So why do we keep doing this? Why do we, again and again, cross the line between critiquing books and making assumptions about author identities? How are we so aware of invisible marginalization as a hypothetical concept, but so utterly incapable of making space for it in our community?
Let me be perfectly clear: this isn’t how I wanted to come out. This doesn’t feel good or empowering, or even particularly safe. Honestly, I’m doing this because I’ve been scrutinized, subtweeted, mocked, lectured, and invalidated just about every single day for years, and I’m exhausted. And if you think I’m the only closeted or semi-closeted queer author feeling this pressure, you haven’t been paying attention.And I’m one of the lucky ones! I’m a financially independent adult. I can’t be disowned. I come from a liberal family, I have an enormous network of queer friends and acquaintances, and my livelihood isn’t even remotely at risk. I’m hugely privileged in more ways than I can count. And this was still brutally hard for me. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for other closeted writers, and how unwelcome they must feel in this community.
I’ve been spending a lot of time this past week sitting on my couch and riding out waves of bad feelings (this is the world we live in right now, what can you do) while hunting for Korok seeds in Breath of the Wild. I just finished a second completionist run on the Switch version, and I didn’t want to delete everything and start a new game, so I dug my Wii U out of my closet and picked up where I left off in that version of the game in 2017. Along the way, I’ve been coming up with all sorts of silly haiku, like this:
a star fragment falls
as the lone hero watches
from a mountaintop
Haiku are a lot of fun and relatively stress-free, so I think it might be cool to make a Legend of Zelda-themed haiku zine. I put together a similar project for the class I taught about The Wind Waker in Spring 2019, so I already have the basic format set up and ready to go. If I were doing this by myself, I’d probably write something like 26 haiku and make three small illustrations (along with the cover page, front colophon, and back bio section) for a total of 32 pages (plus another four for the front and back covers). If I did the interior pages in black and white and used the same small format I used for the class zine, it wouldn’t be expensive to print.
I don’t have much of a following on social media, but it might be interesting to open the zine to contributions. I don’t have the time or energy to put together a big project, so this would be a super casual “email me your haiku and I’ll send you a copy of the zine” sort of deal, as well as a no-pressure “post your work whenever and wherever you like” sort of approach. I might also open artist submissions, with the encouragement that anyone of any skill level is welcome to contribute. I’d use Gumroad to host a free digital copy of the zine once it’s finished, and I might use Etsy to open preorders for at-cost physical copies of the zine (to be printed in addition to the contributor copies) if there’s any interest.
I’d post the announcement on October 1 and close submissions on November 30. I’d try to put the zine together a bit at a time so that I could send it to the printer during the first week of December, and I could spend the rest of the month getting everything ready to go before mailing out the physical zines during the first week of January.
If I were going to open submissions, what I’d need to do in advance would be to:
– find and commission a cover artist
– put together an information sheet
– create a graphic to use for the information sheet
– plan a series of three additional images to use for promotion
– create an account on Tumblr
– create an account on Twitter
– create an account on Gmail
And of course I’d have to write my own contributions in advance so that I don’t get stressed out.
I’ll take the rest of the month of August to see how I feel, and then I’ll make a decision in September.
What with one thing and another, I’ve recently been wondering if I’m prone to misreading people. I was worried that I might have low emotional intelligence, so I took two online tests.
One test hosted by Berkeley shows you a picture of a model’s face and gives you a choice of four related emotions indicated by their expression. I scored 15/20, which is average. This makes sense to me in a roundabout way.
One image shows a woman blushing and looking down with a coy grin. She’s using her index finger to point at her cheek, and the only way she could be broadcasting “kiss me, you handsome devil” more strongly is if she were wearing the words on a t-shirt.
The emotion I’d assign to her pose and expression would be “flirtatious,” but apparently the answer is “embarrassment,” as people who are embarrassed often touch their faces. All right then.
In another image, there’s a man making a classic “oh no they didn’t” face by smiling with his lips closed and pulling his head back while looking sharply to the side with his eyebrows raised. The emotion his expression conveys is a very specific combination of secondhand cringe and prurient interest, which I might describe more generally as “amusement.” The correct answer is “guilt,” because guilty people won’t meet your eyes. Okay, sure thing detective.
So I guess this test proves that I have enough emotional intelligence to read people’s expressions but not enough emotional intelligence to understand what the people writing the test consider to be the correct answer, which was probably decided by committee vote.
An average level of emotional intelligence, in other words.
A longer test hosted by the website for Psychology Today magazine presents you with scenarios to imagine and a range of possible responses to choose from. I got a score of 86/100 on this one, which is average. This also makes sense.
One question asks what you would do if you went to your mother’s house for dinner and she made a snide remark about your table manners in front of her friends. I know the test wants you to say that you’ll talk about your feelings with your mom after the other guests have gone home, but that’s silly. If your mother is still talking shit about how you don’t use a napkin when you’re a grown-ass adult, that’s a manifestation of a long-term dysfunction in the relationship that is well beyond your ability to repair. Your job in this situation is to smile, make an equally snide but still loving joke at her expense, and then let the matter slide. Are you going to hang around the house and wait until you’re alone to say something? Fuck no, go home after dinner like an adult and let your mom have her wine time with her friends.
Another question asks what you would do if a friend just broke up with their partner and called to ask for your advice. The answer to this question is obviously “they’re not calling to ask you for advice, that’s just a hook to get you to hear their story, and you both know that, so just listen to what they say and ask considerate questions until they start winding down, by which point you should know what they want to hear, and that’s what you’re going to tell them, except that’s also what their mom would tell them, and you know they have a difficult relationship with their mother, who never approved of their partner to begin with, so you basically have to repeat what they told you back to them in a way that doesn’t sound like their mom.” This is clearly the correct answer, and I would gladly have chosen it, but it wasn’t an option for some reason.
Another question asks what you would do if you caught your boss embezzling pocket change. I think the answer is supposed to be “be a good citizen,” but let’s be real. You didn’t catch your boss embezzling pocket change. You didn’t see anything at all, in fact, and that’s why you’re not going to say anything. One day, when you do not embezzle pocket change, your boss will similarly not see or say anything. We do not hold moral responsibility toward corporations, Karen.
(I suppose this begs the question of whether I’ve ever stolen from a low-wage job. The answer is yes. Of course I have! Mostly toilet paper and food that was going in the trash anyway. I’ve also witnessed people shoplifting and done nothing to stop them. Do you want to be the monster restocking the shelves at Walmart who feels compelled to say something to the woman who comes in after midnight and gently nudges a pack of diapers into the back of a baby carriage containing an actual tiny living human being? Of course you don’t, and neither did I.)
(I also still have a box cutter that I stole from the warehouse stockroom of a big chain bookstore. I used it just last week when I was unpacking from my recent move. It’s a good box cutter, and I regret nothing.)
Anyway, my score on this test proves that I’m emotionally intelligent enough to know what the right answers to these questions are supposed to be, but I’m too lazy to bother lying on an online quiz administered by a pop psychology magazine. So, in other words – average.
I imagine that almost everyone thinks this of themselves, but I really do believe that I’m totally average, or at least within a normal range of standard deviation.
I don’t think this is a bad thing. I would actually argue that one of the most enjoyable elements of being a writer is having an intuitive perception of the emotional baseline of any given character and then pushing it as far as it will go just to see what happens, at least according to the specific parameters of your understanding of human behavior. If every character you write starts off and ends up as perfect and unique, that’s not much fun for anyone involved.
Between on thing and another, I’m in something of a difficult place right now. Thankfully, I finally have room to maneuver, so I’ve been trying to take a step back from “productivity” and figure out what a healthy and sustainable workday looks like. I think that, for the time being, I might like to experiment with less work. Specifically, how would it feel to focus on fewer projects?
I think I’d like to have two “tracks” in a day. I don’t want to say “a morning track” and “an evening track,” because I’m not that big on set routines, but something like that – two sustained periods of writing during the day, each devoted to a different project.
Here’s what I’d like to spend the rest of the summer doing:
– I’ve been invited to contribute a 6,000 word essay about The Legend of Zelda to an edited volume on JRPGs. If I write 2,000 words a week, this will take three weeks, plus another week to edit.
– When I’m done with that, I need to return to the essay about the Hiromi Kawakami story I translated. It’s mostly finished, but it needs more research. Assuming that I write 1,000 words a week and edit as I go along, this should take about two weeks to finish.
– Once those two projects are squared away, I should get started on a public lecture I’m supposed to give about The Legend of Zelda in the fall. I’m aiming for this to be around 5,000 words, so I think the rough draft will take about three weeks.
– I’m going to write Chapter 40 of my fanfic novel Malice. I’d like for this to take two weeks, but it could take three. There’s no need to rush, after all. After this is done, thus concluding the fourth (of five) story arcs, I’m going to put the novel on hiatus. I’ll leave a note at the end of the chapter saying that it will be back in the fall, which is probably true. I’d like to have the novel finished by the end of the year.
– I wrote an original short story a few years ago that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. I’d like to return to it and see about submitting it somewhere. My style has changed significantly, so I’m going to say that it will probably take about two weeks to edit properly.
– I want to write a short horror story based on The Tale of Genji. I’ve already got a rough draft, but it’s a mess. If I write 1,000 words a week (emulating Heian prose is not easy), it should take me three weeks to reach a solid length of 3,000 words, and then I’ll give the story a week to rest before I edit and submit it.
And after all of that?
WIND WAKER BOOK! WIND WAKER BOOK!!
(The above illustration is by the amazing @mehkuno on Tumblr.)
When the long-dormant Guardians begin attacking Hyrule, Zelda, Link, and Ganondorf go underground to try to find the source of energy powering them.
This is an urban fantasy set in a modern-day version of Hyrule based on New York City. In this setting, the cave that Link and Zelda are exploring in the BotW sequel trailer translates to the sewer tunnels underneath the old site of Hyrule Castle, which has been converted into government offices. Everything that happened in BotW took place about three hundred years prior to the present day, but all mentions of magic, the Triforce, and the true nature of the Calamity have been erased from history. Ancient technology is exhibited in museums, but people treat it like art and have no understanding that it’s actually machinery. When the Guardians and other artifacts of ancient technology start going berserk, no one knows what’s happening.
Zelda (visual reference)
Although she comes from a powerful political family, Zelda is interested in the history and functionality of ancient technology. She’s 26 years old and about one or two years out of a Master’s program in Chemistry. She wants to get away from her family’s influence, so she currently works as a lab technician. Her intention is to succeed through her own efforts while pursuing her research. She was reserved and uptight when she was younger, but her relationships with Link and Ganondorf have helped her to become braver and more self-confident.
Link (visual reference)
He works as a courier for a delivery company, and there’s nothing he loves more than driving around Hyrule on his motorcycle. He’s into urban exploration and has a hugely popular account on Skyloft (Hyrule’s equivalent to Instagram). Like Link in BotW after he’s lost his memories of being constantly under pressure, this Link is easygoing, clever with his words, and a lot of fun to be around. He’s a year older than Zelda, and he gradually becomes friendly with her while making deliveries to her lab. As Zelda discovers odd inconsistencies regarding Hyrule’s history and technology, Link corroborates her suspicions by offering evidence of the strange things he’s seen with his own eyes in some of the city’s more out-of-the-way places.
Ganondorf (visual reference)
He works at a prestigious investment firm that specializes in technology. He’s only around thirty years old, but he’s inhumanly good at what he does and has managed to become extremely wealthy. Unlike Zelda and Link, Ganondorf was never in doubt that magic exists, mainly because he himself is a powerful wizard who is able to control both hardware and software. He knows what ancient technology is and what it can do, and he’d like to figure out a way to make it profitable. When his path crosses with Zelda’s, he becomes interested in her research, and he inadvertently becomes friendly with Link in the process. He’s an intense and unpleasant person, but being with Link and Zelda mellows him out and helps give him a sense of humor and perspective.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I’m afraid that I may have misrepresented this story as a lighthearted adventure. It’s a psychosexual melodrama with some fairly dark themes.
Link is smart, hard-working, attractive, and charming, but he doesn’t come from privilege, so he’s been jumping from one pointless temp job to another. He does good and interesting work on social media, but he can’t monetize it, which makes him bitter. He doesn’t feel as though he’s allowed to express negative emotions, though, so he comes off as fairly shallow. Later in the story he is going to snap and go feral.
Zelda was horribly abused as a child by her family, who tried to use psychiatric medication to control her. She represents a conflict between science as an incredible driving force of civilization and science as a means of social control, but she’s also my vehicle for working through my own experiences with how I’ve been dehumanized by the mental healthcare industry.
What’s going on with Ganondorf is something of a spoiler, but it’s distinctly unpleasant. On top of some Akira-style body horror, he’s an immigrant in a country where there’s a distinct possibility that the police could arrest (or even murder) him for no good reason. Even though he has an excellent grasp on human psychology, he sees empathy as a luxury he can’t afford, and the way this mentality influences his behavior toward Zelda can be creepy and uncomfortable.
I don’t openly talk about mental illness, but Zelda and Ganondorf are both coping with intense trauma. Neither of them is mentally “healthy,” and I don’t clearly signpost their toxic behavior as such. There’s no violence or angst or abuse for the sake of being edgy, but there’s not a lot of healing. Their character development goes from “bad” to “bad in a different way,” with “empowerment” being an unhealthy but necessary response to horrible circumstances.
When I started writing, I told myself that I would allow this story to become as dark as it needed to be, and it has gone to some places.
A dirty secret: you can only be a writer if you can afford it
According to a 2018 Author’s Guild Study the median income of all published authors for all writing related activity was $6,080 in 2017, down from $10,500 in 2009; while the median income for all published authors based solely on book-related activities went from $3,900 to $3,100, down 21%. Roughly 25% of authors earned $0 in income in 2017.
I would argue that there is nothing more sustaining to long-term creative work than time and space – these things cost money – and the fact that some people have access to it for reasons that are often outside of their control continues to create an ecosystem in which the tenor of the voices that we hear from most often remains similar.
Something the article doesn’t address is that, putting the act of writing aside, actually submitting your work for publication is another full-time job. Although I have a ton of ideas for original stories, one of the reasons I’ve stuck with fanfic since I started getting serious about writing is that not having to deal with the fiction market has given me the space to write, edit, and be a part of a community while still putting in all the necessary hours at my actual job. I don’t want to say that it would have been impossible for me to publish original fiction as a tenure-track professor, but I feel much more comfortable facing the challenge now that I’ve left that position.
However, knowing how not to do this sort of garbage accidentally doesn’t fix the problem of the willfully ignorant or bigoted. It doesn’t spare us McCaffrey’s ignorant homophobia or Card’s malignant homophobia and warmongering. It doesn’t save us from Rowling’s transphobia or Dahl’s antisemitism.
But it does make it a little easier to understand how people whose fundamental worldviews are so profoundly warped can nevertheless produce works with characters whose experiences and difficulties resonate with our own. They’re painting a picture. They just aren’t always understanding what they’re painting. Does the camera know what it captures?
The thing these four authors have in common is that they are or were adept and evocative storytellers. But there is nothing inherently benign about storytelling.
Storytelling is a blade. Blades can be used to cut down grain, cut food, or slit a throat. The blade doesn’t have to be perfect to be effective. And sometimes even the blades that are useful to us hurt us. Sometimes the dullest blades hurt the worst when they slip.
I’ve recently seen several posts with tens of thousands of notes circulating around Tumblr that are extremely critical of the idea of fanfic writers accepting donations to support their activities. Many of them, such as the one excerpted above, refer to the guidelines of AO3, which are meant to defend the right of the site to exist on the basis that the content it hosts is purely transformative and not intended for profit. The undertone of these posts, however, is a strong pushback against the idea that fanfic writers might aspire to the same levels of professional success and support as other creators in fandom.
I would like to argue that the idea that fan writers deserve to have a choice whether to receive compensation for their work is reasonable, especially since many highly visible fan artists, YouTubers, and Twitch streamers can receive hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands of dollars every month through donation sites like Patreon and Ko-fi.
Yes, intellectual property is protected by law and legal precedent, and it’s important to understand fandom history and to respect the ongoing battle AO3 has to fight. And yes, fan writers use copyright-protected names and scenarios. At the same time, fan artists use protected names, scenarios, and images, while YouTubers and streamers use protected sound and video – and sometimes the entirety of the protected work. If the “transformative work” and “added value” and “critical commentary” and “performance” arguments of fair use laws apply to visual artists, video creators, and streamers, why don’t they work for writers?
There are three things going on here.
The first is that AO3 is an independent NPO, not a giant media conglomerate. Even if YouTube is forced to take down certain videos that violate intellectual property laws, YouTube itself is not in danger of being taken offline. AO3 is in a much more precarious situation and therefore has to be extra cautious. This is an issue specific to AO3, however, and it’s not universally applicable to other hosting and sharing sites.
The second is that many media corporations in the United States consider digital images to be ephemeral, meaning that they have a short shelf life in the popular consciousness. Fan art and video streams shared on social media will help to promote a piece of media while it’s still trendy, but they also tend to be quickly consumed and discarded and thus aren’t perceived as being in danger of becoming long-term competition for the original media property. Because it used to be published in the form of physical books and magazines, fanfic was considered to be competition, but this perception has changed, partially due to the support fanfic has received from commercially successful writers like J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin.
The third is sexism. This is complicated; but, to make a long story short, fanfic has been treated differently because, unlike illustration and video editing, it is primarily associated with communities of women.
Media industries overwhelmingly dominated by men, such as comics and movies, have always provided ways for younger male fans to enter the industry as professionals. There is a long history of commercial studios actively scouting emerging talent from popular fan artists and amateur video producers, so media corporations have a vested interest in not completely shutting down spaces in which these creators can develop and exhibit their talents. For example, an aspiring comic artist can take his portfolio of X-Men character illustrations to a comics convention to show to an industry representative, and Marvel will hire him if they like his fan art. Because these industries have traditionally been male-dominated, however, the work of women was seen as derivative and embarrassing. A male artist who drew a fan comic would get a job, and a woman who wrote fanfic of the same media property would get a cease and desist letter.
Moreover, women have historically been expected to be the keepers of public morality. For instance, a male professor who writes mediocre novels about cheating on his wife with underage female students can easily be promoted to the head of a prestigious creative writing program, while a woman in any profession can be in danger of losing her job for writing any novel at all. Because of this, many female writers have had to hide their creative careers in a way that male artists and video producers have not. Even though these prejudices are fading, many fic writers are still very serious about protecting their real names and identities. At the same time, many fan artists and other creators use their fanwork to promote themselves while using their professional names – and, thanks to social media, we can now see that not all of these creators are male.
Because a new generation of female and nonbinary fan artists, animators, video producers, and streamers are now comfortable pursuing their creative careers while using their professional names and accepting donations while they establish themselves, it only makes sense that fan writers would want to do the same thing. After all, if people like Rebecca Sugar and Noelle Stevenson can go from posting popular fan art and fan comics on Tumblr to becoming mainstream showrunners, why couldn’t a female or nonbinary fanfic writer go on to become an actual scriptwriter for the next, say, Star Wars or Pokémon movie? If illustrators, comic artists, YouTubers, and Twitch streamers can receive donations to support their fanwork while they establish their careers, what arbitrary rule says that writers can’t do the same thing while still respecting AO3’s legal guidelines?
There is an entire generation of younger writers who have come into fandom with ambitions of professional success and no understanding of why they should feel pressured to separate their fandom identity from their professional identity or why they shouldn’t have the choice to receive the same support as creators working in other mediums. Instead of mocking younger writers for not knowing fandom history – and instead of shaming older writers for resisting outdated prejudices – I think it’s worth it to support them and hopefully change the culture.
Most people don’t want donations and only think of fandom as a fun escapist hobby, but writers should still be able to access the same choices as other creatives. I’ve already shared my thoughts about the issues I personally have with Patreon, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want other people to explore that option for themselves. After all, writers have to be supported for fanfic to survive.
I feel like I could write an entire book about this – and I have! I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the publisher can stick to the May 2020 release date, because I’d really like to talk more about fandom and cultural change, as well as what the achievements of artists might suggest about the future of fiction.
Haunted Haiku collects of 147 horror-themed haiku. Some are eerie, some are elegiac, some are homages to cult horror films, and some are just weird.
This zine is fifty pages long and standard half-letter size. This was my first time printing a zine with perfect binding (in which the pages are glued instead of stapled together), and I underestimated how large the interior margins need to be. I’m almost sold out of this zine (although there are still a few copies left on Etsy), but I’m going to change the font size if I ever end up doing a reprint.
The cover art is by the Australian writer, illustrator, and comic artist Sarah Winifred Searle (@swinsea on Twitter). It was an incredible honor to be able to work with her! It was actually Sarah who came up with the title of this zine. I was going to call it “Horror Haiku” (like my other two haiku zines), but Sarah suggested that “Haunted Haiku” might sound nicer. She was right, of course, which is one of the many reasons why it’s always wonderful to collaborate with artists on projects like this.
In any case, this is the first zine I took to be sold at Atomic Books in Baltimore, which is one of my favorite independent bookstores in the world. One of the reasons I love Atomic Books is that their shelves of zines are the first thing you see when you walk in the door, which makes you feel as if you’re stepping into a unique and special space. Anyone can buy books on Amazon, which is why I appreciate when independent bookstores use their physical location as a way to bring an actual community of writers and readers together. Getting an email from Atomic Books saying that they would be interested in receiving a few copies of this zine is definitely one of the coolest things to happen to me this year.
Although I’ve written fanfiction on and off for decades, I got really serious about fandom around November 2014. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words of fic since then; and, for the most part, it was a positive and rewarding experience. Although I’m still wrapping up a few ongoing fandom-related projects, I’ve started to think about publishing original fiction.
I published a chapbook called Ghost Stories in November 2018, and it collects thirteen short stories that occupy the space between horror, magical realism, and autobiography. It’s 28 pages long, standard half-letter size, and professionally printed with a velvet-touch cover and glossy interior pages by a service called Mixam. The tagline for the chapbook, which appears on the back cover, is this: These are the stories I tell myself to help make sense of a truth that’s too strange to be believed. Sometimes ghosts are kinder than the living.
The cover artist is Kirsten Brown (@unknownbinaries on Tumblr), who creates absolutely incredible horror-themed art.