Tag Archives: WorldCon 76 San Jose

On Writing: Two Months

I’m not sure how I wound up in this place.  This place of intellectual challenge and delight while reading and writing differently than before.  In two short months, I have seen remarkable change in the way I approach them, the keepers of my sanity.  Somehow, I’ve become richer, more sure of myself, more ready to do the hard work required to become better at reading, and writing.

A lifetime of reading voraciously, anything within reach.  Some above my grade level, others extremely inappropriate for a reader of any age, all of it like a drug no one else around understood.  They watched me read, they fed my habit, and considered themselves readers too. But somehow my attachment to books and the spells they wove were different for me.

I read all the time, often getting in trouble in class for not paying enough attention.  I’m bad at math but I still think I got the better part of the deal. At temp jobs, “You mean you’d rather read than work?”  Uh, yeah.

But some books felt like I was just skating on the surface.  I could see figures beneath the ice, enticing me to join them, but I couldn’t reach them.  I didn’t know how.

But I kept reading.  From “should read,” “best of,” “canon,” lists.  Trying to organize what felt like a very disorganized approach to reading.  I made lists of my own, going through bibliographies carefully. I was looking for clues to a puzzle I didn’t understand.

The lists caused minor panic attacks.  The boxes on my shelves leered at me. And still I brought them into my living space.  How was I ever going to read them all? Sometimes I would admonish myself to read faster, harder, eschew everything unnecessary to daily life for the sake of reading.

I joined a social media site for readers, found a group and settled in for a couple of years.  There I developed rules of engagement for my reading. Only these topics, only series I had already started, only authors whose work I had begun reading.  But someone would warble a book or, in the case of egregious generosity, send the first in a series to my Kindle app. The nerve!

Then what was supposed to be a cozy little community blew up in my face over my unwillingness to move a book from a challenge which suited my needs to another one which suited someone else.  It got ugly, names were called, fat shaming was invoked and I sat at my computer sobbing. All of this over a book? I made my stand, “My reading is for my pleasure, not yours.”

At the end of the calendar year I left for good.  And went back to reading without the interesting challenges, and the mildly entertaining cliquish conversations.  I was on my own again, still searching for people to talk books with.

It was in this cozy little community that I started to write reviews.  Everyone did it. So I joined in. And because the internet and blogging had always fascinated me, I started a blog, several times.  7Stillwell is probably the sixth or seventh iteration.

All through my BA studies, I read interesting things.  Any time I had the chance to study something cross-disciplinary between literature and history I took it.  Women in Asia, Medieval literature, anything for which I could get credit in a history degree I took.

My way of reading was deepening, my craving for getting under the ice intensified.  Some I could crack a little hole and peek through, others I could see the figures more clearly but I couldn’t find my way in.

My writing.  Well that was something altogether different.  I thought I wanted to write grand fiction stories, but realized I didn’t want the responsibility of trying to keep a fictional world balanced.  But I kept trying.

And I’d never been satisfied with my reviews.  I read others, both peer and professional. But I kept finding myself fumbling around, especially at the end of a review.  I couldn’t stick the landing sometimes. But I kept at it.

I read book blogs and thought, “Oh, I know I can do better than that.”  And I would continue reading, and writing about it. Then I got myself listed on a book blog for authors to find reviewers.  And they came calling. Not many, but a few. Some I turned away. Some I accepted and then regretted that choice. One came through like a shining star, and I asked Alexander Watson what else he was working on and would he make sure I got copies.

The really good books are the ones that make it worthwhile.  Alexander’s River Queens was the one that kept me going because it was so elegant, and he was so professional about promoting his book.  He kept me going when work was turning ugly. He reminded me why I had such a deep abiding love for books, and the sanctuary they offered me.

But I was getting more restless.  Because now I was reading books that were touted by groups of people I had respect for and wondering what I was missing.  Kafka? Yeah, he’s fine but this one story in this collection was really clunky, how did it ever get picked? Steve Martin?  Yeah … no. Ready Player One?  Okay, not an 80s kid.  Don’t get it.

By August 2018, I was in such a funk.  Work was quickly going off the rails, I was discovering more and more I had at most two friends to talk about literature and books with.  I wanted more something, everything, different.

And so there was WorldCon 76 in my backyard.  The reader friend on the East Coast convinced me to cough up the money.  It was a lot of money. But he was right, it would be a shame to miss it when it was less than five miles from home.  And, wow. I had a great time, better than any other con I’d ever been to. I was on my own, attending panels I wanted, and just being me.  What a revelation.

My very first panel of my WorldCon experience was M. Todd Gallowglas’ “LitCrit for Geeks.”  Wait. What? This can’t be right. I thought LitCrit was dry and dull and required special skills and, here’s this writer I’ve never heard of making it sound like a lot of fun.  Something worthwhile.

When I got home from the weekend, I reread my notes.  Intertextuality, metatextuality, Marxism, feminism, new historicism?  Race, gender, deconstruction, OOO? And for the next month while I fought the demons at work, and tried a new approach to reading and journaling, I thought about LitCrit.  This geek wanted more but what?

I lost my job in September.  Packed up my stuff and came home.  Moped around for a few days and thought “now what?”  The need to read, and write, remained. But I wanted to go deeper.  I knew there were ways to do that but I didn’t have a clue where to start.  Just reading and recapping weren’t enough anymore.

Little did I know that the guy I hadn’t heard of would turn out to be my mentor and show me the way to look at things differently.  Little did I know how much I was going to change. Little did I know how much work it would be and how happy it would make me. Here, finally, was something worthwhile to do with my time.

In two months, I’ve read a lot more than usual.  Feeling myself slipping into the cracks, acknowledging myself, figuring things out.  More personal growth than I thought possible. Then two books which really shook things up and made me realize while I was just starting, I was doing it.  I was reading deeper and writing better about what I read. I felt like my reviews were taking on meaning.

First, The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin.  Jangled, sharp edged, arrhythmic.  There were times I’d think, “She won a Hugo for this?  What am I not seeing?” I’d put it down and think about the new theories I was learning, think about how they might apply.  I stuttered my way through until something happened which betrayed my trust in the story. I literally had to have a bit of a lie-down because I was so angry with what I had just figured out about the main characters.  I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go on.

Applying the Pearl Rule still doesn’t come easily to me, and Jemisin had won back to back Hugos three years in a row for this series.  That was important. What was I missing?

Off to the internet to read what other people thought, what other reviewers wrote.  This is unusual for me because I want to go into a book with as few preconceptions as possible.  But damn it, this was supposed to be brilliant. I had just been at WorldCon surrounded by really smart people who talked about her and this series.  Besides, my mentor suggested I join him for a group read. And he was having problems too.

What I read reassured me enough to dig back in.  To forgive Jemisin enough to finish the story. I was happy I did, and now the thinking.  Now I had permission to think and do it deeply. “Pick five schools of theory and apply them to The Fifth Season,” he said.  Oh boy.

November.  “We’re going to spend the month on A Visit From the Goon Squad,” he said.

“Oh ha ha,” I thought.  “A month?”

For all intents and purposes, I’ve read it three times.  Back to back to back. Each time finding something different, something I hadn’t picked up on before.  Three times. I don’t do that. But apparently I do now..

Jennifer Egan is brilliant.  Her collection of thirteen stories are enriched by being told in non-chronological order..  Not only is her prose engaging, her characters and their stories transcend archetype to become fully formed.

This character Bennie leads to his wife Stephanie leads to his brother-in-law Jules leads to starlet Kitty Jackson leads to …. This story about Bennie in high school leads to his visit to a band he signed who no longer make the grade which leads to …. Seamlessly, and with epiphanies.  “Oh, that explains why Sasha’s a kleptomaniac.”

Spend a month?  I could imagine spending an entire semester on it.  And all the while, with my spreadsheet and 30+ pages of notes, thinking is happening and I feel myself opening up and going deeper.  “Pick five schools of thought and apply them,” he said again.

And as with The Fifth Season, I discovered not all schools can be applied to all books.  New Criticism and Feminism will almost always apply. Trying to make my other choices apply meant looking at the material differently.  Was race a viable filter? Culture? What does culture mean in this text?

I reminded myself I was at the beginning of this fascinating journey, I couldn’t possibly know how it would, or if it could, work together.  Having to think about how there might be other ways to interpret the text made me reach, and stretch. There were days when I flailed, a lot.  “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here,” I would gripe. But I kept writing, and thinking.

It’s been two months of work.  Steady, daily work. Reading Michael Moorcock’s essays still make me anxious because he’s so damned erudite and he eloquently writes about things I’m just now learning.  Instead of skipping or stopping or throwing my mental hands up and saying, “This is too hard,” I kept at it.

I kept at it.  That was huge. I was no longer in the realm of wanting to just move on to the next book, or deciding not to write about it.  And things I’d read about process and writing from other writers whose work I enjoyed seeped in.

Here was Anne Lamott with her “shitty first draft,” from Bird by Bird.  Richard Kadrey, Chuck Wendig, Kameron Hurley … “do the work, it’s okay to be scared, writing is hard work, and no one has to ever see what you write.”  This last perhaps as important to me as Anne Lamott’s.

Knowing Michael was the only one seeing the work I chose to show him helped.  Trusting he would tell me if I was going down the wrong road, helped. His brief encouraging comments about my mind and the great work I was doing thrilled me.

“Trust yourself,” he said.  He wasn’t in the same county, so he couldn’t hear when I laughed.  “Dude,” I thought.

I kept working through my personal grievances and anxieties.  Days when I didn’t want to get out of bed because the PTSD was making it hard.  But I did it. I got up and went to work.

Because the work is what keeps me sane right now.  And learning about different ways to dig into the text and make the connections and then write about them make me really happy.  Before September, I was prepared to just keep reading as I had been. Trying to find writing classes which didn’t really fit but were affordable and might offer some guidance, and trying to write to the specifications of assignments which made no sense to me.  That’s what I was doing before.

Now, in November, I think differently about what I’m reading.  I look for the connections, I apply filters, I think things like, “Why would she write it that way?  How does [some school of theory] apply here?” I allow myself to believe I know what I’m doing, to trust I have a lifetime’s knowledge to apply, and to know I’m really doing the work.

Examining A Visit From the Goon Squad with a spreadsheet was something I had never, ever thought to do.  But it seemed to be the best way to really dig in and pay attention.  It’s never occurred to me even once that it’s weird to be this excited about reading better and deeper, or that my writing would become stronger.  It’s not weird, it’s quite wonderful. And I look forward to doing the work every single day.

Review: A Love Letter to Kameron Hurley

The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

Title:  The Geek Feminist Revolution
AuthorKameron Hurley
Published: 2016
ISBN-13: 9780765386243
PublisherTor
Twitter: @KameronHurley
Publisher’s Blurb  Outspoken and provocative, double Hugo Award-winning essayist Kameron Hurley writes with passion and conviction on feminism, geek culture, the rise of women in science fiction and fantasy, and the diversification of publishing.

The first panel I attended at WorldCon 2018 was M. Todd Gallowglas’ Lit Crit for Geeks.  I was enthralled. One of the writers he mentioned was you, as doing some great work in feminism.  I dutifully wrote your name down in my journal.

Since then, I’ve lost my job and spend my days reading and writing and thinking.  I hash things out a lot in my brain, the one that never shuts up. And then I write stuff for my mentor to read.

One evening after dinner, a friend took me book shopping.  Kepler’s is this fabulous indie bookstore whose customers banded together to keep it from closing its doors.  There were two names on my list that I knew would go home with me that night, yours and N. K. Jemisin. And since I didn’t know where to start with you, I picked up The Geek Feminist Revolution.

Always a voracious reader, I am inhaling them now.  This is my job while I figure out about the day job, I read and write about what I’m reading.  Not only does it give me direction for a life which could easily be adrift and and feeding my food addiction, it makes me stronger in so many ways.

Never really shy about self-reflection, I now have the time and space to really look at some of the things coming up right now.  And sometimes, it is some scary, sad shit.

“But because my body was coded female, I was never ever assumed to have the kind of knowledge or credibility that a man would have.” (p. 37)

I read the first 38 pages of your book and sobbed.  I felt so completely bereft that I had to set it aside for a week or so.  Because those pages were my story. The story of being a woman and the rampant sexism which had become so normalized I didn’t see it anymore.  I read your story and began to understand that not only was I not alone in this mess, but that there were ways I could raise my voice.

But first I had to reconcile some stuff within myself.  Because the stuff that was coming up was more than just re-evaluating my entire life in terms of how I’d been treated because I was female, it was looking at some pretty horrifying events and having the light bulb go off.  Which led to, “Well shit, no wonder. I never had a chance.”

And without going into too much detail here, there were new realizations about my parents.  Then there was looking at my most recent job and realizing that it had been a put-up job from the day I walked in as a temp until the day I walked out as a no longer employed here type.  Things started slamming into place. And it was scary.

I’ve been following you on Twitter and reposting some of your articles on Facebook, because you speak to me in a way that no woman ever has before.  And that’s valuable to me. I’ve learned a lot from you.

Taking a deep breath, I picked The Geek Feminist Revolution up again, and only put it down when other, more pressing matters demanded my attention.  It made me wish I knew you well enough to take you to dinner and ask you to just tell me stories about your life.  To talk about process, and yeah it sucks to have to have a day job for the insurance, and holy shit I hadn’t realized how bad the sexism is.

There are hard truths in your book.

At my last job there was a week when I had to actually go to my manager and explain to him what being a part of the team and having a voice meant.  The group admin wouldn’t put me on the meeting agenda because I didn’t have Director in my title. She would only do it if my male manager said it was okay.  I was pissed. So pissed I was vibrating. And that I had to explain it several times in very small words just made it worse.

Reading your book gives me such hope.  For the first time in my life, at a time when people are looking forward to retirement, I realize I still have time to make change in my world. I have time to rearrange everything I thought I knew about myself and create a different life for myself.  The life I want is one which tempers my very emotional responses and allows me to reasonably explain to someone why they’re not allowed to take my voice away.

I get to figure this out, and you have motivated me to keep doing that.  To read, and write, for the sheer joy of it. To understand I need a day job for the health insurance benefits, and to pay my bills.  And that all of it’s okay and necessary to survive. My writing can be my night job. It doesn’t have to be a binary choice anymore.

If I could go back in time, I’d tell my middle-school self to keep writing, because writing would keep her happy and sane.  I would insist she not give it up and not worry about what it looked like or sounded like. I would tell her no matter what, do not quit writing, even if it’s just a sentence about how particularly shitty the bullies were that day.  “Keep writing, always,” I would whisper in her ear.

I had so much to heal from, so much to learn, it’s hard to regret it took me this long to realize what I had been keeping from myself.  Reading books like yours help so much, and I don’t know how to tell you what an impact you’ve had.

I close this with an open invitation, if our paths cross at any time, dinner is my treat.  It’s the least I can do, aside from buying your other books and joining your Patreon once I’m gainfully employed again.

Did I say “thank you?”

Review: Lady Astronaut Series

Lady Astronaut Series by Mary Robinette Kowal

Title:  The Lady Astronaut Series
The Lady Astronaut of Mars” – short story (free!)
The Calculating Stars
The Fated Sky
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Published: 2013 – 2018
ISBN 13:  9780765378385 & 9780765398949
Publisher: Tor
Twitter: @maryrobinette
What’s Auntie Reading Now? pictures:  Fated Sky

Publisher’s Blurb:   (Calculating Stars):  … with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too—aside from some pesky barriers like thousands of years of history and a host of expectations about the proper place of the fairer sex. And yet, Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions may not stand a chance.

(Fated Sky):  Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars.

Mary Robinette Kowal with yours truly
WorldCon 76 – 2018

I am not kidding even a little when I say these books jumped to the top of my list of favorites.  And getting to meet Mary Robinette Kowal was a highlight of my WorldCon experience.  She really is kind, patient and generous.

The Lady Astronaut series is entertaining, even while discussing important topics like sexism, racism and, climate change, just to name a few.

And her publisher Tor has announced there will be two more books in the series.

The Calculating Stars
This book literally starts off with a bang.  A cataclysmic event which takes out most of the east coast of the US, and precipitates a space race to move the world’s population to another planet.

It’s an alternate history of the US space program set in the late 1950s and grapples with the big question we find ourselves facing now, “How do we save ourselves?”

Elma is a mathematician who ferried planes around during World War II.  She is smart, capable and, stubborn.  Her only visible flaw is that she’s a woman in that time period.  She has to fight so much just to have her contributions to the space program noticed.  She’s fine  out of the public eye as a computer.  But that’s not what she wants for herself, or her friends who also fly.

Part of Elma’s story is her social anxiety.  In school she was shamed for being smart.  One of her coping mechanisms is to count prime numbers.  But doing that doesn’t keep her from throwing up before she makes public appearances.  So she does what any sensible person would do, she goes to the doctor for help.

Miltown prescription in hand, Elma is better able to handle her anxiety.  It has to be kept a secret though, because open knowledge would cause those the men in charge to view her as an hysterical female and drop her from the program.

It would have been just as easy to not write this about Elma.  It’s already nearly impossible for her to make any headway on equality in the space program.  Giving her protagonist social anxiety, Kowal shows just how determined Elma is to make equality a realty.

The things the women have to do to prove their worth are demeaning.  Something most women would identify with, no matter their generation or profession.  And all the women striving to be in the space program paste their best smiles on and go through the paces.  They know there’s a lot on the line for so many reasons.

By the end of The Calculating Stars Elma has earned her place in the program setting up the Moon as a way station to Mars.

The Fated Sky
There’s a colony on the moon now, and Elma rotates on and off, flying shuttles to Earth and helping prepare for the next big step, colonizing Mars.

It isn’t until the director realizes that the navigational computer isn’t reliable and too hard to program that a woman is considered for the crew.  Elma’s highly visible profile as the “Lady Astronaut” makes her the choice to go at the expense of someone else’s place.  And living in close quarters makes it harder on everyone involved.

Seven people on a space ship to Mars.  There’s a lot of tension.  Affairs are revealed, old wounds are picked at, and Elma does her best to roll with it.  We finally see what’s been festering between Stetson Parker and Elma York in both books.

We also get to see the astronauts try to work through the personal issues which could very well be the downfall of the mission to Mars.  The best thing about Elma is she’s always trying to understand, and learn, when her privileged white background gets in the way.

By the end of the book, landing on Mars has become not routine, but is well on its way.

New to the Stacks: WorldCon Edition

The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal
My Year of Creative Reading by M. Todd Gallowglas
Space Opera by Catheryn Valente
Yaqteenya: The Old World by Yasser Bahjatt
  • The Fated Sky Mary Robinette Kowal ~ Read
  • My Year of Creative Reading – M. Todd Gallowglas ~ Read (No review)
  • Space Opera – Catherynne M. Valente ~ DNF
  • Yaqteenya: The Old World – Yassar Bahjatt ~ DNF

Three Days at WorldCon 76: Sunday

Day 1Day 2 – Day 3: Sunday, August 19, 2018

WorldCon Sunday

Exhausted! By the time I got home Sunday afternoon, I was veering into walls.

Panel:
SETI:  What Do We Do When We Find Them? – Andrew Fraknoi Guy Consolmagno, SB Divya, Douglas Vakoch, Lonny Brooks

Wow!  Lots of interesting questions about contacting extra-terrestrial intelligence.  While there was a massive amount of smarts on the panel, it was really cool to learn Vatican City has an observatory, and the director of the observatory, Guy J. Consolmagno, was on the panel.

“We’re always looking for ourselves.”

Interesting questions:
How do we not anthropomorphize aliens?
Maybe we should warn them about us?
What are we not including/asking?
What is our motivation for searching for extraterrestrial intelligence?
What are the consequences of contact?
Will aliens be truthful?  (Based on human history, there’s been a lot of dissembling.)
Should we just remain quiet?
Should we be more powerful?

Recommended Reading:
Would You Baptize An Extraterrestrial?

John Scalzi Signature

After the panel it was time for another swing through the Dealer’s Room, and find the line for a John Scalzi autograph.

What a great weekend!

Three Days at WorldCon 76: Saturday

Day 1 – Day 2: Saturday, August 18, 2018 – Day 3

WorldCon Saturday

The must do event was the KaffeeKlatsche with @Mary Robinette Kowal and @astroKjell (Kjell Lindgren) .  MRK has written two of my favorite books ever, her Lady Astronaut series.  (Reviews coming much later when I get caught up with stuff.)

Getting to sit at a table and talk to the woman who wrote a fantastic book whose protagonist is strong, smart and an advocate for women in the space program knocked my socks off.  Oh, and a real live astronaut.  What a great way to start the day.

Mary and Kjell are some of the best people I’ve ever met.  They were kind and generous with their time, and allowed the 10 of us at their table to ask questions.  I’m grateful to for the opportunity to meet and engage with them.

Mary Robinette Kowal

The Calculating Stars signature

Kjell Lindgren

Kjell Lindgren signature

Panel:
1001 Years Later – What Happened to Arabian FictionShayma Alshareef and Yasser Bahjatt

1001 Nights is the first anthology ever.
“Fiction gives voice to the voiceless.”

Science fiction writing is booming in the Middle East now.  Yasser Bahjatt started a publishing house so that these voices can be heard.  One of his goals is to work with translators so that English readers get to hear the voices too.  It’s a really exciting development for world science fiction/fantasy

Recommended reading:
Frankenstein in Baghdad

Celebrity sighting:  George R R Martin in the audience

Panel:
Women Who Out Steampunked Steampunk:  Real Life Soldiers, Inventors, TravellersCarrie Sessarego.  

I couldn’t possibly do justice to Carrie’s roll call of Regency and Victorian era women who “broke” the rules.

Recommended Reading:
The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel

Panel:
Houston, We Have a Problem …Bridget Landry, Norman Sperling, Kjell Lindgren

Two thoughts:  Failure is how we learn, and make new mistakes

Three Days at WorldCon 76: Friday

Day 1:  Friday, August 17, 2018 – Day 2Day 3

WorldCon Friday

I left fandom years ago because I wasn’t really enjoying myself.  Old friends have died or moved on and I wandered off to figure out me.  Early cons are where I realized I was “too freaky for the mundanes, and too mundane for the freaks.”

While WorldCon76 was my second worldcon, it was my best con ever!  Big backpack stuffed with con survival gear (food, books, journals, pens, etc.), bowler hat squarely on my head, I wandered the convention center with a big smile on my face.  Thank you Richard for insisting I go.

My recaps are an effort to wrangle my notes into one accessible place.  Notes are incomplete because there’s no way I could keep up with people like @MGallowglas or Shayma Alshareef and Yasser Bahjatt.  Mistakes are mine, not theirs.

My Year of Creative Reading by M. Todd Gallowglas

Panel:
Geeks Guide to Literary Theory – M Todd Gallowglas – @MGallowglas

Recommended Reading:

After the panel I wandered down to the Dealer’s Room to table F19 and talked to Todd for a few minutes and picked up a copy of My Year of Creative Reading, which he signed for me.

Then an hour plus interlude waiting in line to sign up for the @Mary Robinette Kowal and @astroKjell (Kjell Lindren) KaffeKlatsch scheduled for the next day.  Best reason for waiting in line.  Ever.

Panel:
AfrofuturismSteven Barnes & @StevenBarnes1

Afrofuturism is the myth, fiction, art, and science, the cinema and music and dance of the children of the African Diaspora.

Recommended Reading: