Category Archives: Geek Culture

On Going Home to Spocon

For the last seven years, Esther and I have watched our writing career lift off the ground.  We’re under solicited submission to Baen, we’ve got a well-loved urban fantasy series, we’ve got stories in anthologies from a whole host of different publishers.  We’ve appeared as pros and dealers at WorldCon, World Fantasy, and Westercon in addition to our regional conventions.  Every time we release something, we add people to our audience, and it’s a wonderful feeling.

And then there’s Spocon.

See, in 2011, we weren’t known by anyone.  Heck, at the beginning of 2011 we weren’t even writers.  We were just a pair of working schlubs, trying to make the best of what we had.

But then Esther’s friend talked her into entering the writing competition hosted by Spocon. Which she won. With a little story about summoners, and rune magic, and giant demon-beasts from other realms invading earth. And a little demonic dude named Cythymau.  If you want to read the first piece of Gift of Grace literature ever, you’d have to pick up the 2011 League of Extraordinary Writers anthology, put out by Spocon.

This…catapulted us forward in ways we never imagined.

Spocon, in the meantime, rose to great heights.  In 2015, Spocon hosted WorldCon in the deep smoke of the worst season of forest fires this state has had to date.  It was a monumental achievement for a convention as small as Spocon was, but it took its toll.

In 2016, the staff fractured. I can’t blame them; they’d absolutely burned themselves out putting together WorldCon, and they were done. No Spocon was held. The Doubletree Inn remained silent.

In 2017, two remnants of the staff attempted to resurrect Spocon in two formats; one similar to the original Spocon, and the new Fan Nexus con.

2017 turned out to be a rebuilding year for Spokane nerds. Spocon was riddled by sexual assault allegations, followed by a very poor handling of those allegations by the then-president of the convention. The board removed him as president and took the appropriate steps, but the public relations damage had been done.  The halls of the Doubletree were very quiet last year, and in a row of tables devoted to authors Esther and I alone had a table with books on it.

We didn’t go to Fan Nexus. The handful of people who did go tell me it was amazing, but it failed to draw an appropriately-sized crowd and is not returning due to, I suspect, lack of funds.

Spocon, however, will be coming back with a vengeance.

We may not make much profit on Spocon. It’s not going to be a convention where we sell out of books – most of the people there have already read what we have (the novel under submission to Baen has put something of a kink in our production pipeline).

But this is fandom. And the financial standpoint is not the only standpoint.

In a very real way, Spocon is home. All of our characters were born there. Our entire world was created there. It’s where every wonderful thing that has happened to us since began, and it is the cause.

I’ve made this post because there’s been some questioning.  Authors who aren’t going to Spocon, and who shall remain nameless, have asked things along the lines of “Isn’t that convention basically dead on its feet?” or “Do you really expect an audience there?”

To these questions, I smile. I shake my head. And I simply tell them that it’s a con worth going to.

Becuase here’s the thing:  I know Spokane nerds.  Hell, I grew up a Spokane nerd.  And I can say, definitively, that Spokane nerds are hardcore. They don’t take their geekery lightly.

Yes, 2016’s lack of a convention was a body-blow to Spocon.  It’s going to take a couple of years for it to be resurrected to its former glory.  But that resurrection is, I believe, coming. And since it’s our home con, I want to be there to help make it happen.

So hell yes, doubters. We are going to be at Spocon.  And we are going to have a baller time at it. Because, for us–we’re going home.

See you there.

Spocon is August 10-12 at the Doubletree Inn in Spokane, Washington.

Miscon Report: The Greatest Little Convention in the World

We love Miscon.

Alright, alright.  Those of you who haven’t been are sitting there thinking “What’s Miscon?  Where’s that?”  Well, let’s start with this:  it’s in Missoula.  And it’s one of the best small cons there is.

Yes, Missoula.  Deal with it.

I have a theory of why this convention is so awesome.  You see, Missoula is a college town; the University of Montana makes its home there (go Grizzlies).  Colleges are, of course, hotbeds of nerdism.  There’s a correllation between higher education levels and deep, deep love for speculative fiction of some form, and the area directly around a college tends to be full of grad students, professors, and people who interact with the above on a number of scales.  Therefore, the number of nerds in a town like Missoula is actually kind of high.

But wait, there’s more.  Because, you see, there’s a twist; unlike super-high nerd areas like Seattle or Portland, there is nothing else nerdy for these people to do.  Take Norwescon, for instance.  If you’re from the Seattle area, you have your choice of nerdy events.  There’s ECCC, there’s PAX.  Hell, Sakuracon happens at the same time as Norwescon.  My point here is that Norwescon is not, for a Seattle nerd, the be-all-and-end-all of nerdy things they can do.  A Seattle nerd can head down to Cafe Mox at any point in time and nerd out for an evening with very little difficulty.

A Missoula nerd?  They have one shot.  361 days out of the year, there is nothing within a hundred and fifty miles that’s even remotely nerd-focused.  They’re in the middle of Montana, and nobody around them gives two wet farts about obscure science fiction references.  For those 361 days, they walk around in a state of mild repression, expressing themselves only privately to friends, or perhaps making pilgrimages to outside events.  For 361 days out of the year, they are in a nerd desert.  That reaction you had, right in the beginning of my post, when I said “Missoula” and you said “Why would I go to Missoula there’s nothing nerdy about that bumpkin-filled town in the middle of the wasteland we call Montana?”  That reaction is well-founded, but miscalculated.  Missoula may be a bumpkin-oriented town, but it has many nerds.  And those nerds have been bottling themselves all year.  Pressure has been backbuilding under the cork like a champagne bottle in a microwave.  That sense of repression builds all year, until they get to the one event in Missoula that really lets them off the handle.

And then Miscon starts.

It’s like pulling the cork off the champagne bottle.  All that pressure comes flying out in a wild fugue of geekdom.  You’ve never seen beauty until you’ve seen the your first Montana nerd who’s never been to a convention before suddenly realize she doesn’t have to hide in the basement anymore.  That there are other people in the world who love these things, and who want to love these things with her.  For the first time in her entire life, she is free to be herself among others, and no ridicule will ensue.  She will, instead, be celebrated, for she is among friends.

These people glow.

And they come back.  They come back like addicts, craving this four-day release of their inner selves.  They know they won’t have another chance to be in an environment like this for a year, and they are going to make the most of it.

This gives Miscon a frenetic sort of energy, because everyone around Miscon is driven to make Miscon as awesome an experience as they can.  If it’s going to have to last all year, then they had better let it all hang out.  A Miscon nerd leaves nothing on the table.  They err on the side of doing the thing, whatever the thing may be.  The games are intense.  The boffing is hardcore and consistent.  The Quidditch tournament is unreserved, and the panels are all slammed, because these people are going to live their lives in the brief, moth-like moment that they can.  It is brief, it is fleeting, and its very transience makes it all the more beautiful.

The con-com always seems organized, because they know that having Miscon is far more important than any internal drama.  That’s a lesson for the bigger cons; be willing to put things aside for the good of the organization.  The dealer-room is well-positioned, and as a result of this frenetic pace we had our best convention of sales ever.  Of all time.  Better than Worldcon, Orycon, Westercon, or Norwescon.  Miscon was so great to us, in fact, that we tripled the gross receipts of any one of those other cons.

We brought a table minion with us, as well.  Some of you know Katherine from private life, some of you will remember her from the convention as the awesome Starbuck cosplay (pictured left).  We’d been to Miscon before (but without setting up a table), and we already knew it was one of our favorite cons.  We told her about it, and she gave us that screwed-up facial expression that said “Yeah, Okay.  I’m not going to call you idiots because you’re my friends, but really…Missoula?”

Post-Miscon, here’s what she had to say:

MisCon was magical in more ways than I ever could have imagined and I made a lot of RIDICULOUSLY cool friends. I was skeptical when my friends told me their favorite con is in Missoula, MT, but it has become my favorite too on my first visit. Nerd friends, especially those of you who are writers looking to improve your craft or big speculative fiction readers, give MisCon a shot next year.

Allow us to add our voice to hers.

Miscon is the greatest little con in the world.  It brings the nerd harder per capita than any other con I’ve been at.  It punches well above its weight class in terms of guests, of fans, and of general con experience.  It is a heady, magical place, and I look forward to being back next year.

Westboro Wannabes Picket Norwescon

So, I’m in my hotel room at Norwescon. I don’t have a dealer table, and my panel appearances are kinda limited, so I’m making the best of it by getting as much done on Black Powder Goddess as I can. I’m deep into revisionland when all of a sudden a load, distorted voice from a megaphone starts shouting at me to repent my sins.

Now, understand something; I am on the tenth floor of the hotel. So this megaphone is putting out some serious decibels, if not clarity. I step out onto my balcony, and see that there are people with massive signs bouncing them up and down in front of the con hotel as megaphone-preacher predicts a future of eternal fire for me.

I admit, my first thoughts were of irritation. After all, I’m just trying to get some work done, here. Now I’ve got to listen to this moron shouting at me while I try to fix this little bit of dialogue, or that paragraph structure.

But other people begin to emerge onto their own balconies as well, and now we’re looking at each other. Occasionally, someone shouts something rude back at the preacher. One dude starts up a chant of “Live in sin” over and over again. There are catcalls, people fly the horns, etc. But even that starts to die down in the face of what appears to be a never-ending barrage of scripture.

And I’m thinking to myself; what the hell good can they possibly imagine this is doing?

I mean, is anyone going to say “Whelp, I was going to hit up a room party, drink like Bacchus, and compare various forms of magic and demons to one another, but now that someone I don’t know has yelled Bible verses at me through a megaphone I think I’m going to church instead?” No. That is a phrase said by nobody, ever.

I start a thread on the Norwescon Facebook page about it, and suddenly I’m getting awash in comments. Some talk about the fact that it’s kinda late in the evening and they’re trying to get kids to sleep. After all, the party wing is as far from the tower in this hotel as one can get; he’s literally shouting at the tower of people who really didn’t feel like going out, getting wasted, and/or having an orgy. But he doesn’t care. He’s doing the Lord’s Work, and nothing so silly as logic or reason is going to do anything to stop that.

But I’m getting other comments, too. Comments like this one, from Amanda Hodges:

“That’s awesome! They only protest the good stuff these days. Grats!”

Or this, from Robyn Lynne:

“WooHOO! Norwescon has made the big time! :\”

And I’m beginning to agree with them. These people only protest things that I tend to agree with (with one notable exception). I disagree with these kinds of so-called Christians so radically that the simple act of being protested by them makes me truly believe I’m doing something right. If someone evil tries to stop you, chances are you’re doing good.

And as the protest goes on, I start getting more stories. Here’s one from John Redmond:

“Was a GREAT teachable moment for my 8-year old girl when my sexy Harley-Quinn-themed wife walked past them and they essentially called her a whore. I said, right in front of them, that he had judged Mommy by appearance, not knowing she’s a fanatical member of our Church’s choir and faithful to her husband. Said 8-year-old said, “Isn’t it a sin to judge people?” RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM. “Absolutely, my dear. Jesus loved everyone except hypocrites. Hypocrites are the WORST sinners. Now turn the other cheek, just walk away from them. They’re evil.”

We got an applause from a good handful of people we were walking with.”

So, to the Westboro wannabes who thought protesting us was a good idea: you fucked up. See, we’re nerds. We have a certain familiarity with the short end of the bully stick. Yelling at us does nothing worthwhile, because we’ve had a lifetime of being judged by others. And we come to these conventions because we’ve discovered that there’s an entire community of us here, supporting one another. For all the con drama that can take place, you come at us as a whole and we respond in kind. Not violently, but as a community. You absolutely failed to shame us, because we took your protest as validation that we are in the right. It’s not that your opinion is irrelevant to us; quite the opposite. It’s that, by your very actions, you have proven an inverse relationship between your goals and ours.

We want freedom; you want oppressive religion. We want diversity; you want the continued dominance of the white male. We want consent-based sexuality; you want sex to be an act of possession. We believe as we want to believe, and we respect that in others; you think any belief other than your own is invalid. And we dream about what the future could be, while you try feebly to cling to the past.

And since we know all that about you, we also know that every angry word that flies out of your obnoxiously loud megaphone only serves to confirm that we are in the right. That, by gathering here to celebrate these basic principles of nerdity, we have in some way affected the world. That ripples are going forth, reaching people–if they weren’t, after all, you wouldn’t care to protest it.

So thank you, Westboro wannabe morons. Thank you for proving, by your actions, the value that Norwescon (and all such fan-run conventions) have in this world. Thank you for proving that we can’t be bullied. You gave us all a teachable moment, and we learned something about ourselves.

And maybe think about what it was we learned before you drag your damned megaphone out to interrupt my work again.

Our Experience with Sky Warrior Books

You may have noticed that the publisher of our novels, and many of the anthologies in which we appear, is a single publisher:

 

 

 

Now, that’s beginning to not be the case.  We’ve got some stuff with Knotted Road press, and a story coming out with WordFire, but the vast majority of what we’ve published to date is with Sky Warrior.

I’m not going to comment directly on the situation outlined by the anonymous complaints over on Writer Beware.  I don’t know anything about that situation, I don’t know the details, and I’m not here to speak on whatever happened there.

But after reading that post, I feel like I need to talk about my experience with Sky Warrior has been.

Let me start with this:  Sky Warrior Books is a name, but the person behind it is one Maggie Bonham.  Her and her husband wrangle a stable of authors together from their home in the backwoods of Montana.  It is a small press.  It does not have a marketing budget.  Occasionally, the royalty payments come slowly, but they do always come.  Granted, this is a small press, so our royalty payment isn’t the sort of thing to make us quit our day jobs, but they still come, and they are what we should be getting.

So is it perfect?  Nope.

But here’s the thing:  We would be nothing without Maggie Bonham.

If Maggie Bonham hadn’t noticed us lurking about at a Spocon and convinced us to submit a short story to a zombie anthology, we don’t become professional authors at all.  She took us from nothing–nothing— and made us what we are.  Our marketing abilities?  Maggie.  The quality of the product we release?  Well…Sue Bolich did that, but we only got Sue as an editor because of Maggie.  The fact that we can simply knock and a convention puts us on the pro schedule?  Maggie.

We simply do not exist if Maggie Bonham doesn’t run Sky Warrior Books.

She has been nothing but up-front with us about everything we have going on.  If there’s a problem with the royalties, we are told what the problem is and when it will be fixed by.  If there’s a problem with a book, we are told what the problem is and what needs to be done to fix it.  And if we need something from her, she is there.

No.  The royalties don’t come quickly.  They just don’t.  But as neither of us need that fifty bucks right now in order to eat, that’s secondary from our perspective.  And Maggie has never been anything but up-front with everyone about her payment schedule.  She informs everyone at the get-go that marketing is the author’s responsibility.  We knew exactly what we were getting into when we signed on with Sky Warrior, and it has worked as expected since.

I have never known Maggie Bonham to act dishonestly with me in any of the five years she has been my publisher.

So, again; this article isn’t here to take sides in any ongoing drama.  That drama’s got nothing to do with me.  And there are some things that should make you consider whether Sky Warrior is going to be a good fit.  If you are the kind of person that needs your royalties right now or you will starve, then this isn’t the right place.

For us, it was.  What we were looking for was someone to help us learn the ropes of the business and provide us a platform through which we could build a fan base.  And Maggie did exactly that.  Now we have fans, and we have other publishers asking after us.  We’re getting to be a hot commodity.  From our perspective, that’s more important than having our royalties every month.

I have nothing but love for Maggie Bonham, and she has treated Esther and I with nothing but respect and courtesy.  So there’s my two cents on Sky Warrior Books as a publisher.

 

The post that treadeth into no-man’s land.

Alright, it’s been a year, and I’m ready to break down the #Gamergate debacle.  I shall attempt to do so, and then I shall await the flensing that comes when any blogger touches this, the internet’s third rail.

Let me begin by saying this:  I am a gamer.  I like video games.  I like board games.  I like RPGs.  And I like the people who play them, regardless of gender.  There are some problems inherent in the industry, and some problems inherent in geekdom in general, and those problems need sorting.  This happens to be the thing that has brought those problems to a head.

I’m going to break this thing down into phases.  I’m going to do that because I think there’s a lesson to be learned in how this thing fell apart, because there is no topic that we bring up that couldn’t do this exact thing.  #Gamergate is a horrific example of how things snowball on the internet.  Let’s rewind back to the beginning, and watch what happened.

 

 

Phase 1:  Zoe Quinn gets a lot of attention for Depression Quest

Depression Quest is actually an interesting game that tries to simulate a struggle with depression.  It’s pretty dark, not very fun (and not meant to be), and relatively stark.  It has no flashy graphics, just static pictures and text overlaid with melancholy music.

In short, it’s not a very fancy video game.  Despite its lack of sophistication, it’s powerful.  And Quinn was heralded by reviewers as having done an awesome thing.

However, gamers used to sweet graphics and twitch gameplay, half of whom get triggered by Quinn’s game and don’t even know it, could not understand what the hype was about.  There’s no cool action, no anything really.  It’s a choose-your-own-adventure novel, essentially.  Judged by the criteria on which most gamers judge games, Depression Quest sucks.

 

 

Phase 2:  Conspiracy Theories Begin

So, the perspective of gamers at this point in time is this:  (1)There is a game that sucks, that (2) is getting incredible press.  This becomes consensus, and quickly accepted as a given.  As a result, the logical conclusion is that something is going on with the press.

This, by the way, is not a new theory.  Fact of the matter is, there’s a revolving door between the video game industry and the video game reviewing industry, and the same sites that review the games also advertise them for money, and there’s a lot of issues running around in general.

So it’s natural, even predictable, that the internet went searching for a reason that Depression Quest got a bunch of attention while not being a “good” game (again, by gamer standards).  I point this out simply to show that there were people, in the beginning, who did not get into #Gamergate as a gender issue at all.

 

 

Phase 3:  Someone finds out Zoe Quinn is an adult female

If a man had made Depression Quest, the accusation would have been that the man paid off Kotaku.  But Zoe Quinn is not a man; she is, in fact, a relatively attractive woman.  What’s more, she’s a relatively attractive woman who had, at one point in time, dated Nathan Grayson, a journalist at Kotaku.

Let me be clear here.  Ms. Quinn did nothing wrong.  The two reported their relationship to Kotaku, and did all in their power to ensure that Grayson did not work on Ms. Quinn’s stories after that.

Still, there was a concern here, and it’s not an invalid one:  Did Mr. Grayson influence the press?  I tend to think not, because I’ve played Depression Quest and I get why it has good reviews.  But given the tendency of gaming journalism to be skewed, and given the level of frustration about it, it’s not really shocking that this popped off.

 

 

Phase 4:  Some preteen boys vent their juvenile rage

Adults, when put into this situation, compose clearly thought-out arguments and try to sort through them to find the truth; it has been this way since Socrates.

But not all gamers are adults, or act like it.

Instead, a subset of gamers concerned about journalistic ethics expressed their concern in a wildly inappropriate fashion.  Sadly, that subset tends to be one of the most vocal and flamboyant groups, and therefore is the one that draws the most attention.  I say “preteen boys,” and I have no doubt that most of these people were.  Some weren’t, but they were acting like it.

Death threats, rape threats, publication of documents (“doxing,”) – Quinn got hit with it all.  And as the theory about her sleeping her way to good reviews spread, one post to another, the vitriol grew with it.  Soon, people are reacting to Quinn having read only the column of some other vitriolic asshole, and they respond in kind.

 

 

Phase 5:  For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction

Enter the Social Justice Warriors.

Now, Quinn needed defending.  She was being unfairly harassed, and the form that harassment was taking was nasty and misogynistic.  There’s no doubt that she was taking more harassment because of her gender.  There were evil, misogynist, and juvenile assholes going off the rails, and they were in the wrong.  I have no problem with the SJW’s stepping in to back Zoe Quinn.

Gender has long been a huge issue in video game culture.  It’s a back-built pressure, and it’s about time someone did something about the misogyny that is undoubtedly present.  

But here’s the problem:  anyone using the #Gamergate tag was branded an evil, misogynist bastard.  The SJW’s didn’t stop at simply condemning the nasty behavior being targeted at Quinn and her supporters.  They labelled the entire group as being responsible for the behavior of a few.

From the perspective of the SJW, #Gamergate supporters were doing evil things.  Therefore, #Gamergate was evil.  Therefore, anyone who wanted to talk about it, even if they too condemned the juvenile behavior of their colleagues, was evil.

 

Phase 6:  #Gamergate supporters react to SJW’s.

So, now we’ve got a group of people who thought they were reacting to press ethics who are now being told that they were never talking about the press, they were just part of a secret, misogynist cult from the beginning.  Simply by getting into the discussion, they are brutal, woman-hating pigs who should be ashamed of themselves.

And this group of people?  They’re shocked.  Offended.  And given no leeway at all.  They were a part of Gamergate, and so now they are the devil.  End of story.

Suddenly, SJW becomes a pejorative.  This group starts seeing the posts of the SJWs as irrelevant, becoming more and more disillusioned with the ideas of diversity.  To them, the fight is now about their freedom, not about misogyny.  From their perspective, the SJW’s attacked an honest argument about journalistic integrity by “playing the gender card.”  That makes SJW’s worthless.

 

Phase 7:  Rinse and Repeat

So now the Gamergaters, even the ones who didn’t start out bigoted and nasty, are quickly becoming or have become bigoted and nasty.  The SJWs have become more high-handed and judgmental than ever, not stopping to parse the situation but rather judging everyone involved, a much easier course to feeling morally righteous about onesself.

And the more debate happens, the more worthless juveniles on both sides behave inappropriately.  So the death threats, and rape threats, and murder threats abound, and both groups are guilty by association with their lesser minds.

It’s not about Quinn anymore.  It’s not about Anita Sarkeesian, or Brianna Wu, or any of the other victims.  It stopped being about the press long ago.  It’s now simply about two groups of people who hate each other.  Both of them believe they are justified.  The battle lines have been drawn, and there will be no compromise.  #Gamergaters turn into Sad Puppies and blow up the Hugo nominations.  SJW’s get their revenge by declaring Worldcon to be invalid.  The wheel keeps on spinning, around and around, like a modern-day Hatfield-and-McCoy scenario.

 

So, what do I think about this?

I think people are individuals.  I think that there were well-meaning people on both sides of this damned thing that got caught up in a shitstorm and dragged to one side or the other.  I think misogyny and the actions of the vocal-asshole #Gamergaters were absolutely wrong.  But I also think that the #Gamergaters who tried to keep things en pointe and called out the vocal-asshole contingent were unfairly painted with a brush much wider than it needed to be.

Here’s the thing that scares me:  This evolution can happen to any conversation at any point in time.  It’s a series of inappropriate overreactions, each one of which is targeted at an ever-growing population, who then get sucked into the vortex of hatred that one of these debates invariably creates.  And nobody is going to admit they’re part of the problem, and that is just going to make the problem worse.

Place the blame where it belongs.  If you were making a death threat, or a rape threat, or in any way personally harassing someone on the other side of the debate, fuck you.  If you knew about that activity and condoned or ignored it, fuck you.  But if you argued against that activity and still got called a bigot, then I’m sorry that happened to you.  On the other side, if you believe that people should live a life free of harassment, then good on you.  If you believe that we need to act with respect towards one another no matter what disagreement we’re having, good on you.  But if you condemned the many for the actions of the few, then fuck you.  And if you responded to hate with hate, then fuck you.  All you did in those situations was make the matter worse.

The internet is an amazing tool.  It allows us to share our thoughts like never before, and it allows ideas to travel the world at the speed of light.  Sadly, some ideas are bullshit.  And it’s much easier to be caught in a web of hatred, stridently arguing your position, than it is to take a step back and acknowledge that the world is a very complicated place, and maybe when it all comes together in one forum there is more than a black-and-white scenario going on.

So, there it is.  Blog responsibly, people.  In fact, #blogresponsibly.  Let there be a voice for moderation, for reasonable discourse, and above all for humanity.  Because if we as a society continue to abuse this amazing tool we’ve created, it’s just going to keep abusing us back.