Well I’m back. I think it went well. I don’t really know. I brought a bunch of copies of “Allendale” to give away and I did, eventually, give them all away. So, for me, that was success. But other people were disappointed that book sales across the board were so weak.
I went to a few panels. The Legend Tripping Missouri panel was fun but weird and I left after one of the guys explaining all of the places you could go to look for cool stuff turned the panel into a ten-minute therapy session about the time he got possessed at a prison. Which is not to say that I don’t understand why you might need a therapy session after that, but…
I have to say–and I say that as someone who embarks on my own pack of weird shit from time to time–ultimately my problem with most paranormal researchers comes down to the fact that, if I were a ghost, these are exactly not the kinds of people I’d be reaching out to. I always, always, feel like I understand why paranormal researchers are reaching over, but I also always end up feeling like the great yawning need they have to touch something on the other side would, if I were on the other side, make me skittish about reaching back.
Like, to be blunt, consider it this way. You’re at a bar, which we’ll call The Spirit World, and a bunch of strangers stumble in looking to get laid. Do you approach the person calling out “I’m a virgin. God. Please, just touch me. I am here to be touched. Touch me, please! I have studied how to be touched. I think I may have been touched once before. Was that you? Please, touch me again.” or do you feel safer going up to the person who’s laughing with his friends and putting off more “I’m at ease in the world” signals?
I am not a huge Counting Crows fan, but there’s a deep truth in “We all want to be big, big stars. We got different reasons for that.” I don’t exempt myself from it.
My panels were a mixed bag. Our sexuality panel went well, I think, though I was the only one who cursed and I think I came off as kind of a fuddy-duddy. I also think my thoughts about sexuality are fuddy-duddy-ish. Oh damn, in some ways, I am metaphorically shouting “I am a virgin. Was that you who touched me?” Ha ha ha. But the thing is that sexuality is complicated and changing and there’s no real right way to do it (and a bunch of wrong ways) and once we get all the LGBTQIAetc. stuff worked out, like I said, young people will think the best way to organize your lives is to live in pods of eight people with no set gender or sexuality and a whole new set of words to describe the roles of people in the octopods and our current avante garde ways of handling this stuff will be seen as so old and square. And I’m okay with that. If past roles are too constraining, then we have to accept that present roles will eventually be as well.
Even if we fought really hard for them and they’re deeply meaningful to us.
That’s a tough thing to accept, but it’s the truth.
Anyway, and I was on a panel where half the panelists didn’t show up and there were only three audience members but it turned out really awesome and interesting anyway, because I guess those three audience members really, really wanted to talk about books.
I was also on a panel where the one guy on the panel was so super good that I was kind of like “Why doesn’t he just dominate the panel and the rest of us will shut up and acquiesce to his superior knowledge?” And then I laugh when I think about it because when in the history of the world has there ever been any moment when everyone in a room thought, “We should shut up and let this one dude speak the whole time because he’s really insightful and interesting?” BUT THIS DUDE WAS! He was the unicorn! He didn’t try to put his head in my lap, though, so maybe I’m not as much the “Was that you who touched me?” of the con as I fear. Anyway, go, dude, whose name I don’t remember, but how much do I need to remember it when you’re literally the only dude who has ever been on a panel where he should have just talked the whole time? Like won’t he be easy enough to find again? Eventually, mobs of angry men are going to chase him with torches and farm equipment out of jealousy. The rest of us can just follow the glow. The panel was on how we would fix the endings of things that we liked but which ended stupidly and dude was a genius at it. I did get to say “child orgy” a bunch because I had to complain about It.
Then I was on the panel on race and diversity. That was my first panel. It was…not good. First, it was designed to be all white people. The moderator tried to get non-white people to join the panel and she did get a guy, but it didn’t really erase the fact that the panel was set up as “white people talk about whether or not to include non-white people in genre storytelling,” which is just at its core a racist set-up. You can’t un-racist a panel that is racist in its very conception. And so it was two white women (me and the moderator), the Asian guy who joined us, and the white guy who started the pre-panel banter complaining about how if we go down “this” road, we’ll have to rename Washington state because it’s names after slaveholders. Right then, I knew it was going to be at least a minor shit-show.
It was. Dude had apparently decided that sci-fi/fantasy wasn’t really that racist, ever, and that if people could just appreciate the history of the genre, they’d see that, so he would educate us on the history of the genre, which resulted in him saying “yellow peril” repeatedly while looking at the guy who had generously agreed to diversify the panel. And the worst part, the part that made me just want to crawl under the table and die, is that he did that thing…I don’t know if I’m adequately going to be able to describe this. You know how some people use racially charged terms in order to be straight-forward racist assholes? “Hey, [racial slur], I’m going to kick your ass.” Okay.
But then there’s another type of white person use of racial slurs where we use them to try to show that we’re down with the group we’re talking about, like our ability to use the slur in their company, even maybe, in our biggest fantastical dreams, with them, proves that we’re cool. Like, I guess, a good example of this is David Simon using the n-word in a Tweet. Or this guy repeatedly talking about “yellow peril” while looking at and nodding at this poor guy, like “Aren’t I wise? Aren’t I insightful? Aren’t I down?”
I wanted to die of the shame and embarrassment he should have been feeling.
Anyway, I tried to bring up the recent Fireside report and how it showed that basically, if you’re a black woman writing short genre fiction, you’re not getting published. (I didn’t talk about this at the panel, but it’s obvious to me that the problem is that most genre editors only know a handful of black women writers and they’re all working on novels. The editors don’t have a deep bench and they don’t have the self-awareness to realize it. Also, when you have some editors who are some shade of “puppy,” if you don’t make it incredibly clear on your submissions page that you’re genuinely open to diverse writers, diverse writers won’t submit to you for fear of accidentally submitting to one of VD’s buddies and we all know how VD thinks about and treats black women writers.)
Anyway, the white guy kept insisting that editors just want good works and I was like “If that’s the case, then where are the black women short story writers?” Like does he literally think that it’s more likely that black women just aren’t writing short stories, or not writing very good short stories, or is it more likely that they’re being met with obstacles they can’t navigate around? Talent is common. The talent is there. The problem is in the pipeline.
But then! Then he said that editors in sf/f have always been focused on good stories and not on writers’ attributes, as proven by the fact that, back in the olden days we had a lot of women and minority writers writing under names that gave the impression they were white men.
So, that was a shitshow. And I thought the moderator tried to complicate his responses and treat him with respect even as she did. But at some point, man, I just felt like she was, and I was, too, let me be clear, adding to the problem by being on the panel and talking to this guy respectfully.
But I’m also not sure what fighting with him would have accomplished. I can’t help but feel, too, that there’s a trap here for authors were talking about diversity and butting heads with a guy who would talk about “yellow peril” as if it proved how knowledgeable he was about Asians, where the discussion, even the fight, is performative nonsense–wheelspinning that lets us feel like we’re doing something without having to do the tough stuff. Even though this stuff, too, is tough. But it’s easier to say “I’ll be on this panel and argue about race” than it is to say “I’ll potentially tank my career by not publishing with people who don’t at least try to get this stuff right.”
For those of you in the know, you’ll also be amused to know that the dude claimed he was a chaplain.
Of what? Where? Conveniently, he never said, which, of course, leads me to believe that talking out his butt about race is not the only thing he talks out his butt about.