Saturday, May 30, 2015

Personal Digest Saturday: May 23 – May 29

Life news this week: 
  • Wow, everything happened. First, let's not forget that Drink and Draw was Saturday, and I got to eat at Taco Bus with Eric first before heading over there. It was good timing because I needed to get my webcomic done before heading out of town, so I did it!
  • Sunday I mostly spent packing. I hate packing. So that's why I do it early.
  • Monday was Memorial Day so I had off work. I used the day to get some things finished before heading out of town, but I also unexpectedly met Jeaux for food at Moe's even though it was not Jeaux Day. (I would be missing Jeaux Day by flying to New York, ya know.) And hahah, when I got there we were both wearing Steven Universe tee shirts so we are both nerds.
  • Tuesday was my last day of work before the vacation. I knocked out a bunch of important business and left notes for my coworkers on how to handle stuff while I'm gone. And then I just spent the night relaxing and blogging about cartoons and reading comic books. But I didn't get enough sleep because I couldn't fall asleep that early. :(
  • Wednesday at 5 AM my dad came to pick me up to go to the airport. We did so--had breakfast there--and had a good flight to New York. We went our separate ways at the airport so we could settle in at our respective places for the week--I went to John's. And tried to take a nap but could not do so because there was a loud person repairing something in the bathroom. :(
  • That evening my dad and I met up in the city--except, well, I got super lost and he had to come find me--and we went to two awards ceremonies. I got my picture taken a bunch and received two medals. They're really heavy! I got the gold at one (Next Generation Indie Book Awards) and the silver at the other (IPPY Awards). And we ate hors d'ourves and I had champagne. :)
  • Thursday I got up early to go into the city to meet up with my Pitch Wars alternate mentee from last year, Natalka. I hung out in the Argo tea shop near the Flatiron building--didn't get lost this time!--until she got there. And we had a great time eating pizza, shopping, and talking about writing and publishing. Such fun!
  • Then I met my dad at the Flatiron Building and we wandered over to an Italian restaurant where we met my aunt and had dinner. Yum! Seriously the best fettuccine I've ever had, and it wasn't a ridiculously large portion either. Then we had coffee at a shop while we waited to see a Broadway show, which we did. We saw A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, which is the show my host John won a Tony for last year. We got friends and family tickets to see it. :) Unfortunately I also tripped in the street on some messed up pavement and skinned my knee and twisted my ankle, so my life is fun now.
  • And then Friday I got up even earlier and rode the train out to go meet my agent at a really nice breakfast place. She and I had brunch and had some great conversations about my book and the awards and publishing. Then I went back home and rested my ankle all day while doing some catch-up blogging, posting of my webcomic, and reading of comic books. :) It's been ice to have a breathing day. And tomorrow is John's birthday party. Huzzah!

                New reviews of my book:

                Places featured:
                • Savage Love: My book was mentioned briefly in Dan Savage's column, recommending it to a potentially asexual questioner.
                • Reading of the Day: Someone on Tumblr is listing quotes from my book while reading, apparently.
                Reading progress:

                New singing performances:

                Here I'm singing "Sweet Surrender" by Sarah McLachlan.

                New drawings:

                Webcomic Negative One Issue 0524: "All My What-Ifs."

                New videos:

                Critique of Romance Tropes

                New photos:  

                I just posted a lot of the New York photos, so I'll just send you there if you want to see those. Here are the ones I didn't include there, though.

                Obligatory Drink and Draw selfie
                Eric reading something to the group when he should have been drawing.
                My irritated coffee face.
                Trying out hairstyles!
                Jeaux at Moe's wearing his Cookie Cat shirt from Steven Universe.

                Social media counts: YouTube subscribers: 4,647 for swankivy (39 new this week), 473 for JulieSondra (5 new). Twitter followers: 655 for swankivy (3 new), 952 for JulieSondra (1 new). Facebook: 277 friends (no change) and 164 followers (1 new) for swankivy, 566 likes for JulieSondra (5 new), 54 likes for Negative One (no change), 105 likes for So You Write (1 new). Tumblr followers: 2014 (7 new).

                Friday, May 29, 2015

                Week in New York . . . so far

                Well, I'm still gonna do a Saturday digest thing, but I figured I'd also ramble a bit about the stuff that's happened so far in New York. After all, this is my writing blog and I've done a lot of writing-related stuff: Been to two awards ceremonies for my book, met up with one of my mentees from Pitch Wars, and had brunch with my agent. Might as well give a little rundown of the events up to this point even though I'll also post about it in the digest!

                Yeah, nobody cares about how I organize this stuff, I don't think.

                My dad and I arrived in New York on Wednesday morning. 

                He went to his hotel while I went to my friend John's place and we both took naps. (Well, attempted, in my case. There was some loudness preventing me from sleeping.) I took the train to meet up with my dad at the Harvard Club but I got super lost because I am terrible with directions. (I managed to take 20 minutes to walk in a circle! Ending up right where I started at the subway exit! What!) But my dad found me eventually and we went to the first awards event of the night which was the Next Generation Indie Book Award.

                I won in my category for LGBT books.
                Mostly it was just mingling and munching. I ate a spring roll and had some champagne. Not bad! There is a better "official" picture that I guess I'll get later but haven't dug up yet if it's available. And there are of course better pictures my dad took too but this is the only one I have for right now. Had a couple little discussions with other authors but nothing really noteworthy for the blog. :)

                Hard to believe but they actually let a lump like me in this place.
                Then we had to run over to a second awards ceremony because the universe likes trying to make me lose my mind and scheduled both ceremonies to happen overlapping each other. The second event was at Providence and it was the IPPY Awards. I won a silver medal in Sexuality/Relationships. There was a little buffet there and more drinks, and it was more crowded in a bigger place. I didn't really talk to people there either--maybe just a couple discussions about cover design and stuff. Most of the people at these events had done more of the work associated with their book themselves because they were indie events.

                I didn't get any photos with my camera (my dad got a couple that I'll get later). But I took this later:

                Some dork with medals
                Those medals are really heavy, too!

                The next day I had to get up and go to meet with Natalka. She was the person I selected as my alternate mentee in last year's Pitch Wars! I was so excited to get to meet her. We met up at Argo (a tea place) and I actually didn't get lost. (I was so hilariously lost the day before that I vowed to go everywhere an hour early so I could spend some time lost without panicking. But I didn't need to worry this time.)

                Coffee with almond milk--holy crap it was so yummy!

                Hanging out with Natalka was so fun! We went to Eataly (heh, Eataly) and got pizza to share. We also went for a little bit of shopping and I got a couple thank-you gifts for John for hosting me. It was a lovely little Italian market. We went across the street to a park and chilled on a bench for a while. It was all really an excuse to talk, though. We talked a lot about writing and life stuff. Well, mostly writing. I love talking to other writers. It's just really awesome to connect with people that way, and I loved her book so much--I hope it gets signed soon!

                Writing nerds
                That was a super great beginning to what turned out to be a super great day actually. I wandered around to do some shopping (but didn't really buy anything else except some hair decorations and some drinks). Oh, and someone in the Italian market stopped me and asked me "Is that a Crystal Gems tee shirt??" (which of course it was), and wanted to know where to get one. I am such a nerd that this was indeed exciting for me. I love when people recognize stupid stuff on my shirts.

                I met my dad at the Flatiron building (also not getting lost AT ALL) and we went to meet my aunt at a cool restaurant called Mercato. Oh my goodness, we had the best food there! I ate a fettuccine with mushrooms sautéed in garlic and olive oil. Seriously one of the best pasta dishes I have ever eaten. My dad was saying the same about his lasagna. And I got to see my aunt again. Aunt Elisa is one of my favorite people!

                I think you can see where in the family I got the tendency to make weird faces.

                We had some time to waste before our next destination so we stopped at a little café to get coffees. I got an iced latte with almond milk.

                Iced coffee--perfect for a weirdly hot day!
                After that, guess what we did? Saw a show on Broadway.

                We saw A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, which we all enjoyed tons! This is the show my host John got us friends and family discounts for because he was one of the producers. (It won a Tony last year for Best Musical!) It's nice being old college roomies with such a big shot. Haha.

                Sadly I also tripped over a rough patch of pavement while crossing the street and I fell down and busted my knee and tweaked my ankle a little. It wasn't incredibly bad but I probably need to rest it a lot in the next couple days.

                So the play was incredible and so hilarious. We kept talking about it after. We had to go meet my host John at a party so he could give me house keys, and then I got back to the place and got to shower and relax and stuff. It was great.

                And finally, this morning, I had a nice early brunch with my agent, Andrea!

                I was again hilariously early because I expected to have trouble finding it and I did not have any trouble finding it. So I chilled in Central Park for a while.

                Lots of dogs here. One came and dropped a slobber-covered ball on my skirt.
                My brunch with Andrea was super lovely. I had a garden omelet and some toast. And of course COFFEE. She had a kale salad thing. We talked a bunch about the book and the awards and some publishing stuff, and I told her about other stuff I'm doing. And of course the usual incidentals. After brunch she had to run to a meeting and I went home instead of staying out because I should probably give my ankle some time to not be walked on.

                We're about the same height. (She's leaning over.) Yay little folks!
                And now I am home at John's blogging. He has a pretty cute place by the way. This is of when I first arrived:

                The fan was blowing. Not intended to be a model shot.
                I guess there will be more nonsense later. The big event on Monday will be the Lambdas . . . especially if I end up being picked as the winner. . . .

                Wednesday, May 27, 2015

                Wednesday Factoid: Hair Color

                Today's Wednesday Factoid is: What color is your hair?

                Wow, that survey sure is throwing some probing questions at us.

                That's okay. I'll forgive it. I'm busy.

                My hair is blonde.

                It has always been blonde.

                Except for this one time that I dyed little stripes of it pink temporarily. But the dye lasted a disappointingly short time.

                Besides that I have never highlighted or dyed my hair. Though I decorate it with clip-in colors all the time. :)

                I read somewhere recently that being a naturally blonde adult is really rare--like only 2% of adults have blonde hair. I guess I thought it was more common because lots of people use dye. :)

                Monday, May 25, 2015

                Tentative Vacation Schedule!

                It's here! My travel week is here!

                Tomorrow is my last day of work before I go blasting off to New York for all my incredible adventures. (Well, one hopes they will be incredible adventures.) For those who follow my blog who would actually care about my plans, here they are!

                WEDNESDAY, May 27: 

                I'm leaving Tampa, flying up to New York with my dad who wanted to come to the events too, but I'm staying with my college roommate John and he's staying in a hotel. It's cool that we get to fly up together.

                We'll arrive in the morning. But then we don't have a huge amount of chilling time before we have to go to not one but two awards ceremonies!

                First awards ceremony: Next Generation Indie Book Awards at the Harvard Club, 5 PM. I won in my category so I'll get a medal and stuff. 

                Second awards ceremony: IPPY Awards at Providence NYC, 6 PM. Obviously since these two events freaking overlap I am going to be late to this one, but I talked to the organizers and they seem to be assuring me that it is a pretty low-key operation. Plus the category in which I won my award--the silver medal--is one of the last ones to be called, so I shouldn't miss it.

                THURSDAY, May 28:

                I'm hanging out with Natalka, my Pitch Wars alternate from last year, in the early afternoon. We haven't figured out where we're meeting up yet but we're going to get lunch and go shopping or something.

                Then in the evening I'm going to see A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder with my dad and my aunt. My old college roomie John, who's hosting me, is one of the producers of the musical (and he won a Tony for it!), so he got us friends and family tickets. :D

                FRIDAY, May 29:

                My only plans for Friday include having brunch with my agent. My host John said something might happen that night but I don't know if it will come through or if I will be involved. There's also a possibility that I'll do something else with my family. But it would probably be cool to have a night that I don't have to go out, so.

                SATURDAY, May 30:

                Nothing's happening except John's party; his birthday is June 3 and he's having his party a week early because of Tony Awards stuff happening the next week. I'm happy that my plans will not involve having to go out. I guess I'll just help John with the party and like go to it and stuff. Maybe meet some cool people.

                SUNDAY, May 31: 

                Another day that I have no plans at all yet, which I am grateful for. But maybe I will go see a show or do something with family, again. I figure something will happen that someone else will plan, but I am just as happy to stay home and chill.

                MONDAY, June 1:

                The Lambda Awards! I probably will not go out or do anything until the evening, because this is the big event I'm coming to New York for. My book is a finalist for the Lammy Award in LGBT Nonfiction and I'm attending the cocktail reception and awards ceremony at the Cooper Union and then going to the after-party at the Scholastic Greenhouse & Terrace.

                TUESDAY, June 2:

                And then my dad and I fly back to Tampa! The end.

                I am not a big fan of traveling and don't really like dealing with all the upheaval and excitement, but I do really like hanging out with people I haven't seen in a long time or getting to chill with friends and family. I like the people aspect (though as an introvert it's also overwhelming sometimes and I need to retreat and have me time). Hopefully I will be able to keep things relatively calm and handle everything okay.

                I've got my stuff packed (because packing is stressful for me so I did it early), and I've got a transit app downloaded for my phone so it'll be harder to get lost (but I'll probably manage to do it!), and I've got most of the things done that I needed to get done before traveling. Now I'm just going to spend my day off work catching up on things and trying to relax.

                My Personal Digest update will sure be interesting on Saturday!

                Saturday, May 23, 2015

                Personal Digest Saturday: May 16 – May 22

                Life news this week: 
                • This week was mostly Get Ducks in a Row week. I finished up my edits for the next edition of my book and just need to read over them before sending to my editor. I knocked out some of the details on my upcoming trip. I had a bunch of phone conversations and spent more money. Yay.
                • My webcomic celebrated TEN YEARS AS A WEBCOMIC on Wednesday. Wow! I posted some stuff about it on Tumblr and Facebook and got some love.
                • Mom came over on Friday and finished up some minor adjustments on the dress I'm wearing to the Lambda Awards. It's so pretty! She also approved of all the clothes I am wearing.
                • Jeaux Day involved going to New York's Best Pizza (where the server always knows what I want to eat because I get the same thing every time), and it was his birthday so I gave him a Cookie Cat shirt and a Strex shirt, and he liked them. :) Oh, and we listened to Night Vale.
                • It seems like I didn't really do anything important this week but mostly it's just that if I typed out everything I did it would be boring. It was busy-making and necessary.

                              Places featured:
                              Reading progress:

                              New singing performances:

                              Here I'm singing "Something to Talk About" by Bonnie Raitt.

                              New drawings:

                              Webcomic Negative One Issue 0523: "Grooming."

                              Webcomic So You Write Issue 48: "Just the Author."

                              New videos:

                              No new videos. 

                              New photos:  

                              None, I'm afraid! 

                              Social media counts: YouTube subscribers: 4,608 for swankivy (24 new this week), 468 for JulieSondra (3 new). Twitter followers: 652 for swankivy (5 new), 951 for JulieSondra (6 new). Facebook: 277 friends (lost one, didn't notice who) and 163 followers (no change) for swankivy, 561 likes for JulieSondra (4 new), 54 likes for Negative One (no change), 104 likes for So You Write (no change). Tumblr followers: 2007 (15 new).

                              Friday, May 22, 2015

                              I like my job

                              Unpopular opinion time: I like my job.

                              Like most authors who aren't, like, bestsellers, I obviously have a day job. I work at an engineering consulting firm and perform administrative duties 28 hours a week. I more or less entirely support myself on my part-time job.

                              I really like it here.

                              I've worked at the company for about eight years. It's a small office where everyone is in the same small building and we share a kitchen and meeting space but all have our own personal offices. It's small enough that I just get up and tell people they have a phone call instead of calling into their offices, and one pot of coffee is enough for everyone here.

                              My work is not particularly interesting, I'll give you that. It's sometimes tedious and repetitive, and I get to do the boring things no one wants to do (making copies, binding reports, calling people for meetings, processing mail, taking care of timesheets), but I am also frequently called upon to do minor graphics editing, computer troubleshooting and teaching, and document editing. (That last is my favorite. I get to format and edit our reports for clients. I'm the word person.)

                              But the thing is, it's the only place I've worked in my adult life where I've felt like my coworkers respect me and I don't have much stress. My boss is so approachable and mild-mannered and easy to work with, and nobody is breathing down my neck treating me like a disobedient child who needs to be constantly monitored to keep her on task. I'm trusted to do my job, and since I do it well, I keep getting good reviews, appropriate raises, and bonuses. (Yep, even the admin gets a bonus at my company!)

                              I have a great health plan, stock in the company, 401(k), and a really impressive allowance of paid time off and sick leave. But the major reason why I like working here is that it is a low-stress atmosphere where I can be useful and employ my skills in a support position; I don't have to spend my creativity or my mental energy at my day job, and they don't expect me to do so either. It is a support position that is designed to be a support position, and I am paid because I do the things the engineers want taken off their hands. It's not the kind of job a person would love--I kinda think of "I love my job" people as those who would do what they do even if no one paid them, like I do with writing, and that's not the case with my day job--but we have this weird fascination with wanting the thing we make money at to also be our fulfillment in everyday life. I get my fulfillment elsewhere, and get my paycheck from the office. It enables me to keep the roof over my head and the wheels turning so I can keep writing books and enjoying my life.

                              And it's pretty cool I get to decorate my desk and work space however I want, too. :)


                              Wednesday, May 20, 2015

                              Wednesday Factoid: Glasses

                              Today's Wednesday Factoid is: Do you wear glasses? How long have you been wearing glasses?

                              Yeah, I kinda wear glasses! Most of the time I wear contacts, so I don't really, uh, let's see, identify as a glasses-wearer, but my eyesight is pretty terrible and I need correction to function in the sighted world. My contact lenses are -7.5.

                              I got my first pair of glasses in sixth grade and needed them to see the board, but usually didn't wear them in my everyday life. I needed correction but I didn't like wearing glasses. When my vision got bad enough I got contacts in ninth grade, and I had a hard time learning to take them out because I think eyeballs are gross, but I adjusted quickly.

                              There are no photos of me wearing my first pair of glasses, but I wear my specs once in a while now if I am just resting my eyes or wanna look cute in a different way.


                              Monday, May 18, 2015

                              Ten Years of Webcomics

                              In May 2005, after being inspired by some non-traditional text-heavy webcomics, I decided that I too could tell stories in graphic format, and my webcomic Negative One was born.

                              It was just an experiment for the first month or so; I wanted to see if I could do it, and I knew that webcomic audiences tend to get rabid if artists don't update on time, so keeping to a set schedule was very important to me. But I settled into it easily and managed to bang out a new issue every Friday for the first month. I can handle this, I thought. And handle it I did.

                              For the next ten years.

                              On May 20, 2015, Negative One celebrates ten years of weekly updates, without having ever missed an issue, been late, or gone on hiatus. That's 522 issues. 11,400 panels. And a lot of busy Fridays. I'm holding a contest to celebrate. There will be three prizewinners, with winners being allowed to pick from comic-related gifts/art or just store credit to any online retailer. Prizes are worth $40, $20, and $10 respectively. And there are multiple ways to enter--taking a quiz, sending me fan art, submitting questions for the characters to answer . . . it's all in the link!


                              For the folks who've never read my webcomic before, I want to tell you a little about why it's special and maybe entice you to read it. Since the contest to win prizes is open for over a month, there's time to read the archives and get caught up if you want to. ;)

                              Negative One begins as a personal story that alternates between two young women struggling with extraordinary problems. The storytelling involves first-person reflections of their quiet adventures, rendered in light dialogue and heavy introspection, accompanying pencil sketches of the characters. (Yes, pencil sketches. It's not inked.)

                              Chinese-American New Yorker Meri Lin finds herself pregnant unexpectedly, and with her parents disapproving of the baby's white father, she battles anxiety and growing worries about raising her child. When baby Amanda is born with unheard-of superpowers and Meri Lin's life mutates into a surreal unknown, she and her devoted partner Fred are on their own dealing with stuff they've never heard of outside of science fiction. Her story is about family and fear and all the joys and terrors of mothering a special child, and it also leads to an alternately inspiring and depressing portrayal of how she and Fred handle grief when their worst fears are realized.

                              The other storyline follows Adele, a young woman from another dimension. At the beginning of her tale she is in training to be a master prophet under the tutelage of her teacher Tabitha. She has very mixed feelings about her ultimate mission: her teacher, who is from our world, is sending her there permanently to find and teach the next human with prophetic abilities, but in her journey she'll lose most of her important memories and never be able to return. She'll have to live as an alien in a strange world and figure out how to build her life from there, and she'll have to leave her family and her beloved teacher and most of her identity behind. Adele's relationship with her teacher and somewhat estranged family, her devotion to her art and her small rebellions, and her eventual travels in our world are at the center of her story.

                              As the story goes on, I add three more narrators: the first two are male characters from other dimensions who travel to the human world accidentally during a sort of interdimensional earthquake, and the third narrator is Meri Lin's baby. She starts narrating her own comics when she's about two years old, and she basically becomes the main/focus character of the webcomic.

                              To be honest, the comic's flaws include pretty poor art most of the time and nearly plotless storytelling, with a very slow pace; I know that means it really isn't for everyone since it's almost entirely character-oriented and rooted in the everyday existence of extraordinary people who don't save the world or do anything but battle personal demons and develop/destroy relationships with each other. But I did create the comic for a semi-indulgent reason: I wanted to take the characters from an unpublishable fantasy series I'd written and share them with the world in such a way that I didn't have to worry about marketability and expectations, and now it's just a place I can tell the kind of story I want to tell with the characters I care about. So that's what I've done here.

                              But if you like very nuanced character arcs and want to see explorations of complicated people, you'll probably find yourself getting invested in the story once you get used to it. Meri Lin and Fred may be raising a child who isn't like any real baby out in the world, but they also have some relatable struggles: they wrestle with discipline and "me" time and how to cultivate their intimacy despite what they're facing, and Meri Lin learns to wear a mask to cover her grief, and when family and friends try to help her she has to learn how much to shut out and how much to invite in. Adele deals with being closer to her teacher--a foreigner--than she is to her own mother, and she shoulders crushing responsibility as a very talented prophet who also sometimes needs to make mistakes as a teenage girl. She wonders what kind of love and support can be available to someone like her when she comes to a world where she is a stranger, and when others depend on her for her mystical guidance and perspective, she's conflicted about what it means to be needed.

                              My extradimensional characters Weaver and Dax have some complicated struggles too. Weaver has to deal with literal imprisonment at the beginning of his stay in our world, and later there are themes of brotherhood, isolation, and kind of being the local goofy genius. (Seriously, when Meggie showed me Guardians of the Galaxy, Rocket reminded me so much of Weaver.) Dax deals with loyalty and faith/spirituality and the meaning of companionship and strength; he's kind of a gentle giant type. And he smokes some weed. Heh.

                              And of course the story follows a ton of complicated stuff as Meri Lin's baby makes her way into the world. As a very small child whose first understanding of herself incorporates the experience of scaring the crap out of people, she's at times very fragile and at other times the strongest and most independent child you'll ever see. She is faced with fitting in and standing out in unprecedented ways, and figuring out how to meet her own needs given some of her ordinary and extraordinary desires makes for some unique opportunities for me as a storyteller. 

                              It may seem like a weird thing to say about a story in which three out of the five narrators aren't human, but the story also incorporates a lot of diversity and underrepresented perspectives. Obviously all the aliens have that whole Extreme Outsider narrative, but then I do deal with more ordinary marginalization as well. Meri Lin is the daughter of Chinese immigrants (who later moved back to China), and her romantic partner is a white man, so some of her story deals with the unique issues associated with their relationship, and from raising a mixed-race child. As for the baby, when she begins to tell her story, she really has no concept of race, and isn't frequently recognized as being mixed due to the prominence of other peculiarities, but she is.

                              The story also features a child from an abusive/neglectful home, a major character who is a black homeless mother who has epilepsy, another mixed-race family with children from different fathers, a white single divorced mother who's a business owner, and a black man who's a business owner. A lot of the supporting characters are not white and aren't necessarily in typical living/working situations. There's also a secondary character with severe mental impairments who receives support and care from some of the cast members, but she's also from another dimension. The story is not about characters being Asian or being black or having illnesses, but those aspects of the characters are incorporated into their stories--as part of who they are without being a focal plot point.

                              I've spent ten years bringing little bits of this story to the Internet every Friday, and though I don't have many loyal readers, I think most of the people still reading are quiet about their enjoyment of it; I don't get too much interaction or comments. So I figured as part of the ten-year celebration I'd make a few posts about the comic and see if it attracts any new blood. It still gets a little spike of visitors every Friday so I know some people out there are still paying attention, but it would be so cool if some new people dropped by and read one of the things that takes up my time every single week.

                              Happy anniversary to meeeeeee!

                              Saturday, May 16, 2015

                              Personal Digest Saturday: May 9 – May 15

                              Life news this week: 
                              • I guess there's not really an official big announcement, but the Next Generation Indie Book Awards posted this list of winners and finalists recently and I'm on it, so . . . here we go, my fourth book award. I'm the winner in the LGBT category. YAyyyyYY!
                              • Saturday was Spend Money Day. I had to buy a bunch of stuff for my upcoming trip and I hate waiting for the last minute so shopping happened. Got new shoes and a new purse. I also made a new video, redecorated my apartment, and made cookies and biscuits for my mom, all on the same day. It was kind of a busy scene.
                              • Sunday was Mother's Day and I hung out with my friend Sarah in the morning (went out to eat at Panera) and then I went to my mommy's house. Where I fed her biscuits and cookies and also brought tomato soup, oh and I gave her a skirt for her present. And Lindsay came over too! Hadn't seen her since January. She stayed all day, and Patricia called on Skype so we could "hang out" with her and baby Ash, who provided quite a show for us pushing his mommy down for fun and making all his adorable babbles for us.
                              • Got some edits done on a short story that is going to be published soon and sent it in to the editor. Woo-hoo! Done!
                              • I created a contest for my Negative One webcomic readers to enter. Since the comic hits TEN YEARS AS A WEBCOMIC on May 20, I'm accepting entries into this contest and I made a little trivia quiz to go with it (helps earn points for the contest). And I drew a little illustration to accompany it. The contest is here.
                              • Jeaux Day was food at IHOP and inconsequential hanging out at my house. We're such nerds!
                                            New reviews of my book:

                                            Places featured:
                                            Reading progress:

                                            New singing performances:

                                            Here I'm singing "Orinoco Flow" by Enya.

                                            New drawings:

                                            The illustration for my Ten Year Contest for Negative One.

                                            Webcomic Negative One Issue 0522: "Birds and Bees."

                                            New videos:

                                            Letters to an Asexual #27: My video about aromanticism! 

                                            New photos:  

                                            The donut I got as a reward for winning the Next Generation Indie Book Award.
                                            My latest wardrobe addition: Another Steven Universe shirt. (I now have four if you're counting.)
                                            And here are my haircut comparison photos since the 15th has come and gone again:

                                            Back, February 2014
                                            Back, May 2015
                                            Front, February 2014
                                            Front, May 2015

                                            Social media counts: YouTube subscribers: 4,584 for swankivy (19 new this week), 465 for JulieSondra (5 new). Twitter followers: 647 for swankivy (3 new), 945 for JulieSondra (1 new). Facebook: 278 friends (no change) and 163 followers (1 new) for swankivy, 557 likes for JulieSondra (2 new), 54 likes for Negative One (no change), 104 likes for So You Write (no change). Tumblr followers: 1,992 (11 new).

                                            Friday, May 15, 2015

                                            Representation: Incidental versus Targeted

                                            So I'm going to ramble for a while about incidental versus targeted representation, and just see where it goes.

                                            A while back someone on Tumblr asked me some questions about my thoughts on Sheldon and Amy's relationship on The Big Bang Theory. If you are not familiar, this is a show featuring several geeks doing geek things, and Sheldon is frequently singled out by asexual viewers as potentially an asexual character. He never uses that word explicitly, but some of his actions and attitudes suggest he may be asexual (though because he has so many other quirks and is portrayed as a condescending control freak, it's hard to separate how much might be a sexual orientation and how much might be due to a moderate case of misanthropy). He gets a girlfriend, and though at first they agree that physical intimacy is not desired by either, she later begins pushing for a more traditional relationship, which makes Sheldon uncomfortable.

                                            I don't really know what to say here because I haven't seen the episodes and have seen very little of the show, but what I will say is that it's tough to say whether the writers' treatment of Sheldon reflects on the asexual community. Because they have never used that word, it's mostly just us seeing his tendencies and saying "hey, he's like me!" (which could be problematic because he's such an obnoxious character in so many ways), but it does draw some troubling connections between lack of interest in physical intimacy and Sheldon's other elitist traits. The real question here is "Do we have to NAME his apparent asexuality for it to actually be asexual representation?"

                                            This is a really hard question. Without language, so much of the message writers might be trying to send through characters can fall short of its mark. Many people will read these struggles as "Sheldon is having problems with intimacy because Sheldon is weird" rather than "Sheldon is having problems with intimacy because he doesn't feel sexual attraction and his girlfriend expects him to express sexual interest as proof that he loves her." Is this about us, or is it not?

                                            Can you feel the love? Probably not.
                                            Readers, have you ever heard of queerbaiting?

                                            Basically, queerbaiting means that a work will include some subtext that vaguely suggests a character likes another character of the same sex (presumably to make progressive/liberal audiences tune in for it), but will never actually declare the queer relationship "a thing" or let them actually get together. (Exploration is one thing; implying queerness without ever having the intention of letting it manifest is another.) I think this happens sometimes with asexuality, too, but people don't really recognize it as queerbaiting; a character will seem disinterested and may even declare disinterest in someone, but they will almost always get together with that character later (or with someone else even after claiming to not have interests of that sort). That's pretty much what asexual people have come to expect whenever they see characters like themselves; they'll eventually turn out to not be asexual and will furthermore reinforce the belief that there is a "right person" out there for everyone. The message we all take home is that asexuality is a holding pattern, a temporary identity, a placeholder for a person's real sexuality, which will manifest as soon as the person destiny had in mind for them comes along.

                                            I have mixed feelings about this in general. Because I firmly believe we need both incidental queerness and targeted queerness in our media. And we usually won't see them in the same work. What I mean by this is that some works are explicitly designed to focus on a queer relationship and focus on the fallout from expressing same-sex love, while some works just make queer relationships happen to be part of the story, and may occasionally deal with any issues it causes (if they exist in the fictional context) or may even present it as if there are no issues.

                                            I really like seeing incidental queerness. I see the need for "issue" stories, and I have even written them with queer focus. As mentioned earlier this week, my short story "On the Inside" is explicitly about the issues of identifying as a gender you were not assigned at birth, and it's not about much more than this girl struggling for the right to be seen that way. My short story "Her Mother's Child" deals explicitly with a mother's feelings about her daughter's choice of a same-sex partner (and her own feelings about same-sex partners), though it is primarily about the mother-daughter relationship in the story. A novel I intend to write about an asexual teenager will focus heavily on her discovery of asexuality and attempt to braid it into her life in a meaningful way. We need stories that do take us by the hand and walk us through certain steps of thought, because we live in an atmosphere where examples of people like us are not ubiquitous enough and no one has ever knelt down and said to us "this is something we have been through, and it was like this, and we felt just like you did, and it's okay."

                                            However, I love when a book or other medium can take a step back from the harsh reality (or at least not focus on it so centrally) and become a Work Containing Queer People instead of a Queer Work. I think this subtle display can ultimately do more for preventative issues queer people develop when they're young, though we need media that acknowledges the problems they have and helps walk them through those problems too. A very good example of incidental queerness isolated from the usual "issue books" is David Levithan's book Boy Meets Boy

                                            Once, in a conversation I had about this book, the other person I was talking to argued that it was a terrible book because it refused to acknowledge the struggles of gay teenage boys, setting this happy-go-lucky queer kid in his gay-friendly utopia and just letting him go about his business pursuing a boyfriend with no homophobia setting him back or being framed as formative in his youth.

                                            I disagreed that this made it a bad book. A lot.

                                            Instead of seeing this as a laughably unrealistic presentation of homosexual teenagerhood, I saw it as inspiring. Finally, a book that is not fantasy or set in another/a future reality presenting homosexuality as if it is (gasp) not definitive of this person entirely and showing us what a gay kid's life could be if he wasn't raised to hate himself or fear homophobic violence. It was internally consistent, I argued, and that is the reality I'm being asked to accept inside of Boy Meets Boy. Yes, if it had been a book that claimed to realistically depict today's gay-boy experience and yet it had all the homophobia Photoshopped out and retroactively excised from the kid's life since birth, it certainly wouldn't have fit as a realistic book. But in the world presented to us here, it was realistic--and it was refreshing. And a relief. Probably way more so for actual gay guys than it was for me.

                                            But my conversation partner wasn't alone in feeling a little unsettled by the way this was presented; other people found themselves confused by what exactly they were reading. In an interview, the author was once asked about the setting--was this the future, or a utopia, or an alternate world, or what? He answered that it's where he thinks and hopes we're going as a society. I found that to be a very good answer.

                                            When we make media, we have a choice about the messages we send, and sometimes we have to figure out how to walk some very delicate lines. Obviously a man publishing a book called Boy Meets Boy in the United States in the twenty-first century knows that this is being presented to a niche audience who knows to expect, well, a boy meeting a boy in a certain context when they pick up the book. They won't see it in their environment without seeking it out. It's complicated to get those messages where they need to be without someone citing them as "inappropriate" (especially if it's in media for children) and working to block the dissemination of that media. If something's known as a "gay show" or a "trans book" then those who want to stop others from getting affirming messages about these identities can easily identify and separate their children or their audiences from the material. And that's why incidental queerness in media can be so important.

                                            Take Clarence on the Cartoon Network. A major character named Jeff has two moms. It's incidental. (Apparently there's also a gay couple portrayed incidentally in another episode.) If I may depart from this for a second, I once saw a long argument on Tumblr about whether gay parents were depicted in Disney's Frozen, based entirely on a seconds-long clip of a shopkeeper character introducing his family, depicted waving while sitting in a sauna:

                                            People exploded and insisted this suggested a pair of gay fathers with their children, since the shopkeeper was also a man, and congratulated Disney for their boldness. But there was zero said about to what extent this family was an extended family and what relationship they had with the shopkeeper--plus the way Disney depicted adult women in this film suggests the tallest female character there could likely be an adult (potentially a mom/wife) and the biggest male character could easily be a son, cousin, or uncle. This isn't something I even consider incidental representation--something you'd have to create a bunch of assumptions for just to say you might have seen a relationship like yours on a mainstream movie screen for a second. But Jeff on Clarence having two moms? I think that's incidental representation in the right way. It's not THE issue. It's not AN issue. It just is there, visible, undeniable, and presented as normal for these characters. That's great.

                                            And here's an odd little thing regarding the Cartoon Network show Steven Universe (yes, I'm going there again); even though there are some pretty clear presentations of what appears to be same-sex relationships on the cartoon, the Cartoon Network can kind of get away with saying they aren't portraying "lesbian" relationships because after all these are aliens from a species that has a single gender, and they just happen to, you know, present feminine and all use female pronouns. One could argue that they kind of have plausible deniability regarding whether they're putting something "inappropriate" on kids' TV (considering this show airs in countries around the world, some of which actually have laws against "gay" portrayals on television).

                                            But you can see what it looks like.
                                            Some have argued that the character above with the shorter hair is supposed to be a boy. (Apparently, in the name of denying that this is what it looks like, they're willing to assert that this is a boy with a female voice actor who's repeatedly referred to as "she" in the show and is named Ruby. Because, you know, she wears shorts and not a dress, and is kind of aggressive and punches things.) Some have also argued that this relationship is platonic or sisterly. (Apparently, in the name of denying that this is what it looks like, they're willing to assert that platonic and sisterly pairs frequently kiss tears off each others' faces and fawn over each other with very intimate gestures, and sing songs about their love and stuff.) One of the writers of the show actually had to go on record and specifically say their relationship is romantic, but some people still won't listen. That said, most people who watched this got the message loud and clear. It is exactly what it looks like. But.

                                            Even though these characters use female pronouns exclusively and are coded in various ways as feminine, they are not actually women or girls. They're alien rocks from space, guys. And this is kind of genius, because the human characters in the show use gendered terminology for them all the time and they don't protest; however, as far as I remember, none of the alien characters have actually EVER referred to themselves or each other as "female," "girl," "woman," "lady," or any other term that implies gender besides the she/her pronouns, with the exception of one of them being referred to regularly as a "mother." (And she literally had a child, so I guess that makes sense.) Other characters (including the protagonist) DO sometimes call them women or girls or ladies, implying that everyone in their world sees them that way and they pretty much don't care, but THEY don't use this language for themselves. [Edited many months later: In more recent episodes, the slang term "homegirl" and the encouraging phrase "get it, girl!" have been uttered by the alien characters in reference to each other, so that may be a contradiction, but it's also slang and maybe not literal.]

                                            And what this allows is for censors barring "lesbian" relationships on TV to have no business dubbing this show as inappropriate (hey, you can't outlaw space rocks!!!), while those who want to see characters like themselves on TV actually get to. For all intents and purposes, they are seen as female and in relationships with each other, in an incidental way that isn't challenged within the show on basis of their gender despite that everyone in this universe sees them as feminine. And some people have said it's a good portrayal of femme agender characters, which is also important since you can certainly be agender and prefer she/her pronouns.

                                            Our television, books, and other media shapes how we think about the world; it shapes what we believe is usual, is normal, is possible. And though a lot of children's shows deal with magic and impossible happenings, those aren't the parts that kids absorb as possible; it's the lessons (sometimes heavy-handed and itchy if they're handled poorly, sometimes right on the money if the writers know what they're doing). They do learn about family and friendship and honesty and values. And they can see how that actually looks in an interpersonal way even if it's in the context of a weird cartoon show or a science fiction book. Even if they wouldn't know to go looking for it or wouldn't deliberately expose themselves to a piece of media that they thought contained this element, they can encounter it in a natural way and incorporate it into their world view.

                                            So if the media they read and see includes people laughing at "sissy" boys or punishing girls for being assertive, they'll feel like that's okay to do to similar people in their lives, or they'll feel cowed and shamed if that seems to be about them. I read a story recently on a trans woman's blog about how she was trained from early childhood to laugh at the concept of trans women (presented as if they were "men in dresses") even though she wasn't sure why it was supposed to be funny or why it made her so uncomfortable that everyone thought that was hilarious. That she learned trans women were shameful and were pretending to be something they weren't, and that the concept was only worth introducing if one was going to immediately mock it. She didn't accept the truth about herself or come out or try to transition for a very long time because she didn't want to be that. Media (and people's reaction to it) is what taught her to be ashamed and stopped her from freely examining her identity.

                                            Conversely, if we see trans people and other marginalized identities just existing, we see an example of someone who might be like us, or like our brother, or like our friend. We may develop a frame of reference, or at least see it somewhere to know it exists (so we don't think of it as "that's not how it works!") before we're incredibly set in our ways about how relationships and identities and gender roles are. We see two female-coded people who love each other, and even if nobody ever says the word "lesbian" (or, in fact, the word "woman" at all), we have context for it in a place where it's not The Plot and it's not What The Show Is About and it doesn't become The Gay Show.

                                            (Though to be honest I would still watch The Gay Show if there was one. Haha.)

                                            I generally appreciate hearing asexuality explicitly mentioned in a positive or neutral context in a book or on television, and I'm wary of identifying characters as "ace representation yaaaaayyyy" if they're just showing incidental indifference to coupling up or being intimate, but we do need these kinds of representations in mainstream media that stays mainstream media, and it's true that sometimes naming marginalized identities explicitly will make some people think it's not "for them" even when they're some of the people who need to see it most. We need kids to see two moms in their cartoons sometimes. We need them to know that sometimes girls who hold hands with boys might also want to hold hands with girls. And we need everyone to stop singling out these examples of less heteronormative and less typical situations as inappropriate (for children or otherwise). It is not "adult" or "too advanced" or "perverted" for same-sex relationships to be depicted as just a regular part of life, and a piece of media does not need to be labeled "LGBT category" to have LGBT people or issues in it.

                                            Regular, mainstream media can and should have this kind of diversity. And just like there are plenty of movies and books that are Just About the Straight Romance and then plenty of the same where there are heterosexual couples simply existing as people's parents and casually mentioned in everyday life, we need both laser focused "issue books" that spotlight LGBT issues as well as incidental LGBT people existing in our media. We need them both (ideally with the latter avoiding the queerbaiting).

                                            We do seem to be moving in this direction pretty well with our cartoons and our YA books having so much incidental diversity, showing young people (and everyone) that this kind of diversity is just part of life. I wish there had been more girl characters when I was a kid who didn't parrot phrases like "every girl dreams of her prince!" because hey, I wasn't dreaming of a prince, but I thought I probably would want that when I was older, and didn't know what a girl was supposed to be if catching a prince wasn't part of her adult life. I didn't like that "girls grow up to be straight women" was pretty much the only narrative I was offered. And I'm really glad that our media isn't all like that anymore. Don't get me wrong; it's still mostly like that.

                                            But now there's hope. And I love the heck out of it.