A Great Disturbance

Today, the world mourns the loss of Carrie Fisher, the woman who showed us—onscreen and off—what it means to keep going when your whole world is blown to pieces. She shared pieces of her struggle that were deeply intimate and so important to so many people, while fighting to protect her privacy from the all-consuming eye of the Hollywood panopticon. She fiercely and quietly brought up the quality of movies, both the ones she was in and the ones whose scripts she touched up with a firm and knowing hand.

Carrie Fisher was more than just a big screen icon, she was Twitter’s cool Space Mom. She gave us permission to falter, to fumble, to fall, to fail, to feel. She gave no quarter to hatred or fascism, and was in her last days a light in the darkness and a comfort to many, a beacon of mirth and humor against the gathering storm clouds. She was our new hope.

She did the best she could, and it meant so much to so many.

 

O General! my General! your fearful war is done.
Your burden you have set aside, the peace you sought is won.
Your rest is near, the bells I hear, your people all sore grieving,
While teary eyes turn to the earth, your starbound soul is soaring.

But o heart! Heart! Heart!
O the pining of my soul,
where on the bed my General lies,
fallen dead and cold.

O General! my General! Lie still and rest your brow.
Lie still—for you, the race is run—for you, it’s over now.
For you the grief and tweet’d thanks—for you the net’s a-teeming.
For you we call, in disbelief, our hearts so close to breaking.

O General! Dear Space Mom!
This sadness we can’t hide!
Is it some joke that on the net,
you’ve taken sick and died?

Our General does not answer, her Twitter quiet, still.
Our princess does not hear our pleas, she has no pulse nor will.
I swear to gosh, this fudging year will be the death of all.
But we’ll fight on until the dawn, as sure as night must fall.

Rebel O web, and ring O bells!
While we, with due remorse
fight the fights our General fought
ere she joined the Force.

Moments That Made The DCAU Great

Before there was the DC Cinematic Universe, before there was the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there was the DC Animated Universe.

This term is still used sometimes to refer to the constellation of animated features and shows that Warner Bros. puts out using DC characters, but most of those are in their own little pocket dimensions of continuity, a few consecutive adaptations of Jeph Loeb’s Batman/Superman comics notwithstanding.

The DC Animated Universe proper started with the Batman cartoon launched off the popularity of the Tim Burton film and grew and evolved through the related Superman series and reached its apotheosis in the animated Justice League series. There were a couple spin-offs/tie-ins set in a future timeline, too.

Justice League Unlimited, the final incarnation of the Justice League show, was also the final on-screen incarnation of the DCAU. It didn’t have to be. Warner launched unrelaed cartoons based on the young hero properties Teen Titans and the Legion of Superheroes that were both originally at least briefly developed as spin-offs from the Justice League, set in the same continuity.

The Legion show was even launched by a backdoor pilot that had the Justice League Unlimited version of Supergirl going off into the future with the DCAU version of the Legion… only for the actual show to be a separate continuity, featuring Superboy.

It would be a mistake to attribute any one single factor to these decisions, or to the general decision to pull the plug on a surprisingly coherent and much-loved multimedia franchise, but one thing that was almost certainly a factor is the parent company’s paradoxical fear that the sub-franchise was getting too popular. A generation of fans had literally grown up with these versions of the characters. Changes made for the TV show were familiar to more people than the original versions. There was a danger they would come to be seen as the “real” version of DC characters, which would be bad news if the company ever, say, tried to reinvent them as movie characters.

If every DC animated property were clearly its own little thing in its own little walled garden, on the other hand, no one would ever see it as more than an adaptation or a spin-off.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think this kind of thinking is backwards and wrong-headed. The DC Animated Universe was successful because it was good. It resounded and endured because it worked. If DC Comics wants to reboot their universe back to an “iconic” version (as they so often seem to want to), they really should be looking at the DC Animated Universe as their model. It took what was great and familiar about the comic book universe and magnified it, while fixing or cleaning up or reinventing other areas.

The DC Animated Universe gave us the character of Renee Montoya because one episode of Batman needed there to be third cop to provide a different point of view than the established ones for a Rashomon-like take on the dark knight. She was popular enough to migrate over to the comics, and even became a legacy costumed hero when she inherited the mantle of the Question.

It also gave us Harley Quinn, Lex Luthor’s ultracompetent valet/henchperson Mercy Graves, Superman villain Livewire… notice how these new characters are female? Moving to a new medium and trying to capture a new audience gave the people calling the creative shots both the need and the freedom to invent characters that made the genre more diverse.

It also allowed them room to breathe new life into old characters. Only a year or two before he appeared on the little screen as a tragic comic book villain (and years before he appeared on the big screen as a tragicomic movie villain), a forgotten Mr. Freeze appeared in a strange limbo-like dimension off the actual margin of the pages of the comic book Animal Man. (Grant Morrison liked to do that sort of thing.)

Freeze insisted he was one of the greatest of Batman’s foes, but lamented that no one had ever explored his heart. He was sure he was ripe for a comeback, though, just as soon as someone represented the great tragic potential he represented.

I didn’t read the story when it was new. When I saw it in a compilation, it was a surprisingly effective punch in the gut. Did Morrison predict Freeze’s revival? Did he cause it? However it happened, it happened, and the DCAU took a forgotten, one-note theme villain and reinvented him as a truly unforgettable character.

As the grim and gritty (or maybe I should say stark and schlocky) cinematic universe DC Comics is allowing Zack Snyder to weld together continues to be a screeching trainwreck, I find myself looking back at the animated universe that was all the more fondly for all the things they got right, for portraying superheroes as human beings (or people, in the case of the ones that weren’t human), for recognizing that comic book action adventure doesn’t have to give up its sense of fun to also be moving, and for the strides it took towards representation.

With that in mind, I’m going to share some of my favorite moments from the DC Animated Universe, all of which are basically just moments. Not big fight scenes, not giant set pieces, just moments… moments that are rooted in great characters, and from which great characterization can bloom.

Moments like…

A Bit of Holiday Magic

The web feature “Texts From Superheroes” is hilarious in large part because the people who make it really get comics and the characters involved. Even when they’re making fun of comic book logic, it’s clear they’re coming at it from a place of understanding.

This is one of my favorite ones:

It’s one of my favorite ones because it reminds me of an actual Justice League comic book, where Batman discovers an invasion plan by “white martians” by following reported ghost sightings. He explains to his sidekick of the moment (let’s say it was Nightwing) that he knew it had to be white martians because “there’s no such thing as ghosts.” The sidekick responds by listing off all the ghosts that they know personally.

I love moments like this. I love Batman the kneejerk skeptic who is sure that the ghost sightings must be phony but can wrap his head around invisible, shapeshifting, telepathic aliens because that’s just superpowers and anyone can have superpowers. I love the gradual evolution in that era of comics from Batman not believing in magic to just hating it to grudgingly deploying it for his own benefit.

All that said, that’s not the DCAU, and the moment I want to highlight isn’t about Batman, but about Superman. Batman doesn’t believe in ghosts even though he’s met ghosts. But Superman?

Superman still believes in Santa Claus, even though he personally has a secret hideout at the North Pole. You can also read it as Clark insisting on keeping up the pretense for the benefit of J’onn, but let’s face it: that’s less fun.

“Comfort and Joy”, the first and only Justice League Christmas special, is the only episode in the original run of the show that isn’t a multi-parter. Cartoon Network even aired the run first of the series in back-to-back blocks, making each pair of episodes a single hour-long story the same as any TV drama. It was an amazing era of animated comic book-style storytelling that I don’t think had any real precedent in western animation and that I don’t think has been replicated since.

But a planned three part series finale left them with an extra episode in the production schedule, and rather than trying to cram the kinds of stories they’d been doing in ~40 minutes into ~20 minutes, the creative crew decided to give us a look at the team’s downtime around the holidays. Even with a short episode weaving together multiple subplots for the members of the team, it still came off as a surprisingly intimate look at the characters we’d been following for so long.

This quiet moment, among many other similar moments, always stands out as both being a bit like a self-aware parody but also a perfect character beat.

Lex Luthor Learns The Flash’s Identity

This one requires a bit of set-up, though not much: in the episode “The Great Brain Robbery”, Lex Luthor is in the body of the Flash, and vice-versa, because of stuff.

It’s another one that could have been ripped from a Text From Superheroes scenario (imagine sending the wrong person a selfie), but which works as a perfect character beat. Written funny, acted just right, executed perfectly. It’s a marvel of comic timing.

For an added meta level, Michael Rosenbaum (here voicing The Flash) played Lex Luthor on Smallville.

MEANWHILE IN THE BATHROOM OF DOOM

From the same episode, a counterpoint scene with  the Flash in Luthor’s body, in the men’s room of Luthor’s evil hideout, where he executes the perfect imitation of a depraved criminal mastermind.

 

I love when actors play each other, and Clancy Brown does a pretty good imitation of the delivery style of Michael Rosenbaum. The way Flash thinks Luthor would behave here reminds me of a beat from the first episode of the second season of the current live-action Flash, where Barry Allen is in an elaborate fantasy sequence where all the stuff that went wrong… didn’t.

One of the things that tips the viewer off is that Captain Cold, the smarmy, sly supervillain played with panache by Wentworth Miller, is shouting somethign like “I’M GOING TO KILL YOU, FLASH!” with a tone of voice and style of delivery that seems borrowed from Snake the career criminal on The Simpsons. This is a character who always keeps his cool, and not entirely (though mostly) because that fits his villain theme.

The CW’s take on Captain Cold is so dedicated to the gentle art of theme-villainy that he still makes the requisite cold puns even when he’s lost his empowering technology and is just a guy punching other guys. He doesn’t even stop to get a real gun to replace his cold gun because he can’t figure out how to keep the ice bullets from melting.

And when the Flash tries to imagine a fight with him, he winds up yelling “I’M GOING TO KILL YOU, FLASH!”, which is exactly what a little kid playing with action figures would make the Captain Cold one yell.

Even though they’re different Flashes (Wally West is the Flash of the Justice League show), these moments both nail something essential about the character. It’s not just that the Flash is a dork, it’s that he’s an earnest dork. He’s too straightforward in his worldview to think like a villain. When he reaches for villainous behavior, the best his imagination can come up with is, “Well, they’re bad, right?”

I AM THAT I AM

So. If you haven’t read many comics, you still know about Thor. The comic book character of Thor and all the associated comic book mythology is really the result of Jack Kirby really being enthralled with the Venn diagram between “gods” and “superheroes”.

It’s not just “What if gods are just sufficiently advanced aliens and magic is just sufficiently advanced technology?” And it’s not just “What if characters like Superman and Wonder Woman are the modern-day heroes of legend and gods?” It’s both of those things crammed together, with focus on a sort of interstitial creation space where both things can be true: Thor is both a god and an alien superbeing. Mjolnir is both magic and technology, and not like some funky Final Fantasy magitek sort of way.

It’s the kind of creative exercise that wouldn’t really become “hip” until the 90s, and a lot of people don’t really realize that Kirby was doing it, at first with the Asgardians and others at Marvel and then with his “New Gods” for DC Comics. So many people on both sides of the page try to parse them wholly as divine beings or superheroic ones, and historically the interpretation has fallen on the side of the line that was less likely to lead to moral panic and calls for boycotts: so the New Gods have superpowers, they wear capes and tights, they hang out with Jimmy Olsen, and apart from calling themselves “gods” they don’t really do anything terribly god-like in most of their appearances.

And then we come to Darkseid, the main evil New God, and his first meeting with Superman in the DCAU canon.

Superman has just watched a superstrong, nigh-invulnerable foe apparently be atomized in front of him by this strange figure and he demands answers. “Who are you? What have you done to him?”

ZAAAAAAP.

That is who I am.”

That is the first time Darkseid ever registered to me as being more like a god than a generic world-conquering megalomaniac supervillain. No amount of shouting “YOU DARE CHALLENGE A GOD?” makes someone come off god-like. In fact, there’s a real danger that doing so just emphasizes how much like a god you’re not. As the male version of Ghostbusters pointed out years ago, it doesn’t take any special kind of credentials to say that you’re a god. But by the same token that anyone can do it, it doesn’t exactly prove anything.

Darkseid’s retort to Superman is a Biblical powerplay. You don’t tell people that you are God. You simply assert that you are. You are power. You’re majesty. You’re beauty, you’re grace, you’re Miss Outer Space.

Darkseid never worked for me as a character before this moment. He’s rarely worked so well since then, but this one scene earned him a lot of goodwill. As establishing character beats go, it’s a doozy.

SHOOTING ARROWS INTO THE FOURTH WALL

The Justice League cartoon’s version of Green Arrow is not my favorite version of the character. He’s kind of been de-clawed by turning the liberal sensibilities of the comic book version into a sort of populist skepticism about “Big Justice” or the superhero-industrial complex. He was also introduced in the Justice League Unlimited era of the show, when the hour-long stories about a tight-knit ensemble of seven superheroes was replaced with shallower half-hour stories about an ever-shifting and expanding cast of characters.

I’m not saying I didn’t like the JLU version of the show; on the contrary, I think its expansive view of the past, future, and present of the DC Universe at large helps cement the DCAU as a definitive vision for the property. It did things the previous incarnation of the show couldn’t.

But at the same time, no “Unlimited” character got quite the same deep, thoughtful treatment as the original line-up did.

Anyway. As I said: the animated version of Green Arrow is not my favorite version of the character, but on the subject of great moments, there is still this:

You don’t have to really know what’s happening there beyond the obvious: yes, it’s a submarine stealing a frozen viking ship. And yes, that’s Green Arrow humming along to his own theme music. That is his personal action theme, not the show’s general background music. It’s the song that specifically plays when Arrow is launching himself into danger. And he’s humming along to it.

Now, this is not a fourth-wall-breaking show, and he’s not a character who is prone to moments of meta-awareness in the way, say, the Joker or Deadpool might be. So what we have to take away from this isn’t that he is actually aware there is a theme song playing.

What we have to take away from this is that Green Arrow is the kind of man who imagines exciting instrumental music playing whenever he’s doing something that strikes him as particularly badass, and the kind of music he imagines is exactly the kind of music the people making this cartoon came up for him.

It’s this moment of winking at the audience that lets us know that the JLU crew knows Ollie is a theatrical blowhard, and that’s how the character works best.

Now, I started this saying that I was going to be talking about quiet little moments, not great big fight scenes, but sometimes, just sometimes…

…THE MOMENTS ARE FIGHT SCENES

For instance, there was the time when Flash apparently ran away from a super-super-powered version of Lex Luthor only to run all the way around the world to suckerpunch him at near-light speeds. Again. And again. And again, almost dying in the process himself. That’s a good one, but understanding what’s happening and why would take a lot of getting there.

So let’s just jump to this one, from the end of the last season of the last show in the DC Animated Universe.

First of all, notice how much less imposing and inspiring Darkseid is when he’s growling about how he’s a god than he was in their first meeting. But enough about him. There’s some good stuff about Batman in there as an aside, but let’s talk about Superman.

One of the things that the DC Animated Universe did right was making Superman a bit less powerful. This made it easier for the writers to provide him with challenges and for the rest of the team (who were also de-powered to varying to degrees) to shine. He lost a lot of his ancillary powers. He was almost impossible to injure, but he felt a lot more pain than most versions of the characters. He was never quite as strong or as fast as long-time fans expected him to be.

And here, we find out that this whole time, he’s been holding back. Just a bit. And even though he’s Superman, even though he represents the best of us, even though he still believes in Santa: he finds it frustrating. He wants to cut loose.

And in the last big fight scene of the last episode of the last show in the DCAU, he gets to.


Alexandra Erin is a crowdfunded author, commentator, and poet. If you enjoyed this, please tip accordingly.

On the Transgender Day of Remembrance, Remember This

Today, November 20th, is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s a day to mark and remember those we’ve lost to violence and prejudice, and to remind others of it, to let them know that hate kills, that discrimination kills, that even apathy is an accomplice to murder. It’s a day when we share names and statistics and stories; cold, hard facts and chilling stories of humanity denied and lives cut short.

I will let others post the rolls of the dead this year, because my mind is overwhelmed with one thought: it’s going to be much longer next year. 

Hate crimes are already on the rise, and they’re not going to go down once the man who emboldened them takes office. Just since his election, he’s made more tweets than that trying to take down Hamilton and Saturday Night Live than he has spent words to his followers to curtail violence. Each.

With a thin-skinned autocrat who hates criticism set to take power in January, you might be heartened to know that GOP leaders in congress have promised to pass a First Amendment Defense Act and that our next president has promised to sign it. You might think that’s a positive sign.

You’d be wrong.

Versions of the First Amendment Defense Act are being considered or even passed by many state legislatures. None of them have anything to do with freedom of speech, expression, assembly, or even religion in a general sense, though that’s the fig leaf being used to cover what is actually happening: legalized bigotry. Legalized discrimination. Legalized hate.

If a so-called “FADA” bill passes and is signed into law, it will be legal to discriminate against me and people like me in every state in the union. Anyone who can claim it goes against their principles could refuse me or someone like me accommodations, whether it’s a place to live or even just room in an inn for the night. I could be refused service in a restaurant or at a grocery store. I could be refused life-saving medical care, not just care that relates to being transgender but any care.

If I called an ambulance in Trump’s post-FADA America, whether or not I received emergency treatment and was taken to the hospital would depend entirely on the personal choice of the ambulance crew who arrived on the scene. If they decided they had a personal problem with my existence or that it would be too icky to touch someone like me, I could be left to die on the pavement.

All because I live my life in a way that they define as immoral, because my existence is something that they define as immoral.

That’s what freedom looks like, in the America that’s coming. That’s the “religious freedom” that the First Amendment Defense Act wants to protect.

People will die if FADA becomes the law of the land. They will die because they were denied treatment, denied medicine, denied essential services, denied a place to live. Some of them will hasten their own ends by their own hands, because the denials stack up over time and add up to an irrefutable denial of humanity.

And those hate crimes? They’re going to get worse if FADA passes. Not because FADA will make such violence legal, but because it will make the hatred behind it acceptable. Unofficial violence always rides out ahead of official violence. When the legal means of attacking a people increase, those who would resort to illegal means move accordingly.

This is not alarmism. This is not hyperbole to try to gin up support for the next election in advance. This is not a plea for attention or sympathy. This is simple fact. We are being told that we need to wait to see what sort of a president Donald Trump will be, as if we hadn’t all just watched a campaign during which he laid the case out for that quite clearly.

Well, if you wanted to wait and see, here’s your sneak peek: as president. Donald Trump intends to make it legal for the EMTs on an ambulance crew to take one look at me, say, “I don’t believe in that,” hop back in their ambulance, turn off their lights, and drive off, whistling nonchalantly.

It’s couched as a matter of protecting religious freedom, but somehow, I don’t think it’s going to apply to all religions equally. And I don’t think it’s very religious. The religion it’s meant to protect, Christianity, has many different forms and denominations and practices, and they don’t all believe the same thing about people like me.

But every form of Christianity that I’m aware of tells the same story of the good Samaritan, the person who saw someone bleeding in a ditch and stopped and rendered aid, even though they were of different cultures and faiths.

If the current FADA bill (it’s focused on marriage, both dismantling same-sex marriage and controlling relations outside it) passes, others will swiftly follow that build on its foundation. The idea behind it all is to make it legal for self-proclaimed Christians, even Christians who have a duty of care or who have taken an oath to serve their community, to be bad Samaritans.

Supposedly it’s to protect them from having to go against the tenets of their religion, but it’s really there to cover them if they don’t really feel like turning the other cheek, helping those in need, or judging not lest they be judged. It means those who claim Christianity as a legal strategy can be exempted from rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.

And it means that people like me are going to die in record numbers, from burning hatred and cold neglect.

What can you do about it? Write your senators and congresspeople to let them know that you do not support any so-called First Amendment Defense Act that legalizes discrimination. If you’re a Christian, tell your political representatives (and, when necessary, your fellow Christians) that you feel your Christian values are mostly being endangered by laws that enable and encourage Bad Samaritans in the name of protecting religion.

Notes From WorldCon: One is Ag, the Other’s Au.

I just had a brief twitter exchange with Kurt Busiek that started because I saw him tweet something and I randomly remembered that he had been at WorldCon and on my “hope to meet” list. I’ve been a fan of Kurt Busiek’s work for as long as I’ve been aware of it, entirely thanks to my older brother Max and his interest in Astro City. I can’t say I’m a wild fanatical fan. I don’t own any Astro City comics. I can’t remember a lot of the character’s names. I mostly think of issues in terms of the characters and events that they’re an analog for, like the one that was people on folding chairs on the roof of the apartment building watching the fight with !Galactus in the distance. The one about the shark in the subway and the reporter is harder to high concept, but it’s one that’s stuck with me. I mean, I don’t actually remember much of the sequence of events in the story at the heart of the story. But the process of the reporter trying to report on it, and the conclusion… it’s just such a great tale.

Anyway, my exchange involved me replying to his tweet about the party saying that I wished I could have stayed later myself and maybe met him (we had an early flight the next day; I did not seriously rate my chances of getting into any exclusive parties on Saturday night very highly back when I booked the hotel and the flights, so did not think it would be worth the added expense of staying through Sunday).

And while I’m sincere about this—I had wanted to meet him, and would like a chance to in the future—I’m not exactly kicking myself over it, nor had I been craning my neck around the crowd to spot him.

There are always moments when I’m at a con and I’m wishing I were a smoother operator, socially. There are moments when I feel like I should be out there, meeting people, making connections. They rarely last long and they even more rarely go anywhere. But I do meet people at cons, people who do all manner of interesting things (whether they realize how interesting they are or not). Some of them are a kind of a big deal. Some of them will be. They’re all a big deal to me, though.

Some people think that if they can just make the right personal connection with the right person at the right time, it will change their life. They’ll be invited to some project, they’ll find a powerful patron, I don’t know. Things will happen.

The fact is that I have made connections at cons that have changed my life, but mostly they’ve changed my life by giving me this connection. I’ll sit down at a table with someone by chance because there’s an open seat and we’ll start talking and now we’re friends. I’ll see someone who looks like they need someone to talk to and they do and now we’re friends. I’ll be introduced to someone because we’re all going to lunch at the same time and now we’re friends.

And sometimes being friends with someone means that I do, indeed, have an opportunity that I might not otherwise, but more often it’s the opportunity to see something a bit before everyone else does or the opportunity to make a new friend than anything else.

At WorldCon, I was very pleased to very briefly meet Larry Niven (less pleased that it happened when I wasn’t wearing my glasses; I might have seen him a hundred times after that and never known it). I was very pleased to have met George R.R. Martin. My first meeting with John Scalzi (at this year’s WisCon) was pretty much the both of us hurriedly apologizing as we frantically raced down a hallway in opposite directions, me to meet a friend and him to find a facility of a particular sort.

But you know what? I’m really, really, extremely pleased that Jack and I had dinner with S. Qiouyi Lu after a quick Twitter confab when neither of us had plans one evening. We’d been on some panels together before, and while that was really the extent of our previous in-person interactions, S. is the kind of person you just immediately want to get to know better.

I’m really, really pleased that when all the con suite tables were occupied, we picked one that was mostly empty and wound up sitting next to M., a person who I later learned already followed me on the social mediums and with whom we became instant friends. Sitting there was easily the best decision we made all con. We kept bumping into each other throughout the weekend, in part I think because we all like finding quiet, out of the way places to sit. But M. is hilarious (“the ones who walk away from omelets”) and an endless font of interesting information, and best of all, is currently planning to come to WisCon next May.

I’m super pleased to have finally attended a con with Rose Lemberg and Bogi Takács, to have finally met these people I have long considered friends in person, to attend their events and cheer them on.

I was over the moon to get to see Mary Anne Mohanraj, my friend and sometimes fan, up on stage with George R.R. Martin, roleplaying the part of er freaking Wild Cards character. I mean, the whole stage was packed with authors, many of them giants and I’m including Mary Anne in that number, but she is my friend, and this didn’t make it exciting because I’m friends with someone who hangs out and writes in a shared universe with all these other genre literary celebrities, it’s exciting because my friend gets to do this amazing thing.

I’m glad to have met my new friend Hampus Eckerman, who gave me a tiny bottle of aquavit and another friendly face to look forward to if we make it to WorldCon 75 in Finland.

My very good friend Crystal Huff, being one of the co-chairs of that con… well, I’m not going to say she hasn’t ever helped open a door for me, or that I’ve never tried to do the same. And she’s certainly very good about making sure we know where to get the Finland freebies. But mainly what she does for us is she’s happy to see us, and we’re happy to see her. That’s friendship.

Sumana Harihareswara is someone I think of as my oldest con friend, though I don’t know what the precise definition I’m using for that. But I called her my “fairy conmother” to someone this weekend, in order to explain our relationship. She seems to make connections the way most people make carbon dioxide, and we don’t often spend as much time hanging out as I would like. We certainly didn’t this year (I had a pretty debilitating injury that kept me tethered in one place for much of the end of the con, though I appreciated her updates on where she was hanging out), though we certainly did spend more time together than we have in years.

This is how you do a con right: you make friends. You be with your friends. You keep yourself open to friendship. I know a lot of people reading this are probably feeling like I’ve just pronounced them doomed to never do a con right. I know. It’s not easy making friends, especially when it seems like everybody else around you already is friends.

But honestly: a lot of them feel the same way. And will be thrilled to have somebody to talk to about it if you’re the one who admits it. One of the best tips I can give you for making friends at a con is: be a friend. Offer friendship to people. And be willing to accept it in return.

Notes From WorldCon: The First Time I Met George R.R. Martin

…was very brief, though so was the second. But the time that I was certain would be the point at which I came physically closest to the man was during one of his scheduled signings (the first of seven, in fact), when I placed a slightly worn copy of Card Sharks, upside down to me and opened to the title page in front of him.

He looked at it in what I interpreted as mild confusion turning to what I interpreted as mild surprise and delight. “Oh, Card Sharks!” he muttered, then signed his autograph over where his name appeared as the editor for the volume. I had thought about bringing one of the books in the series to which he contributed a story, but the New Cycle has personal significance to me as it was my introduction to the series and his work, and given the limit of one book per person per scheduled event, that’s what I went with.

I had looked around to see if I could spot any other Wild Cards fans in the room, but had only spotted epic fantasy tomes. I know there was a separate Wild Cards mass signing for the new book, but I was a little surprised that no one around me had brought any of them. I wouldn’t swear I was the only person in the room with one, but I was definitely one of a small number.

I suspect there may have been some mild grumbling about how the event was run, but I have to say, I was impressed and pleased. At all points during the program, wranglers were on hand to communicate clearly what was expected of us and what was allowed of us. As someone who frequently worries that I’m being too familiar or taking too many liberties, being told things like yes, we can take pictures with George in them, but don’t stop the line to try to pose one is great. Armed with explicit permission, Jack and I each got a very nice, spontaneous-looking, completely candid picture of the other interacting with the author. The event runner also quietly encouraged us in the line to, you know, say a few words to Mr. Martin like he’s a human being, which helped me find my voice to thank him.

I think it’s very much a case of “not their first rodeo” mixed with a need to get as many human beings through a line as efficiently as possible, but it all went very smoothly. The best part aside from the clear messaging was that we didn’t even really have to stand in line much. The “line” was the rows of chairs in the event hall; we lined up a bit before it began to make sure we got a good place, and we stood up with our row when the row ahead of us was through, but most of the time spent waiting was seated.

Oh, and let me take this moment to say that the chairs provided by the convention center were worlds better than the banquet hall style chairs we get at WisCon. If you say a word against the Madison Concourse Hotel and Governors Club in my hearing, I may ask you to step outside, but just between you and me, the seating at panels could be better. They’re a bit too narrow, a bit too straight. The ones at the convention center in Kansas City were still obviously the sort of chair you buy by the hundreds or thousands, but they were a nice quality modern example of such chairs.

The chairs were enough of a “casual accessibility” accommodation for us with our levels of physical disability, which I suspect means a lot of people who would otherwise have had to ask for accommodation could just show up. There were visibly accommodations being made for people with limited mobility or more support requirements; I can’t speak to their efficacy. This is a statement of neutral ignorance, not a judgment. I really don’t know. They seemed to work, though.

I heard a few questions about the set-up from people around me, a few mild complaints, but I have to say in terms of getting everybody who shows up an autograph, the arrangement could not be beat. Sure, it would be nice if we could all have a more organic interaction with the author, but how many people can you do that with in an hour? Everybody wants to sit down and talk with him for a good ten, fifteen minutes about their theory that Hot Pie is the prince that was promised, but no one would put up with the set-up that allowed it, least of all the man himself.

He donated seven hours of his time (and it is a donation) to the convention to give as many fans as possible a fleeting interaction and a keepsake that can last a lifetime and longer. The set-up lets the most people get the most out of it.

Every convention I go to, I wind up having incredibly deep, meaningful, and long-lasting conversations with authors at every level of their career. I lost track of how many Hugo winners I’ve shared a lunch or dinner with. I can think of several who won this year alone. You can do it. It can be done. But you can’t get that on demand. You can’t manufacture it. Attempts to force or finagle or finesse encounters are likely to blow up very badly.

Anyway, that was my first interaction with George (“We’re seriously just calling him George now?” Jack asks me, but honestly, there comes a point past which “Mr. Martin” sounds like sucking up, even as “George” feels too familiar), though obviously not the most significant one. Still, it had its own significance. He didn’t talk much at the signing, but by that token, everything he said was very conversational, even if most of it was quiet and too himself.

I have long been aware, or at least suspected, that most authors are human beings. I know too many of them to doubt this. Even J.K. Rowling and Stephen King and George R.R. Martin are human beings. But there’s something that changes when you’ve heard the cadence of a person’s speech in its own rhythm, when you’ve heard their own peculiar personal accent.

I heard Rose Lemberg and Bogi Takács read aloud from their respective works for the first time at this convention, and even though I’ve been reading it for a couple years now, it deepened my appreciation. I will always read their works in their rhythms now. Mary Anne Mohanraj, who I have met many times and heard read many times, read aloud from a story I had read many times, but from which I had never heard her read. It changed it, too.

I still have not heard George reading his own work in his own voice. We are skittish, somewhat introverted creatures, Jack and I, and so we limited the number of big events with which we chose to tangle, focusing mainly instead on more intimate events headed by friends. The Wild Cards Deathmatch was basically what we spent our emotional budget on when it came to performances by George. Some of what he said there may have been prepared, but it was improvisational theater so a lot of it was spontaneous.

I will admit that I have been critical (more in the proper sense of analytical, though with a certain amount of urine-absconding) about some of the writing in his Song of Ice and Fire series. I probably will be in the future, too. But hearing him speak, listening to him ramble a bit on stage or talk to himself, provides a simple and oddly satisfying answer to a lot of my “why” questions, regarding the writing and syntax and sentence structure in A Game of Thrones and its sequels: it’s a book written by a human being.

And I feel kind of silly that I needed to meet him to get to this point, especially as I’m usually the first one to fend off prescriptivism and to argue against the idea that authors need to be mechanically perfect and following some predefined standard of language. Without meaning to, though, I had been putting Martin on another level, looking at his work as though it were not written by a man but some distant, unknowable force.

Suffice it to say, I don’t think I’m going to be able to look at his work the same way again. That’s not to say I won’t look at it. I’m actually probably going to re-read it. The Wild Cards Deathmatch event was pretty close to a GMed LARP session, which means I’ve now come that close to seeing Mr. Martin (okay, maybe I can’t keep calling him George) acting as a GM. His two signature serieses both have strong ties to roleplaying games. I think it would be interesting to revisit them with that lens in place, if nothing else.

Notes From WorldCon: Everything’s Up To Date in the Westin at Crown Center

I was avoiding saying directly which hotel I was in before and to a large extent during the con because there have been issues, but Jack and I had a very nice time in the Westin at Crown Center. We had been booked into the aging but beautiful Hotel Phillips, which is apparently undergoing extensive renovations and had to shunt a certain number of its guests to another location.

We were little dismayed to be notified of this change a bare two weeks before the convention, particularly as this put us quite a bit farther away and we weren’t sure about the logistics of getting back and forth. Even more dismaying: we were CCed (not BCCed) on an email with the information with several other congoers. I consider this to be a breach of my privacy and security, especially as there have been issues with people and boundaries in the past.

All that said, we found reasons to be excited about the new hotel. It’s connected by a covered elevated walkway to Kansas City’s Union Station, a historical architectural jewel that serves as museum space and a shopping center. I had some fond memories of a little cafe in there that I hoped to revisit (and we did!). I’d also spent a long weekend in the hotel at the other end of Crown Center around my freshman year of college (either the summer before or the summer after, I don’t recall). In the event that the convention wound up being a bust (and I had some pessimistic moments in the week or so leading up to it), there would be plenty to occupy us without leaving the area around our hotel, including a neat aquarium.

As it happened, the convention wasn’t a bust and the Kansas City Streetcar was even more convenient than advertised. Except during the times of highest crowd density, it vastly outperformed the listed frequency, and at the peak on the weekends, it still mostly hit the mark. There were three operators we saw regularly. All were personable in their own ways. One of them regularly announced that all Pokemon caught on the streetcar were to be returned at the end of the trip. A couple of them would chat about the convention. One of them saw Jack’s pins on his badge holder and gave him a KC Streetcar souvenir pin. This same one also had previously heard of me.

And the Westin… the Westin really took care of us. I am not happy at all about how Hotel Phillips treated us, but I have no complaints about the Westin. It’s a beautiful hotel. They have an indoor waterfall with elaborate landscaping around it. The lobby is spacious and full of comfortable chairs and screens that I think must have also served as acoustic baffles because it never got that echoey loudness. The people were super polite and very apologetic even about the inconveniences they had not created. We even found some lovely extras waiting in our hotel room when we arrived.

At six in the morning of the day of our departure, I went downstairs because I had this nightmare scenario in my head wherein Phillips’ ball-dropping had extended to not including the con rate in their contract with Westin and I just wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t run into a snag when it was time to go. It happens that while I was on my way down, an automated email with our invoice was sent to me anyway. But Lynette on the desk did not mind answering my questions, and when I told her how grateful we were for everything, she asked me if I was going to be around long enough for breakfast and then gave me a voucher for a free buffet for the two of us.

With the Streetcar in operation, the only downside to the distance of the hotel is that it made it harder to do things like catch a nap in the afternoon without missing significant portions of the festivities, but I have to say, if MidAmeriCon 2 were to become a regular event and we were to regularly attend it, I think we would strongly consider the option of staying in the Westin if it were proffered, and we would recommend it to everybody who was looking for a quiet place to retreat to at the end of the evening, a place where the convention and the parties can be left behind.

Yes, if MAC2 continues to throw conventions in the same venue, I think they could do a lot worse than pursuing an ongoing relationship with the Westin and promoting it to their members as the “quiet hotel”.

We might have other reasons to visit Kansas City in the future (family, renfair), and when our budget can handle a real hotel, we’ll certainly be keeping it in mind.

 

In or near Baltimore? Come see Fluid Movement with us!

If my summer had gone a little more smoothly, I would have talked about this more. I’d hoped to even do an interview with some of the people involved to sharpen my semi-journalistic skills, but I just didn’t have the time and spoons to make that happen.

Anyway! Last year, Jack, Sarah, and I had the pleasure of attending GOLDBLUM, a quirky water ballet by Baltimore-area aquatic performance group Fluid Movement. I livetweeted the experience (scroll to the bottom, then read up.) I intend to do the same this year with their current show, SCIENCE FAIR!.

We’ll be attending the 5 P.M. show on Sunday, August 7th, at Patterson Park Pool. If you would like to join us, you can get your tickets online at fluidmovement.org. Don’t wait to long. They sold like hotcakes last year. I should be easy to recognize: look for the giant floppy sun hat and rainbow hair. I will also likely be one of the few people covered pretty much head to toe regardless of the weather. My skin does not stand up well to the sun.

If you’re a fan or follower of mine and going, please give us a holler at blueauthor@alexandraerin.com and also let us know if you’d be interested in some kind of offsite meet-up with me beforehand. We might go out early and hang out at a coffee shop or something, if so. I don’t get out to Baltimore very often, so this might be a good chance for that sort of thing. Otherwise, we’ll just see you at the show.

What happened yesterday.

Yesterday was surreal. The first thing that happened in the morning was that I saw the news about Charles Kinsey, the Black man shot in the leg while in a state of complete compliance and surrender. He wasn’t the police’s target: they were aiming at his autistic patient, sitting curled up on the pavement, legs crossed, clutching a toy truck that is not only clearly visible as a toy truck but has been identified as such by the helpful Mr. Kinsey.

When the links first started popping up on Twitter and Facebook, I read “shot” and thought “killed”. When I caught a reference to Mr. Kinsey speaking to reporters, I was so relieved. And then I read what he said about it, and I started putting it together with a lot of the more brutal things that have come out through recordings of police: people on camera giving execution-style finishing shots or ignoring and withholding medical attention from a victim who is bleeding out on the ground, the rash of gun deaths ruled “suicides” involving fully restrained prisoners who had been checked for weapons, the recordings and eyewitness testimony involving captains and other officials issuing shoot-to-kill orders and advising their officers not to leave a victim alive to testify, etc.

And I wrote a series of tweets. I was conflicted beforehand and throughout, about the utility, necessity, and appropriateness of a white woman talking about the absolute callous disregard the police as an institution hold for Black lives and the deadly consequences this holds. I went ahead and did it because I thought the things I had to say did need to be said.

I’m not going to rehash it all here, as it’s all been said already. I storified the tweet thread, to make it easier to share and read. The reason I’m making this blog post is to describe what happened next, as the tweets have resonated so much and spread so far that many of the individual tweets have been retweeted over a thousand times, the rest several hundreds. I have gained more than 300 followers on Twitter, meaning that more than 10% of my current followers came along in the past 24 hours. My notifications are utterly flooded if I don’t keep them on the friends-only setting. The Twitter app on my phone crashes if I try to check them. I think I’m getting something like a hundred notifications a minute, almost 24 hours later.

I had been having an emotional week for personal (and, to some extent, physiological) reasons already. I was tired when I made those tweets. I was exhausted afterwards. I tried to have a normal wake day, but I didn’t make my status post and I didn’t even take my morning pills until 3:30 in the afternoon.

Because it needs to be said: none of this is a complaint about the attention. It was not my goal and when I realized my tweets were blowing up, I added a link to Black Lives Matter’s donation page to the end of the tweet thread rather than trying to profit off it myself. I suspect that there will be a net gain for me either way, whether I sought it or not, even as I kind of suspect a lot of the new followers will bounce within a few days. It’s just the nature of things.

This is not a complaint, but a report: what happened yesterday, why I didn’t make a status post, why there was no chapter draft. I don’t regret that my day was taken over by this. But for those who don’t do Twitter or don’t follow me there, I believed an explanation was in order.

Today, I’m going to do my level best to have an ordinary work day, trying not to get distracted by a still climbing follower count or people’s responses, which includes a growing amount of negative backlash by people who want to debate me using racist and erroneous assumptions about crime statistics, or who want to read my tweets as a generalization about all police as individual officers rather than statements about the police as an institution. Having my notifications set to “only people you follow” is all kinds of help there, though regrettably it means I’m likely missing attempts to contact me.

…well, I just wrote this paragraph about an ordinary work day, and then got a text about a family member and a medical emergency. I don’t know the nature or extent of it, and can’t guess what affect it will have. Ah, well. No one ever knows what the future will hold.

The Crowdfunder’s Dilemma

I was just tweeting about this, and I decided to make it into a blog post.

I acquired two new patrons today, one at $5 and one at $1. The $1 happened in between when I noticed my total had gone up by $5 and when I finished posting about it this morning. Obviously I appreciate both of them, but I think many people would be surprised to know how much I appreciate the $1 patron.

It rarely fails that when I draw attention to my Patreon, I’ll get someone telling me “I’d love to support you, but I couldn’t afford more than a dollar a month and I’m sure that [would be insulting/would devalue your work/wouldn’t be worth it after the fees].”

As I said on Twitter, I think if everybody who had ever read any of my work and thought about giving me a dollar but then thought better of it for one of those reasons had done so, I’d already be rich.

In Sir Terry Pratchett’s Making Money, the ever-astute Moist Von Lipwig makes the observation that there are a lot more poor and struggling people to do business with than wealthy ones, even if as individuals they can’t afford to do much business each. There are certainly more people who can afford to tip the occasional dollar or sponsor an author to the tune of a dollar a month than there are ones who can drop a hundred dollars or pledge ten dollars a months.

The simple fact is that the fees taken out of an online transaction are never going to cost more than the transaction itself grosses, and whatever is left over is more money than a crowdfunded artist would have without the donation. This is true whether we’re talking about recurring sponsorship through Patreon, or one-time transactions such as PayPal tips.  The fee structures we deal with are also often different and usually better than the ones you’d be using as an individual on a personal account.

And far from being insulting, the simple receipt of a dollar is very rewarding. It’s an almost tangible reminder that the work we do has value, that it is valued. We know—or at least I do—that if someone gives a dollar as opposed to five or ten or even two, then a dollar is probably what they have to spend at the moment.

And honestly? I don’t think a dollar is a bad price to pay for the type of entertainment I’m typically peddling. You can buy a lot of songs and some TV episodes for a dollar. I’ve tried to sell short stories for a dollar, with somewhat mixed results, but I think it’s a good price point for such. I need to ultimately make more than $1 total for a short story to be “worth it”, but that doesn’t mean any one person has to give more than a dollar. Or even that any one person has to give a dollar.

This is the thing about crowdfunding, and I’m saying this a lot lately because it needs to be said, but the “crowd” must always precede the “fund”. The only thing worse than people not giving $1 because they’d feel guilty is people not reading my work because they feel guilty. If you’re part of the crowd, be part of the crowd and know that I welcome and appreciate you.

So be very clear, when I talk about this whole “I assure you, a dollar is worth it” thing, I’m addressing people who have a dollar and are on the fence about plonking it down because they can’t convince themselves it will be worth it or appreciated. If you don’t have a dollar or aren’t sure it would be worth it in the sense that you might need it yourself, all I can say to you is: thank you for reading. I hope you continue to enjoy my work, and tell your friends if you think they’ll like it.

Don’t worry if your friends can’t afford to pay, either. This isn’t a pyramid scheme. You don’t have to recruit paying members to move up the ladder. If I post something in a place the public can see it, I’ve made a decision that the public can read it. No guilt. No shame. Enjoy, and spread the word.

But for those of you who have the dollar: please, trust me when I say that it’s worth it. It’s super worth it. Believe me when I say that there is more security to be found in several thousand appreciative fans paying a dollar each than in a single wealthy party like a publisher an advance of several thousand dollars. If I had my choice of either scenario, I would go for the multitude of individuals with their individual dollars every single time.

Simply put, a large number of small patrons accords more security and independence than a small number of large ones. That’s part of why I chose this path.

The problem is getting people to realize and believe it. As exciting and helpful as it is to get a notification that says I have $10, $25, or even $100 waiting for me as a token of a reader’s appreciation, I think if we can normalize the idea of the $1 tip as a standard nod of respect to the creator of something one has enjoyed or learned from, there will be a lot more security in being an independent creator online.

How to get there is really the challenge.

Writing and blogging about this topic is part of how I’m working towards this. Pitching my Patreon as a one dollar bet or dare is part of it.

If you want to help? Throw a dollar into my jar, or someone else’s. Join my Patreon as a $1 donor. And tell people you did it. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.

Interesting note about stats.

So, last week I wasn’t watching my Medium stats (a thing that pretty much consumed me the week before that) nearly as closely, because vacation. I was watching and cheering as July’s short story “The Numbers Game” crossed the 1,000 hit mark pretty early on. It both hit that mark more quickly than I expected and slowed to a trickle more quickly than I expected after that, but not by much on either count.

What I really didn’t expect is that when I got home and dived into the referral stats, I found a whole lot of nothing. Most of the incoming links are from social media (Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook) or internal to Medium. My quick search for such shares/mentions suggests this was mostly done on a personal level, with few big pushes from big names. My previous Medium hits, both the unqualified runaway viral smash and my other short story that did respectable numbers and generated some nice tips, both had some clear “turning points” where you could see them catching fire, and both had referrals showing up from unexpected places (such as Ravelry). This story didn’t have any of that.

Now, this is not a lament. I’d love it if everything I did caught fire the way “Infidelity Will Be The Death Of My Marriage” did and then some, but if everything I did had to catch fire to be worth doing, I would never do it. And also, just because something doesn’t immediately catch fire doesn’t mean it has no value over the long term. It did generate tips (immediate money) and possibly got some more patrons (though there’s more guesswork there). It did provide value for my existing readers. It’s something I can sell. And I think it forms an important part of the body of my work, along with other recent longer pieces “Infidelity” and “Women Making Bees In Public.

It’s also not a lament because I see many positive indicators here. This story did not catch fire. It did not go viral. It did not receive a strong push from any particular quarter. Yet it reached the benchmark of a thousand hits very quickly, it generated revenue. It was, by every measurement, a successful story.

So that’s a good sign. There’s an audience. There are people watching, looking for my stuff. They don’t need to be told it’s there. I can just release it with the usual fanfare and it will be read.

The other takeaway is that it’s always better to give a story a distinctive title than not. I can very easily figure out how often “Women Making Bees In Public” or “Infidelity Will Be The Death Of My Marriage” was mentioned by name on Twitter or discussed in a particularly public forum. “The Numbers Game”, not so much. The phrase crops up on Twitter several times an hour, usually in conjunction with sports.

This isn’t to say that you should never use a common phrase for a story title. My time travel short “Those Who Fail To Learn” has the perfect title for itself. I’m less happy with the title of “The Numbers Game”, though. The phrase does appear in the story and the action/conflict at the heart of it involves a phone number, but I don’t think it really describes what is happening. I suspect if I hadn’t been in a hurry to finalize it before I went on vacation, I might have come up with a better title.

I don’t think think I’m likely to change it, though, unless and until I package it to sell in a different format (like an anthology). Whatever marginal value would be created by giving it a more unique or better-fitting title would be erased by the confusion it would create.

Again, not really a lament so much as an observation: giving something a distinctive title makes it easier to track, but that should really not be your sole or main criteria when naming something. The DigiPen class that would go on to create the game Portal named their class project Narbacular Drop specifically because they could track mentions without getting false hits, but the much more popular and successful follow-up game was called Portal, a common noun that is used heavily in sf/f games and as a term of art in web architecture. Yet calling it Portal was undoubtedly the right move.