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Evan "Skwid" Langlinais
The Humblest Mollusk on the Net
The Humblest Mollusk on the Net


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So there are no state-wide ballots here in NC, today, but yeah, I still voted. A lot of people seem to not vote in the "little" elections because they don't think they matter, but the truth is just the opposite! Your voice (via your vote) is much, much more proportionately powerful in smaller races, and the leaders you elect there have louder voices that reach upward and affect so much. Go vote! It's important!

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Via +Dan Thompson​. Public post.

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I really didn't expect to be crying my eyes out this afternoon, but then I read this incredibly moving story. Wow.

Public post, because...everyone should see this.

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Hey! I've been on that bus!

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Woo-hoo! New Kongos album out today!

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Next time you're in Shreveport (LOL), stop here and get the Fried Green Tomatoes! They are mind-blowingly delicious!

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U need dis! MOISTURIZE!

I'm looking at you, especially, +Sarah Rios, +Bliss Morgan, +Tiffany Marshall, +Arlene Medder, +Katey Springle Lempka, etc.!
Couldn't make it to Time Eddy? Well, you can still suds up with some timey-wimey soap! The Whovian soaps have been listed on Etsy now. At least some varieties will be sent to Amazon as soon as I can manage, but it will be a few weeks before they show up there, so if you're in a rush to get your hands on the Soap of Rassilon, Etsy is the place to go!

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Writing About Controversies

Since before the Great Exclusion Act of 1939, the science-fiction community has had its share of controversies, feuds and flame wars -- between pros, between fans, between pros and fans. Maybe more than its share. Discussion about these controversies -- whether in fanzines or online -- has often generated more heat than light. How can we research and write about controversial issues in the field? Is it ever possible to just stick to the facts? Panelists talk about what they've learned about how to approach these issues.

+Laura J Mixon – writes as M.J. Locke
+John Scalzi - novelist
Mike Glyer – fandom journalist
+Will Frank – fan moderator
Eric Flint - novelist

Will sets down The Law. There is much applause!

Opening question for the panel: what is your experience writing about a controversy. Mike says that one of the principles of the internet is that people like to attract attention to themselves, and that some of the very large kerfluffles there might be 10 or 15 people covering something and that the interlinking feeds off each other as a firestorm of interest. Scalzi talks about his time in journalism writing about controversies professionally which he said was kind of awesome. In some sense it's almost Hegelian, starting with thesis, and then synthesis, etc. He says that internet interactions has caused that progress to accelerate. Flint talks about Napoleon's Dictum of you shouldn't ascribe to malignancy what can be developed from incompetence. Laura says that if something is a serious issue and a potential threat, start from the facts, review your responsibilities to relating those facts, and put them out there so people can evaluate them for themselves. 

Will asks Mike about historical-wise, are there more people being stupid, or just more people period. Mike says probably both. While we still tend to have in common reading SF and being interested in the creators of it, but his background equips him to compare things to what was active in the 80s. Eric says that the 5th of his 6 rules is remember the internet effect, which is that you do not see the person you are arguing with, and that emoticons are no substitute for faces and posture, etc. That online interactions tend to be more belligerent than otherwise because of that distance imposed, and that one should try to remember that.

Laura says that the rules of behavior in corporate environments are completely different, and that she was surprised to compare that to how writers behave without as much tact and analysis and diplomacy. Scalzi says that the internet is face blind and you can't recognize that and sometimes the only thing you have to deal with is the words. To him the way you interact with people online is much more akin to writing than it is face-to-face. The ability to edit and be more forceful can lead to people sometimes being less careful about their phrasing and like you're yelling into people's face. Brings up the “The failure mode of clever is asshole” thing that he's brought up elsewhere.

Will asks about how much you can report just the facts. Asks the panel what their experiences sorting out facts from opinions. John says that one of the problems is a lot of things get presented as factual in a rhetorical way that are in fact just opinions asserted as fact. That it is one's job writing about these things and determine whether things being asserted as true are in fact based in reality or based in the agenda they may be trying to promote. That it may be the job of people writing about things like this to pop that bubble of assertions and take it down to facts. Laura says that she has tried to keep that in her mind when doing her research.

Will asks about sourcing, and how do you find your facts. Scalzi interrupts saying “Wikipedia.” Will asks Mike what techniques he uses, and he responds with card playing advice “Don't play the cards, play the players,” and he will assign weights to information based on whom it may be coming from and his awareness of them in the past. He tries to formulate useful questions that will reveal what may actually be going on. Eric says that his 3rd rule is “Double check what you think you know” and if you find yourself using paraphrases or generalities then make sure you can document what you're saying in their words, and if you can't don't do it. His publisher only had one criticism of what he wrote, which he had difficulty getting rid of because it was such a great turn of phrase. John says that in cases where you are doing something for rhetorical effect you can be persuasive, but when you do that you must be clear that you are not actually saying things that are so just because you so strongly believe in them. A trap that fools people of all levels of effective communication and competencies, brings up Dunning-Kruger effect. Mike says that his impression is that people don't want you to be free of a point of view, that they want you to disclose them so they can predict it. Will says that if your biases are on record, at least they're known. He asks if Eric's publisher has given him any feedback on his controversial stances. He says that his publisher has been standing well away from it, and has done it well. He thinks that authors are in a somewhat strange position because they can express themselves clearly as an individual, that it's harder if you have yourself a relationship with a professional association that might limit your expression. Laura says Tor has been similarly supportive to Eric's experience with Baen, and were uninterested in their author's interests and political agendas. Scalzi can't imagine any of his publishers trying to rein in his personal and political public speech, because he's not an employee. When writing at a newspaper he was limited somewhat to what could go into a family-friendly publication, but otherwise not very. Will asks Mike if he's ever gotten off-the-record type things from publisher employees. He says yes, as recently as last year got a tip that he was able to independently verify. Scalzi says that if you get out in front of something that turns out to not be true, admitting that right out that you were wrong about something gains you lots of credit. Names the incident where there was a sock puppet claiming to be him that Mike published on and then corrected when John repudiated the commenter.

Question about navigating safety and privacy issues, threats of violence and doxxing, etc. John says that for him there's an extension of the dilemma of reporting identifying information about people to verify them while exposing them at the same time, which is magnified now when the context is global compared to local like a newspaper. When he knows that he's talking about someone who's not as public a participant in the world as he is, he takes care not to really closely identify that person while still responding to them. That there is a responsibility of public figures to use discretion in the service of private individuals. Laura says disadvantaged peoples are less safe, and more statistically likely to be harassed and stalked and so forth, and they want to be part of the community and the conversation, but also have a need to be private and kept safe from those kinds of repercussions. 

Question asking about advice for new or more fragile authors who feel compelled to write about controversial topics. Eric's is “Do it!” John says there's an article from an RWA publication warning people to not do it, and John thought that was terrible advice, particularly to tell a primarily female publication's audience that they should be quiet in the face of controversy! At the end of the day, he says that the question is are you requited to be silent because you are in the stream of commerce, and the answer is No, the fact that you write fiction for an audience does not define you, and that no person should be enjoined not to participate in the public life of our world because of their job. That that makes the world worse, because the fearless tend to be idiots. “Tragedy of the Commons” says another panelist. Eric says he's been a Socialist in America his whole life and the best protection he's had is to be open about it, because it makes it impossible for someone to leverage him on it. You may lose readers because of it, but you'll probably pick up as many because of it at the same time.

Question of if you make a mistake and don't delete it you are leaving misinformation out there. John says no situation is the same, sometimes it makes more sense to remove it, sometimes it makes more sense to update and flag it as false. Mike says he has yanked an entire post because he found out that the person he'd based it on had given him completely contradictory information regarding an incident from a different trusted source.

 Laura closes about how we need people of good will standing up and sharing their thoughts and feelings with thought and openness to other perspectives and an awareness of real people being on the other side of the screen. Eric closes with most controversies tend to get overblown really quickly and stepping back and getting perspective is an underutilzied tool. Says he tries when he finishes composing something that may be controversial he tries to sit on it for a night. John's final statement is “write what you need to write.” Mike's last statement is that it's interesting that agreement does not always resolve conflict.”


Visible Diversity in Current SF

Is science fiction becoming more diverse? Where can we find the diverse writers we need? How can we make speculative fiction more diverse, both in terms of the content and writers?

Cheryce Clayton – Native American and Romany author 
Cynthia Felice – author and blogger
+Arthur Chu  – blogger and author
+Mark Oshiro  – blogger

Mark asks what the current state of diversity in our community. Cynthia says that in the Southwest of America the SF community is dominantly white, despite sizable populations of other races in the area. Cheryce knows 3 SF pros that are Native American but publish as white because they're concerned about their publishability. Arthur says that from a fan perspective we are in interesting times. He says things used to be a lot more quiet, but it shouldn't be confused with peace. Talks about how #blacklivesmatter is prominent because now we can see the violence, not because it's worse, that it may actually be better, but it's visible. That the polite, genteel sexism and racism is no longer viable because the population is larger and refuses to be quiet.

Question from Cynthia of whether intent matters. Cheryce as a veteran does various events and you get the old guys who pat you on the ass as you walk by, and they don't mean anything by it, and she cuts them slack because their world has changed and they're dinosaurs. In Fandom she has a higher expectation. Mark says that of 50-60 cons he's been to there's been maybe 3 where he was not harassed. Brings up the N-bomb at LonCon last year and the lady who harassed him about it. Arthur brings up the Overton window, and that the range of what is acceptable is necessarily limited. That a big part of making progress on these issues is shifting the Overton window in a desired direction. Debates very rarely change people's minds, so at some point you have to just set a limit and say that things are not acceptable and make that clear to others. Mark says that you make a case-by-case basis on how much slack you cut based on relationship and context of the conversation. Arthur says that in this context of fandom there is a huge asymmetry, and that people who are public figures they have a lot of people approach them. 

Mark asks the panel what they see as major roadblocks to increasing diversity. Cheryce became a ghost writer because she was being told over and over again that she was being told it was a really great work, but could she change her name? Eventually she said you can put someone else's name on it for this much money. Cynthia says that one of the first recommendations she got from an editor was to take a male pseudonym. She says it was a risk sticking with her name, and she doesn't think it hurt her much, but that it was something pretty much all women her age in the field experienced. Arthur says the worst part is being known as the survivor of the harassment, not for your own accomplishments. Mark relates a story that by the third diversity panel at a convention it was the same 4 people. Audience member mentions that he sees a lot of tokenism in media and fiction, and how do we get past that. Mark says that minorities and other disadvantaged groups hang out in packs, and that's rarely represented in fiction. 

Question to Cheryce by a Native American fan about how much pressure she gets to be more visible as a fan. She says that there is pressure. Cynthia has hopes that men and women will continue to improve writing people of all kinds.

Mark says what are easy things I can not fuck up. Arthur says that fragility is a useful term to keep in mind. That issues like this can be very emotional in discussion. It can feel like you're being painted as a villain if you're on the “wrong,” oppressor side of a discussion of diversity. That if you can take a minute and suppress that reflex to defend yourself and just accept the criticism, you'll come out the other side better for it. Cheryce brings up the assessment of a crowd for threats she automatically does in every room she goes in, as a survivor. Mark says he has to do the same thing, and it's a huge drag on you.


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The Future of Publishing

Over the last 20 years, the publishing industry has changed dramatically, moving away from traditional models to online sales, self-publishing and ebooks. What could the next 20 years bring?

+Taiyo FUJII – author from Japan, previous publishing executive in Japan
+Zaza koshkadze – author from Georgia
Toni Weisskopf – Editor at Baen
+Beth Meacham – executive editor at Tor
+Robert J. Sawyer – author and editor, reacquiring his backlist
+Betsy Mitchell – surprise panelist: former publisher, obtaining backlist for digital publisher and private editor

Betsy describes how Open Road, where she's currently working, started. Her boss had this realization that a lot of people had no digital publication rights specified in their rights, so they're getting names that have been left behind in digital publication out there. RJS says that older contracts simply did not deal with that issue. Some publishers had amendments done on their old contracts getting them ebook rights. Describes the percentages that pay out to authors who publish directly rather than through a publisher, and how the “fair split” is up for discussion now. Beth describes all the services publishers bring to the table in counterpoint. There's a brief upset as they go past each other. Toni points out that for an established author from print like RJS the situation is pretty different from a new author who is trying to make their way in the world. Taiyo says in Japan the payout is even lower for authors, for both print and e-book editions. TW asks TF how new authors are publicized. TF says they don't have agents there, the publishers have a much more direct role in publicization. ZK says that print runs are very small, and it's a very risky market to publish in because the number of readers is small. He got famous for putting poetry on walls that was taboo at the time, and then published poems on a website to get wider exposure. 

TW asks RJS where he thinks technologies are leading us in publishing. RJS says Tor is not abandoning print, contrary to many pundits saying that print will disappear entirely. That even many younger readers prefer print. RJS says that in electronic publishing the author is entirely empowered. RJS also says there's something really cool about having a book in paper, as an ego thing. He says it's the two channel thing that keeps the dialog alive. TW doesn't think the two-channel thing is reality, and that publishers will remain relevant in all channels of publishing books because its a mature industry that knows how to do what it does. Observes that self-publishing is not new, and that lots of historical examples of self-publishing exist. RJS yells over Beth saying that it's free and goes on a tirade in that regard. Betsy says that yes, you can hire all the services of a publisher ala carte, but there's cache and leverage in having a publisher, and advantages thereto. Beth tells a story of trying to get corporate executives to begin to understand the changes coming in e-books and convincing them it was a real thing that would be a big deal. Beth observes that because space doesn't matter and manufacturing obstacles aren't present, publishing shorter works is becoming more acceptable, and Toni agrees, saying that short fiction has always been a great field for the genre and yet it was discouraged in some ways because of manufacturing costs. TF says that translation is an obstacle for self-publishing. ZK says in Georgia intellectual property as an idea is essentially dead, and everyone basically pirates everything.

Betsy says she's very fond of the Kickstarter model, boosting artists who have fallen out of conventional models. RJS says that he recommends the Author's Guild for their statement about equitable funding splits, as opposed to the “cackling editors” to his right. TW says “Baen is very pleased to have the rest of publishing join it.” 

Question about if an author has done most of the work to prepare for self-publishing then a publisher approaches them, should the author get more of a share for having that done for them? Counterpoint from TW being that self-published authors often do well, but when they get published by a firm they can do much, much better, Correia as an example.

Question about Kindle Unlimited, RJS says that Amazon is not your friend, and recommends a bunch of different platforms. Beth says the KU contract can be particularly limited.

Question about how to get well placed by the Sales team. Beth answers by “be the person they don't mind answering the phone for”

Question about audiobook market. TW says that they really took of for SF after digitization and small listening devices. RJS points out that Audible does a very good job, and are on the same quality as traditional publishers. He says that audiobook consumers are straight up additional consumers, and do not cannibalize book sales.

Question about Amazon being a disruptive technology. How do you address the position of Amazon's position of extreme power. RJS says the department of justice needs to address that imbalance. Beth says the way traditional publishers stand up to Amazon is with very strong negotiating tactics. TW says that long-term there will be challenges to Amazon, and that we've got an interesting future.

Question about 99c ebooks and where pricing is going. TW says pricing follows what people will pay. Betsy says that she often amuses herself reading 99c book reviews.

Question about a multi-format purchase option (bundled e-book/audio). Completely dismissed by TW. “Do you buy a hardcover and expect a paperback?”

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