Making space for the underdog, at SpikeCon 2019
I was incredibly honored and fortunate to speak on 4 panels at SpikeCon (which was also Westercon 72 and NASFiC 13) this past week:
- “Gay Wizards and Lesbian Sorceresses,” with co-panelists Erin Ruston, Baen author D.J. Butler (author of the Witchy Eye series), and Adam McLain, moderated by B. Daniel Blatt
- “Editing vs. Beta Reading,” with co-panelists best-selling author Dan Wells (author of the John Cleaver series, which started with I Am Not A Serial Killer), TOR senior acquisition editor Susan Chang, and Melissa Meibos, moderated by Joe Monson
- “Privilege and Passing in Genre Fiction,” with co-panelists YA author Aften Brook Szymanski (author of Con Code, among others), B. Daniel Blatt, and I. Aguilar, moderated by Jayrod Garrett
- “Write What You Don’t Know,” with co-panelists Aften Brook Szymanski, B. Daniel Blatt, and I. Aguilar, moderated by Jayrod Garrett
I knew going into every one of these panels that the discussion would be fraught with politics of some sort. As our moderator Jayrod put it in one panel, if you expected “easy,” you were in the wrong room.
I’m a pacifist, and I despise conflict. I’m also frightfully shy, although perhaps you might not notice (much) if you meet me in public because I’ve spent years and years practicing my public speaking and public-interfacing skills. (That’s one unexpected benefit of getting a “practical” degree like an MBA. It forced me out of many, many comfort zones.)
So go figure that I’d jump at these topics as a first-time panelist at a writing convention.
But these panel sessions were topics that were close and dear to my heart, not just as a writer, but as a reader and as a POC and as a woman.
I have never backed down from fighting for the underdog — in fact, I have always loved fighting for the underdog (how else does one wind up at the bottom of the dogpile with 7 rescue pets?) — and in today’s day and age, more and more I’m realizing that I have to do my part and gird up and wade into battle with my dual blades swinging. I can’t just be a pacifist, or be a bystander. I have to speak up. I have to. Because there are legions of other frightfully shy introverts like myself who are still gathering the courage to do so, who have something important to say, and we need to make space for them at the table, too.
So I gathered up my courage and I spoke, and I hope that I did my small part to make space.
In all of these panels, we had great moderators who deftly navigated the white water rapids around big boulders of discussion topics, and helped us cover a lot of ground without bloodshed. Not too much, anyway. Not enough to notice, I hope. 🙂
I wound up learning a ton from not just the other panelists, but also from the audiences, who were thoughtful, engaged, and — in all-too-many cases — heartbreakingly relatable.
It inspired me to see the audience watch us warily at first, unsure of what we’d say and what was allowed to be said, then open up gradually throughout the sessions until they were sharing stories they shouldn’t have to share, that they shouldn’t have had to live and experience. More than one storyteller made me want to get up and give them a hug, to tell them it’ll get better and we’re improving, even though we can’t be sure we are and it will.
And in case you thought the “Editing vs. Beta Reading” panel escaped tough discussion … no. Oh, no no no. Not only was there lively discussion about the differences among editors and among beta readers, but we touched upon topics such as sensitivity readers and the Twitter mob mentality, and how fraught with self-censure and fear it can be to be a YA author today, and … yeah.
But at least for that one hour in each session, it was exciting to share our hopes and share what we’ve seen changing for the better in our writing community and in the publishing industry, instead of despairing and suffering, in silence.
I am incredibly grateful that I got the chance to speak at these panels, and that I met some wonderful people afterward who reaffirmed, for me, that we are all writing toward a better world.
(all photos are provided courtesy of Jan S. Gephardt – thank you, Jan!)