Sunk Costs and the 2016 WFC

Back in January, I sent the WFC2016 concom an email letting them know that I would not be attending unless they posted accessibility and harassment policies, as the membership and extended community had been asking them to do for months. They eventually (and very grudgingly) did put up some (painfully anemic) policies, and I decided to wait and see if their disregard for the concerns raised by the membership would continue.

Oops, they did it again.

I just sent another email:

Dear World Fantasy 2016 Organizers,

I’m afraid I will not be able to attend your conference this year. Given Darrel Schweitzer’s ongoing dismissal of (and disrespect for) membership concerns raised about the programming and recent reports that he will not be making any changes to address those concerns, I don’t feel that the World Fantasy 2016 Committee respects me as a member for anything more than the cash I put down for my membership.

I have attended the past several World Fantasies, and I always buy my membership for the next year at the previous year’s conference. Because of your strict no refund policy — which conveniently protects you from any direct protest on the part of the membership — I will be sucking this up as a sunk cost.

Mr. Schweitzer’s statements online have given me every reason to believe that your response to this will be a not-terribly-well-veiled ‘don’t let the door hit you on the way out.’ However, should the committee hold different opinions on the value of the membership and our concerns, I would urge you to take action to correct the issues that have been raised around programming by writers like Anne Leckie, Ken Liu, John Scalzi, Nora Jemisin, Sarah Pinsker, Marie Brennan, Jim Hines, Foz Meadows, etc. I can hold my hotel reservation until the week before the con without any penalty, and if changes are made then I would prefer to use my membership. I am, sadly, not terribly optimistic for this outcome.

Best regards,

Alyc Helms
Howling PC Ignoramus and Outrage Junkie

 

This isn’t an easy decision, but I’m a writer of pulp adventure fantasy. One of my main focuses in writing The Dragons of Heaven and The Conclave of Shadow is to take the kind of fun adventure tales I love and drag them into the 21st century where I can critique some of the things — like Asian fetishization, colonialism, white saviorism(is that an ism?), sexism, racism, etc. — that were most deeply problematic about the original pulps.

This is me taking the $150 I paid towards a professional opportunity I hoped would be fun, and treating it as a sunk cost. It is the only form of protest I feel is open to me, and I place a greater value on my need to be ethical around these sorts of issues than I do on attending this event.

So… I guess here’s hoping the WFC places some sort of value in its membership. As I said in my letter to them, I’m not optimistic.

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Where Are We Now?: Georgina Kamsika

The Clarion Workshops (Clarion in San Diego and Clarion West in Seattle) are by-audition workshops for writers of speculative fiction (SF/Fantasy/Horror). For six weeks during the summer, eighteen writers come together under the instruction of six seasoned masters of genre. The students churn out one story and seventeen critiques a week. It’s an intense experience, the sort that can break people down and break them through to becoming better writers. The intensity of the shared experience can help build lasting bonds between classmates that are as much family as friendship.

It isn’t the right experience for everyone. Some individuals shut down under that kind of pressure. Some classes run into interpersonal conflicts that muddy the potential for bonding. Some people can’t afford to go in terms of time or money. But for me (and for my seventeen littermates in the class of Clarion West 2012), it was a life-changing experience in the best possible way.

For the past six weeks, I’ve been checking in with my cohort from CW2012 and asking them to talk about their CW experiences: where they were as writers before the workshop, how the workshop impacted their writing, what they’re working on now, etc. I fell a little behind in posting the interviews, so we have two Seventh Week treats.

Like dandelion seeds, we’ve dispersed along different courses, some of us hitting ‘measurable’ success markers earlier than others. For better or worse, that’s how this writing thing works. But that’s not the full measure of our potential. One of my classmates in her interview quotes our Week 4 instructor, Connie Willis: “Writing is not a career, it’s a holy vocation. You put in as much time as it takes.” Our vocation is subject to the whims of chance and opportunity. It’s never easy, it’s never over, and it’s different for every person.


Today we have Georgina Kamsika, who may have set a record for destroying the world in new and interesting ways every week.IMG_2448

What was your writing and publishing experience coming into Clarion West 2012?

I’d been writing and had a lot of semi professional fiction published. It was a fun way to get eyes on my writing and gain some feedback. From there I joined the now-closed Chuck Palahniuk The Cult writing workshop and had a blast writing and critiquing short stories. I’d written and tried to sell my first novel, which got to the second round of an Angry Robot open door, but even I knew wasn’t good enough to go all the way. My second novel was published by Legend Press in 2011, but it was still a long way from what I wanted to write.

What sort of expectations did you have for the workshop?

I didn’t know what to expect. I’d seen authors such as Neil Gaiman talk on social media at length about how good an experience it was and saw graduates enjoying it. But the specifics? No clue.

I knew I was lucky and that I had no idea how I’d made it that far. I knew I’d spend time with 17 other people and with a number of very experienced authors and editors, but that’s it.

What was something indispensable or revelatory that you learned from an instructor or special guest? From one of your classmates?

Some of it was just that I’m allowed to pick stories apart. When I watch films, I love to discuss what works and what doesn’t. Connie Willis sitting with us watching an old Cary Grant film, shouting out plot tropes and story tricks, was great fun.

Talking and listening to Chuck Palahniuk was also a treat. I loved his work – as shown by joining his workshop – and learned so much from his advice on all of our stories. Plus when he told me to write a story I would be too embarrassed to show my family, I took it and ran with it.

The indispensable advice was George R.R. Martin telling me to be less bleak and add more hope to my stories. That was quite a revelation. I’ve stopped killing absolutely everyone now. [Ed. Note: When GRRM tells you you’re bleak, you know you’ve hit the bleak apotheosis]

How was the workshop meaningful for you? How has it impacted your writing?

I made a new family. Found families tend to be the best anyway, but the seventeen new classmates, the tutors, the support staff, the previous classes, the subsequent classes. We joke that it’s a cult, (it’s not, we don’t have a special handshake), but really it’s the biggest extended family you could wish for.

It taught me to knuckle down and finish my work. I learned to get over the fear of trying new things, however much it might not work for someone.  I learned that if I pleased some of my new family with my writing, that is more than enough.

What’s something you’ve accomplished since the workshop that you’re really proud of (doesn’t have to be writing related!)

I’ve written another book. My third, ignoring my trunked first and published second. This one is an Urban Fantasy where the protagonist, Saraswath, is a four-thousand-year-old Hindu goddess working as a police detective in Sheffield, England.

I’ve also done a lot of critiquing, editing, and sensitivity reading. Mostly for friends with a small amount that’s paid work. Its great fun and I really enjoy it. I started a tiny weekly writers group that’s both fun and useful. We have a great time and it’s perfect for spitballing plot ideas and questions.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just completed an early draft of a YA novel set in London. The best way to describe it is to imagine the Buffy Scooby gang crossed with the Godfather, plus magic.

Pick one and answer: What do you say when people ask, “Where do you get your ideas from?” Do you have an unusual talent or skill? What keeps you awake at night? If you weren’t a writer what would you be? What are you going to do right now when you’ve finished this ordeal?

What keeps you awake at night?

It’s terrible, but it’s also amazing. So often as I’m in a half-awake state, almost asleep, my characters decide to have a conversation. It could be anything, from solving a knotty plot problem to them gossiping over a cup of tea. The thing is, if I don’t wake myself up to write it down, I’ll never remember it in the morning. So my phone with a notepad app is always right next to my bed.  [Ed. Note: Ugh. Yes. This!]

What question do you wish I’d asked? Answer it!

I wish you’d never asked anything, I’m British and talking is hard! [Ed. Note: I take it as a sign of your great love for me that you answered these at all <3]

OK, a real question. What was the hardest part of attending Clarion West?

At first, it was going to live in another country for six weeks with seventeen complete strangers. As I said, I am British and talking is hard, so this sounded like a nightmare scenario. When it came down to it, the hardest part was saying goodbye and leaving!

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But she got to go home to this sweet thing, so it’s all good!


Georgina Kamsika is a speculative fiction writer born in Yorkshire, England, to Anglo-Indian immigrant parents, and has spent most of her life explaining her English first name, Polish surname, and Asian features. Her latest novel is with her agent, and she is currently working on a Young Adult novel following a young woman pulled into a magical war between her family and the family of her best friend.

You can find Georgina at www.kamsika.com and on Twitter @thessilian. You can still sponsor her in the Clarion West Writathon here.

Where Are We Now?: Henry Lien

The Clarion Workshops (Clarion in San Diego and Clarion West in Seattle) are by-audition workshops for writers of speculative fiction (SF/Fantasy/Horror). For six weeks during the summer, eighteen writers come together under the instruction of six seasoned masters of genre. The students churn out one story and seventeen critiques a week. It’s an intense experience, the sort that can break people down and break them through to becoming better writers. The intensity of the shared experience can help build lasting bonds between classmates that are as much family as friendship.

It isn’t the right experience for everyone. Some individuals shut down under that kind of pressure. Some classes run into interpersonal conflicts that muddy the potential for bonding. Some people can’t afford to go in terms of time or money. But for me (and for my seventeen littermates in the class of Clarion West 2012), it was a life-changing experience in the best possible way.

This week, the classes of Clarion and Clarion West 2016 are starting on an amazing journey. It’s a time when Clarion alums get nostalgic, and I’m no exception! For the next six weeks, I’ll be checking in with my cohort from CW2012 and asking them to talk about their CW experiences: where they were as writers before the workshop, how the workshop impacted their writing, what they’re working on now, etc.

Like dandelion seeds, we’ve dispersed along different courses, some of us hitting ‘measurable’ success markers earlier than others. For better or worse, that’s how this writing thing works. But that’s not the full measure of our potential. One of my classmates in her interview quotes our Week 4 instructor, Connie Willis: “Writing is not a career, it’s a holy vocation. You put in as much time as it takes.” Our vocation is subject to the whims of chance and opportunity. It’s never easy, it’s never over, and it’s different for every person.


Today we have Henry Lien (and his Menagerie of Joy), who made his mark before the workshop even started when he proposed writing the Clarion West anthem and then wrangled us into performing it – with choreography – for our instructors every week.

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What was your writing and publishing experience coming into Clarion West 2012?

I’d quietly written, but had never submitted to any magazines and never had anything published.

What sort of expectations did you have for the workshop?

I had dizzyingly high expectations. I expected it to be an utter jump to light speed. I expected it to level me up as a writer. I expected it to kick open every publishing door I cared about. I expected to find the best friends of my life at the workshop. I expected it to launch my career as a working writer. I expected it to make me a better person. I expected it to make me smarter, taller, and sexier, while whitening my teeth and deepening my voice. And I clamped my hands over my ears and said, “Blah, blah, blah, I can’t hear a word you’re saying,” to anyone who gently and lovingly tried to tell me to temper my expectations. And you know what? Four out of six of those expectations got met, more or less. Enthusiasm can be self-fulfilling, if you decide it’s going to be.

What was something indispensable or revelatory that you learned from an instructor or special guest? From one of your classmates?

George R.R. Martin quoting Faulkner’s advice that the only thing worth writing about is the heart in conflict with itself.

How was the workshop meaningful for you? How has it impacted your writing?

I can’t say that Clarion West made me a better writer. I think my skills coming out were more or less what they were going in. What it did teach me though is how to work psychotically hard and that I as a writer have the power to create anything I want through sheer force of will if I’m simply willing to work hard enough for it. That’s very liberating and democratic.

What’s something you’ve accomplished since the workshop that you’re really proud of (doesn’t have to be writing related!)

I was 42 when I started writing and applied to Clarion West, so I didn’t have any time to waste. I ignored advice that I shouldn’t worry about how well the stories I wrote at the workshop turned out and that I should just use them as learning exercises, which I think is generally sound advice. I wanted each of my six stories to be daring a experiment but I was also determined for them to be successful experiments. I poured my heart and guts and soul into my six Clarion West stories. I pushed myself harder than I’ve ever pushed myself for anything in my life. I love those stories intensely. I’m proud that they all were bought by top markets within two years and a couple got nominated for Nebulas. I’m also super proud of the anthems that I wrote: Ready to Launch for Clarion West and Radio SFWA for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.image1 (1)

What are you working on now?

I am finishing up my first novel, Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword (Fall 2017, Penguin Random House), and starting work on the sequel (Fall 2018, Penguin Random House). The first chapters of the novel were my application writing sample, and I got feedback on them from George R.R. Martin, Kelly Link, and Chuck Palahniuk while at Clarion West. It’s the best thing I’ve ever written, by a good stretch.

Pick one and answer: What do you say when people ask, “Where do you get your ideas from?” Do you have an unusual talent or skill? What keeps you awake at night? If you weren’t a writer what would you be? What are you going to do right now when you’ve finished this ordeal?

“Where do you get your ideas from?”

I’m very hard on my story concepts. I value originality in story concepts intensely. I throw up challenges to myself all the time in coming up with unique concepts. Write a fantasy story with rich and memorable worldbuilding that does not rely on magic at all (“Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters”). Write the most interesting story you can about the least interesting subject you can think of (gardening, “The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society”). Write a story regarding a logical way to do something that you have always wanted to do (talk to dolphins) utilizing something that you are baffled and intimidated by (engineering, Twitter, “Bilingual”). I work hard to push myself outside of my comfort zone constantly in my concept-creation process. I only want to write things that I’ve never seen before but have been wanting to read my whole life. And I want everything I write to be radically different from everything else I’ve written (expect for obvious things like sequels). But the reward for front-loading the work in this way is that I’m confident that I’ve chosen the right story for me to write that will be worthy of my time and, I hope, of the reader’s time.

What question do you wish I’d asked? Answer it!

“What advice do you have for writers who wrestle with self-doubt or impostor syndrome?”

Cut it out. You’re being too hard on yourself in all the unproductive ways and too lenient on yourself in all the productive ways. You just need to work harder. That does NOT mean just sitting there and forcing words out regardless of their quality for the sake of saying you produced word count. It doesn’t mean willing yourself to become a better writer, which is ludicrous. One of the things it can mean though is making the effort to understand how your own creativity operates. How is your mind wired? Do your ideas blossom through exercise, exposure to good writing, interaction with the world, isolation, playing with animals, reading non-fiction, dressing up in cosplay as one of your characters, etc.? Does reading bad writing or critiquing other writers’ work truly help you learn how to become a better writer like everybody insists or does it in all honesty just infect your own writing with bad habits and cliché instincts? Does living healthier help you when you have to perform as a writer or do you need to indulge yourself and let yourself go to rot until the project is birthed? It takes work to understand these things about yourself. I think too many writers expect writing to be effortless and assume something’s wrong if it’s not effortless. I’m constantly hearing writers say, “That’s outside my skill set. That’s outside my comfort zone. I’ve got to be me.” I believe in expanding my skill set. I believe in expanding my comfort zone. I believe in expanding me. That’s the most honest response to self-doubt and impostor syndrome, in my opinion.


Henry can be found online at www.henrylien.com. You can sponsor him in the Clarion West 2016 Writeathon here.

Amigurumi II: Amigurumi Boogaloo

My fingers are sore, but my mantle is full. With two days to go, I finished the amigurumi for the Robots and Goons reading at Borderlands Books tomorrow.

Did I mention there’s a reading at Borderlands Books tomorrow? Sunday, June 5 at 3pm. Peter Tieryas, Sunil Patel, Sarah Gailey, and me! Where I will be reading from The Conclave of Shadow and giving away amigurumi octopodes!

(In tangentially-related news, there’s also a Goodreads Giveaway going on right now for The Dragons of Heaven, which will be followed by a Goodreads Giveaway for The Conclave of Shadow starting on June 13!)

I cannot guarantee that the others will want to give away their amigurumi, because they all came out super cute, and I only had time to make one of each (well, there are two hippos, but see my last post for why that happened).

Peter’s robot had a lot of pieces, and I was not happy with the yarn (the same yarn I used for the hippo’s feet). It was too fuzzy and not tight enough, so the robot is a bit too fuzzy and loose. Still, he’s programmed to love?

 

Sunil’s ghostcow was my next big challenge/leveling-up opportunity. See, not a lot of ghostcow patterns floating around (heh. Get it?). I ended up taking a cow pattern and splicing a ghost pattern tail onto the end of it. He has some balance issues (he tends to fall on his face), but I’m really happy overall with how he turned out. I used a smaller hook and thinner yarn, so the stitches are really tight. They feel nice when you run your fingers over them. Petting the ghostcow is a tactile experience! Also, the white is so bright that taking pictures was a challenge because he reflected it too much. So he is a TRUE  ghostcow (with a smidge of Frankenstein’s monster thrown in!)

 

So here’s a pic of the whole family, plus another pic of the family with some primordial cousins. I’m hoping to do at least one more octopus before tomorrow.

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Next project to tackle: Foxes and Dragons! And maybe some shadow monsters.

 

 

Feeling Crochety

Back when I was doing RenFaire, I learned to sew, spin raw wool with a drop spindle, and even do a bit of weaving, but I never got into the knitting or crocheting areas of the textile arts. I bought my socks at Target and refused to wear a tam o’shanter, so there didn’t seem to be much point.

A few weeks ago, I decided to teach myself to crochet so I could make amigurumi octopodes – in part because I suddenly had all this free time after turning in the final draft of Conclave, and in part because… well… amigurumi octopodes!

I found a free pattern I liked and a few useful videos on YouTube (including one that explained how to decode and READ crochet patterns, which are only slightly more confusing than Greek), and a few hours later, I had half an octopus.

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The next night, I tackled the tentacles. All eight of them. And behold, an octopus!

Clearly, I was gifted among mortals, so I decided to take on a few more challenging projects. I have a reading at Borderlands Books on June 5 at 3pm with Peter Tieryas, Sunil Patel, and Sarah Gailey. Knowing that The Conclave of Shadow would not be out in time for me to do any kind of giveaway at the reading, I decided that I would make some more amigurumi octopodes and ‘shadow monsters’ to give out at the reading.

However, I’d feel bad if I had stuff to give out and my fellow authors didn’t, so I offered to make thematically appropriate amigurumi for the other authors at the reading. Sarah replied first, so my first project was a hippo for her.

This was where I discovered that I was not, perhaps, as much of a crochet savant as I first thought.

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I had some mis-starts and mis-steps and corrections on the fly, but I more or less managed the hippo. The problem was that it seemed much… larger… than the pattern said it would be. About three quarters of the way through, I realized that from the start I had not been doing a proper single crochet. I’d only been hooking half of the stitch instead of both threads. I kept on the way I’d gone rather than correcting mid-stream, and ended up with a hippo with gigantism.

20160510_111644Meanwhile, Thrace discovered my yarn bag and did what cats do when they discover yarn bags.

Doubling back, I made another octopus with the CORRECT single crochet, which ended up being about half the size of my first octopus. And then I made another hippo, also half-sized. As an unanticipated benefit, the practice and tighter stitches meant that my stuffing wasn’t showing. Check out the comparison pics. What a difference a stitch makes!

 

I still need to add eyes, but everything else is done.

Next up will be a robot for Peter and a ghost-cow for Sunil. I’m going to try to make two of each so that my fellow authors can give one away and keep one for themselves. I will not be making versions with gigantism, though. Instead, I imagine I’ll be making new and more interesting mistakes!

After that, gonna try some color mixing to make a fox, a dragon, and a tiger. Stay-tuned, because I will definitely be doing blog giveaways for these things before I end up with a menagerie.

You are not a thing

Warning – Spoilers for Mad Max: Fury Road

I saw Mad Max: Fury Road at WisCon and again when I got back. I think a lot of folks have given better commentary than I can about what works and why, so I’m not here to add to the noise.

But I’m getting a little weirded out by a trend I’ve seen over the past few days, which is the celebration of the War Boy rhetoric from Mad Max. I mean, wasn’t the whole point of Nux’s storyline that the War Boys were, in their own way, as much things to be used as the Brides? Sure, the War Boys are empowered in a way that Brides (and the milk women) are not, but they’re still entrapped in a system of oppression (and even encouraged to support it). Really, they’re an excellent hyperreal illustration of how men are also victims of the Patriarchy, encouraged to perpetuate it through self- and other-destructive behaviors. So when I see all the WITNESS! cries and the pro-chroming rhetoric, I’m like… is this supposed to be ironic? I don’t see people crying out “rape me, impregnate me, and put me in a creepy chastity belt and/or on a milking machine!” with the same fervor. Why? Because we KNOW that is a gross violation of our personhood. But so was being a War Boy.

Don’t make Furiosa throw you out of the truck, kk?