I See the People Working and See it Working For Them
This past Sunday, I had to skate a lot of laps in a hurry. This was because, in the time since I took my WFTDA minimum skills assessment last year, they changed the standards for one of the skills being assessed. Now, instead of skating 25 laps in five minutes, you have to skate 27. So that's what I had to do.
The reason for the change is, 27 laps more closely approximates a mile. So you can say, "You must be able to skate a mile in 5 minutes." Except, of course, one of the tricks to skating X amount of laps in Y minutes is skating less distance. The longer you can hold the inside line rather than spinning out on the straightaways, the less distance you have to cover. So this whole "mile" thing is kind of a red herring.
Whatever. Those of us who tested up with 25 laps under the old rules have been obliged to clock an official qualifying time for 27 laps under the new. I was to do this Sunday.
I was not looking forward to it.
Don't get me wrong; I knew I could do it. In an unofficial capacity, as an endurance exercise during practice, I've managed as many as 29 laps in a five-minute sprint. I had no doubt I could do it again.
But I knew it was going to hurt.
Still, the time came, and my coach said, "You ready, Fleur?" and what was I gonna say? No? Pfeh on that. It had to be done, so let's get it over with. On your mark, get set, tweet!
Before I'd done even 10 laps, I was in pain. My chest developed this tight burning knot like someone driving her shoulder into my sternum. My legs turned into spaghetti and wouldn't quite do what I wanted. I remembered telling the Phase 2 skaters, just the day before, that "the lower you get, the deeper and more powerful your crossovers, the faster you'll be and the less tired it'll make you." Sounds easy, right? But I kept telling my knees bend, damn you! and my left foot push, you lazy thing! and they wouldn't. It was like this glass guillotine had sliced off the top part of the Good Skater Form graph: I could the positions I needed to be in, but I couldn't seem to get there. My knees bent so far and no farther. My left foot crossed under the right only so much and no more.
And, oh my goodness, the hacking. The coughing. The wheezing. It did not end until sometime after I'd gone to sleep that night.
So it hurt, just like I knew it would. But just as I expected, I succeeded. My official time on record for 27 laps is 4:23:29. That's a better time than I clocked for my 25 last year, so, things are as they should be. With time and practice, I've gotten faster and stronger.
"All right," you might say, "but, what about writing? This is a blog about writing."
And I will say, "Cut me some slack. It's a metaphor. Like Natalie Goldberg talking about jogging and meditation. When I talk about derby, I'm talking about writing."
Why don't I write when I know I should be writing? Because I know it's going to hurt.
Doing what I don't want to do, and thus not doing what I do want to do, sort of hurts, OK? Yes, it makes me sound like a spoiled brat to say it--I don't wanna! You can't make me!--but it's true, nonetheless. Pushing through the do not wanna requires a sustained effort that is distinctly uncomfortable. And though it's not the same physical pain as skating my fastest for five minutes straight, certainly it's the same emotional fear-of-pain standing between me and what I know needs to be done.
When I worked a 9-to-5 web development job, I experienced that same fear-of-pain when I arrived at the office. I'd put off the work for as long as feasible, puttering around the office kitchen to make myself iced tea or hot coffee, queuing up just the right playlist on my headphones, and, as a last ditch effort, arranging the windows containing the code I was working on just so.
But just like Sunday when my coach looked at me and said, "How about now?" I couldn't lastingly refuse. I was on the clock. I had responsibilities. This thing had to get done, and there'd be real consequences for not doing it. So eventually I stopped puttering and started working.
At this stage of my writing career, there are few external pressures like those to help push me through the do not wanna. Oh, there's disappointment in myself, the sense of failure, the fear that I'm wasting my life, wasting the gift of time my husband gave me when he agreed I could quit the day job... but those are less tangible, farther off. There's always tomorrow, after all. There's always next year. Like the monkeys in Kipling's The Jungle Book, I comfort myself with the wonderful things I'm just about to do, any moment now.
But just at this moment, it's easy to give up the effort to push through. It's easy to just never start at all.
So here's what I need. I need to convert my goals into daily deadlines I can't blow off, just like I couldn't blow off the deadlines at the 9-to-5 job. And I need to develop that voice in my head, like a roller derby coach, that says, "It's 6:30! If you're not on the track, you're late! Pace line, NOW!" On your mark, get set, tweet!
If I have to, I will buy an actual whistle and blow the damn thing myself.
Even RollerBulls Gotta Talk About Writing
Vacation is not a thing to pin one's hopes for productivity upon. Obvious exception: Writing retreats. But this is not a writing retreat. This is San Fermin en Nueva Orleans, and I am a RollerBull. I have the horns on my helmet to prove it.
(I have officially filed for a week's vacation with my roller derby league so as to get credited for some of the practices this trip is making me miss. So what am I doing while on vacation from roller derby? Roller derby, of course.)
Yesterday I attended a practice with the Crescent City Derby Devils in preparation for Sunday's mix-up scrimmage. We practiced for Saturday's "Encierro" (the Running of the RollerBulls) by performing drills that involved whacking each other in the butt with approved Fat Bats. This is really a good thing to practice. There is a right way and a wrong way to "gore" a runner. Dropped your bat? You did it wrong.
During that practice I was invited to participate in a super secret mini-run where a handful of RollerBulls would surprise the Voodoo Hash House Harriers during their Thursday night run... walk... hunt... pub crawl thing. This week's activity was billed as "Running of the Bullshit", after all. So that's what we did. We weren't on skates because of the threat of rain, but we had our horns on and we jumped out from behind the bushes and chased the runners and whacked some butts and everyone had fun.
Afterwards, we stood around chatting in front of the snoball stand. One of the runners, upon hearing I was a writer (look, it comes up, people ask you "What do you do when you're not doing this?" and there's your answer) got curious about the process.
"So how do you turn an idea into a story?" Er. I'm not sure? Mainly, I try not to disqualify ideas before I've explored them, I guess.
"Do writers just write it down as it comes to them, or take notes, make big outlines, or...?" Depends on the writer. Depends on the story, too. Every writer has their own process and every story has its own life-cycle.
"How long does it take?" That depends, too-- "I mean, think of, like, one page of a story. How long does that take?" Dude. It depends! "But how long--" UP TO 90 WORDS PER MINUTE, OK, YOU DO THE MATH.
And it turns out, I am a crappy explainer of process.
I've heard it said, though, that process isn't teachable. A writer might suggest things that another writer might not have thought of, but in the end every writer discovers their own process for themselves. So I guess while I could probably explain my process, at least for a given story or maybe for a given day, I can't explain What Writers Do. I could only give examples, one after another, at great length. And while my querant seemed persistently curious, I'm not sure he was that curious.
But so anyway that appears to be it for today's writing content. Don't expect much from the rest of the weekend, either. It's San Fermin en Nueva Orleans, y'all.
Need Moar Details
On the train ride back from the World Horror Convention, I kept saying to myself, "Once I get back into town, I'll get back into a good working writing schedule." And then, "Once I take a day or two off, now that I'm back, just to recover from the trip, I'll get to work."
Which of course became, "Once the July 6 bout is behind me, and I'm on the train to New Orleans again, then I'll get some writing done for sure."
Partially, I blame the three weeks between trips for being sufficiently hectic to make me loathe to give up any scrap of down-time. Between some aggressive roller derby practice to prepare for the bout, and fulfulling other roller derby requirements to do with the committee I serve on, and day-to-day household things, and of course preparing for the next trip, I just felt like once I'd checked off the latest stressful item I deserved some hours of play. Or reading. Or sleep.
(Also, I was frantically knitting as much as my fingers could endure to finish my pink Bombshell derby socks. I cast 'em off on the morning of July 6 and did indeed wear them in the bout, earning a compliment from a knitting/spinnning friend in the audience and a tongue-in-cheek growl from a fellow league member who's learning to knit. But I think I'll be ripping back the cast-off and adding another couple inches to the K2P2 ribbing when I get a chance.)
But I think the larger problem is, I never sat down and said, "When I write today, this is what I want to work on." So instead of, say, taking fifteen minutes to freewrite here or half an hour to work on a story revision there, I sort of lived with this great hulking vague monster lurking in the shadows of every room, and it was called WRITING and I could not bring myself to deal with it.
This is an ongoing problem. Failure to define the task beyond "I must write today!" results in a tendency to let the day sort of aimlessly dribble away. I wish it were as simple, as it seems to be for some of my friends, as saying, "I need to write 1500 words every day." Maybe it would be, except that right now I don't so much need to write new words as I need to revise and submit what seems like an endless queue of story drafts. And "Revise a story" is just as threateningly vague. I suppose a better approach would be, "At X O'clock, fix Y specific problem in Z specific story".
(This is one thing that Morning Pages are good for. Except everytime I write in my Morning Pages that "Today, I will do XYZ," if I then don't do XYZ, it's another rock on the disappointment-and-self-loathing pile that gets harder to shift every day. But that's another problem entirely.)
So here I am, posting this from Chicago. Did I get some writing done on the train? Why, yes, thank you for asking. I put an Examiner post up--there it is!--and I spent fifteen minutes freewriting. Which isn't as much, I think, as I could do during an 18-hour train trip. But it's a start. The Chicago to New Orleans leg will assuredly see more progress along these lines.
They Do Things Differently There
In fact, the historic mountain town that John and I ended up puttering around in for our fifteenth wedding anniversary was Central City. Central City began life as a mining town, and it has a long and storied history despite the gold rush that founded it fading out some 30-odd years after it started. Today it is the home of an opera house, a historical society, several museums, two art galleries, three houses of worship (Methodist, Catholic and Episcopal), an Elks lodge, a Masonic temple (Central Lodge #6), somewhere between 450 and 650 permanent residents depending on which sign you read, and one brewpub.
Also a stupid abundance of casinos. Well, eight casinos. But eight casinos in the same square mile. Even on the Las Vegas strip things seemed more spread out than that. Admittedly, each individual Las Vegas casino probably covers about a square mile on its own, so. Point is, that's a lot of casinos in such a small town.
And here's the thing I never quite got used to. In a casino town, the parting phrase of choice isn't "Have a good one" or "Be seeing you" or even, assuming one is talking to a tourist, "Enjoy your stay," but rather "Good luck."
It makes perfect sense. In a town with eight casinos, it's a good bet the person you're talking to will be spending some money at the tables and/or slots. Which, of course, we did; John likes playing the tables, and I like drinking the comp drinks. We put down our share of what we called "arcade play-money" on roulette at the Reserve Casino where we were staying. Because he has a good head for the odds and a relaxed attitude toward the results, John came out some $30 ahead after several hours of play. He mainly places outside bets--this dozen, that column--but he also placed a few small "what the heck" bets on the numbers. When a dollar on 7 got lucky, we pushed the resulting $35 to the side and considered it solid profit. Good luck is a desired outcome in a casino town, and everyone, customer and staff alike, wishes it to everyone else.
But "Good luck," however much sense it makes, plays hell with my polite society autopilot. It's not that I get flustered trying to return the good wishes. It's not that I get offended or off-balance. It's just that I take it in ways the speaker probably didn't intend.
Checking in at the hotel. The clerk hands us our keys, says, "Room 367. On the third floor, all the way at the end of the hall. Elevator's right behind you." I say, "Thank you," and the clerk says, "No problem. Good luck!" To which I respond, "Oh, I'm sure we'll find it just fine!" while internally wondering, with some trepidation, whether finding our room will involve running some sort of gauntlet. Will we have to bluff our way past dragons in the hallway and gremlins in the elevator?
Crossing the street. A guy in an open-topped jeep is hawking tours of the town, unless it was shuttles between casinos. We turn down his offer, with our thanks. "No problem. Good luck!" That's what he says. And I look nervously up and down the street, thinking, Do I need luck? There's hardly any traffic.
Getting directions to breakfast. The cafe we remembered from the night before doesn't open until noon, but we see signs throughout the Bonanza for a "Millie's". We ask the cashier for directions. We are directed across the street and half a block down to the E Z Street Casino, inside which we'll need only ascend the first stair we find, and we won't be able to miss it. "Thank you." "No problem. Good luck!" and I am automatically responding that, oh, I'm sure we'll find it just fine, you gave stellar directions, even while inside my skull I can feel my brain going all facepalm and That's not what he means! Casino town, remember?
We had a great time. A lot of walking, lots of things to look at, lots of good things to eat, and, of course, lots of casinos to play in. Lots of playing Go over dinner or breakfast, too, which John and I hadn't done for quite some time. (I am not as rusty as I feared.) For a last-minute anniversary vacation, it was very pleasant and stress-free. We'll definitely do it again.
And I'll probably embarrass myself responding improperly to that "Good luck" thing again. That's OK; it just makes me more entertaining to random strangers.
News from the Slush Front
- 6,000 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 6,000 words (if poetry, lines) long
News the First: Bad news is, "The Seeds of Our Future" will not be appearing in Fearsome Symmetries. The not-so-bad news is, it was rejected while still at number 1011 in the queue on the day after World Horror 2013 ended. Which is to say: Having an existing relationship with an editor by no means ensures future sales (no surprises there, right?), but it can sometimes get a story read more quickly than otherwise, especially if the editor would like to append to the response a timely note along the lines of "Good to see you at the con!" Which sentiment I was happy to return. All in all, a pleasant story submission and con meet-up experience. Can't complain.
So there's that. News the Second: When I saw Jason V Brock at World Horror, I asked him, "So can I tell people?" and he was all, "Of course you can!" So now this is me telling people: "Lambing Season" is slated for publication in Issue #3 of [NaMeL3ss] Digest, which is tentatively estimated to go to print for a July release. Tentatively. I'll post updates as updates warrant posting.
(The purchase page for [NaMeL3ss] Issue #2 will probably give a better idea of what the publication is like than will its main website.)
And with that happy news, I shall disappear for the weekend. Chez LeBoeuf-Little is celebrating anniversary number fifteen, which will involve puttering around a historical Colorado mountain town and not doing pretty much anything that counts as "work". See y'all... oh, Tuesday evening sounds good. Let's do that.
A Brief Interlude For Rude Feminist Ranting
Hey! Hey there! Hey? ...So. What's the deal with giving every creepy, offensive joke or comment ever total benefit of the doubt, but bringing down the full weight of societal disapproval on a woman who openly expresses any discomfort with such?
I mean, just for example, say a woman traveling alone goes to eat dinner in the dining car, right, and the attendant directs her to a table already inhabited by two men sitting opposite one another. And say that the man sharing the side of the table she's been directed to is taking up so much bench that she's about to fall out into the aisle. And just say that the women politely points this out.
And the man says to her, "Oh, you shouldn't feel shy about sitting close to me!"
What are your thoughts on this exchange?
- Ew, skeezy!
- What? He was just trying to reassure you that he doesn't bite!
Oddly, the first woman to speak to me about overhearing the exchange went with A ("Did he really say to you what I think he said?" "Yes, he did." "Honey, you know you can ask for another seat, right?") while the first man to comment on the subject went with B.
You never would have guessed, right?
For what it's worth, he probably was just trying to reassure me that he wouldn't take it amiss if I scooted closer to him. That's something--and I will bold and italicize this next bit because it's important to understanding how I navigate my world, y'all--something that both a polite, accommodating man and a total creepster perv would have in common. Funny, I am not comfortable making assumptions about which one he'll turn out to be! But, you know, it just figures, if I assume he's a perv and I'm wrong, I'm rude, but if I assume he's polite and I'm wrong, it's "Well, what did you expect, the way he came on to you? You didn't want to be groped, you shouldn't have taken him up on his invitation."
This is called Being In Public While Female.
For the record, my read on the man in question was a combo plate of "Attempting to be polite and accommodating" and "Phenomenally tone-deaf." This entree turned out to include a free side dish of "criminally unaware of the movements of his left elbow and its resulting proximity to dining companion's stomach, arm, shoulder, and/or face." Even if I'd felt comfortable snuggling up to his armpit, I'd've ended up with bruises to rival a Thursday scrimmage, and also half my dinner in my lap.
IN ANY CASE, my immediate response to his unfortunate joke/inappropriate overture was to give him a serious glare and say, "That sounded really creepy. Please do not do that."
He responded with an exasperated chuckle and a mild swear of "JEE-sus!" whilst looking to the man across the table from him for commiseration. The man across the table wisely stayed out of it. (Perhaps he already got an earful and learned his lesson after he greeted the dining attendant with "You can seat me anywhere you like, cutie!" Ew.)
I haven't accepted but I have acknowledged that any sort of pushback from me is going to be met with "Can't you take a joke?" (Yes, when they're funny) or "Couldn't you have been nicer?" (Couldn't he?) or "He was just trying to be friendly!" (He failed). I know that any attempt on my part to set personal boundaries will be read as rudeness and not encouraged. I know that I will always be pushing against societal disapproval for my right to say "That made me uncomfortable and I would rather you stop doing it."
It will never come easy. But it's important to push back. The societal impetus to always excuse, always give the benefit of the doubt to men who make women feel uncomfortable is what gives the genuine creeps cover. The unapologetic perverts, the sexual harassers, the gropers, the skeevy pick-up artists, they are relying on everyone around them to excuse their creepiest overtures under the same umbrella that covers the friendly-but-tone-deaf. And I am full up to here with that shit.
Society wants me to assume everyone who succeeds at creeping me out is just a well-intentioned goof, one whose feelings are much more important than mine--the latter because why else would the onus be on be to swallow my discomfort, keep my mouth shut, and uphold the contract that simultaneously punishes women for assertion and protects men from experiencing consequences for their thoughtless behavior? No, no, and hell no.
In practice, how someone responds to being told "That makes me uncomfortable. Please don't do it" is the only safe way to differentiate between... well, not between Socially Awkward Dude and Genuine Creeper, that's not the binary I'm ultimately concerned with... but between someone who cares about how his actions impact others and someone who doesn't.
The guy whose response is "JEE-sus!" followed by a "bitches be crazy, amirite?" expression aimed toward the other man at the table? Not safe for me. Not pleasant to be around. Not worth my time, now or ever.
Meanwhile, if you're reading this and nodding along at home 'cause you've been there before and you'll be there again and you're fucking sick of wearing the T-shirt, know that--if you need it--if no one else will give it to you--you have my wholehearted permission and encouragement and entreaty to be rude as shit to the next guy who creeps you out.
I swear, sometimes I think that's the only way this is ever going to get better.
World Horror Day 4: Closing Remarks
Attendance at a convention's closing ceremony is usually only a fraction of that at the opening ceremony. A lot of people are on the road home already. I'd estimate about 50 people, maybe 75, of the 500 or so convention attendees were in the Hotel Monteleone's Royal Room this afternoon when Lisa Morton began thanking everyone who made the weekend possible.
She did something really classy, I thought. After expressing her thanks to attendees for coming, guests of honor for gracing us with their presence and their time, volunteers for going above-and-beyond, the con's board and the HWA's board and everyone else (I am bad and careless and cannot remember every position filled, let alone every name), she did something I don't remember seeing done at other cons I've attended. Much like when panelists open their panel to audience Q&A in the last 15 minutes of their hour, she threw it open to the audience, asking us to volunteer any feedback we'd like to share. What did we like? What didn't work so well? What would we have liked to see?
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Many people commented on how smoothly everything ran; if there were any bumps along the way, they were invisible to the layperson's eye. Quite a few complimented those responsible for the choice of venue. My small contribution was to report that the livestream of the Stoker Awards went off without a hitch (Nicole Cushing and I had opted to watch the stream from the quiet comfort of a hotel room rather than standing awkwardly at the back of the Queen Anne Ballroom); that seemed a useful thing to say. Certainly more useful than my one wistful wish, which would be to take the exact same schedule of events but have an extra day to spread them out over, so as to give attendees a little more time to enjoy New Orleans. Since it's the sort of wish that ends "Also, I would like a pony. With wings," it probably wasn't the sort of actionable feedback that the HWA needed to hear.
No one expected a perfectly spherical value of "con" on a frictionless surface inside a vacuum. I'd hoped for a damn good con, and that's what I got.
The closing ceremonies were allotted an hour, but even with an exuberant crowd volunteering compliments and appreciation, we were done by twenty after. Soon afterwards I was in the car with Mom returning to Metairie for more friends-and-family time, and also for a sack of perfectly boiled crawfish a la Dad. (One of these days I am going to get him to tell me how he does it. Slowly, so I can take notes. There are crawfish to be caught in Colorado. I need to be able to do them justice.)
World Horror Day 3: Very Briefly (Because I Am Tired)
This, the third day of World Horror, was no exception to the weekend, in that it contained many lovely things. Among them stands out with distinction a panel presenting a deeply moving appreciation for Clive Barker, who was one of tonight's recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Clive Barker is larger than life; he is not so much an author or an artist or a film writer (though he is all of these) as he is a sort of avatar of the universal creative force. Though he was not here in New Orleans to accept the award in person, he did send a few words for his representative to say on his behalf. Basically, that he hopes to match his 30 years of creativity so far with at least another 30 years of works to come. I'll drink to that.
I rather drank a lot today. It's New Orleans; it's too easy. There was the bloody mary with my baked ham po-boy from Mother's at lunch, the Abita lemon wheat that I pulled out my stash on my way down to Caitlin R. Kiernan's reading (Kiernan received a Stoker tonight for superior achievement in her novel The Drowning Girl), the cabernet shared out during the pre-Stoker "happy hour" reception, and the bottle of Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan nut brown ale I couldn't resist at Cochon where my cousin and I went out for our second dinner together of the weekend. I am surprised I am feeling no worse than tired.
In the spirit of the Stoker Awards, just for fun, I should like to pretend to hand out a few of my own to particularly memorable moments of the day. And so I shall.
The award for "Most Serendipitous Moment" goes to the one where I arrived at the Lovecraft panel, approached a woman seated near the front of the room to ask if I might take the seat next to her, and read her badge as she turned toward me to answer in the affirmative. The panel was already underway, so I just whispered my thanks and hoped against hope she wouldn't leave early. She did not, so I did indeed get a chance to tell Madeline Ashby how very much John and I are enjoying her science fiction novel vN and the stunning world she's created therein. She expressed delighted surprise to hear such sentiments at a horror con, where she's used to going entirely unrecognized; and gave me the heads-up that the sequel, iD, will be out very soon.
The award for "Most Surreal Moment" probably should go to the one during which I went from a fly on the wall to an active part of the conversation: Ellen Datlow and David Morrell turned to me suddenly during the pre-Stoker reception to ask if I could help identify a short story that was giving David fits. (It involved a male main character peeling back wallpaper, convinced he would find the key to some mystery underneath.) I pulled out my ever-present laptop and applied my small share of Google Fu to the dilemma. Success, alas, was not to be ours. I added "-yellow" to the search string to exclude hits for Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper"; Google threw up a sinfín of DIYs ("How to easily remove your old wallpaper without breaking the bank or your back"). I hope if David remembers the story he also remembers to let the rest of us know, because now I am intrigued.
And the coveted award for "Most Kind To the Author's Ego" goes to a moment not long after that, when a friend of Ellen's came by to ask her if she'd seen me, then realized he was in fact looking at me, and asked me to autograph his copy of Blood and Other Cravings. I was among those last few contributors whose scrawls he had yet to collect. One day, I suppose, given enough published stories and people reading them, I will get used to the idea that someone would scan a convention's attendee list in search of my specific name and then seek me out at that con to get my autograph. But when that day comes, I hope I continue to feel that thrill of excitement and gratitude I felt today at knowing I'd been the target of such a search.
...OK, so that was less brief than I intended. I think I shall drop off to sleep now.
Tomorrow: The fourth and final day of WHC 2013. Crawfish at Mom & Dad's. And probably a few more beers.
World Horror Day 2: Thinking About the Future
As predicted, today contained 1) slight irritations that 2) were heavily outweighed by wonderful things1. There were plenty more wonderful things.
I bought lots of books, most of them from the hands of their authors who of course signed them for me. Many of these authors were personal friends/acquaintances whom I only get to see face-to-face at cons like this. And while I was wandering the mass signing, Mort Castle hailed me. I hadn't realized he was here this year; I hadn't seen his usual writing workshop on the program. I was very pleased to see him, and he me. He is a skilled, emotionally evocative writer; a talented teacher; and just an overwhelmingly kind person.
I visited the art show and bought a print of this gorgeous painting by Steven C. Gilberts: an illustration for Simon Clark's novella "Butterfly." I have not yet read the novella, but I do get an inkling of deep sadness underlying the image, a sense of great works which require the sacrifice of self while fueling machines of destruction. But, on an admittedly superficial level, the visual elements of a dreaming/concentrating woman, a sky full of airplanes, and long hair that's getting caught in the gears reminds me of myself.
I got to have dinner with con friends and with seldom-seen family all at the same time, and then continue to spend time with said family member for hours afterwards. "It's been too long since we just hung out like this," I said. Then, "Not that we ever really did hang out like this. What's up with that? We should do it more often."
I went on an entirely unnecessary quest for a credit union ATM, walking at least a mile to avoid whatever small fee the ones within a block of the hotel would have charged. I think I must have had the intent all along to catch the brand! New! Street car on Loyola! (squee!) and ride it from the train station to the French Quarter. This is how I show the Universe my appreciation for the nice things in its catalog of things.
And every panel I went to ignited little sparks in my brain about stories I'm working on and what hitherto-unimagined things I could do with them.
But what I'd really like to comment on today is an opinion I've heard from several panelists these past two days. The opinion goes something like this:
Ebooks are the future, and the future will be ebooks. Exclusively. This object, this physical book, will no longer be made. All there will be is a screen on your living room wall or in your hand and the internet connection by which you download stories to it. Do yourself and your career a favor: accept that this will be the case and prepare yourself for it.I heard this said almost verbatim at two different panels, and at both with a certain degree of gleeful anticipation. And it bothered me.
It didn't just bother me because I think it's untrue--though I do think it's untrue, unlikely, and patently unworkable. The codex format has been with us for centuries, and books preserved from centuries before ours can still be read now and will be readable in the future without need for electricity (assuming daylight or a fire-based light source) nor concern for hardware-, software-, or backwards-compatibility. And it's not like humans are going to just stop making paper and binding books; and if we keep doing that, we're going to keep selling the results.
It didn't just bother me because I think it's undesirable aesthetically--though I do think it's aesthetically undesirable. I like the object that is the physical book. My traveling companion from the Denver-to-Chicago train ride said that she loves her Kindle, but she misses the kinethetic sense of where she is in the book. This many pages in, about a third of the way down the page on the left--this is a physical location that helps give the story shape in her mind. Losing that translates to a certain sense of being lost; it affects the very experience of story. I think I know what she means; certainly there is a decreased intimacy in my recollection of books I've read exclusively in ePub form (or have had read to me, for that matter).
But it bothered me primarily because I think it's unkind.
Listen: some of these people I heard, they spoke about being able to relax with an ebook on your phone or e-reader when you're tired of reading things on your computer. As though people like me, who have neither smartphone nor e-reader, do not exist. Which bugs me--damn straight it bugs me. But people like me with our flip-phones or no cell phone at all, no Kindles or Nooks or whatever, can still download ebooks to our computers, right? We have computers. We're privileged. We're people who can afford computers, smartphones, e-readers, gizmos that require non-trivial up-front monetary capital and electricity to make them work. They require a place to keep them, a place to charge them, frequent or constant internet connection to download books and and software upgrades, and the wherewithal to maintain or replace them when they start to break down.
Think of people who can't afford that. Who can't afford an e-reader, who can't pay the electric bill reliably each month, who maybe don't even have homes. Are we predicting--gleefully, joyously, or jadedly--a future in which written stories will be inaccessible to them?
Do we really want literacy to be the exclusive province of the privileged?
I'm not against ebooks. I quite like them. They're not going away anytime soon, and I expect to see improvements in their form and format every year. But they exist in addition to, not as a replacement for, physical writing and physical books. They will never--they must never--force the physical book into extinction.
I want my stories printed on paper and bound on shelves in bookstores, new and used. Available in libraries. Hidden among other books in the 25-cent basket out in front of the thrift store. Piled up in garage sales. Shared hand-to-hand between friends and via "leave a book, take a book" shelves in public spaces. Given away for free. Devoured during a long night hiding from the cold in a church or at the local homeless shelter. Accessible to all, those who have never touched a computer as well as those who have never known a life without.
If reading is worth fighting for, then so are physical books.
1 Hell, the most memorable slight irritation in fact led directly to one of the wonderful things. To wit: "That Guy" ignores my telling him, several times, firmly but pleasantly, that I don't appreciate being treated as though my every personal action were on display for his entertainment and loud commentary. Please stop it. When I finally tell him so in a manner that cannot be mistaken for pleasant, he gets the message, but complains to anyone who'll listen that I yelled at him. Other Guy Who Is Emphatically Not "That Guy" witnesses this and invites me into a very satisfying conversation about boundary-setting and its social challenges. We also end up talking about our con experiences, our writing, and festivals in Chicago. We totally intend to email each other later on. See? A wonderful thing. (back)
World Horror! Day 1! Disjointed and Mechahopzilla'd Thoughts!
When I first heard that World Horror/Stoker Awards Weekend 2013 would be in New Orleans, and at the Hotel Monteleone too--well, five minutes after hearing about it I had my membership purchased and my hotel room reserved. A chance to do WHC in the French Quarter? To hang out with writers, editors, and publishers right in my home town? You don't have to tell me twice.
And now I am here. Day 1 is coming to a pleasant end, marred only by my headachy reaction to the pint of NOLA Brewery's Mechahopzilla that walked me "home" from my fried shrimp & oyster po-boy at Deja Vu Bar & Grill over at Conti & Dauphine. (I knew there was a reason I generally avoid overly hoppy beers. Tasty stuff, though.)
World Horror is a small, pro-oriented con, which means it's generally me-sized and closely focused on things that I as a writer in the genre (more or less) am intensely interested in. It also means there's a tendency to run into a certain handful of familiar faces, and that the unfamiliar faces are almost always worth getting to know. (Which is not to say that the same isn't true of the larger and equally-to-pro fan-oriented WorldCon; it's just that these particular effects at WorldCon are more diffuse than at World Horror.) Which is to say:
- During the two hours before opening ceremonies, I got to enjoy a fantastically long and winding conversation in the Carousel Bar with Mike Willmoth and Beth Gwinn. These are two of the people who Make Conventions Happen. Appreciate them.
- Also in that conversation was Nicole Cushing, an author I know from the Codex online semi-pro writers' group. She'll be participating in the mass signing tomorrow. I look forward to purchasing something with her words in it so she can deface it for me.
- During my cruise of the dealer room, I fell into conversation with author Sue Dent, who as it turns out is also inhabiting the intersection of "writer" and "roller derby." (Also Fußbal.) I've begun reading her most recent book, Electric Angel, and the experience so far has been interesting and positive.
- Got to exchange quick hellos with Ellen Datlow in the lobby and congratulate her on her successful Kickstarter campaign for Fearful Symmetries...
- ...and finally meet editor Jason V. Brock face-to-face...
- ...and exchange Great Big Clumsy Haven't-Seen-You-In-Years Hugs with Nancy Kilpatrick (the clumsiness was all me, mostly tripping over my own chair and swearing it wasn't because I was drunk, which I wasn't, not after only a beer and a rum-and-coke, I'm just a klutz, that's all)
Other awesome moments may go unmentioned here, probably because now I am a little tipsy and also about to drop unconscious and thus am a titch forgetful. Nevertheless, they remain awesome.
I am also taking notes on Things I Will Refrain From Doing When I Am A Big Name. You should take notes, too! These are definitely behaviors to avoid--in others, and in yourself:
- Hanging around the ballroom where your panel was, loudly and with much profanity conversing with your friends, showing no sign of clearing out and letting the next round of panelists, who are already assembled but whom you are aggressively ignoring, begin having their panel, which they are now five minutes late starting because you have not cleared out!
- Responding to the question, "Are you the next man reading in here?" with "Better than being the next woman in here!" Sexist jokes aren't funny! Please improve your improvisation skills, lest you drive away at least one of the two women in the room awaiting your reading! Also, attempting to excuse the apparent sexism by revealing that it was merely a transphobic joke ("I mean, better than being a woman who looks like me, right? There's your sex change right there!") will not make things better!
- When you are on a panel, holding loud whispered side-conversations while another panelist is talking! This goes double if you have already demonstrated that you hold yourself to be in a position of opposition toward the other panelist vis-a-vis publishing models, and triple if you're a man and the other panelist, the one you are so clearly uninterested in listening to or letting the audience listen to, is a woman! Also, you do realize you're having that whispered side-conversation right in front of the microphone?
I am sure Day 2, starting as it does bright and early at 9 AM, will be more than twice as full of both moments of awesomeness and Behaviors To Avoid. And I expect that, just like those that made up today, the former will greatly outweigh the latter.
Besides, I am in New Orleans. At the World Horror Convention. That outweighs any number of run-of-the-mill Boorish Behaviors I may cross paths with. I mean, look! The river's over there! And I am full of po-boy! And there are sporadic jazz/brass/funk street performances erupting off Royal Street at all hours of the night! How bad can a mere indirect encounter with Other People's Rudeness really be, considering?