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Writer’s Ink: Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor - TattooWhile I was at Detcon1, I noticed how many of my writing buddies had tattoos, and an idea was born…

Introducing Writer’s Ink, a feature I’ll be running more or less weekly for a while, until such time as I stop doing it. (How’s that for specific?)

I’m going to start with Nnedi Okorafor, who was the YA Guest of Honor at Detcon1. Her novels include Who Fears Death (winner of the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel), Akata Witch (an Amazon.com Best Book of the Year), Zahrah the Windseeker (winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature), and The Shadow Speaker (winner of the CBS Parallax Award). Her short story collection Kabu Kabu was released in October, and her science fiction novel Lagoon was released in April, 2014. Her young adult novel Akata Witch 2: Breaking Kola is scheduled for release in 2015. She has a daughter named Anyaugo and is an associate professor at the University at Buffalo, New York.

I asked Nnedi to tell us a little about her tattoo:

It’s an illustration from my first novel Zahrah the Windseeker [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] (found on page 63 of the paperback). My character Nsibidi was a windseeker (a person who can fly) who worked with fortune-telling baboons. She had this drawing tattooed on her chest; it means “storyteller.” The drawing combines the Nigerian writing script called nsibidi and the creative ideas that I gave the book’s spot artist. My tattoo artist was Chicago-based artist Ryan Henry. I learned about him in a documentary about Black tattoo artists called Color Outside the Lines. It was screened at a conference to which I was also and invited guest. I love how everything is connected.

Thank you, Nnedi, for letting me show off your art! Click the photo to embiggen and get a better look at the tattoo. I also snapped a pic of page 63 for comparison, since I just happened to have the book sitting on my shelf…

Zahrah the Windseeker, Page 63

The only danger I see with this series is that by the time I’m done, I may need to get a tattoo of my own. Because there are some writers out there with seriously cool ink.

Sexual Harassment in Comics and Video Games

Related to the ongoing conversation about sexual harassment in SF/F…

From Bitch Magazine, survey data about sexual harassment in comics:

As a comics editor, writer, and fan myself, I got interested in how often people at conventions experience harassment. So earlier this year I conducted a survey on sexual harassment in comics, receiving 3,600 responses from people that varied from fans to professionals. The survey was distributed and conducted online, with people sharing it via Twitter, Facebook, and especially Tumblr and self-reporting all information. Of the people taking the survey, 55 percent of respondents were female, 39 percent were male, and six percent were non-binary (see the raw survey data here).

Out of all respondents, 59 percent said they felt sexual harassment was a problem in comics and 25 percent said they had been sexually harassed in the industry. The harassment varied: while in the workplace or at work events, respondents were more likely to suffer disparaging comments about their gender, sexual orientation, or race. At conventions, respondents were more likely to be photographed against their wishes. Thirteen percent reported having unwanted comments of a sexual nature made about them at conventions—and eight percent of people of all genders reported they had been groped, assaulted, or raped at a comic convention.

The one weakness of the study that I can see is that respondents were self-selected, as opposed to this being a truly random sampling. It’s the same issue I ran into with my survey of first novel sales a few years back. But even taking that into consideration, if you can take 3600 fans and pros, and a quarter of them have experienced sexual harassment in the industry, then we have a huge problem here.

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Game designer Brianna Wu wrote an article called “No Skin Thick Enough” about the daily harassment of women in video gaming. Warning: some of the examples and quotes in this article are truly abhorrent.

My name is Brianna Wu. I lead a development studio that makes games. Sometimes, I write about issues in the games industry that relate to the equality of women. My reward is that I regularly have men threatening to rape and commit acts of violence against me.

Wu provides four case studies illustrating the types of harassment women experience, and examining myths and realities about the gaming industry. Their stories are powerful, important, and eye-opening.

I strongly recommend reading both articles.

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Related: Sexual Harassment in the Scientific Community

WisCon, Harassment, and Rehabilitation

On Friday, WisCon posted a statement that read in part:

The WisCon committee has completed our harassment review process with regard to Jim Frenkel, who engaged in two reported violations of WisCon’s general and harassment policies at WisCon 37, in 2013 … WisCon will (provisionally) not allow Jim Frenkel to return for a period of four years (until after WisCon 42 in 2018). This is “provisional” because if Jim Frenkel chooses to present substantive, grounded evidence of behavioral and attitude improvement between the end of WisCon 39 in 2015 and the end of the four-year provisional period, WisCon will entertain that evidence. We will also take into account any reports of continued problematic behavior.

Natalie Luhrs has posted a roundup of some reactions. There’s a great deal of anger and frustration over poor communications, procedural failures, and more. I’m still reading, but my initial reaction is that the whole thing has been a mess that went rolling down a hill of mistakes, snowballing into a giant boulder of crap.

I’m still catching up on the conversation, and a lot of people have weighed in more thoughtfully and eloquently than I could. (See Natalie’s roundup for links.) One thing I wanted to talk about, however, was the “provisional” aspect of WisCon’s statement. Because my initial gut-level reaction was that it seemed reasonable to allow for the possibility of growth and change.

A little while back, I responded to an article titled, “The Naive Idiocy of Teaching Rapists Not to Rape.” The thing is, rapists can learn not to rape. People can and do change, especially when they’re confronted with consequences and forced to look at their own actions.

I’ve worked with college students, mostly men, in an early intervention program where we tried to help people recognize and change their own aggressive, boundary-crossing, harassing behaviors. I’ve sat in on batterer’s groups. I’ve spoken with pedophiles after their release from jail. My wife has designed and run domestic violence groups. My father spent much of his life working with juvenile offenders who had committed assault, robbery, rape, and more.

People can change. It’s kind of a no-brainer. Our behavior changes throughout our lifetime. We learn new habits, new values, and new choices. I’ve said and done things in the past that I wouldn’t dream of doing today, because I’ve learned better. We all have.

Does that mean all rapists and harassers will come to see the error of their ways if we only give them another chance? Of course not. Some people go right back to the same pattern of hostile behavior. But others can and do come to recognize the harm they’ve done to others, and find a new path.

I believe very strongly that there should be consequences for our actions. But I also believe in education and rehabilitation.

I don’t know if Jim Frenkel will ever truly accept responsibility for what he’s done, or if he’ll change a pattern of harassing behavior that goes back decades. He seemed genuinely remorseful when he spoke to me about this several years ago, but his behaviors didn’t change.

I hope this time is different. I hope the consequences of his loss of employment and being banned from his local convention force him to confront his choices, and that he comes out a better man.

The problem is when we choose to make his growth and change more important than the safety and security of his victims and potential victims.

When you’ve wronged someone and they throw you out of their life, you don’t get to force your way back in to prove that you’ve changed. You don’t get to violate their boundaries because you want to apologize. If the wronged party chooses to forgive and to allow you back into their lives, that’s one thing. If they choose not to, then you need to accept that loss as a consequence of your actions.

WisCon banned a known serial harasser on a relatively short-term “provisional” basis. While I share the same philosophical hope and belief for change, they’ve taken the choice away from his victims.

WisCon is not a judicial body. They are not a rehabilitation program. In my opinion, they are not qualified to judge the sincerity of serial harassers, many of whom have spent years or decades learning to hide their behavior behind the mask of the “nice guy.” Their job is to investigate complaints, and when those complaints are found to be valid, to take steps to protect their membership.

Protection for Frenkel came in the form of WisCon’s investigation process. I believe every complaint should be investigated and decided based on evidence and testimony. In this case, there have been multiple people reporting incidents, with multiple witnesses backing them up. According to the WisCon Harassment Policy, Frenkel also has the right to appeal the decision. Again, I think that’s reasonable.

But throughout this process, despite what I believe to be the best of intentions in a difficult and ugly situation, WisCon has failed to protect its members.

Detcon1 Pics

Detcon1 was tremendous fun. The volunteers who spent the past two years working to make this happen have a lot to be proud of.

I hope to have some thoughts and write-up once my brain wakes up, but in the meantime, I’ve posted some of my photos from the weekend. I was lugging the camera around pretty much everywhere, and while not all of my shots turned out, I’m rather happy with some of them.

Folks who were on the other end of my lens — that sounds odd — might note that I haven’t posted a certain set of pics yet. I’m hoping to do something a little different with those.

Detcon 1 Photos on Flickr

Here are a few of my favorites:

I took a selfie at opening ceremonies. Author GoH Steven Barnes YA Author GoH Nnedi Okorafor Tobias Buckell and I were having a moment. Detroit at night, viewed from my hotel room.

Radio Interview, Newsletter, and Generally Frazzled Jim

I was interviewed about Detcon1 for Michigan Radio’s Stateside program. The interview aired yesterday. I haven’t listened to it myself, but I’m told it sounded pretty good. Mostly, I just tried to talk about how awesome I think the convention is going to be, and how much I’m looking forward to it.

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I’ve created a newsletter for announcing new books and stories, author appearances, and similar stuff. I’m planning to send it out quarterly, i.e., once every three months. If you’re interested, you can go here to sign up, or you can send an email to goblin-updates+subscribe@googlegroups.com.

This was inspired from discussion on an author group that got me thinking. I’ve got some decent outreach on the internet, but a newsletter would let me put out a sign-up sheet at signings and such, and keep in touch with fans who might not spend a lot of time online. Not to mention that people might miss an announcement on a blog or Twitter or such. Basically, it just seemed like a good thing to try.

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I am officially brain-fried. Work deadlines and trying to get everything done with a significantly reduced staff, revising the Secret Project, working with my co-Toastmaster on the Detcon1 Opening Ceremonies, heading over to the hospital so they can ultrasound my thyroid … interesting times.

(The ultrasound is almost certainly nothing serious, and I’m sure it has nothing to do with that weird monster starfish-like thing that hugged my face for a day and a half while I was up north last week…)

Detcon1 Schedule

This weekend I’ll be joining the amazing filker and all-around fun person Tom Smith as co-Toastmasters of the North American Science Fiction Convention, aka Detcon1 here in Detroit.

I’m really excited about this one. There’s going to be a ton of great people, and from what I’ve seen, the convention staff have been doing some incredible work. I’m getting preemptively bummed because I know I won’t have time to see and hang out with everyone. Too many cool people, too little time…

This is what the weekend currently looks like:

Thursday

  • 8 pm: Opening Ceremonies, Ambassador Salon 1

Friday

  • 1 pm: Writing Humor and Comedy in SFF, Ambassador Salon 2
  • 3 pm: Fanzines and Professional Writing, Mackinac West
  • 6 pm: Gender Roles in Genre Fiction, Ambassador Salon 1
  • 8 pm: Mass Autographing Session, Ambassador Salons 1&2

Saturday

  • 11 am: Reading, Joliet A
  • 4 pm: Kaffeeklatsch with Jim C. Hines, Kaffeeklatsch 1
  • 8 pm: Extravaganza – Masquerade & Literary Awards, Ambassador Salon 2

Sunday

  • 2 pm: Closing Ceremonies, Ambassador Salon 1

For the reading on Saturday, I’m torn between reading my story for the next Chicks in Chainmail anthology, or an excerpt from Unbound. Any preferences?

Who else is going to be there?

A Few Pics from Up North

Hello, world! Still up north for a few more days, but after much patient hunting, I have captured the elusive and wild wifi. I figured I’d share a few pics. (Those of you on Facebook have already seen a couple of these.)

Starting with a shot of my son watching fireworks. This is the first time I’ve tried longer-exposure shots with fireworks. A bunch of them turned out too blurry, but I really liked this one.

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A few bird pics from wandering around camp:

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Sunset!

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The beach at Little Presque Isle:

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Random dragonfly:

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Book Giveaways and Other Stuff

SF Signal’s Libriomancer giveaway ends tomorrow, July 3, at 9 p.m. CST.

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Twelfth Planet Press is giving away 10 copies of Kaleidoscope over at Goodreads. This is a collection of “fun, edgy, meditative, and hopeful YA science fiction and fantasy with diverse leads,” and includes my story “Chupacabra’s Song,” about Nicola Pallas (from the Libriomancer books) as a teenager.

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What are your thoughts on author newsletters? For authors, do you think they’re worth it? For readers, do you subscribe to any? What do you want from an author’s newsletter, and what don’t you want?

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I’ll be heading up north tomorrow, so blogging will probably be light until I get back. Or nonexistent. There shall be family time and relaxing and fireworks and working on the Secret Project of Doom and trying to catch up on some reading, including:

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Thus endeth the random blog post of stuff.