were people I knew to be smart and insightful. And we often get smart, insightful new people too. Never enough time!

So! Here are some bits and pieces of things I didn’t get around to saying, labeled if I can remember when/why I wrote them down. Also a few things other people did say, because I wanted to pull them out and look at the shiny.

(Does the arc of fantasy bend towards justice? panel) I think one of the hardest parts about countering the narrative of the American White Secessionist South is that almost all the story templates we have are of the empire enforcing things on an unwilling populace being a bad thing. That makes the empire the villains. We don’t tend to tell the stories of the empire enforcing civil rights on a populace that is attached to keeping them from a minority. And it’s particularly difficult to construct that narrative because we’ve seen the (very very) down side of colonialist narrative about Bringing Enlightenment To The Savages. Yet I think that at least some counter to the dominant “if you’re rebelling, you must be on the side of right” narrative would be a really positive thing if people can figure out how to construct it–both as a social good and as a different story.

Post-apocalyptic lit references I didn’t get to talk about on the post-apocalyptic lit panel: Kathleen Ann Goonan Queen City Jazz, in which the serious disruption comes from positive-ish or positive-looking tech developments; Nalo Hopkinson Brown Girl in the Ring; Gwyneth Jones Bold As Love; Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu The Shadow Speaker; Nick Sagan Idlewild; S.M. Stirling; John Crowley Engine Summer; Kurt Vonnegut Cat’s Cradle; Walter Miller A Canticle for Leibowitz; Robert Charles Wilson, king of sudden disruption; “Attack on Titan” (anime); “Wall-E” (movie); Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith Stranger; Kim Stanley Robinson The Wild Shore and the climate change trilogy; Laurie King/Leigh Richards Califa’s Daughters; Michaela Roessner The Vanishing Point; “Tank Girl” (movie), which we later categorized in conversation as Lori Petty battling the camera and winning; Karina Sumner-Smith Radiant; Lois McMaster Bujold The Sharing Knife; Suzy McKee Charnas Walk to the End of the World; Orson Scott Card, The Folk of the Fringe; Lisa Goldstein A Mask for the General; Gregory Frost and the 7th Day Adventist apocalypse that wasn’t; Bradley Denton’s Blackburn and Laughin’ Boy, two of the best personal/individual apocalypse books I know, completely the feel of post-apocalyptic.

Yes, we did manage to talk about post-apocalyptic books even excluding all of the above. There is quite a lot to say. Max Gladstone said, “If you love something, smash it with a hammer,” and that was good, and Sarah Olsen said, “We’re searching for what’s valuable in our culture to preserve,” and that’s good too, especially the verb tense she chose, and then Elizabeth Bear said, “One of the most exciting things about post-apocalyptic literature is that you can treat society like a character.” Which is a fun thing to do generally but almost required in post-apocalyptic. And Emma Bull noticed that everyone is necessary for the rebuilding in John M. Ford’s The Last Hot Time, which, yes, oh yes, thanks Emma and as always thanks Mike. We are all needed. We are none of us optional.

Starting a comment with, “I’m probably the only one here who’s read this,” is not very useful and just makes you look pompous. People will have read things or won’t have. Flagging obscurity is not necessary unless the discussion is explicitly about highly popular works, and flagging it in that particular way is just self-aggrandizing.

On the music panel, people ended up talking about thinking through who in a scene was carrying the melody and who was doing different kinds of harmony, and I thought that the concept of ensemble-building analogies with musical groups would be useful in building an ensemble cast in general–that if you don’t have enough rhythm and/or enough bass in your character list, the whole will fall over. Also suddenly my proclivity for low-pitched instruments lined up very well with my preference for supporting characters in semi-ensemble cast shows, and all was clear.

Max Gladstone was talking during the sex panel about different lines between private and public behaviors/standards/etc. in different cultures, and I really would like to see people do a lot more with that. There are some ways in which the author’s choices of what to show and how to show it in depictions of sex and sexuality can either mirror or distinctly contrast with what privacy/publicity would be expected in the culture portrayed, and that would be cool, but also playing with the private/public lines for non-sex issues gets a big thumbs up from me.

I would also like to see more speculative fiction that’s extrapolated from current culture and doesn’t assume that religious developments will be linear. Because as Mark’s recent rantings about naked Anabaptist parades demonstrate, things that are directly motivated by a known religious context can still go off completely unpredictable haywire directions.

Elizabeth Bear said, “The absolute hardest thing about writing is limiting your options.” This = true. It’s one of the reasons that people who are depressed struggle so much with their writing: because depression worsens choice paralysis. So basically people who manage to write while depressed should get ALL THE PROPS EVER from the rest of us, because it is a Harrison Bergeron sort of deal and they are MAKING IT ALOFT ANYWAY DESPITE THE GIANT WEIGHTS.

(Ahem. Strong feelings: I have them.)

A friend of mine commented that they had not thought through the emotional difference between having a meal alone at a con because you know (and like!) dozens of people and did not make the logistics work and having a meal alone at a con because you’re new and know nobody, but once somebody pointed it out, friend felt that it was very clarifying. So good then.

Relating also to new people and their reception, I feel that there is a line at about six friends. If you have one or two friends at a con, it can be pretty scary, and while it’s still a good idea to reach out to people you don’t know, you don’t have as much of an emotional base for doing it with one or two friends. It’s harder. But once you have six or more friends at a convention, if you complain that it’s cliquish but you don’t reach out to new people, sorry, you are part of the problem. Six friends gives you a base. It gives you a place to stand while you reach out. It can also give you your own clique while you are complaining about the cliques of others. I know it’s hard for some people to make social overtures, but “I have a hard time making social overtures” is a different problem from “other people are behaving exactly like I am, but when they do it, it’s bad.” Especially if you are not visibly a minority at the convention you’re attending. Especially if you’re a published pro. Especially if you’re not struggling with health problems. Etc. But in general: a good convention comes with a lot of reciprocity, and if you have half a dozen friends there, you’re in a much better position to make the first conversational move than some people.

You can always choose not to reach out to people. That’s your prerogative. But choosing that while complaining about how they are not reaching out to you…is pretty sketchy at best.

Skyler White had two comments on the same panel that fit really well together for me. It was the panel on how you play the cards you ain’t been dealt–that is, how to get better at things that are not natural to you. Skyler first said, “Asking yourself progressively better questions before you start writing is one of the best ways to deal with the cards you weren’t dealt.” Ooh. Yes. Then later she said, “Anything I do before I start writing, if I do it past the time when I could have started writing, becomes a handicap.” That has nice nuance and edges to it. It balances out the thinking/questioning with action, and it can be iterated throughout a long writing process, and…yes. Go Skyler.

I felt that Steven Brust demonstrated the importance of the vivid detail when we were all deciding on That’s A Different panel for the end of the con. He proposed a panel complete with a slate of panelists. Entirely possible that his topic would have won anyway, but he gave the audience the crucial ability to imagine themselves at that panel by saying who would be on it. Very meta. (And not a technique limited to Steve, if people find themselves strongly partisan about a particular panel in future similar circumstances.)

Fourth Street Schedule

The schedule for 4th St. Fantasy is up, and it starts today! We’ll be heading up there to settle into the hotel and do evening events tonight. I’m leading the seminar starting at 9:00 tomorrow morning, but all the spots in that are full. You can still get a convention membership, though! And here are the panels you can hear me on if you do:

Saturday 9:30 AM: The Romance of the Breakdown. Elizabeth Bear, Emma Bull,
Marissa Lingen, Max Gladstone, Sarah Olsen

What’s up with our perpetual fascination with breaking society and dramatizing the apocalypse as well as the post-apocalypse… how do our cultural myths and societal images intersect with this phenomenon and fuel it (the manor house cozy catastrophe of British fiction, the American narrative of rugged survivalists gunning their way across the ungoverned wastes, etc.)? We’ve seen that national powers can remain in control and national identities remain concrete even when bombs are literally falling from the sky. So why do we seem so convinced that if our society hits the rocks we’ll never get it off again?

(Oh, I have thoughts, kids. I have thoughts.)

Sunday 10:00 AM: Crossing the Genre Streams. Marissa Lingen (moderator), Max Gladstone, Doug Hulick, Kelly McCullough, Patricia C. Wrede
The challenges, structural concerns, and tricks of crossing two or more established genres in one book. How the beats fall differently, how to manage different sets of expectations, etc.

Note: the schedule has all of Sunday’s panels listed as PM. This is wrong. I know because I am never, never, never on a panel starting at 10:00 p.m. You think I flap my hands and call things “thingy” and “whatsit” ordinarily…you should see me in the 2200 hour.

Anyway! If you are noticing that I seem to be starting the convention every morning, you are correct! I am the Designated Fourth Street Morning Person. Rise and shine and geek out with meeeee!

Mini-con report/Minicon report

I am terrible at the kind of con reports that are the next best thing to being there, but I did have lots of nice moments at Minicon. There were a couple of really quite good room parties (including one that actually was worth being squeezed in like sardines–first time in my con-going experience that that’s ever been worth it, and I’ve been to a lot of sardine-parties), and every meal was with at least two people I like and do not see enough of, sometimes more. An anonymous benefactor included me in the Cats Laughing pre-concert dinner, so that was unexpected and great fun, much hilarity ensuing, etc. (If you’re reading this, anonymous benefactor, it was as lovely as you could have wished. Thank you.) I don’t actually eat enough to just spend entire conventions at meals, but socially I sometimes wish I could.

I didn’t go to very many panels, but the ones I did ranged from uncontentious to quite good. I don’t really enjoy panels that purport to be recommendation panels and devolve into nerd plumage displays, so the Anime and Manga for SFF Fans panel Alec was on was not really my jam. Since I can’t do light shows, I took in a bit of the Cats Laughing concert from just outside the room and another bit on the TV, but I spent most of that time at a panel about “Why Are We Still Having This Panel?”, because I feared that it would be underattended and my friend Michael was on it. As it turned out, the audience was not crowded but was quite enthusiastic and engaged, and we had a good discussion about how to keep programming fresh–and when, at a large regional con, not to bother, since the repetitive programming does serve some people’s wants/needs.

Other than those two, I went to two panels I was on and moderated. The first one, the collaboration panel, was filled with entertaining anecdote and also with Jane Yolen’s kids doing imitations of her voice. (Heidi wins at this.) It managed to cover somewhat different ground than the previous panels I’ve done on collaboration, so go team on that front. (See above re: keeping programming fresh!) The second was the last panel of the day on Sunday, talking about middle grade optimism, YA dystopia, middle grade dystopia, what teenagers want and how we find that out, what adults let younger kids have…all sorts of good stuff. I really wish it had not been the panel right before I had to leave for Easter dinner, because there were lots of new faces listening intently and some asking interesting questions. (If this post gets to the attention of the young writer asking about how to find your own boundaries with vulgarity/profanity and writing for teens: come to Fourth Street! We get into all kinds of questions like this. Perkele.)

At our reading, Alec and I read one jointly written story in alternating sections, and then with time constraints we chose to have me read one of my solo stories. That seemed to go pretty well. We were followed in the same room by Pamela Dean, Naomi Kritzer, and Michael Merriam, so a) lots of good stuff read and b) the cookies I brought got eaten. Pamela’s astronomical werewolves were amazing, Naomi had me on the edge of my seat about whether the Berlin Wall would actually fall this time, and I’m all excited about Michael’s new thing. Yay readings. I like readings.

On the up side, I didn’t really feel crushed by walls of people at a Minicon that was twice as large as usual. I was a bit worried about that, so it was a relief that it didn’t actually happen. On the down side, it was very, very easy to simply never see a friend, or to lose them Saturday morning and never see them again. At most Minicons, there’ll be one or two people who fit that description. At this one at least a dozen. This is why I don’t like big conventions. At a convention of 50-150 people, if it’s a good con, you will of course have the problem of not having enough time for everything fun. This is a good problem to have. But at a convention of 1000 people, you not only don’t have enough time for everything fun, you don’t even have any idea what’s going on where at any given time. You don’t have the chance to prioritize, “Hmm, I said I wanted to catch up more with X at lunch on Saturday, but I haven’t even said a single word to Y, so I’ll go talk to Y and hope there’s still time after that before X goes to the airport.” Because where is X? Where is Y? I’m good at algebra. This is supposed to work out for me. So…I’m not going to refuse to go to conventions of this size, but this is why I am more than a bit ambivalent about them even when they go well.

On Welcoming

We have been talking a lot, around my house, about welcoming, about conventions and communities and welcoming people into them. I keep saying a thing that sounds tautological and yet strikes me as important, which is: if you don’t welcome people, they will not feel welcome. Welcoming is a thing that someone has to do. It does not spring up of its own accord, as violets in the spring. Making new people feel welcome to an event or group takes work. So I want to talk about the basics of how that goes, and if you have ideas (or agree or disagree), I’d like to talk about it in general. Clearly there’s no one behavior that will appeal to everyone, so let’s talk about what works for whom and what doesn’t. A lot of it should apply across large-ish event type, whether it’s a club meeting or a convention or a religious group or simply a large party drawing from multiple social circles/connections–and if I’ve screwed up where things don’t cross-apply, please do speak up.

Chronology first: do not neglect introductions, and keep them low-key. When I was talking about this post with friends, one of them told a story about when she first went to her church. The pastor had them stand up to be pointed out to everyone as new people for four weeks in a row. He called them out by name, so it wasn’t just “any new people, please stand,” it was, “[friend’s name] and [friend’s husband’s name], please stand up,” pointing at them and waving them to their feet. From the way she told the story, I think the fact that they are still at this church has more to do with them being from a small denomination with limited local options than finding this behavior welcoming–even though that was probably the intent. Having people come up to say, “Hi, I’m [name], I don’t think we’ve met before,” or, “I’m terrible with names–I’m [name], and I’ve probably met you before, please don’t hold it against me that it takes me forever to remember people,” or anything, really, that’s introductory, would have been fine. As long as they weren’t singling out people to stand and be commented on in front of a group that was not similarly engaged. Introductions should be equal–not, “everybody, this is Chris; Chris, this is everybody,” where Chris’s status as new is singled out without giving any information about others, but, “Chris, do you know everybody here? This is….”

I find that performing introductions is often neglected in situations where everybody has a name badge, and yet it’s a very warm thing to do. It makes the new person–or people–feel looked out for. Also, the fact that the guy standing next to me is wearing a name badge that says “Kevin” does not give you the same information as, “This is my brother Kev.” Introductions can provide context that will help new people navigate the situation.

I have seen advice that to be “charming,” you should introduce people you have just met as “my new friend.” This is a risky move. It’s both culturally and personally dependent. Some people will indeed find it charming; others will find it alarmingly pushy or fake. Proceed at your own risk, and also remember that personally charming is not the same thing as welcoming to a group event. The two may overlap significantly, but they’re not the same.

Introductions don’t have to be performed at the beginning of an event, and actually the very beginning is often a shaky time to spot who needs a welcome. One of the people I talked to about this said that they felt particularly welcomed at Fourth Street because people were saying, “Oh, this panel is going to be great, it’s blah and blah and blah, come on and sit with me”–and that’s something you can do before any panel. If you keep an eye for who seems to be standing around without ever talking to anybody, that person may be an introvert who knows the whole group, but they also may be new. Doesn’t hurt to check in with them. Think about what behaviors you exhibit if you’re uncomfortable and trying not to stick out as the newbie, and then look for people exhibiting those behaviors and reach out to them.

Tim’s dad had a sabbatical once to study what successful churches had in common, and the answer was doughnuts. Seriously. Doughnuts. Churches that provided doughnuts gave people a framework for standing around doing something afterwards, and that gave people a chance to get to know each other and choose to stick around. Obviously not every group or event has to have doughnuts (although I can hear some of you thinking, “But what a wonderful world it would be…”), but the more general case is to have easily recognizable refreshments and/or low-key modes to interact. At conventions, hotels often provide a table full of water pitchers and glasses in the back of a conference room, and this is a great space to watch for people who are nervous, alone, seem to be trying to fill their time without anyone to talk to. Consuites/hospitality suites also can do a good job of this by providing snacks that are clearly labeled in a space people can gather in–but that only works if at least some of the people who are used to coming to the event keep an eye out for new people, rather than darting in for a handful of cashews or a soda and rushing out again.

“Are you new here?” is an okay conversational gambit, but it turns out that you don’t have to go there if you don’t want to. There’s no harm if you go up to someone to try to make sure they feel welcome/know people and it turns out they know everybody and have been there longer than you have. Starting out with, “I thought that was really interesting about A [on the panel we both just finished listening to]; it reminded me of B. Have you read B?,” works at least as well. Or, “Can you believe the prices in the hotel restaurant?” or whatever else is on your mind about your common interest. (At a party: “Do you know where [host] keeps the [item]?” or even: “So how do you know [host]?”)

One of my friends noticed that the sorts of things I was talking about require people to pay attention to others and reach out with human warmth, and she immediately, in her own words, tried “to find a way to automate that.” She mulled over all the “icebreaker”/”getting to know you” activities she’d been forced into and tried to figure out why none of them worked. I think it can’t be automated. There are some things that can be structurally organized–having a place for new people to gather to find someone to go to meals with is a thing that’s worked at more than one convention I’ve been to–but I think that human warmth and attention is the most important factor in whether someone feels welcomed, and you can’t build that into trust falls or two-truths-and-a-lie games.

Also, mandated “getting to know you” games often go counter to the reason you’re gathered in the first place. If you’ve come to a science fiction convention to talk about science fiction and related topics, being assigned a focus group is not actually what you’re there for. Even if the focus group is “here are the four people you will be assigned to discuss your panels with,” so that it would theoretically be in keeping with the mission of the event, the free flow of conversation is a huge part of the point. Anything you do that is supposedly to welcome people but actually interferes with the thing that brought them there to begin with will fail. And it’ll annoy a lot of the established people along the way, and some of them will either opt out or participate in a half-hearted way that will make new people feel like more of a burden. Occasionally you’ll bond over how annoying this welcome-game is, but you can’t really plan that–and adding annoyance to your event is a good way to get people to bond against you, not with/for you.

Recognize that not everybody is going to be a good candidate for welcoming new people. There is a great recognition on the internet for RBF (“Resting Bitch Face,” for those of you not familiar), and while people with RBF can overcome it to be deliberately welcoming, there are some combinations of body language/affect that will just feel closed down and foreboding even when the person doesn’t mean to. When you get to know these people, you can sometimes find that they are good-hearted, interesting, warm, etc.–but you shouldn’t demand that they be the ones to welcome new people. Further, some people simply don’t want to. It’s not a goal of theirs. And that’s okay. And then beyond that–someone will be having a bad day for whatever reason, and just run out of cope for new people. Outreach requires having some kind of ground to reach out from; any kind of health or personal issue will have the potential to make it much harder for any one person to welcome new people. Not everybody has to do this stuff all the time. Just, y’know. Some people. Some of the time.

Start welcoming people sooner than you think you should in terms of your own experience at the event/convention/whatever. I have heard complaints from people who have been going to an event for years and have dozens of friends there about how they felt that they were “new people” and were not getting outreach. At that point, you should be doing the outreach. With very large groups, you’re likely to be able to find someone more experienced and socially connected than you are. That doesn’t make you the new kid. Go find a new kid and be nice to them.

If your event is not explicitly about people finding other people to date, consider waiting until a new person has been to this event more than five minutes before hitting on them. Also, err on the side of not getting into people’s personal space until you know them. If they’re someone you know quite well online but have not seen in person before…you can ask with words whether they feel like hugging you. “Hug or handshake?” only feels awkward if you feel awkward about it. It’s way less awkward than just going for the hug and finding out, oops, handshake after all, or possibly friendly wave.

You cannot actually welcome everyone all at once. Relevant to the above paragraph: you can’t actually welcome harassers and people who would prefer not to be harassed and have them both feel equally welcome. Sometimes you have to draw a line and say, “hey, buddy, we don’t do that here.” (This is true if “buddy” has been involved in the group longer than you have as well as if “buddy” is new.) You have to decide who you are, personally and as a group, and accept that this will not welcome everyone evenly. If someone makes a racist remark and you call them on it, they will probably feel less welcome. On the other hand, the people who don’t want to hang out in a group where racism is accepted will feel more welcome hearing you say, nope, that is not how this group goes. It stinks that you have to, like, pick your side and get confrontational and stuff, but that’s how reality works. Obviously you won’t get this handled perfectly–conversations will go past while you’re trying to figure out what to say, or you’ll blurt something out that isn’t perfect, or whatever. Life is like that. Sometimes when you’re giving introductions, you’ll try to introduce people to each other who were married when you were in grade school. (Ahem. Ask me how I know.) Nobody really cares. That’s the sort of thing people laugh over and then move on. It’s hard to be welcoming without having at least some potential for looking uncool. So: priorities, up to you.

More on welcoming: what has worked for you, what has really not worked, what am I missing?

Minicon 50 schedule

I have my schedule for Minicon! If you’re not going to Minicon, you can also see me at Fourth Street, and I’m trying to figure out what I’m doing for Convergence, since some friends are having an event there I don’t want to miss, but I otherwise don’t go to Convergence. So probably just a little Convergence, basically. I have no plans for out of town conventions this year, although life is full of surprises. Anyway! Minicon schedule!

Thursday, April 2, 6:30 p.m.: The Lure of Ages Past. Bronze age mysticism, Edwardian pomp, Civil War relived – what draws us to historical fiction (realistic or alternate)? Which authors are we reading? What makes the past such an alluring playground for authors? Dana M. Baird, Aimee Kuzenski, Magenta Griffith, Marissa Lingen, Ozgur K. Sahin I have discovered a conflict with this panel and will not be able to do it. Argh. My own fault, not theirs, but: argh.

Saturday, April 4, 1:00 p.m.: Adventures in Collaboration. Many of our attending authors have co-authored narrative works with other writers. How did such collaborations come about? How do authors with distinct voices come together to create a cohesive tale? What affect [I believe they mean effect–mkl] (or benefit) does collaborating have for an author at the beginning of his/her career versus when it is well-developed? Adam Stemple, Ctein, Heidi Stemple, Jane Yolen, Jerry Stearns, Larry Niven, Marissa Lingen

Saturday, April 4, 3:30 p.m.: Marissa Lingen & Alec Austin reading [We didn’t provide a description because we won’t decide what to read until…um…let’s say about 3:31 on Saturday, April 4. We will read things written by us separately and/or together. We have options.]

Sunday, April 5, 2:30 p.m.: Middle Grade Optimism vs YA Dystopia Magical wonder abounds in middle grade lit but seems to disappear once stories make the jump to the next age bracket. [coughBULLSHITcough–mkl] Does pessimism go hand in hand with the advent of hormones? Is middle grade more than it appears?(from both reader and writer perspective) [APPEARS TO WHOM WHAT I DON’T EVEN Oooookay we will argue this ON the panel–mkl] Donna Munro, Adam Stemple, Alec Austin, Brandon Sanderson, Jane Yolen, Marissa Lingen

4th St. registration finally!

Fourth Street registration is finally open! Come to the best and nerdiest fantasy convention on the block. June 26-28, here in the Twin Cities area, although if you have flexibility in your travel plans you should know that there’s stuff going on Thursday and Monday also.

I am leading the seminar at 4th St. again this year, along with Alec Austin, Lynne and Michael Thomas, and Mary Robinette Kowal. In addition, this year’s new feature is a critique session going on at the same time as the seminar (choose one!), led by Beth Meacham, Max Gladstone, Patricia C. Wrede, Skyler White, and our very own Tim Cooper.

4th St. 4th St. 4th St. yay! I hope to see so many of you at 4th St.!

Completely unsatisfying 4th St. con report

Look, folks, I’m terrible at con reports. I never take good panel notes, and I feel like I’m name-dropping if I list the people I talked to. Worse, I feel like I’m name-dropping incompetently, because I’m sure to forget some of my favorite people and make them feel like they aren’t valued, which is just plain unacceptable. So we can’t have that.

But Fourth Street! It was a Fourth Street! And Fourth Street is my favorite con. I am an introvert, and I like very chewy nerdy theory conversations. The single-track mode of programming at Fourth Street sets that up perfectly. Everyone is pretty much in the same place, where you can find them easily, so there is no wandering through hordes and hordes of people looking for the ones who might be talking about things you like. There they are. If you’re looking for one in specific, there’s a very limited number of places that person might be. And the conversation is not limited–it’s very far-ranging, in fact–but it does tend to have all sorts of ready-made entry-points from panels and the little extra things that spring up around the official programming.

This was the first time I’d done anything like the writers’ seminar that precedes Fourth Street. It was basically like being on panels solidly from 9-2:30, with one fifteen-minute break in the morning and one hour-long break for lunch. Lunch was provided–which was good, because by the time lunch rolled around, I was literally shaking with exhaustion/hunger. (Keep in mind that I was really sick for the week preceding the con. Wednesday was the first day I was well enough to shower standing up. Thursday was the first day I was well enough to wear clothes. Then Friday I did the seminar! Um, go team!) So having the lunch provided was great…except that it was with the seminar participants, so it wasn’t really down time per se. I’ve talked to the organizer, and things will be slightly different next year, to allow for value for the participants while still allowing the seminar leaders a minute to themselves.

Every year I try to encourage people to come to Fourth Street. This year is no different. Every year I meet new awesome people. Every year I reconnect with some of my old awesome people, and lament the ones I didn’t get enough time with (both at the con and the ones who couldn’t make it). Seriously: think about this con for next June. There are all sorts of ways to stretch and grow as a writer. Fourth Street is one of them. I came back with six pages of notes for different projects, ideas that had been sparked by things various people had said. It’s that kind of con.

One thing I remember saying on one of my panels that I do want to repeat here: I was talking about how my agent reacted (well! she reacted well!) when I told her I’d been struggling with some health stuff. I said something like, “Everyone in this room deserves to work with people who treat them ethically. All of you. You deserve someone who treats you like a person, with consideration and respect.” That was not actually meant to be limited to that room. Wherever you are in your career–whatever your career is–you deserve ethical treatment, consideration, and respect from the people you work with. Don’t let anybody tell you differently. It matters. There was lots of theorizing and arguing about craft and story and art, and all that is important. It really is. But I really want that point to be heard, because sometimes I think those of us who have been striving for something in the creative professions can want it so badly for so long that we can lose sight of other considerations, including some incredibly important ones.

Anyway. It was Fourth Street, it was lovely, and then I came home and found that I’d sold my 4H kids in space story to Analog. It’s called “Blue Ribbon,” and it’s much darker than it sounds; these things happen. Anyway, it was a great ending to a great con. You should think about coming next year.

Items! of! Interest!

First, Alec and I have a story in the September 2014 Analog, “Calm.” The author copies arrived late last week (making the fourth pro magazine I had a piece in last week, eep, what a week!), so it should be hitting stands soon-ish.

Next, my Fourth Street schedule. I’m one of the people doing the pre-convention seminar, along with Steven Brust, Elizabeth Bear, and Seanan McGuire, but that’s already closed, so if you’re doing that, you already know about the times and topics. For the convention itself–for which you can still get memberships! June 20-22!–here are my panels:

Saturday, June 21, 2014 11:00 AM – The Influence of Anxiety How do our fears and worries affect our work, and what we can do about it? How does that change when our anxieties are rooted in brain chemistry and the usual run of nostrums and advice to writers prove ineffective?
Sherry Merriam (m), Stella Evans, Scott Lynch, Marissa Lingen

Saturday, June 21, 2014 5:00P – In and out of frame In fantasy, as with stage plays and magic tricks, a key skill is directing the reader’s attention. What are some examples of successful (and less successful) attention direction and sleight of hand and the motivations behind them? Are there certain topics it’s easier or harder to guide readers toward (or away from)?
Marissa Lingen (m), Catherine Lundoff, Liz Vogel, Maurice Broaddus, Pamela Dean

At least, that’s how it was listed when I got the initial email from the programming chair. I believe that Maurice Broaddus had something come up so that he couldn’t make it, and the programming chair was going to ask a member who had bought a membership after he first figured out panelists to take Maurice’s place. As far as I know, the program has been set but has not been posted to the website–but when I saw that Catherine had posted her panels, I thought, yes, what a good idea, so here are mine.