Friday, February 19, 2016

Geeks, We Are Better Than This

It doesn't take a lot to see that, as geeks, our time has come. Suddenly, we are the cool kids.

We, who went through elementary school teased for our glasses, or for having our noses stuck in books all of the time. We, who went through hell in middle and high schools for being band geeks, or dressing weird, or using multisyllabic words. I remember being teased so mercilessly for having a Harvard sweatshirt (didn't I know I was supposed to wear one of the giant universities near us?) that I threw it away. Do you remember our journals, our quote books, our poetry? We who would never be homecoming queens and kings, who were ganged up on by the popular kids, who were then sometimes backed by the administration because why couldn't we just hold our tongues. We who held our tongues to the point of becoming invisible.

 We who, if we were lucky, would escape every now and then to a world of freaks and geeks and be free. I went to Van Buren Youth Camp, and that was that place for me. A place where hippies and Rocky Horror fans and people who knew all of the words to every musical ever could all hang out and do our thing. Where boys could wear skirts and girls could shave their heads. God, I loved that place. I loved it so much that once I cried so hard when I had to go home that they suspected I was abused. I wasn't. I just really really missed being away from my tribe for the other 51 weeks of the year. We, who were that table in college. We have been waiting our whole lives for this moment. Not that we'd admit it, of course, but on some level, we have.

It's here. It doesn't take much to see that. Superheroes and Star Wars and Dr.Who are everywhere. In WalMart, in JoAnn Fabrics. Guys, do you see how huge that is? That we are no longer limited to just Hot Topic because those giant conglomerations know that enough people will buy that stuff that they stock it?

You can't go out without seeing someone with brightly colored hair or piercings. Fandom has become part of the lexicon. Indy publishers and local film groups and ren faires and YouTube give us that outlet to be what we actually wanted to be when we grew up. Our passions and our skills and our brains have allowed us to literally put our money where our mouths are and people are listening. This is it. We are the cool kids.

Yet, I'm troubled. Because now that our time in the sun has come, I'm seeing something that upsets me. I'm seeing the word "sportsball" used way too much. I'm seeing way too many harsh comments about people who are famous, who like sports, who have passions other than ours. You can't post anything on Facebook without meme warriors and Snopes devotees coming down with that tone. You know that tone? Sure you do. In short, I'm seeing far too  many of us treating others how we were treated. Guys, we are better than this. We know what it feels like to be mocked for the things we enjoy. We know what it is like to be made to feel less than others because of a gift we were given or a skill we had. We know this all the way down to our bones, and the fact that we are now doing this to others is a damned shame because there's not one of us who can't still feel that gut-churning, rage-inducing, shoulder-hunching feeling that that gave us.

We have no excuse for this. You, who have memorized Elvish or Klingon have no reason to be snide with someone who can rattle off sports statistics. You, who have a Full Metal Alchemist cosplay don't get to raise an eyebrow at jerseys. You, who have spent cumulative years painting Warcraft figures don't get to shun someone who clicks on every link about the Kardashians (yes, I know, strategy and brains versus vanity and, well, vanity, but stay with me). And then there's this geek war stuff. Geeks on geeks. "You're too fat/female/old to cosplay." This console/platform vs. that one. "You don't know the origin story of (insert character here)." The geek versions of "Dude, do you even lift?"  That would be a blog post all on it's own.

Instead, why don't we treat others the way we wished, desperately, we had been treated. Ask questions, listen to the answers. Give it a try; who knows, we may like it. After all, Legolas befriended a dwarf. Everyone still loved Jayne, cunning hat and all. Even Harry showed grace to Draco at the end.

 We can do this. We've spent our whole lives being shown how. By our heroes. Be a hero. A big damn hero.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Things I Shouldn't Have to Explain (but Do)

This is a grumpy post. It's a grumpy sort of day. Don't get me wrong, this weekend was amazing in so many ways. The team I have trusted to help run my businesses were rock stars. If any of you are reading this, I assure you, this post is not about you. I can't thank you all enough for the amazing job you did helping run the shops, battle the mail, deal with red tape and weather and everything else.  My friends did everything they could to bolster me up. If you were one of the people supporting me this weekend, this is not about you, either. In fact, my heart swells. If you have asked me questions about your books and been polite, this post is not about you. It was a great weekend. There were a lot of laughs. My kids were in good hands. I got to slow dance to a live jazz band and play board games when the days were over and we made some money. And yet. . .

And yet there is this thing called queues. What that means is that you are in line. No, your project may not take that long. But there may be people in front of you who have a project that will take longer.I had an author get snarky with me recently. Something along the lines of "my book required no editing and already had a cover, where is it?" It is in queue. There's a process to this. And while yours may not take that much work (though, personally, I feel like there's no such thing as a book that requires no editing) there are others ahead of you that are taking up a bit more time. I've gotten a couple of calls lately about other things as well. "Can't you just take care of this? It will only take a couple of minutes." You're right. And man, I'll be grateful when I can attend to a task that a simple phone call will fix. But right now, I'm in the middle of bigger things that require a lot more than that.  No, I cannot bump you to the head of the line. No, I am not being inattentive. But there's a queue. That's just how it is sometimes.

And yet it's unfair for you to determine if this boundary I've set is reasonable enough for you to follow. I had a houseguest recently. Because of past experiences I set up some rules. Nothing huge, really. Don't leave dirty dishes when you leave, because I will be gone for a while and don't want to come home to moldering dishes. Pick up after yourself. Don't mail things here. And I come back to dirty dishes, stuff all over my house, and mail. Are these things major? No. 45 minutes of work and they were dealt with. But it's the point. Which is, if I say "I will do this if you do that," you don't get to let me hold up my end of the bargain and then not fulfill yours because you don't like it. It doesn't matter if I leave dirty dishes, I told you not to do so. Hypocritical? Maybe. But it's my house. My boundaries. And you need to respect those.

Along a similar line. . . and yet you don't get to tell me what I believe. It's election year, and this is all over. I'm so sick of seeing posts along the lines of "You are part of this party, so you do this." "You believe this, so you must think along these lines." Ironically, much of the time from the same people who implore me to understand that if I act or think a certain way then I am contributing to one problem or another regardless of my intent because that's how the other party defines it. I'm sorry, you can't have both. Please stop telling me what I believe or how I think because nearly every time you are wrong.

And yet, it's important to follow through on your word. If you say you are going to do something, do it. If you have been paid for a service, perform it. I understand life happens. Of all people, after these past 6 months, I understand patience. And grace. And selflessness. Because they've been shown to me countless times. But if there are people depending on you, a shrug and a "it's not my fault" is behavior I don't tolerate out of my kids. I don't much care for it in adults. Please try. Put yourself in someone else's shoes and try to act like you wish they would if you were in this position. Please.

So, there's my grumpy post for today. Thank you for your patience. Do you have anything to add to the list? Please do so in the comments.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

My Shop Is in Florida. .. And I am Not.

As most of you know, I spent two years living on the road full-time. Let me tell you, an expereince like that changes you. I have always been a bit high-strung. Pipes bursting in the house and filling it with water was a catastrophe. A vehicle breaking down could bring me to tears. When you're on the road, though, there's no time for that nonsense. The tent leaks and fills with water? You'd better go out into the storm and retarp it, dig a better ditch. You will need to get everything to high ground, and then mop up what you can. Then the real clean-up begins. This might happen on a Friday night, by the way, so you get to do that and then go work two, sixteen hour days. The van catches on fire at a gas station? Put it out, send out a message to the group and know that someone will come and rescue you (more about that in a minute), and start looking on craigslist for a new car. There's a giant Belgian war horse on the loose and displeased? Get the kids in the tent and stand outside it with something big to wave in the air if it gets too close. And pray. Hard. You learn to roll with things with a shrug and  a sigh and some steely determination. Being on the road; it makes you hard, in a way.

But it makes you softer, too. You're part of a community, of people who are like-minded if only in the sense that they looked around at the way that the rest of the world works and said "not for me." If someone needs food, you feed them. If someone needs money, you give what you can. You let people into your life (not my strongest point) and you find that they will love you, care for you. When you live on the road, you are sometimes no more than one bad faire, one illness, one transmission from the edge, and we know that and so we rally around. I could tell you the things I've done for others, or the myriad things done for me, but I won't bore you with those. What I will say is that this gave me back my faith in humanity as a whole, not just in the small microcosm in which I lived. I knew my friends at "home" were amazing, giving, generous, people. What I had forgotten is that there are lots and lots of people like that. But it's not just that. On the road, you learn to enjoy the way the sun rises in different parts of the country, and music around a bonfire becomes utter delight. The fact that the bug crawling on your leg is a regular ant and not a fire ant is a thing of beauty. 

I loved that life. Love it. So very, very much. I loved who it made me. I loved what it made me. I love the pride that comes with it. I'm struggling with that most of all, maybe. The pride that says "I am doing this thing that most people cannot."  I loved swimming with dolphins and going to the top of the arch and learning my way around the French Quarter and watching the fireflies in Kentucky. I'm not giving it up. Not really, but I can't call myself "on the road" anymore and while that was the absolute right choice, it hurts. Which brings me to this weekend. My shop is opening at Florida Renaissance Faire. That is one of my favorite faires of all. I have an excellent manager and good friends getting it up and going. I boxed my shop up and shipped it and everything is going as smoothly as you could ever hope. So, I have a lot to be grateful for. But it hurts. Oh, it hurts. I'm going to go and visit, and while I'm sure that some of my friends will give me hell for going off-road they love me still. But it's changed. And while I love my house and I love Louisville and I have so many people here, it hurts. I'm a gypsy at heart, always have been, and I suspect I always will be. I'm also kind of a control freak, as I'm sure the long-suffering Pride of Line By Lion could assure you, and this is difficult. 

So while I'm so, so happy to be here, a part of my heart will always be in Florida, in Louisiana, in Ohio, in Kansas. A part of me will always stay on the road. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Writing the Hard Stuff

There's nothing wrong with fluff. Sometimes I like to read it. Sometimes I like to write it. Occasionally, though, I feel like we, as artists, have to really cut our teeth on some harder issues. I did that with Charlotte and Daisy, to the point where I could only write for an hour or two at a time. I'm a method writer of sorts, and to spend too long in that headspace was terrifying. I decided to chat with a couple of other authors who have also decided to address bigger issues in their writing. Chris Garrison is the author of the Trans-Continental series, among others, and one of my personal heroes. I've been very blessed to be a part of her journey. Brick Marlin was the first Real Live Author that befriended me, and the author of Raising Riley.  I hope you enjoy.

I feel like I addressed a lot of big issues in "Charlotte and Daisy." Depression and anxiety, of course, but I also touched on emotional maturity, government issues, and more. What was your "big issue?"

Chris: My Trans-Continental series is meant to cover what it is like to be transgender, but in a steampunk setting. I hesitate to call this the books' “big issue,” because there's so much more to the main character's life and story than that one aspect of her identity.

Brick: When writing the character of Riley I had to reflect on the child abuse I sent through when I was eleven to thirteen years old. It wasn't easy, since I inserted actual scenes into my book. 

Why did you choose to tackle this? For me, it was like a worm that got into my head. I suffer from anxiety and depression and it seemed important to show others that they weren't alone.

Chris: Overwhelmingly, transgender stories I've seen out there have focused solely on the struggle of transition and fighting against social stigma and prejudice, or have painted trans people as victims or even trickster villains. I wanted to read stories that featured transgender people like me, in more situations than just those. I wanted to see transgender protagonists in science fiction and fantasy stories. Since I found precious few out there, I wrote my own. I think more transgender stories need to be told by transgender authors so our voices can be heard.

Brick: Since this has stayed inside of me for so many years, haunting me, I wanted to expose it on paper, perhaps a therapeutic type of release for myself.

Was your writing process any different? I know I had to take mine much slower so I didn't get too bogged down by what I was feeling.

Chris: Not that I was aware of going into it, but looking back, there were differences. I wanted to tell the story like any other, but with the difference that my main character, Ida, was a transgender woman. I had to work at the way she talked about herself, since in the steampunk world she lives in, there aren't words like “transgender,” and people like Ida are very much in hiding still. Living without contact with other trans folks, Ida had to make up her own ways of coping, her own terminology, her own ways of thinking about her relationships. I didn't want our world's attitudes and politics to creep into the story, it was meant to get at the core of the transgender experience, without labels or preconceived paths and stereotypes. No baggage but her own.

Brick: No, I seemed to have no issues writing this piece. It flowed pretty well. 

Were your expectations different for this work? I have to admit that I'm doing "that thing." After years of a publisher, I warn authors all of the time not to get their expectations too high. But I hope that this one does really well. 

Chris: Trans-Continental was a clean break from my previous series, even though it is set in the same steampunk alternate reality as my Reality Check. I didn't know what to expect when I sat down to write it. The whole concept literally came to me in a dream. In many ways, it's very similar to my other works, an adventure story with a mix of suspense, humor, and action. But this is a more personal story, and one that hits closer to home, so I had hopes that the personal energy I brought to it might make it a more powerful story than I'd told before. Certainly it was my first as an out-and-proud transgender woman.

Brick:Not really. I just hoped to gain a few readers, to be honest.

Are your characters in this done with you?

Oh, definitely not. The series is all about Ida and her partner Duffy. I've written two books in the series, “Girl in the Gears,” and “Mississippi Queen,” and am in the planning stages for the as yet unnamed third book. I have gotten more enthusiastic feedback about those two than any other characters I've created in the past. They've got great chemistry. Ida herself was not created to make a point, her story doesn't begin and end with a single arc. I hope to be writing many more books and short stories about her for years to come.

Brick: My characters will always be in my subconscious, but I probably won't use them again in future novels. 

That's interesting, all of yours stay with you, but you choose to keep their novels limited. Do you think it is important as authors to address issues? To all artists or just you?

Chris: I think it's important to write what you're passionate about, and to include a lot of yourself in your writing, so it rings true. I think that this can be taken too far. I didn't want to write something that beat a drum about a specific topic. I didn't want to be preachy. But I hope by getting to know and love Ida, my readers come to see her issues as personal, rather than abstract transgender issues.

Most of my writing isn't specifically about issues, but my personal views and feelings about friendship, identity, gender, and even reality do permeate my stories whether I set out to talk about those things or not.

Brick: I think it may be a good thing to do so. Expressing certain things you, as an author, go through, may or may not help the reader understand life changes

Anything else you'd like to add?

Chris: When writing about issues, the one tricky bit is that the reader might decide that everything in the story applies to the author as well. While I am transgender like my character Ida, there's worlds of difference between us. I can make her come to life because of some things in common, but she's an extrovert while I'm an introvert, she's an actress where I get stage fright, she's got an overbearing father where mine's never directly interfered with my life and is best known for his sense of humor. I specifically avoided making Ida a Mary Sue, she's got her strengths and weaknesses, and isn't a version of me. I feel that's an important line not to cross in any fictional work.

You can read more from these authors at

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

If You Didn't Know

Right now, my house is clean and smelling of disinfectant and the dinner that is in the crock pot. The kids are coloring, playing with action figures, and watching movies. I am sitting down, coffee in hand, at the laptop after having paid some bills, ordered some new glasses, and the like. There is music playing, "The Crow" soundtrack that I got at Goodwill. I have a dear friend who unwinds to Rachmaninov. I am not that girl. The dogs are gnawing on bones and rain is pattering on the roof. If you didn't know, you'd say that it looks nice, pleasant, but ordinary. Nothing special. If you didn't know. But see, I do.
I know that the house was a house that I got only by the grace of God and a very dear friend. That for a while I thought was maybe the worst mistake I'd made recently. When I got up this morning it was a disaster. The kind of disaster that comes when you're only home for days at a time for nearly a month. The puppy had spilled some paint. Some potatoes had joined the dark side. Nothing tragic, just slightly gross. I know that the kids have been rocked these past few months. Going off of the road, their dad getting deployed, the divorce. It would be enough to shake anyone. It shook me. And with one who is on the spectrum and one who has some abandonment issues, it could have gone very, very badly. But they are amazing. We are drawing together and they are cruising right along, if hitting a bump every now and again. I know that I just got back from a con in Chattanooga. Not just a con. My first doing this alone. Don't get me wrong, I've been bearing the brunt and flying solo for a while, but it's different somehow when it's official. It's different when, even though this has been my sole source of income for a while, I'm now under a microscope and we are really seeing the rubber hit the road. (How's that for a mixed metaphor?) And it was Chattanooga. Chattanooga, where we stopped for a night on our honeymoon on our way to New Orleans. Where years later I would finish my very first novel. Where a year after that I would sit, cuddling my baby whohad fallen in a firepit in my lap, watching customers not come while there was the very real possibility of my publishing house and thus livelihood would come crashing down and I may not be able to stop it. So many emotions in Chattanooga. It took a courage I didn't know I had to go and do this, to take this first step, there.

These are the things I know. So, when I look at normal, I don't see nothing special. I see something freaking spectacular.