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Space Wizard

Space Wizard

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I’ve recently returned from a trip to Ireland, including a week tour around the island and the 77th WorldCon!

If you’re not familiar, WorldCon is a Science Fiction and Fantasy-based writer convention, in which the Hugo award is given out. It moves around every year (hence WorldCon), and this year was in Dublin Ireland. 2020’s WorldCon will be in Wellington, New Zealand, and the year after will be in Washington DC.

This is a great convention for fans, authors, and aspiring writers alike. There are tons of interesting panels, small group discussions with authors and agents, plenty of socializing, and of course, the Hugo ceremony. I wrote notes on many of the panels I went to, along with getting pictures. It’ll be like you were there!

I met up with not only my writing group while I was there, but also many other Writing Excuses Retreat Alumni, and David Alex Lamb was kind enough to let me link his blog site with notes from panels as well. You can find notes from Thursday here and Friday here.


Dragons and Debutantes: Regency fantasy

Panelists: Mary Robinette Kowal (MRK), Zen Cho, Susan de Guardiola, Heather Rose Jones

  1. Mary creates a list of questions first, and then structures the panel around them

  2. Regency Novels not set in England

  3. Clothes influencing adventure

  4. Fantastical elements

  5. Research for Queer characters in Regency

  6. How does etiquette affect relationships for modern readers

  7. Problematic historical elements

  8. Dealing with class so it’s not just the upper crust

  9. Why is regency a magnet?

  10. Ease of fantasy travel vs. historical travel

  11. Historical accuracy vs. modern perception

  12. Regency has multiple genre layers. Why?

  13. Magic inspiration–limited to the time or pull from anywhere?

  14. How far to tweak alt history

  15. How deep do you go into regency?

  16. Regency is very well defined, but it’s applied to a larger social arena that is worldwide.

  17. MRK assumes most women/non upper-class/LGBT have been written out when she’s researching.

  18. Susan looks at diaries/newspapers/etc to look at court gossip to see what really happened.

  19. Women dancing with women was socially acceptable, but not commented on.

  20. Catherine the Great had a butch Russian lover who dressed in men’s clothing and danced with women!

  21. Queer relationships in the regency was not just the relationship, but deniability, crossdressing, and other norms.

  22. Zen struggled to find points of view for POC (people of color) in her stories, because of imperialism and social structures. They were largely eliminated. History is never what you think it is.

  23. MRK likes to find travelogues for research. But when writing about a place and then going home, people often write in their native language, which she doesn’t speak. She needs translators. However, these people will write down all the stuff that natives don’t think to write down…

  24. People outside England going into England are more useful than an English person going to one of the colonial territories and reporting back, because of the same prejudices.

  25. For example, there was a report from a gentleman who thought that women didn’t drink red wine because it was too strong. However when MRK first put on a little white regency dress, she realized that wasn’t the case at all! (it was because of spills) But we are primed to accept the report of a male in power as gospel.

  26. Clothing: It’s easier to move in a short regency corset. Much harder in a long corset.

  27. Women were so conditioned not to wear anything between their legs, they didn’t even wear underwear. So the French fashion with pantaloons or pantaletts was very scandalous.

  28. Relationships: It’s actually very easy to put a same-sex relationship in a Regency social situation. The same-sex relationship has less barriers than a man and a woman in a social situation at that time.

  29. This leads to a challenge in keeping the characters apart in a romance! Heather uses other dynamics of class, emotion, personality differences, instead.

  30. Problematic elements, or elements that modern readers don’t believe :

  31. They did actually show their ankles

  32. Naomi Novak address slavery very directly in the Temeraire series.

  33. People benefit from slavery nowadays in buying from large corporations. People then probably had a similar viewpoint on how much they could help/change


  35. Black Georgians

  36. Ingantius Santo

  37. Black Dance in London

  38. Staying Power – Peter Friar (black presence in the UK)

  39. BBC series a few years ago

  40. Catherine Johnson – Regency YA novels about working class women rising in society. (Lady Cariboo)

  41. The Regency is right after the enlightenment. There were a lot of radical ideas until people started getting their heads cut off. There are plenty of ideas that were never implemented. There’s a lot of proto-feminist stuff that are hard to find because usually not a name attached.

  42. How do you include people who are not high-class? The Regency is very tied to the upper class, so something with no connection, such as a small village or somewhere in China (Qing Dynasty) or War and Peace (a Regency book in Russia) is not technically Regency fiction. Russians don’t like the term Regency. They use Empire, because of the French social dominance in that time.

  43. Jane Austen wasn’t writing about upper class, but about landed gentry.

  44. The Regency ladies are being dressed by a working class woman with a life, and fed by a working class cook, with a life.

  45. When reading, ask “where are the servants?” (Jane Austen wrote one of her novels with no servants to make a point. I think this was Emma?)

  46. Classified ads in London Newspapers give a lot of info about working class people being applied for and applying for jobs.

  47. Finishing Thoughts:

  48. Heather writing F/F regency fantasy without magic wouldn’t have sold well.

  49. Susan likes when worlds collide: someone puts fantasy in her regency

  50. Zen likes bringing the frocks and balls to people who wouldn’t otherwise have it. She can also bring people from alternate lands to places where they wouldn’t normally be.

Academic presentation on Decolonising

Panelists: Natalie Ingram, Fiona Moore, BE Allatt

Colonialism and (fictional representations of) The Franklin Expedition (Fiona Moore)

  1. Colonialism is about a dominant society going into a another country and attempting to expand beyond their borders. Being colonial is not necc critical of colonialism–it just exists.

  2. There is a lot of fiction based on this story. Possibly because we don’t have a good explanation for what happened. Sort of a Mourning ritual/tech hubris/inuit history.

  3. The Inuit are largely silent for the whole book

Paper on Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor. (Natalie Ingram)

  1. Two fictional ethnic groups, one exploiting the other. Based on a couple other crises in African (Darfur crisis)

  2. Using rape as a weapon of ethnic cleansing.

  3. The main character’s mixed heritage keeps her from being accepted. (Light skinned vs. darker skin). The antagonists are making light-skinned babies to wipe out African culture.

  4. Children are the children of the father, not the mother, so the babies are considered the oppressor’s children.

  5. The main character was supposed to be a (male) weapon against her own people.

  6. This was based on media representation of the Darfur crisis, but Natalie argues that the media coverage was oversimplified and sometimes just incorrect. Sometimes death tolls were incorrectly reported, and conflated with deaths from starvation/thirst. Turns it into an oversimplification of good vs. evil. Who Fears Death takes this concept and makes it a point concept. Shows the artificial condition of race.

Mono Normativity (BE Allatt)

  1. Pitting Normativity against changing times in Ireland

  2. Ian McDonald’s stories: The Luna Series (Luna: New Moon is the first one)

  3. Takes place on the moon, everything is negotiable. There are no rights or laws.

  4. Sexuality is completely open, from sexual orientation to gender. There is no fixed number of genders.

  5. Contracts on relationships, families, sex, so on.

  6. Polyamorous relationships are normal, but monogamy etc. is defined in the contract depending on what it is.

  7. There are no overt descriptions of rape.

  8. There are lots of descriptions of semi-consensual courtship because the more powerful person holds sway over the less. Can’t give consent in this situation.

  9. The lack of a cohesive society lends to a lack of mono-normativity.

Cool Lego Sets!

Beyond D&D

Panelists: Michael Cule, Rebecca Slitt, Ell Schulman, Gregor Hutton

  1. Rebecca likes the new trend in DM-less games. If no one wants to take the effort, these are good at running on the spot. They foster a different collaboration. In D&D, the GM plays all the adversaries. In a GM-less game, you are competing together against something. Leads to different storytelling.

  2. DreamAscew

  3. Building a queer collective after the apocalypse. Trying to form a community. each person builds a bit of the world.

  4. Firebrands

  5. From Ell. Like Polaris. Has key phrases or scene types to navigate through the scenes. For example, meeting sword to sword. You give the other person the ability to choose where they are hit.

  6. Monster of the Week

  7. Michael: GM-less games are a subset of ones with little prep. Sometimes you have an idea of what the monster is, but aside from that, you rapidly generate everything.

  8. In a Wicked Age

  9. create a swords & fantasy game in Mesopotamia. Draw cards and elements to build the characters.

  10. Powered by the Apocalypse

  11. Start with leaflets with options for chars. One iteration of each char type (only 1 person can play them). Choices players make are pre-done for GM. The choices the players make tells the GM what to do. Build the scenario around it. GM never rolls any dice. 2d6: if roll less than 6, you’re screwed, 7-10 ok, 10+ is great. Earn experience by FAILING!

  12. Monster Hearts

  13. (is a wonderful game). Teen monsters falling in love and being angsty. Monster of the Week is season 1 of Buffy. Monster Hearts is Season 2.

  14. Breaking the Ice

  15. About a couple going on three dates to see how it turns out.

  16. In pre-built games, the designers can set the mood of the game by what the players choose.

  17. You can find these games at Search indies games. A lot are pay what you want. Drive Through RPG – lots of self pub, but you have to sort through dross to find good ones.

  18. In D&D, there’s a Product To Buy. For a lot of these, it’s a lot of easily available products.

  19. There’s an Iron GM contest where you’re given some strange prompts to design a game.

  20. IGDN (indie game dev network) – Good source of info. Also has a yearly award. Finding the winners is a good start.

  21. D&D 5th has some things that have come from other indie games. The Boons are from Monster World, for example.

  22. Player of one: a podcast solely about 2-player RPGs

  23. One Cool Thing:

  24. Michael likes the concept of having a thing that’s true for only 1 player. Makes the char unique.

  25. Rebecca likes games that use things other than dice.

  26. Dread–uses Jenga tower, but it’s a horror mechanic.

  27. Star Crossed also uses Jenga with two people who shouldn’t be in love, but are. The Jenga tower is to navigate emotional situation. The end points say how your relationship turns out.

  28. Ell likes that a lot of games are using Tarot or Tarot-like cards to help define the world or answer character questions.

  29. Spindlewheel: to generate a char, lay down two cards crossing.

  30. Everway used fantasy art to act like a tarot deck (Johnathon Tweet). It’s the first method to move control from the GM to the players.


Writing beyond king and country

Four political philosophers – Match the up with the panelists: Natasha Bardon – Aristotle/Plato, Joe Abercrombie – Machiavelli, Sean Hazelett – Hobbs, Brenda Clough – Jefferson

  1. There’s a reason we come back to monarchs. The Symbols carry a lot of significance, even if the government itself is not great. Also cool to see other systems collide with the monarchy. People also recognize it easily.

  2. But power is with the money. You can see that in Dublin. The modern monarchy is in money. But has money/resources always been this way?

  3. India is running out of water–so the government decides to invade cashmere!

  4. Trump is also trying to buy Greenland…which has a lot of water.

  5. Natasha likes Matriarchy. Brenda says all acquisition of money and art is by men looking to get laid! So when women do that, they don’t need to!

  6. Another method of control these days would be communications satellites.

  7. Could have control by a wizard or by religion. Merchant princes. If you have money, you can do things with religion. Give someone a cathedral, or a large statue of something.

  8. With a king, he’s rarely in control. But a wizard can be in control behind the scenes.

  9. Natasha likes where the worldbuilding is easy to understand so she can enjoy the characters.

  10. Joe isn’t interested in escapism, but more in holding up a mirror.

  11. It’s cheaper to imagine how to crash a society, without having to actually do it, so you keep your running water and food. That’s why SFF is useful.

  12. How do other things shape the worldbuilding?

  13. By what makes the story better and easier to write? (I don’t really agree…)

  14. Brenda thinks it’s easier just to make things up. Making something a secondary world rather than alt-history.

  15. How to fit Beyond King and Country into Horror?

  16. Use the Chinese example, of social credits (also a Black Mirror episode)

  17. But you can make anything horrifying if you take it far enough. Police states, fascism, ect. Rule by dispassionate banking interests.

  18. There’s also a horror in change from one system to another.

  19. Sean has colleagues in China that don’t know what’s going on in Hong Kong because China has filtered it away.

  20. Fake News vs. True News. Several versions of things that don’t overlap.

  21. What other egalitarian structure exist in stories?

  22. Athens vs. Sparta paradigm – Not really egalitarian.

  23. Facebook is sort of egalitarian. Anyone can start a group if you have internet. Better than in ancient Greece, but still has problems. The golden age is always in the past, but if you went there, it’s not that great unless you’re one of elite.

  24. It’s very hard to find working systems that last a long time, and also ones that are truly egalitarian. Even if the king/emperor/leader is really a good guy, you still have the middle men who can do evil.

  25. How to make a large structure government that is good, and how to destroy it?

  26. Assume that when the right guy gets the crown, everything is good for peasant Jim.

  27. Can also have a perfect communism that the writer makes really evil because they have a thumb on the scale.

  28. The pitfalls are what drive the plot forward. A weak and senile king is immediately interesting. The French Revolution is a lot of drama you’d never believe in a fantasy book.

  29. We don’t spend time thinking about a government that works. Only think about it when it falls apart.

  30. Civilization and anarchy are seven meals apart.

  31. Does the government even matter when things are falling apart? Not really? Post-apocalyptic has an appeal to the wildness of the situation.

  32. Why do most post-apocalyptic end up being fixable by teens fighting in an arena with old weapons? On the other hand, the younger people are the ones who will have to save the world.

Stories from other media turned into games

Panelists: William C. Tracy, Marie Brennan, Rebecca Slitt, Michael Cule, Keith Bryne

We had a really fun discussion on this one. Marie Brennan and I are both writers, so we spoke more about the way stories have to be changed to get turned into games. Rebecca has been producing stories for Choice of Games for a while, so has a lot of experience in turning a story into something that is playable rather than just readable. Keith has worked in character design and had some great points about how the character and level design for a game can tell a story in itself.

Obviously I didn’t take detailed notes while we were speaking, but here are some of the points I remember:

  1. An interesting example of story turned into game is the Wheel of Time series.

  2. Marie Brennan played the tabletop RPG version. I played the computer game version.

  3. The Tabletop RPG didn’t work because you were trying to stuff very individual characters into the D&D template for a character with spell slots. You were following just behind the events of the story, so disassociated from it.

  4. The computer version came up with a new version, so the actual story was new, but it messed up the magic system. For example, angreals (magic channeling devices) were supposed to be rare in the books, but were turned into basically gun ammo in the game. That said, the magic system in the game was pretty flexible and allowed for cool spell combinations. However, then you had deathmatch where a bunch of channelers were running around trying to kill each other, which doesn’t really work with the series’ story.

  5. Games need to work around the cannon of the story, except the medium of storytelling is changed. For a story, there is a linear narrative that the reader experiences. For a game, the reader needs to be able to make some choices of how to play.

  6. For example, there was a terrible adaptation of the Weis and Hickman’s Deathgate Cycle, which basically threw the story out the window while trying to use the same main character.

  7. Often it’s easier to avoid using canon characters (or say one of the main characters has been kidnapped and has to be rescued) rather than making canon events playable.

  8. Games can also expand the original cannon of the story to give the player more options. It sometimes feels weird, but it can work.

  9. Of course, many times a bad adaptation is simply because an executive has decided there needs to be a media tie in to something profitable. Wizards Unite, the new Harry Potter game, might be a good example of this, as many people have said it’s just not that fun. It takes away all the voice of the story and turns it into “gotta catch all the spells.” This works for Pokémon because that’s literally all the story is to begin with.

Earth  Abides 2.0: what happens post-apocalypse

Panelists: Renee Silber, J.S. Fields, Carrie Vaughan, William Ledbetter

  1. A lot of post apocalyptic takes place in almost a fantasy setting, or post tech.

  2. There isn’t a complete wipe. People hang on to old tech.

  3. Depends on the type of apocalypse as to what is left behind to use.

  4. Other types like nuclear war or zombie apocalypse leave little food to live on.

  5. Some have groups of people attacking each other some are peaceful.

  6. J.S. is a microbial biologist and there is a part of that already happening in the rise of superbugs. A lot of authors only put one thing in. The Girl with All the Gifts just has one fungus causing the problem. Fungi is a kingdom, so there will be large-scale interactions between them.

  7. In a lot of media, the big buff men in trucks are shown as the ones who survive, but they don’t always take the best care of themselves. They might be some of the first to go!

  8. What parts of civilization fall away first?

  9. How do we know when we’re in an apocalypse?

  10. It’s a cascading failure…everything goes wrong to the point where society can’t keep going. This is a though experiment, but now we have things like a defunding of the CDC. So we can’t say exactly when it might begin…

  11. The government might be the first to go? People make sure their closest communities are safe first, but larger levels might not be taken care of.

  12. When people don’t upkeep things, they deteriorate quickly. Roads will fall apart, concrete deteriorates… Labs are very expensive. Research won’t go on because there’s no money being put into them.

  13. What kinds of knowledge is retained? Many stories see as a reset for everything, but it depends on who is retaining. A lot of digital knowledge will go quickly. Not enough power to run computers. Electricity will be a huge problem to keep going. Solar cells also take a lot of processing to manufacture.

  14. What happens with a local apocalypse? War in a foreign country, for example. The more people meddle and change things, the easier it is to spread ideas, infections, etc.

  15. Some indigenous pops have already gone through their apocalypse and have assimilated into other societies.

  16. Interesting that Europe sort of went through an apocalypse with the Black Death, but during that, the government didn’t collapse…

Craft is Not a Dirty Word

Panelists: Sara – Alcohol painting, polymer clay, J.S. – Wood sculpture, Juliet – knitting, painting, Deanna – sculpts in polymer clay

  1. “Craft” is often not considered fine art – why?

  2. Juliet is knitting a sock, which she doesn’t consider art, but has a friend who enters socks into contest, so that is art. Saying a large or complicated thing is more like art?

  3. J.S. says the difference is intent. Starting on a piece that is an exploration of a skill without intent, then not art. But when they have an intent to the final concept, that is art.

  4. As Sara goes more into learning about alcohol inks and designing and researching, it becomes an art.

  5. How to switch from just doing some craft to an intent for a piece that is good enough that other people will enjoy or pay for?

  6. If you can replicate it, does that diminish the artistic value?

  7. If you’re replicating someone else work, then it’s a good way to learn, but it’s maybe not art per se? or not YOUR art.

  8. A lot of textile art creators also make patterns. At what point is the thing you made from a pattern yours? There’s a big movement to see something cool online and learn to make it or make it yours. You’re not creating in a vacuum.

  9. Perception of craft might be decreased by the proliferation of craft stores and the ease of getting materials. But then the perceptions shifts to making a piece as good as you can, rather than just crafting.

  10. There’s a lot of art that has moved from the craft area to recognized art, so a lot of people end up starting at zero to find out how to do something, when the resources already exist.

  11. We’re discouraged in some ways from being creative when we go into the restrictions of school.

  12. Have to add in design along with art and craft.

  13. Everyone has spent more money making something than the cost to just buy it. But the design is the key thing. You want to do it yourself, especially now that many things are more assessable.

  14. A lot of people won’t be crafty on their own, but when placed in front of the supplies to play, they come up with really creative stuff.

  15. Depends on which school/place you go to as to how they define art/craft and the distinction. Jewelry is not considered fine art in some schools, but is in auctions.

  16. There’s also a label of “folk art”

  17. There are a lot of quilts that are for display only and are not functional craft.

  18. Crafting can be just for the joy of it rather than making anything intentional. So craft does not have to be “rescued” from being a “low” word. People have downplayed that it’s something not deserving recognition. It’s not all from society either, but from the artist themself.

  19. Well-made is not “well-arted”, but “well-crafted.”

Dinner with friends!


Full contact medieval combat demonstration

Lots of banging sharp things on other things!

Crafting a fantasy novel from mythology

Panelists: Tony Keen, Mark Tompkins – Medieval stories with Celtic myths, Claire Light – Chinese Myth – Monkey King, Karolina Fedyk – Etruscan Myth

  1. Why rework mythology and use it as a background?

  2. Claire: Monkey King -> humor and heroism. Connect subconscious with conscious. Unearth the figures and archetypes you connect with earliest and those are the strongest. Also connect with others strongly. Maybe introducing people to an unfamiliar archetype lets them come up with other options.

  3. Tony: Looking for the strongest chars that stand the test of time.

  4. Karolina: Though archetypes are different from region to region, we all want to know how the world works and these myth answer these stories. So giving them new context is a different way to answer those stories.

  5. What are the challenges of adapting myth?

  6. Karolina: So many European myths are very violent. Greek has a whole lot of rape, which is hard to process. Myths are familiar and alien. So have to translate to our sensibilities so they work for modern readers. Some of the conclusions drawn are hard to understand.

  7. Claire: If you don’t want to tell the same story, but something different, then you are going against reader expectations rather than with. She wanted a character based on the Monkey King, but not The Journey to the West. For a western audience, there will be expectations for the hero’s journey. She wanted an urban fantasy and to remake the rules of magic. Urban Fantasy challenges the expectations of magic, but is well known enough. Have to use these to adjust myths to contemporary versions. For example, Gregory Maguire writes fairy tales from a different char’s POV.

  8. Mark: the older the myth, the more different versions there are. Can thus get too much of a certain tale in your book. What do you trim out to get a modern story arc? What’s at stake? Cattle raids aren’t compelling to modern people vs. the ancient Irish. Magic spears are compelling to both.

  9. Why do we prefer to write new stories with this background instead of retelling?

  10. Karolina was very liberal with her sources. She wasn’t planning to write a myth, but was doing research on Etruscans. They developed a system for how long their civilization would last, so it was fascinating that when Rome started attacking, they just gave up because they knew their civilization’s time limit was up! She used the idea of the time allowed by God as a basis for her story.

  11. Claire has been working for Asian-American social justice in arts and culture. Has been promoting marginalized voices in this culture. Had been reading Urban Fantasy, so wanted to write in it. Urban Fantasy relies a lot on Western myth, but not on Eastern. It gears the entire genre to one experience, so it’s hard to reflect her experience. With the political shift in the US, everyone working in social justice felt the need to address this shift, so it was more important for her to use her myths. She pulled in a lot of underutilized myths to express them.

  12. Mark says using powerful mythological chars are boring. So changing things a little to give vulnerabilities makes it interesting. He uses the Morgan, who is very powerful. He manages to kill an aspect to fracture the goddess and thus reduce her power. Then using the Legend of Red Mary, he can have a more interesting character.

  13. What are the challenges of using a mix of myths?

  14. Claire: the challenges are that you work with different sets of rules, but have to find a way to make them all work, especially when chars interact. She had to plan out the entire series because the explanation doesn’t happen until later in the books, so she has to write ahead to inform how things works and make it clear so she can depict them to readers. In her stories, there is a line between the humans and the magical creatures, so the characters can discuss with other magical creatures before they are revealed to humans. Especially in Asian community, lots of people watch Anime/Manga, so some of these tropes are already understood well.

  15. Mark: When designing a series, he needs to hold the reader’s interest. So his first book is about Irish Myth going into hiding. So when chars are moving outside of their “normal” habitat, he might need to loop in a different myth to explain what things are happening. Then he has the challenge of losing readers to complexity.

  16. Karolina has done this a lot in Tabletop RPGs. She got the ideas from combining myths and used them in RPGs. It was a safe way of testing ideas to see if they would resolve before putting them in a story.

  17. How much research is done?

  18. Mark: too much…but also but he also puts interesting found knowledge away for use in later things.

  19. Claire does only as much research to figure out what is needed, then stops. Has only read the abridged Journey to the West because it is extremely long and repetitive. But also read several books on Kitsune because needed more information on powers.

  20. What about the Hero’s Journey vs. a pastiche? Sometimes twisting reader’s expectations is good. Otherwise they’ve read the same work before.

  21. Throw Campbell out the window! It can tell a lot of truth, so maybe not throw it out completely, but use sections to entice the reader.

  22. How much do you subvert? We are designed to complete patterns, so a bent, complete line looks like part of a circle. Write a part of the story and let the reader fill in the rest. Then fill in with what is needed for the story.

  23. Are there any myths that you can’t cross the line and touch?

  24. Claire tries not to touch living religions that span both worlds.

  25. This is why Karolina took a civilization that doesn’t even exist anymore.

  26. Mark works with the Bible Old Testament some, and there is a subset of US fundamentalist customers that write very long scathing Amazon reviews and get all their friends to leave 1 star reviews…

  27. Karolina comes from a very Catholic country and thought about using it, but discovered that she just didn’t know enough to work with it.

  28. Christian myths don’t feel like myths in a very Christian country, even though they are myths from countries that are now dead.

  29. How much liberty do you take with myths before it just becomes secondary world? Have to give the reader a little preparation. Is it inspired, or a retelling of a myth?

  30. Myth is epic–larger than life. So as long as the story reflects that, you can still get the feeling you want. If trying to use the myth as the myth, then maintain the tropes. If using as inspiration, then change the names and readers will recognize it or not, but it’s not necessary.

  31. Myth vs. Religion?

  32. Mark says Religion is a mix of myth, truth, and politics. How much the religion helps the world is the mix of truth, and how much it hurts is the politics.

  33. Karolina says religion is a set of cultural practices.

Just a Minute game show

Panelists: Gillian Redfearn (host), Seanan McGuire, Pat Cadigan, Ian McDonald, John Connolly

  1. Gillian set up the show: four contestants, and each will be given a topic to talk about for a full minute without repeating or diverting from the topic. The others can interrupt if they think the speaker has committed an error. If the interrupter is right, they get a point and get to take up the topic. If the speaker successfully defends, they get a point and get to keep speaking. Whoever finishes speaking when time runs out also gets a point.

  2. Topics (from what I can remember):

  3. Why this is the best WorldCon audience

  4. What I saw (did?) this morning

  5. Why Ian is the best contestant

  6. Why John is incorrect in his interruption

  7. Aardvarks

  8. The show was incredibly funny! Seanan can talk full speed about whatever comes to mind. She won the game show by several points. Pat came in second, but spoke much slower, often about her exes. Ian attempted to get 0 points, but ended up with 5 at the end despite his best efforts. John came in third, but ended up being too much of a writer and repeating himself too much.

Beyond Binary

Panelists: Lex Beckett (they/them) – Writer and writing teacher, hopeful SF, Alex Acks (they/them) – geologist and writer, Steampunk adventures with bisexual hero. Writes future where gender isn’t an issue, Rei Rosenquist – (enby/Agender they/them) – superdark far future, brighter science fantasy. Indie published, Sarah Groenewegen (she/her) – Moderator

  1. How does a world work where gender isn’t an issue?

  2. You could use pronouns as involved in an ID network. If there’s a mistake, people just move on. It’s Alex’s fantasy world. They have different issues in their writing.

  3. Rei plays with Japanese language, which has a gendered “I” so you tell your gender as you speak. Writes where you identify yourself. Use the language to communicate yourself. Then also does the opposite, where small groups are understood, but the larger world is harder.

  4. Alex has written where trans people are accepted, but are still working class, so have other societal problems.

  5. Depends on the story for whether/how people are accepted. depending on class/hierarchy, it feeds to how well people define themselves. The privileged get to use more definitions. There are different identities even in the non-binary realm, and chars can explore that. They also have the extra layer of humanity vs. not, opposed to gender exploration. What if you don’t even know what gender is? A lot of their stories are coming of age and are an identity journey.

  6. Alex has been working in the construction industry, so has not been out, and when coming home doesn’t want to deal with it.

  7. Can we keep patriarchy, but still have open gender identity?

  8. It’s hard, because it’s defined as one gender lording (ha) over others.

  9. Might be able to substitute a corporatocracy.

  10. Rei ended up with a genderfluid DudeBro as a villain. So a commentary on what the patriarchy does to people. Doesn’t have to be male to be a dudebro…

  11. Lex has had the problem where a character in a child-raising position gets misgendered as she in reviews.

  12. All have had misgendering by editors when characters do a gendered thing.

  13. Some will say they can’t get an image of the chars because you don’t know their gender.

  14. What is a non-binary paradise (from a reader POV)?

  15. Alex is writing The Great British Bakeoff in Space. A rainbow of genders. People have a hard time thinking of conflict when the world isn’t ended. Literary fiction doesn’t have this problem. Instead, attaching to the character means they will identify with the everyday problems they have. It still doesn’t mean there are fair labor practices or ideal capitalism even if gender disparity is fixed.

  16. Rei thinks the ideal is people identify themselves by how they speak, and there is no hierarchy by gender. Would love an actual equal society for genders. Precision of identity, but no levels.

  17. You can have conflict from interpersonal, or person <-> community, or failed communication, or failing to achieve. Just make the miscommunication not about gender, but something deeper. Get closer to understanding why language fails us in general.

  18. Nonbinary National Treasure…

  19. Save the cat moments: instead have the villain kicks the puppy scene, except they just misgender someone as a shorthand.

  20. Who has done this well and not?

  21. For Rei, Left Hand of Darkness informed them. Before they were just trying to construct sentences so you don’t know the gender of the character. Later LeGuin made the comment that she would have liked to use “they” for chars if she knew it was a choice.

  22. Alex realized their gender late in life. Their parents were SFF nerds, but they just didn’t encounter books like Octavia Butler until three years ago. Now has read Ann Leckie, JY Yang… Maybe didn’t encounter this because they lacked the language to find it.

  23. It’s also helped by the advances in culture in the last few years.

  24. Now they go back and look at books where we were still exploring, and get things like Bujold’s referring to Betan herms as “it.” (cringe)

  25. What advice to new writers of non-binary chars?

  26. Rei gave the story to a critique group without telling them it was about a non-binary character. The reader came back and said the technique of not identifying the gender just didn’t work because they couldn’t connect to the character. An editor said it better saying Rei needed to identify the character, whatever identity they are.

  27. Don’t be afraid to identify a non-binary char. Hopes to get to a point where you don’t have to identify that non-binary is a thing.

  28. Can we develop the same social cues for non-binary people? Read a graphic novel where just introduced the char with they…no other description.

  29. Have to decouple visual queues from gender. There are fem men/masc women/fem and masc non-binary. Reliance on pronouns may increase as we rely less on “what’s in the pants.”

  30. With non-binary, there are multiple layers. Rei is agender, so it feels like they just don’t have a play in the game. So wants further classification options for non-binary, using more exploratory language.

  31. When building a universe, have to think about whether gender is self-identified or comes from an external source.

  32. Can also use “they” when you have not yet identified a group as a placeholder.

  33. Need to make up more pronouns! A widespread pop-culture media can help make this mainstream.

  34. How do you combat the confusion of many pronouns vs. specificity?

  35. Rei does vary from book to book what pronouns are used and how, because they want to show that there are many options.

  36. How about non-binary nonhumans? Yes, but have to be careful not to make the aliens the only non-binary.

  37. Lex has an agender caterpillar species who chose male because they felt they had the privilege.

  38. The Tensorate novellas are a really good example of putting children in a limbo state until they decide what gender they are.

Charles Stross Reading

Part of the next Laundry book!

Into the Woods

Panelists: Navah Wolfe, Seanan McGuire, Sarah Gailey, Jennifer Mace, Sue Burke

  1. You can actually grow a new plant from a leaf! Roses don’t have seeds.

  2. revenge by mint plant…Seanan says she puts mint sprigs on golf courses.

  3. Seanan was bullied in school, so went back and planted kudzu on the top of all the school roofs.

  4. If praying mantises were the size of housecats, they would take us all on…

  5. California is on fire because eucalyptus trees reach maturity and then catch fire to propagate. They were sold as railway ties, but grow too fast to be useful. They were also planted around white communities to keep them separated from POCs.

  6. grass encourages you to cut or eat it because that takes out the weeds around it.

  7. Scotland also burns the heather fields because otherwise the birch would grow up and they are much less susceptible.

  8. When California is on fire, snakes will run out of the forests on fire. Tarantulas also come out with fires, and walk into the path of the snakes and get eaten.

  9. “Tarantulas are just hamsters with extra legs.”

  10. So…how have plants shaped books (aside from being made into them)

  11. Does the forest strike back against you? When you cut down a tree, there is a presence in a bit forest. There’s something there. It’s a primal fear.

  12. For the Finnish, they don’t understand our fear. It’s where you run when the Vikings attack, rather than the scary forest of Red Riding Hood. It has protection and game, etc.

  13. In the US, we separate us from nature. We want to conquer it, which is not good.

  14. In the UK, hedgerows is like a mini-forest that you plant between fields. It has berries and warrens and etc. But forests can be very productive if you take care of it. How do you use willow bark? We’ve been roped in capitalism and don’t know how to support ourselves from nature.

  15. We are above the plants and don’t touch them, when we should rely on them.

  16. The forests of the US however, are much less welcoming than European forests. We have poison ivy/oak. We have ticks. So the stories that come from Europe to the US change to fear of the forest.

  17. Roses have thorns because they use them to anchor into other plants and climb up to get the light, and kill them.

  18. Blackberries are roses!

  19. Bromeliads generate a whole little ecosystem of shrimps and frogs. In Madagascar, one is shaped like a lemur toilet, and that’s where they get most of their nutrients.

  20. What weird plants do you like?

  21. Triffids, Uprooted

  22. Over The Garden Wall – Edelwoods. Depressed people turn into these that provide oil for a monster.

  23. Winnie the Pooh 100 acre woods is unrealistic, but keeps kids from destroying the woods, which they would if they knew about forests.

  24. Seanan is the vanguard of an alien plant race…

  25. Mushrooms will digest animals, and then trade the nutrients over miles with trees! Someone had the right wood for sheep!

  26. Sue gave a voice to a plant…they’re murderous and vicious, but also social. Otherwise they get sad.

Gender and the writer

BE Allatt, Jasmine Gower, J.S. Fields, Vanessa Rose Phin, Jacq Applebee, Nick Hubble

  1. There are many bad ways to represent gender

  2. Enbies (NB, or non-binary) tend to be represented as white, young, small, small chests, small hips, etc.

  3. There’s also confusion between enby and androgyny

  4. There can be confusion between “NB” being “non-binary” and being “non black.”

  5. Good to see people who are disabled or enby not for the purpose of being that person, but having a good element in the plot.

  6. Saying you’re attracted to women (eg) but not including trans women is a problem.

  7. Starless by Jaqueline Kerry

  8. Non-Binary is a huge umbrella. Don’t just include one type. Explore many different types.

  9. There have also been enby types for a long time in older cultures. Especially in Africa and Asia. A lot of colonialism wiped these things out. So enby is not white or western,

  10. Even in straight western medieval fiction, there were enby folks, though they had different identifiers.

  11. Jasmine has seen a lot of chars out. Would like to see people transitioning without coming out being the plot. Might be good to see questioning narratives where the result is not certain.

  12. Fanfiction is some of the most inclusive fiction. Check it out for good ideas or descriptions. Small press and YA also do a lot of the heavy lifting.

  13. How to encourage this for pubs?

  14. Vanessa is at Strange Horizons. Important to hire diverse people so they know what to look for. Also specifically ask for a type or even certain people because those on the edge of marginalization tend to self-reject. Pay them on time because marginalized people tend to have less money.

  15. Put the results not just in expensive magazines, but in cheaper places so disabled/POC/trans/etc. can get access to them easier.

  16. FB groups are also a good place to disperse. There are a lot of good, inclusive groups.

  17. If you are writing trans and enby, don’t just write one character, because they tend to find their own, so they will have friends like them. Talking about them can also help because then agents and pubs can see that people want to see more.

  18. As a reviewer, what type of things are you reviewing? Leaving Amazon reviews will also bump up that algorithm.

  19. What book suggestions?

  20. Left Hand of Darkness

  21. Mask of Shadows – Lindsey Miller

  22. Moonshine – Jasmine

  23. Tensorate – JY Yang

  24. Nisi Shawl has good questioning narratives

  25. Autonomous

  26. “Are you a Boy or a Girl” about one enby child’s experience in school.

  27. Zines also are a good source.

  28. Beyond the Binary is a good website. Jacq has some pieces on it.

  29. Look for zine libraries + non binary.

  30. Book gatekeeping is more extreme, so harder to find good cases. Coming from Zines, novellas and shorter texts are getting more rep.

  31. BE has seen more upswing in romance

  32. J.S. has seen a lot of cases where non-binary people are able to change their bodies at will, because it starts to mar the line between gender and sex. People who are genderfluid can’t shapeshift, so it might be damaging to them. Don’t treat people as thought experiments.

  33. J.S. says that intersex people can actually shapeshift a little. As testosterone levels change, the body naturally redistributes naturally.

  34. Jacq has seen a lot of good rep in comics.

  35. In unsure, check online, or use the #ownvoices tag.

  36. If the author isn’t out, then it may be harder to find that book as representing that field. Jacq only knowns two other black non-binary people.

  37. It’s not necessary for those authors to progress at the same rate either. The writing process will help people come to terms with their identity.

  38. Writing in SFF gives a much bigger sandbox to play around in with gender and identity.

  39. LeGuin did step up to own that Left Hand was a thought experiment and she could have done better. Can wonder where we might be if she hadn’t written it.

  40. Aliens and robots can be done right an non-binary, but it shouldn’t be ONLY those that are enby. Good to describe the amorphous space where many enbies exist.

  41. What about a genderfluid char revealing assigned gender or not?

  42. Nice to have the ambiguity. Readers will sometimes assume if a char is presenting in some way, then that was their assigned at birth gender. Not always the case.

  43. How far are we from educating people mainstream about representing gender?

  44. Depends on the country. U.S. has a lot of gender discussions already. It is happening in some places. Vanessa on the other hand, has an enby child and has had problems with bullying and not having a defined space.

  45. Some of the change is dependent on enby people getting masters and getting into the publishing industry. Some other places have problems with laws being in the way (Texas).

  46. Jacq is in London and the representation is rubbish. There is not a lot of acceptance for non-binaries. There is also a lot of TERF voices. Have to pick one or the other.

The appeal of the gumshoe in SFF

Panelists: Virginia, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Robin Duncan, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Matthew Hughes

  1. What is the appeal of the Gumshoe?

  2. Nicole says the loner

  3. Robin says it’s the fact that someone’s withholding information

  4. Jon says the McGuffin doesn’t have to be the Maltese falcon, but can be something completely other in SFF

  5. For Matt, the mystery is that the natural order has been turned upside down and the sleuth is the one who will fix it.

  6. Matt writes far future SFF with a switch from physics to magic based, which will mess everything up, but no one knows. So the main character finds out, but starts running up against magic, rather than physics. The villain finds out about the magic as well, but just wants to get on with crime. So have the familiar in the crime, and fantastic in the switch to magic.

  7. Jon likes that crime and SFF are both about exploring the space. The char is unravelling cues to what is happening in the culture to reveal to the reader.

  8. Robin says the detective is a much stronger avatar of the reader finding out what’s going on, so can shortcut into the narrative. While throwing new tech at the reader, they stay anchored by the main character sleuth.

  9. Nicole likes how the SFF affects the culture and how things are done differently than today. The main character can explore what happened, but can also explore humanity in a different context, from new tech to a different identity. Crime is a part of humanity, so to investigate what is criminal in different time periods is a reflection of the culture. What is a violation in that culture?

  10. What’s the risk of falling into the stereotypical white male with a drinking problem whose a womanizer?

  11.  A couple of Nicole’s reviewers found her (female) detective abrasive and “not nurturing.” But that’s the point. The people who hire her can’t trust the police. So she doesn’t fit the stereotype for the detective, but doesn’t look like the norm.

  12. Jon says back in old pulp, the society is really bad. Can’t read without stumbling over things that pull you out.

  13. Matt presumes most people in his stories are brown. Has been experimenting with adding female characters…

  14. Robin says there’s more latitude for something that is a cliché in other places, people expect to see in detective fiction. So can use those, but don’t bring the prejudices along with it.

  15. The reader thinks they know what’s going to happen, so can then subvert the expectations.

  16. Nicole is very close to giving her character a trenchcoat… Still likes the expected tropes for whatever story you’re writing. Has to have some sort of partner to act as a foil for the detective.

  17. Can you play with not solving the puzzle?

  18. Depends. In a series, can solve a small problem, but have an overarching one.

  19. You can read Nicole’s stuff out of order, but will miss stuff. She hates it when the detective doesn’t solve it. In real life, detectives don’t solve every case. In a couple cases her short stories end differently from where readers might want.

  20. Robin notes that in Dresden, each book has a case, but there is still a very long story going on.

  21. How do you work out how the police work in a SFF piece? (for example, The city guard in Pratchett)

  22. Robin says there’s a conflict with the authority between the detective and the police force.

  23. In Nicole’s work, it’s post-apocalyptic, so the police force is there, but corrupt, so that creates more friction. Don’t become a detective by getting along with people… But still has certain contacts in the police that they work with.

  24. Jon likes that having the police force in a book gives a solid foundation to start from. He (who’s British) went along with the San Francisco police force to see how things work.

  25. Matt doesn’t do police procedurals, but has police, but on many different worlds. So the detective gets a wide variety of responses from the different police forces. Sometimes they help, sometimes they harm.

  26. Are there any happy optimistic detectives?

  27. Sue Grafton’s char has a pretty happy life.

  28. Spencer is pretty happy.

  29. Don Leone’s Commissary Series – more concerned with food and etc. Sometimes there’s no crime, and sometimes he doesn’t bother to solve them.

  30. Robin says Dirk Gently, though he may just be deranged.

  31. Lord Darcy, Miles Vorkosican, The Caves of Steel…

  32. Female recs: Lauren Bukes, Shining girls. Sharon McCrum did cozy mysteries. Thursday next, Jasper Fforde.


Choosing and demystifying sewing patterns

Panelists: Christine Doyle (m), Karen McWilliams – always changes something in patterns. Did costumes for dance companies. Tricky changes to costumes, Lauren Carroll – semi-competitive cosplayer, works with Hancock fabrics

  1. All patterns have some things in common.

  2. Princess seam – the line down the bustline (or trim sides of men’s coats)

  3. Christine is trying to find shirt patterns

  4. US vs. EU Burda pattern

  5. EU – white paper, lines are not cutting lines. They’re seam lines

  6. US – brown paper, lines are for cutting – notes that has a 5/8 seam allowance

  7. Commercial fabric doesn’t seem to have a seam allowance, but they cut it off with a surger.

  8. All have details EXCEPT Murphy only has 1 size, but don’t include any directions or anything. Designs are amazing, but for professionals.

  9. Lines will overlap, especially when changing radii because lines change at different rates.

  10. Little lines are match points. Some have dots, some triangle. This is where you match up parts to sew together.

  11. Always make sure you keep pieces on the patterns so you don’t confuse which piece you are working on.

  12. You sew inside out, so have to think about it that way. Things often don’t completely line up. Sharp corners look like chaos on the back, but correct from the outside.

  13. factory errors also exist! do a mockup on cheap fabric before you do the real thing.

  14. CostumeCon – con for just costumers. Do a contest with one pattern they pick. Can also meet the pattern makers.

  15. Some patterns will have the whole range of sizes, some will break it up into multiple patterns.

  16. For a woman, generally go by bust size. In general, go by the size that has the most complex curves.

  17. Women–bust size. For large bust, high bust measurement. If go by full bust size, shoulders will be too big. Then do a large bust addition.

  18. For men–choose chest measurement usually.

  19. Three mains are bust, waist, and hips.

  20. If you’re on the edge of a measurement, pick up both sides.

  21. There are lots of sales, so try not to buy full-price patterns. Stores do alternating sales.

  22. Try to trace the pattern out on large sketch paper, and then you

  23. don’t have to cut the original and

  24. can get rid of the extra and get rid of seam allowances and cut everything out. With seam allowances on, it messes things up. Once you’re done with everything, can add seam allowances back in.

  25. Plastic paint sheeting – can get a 25 yard roll for $5 and can get a lot of patterns on it. Can also combine different sizes of patterns.

  26. A little gathering can save you a lot.

  27. The biggest mistake is ignoring what material the pattern recommends. There is a lot of different stretch in materials. Different fabrics will not work! Not just stretch, but difference in the way the fabric hangs. Pay attention to how heavy the fabric is.

  28. Ease: that clothes are not skin tight. To make something skin tight and move, has to be a stretch fabric.

  29. In a lot of films, wonder how people move in leathers. Well, they’re not actually leather, but stretchier.

  30. Also include blocks of black stretchy fabric to allow for extra movement.

  31. Shoulders are very tough. The shape of the area changes a lot as the arms move up and down.

  32. If you have a costume where you need to move, flatten the sleeve slightly. Take a little off the top of the curve and raise the bottom buy about an inch. Men’s suits especially will have long shoulders that you can pull back a bit.

  33. For some vintage patterns, the sleeve is really low. If so, the arms are intended to stay down.

  34. pick up king size bedsheets etc. from garage sales or discount sales to get mockup fabric.

  35. Have to match stretch to stretch on the fabric.

  36. Flatlining: another fabric that goes under the fashion fabric that give it some support. Cateel for corsets.

  37. Could flatline with the mockup fabric…

Fantasies of Irish emigration

Panelists: Randee Dawn – written about Fey following a rock band, CE Murphy  – writing about an Irish born American Shaman. Irish/Native American mix, Deirdre Murphy (no relation) – Chicago Irish. Got a lot of it growing up. Writes SFF, Dyrk Ashton – Author of Paternus series, works in film industry

  1. Dyrk has used a lot of Irish myths, and has his characters travel a lot, so he can use multiple locations.

  2. Deirde knows how to use Irish myths in the states, but things are different enough in Ireland that she’s not sure how to use them

  3. CE sets her Irish fiction in Seattle. Has Americans seeing Irish from their POV.

  4. Want to have chars uncomfortable, so putting it in a place you know well but the mythological creatures don’t gives conflict.

  5. Often this means taking creatures from a natural environment and putting them in a city.

  6. If you straight out ask someone in Ireland if they believe in fairies, they will say no, but there have been roads rerouted in the last few years to avoid taking down a fairy mound. Moving these stories outside of Ireland creates a conflict in space. Displacement = conflict. You see it when the fey are uncomfortable with iron, or cars, or trains.

  7. could do the same with a musician tossed into a place without music or vice versa.

  8. Seems like SF has been big in Ireland and some fantasy, but not as much UF (Urban Fantasy). Lots of people in the states have some Irish, and lot in England, so more likely to be fascinated with the alternate culture rather than the Irish themselves writing it.

  9. Irish Myths show up in a lot of books, even if only one part of a series.

  10. Americans have a great fondness for Irish myth because many of us have some connection. But then CE says most Americans think all Irish are leprechauns…

  11. The Irish managed to get over a lot of discrimination and become mainstream. Deirdre says St. Patrick’s day might have something to do with it. They invite people to be Irish for a day. They want people to join in.

  12. In UF you want to focus on cities. We don’t think of Ireland as cities, though it has them. We think of it as rolling hills etc. So we write UF as belonging to another place. Dublin is THE big city, and a lot of the rest is not urban.

  13. In UF, there is often a portal to another home. Beyond the veil is often rural. So can we put the fey in UF that way because they can go back home? The Dublin series puts the veil overlaid in Dublin which leaves the fey little place to go.

  14. UF is changing a lot. Even things in alternate cities or even in rural environments are called UF as long as they take place today… Much paranormal romance is UF. The Odd things might not happen is cities. American Gods is mythic fiction but also a sort of UF. Even Alt worlds can be UF as long as the same descriptions happen.

  15. The main genre tells you where to shelve something, but beneath that are a lot of different options. eBooks are good this way because they can occupy different bookshelves at the same time.

  16. Sookie Stackhouse is UF, even though it’s small town Louisiana.

  17. There’s another series set in a secondary world, but it has all the hallmarks–set in a city, uses magic, conflict between aspects, main character is a cop…

  18. CE is working on a book with Agent Carter meets Buffy. It’s urban but it’s not contemporary

  19. So UF often goes to the deep well of Fey and Irish Myth. Why is it more interesting than Germanic and or Scandinavian myths?

  20. They are mixed in, to some extent, but we’ve been inundated so long with Greek and Norse, that Irish feels fresh. Starting to see people pulling myths from all over–Meso and Native American, Hindu, etc.

  21. Irish Myths are very fun and crazy. Lots of fun to write about. has some pre-flood myths as well, with Noah’s daughter coming to Ireland. Many conflict or change as well.

  22. Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid does well because it pulls in a lot of Irish myth.

  23. Part of Irish Myth being accessible is because it still exists. Germanic myth for example, doesn’t have any followers left, so it’s harder to use it as a basis to a story. Irish is also mainly in English, so there’s no translation. People want to read about something that happened to their ancestors, even if it’s tenuous.

  24. Randee was raised Jewish, but only found Irish because “I” was next to “J.” Liked that Yates had catalogued all the fairies and gave life to them. Dig down and they’re very interesting.

  25. A lot of them aren’t as dark as the Grimm fairy tales either.

  26. Sita Sings the Blues has 4 layers of stories in it that depending on how familiar you are with the myths.

  27. Are there Irish born authors that have worked on the same mythology as a diaspora author and went different directions?

  28. Good books with Irish Myths

  29. Emma Bull’s The War of the Oaks

  30. Simon R. Green

  31. Mike Kerring

  32. Steve McCues – core of Arthurian, but wondering if Author was born elsewhere

  33. Seanan McGuire – October Daye

  34. UF is usually concerned with fairies, but not with the others, like the Lir and the Formor and Brighid. People don’t know a much about those stories vs. the Morrigan and fey and the Ulster Cycle

  35. Myths travel as well. How many Irish myths started there, vs. starting elsewhere. In Irish myths, people come from different places and mix in. It talks about other cultures.

  36. Writers use the malevolent fey a lot, but the Tue De Danann were not particularly malevolent, and drove off the Fomor. Why?

  37. Might be from Spencer’s The Fairy Queen. So we have a vague awareness of a story that sets the fairies as bad. We tend to do this.

Queering Worldbuilding

Panelists: Sarah Gailey (they/them), Elizabeth Bear – queer, grew up in a queer family. Has a hard time writing worlds that don’t have queer elements. she/they, Helen Corcoran (she/her) – Newly pubbed writer, Bookseller for 12 years, Jaime (he/him) Garmendia III

  1. Do you prefer worlds with queer people accepted, or where they have to be combative to get acceptance?

  2. In River of Teeth, Gailey has queer people accepted and quiet. One of her others is set in a fascist state, so of course confrontation. There’s a problem when that’s all they are there for.

  3. Helen wants to see all queer rep. A lot of villains are queer coded, so it’s regarded as “bad.”

  4. Elizabeth doesn’t like it when there’s tokenism of queers because the community can’t even tell what queer means. So showing queers with many different aspects shows that each char is an individual vs. checking a box.

  5. Can make Villains queer without making that the reason they’re queer. A villain that kills people because he’s so gay is bad. A cannibal villain that loves his boyfriend is better.

  6. How to queer all the tropes? Tropes are not all bad. They tell what emotional beat to expect. A couple only getting one bed at the inn is a trope. Having a hetero couple is old, but having a queer couple gives that community a chance to see that.

  7. Love Simon is just a love story. Yes. That’s all it is. It’s not a tragedy.

  8. Queer stories don’t have to be a problem story. Sometimes you’re just queer and also the main character.

  9. Writing joyful queer stories can be confrontational because so many queer stories are tragedy so a joyful story is a revolution.

  10. Need more non-binary Dragons!

  11. Elizabeth has lesbian werewolves infiltrating Nazis.

  12. Gailey has adjective adjective adjective on horesback coming out next year: Upright Women.

  13. Spies are often in the same communities as queer people. Queer people often work at passing, so they live with being spies.

  14. gender reveal parties are bad but gender reveal parties for your new identity could be good!

  15. The original “coming out party” was Harlem gay men coming out to the rest of the community, not the straight community.

  16. Helen writes about people who are out. Doesn’t like the coming out part. She just switched jobs from one where everyone knew to where they don’t. Hard to deal with.

  17. Sarah doesn’t write about coming out much except where someone has to change their pronouns to avoid a fascist state or something.

  18. People don’t tell you that you have to keep coming out! You have to keep doing it and if you don’t get around to someone, then they don’t feel like you trust them.

  19. There is a space for coming out stories for people who are questioning.

  20. Depending on where you exist, you can be very comfortable, or have to work at passing more often so you’re not always judged. On the other hand there are communities where nothing is assumed until you tell them.

  21. Gailey worked with people who were “alright with queers unless they don’t shove it in your face” because the alternative is to be in people’s face about it all the time.

  22. How does a non-heteronormative society work with government and culture?

  23. Can’t have this society where you still have gender norms. Today, you can’t have a lesbian monarch without wondering where the baby is coming from or how you can get money without marrying a man.

  24. If writing queer and power together, have to also address all the other aspects of marginalization. If writing power and not addressing other marginalization then why not?

  25. We tend to fetishize power, so the normal reaction is to turn the way to get to the power as the normal method.

  26. This helps the queer villain trope. Can have queer social climbers along with queer heroes.

  27. Give your queer people community. Queer people know other queer people. It makes them happier and they feel safe when there are others like them. Queer people find a community that will help them out.

  28. Helen would like to see queer chars that have helpful supporting families.

  29. Elizabeth grew up reading 80-90s lesbian SF. Turns out women can be dicks as well! Ann Leckie did this by removing gender altogether. Elizabeth would like to see more complicated queer societies.

  30. When heteronormative is removed, then is queer still a thing?

  31. begs the question: is queer culture relative? Can you be queer if you haven’t been repressed? Very sticky question, but one that is good to explore in books.

  32. There are always countercultures, and people will always find divides between them. But queer culture has come a long way in our world. Non-heteronormative relationships are officially accepted in many cultures now, but we still have to deal with the societal backlash.

  33. Can also look at the community memory in the queer culture. If it happened a long time ago, is it remembered? What’s the history?

  34. If same sex is validated, what about polygamous relationships? Trans same sex relationships?

  35. People like to put others in little boxes, which is a great source of conflict for books!

Irish video game concert

They played Star Wars, Star Trek, LOTR, Zelda… They were also the featured orchestra for the Hugo Awards!

Invented mythology in SFF

Panelists: Fonda Lee, Marina Lostetter, Marie Brennan, Adrian Tchaikovsky

  1. Myth: a sacred narrative meant to be believed about the way the world was created.

  2. Is myth a core part of worldbuilding?

  3. Marina says it is necessary for epics. Tries to find out how thing came to be, especially for a secondary world

  4. Adrian: We’re making the world. A fun part of writing, but hard. Often have a myth that just happens to be a truth about the world, which turn out how to defeat the dark lord. But this isn’t really a myth: it’s an instruction manual. To be a myth, has to be hazy and have changes to it to make it complicated.

  5. Having an actual myth is rare in fiction because it means the author is doing 2x the work.

  6. Dragon Age creators say anything in the world written is what the author of the in word thing believes. It’s not the creators giving you instructions.

  7. Myths are like a giant game of telephone over centuries.

  8. Mythology is not a way for you to dump 300 pages of backstory and worldbuilding.

  9. Epic fantasies used to have the prologue that was the infodump of the backstory masquerading as myth.

  10. Everything has to serve the narrative.

  11. How to navigate the relation between magic and myth? How is myth affected?

  12. An old text states you have myth in pre-tech societies, which turns to religion, which turns to science. This is wrong.

  13. Should have different ideas of how magic came to be. Hard to believe when a magic has no religion associated with it, because those are often conflated.

  14. If you have a story where magic is real, then having an actual god actually giving the magic means they’re too prevalent and are no longer numinous beings. They’re not interesting.

  15. Fonda likes to think of magic on a sliding scale. The green bone saga is low magic–the jade is the only thing. She made the decision for none of the chars to call it “magic,” because it’s something everyone knows about. The myths about the creation of the world are going to be much more complicated.

  16. Myths aren’t static. They are passed down and changed.

  17. Who is telling the story and why? Whoever is telling the story will end up changing it to meet their interests.

  18. Myths have unintended social/econ consequences. Santa gives presents to good kids. But rich parents can give more present. So are rich kids more good?

  19. There will be holidays and festivals in a religion, but don’t often see that in fantasy. Hard to do because chars would have to act based on the festival, which is not often the case.

  20. What happens with Myths under catastrophe? You get underground myths that provide answers to the hardship that is non-canonical. You get desperation narratives that aren’t talked about, or turn into heresies.

  21. People can mobilize myths for political ends, to move a society in a certain direction. Someone’s always going to be using myth for power gain.

  22. People are also going to disagree. If not, it feels like a narrative device.

  23. There might also be pop-culture. Myths get turned into new stories. 300 is nothing like the historical story.

  24. Fonda has reference to comics and movies about a mythical figure in Jade Saga.

  25. How to weave the myth into the story?

  26. Need to be telling a story where it’s relevant. The religion is not very present in Brennan’s narrative, but it exists. But the controversy about dragons is very prevalent because it’s important to the plot.

  27. When you have chars come up against others with very different cultural narratives, that’s a good time to have myths come into conflict. Another good way is to have the chars learn more which slowly erodes the myth.

  28. Adrian says either the myth is a story of something that actually happened, but hopefully not too related. Or, it’s something created and told as a politically convenient story to drive a new action (war, etc.)

  29. Fonda says language is a very good way to add mythology. Superstitions turn into everyday words.

  30. Saying someone has good karma means the culture believes in reincarnation.

  31. How do myths work in SF?

  32. Similar to what we do today. It’s often simplified, based on the teller’s biases. Marina likes to tell multi-gen stories, and then show what happens later. It’s like how the US revers the founding fathers to the point where the society doesn’t want to change the original concept even though much time has passed.

  33. In Children of Time, Adrian has set up myths, but they don’t gain hold because there are beings who go into stasis and then pop back into society and can refute the myth.

  34. Because we can’t understand everything, there will always be a tendencies to make uncontrollable things into superstition.

  35. Any story that happens over a long period of time (like SF) shows how things can become mythologized

  36. What are good examples of myth is books?

  37. Mistborn did a good job of turning things that are myth and turning it on its head. The Wax/Wane series then turns the first events into myth.

  38. Mary Gentle’s Ash starts showing a myth, but as an archeological dig goes on, it starts revealing more things about why myths happen.

  39. The Bene Gesserit in Dune is a good combo of SF, and Myth, and religion. But it’s a manufactured myth. Used for political gain.

  40. Read about real myths when writing. Don’t just depend on D&D and common stories. A lot are based on Greco-Roman.

  41. Pay attention to little myths that are created in your life (Like memes!)

  42. Myths continuing is sort of like distressing fabric. Find out how they’re changed over time. Rather than iterating ideas to get a better one, keep the original ideas too for myth.

The Hugo Awards!

  1. I attended the award ceremony with some friends. This was definitely a good one, with some very-well deserved awards. There was also a great performance of “Stand By Me” by Afua Richardson, the artist guest of honor. It was dedicated to Nichelle Nichols, who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and to her grandfather, who recently passed away.

  2. John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: Jeannette Ng (2nd year of eligibility)

  3. Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book: Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt / Macmillan Children’s Books)

  4. Best Fan Artist: Likhain (Mia Sereno)

  5. Best Fan Writer: Foz Meadows

  6. Best Fancast: Our Opinions Are Correct, hosted by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders

  7. Best Fanzine: Lady Business, editors Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay & Susan

  8. Best Semiprozine: Uncanny Magazine, publishers/editors-in-chief Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, managing editor Michi Trota, podcast producers Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky, Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction Special Issue editors-in-chief Elsa Sjunneson-Henry and Dominik Parisien

  9. Best Art Book: The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition, illustrated by Charles Vess, written by Ursula K. Le Guin (Saga Press /Gollancz)

  10. Best Professional Artist: Charles Vess

  11. Best Professional Editor, Short Form: Gardner Dozois

  12. Best Professional Editor, Long Form: Navah Wolfe

  13. Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: The Good Place: “Janet(s),” written by Josh Siegal & Dylan Morgan, directed by Morgan Sackett (NBC)

  14. Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, screenplay by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman (Sony)

  15. Best Graphic Story: Monstress, Volume 3: Haven, written by Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda (Image Comics)

  16. Best Related Work: Archive of Our Own, a project of the Organization for Transformative Works

  17. Best Series: Wayfarers, by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager)

  18. Best Short Story: “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” by Alix E. Harrow (Apex Magazine, February 2018)

  19. Best Novelette: “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again,” by Zen Cho (B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, 29 November 2018)

  20. Best Novella: Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells ( Publishing)

  21. Best Novel: The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)


Mary Robinette Kowal Reading

Read part of the next Lady Astronaut book, answered questions about writing, research, and astronomy. She also brought her newly won Hugo with her for people to touch and take pictures with!

Finishing touches: lights and electronics

Panelists: William C. Tracy, Kevin Roche, Cheryl Harding

This was the second panel I was on, and we talked a lot about how to make lighted aspects of cosplay simply and safely. Kevin showed off a bunch of little projects he’d put together over the years, both bought and made, from a color changing belt, to lighted shoes, to an arm band with lighted launcher strips. Cheryl displayed the lighted tiara and dress she made. I demonstrated the persistence of vision LED display I used as part of a Dr. Strange cosplay, to make the shield mandala.

Producing Puppets

Panelists: Maeve Clancy, Ian McDonald – helped set up some sesame street Irish shows, Mary Robinette Kowal

  1. Maeve doesn’t do puppetry, but designs sets. Has done some animation. Now works with the kind of puppets that are hand puppets where the puppeteer is visible. (Overt Table Puppets)

  2. Ian has judged some puppets in the Sesame Workshop

  3. MRK was trained at the center for puppetry arts in Atlanta. Puppetry is bringing to life an inanimate object. Named for how they work. Sesame Street is hand puppet (because you operate with your hands)

  4. 5 basic puppets (like having 5 genres): Defined by control method

  5. Hand

  6. String

  7. Shadow

  8. Body

  9. Rod

  10. Kermit is a hybrid – both hand and rod.

  11. Animation vs. puppetry:

  12. animation is more concerned with models rather than puppets. Thunderbirds were a combination of the two. Animation tends toward just to models. The voice is also recorded first in animation, so work from that.

  13. Animation is more of a process, puppetry is a performance. They use the same vocabulary of movement. Animators call the models puppets, and though it isn’t real time, it’s the same words.

  14. Does film stop being puppetry because it’s not for a live audience? MRK says no, some people say yes.

  15. Now, have a waldo and a hand, and the performer’s motions are recorded to play to an audience…so still a performance. Get into definition of Mocap.

  16. Puppet vs. costume: There is a clear line between the two, but a thin line.

  17. Displacement. Some part of the body is displaced. For Big Bird, the operator’s hand is in the head.

  18. Puppet: the body parts line up. Mickey Mouse at Disney is a costume. Getting things now where the performer can trigger things in the head, so blurring the line a little because there’s some displacement. Barney is a costume, because everything lines up (and the puppeteers didn’t want to own him…).

  19. How to make puppets look more alive: Ian has worked with Sesame workshop. Has very specific things about how the script works, but for the puppets, the eyes have to hit the camera right. Have to hit the camera immediately, or it doesn’t work. The mouth opens at the beginning of a word, and closes at the end of a word. Can also do a partial open on syllables, SO mouth doesn’t always line up.

  20. Conveying a story with a puppet:

  21. Focus – where the puppet is looking, conveys thought. Can even do this with no eyes.

  22. When the puppeteer looks at the puppet, everyone focuses on that. When the puppeteer looks at you, you focus on them. Comes from predator/prey instinct

  23. Breath – conveys emotion. Sad puppet is sad. Can mix Breath and Focus to convey complex emotion

  24. Muscle – making it look like the puppet can move by themselves (important for video because the puppet has to have a “floor”).

  25. Meaningful movement – not head bobbing. Not bad, but when it’s the only movement, it doesn’t work. Look for movement that removes confusion and shows where the character is going.

  26. Aggressive/regressive/passive movement. How fast and far the puppet moves to convey what they mean.

  27. Maeve’s company has puppets doing something and then sharing with the audience, to bring the audience along with the story. The setting can actually start to add life to the story before the puppet comes in.

  28. Puppetry is acting. Can have puppet actors or meat actors. But then, is Gollum a costume or a puppet? MRK says costume because everything lines up, though digitally. Smaug is a puppet because multiple people bringing it to life.

  29. Ian says he was told puppet actors are the biggest prima donnas! They also get dissed a lot, but have to hold heavy puppets WHILE acting. Also uses muscle groups people don’t often use.

  30. A script writer with puppet experience will know the things that a puppeteer just can’t do because of the puppet limitations.

  31. For silent productions, puppets work very well because they show emotions and amplify them.

  32. Ian watched a version of the Little Matchgirl. The girl dies in the end, but you can’t really do it with a child actor vs. a puppeteer. The puppeteer simply laid the puppet down at the end, and it was completely dead-looking.

  33. Maeve has seen very little puppetry that is “goofy” or “for children,” and even when the actor is completely exposed, people buy into it.

  34. There’s a distance with puppets, so cursing, for example happens in a different voice and becomes funny, and can also tackle weightier topics that might not work just with people.

  35. Ian was once with the operator for Telly on Sesame Street, and he decided to tend bar–pouring shots. Had to confiscate phones because it would be a PR disaster.

Book Swap

Gave away a copy of Fruits of the Gods and two of The Seeds of Dissolution to some interested readers!

Emma Newman reading

Read from her latest novel, Atlas Alone

And that is it from this WorldCon. I had a lot of fun, and I’m going to try very hard to get to WorldCon 78 in New Zealand!

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So, I am fighting a fever on Christmas Eve, and decided to conserve my energy (I apologize for future snark, ‘cause I have a feeling there will be a lot of it…), crawl into a warm place, and finish listening to the Audible version of “The Christmas Hirelings.”

This is the free holiday story they’ve given out this year, and I think I have to give props to Audible for choosing this one. It’s beautifully done.

Though I don’t think it was chosen for the reasons I will elucidate, with a Trump shutdown in play and the rich congresscritters nestled snug in their beds, visions of tax writeoffs dancing through their heads…

If you haven’t read or listened to this, it was written by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. I think I heard it’s a response to A Christmas Carol though I can’t find the reference. In any case, I’m going to compare it to that other timeless Christmas story. I’m also getting heavily into spoilers, so be warned, not that it requires a lot of brainpower to figure out.

First the review. If you haven’t read this, and you have a membership to Audible, I recommend you download it. Again, nothing against Audible, for choosing a really good, entrancing novel from 1894, and special praise to Richard Armitage, who I could literally listen to for days on end. So I have to say I really enjoyed listening to the book.

I gave it four stars, even though the story is another matter. Really well done, but good lord it did NOT age well compared against A Christmas Carol. I’m going to bring the Victorians into this later, just wait.

The main premise (not a spoiler) is that a rich, old, prideful lord who somehow attracts pleasant, well-meaning folks to his house (probably the breakfast), gets a proposition from some dude who, as far as I can tell, is homeless but lives at everyone else’s house because his Charisma is like +8. He generally does seem to be a good person, we find out later.

So he floats this idea that lord grumpypants is down and out this Christmas season, and what he really needs is a boatload of 4-6 year old children to make him feel better. I know that does it for me. But not just any children! We can’t have ones that are too well-to-do, and definitely not the shivering orphans on the street. No that bunch can go die. It will clean up the place a bit (I kid you not).

So let’s take away some doting children from their parents, right at Christmas, and shove them in a drafty castle with a guy who literally could not care less if they live or die. It’ll be fun! And there’s a wager. Fine? Fine.

Off the homeless +8 charisma-haver goes, searching for some children to steal from their parents. He’ll arrange it all. From here on out are some spoilers, but I figure if you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably reading on. If not, go listen to the audiobook and come back. It’s only 4 hours long.

(again, it’s really well performed and produced. Nothing against Audible or Richard Armitage. That man can narrate my Facebook page. My spouse literally dreamed about him last night, taking her to Target.

So we descend into a couple chapters of backstory and learn Lord Grumpypants was not always bad. He had two daughters by his first wife, she died, and he let them run free, because Victorians thought it was either brain or brawn. If you had too much of either they would fight like luchadores dating the same person.

So the girls grow up wild, until Lord Grumpypants’ (LGP) sister steps in, and calls it off. They need education. I like her already, but she does go a bit overboard on the brains side. And the girls grow up.

Back to the main story. The older daughter is dead, you know. Wait, you didn’t know that? Well, LGP really didn’t like her as much as his younger daughter, so that’s ok. She is never mentioned again, save for a reference he had two daughters. The other one married a Common Man, of all things, so she is Never Spoken Of. And LGP is all by his lonesome (not entirely without fault).

But that’s fine! Charisma-master has stolen three wild children from their mother! Money can really buy everything! They are introduced, with the expectation that LGP will see them about 2 minutes a day, so save his old tired nerves. I mean, I have to sort of agree, but he did want them. Maybe the best time for that complaint was BEFORE they got here?

The children are: Moppet, Lassy, and Lad. Like really? They don’t even get names? Alright, we learn later there is a SUSPICIOUS REASON but for goodness sake, call them by other real names at least.

They play around the house, and of course the youngest one (who is high on the brain side of the brain/brawn scale) takes to LGP immediately, evidently determined to get some good out of missing her 4th ever Christmas with her mother.

Lad and Lassy are–wait—no one cares? Ok, no one cares. Three children are really too many, after all. Let the servants take care of them. They pop in from time to time to make sure we haven’t forgotten they’re characters.

They have a nice Christmas and all the little girls and boys get presents! How many, you ask? Like 20 or something. These are “cottage children,” who I guess are allowed, for Christmas, in the house their parents supply with income. They will surely someday become the new group of backbreaking labor LGP sits his fat ass on.

Well, things go on, and little Moppet is such a darling girl. Can’t LGP just keep her around? No, she does have to be returned to her mother eventually. I mean, let’s not be cruel.

Aaaaand then she gets pneumonia, which is a Really Bad Thing, though children bounce just like rubber balls when they’re thrown a hard knock! She’s close to death, and so help me God, if she died I would throw my phone against the wall.

But she doesn’t. Again, I have to interject that the story, even by today’s standards, is very well plotted and written. It held my attention. I commend Audible and Richard Armitage on the production.

So, by this time, LGP has figured out the three are his grandchildren (GASP!). The mother (the daughter in exile) is called because Moppet is on death’s door and killing a kid you stole from her (widowed) mother over Christmas is Bad Sport (Hrmm Hrmm, don’tcha’know).

Of course the child finally makes LGP get the stick out of his butt, only because he really can’t see the child again without some interaction with her mother. I GUESS he can put aside his wounded pride and the grudge he’s been holding for 5 years. Geez, LGP.

You might see where I start to have problems with the plot of this story. Of course everything is resolved, LGP and his daughter and his grandchildren live together for ever after, and Charisma-drifter is a fast friend, his mooching lifestyle guaranteed.

Oh yeah, and LGP was gracious enough to even give his daughter 250 pounds a year to live on, when he happened to read the husband died. But she couldn’t ever talk to him until now. This was one of the final nails in the coffin for the story for me.

(End Review, now some commentary)

Let’s take A Christmas Carol as a contrast. We know Scrooge is a Bad Man—it’s in his name. But through the book we start to see him start to become a better man, and by the end he is resolved, and helps out those lesser than him. Also, and this is key, the story takes place at the very beginning of the Victorian Age.

The Christmas Hirelings, alternately, takes an idle bet with a bored rich white guy, steals children, tries them out to see if they’re as terrible as everyone says, then grudgingly takes back his daughter, estranged for little reason (the second daughter, with no husband, wouldn’t inherit anyway).

So he’s a better man in the end, right? Hell no. He still thinks any other children are vile little things, especially the ones from poorer families. Should have grown up rich instead!

And Lassy and Lad—wait, remember them? No one else does either. LGP still thinks they’re a bother, and the boy is promptly sent off to a boarding school so LGP doesn’t have to deal with him.

There is no redemption in this book. LGP is coerced and tricked into giving his pride a rest, and it only works because a 4yo child almost died under his watch. He’s happy now, so that’s fine. His daughter wasn’t even in on the trick. The Charisma-man did it all, though she does benefit through EXTREMELY BAD CONDITIONS.

What does a person have to do to rise in society? Especially when pushed down, randomly, by an old pouty lord with ill will.

Which brings me to my thesis (1550 words later, yeah sorry/not sorry):

Victorian Society Was a Dumpster Fire. Welcome to my TED talk.

I mean, they’re regarded as the bedrock of our society. They influenced EVERYTHING, and erased a lot more, like LGBT rights, freedom in dress habits, gender conformity, religious persecution, colonization and persecution of other people, etc… They even made circumcision a thing for almost all American people with penises. (Spoilers: It’s because of cereal. Yep.)

What would our society have been like if the Victorians had kept their prejudiced and bigoted opinions to themselves? I know it’s impossible to separate that from their society, and I love Steampunk as much as the next person, but was it worth it?

Over a hundred years of climbing back up the ladder if equal rights. It’s influenced British and American government, and is still touted as a reason for prejudiced behavior. “They did it, and as far as we know it was always this way, right?”

My hope is that a new movement is rising. I know it’s a dark time, but the leaps and bounds we’ve seen in personal rights, equality of money, and killing racism are hopeful. There is a REALLY long way to go, I know, but I have hope.

And I guess that’s my message for you, whatever end-of-year festivals you celebrate: Have Hope in this dark time. As one firmly in the White Male Bucket, I will use my wealth, privilege, and “social default status” to bring equality to our society where I can. Happy Holidays.

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Join us, two authors, to discuss the ins and outs of beta reading, from a writer and a reader perspective. This is the second post in a series on reviewing and critiquing. You can find our first one here, with details on reviewing. Like last time, we are J.S. Fields and William C. Tracy. Here’s a little about us and beta reading:

WCT: I’m William C. Tracy, author of a series of space opera science fantasies, collectively known as the Dissolutionverse, in which a series of planets are connected by music-based magic instead of spaceflight. The more I’ve written, the more I’ve included diverse people and genders to make my worlds more vibrant and real. I also have an epic fantasy coming out next year from NineStar Press.

As I’ve gotten more into the writer community, and specifically the self-publishing area, I’ve been involved with critiquing others’ books, both early versions and ARCs (Advance Reader Copies). I generally like to read science fiction and fantasy, but I’ve also critiqued a few romance and contemporary fiction. The principles are the same.

As I also work in engineering, I’ve learned a lot about the iterative process of design, and so I was able to translate that to my writing. It’s certainly helped in learning to accept that multiple drafts are necessary before a story (or design) is finished.

J.S.: I’m J.S. Fields, author of the hard sci fi/space opera series Ardulum (Forewords INDIES finalist and Gold Crown Literary Society finalist in science fiction). I also write science nonfiction. I recently got an agent (yay!), and moonlight as a reviewer for the New York Journal of Books.

Like most writers, I started doing beta reads and critiques when I began writing as a way to get feedback on my own work. I’ve been a member of a long-running critique co-op for a few years now, but also have a number of stable beta readers (and beta read for a few other authors as well).

My day job is a professor in the hard sciences, so I am very used to being given critical feedback, and giving it as well. Peer review is a brutal, brutal thing sometimes, but I think it prepared me well for fiction writing.

Basic principles of reader feedback and critiquing

WCT: Critiquing is a different animal from reviewing, which we talked about last time. Even if you are not a writer, you are trying to give impressions back to the author, not to other readers. It’s a switch from just enjoying the book to dissecting the book, and your reactions to it. Why did it make you feel this way? Could you have felt a stronger emotion or been more involved in the plot?

There are a couple different types of critiquing, too. A lot of writers have critique groups, where several other people read a chapter or so at a time and give in-depth feedback on that piece. Then there may be an alpha or beta reader, who gets the whole story at a time closer to publication. They give their thoughts on the plot, character, and setting as a whole rather than on individual sections. Finally, there are ARC readers, who are reading a work that is very close to what will be officially published. This is often less for feedback to the author and more to gain a first reader reaction to help publicize the book right when it goes on sale.

J.S.: First off, critique is not reviewing. Crit is meant to help the author, and is not at all meant for reader consumption. At its most basic level, a critique gives the writer one person’s emotions about the piece of writing. When taken with feedback from several other people, the crit can help form a picture of where people are ‘bouncing’ from the work, what resonates, how pacing is progressing, etc.

William has gone into the different types of critiques, but I’ll add a few more. Above what he wrote, there are a few categories of paid readers. The first are technical readers, where a beta reader or critique partner is selected based upon their knowledge of a certain field (I get pulled for this a lot because of my background). These people fix technical issues of worldbuilding, like the physics, the biology, etc. There are also sensitivity readers, who are paid (italics because this involves not just time but also a heavy dose of emotional labor) to read through the work and identify cultural issues. People use sensitivity readers when writing both outside their lane and even when writing in their lane, just to make sure that the experiences presented land as authentically as they should.

How and what should you, as a reader, give as feedback?

WCT: If you are just starting out critiquing—say a friend excitedly gives you something they wrote and asks what you think of it—what do you do? You don’t want to offend them by not liking it, right?

Not necessarily. The first thing is to find out what kind of feedback the author really wants. Do they just want affirmation? In that case, read it and tell the author how proud you are that they finished a story. It’s a hard thing to do, especially at novel length. Maybe mention the parts you liked best, and if they seem comfortable, one part you liked the least, and why.

However, if you ask the author and they say, “no really, give it to me. Tell me what sucks and what’s good,” then you have some work to do. One of the best methods I’ve heard of to give basic feedback is from Mary Robinette Kowal. It’s the ABCD method:

A: Awesome B: Bored C: Confused D: Don’t Believe

Whenever you have a reader reaction—whatever it is, from “That’s cool!” to “Ugh,” to “I hate this character,” to “I don’t get why X did Y,” then try to categorize it in one of the four boxes and make a note with whatever reaction you had. Don’t try to figure out what’s wrong—that’s the author’s job. Just give them your honest feedback as a reader. This keeps you from coloring the author’s perceptions of the story and possibly changing it to something other than the writer intended. Often, what you think was wrong with a scene might be just one aspect of a larger problem in the book. On the other hand, a writer can also change reader’s perceptions of a character by deleting a single word in a description. It’s a complex problem, but that’s what writers do!

J.S.: This definitely varies, but some of the best feedback usually follows a format like William presented, or is a blow-by-blow emotional reaction. This second type is usually accomplished by leaving little notes as you read to tell the author what you were feeling at the time. Even things like ‘ewww no’ or ‘OMG I LOVE THIS’ can help the author know where emotional points are resonating correctly.

You do no favors by sugar coating your comments and reactions. Don’t critique the author, clearly, but all authors must grow a thick skin in order to survive in publishing. They have to learn to take feedback and critique of working drafts is the first place that starts. Be honest (not mean) about what worked for you, what didn’t, and how you felt. Resist the urge to just say ‘I loved it!’ That isn’t helpful at all.

In that same vein, you don’t need to tell the author how to fix something. You can offer suggestions, such as ‘I think I would have liked this more if X did it instead of Y,’ but don’t rewrite whole swaths of text unless you are trying to illustrate a point you cannot manage to do otherwise. New writers, especially, are prone to sterilized works when too many rewriters have had their hands in a manuscript and have overwritten the original text. Give the author feedback and let them decide how to integrate it.

How should authors react to critiques?

WCT: Imagine this: you are giving your precious newborn baby to someone else to hold—just for a moment—and they tell you it’s ugly! You’re going to get defensive, right?

In the world of writers, this is a no-no. DO NOT respond negatively to critiques from your writing group, your critique partner, or your alpha or beta readers. If you asked for feedback, then you have to be open to getting it, bad or good.

Some writers take this even further, and when a writing group meets, the one who wrote the submission for that session is not allowed to speak at all, or defend their work. They might be able to ask some questions after everyone has given their feedback, but that’s pretty much it.

Why so harsh? Because the writer needs to turn off their protectiveness when getting constructive feedback so they can instead focus on fixing problems. Responding to a single critique will bog things down and keep a writer from getting all the information they need to make a better story. Instead, swallow that pride, gather all the feedback in the spirit it was given, and figure out where the collective input points out holes in your story.

Then use it to turn your baby from an ugly mess to a beautiful creation.

J.S.: 100% everything that William said. Don’t defend, don’t explain. If you have to explain something in person, your text has failed. Just listen.

I will add one caveat. If you are writing marginalized characters you will at some point get critique feedback that has obvious bias in it. It can be really tempting to just shout the critique giver down. Definitely do tell them why their feedback wasn’t constructive, but also use it as an opportunity to see how your characters will land with different demographics. For instance, I specifically chose to send my nonbinary fantasy novel through my critique group made mostly of cis white males, knowing that they would miss the more nuanced discussion in the book. Their feedback helped me identify areas where gender needed to be better discussed for a broad audience.

Moving past basic critiquing…

WCT: If you are familiar with everything we’ve talked about so far, there are some more complicated aspects to critiquing we haven’t mentioned.

Being Prescriptive: Remember the ABCD method? What a critiquer is not supposed to do is give ideas or prescriptions of how to fix the problems they’ve found. However, there are cases when this is allowed. Usually, this is when the writing group knows each other very well and has worked together for a long time. They understand some of the common problems that author makes, and some of them may have experience with the same issue.

This also may depend on the skill and experience of the people involved. If a very experienced author is giving feedback to a less experienced one, they may be able to give some simple prescriptions to help lead the newer writer to a quicker fix for their story, rather than struggling through everything alone.

However, if you are that more experienced author, this gives you an extra burden. This is not your story. You may think you can help out this poor newbie with some of the problems obvious in their craft. But make very sure you are not influencing the story they want to write. Offering prescriptions on certain character traits or technical issues with the story is probably alright. But prescribing the direction the story should take leads to taking the story away from that writer. This is the danger, and why you should only prescribe if you are aware of the ramifications.

J.S.: Nothing beats a well-worn critique group where everyone has worked together for a few years and knows each other’s strengths and weaknesses. If you can get into one of these groups, as William said, many of the above rules may not apply.

You can also get down into the weeds a lot more with a critique group. William and I have been in the same group for about two years now, and also beta read for each other. Over time our feedback has changed, especially as we are familiar with the deeper worlds each of us write in. What started as a more formal feedback: ‘I’m unclear what is happening here. This character’s motivation confuses me,’ has morphed into feedback like: ‘EMOTIONS! WHERE ARE THE EMOTIONS? Also X would never do that because she had that thing happen to her so really I think she should just STAB HIM AND BE DONE WITH IT.’

WCT: LOL. This is so true. I think it also helps us as writers to be able to give each other such raw feedback instead of formalized phrases. Often the all-caps and keyboard-banging “WHAT JUST HAPPENED??” when one of us surprises the other is even better in terms of feedback. We get a true “fan” reaction (because of course we are fans of each other’s work) rather than just anyone reading our stories.

In conclusion

WCT: Books are complicated creatures. The popular version is a lone author, slaving for months or years over a draft, which then is sent to publishers and produced into a novel. While it does require a lot of work on the author’s part, often there is a great amount of help from an army of alpha and beta readers, maybe a critique partner, then later developmental editing and copy editing. This is not to mention the revisions the author does alone.

That said, it is primarily the author’s vision. So if you are in the position to offer feedback, do what you can to help that author out. Give your honest opinion, as much or as little as you are asked for. The person writing may or may not take your changes, but know that they are appreciated. When the finished novel is published, take pride that you were a part of it!

J.S.: Your book isn’t ready for submission/agents/publication until you’ve had it go through beta reading and preferably, a critique group. It just isn’t. You need the feedback from other perspectives to help identify problem areas you were not aware of.

In that same vein, you need to critique other’s work in order to grow as a writer. It can seem hard to find time to balance doing critique for others when you barely have time to write, but seeing issues like pacing, head hopping, etc., perpetually crop up in newbie writing can help you avoid those issues in your own work. Time spent critiquing is never wasted. Long term critique groups tend to grow up together, too, which can be a very exciting phenomenon as you all hit those bigger milestones together.

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