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Return of the SFWA Bulletin

The SFWA Bulletin is back after a roughly ten-month hiatus. I’m not interested in reruns of arguments from a year ago, but I wanted to take a look at what SFWA has put together for the relaunch of their professional magazine. (And of course, Jason Sanford beat me to the punch pretty much as soon as I started writing this blog post.)

One of the biggest changes is that the Bulletin will now be available in both print and electronic format. Members can log into the Forums and download the magazine here in .epub, .mobi, or .pdf format. I’m told the electronic edition will also be made available for sale to non-members, though I don’t believe that’s happened yet.

Given the events of last year, I suspect most everyone’s going to immediately check out the cover. The artwork is by Galen Dara. I like it a lot as an image. Dara does nice, evocative work. I’m not entirely sold on it as a cover for the Bulletin, though. The text layout doesn’t really pull together for me, and the overall cover … it just doesn’t scream “professional journal” to me.

That said, this is an interim issue. Moving forward, John Klima is taking over as editor of the Bulletin, and I suspect there will be more changes to come. As a transition/relaunch, I think the cover works well enough, and definitely sends the message that the organization is working to avoid the mistakes of the past.

The contents have a distinctly different feel, with an emphasis on what SFWA is and what the organization does. The very first piece is Susan Forest’s, “SFWA at its Core,” which talks about SFWA’s five core goals (inform, support, promote, defend, advocate), and the different ways it works to achieve those goals.

There are articles about the website, the SFWA Forum, the Ombudsman’s role, the SFWA Reception and other events, the online discussion boards, the YA/MG group, and more. If you wanted to put together an introductory packet for new and prospective members, you could pick up this issue and be halfway there.

And there are HONEY BADGERS! Comic relief honey badgers from Ursula Vernon and MCA Hogarth. I don’t know what Klima is planning for future issues, but please consider this a plea for more honey badger comics!

This is a good relaunch, and worth reading for anyone who wants to know why they should bother joining SFWA, or what the organization really does. Thank you Tansy Rayner Roberts, Jaym Gates, Neil Clarke, Steven Gould, and everyone else who worked to make this issue happen. I’m looking forward to seeing where the new editor takes it from here.

Cool Stuff Friday

This is my Friday. It’s little and broken, but still good. Yeah. Still good.

Update and Release Date for Invisible

I’m aiming for an April 15 release date for Invisible, the collection of essays on representation in SF/F. Everything is put together except for three pieces, one of which is my own afterword. (Oops!)

Contributors should have proofs in their email on or around April 1. I may also try to query a few folks about sending review copies. If you know of a good place that might be willing to review an ebook collection like this, please let me know.

Mark Ferrari was kind enough to lend his expertise to the cover art. This isn’t 100% final, but it’s relatively close, and has a bit more visual punch than what I had originally put together. What do you think?

Invisible - Draft

The order of the contributors may change. I still need to go through and look at the flow of the whole thing.

All in all, I’m really excited about this!

Website Update

I spent the past week or so rebuilding www.jimchines.com. I had two main goals:

  • Set up a theme that would work on mobile devices.
  • Make everything as clean and readable as possible.

I went with the Simfo theme and trimmed a lot out of the sidebar content. I’m pretty happy with the home page. I like the slider, the thumbnails for the different series, and the recent blog posts. But some of the other pages, like the bibliography, look a little too stark now.

I know I need to clean a few things up, like the Press Kit page. But I think I’m at the point where I’d love to have folks poke at it a bit to see what works, and if there’s anything that either breaks your browser or just makes you gag in disgust. So far, it’s worked well on my phone and my internet browsers. It gave my parents trouble on IE8, but I think that might be something weird in their system setup.

Anyway, feedback is very much appreciated for anyone who has time to go exploring…

Website Update, Hugo Deadline, and Con Crud

Some of you have noticed I’ve been messing about with the website this week. My main goals are to set up a theme that’s cleaner, more mobile friendly, and generally just looks better. It’s still a work in progress, but so far I’m pretty happy. I’ll probably ask for feedback once I finish figuring out how all of these new-fangled buttons and features all work.

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Hugo Award nominations close at the end of the day on March 31. If you’re interested in a copy of my short story “Stranger vs. the Malevolent Malignancy” for consideration, just email me at jchines -at- sff.net and I’ll be happy to send it your way.

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In other news, this week continues to kick my butt, courtesy of con crud, work deadlines, and a conspiracy among various appointments and activities that won’t ease up until at least Sunday. Which is why you get a few short updates in lieu of a real blog post.

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But on the bright side, remember the (overdue) story I was working on this past weekend? Well, the editor liked it, and it sounds like “On the Efficacy of Supervillain Battles in Eliciting Therapeutic Breakthroughs” will be appearing in Unidentified Funny Objects 3. This story features the return of Jarhead, therapist to the superpowered set, from my UFO2 story.

Back from Millennicon

Millennicon was great fun. Unfortunately, both the kids and I seem to have come down with post-con crud, but the convention itself was awesome … if a little dangerous for the blood sugar. (There was a birthday cake for my son, and another cake a few hours later at the GoH reception.)

My wife Amy was kind enough to do most of the driving, which gave me time to finish a short story for that blown deadline I mentioned the other day. Story is off to the editor, and I owe Amy many, many hugs.

As always, there was far too much cool stuff going on for any one human being to do. I missed the launch party for Stephen Leigh’s newest book, Immortal Muse. (I did get to see him receive the Hal Award, given each year to “an educator who creates a program utilizing science fiction literature to improve children’s proficiency in science and math.”

I also missed the Detcon1 takeover of the consuite on Saturday.

On the other hand, I got to do a reading that went rather well, a panel about dumb questions (which Laura Resnick TOTALLY SABOTAGED by prohibiting any and all sex-related questions, just because her father was on the panel with her…sheesh), had my son thrown into Klingon jail, heard a new (to me) Tom Smith song, and finally got to wear the T-shirt I got for Christmas in public.

(Photo by Hugh Staples. Cape assistance by Stephen Leigh.)

Huge thanks to Christy Johnson, Cheryl Whitford, and everyone else who put so much time and energy into making the convention happen.

As is often the case, the only downside was having to come back to the real world. Not only was there housework and day job work waiting for me, but apparently at least one mouse moved into the house this weekend and was throwing a little convention of its own. Taz the cat spent the whole night trying to get at it, and actually caught it briefly this morning, but when I tried to get cat and mouse outside to let the little rodent go free, it pulled a Houdini and managed to disappear beneath the couch.

And how was your weekend?

Millennicon Schedule

I’m thrilled to be heading over to Ohio this weekend to be a Guest of Honor at Millennicon. Here’s the schedule, just in case you want to come say hello or make sure you know how to avoid me all weekend.

Friday

  • 6 pm,  MR 1210, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! (In which the convention throws a birthday party for my son, because they are AWESOME!!!)
  • 7 pm, Harrison, Opening Ceremonies
  • 8 pm, Con Suite, GOH reception

Saturday

  • 10 am, Harrison, GOH Reading
  • 2 pm, Hotel Lobby, GOH Autographs
  • 3 pm, McKinley, There are No Dumb Questions (Moderator)

Sunday

  • 10 am, McKinley, Fan Fiction and “Real” Writing
  • Noon, Hotel Lobby, GOH Autographs
  • 2 pm, Harrison, GOH Q&A
  • 3 pm, Harrison, Closing Ceremonies

Tom Smith will be there as Filk Guest of Honor, which should make my wife happy. She tolerates me, but she’d much rather hang out at one of Tom’s concerts ;-)

There are a lot of great people at this one, some of whom I haven’t seen in a while, so I’m expecting this to be a lot of fun.

Graphing Depression and Anxiety

My therapist shared something interesting earlier this week. With the caveat that this is all a bit simplified, and human brains don’t fit into neat lines and graphs, it still helped me to think a little differently about depression and anxiety and stress, and to understand both myself and certain other people in my life a little better.

She started by drawing the following graph:

This fits pretty well with my experience. There’s a relatively straightforward relationship here. The more depressed you are, the less productive you are. (Giving lie to the myth of the tortured artist who’s most productive when they’re depressed.)

Next, she drew a graph of anxiety.

This one also made sense, once we talked about it a bit. If you have absolutely no anxiety, you end up with a lot less motivation to produce anything. Take away all of my deadlines, and I’m definitely less productive and more likely to spend an evening bumming around on the couch watching Doctor Who. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

On the other hand, too much anxiety can be crippling, with the far extreme being someone who can’t even leave their room or home.

So basically, we want to minimize depression and find a healthy and moderate level of productive anxiety. Got it. So far, so good.

What gets interesting, at least for me, is looking at the implications of the two models. If depression is more of a linear thing, it means you have that straightforward goal of getting as far to the left as possible. This also means small steps to fight the depression are more likely to have small steps in improving your productivity. It tends to be a long, slow battle.

I’ve been in therapy and on medication for depression for about two years now. This has had a pretty large impact on the depression, and when you look at my productivity these days … well, I’m doing two books in 12 months instead of my usual one. Smaller improvements have led to smaller changes in productivity, like being able to keep up with washing the dishes. Again, it’s not a perfect graph, but it makes sense to me.

I sketched in two sample changes in mood. If the depression improves by X, productivity also improves by X. That tends to hold true whether you’re really depressed or in a generally good space. (Yes, I’m simplifying the math and assuming a 1:1 slope.)

Anxiety, on the other hand, resembles a bell curve. That means any given change in your anxiety can have drastically different results, depending on where you happen to be on that curve.

Look at this next graph. Both of the horizontal lines, indicating a change in anxiety, are the same. The vertical lines, showing change in productivity, are not.

For someone near that ideal middle-ground, a small increase in anxiety of amount X could have a relatively small impact on productivity, perhaps X or even X/2. On the other hand, if you’re more anxious, the same increase of X in your anxiety could have a much larger impact, hurting productivity by a factor of 2X, 3X, or more.

Likewise, for someone who’s struggling with anxiety, removing just a small stressor could have a very large impact, and help exponentially.

And the exact same increase in anxiety can actually boost productivity for someone to the left of the curve as much as it hurts someone to the right.

This was an AHA moment for me. I spend a fair amount of time working with people and trying to motivate them, whether it’s my employees at the day job or my children at home, and looking at that Anxiety graph helped to crystallize why the same tactic can have very different results for different people … or even for the same people at different times.

Someone on the left side, who seems to be slacking because they don’t really care? Maybe their anxiety needs to be turned up a bit, by talking about potential consequences. On the other hand, for someone on the right side of the graph who’s already close to a panic attack, potential consequences are likely to push them even further, making things that much harder for them. In that case, trying to take a little of that anxiety off their shoulders can help tremendously.

I see some of the same effects with the way stress and anxiety intertwine in my life. There’s a certain middle ground where I can add or remove things I need to get done, and it doesn’t have much of an impact. But once I hit that tipping point, just a small increase in stress can drag me down hard.

Like I said at the beginning, this is a bit of an oversimplification. Human beings tend to be pretty complicated and messy. But seeing depression and anxiety drawn out like this was really helpful for me, so I figured I’d share it in the hope that it might help a few of you as well.

Manufactured Outrage and Choosing to be Offended

Over the weekend, I had another clueless dude try to give me crap for “working so hard to manufacture outrage,” and for always “choosing to be offended.” It’s a tired and unoriginal refrain, but I’m going to try to do something a little different this time. I’m going to agree with clueless dude, at least to an extent. Because he’s right. For me, a great deal of the things I write about, and the fact that I’m upset by some of what I see in the SF/F community, these are choices.

A few of the things I’ve chosen to be offended about lately…

  • Big name authors publicly mocking and belittling people for asking for representation in SF/F.
  • The rewriting of history to present last year’s SFWA Bulletin mess as being about a single cover as opposed to an ongoing problem, one that culminated with two big name authors using the Bulletin as a platform to accuse those who disagree with them of being “liberal fascists” and anonymous cowards.
  • A major convention belittling concerns about sexual harassment and refusing to implement a policy … and then minimizing and belittling the experience of multiple individuals who reported being sexually harassed at that convention.
  • The backlash against a Hugo host being transformed into a factually incorrect narrative that rakes an individual woman over the coals in major media outlets for the crime of expressing her fear and anger.

Generally, when folks recycle the accusation that people are looking for things to be offended by, the word “offended” is used as a minimizing tactic. It suggests overly fragile and sensitive individuals with bruised feelings. A more accurate choice would be “pissed off,” “hurt,” or “sick of this crap.” Kameron Hurley uses the term “rage” when explaining that the anger doesn’t come from a minor, isolated incident.

The thing is, most of these incidents don’t hurt me directly. Representation in SF/F? As a straight, white, American male, I’m incredibly overrepresented in my genre. Conventions that don’t take steps to reduce sexual harassment? I’ve been harassed a total of once in more than a decade of congoing, and it’s not something I’m particularly worried about happening to me again. The threats, hatred, and vitriol aimed at women online and in the real world? Hey, it’s not coming toward me, so who cares?

When you’re not the one being hurt, you might not even notice the problem. You might decide it’s all blown out of proportion. Or maybe you admit that yeah, there might be a problem here, but you blow it off because the solution would inconvenience you in some way, or make you uncomfortable.

When you see someone saying they’re hurt or afraid, you can choose to mock that person. You can choose to ignore their concerns. You can choose to blow them off by saying they’re manufacturing outrage and looking for reasons to be offended, as if pain and anger and fear are just another hobby, like collecting spores, molds, and fungus. You can choose to ignore the evidence, to disbelieve the repeated stories of ongoing harassment and the countless people speaking out about specific incidents that make them feel unwelcome and unwanted in your community. You can choose to interpret anger as “bullying,” and calls for inclusion as “political correctness run wild.”

You could also choose to listen. You can choose to believe that when someone says, “Hey, this is hurting me,” they’re telling the truth. You can look around at how racially homogenous most conventions are and believe the people telling you why they feel unwelcome, instead of dismissing it as a coincidence or making up falsehoods about how “those people” just don’t read or don’t care about SF/F. You can recognize that just because a problem might not directly affect you, that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant.

You’re right. I choose to be offended angry. I see people talking about how finding someone like them in a SF/F story literally saved their life. And then I see people responding with mockery and derision to calls for broader representation. I see people who have traditionally been ignored and silenced raising their voices to speak about their experiences, only to have those experiences dismissed as “butthurt” by those who haven’t had to live through them.

When I choose to be angry, and to speak out about things, it’s because I see people hurting.

No, that’s not quite right. It’s because I see the that the things we’re doing are hurting people. That pain isn’t imaginary. It’s not a cover to try to take over the genre and control everyone else, as one commenter suggested. It’s real. And I’ve got to believe that if more people could get over their discomfort and defensiveness and just listen, they might see it too. They might even be able to help solve some of the problems.

Basically, when people talk about something that’s hurting them, you can choose to care. Or you can choose not to.