Friday, June 28, 2013

Sexual Harrassment at Conventions

I'm relatively new to this community, but that doesn't mean I can't take a stand when something important is happening. And this 'something important' is critical, because it affects the community as a whole, fans, authors, editors, artists... everyone.

I've been reading about sexual harassment at conventions, and it is very upsetting. There seems to be an undercurrent of keep-it-to-yourself, but many are now taking a stand.

This blog was posted by several authors, including Seanan McGuire, Jim Hines, John Scalzi, Mary Robinette Kowal, Chuck Wendig and Brandon Sanderson. It can and should be read in full at one of these sites.

Elise Matheson wrote this blog to detail what she had to do to successfully make a report about sexual harassment, because not every report is equal. It needs to be truly 'formal,' and not anonymous, if it is to make a difference. She wrote,

...I knew for certain that I was not the only one to have reported inappropriate behavior by this person to his employer. It turned out that the previous reports had been made confidentially and not through HR and Legal. Therefore my report was the first one, because it was the first one that had ever been formally recorded.

Corporations (and conventions with formal procedures) live and die by the written word. “Records, or it didn’t happen” is how it works, at least as far as doing anything official about it. So here I was, and here we all were, with a situation where this had definitely happened before, but which we had to treat as if it were the first time — because for formal purposes, it was.
I understand why formality is necessary, because it is possible for an unfounded claim to damage a person's reputation. When abuse of this sort occurs, especially regarding a corporation like a publishing house, there is a process for dealing with it, and those who suffer from attacks like these need to be willing to use it.

Elise offers a very straightforward and sensible guide to handling sexual harassment, specifically in the realm of conventions. Unfortunately, this ought to be considered beforehand so you don't have to try and figure out what to do about it should it happen.

Though I would certainly boost Elise's signal because it is important, I also have a personal stake in this. My wife, Heidi, went with me to WorldCon in Chicago last year and will be with me again in San Antonio. I expect that as my career picks up, we will attend more conventions. We don't always stick together because we are interested in different panels.

I would like to feel confident that the community is aware of this, that the convention staff are vigilant against it. While sexual harassment is a possibility anywhere two or more people are gathered, I want to feel at home and safe when surrounded by like-minded people.

And, you know what? I believe that the sci-fi / fantasy community is fully capable of achieving this, with strong voices willing to speak out against harassment and abuse.

We, as members of this generally-amazing community, should not deny that sexual harassment happens, but should actively stand against it.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Watershed moment

What is a watershed moment?

Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines watershed as:

a crucial dividing point, line, or factor : turning point

This term is used in reference to a divide in a river where the water has two distinct paths it might follow.

In fictional terms, it refers to a key point where everything changes. It can be that a decision is made which will take the character down one of two distinct paths, and change the way the story will go for them, for better or for worse (or, let's be honest, for both).

This moment will define the lives of everyone around the character, even if the decision's significance is not immediately obvious.

Writing ain't easy. For me, it does not often come easily, or at least it doesn't *start* easily. Ideas may come simply, but ideas are cheap. Plenty of people have ideas, but those who follow through with them are more rare.

Tiring of my membership in the larger group of wannabes, I decided last week that I would do the unthinkable: stop sleeping in to 10 or 11 am and start waking up at the same time as my wife, roundabouts 7:30. Suffering from depression and chronic lack of energy, I did not enjoy making this decision, and I liked following it even less.

I got up, though. I got out of bed every morning. Not only did I get up, but I wrote, and almost each day I did it first thing. My numbers weren't huge; I didn't write more than 600 words on any given day. However, the decision to get moving so early was not easy, and each day was a victory.

The biggest victory occurred later in the week, when I was so tired I could hardly move. Heidi said that I could set an alarm for 9am if I needed to sleep longer. I set that alarm.

A few minutes later, I got up anyway, made us both some breakfast, and got to my writing.

My self-discipline is generally crap, so this surprised me as much as anyone, but it also showed me that I really can decide to make a change in my life and follow through with it. That one small victory gave me the energy to keep going, keep on this rather uncomfortable schedule.

I don't like the me who accomplishes nothing. I'm not a fan of dreamily thinking about what I might do someday. Talk is cheap, while making a sacrifice - in this case, sleep and a schedule to which I was accustomed - shows my mind that I'm serious about wanting to do the writing. Too much of this is a mind game, which frustrates the ever-living hell out of me, but I'm getting smarter about how to play.

Today, I'm here at the computer, chipping away at the ol' word mine, seeing what shiny bits I can dart back to the manuscript, while trying to keep an eye on the canary. (It's dangerous down there!) Tomorrow, I will be back.

And the next day.

And the next.

What are some of your watershed moments, whether related to artistic pursuits or otherwise? I am interested to hear about those little defining moments which gave birth to important changes.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Spring Clean 2: Clean Harder

Spring Harder? Uh... Spring Cleaner?


Last week I wrote about how I'm rearranging my life in order to become productive and more satisfied with myself. Look! You can find it here! (I know it's no new concept, but I just love using words and phrases as hyperlinks. It's the best.)

Honestly, this meme kind of annoys me.
It also annoys me that I don't have cookies.
This week, I figured I would mention the other half to this rejuvenation of my burgeoning writing career: the health side.

Unlike the Dark Side, we don't offer cookies.

My dear friend and constant nemesis, Lance, out of the kindness of his heart (and malicious intent to see me suffer), purchased for me a diet / lifestyle book entitled The Testosterone Advantage Plan: Lose Weight, Gain Muscle, Boost Energy.

The subtitle is rather telling and easily summarizes the three things I need to do health-wise.

Lose Weight: Though I apparently carry it well (and people who know me were surprised to learn it), I clock in at just over 300 pounds. That is not a healthy weight for someone my height (precisely approximately six feet - I'm not into measuring down to the micrometer as some feel they must). Losing weight isn't just about looks รข€” as I mentioned, I don't look too terribly overweight (though no one would mistake me for your average bean pole) but I definitely feel overweight. This plays into reducing both m confidence and my energy levels.

Gain Muscle: Sure, I vaguely care about increasing muscle mass from a largely future-health standpoint. I'm not interested in professional body building, but I am interested in remaining healthy and mobile late in my life. Unfortunately, I'm at the time in my life when my future health will be defined, not necessarily set in stone but put on a certain path. If I don't get in shape now, it'll be much more difficult to do so in the future. To draw a peculiar and inaccurate zombie metaphor, prevention is better than the cure.

Boost Energy: My number one excuse for failing to accomplish anything with my writing on any given day: "I'm just too tired." While it's true that lack of energy works heavily against putting forth the mental strain of making the words, it is a piss-poor reason to do absolutely nothing productive. Still, my preferred method is to take the excuse away entirely (or at least mostly) and then spend my Discipline Points on actually doing stuff. (See, I was too tired to come up with a better, more descriptive phrase than "doing stuff.") Are Discipline Points in any way related to Initiative? I keep rolling too low.

This probably doesn't need to be said, but to be clear: this is not some sponsored article where the authors or publisher are giving me incentives to say nice things about their book. (However, if you guys want to pay me, I'm currently willing to sell my soul, especially considering the fact that I'm doing the program anyway. And unemployed. Call me!)

I'm not planning on going into any great detail about the program as that would seem to infringe on their sales, but I might put in the occasional entry about how it's going for me.

The diet half is actually pretty nice, encouraging its acolytes to eat plenty while maintaining a healthy balance of carbs, fat, and protein. I don't feel hungry quite as much and I'm only four days into the diet.

I don't like working out, which is the other side, and I've only done a half-workout so far due to a sudden head rush at the gym. However, my wife and I spent around $100 to get some of the basic necessities that will allow me to do much of the workouts from home, spreading them out to avoid such problems.

All in all, a healthier me should be a happier me and hopefully that means a more productive me. (Yes, in the previous sentence, it's all 'me, me, me.') I encourage you to consider adopting a healthier lifestyle as well, because it's good for you.

Guys can consider trying out the Testosterone Advantage Plan, and ladies... I'm fairly certain there are about a bajillion different options available. Try to pick one that is reasonable.

And because I can't think of a good way to wrap this post up, I'll go with the classic signing-off.


This is Stoffel, signing off.

(It kind of works.)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Spring Cleaning

I recently took a trip with my father to see my extended family in Pennsylvania. It was, largely, a relaxing time where I got to catch up with some cool relatives.

Heidi, in the meantime, stayed home due to a new job offering limited vacation possibilities - she's saving it for WorldCon in August. She remained, and despite a full-time job and online classes, scoured and cleaned the entire apartment, tearing through a laundry list of chores we needed done since first moving into the place.

My wife did not do this exclusively for the general cleanliness, however; she did it for me.

For me and my writing.

I've said it once and I'll say it again: I am pretty freaking lucky to have family who support my goals.

I'm also lucky that this support isn't just blind head-nodding. They know that writing is my best skill, and a job I happen to love. However, I haven't been too great about keeping up with that 'job' part of it. Why? Well, a variety of reasons, but one major one is that I have trouble taking myself seriously.

Today, I don't care to wallow on that struggle, but rather to explain how I am combatting it.

Step one: my own personal spring cleaning.

I got a haircut. Just now.

See? Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Sly. Or whatever. Shut up.
It may sound silly, but this makes a difference. It make a difference in how I view myself. I need to be a business professional and, because I am essentially my own boss, that means I need to look like one. Self-imposed dress code? I don't know, maybe. As a penmonkey in the Chuck Wendig tradition, that means pants are not only not required, but are in fact prohibited.

Full disclosure: I am wearing pants right now. (As far as you know.)

The other aspect of my life I'm cleaning up is my productivity. There's one way I feel quite confident in my writerlyness (no, not my penchant for inventing words on a whim to suit my needs, though that's a valid argument as well): my attention span is crap. Ooh, shiny, and all that jazz.

My wife helped me compile this nifty hanging-file box in which, at the beginning of each week, we will review my goals for each of the following seven days.

One big problem I run into is knowing I ought to be doing stuff, but not being sure exactly what that stuff is. Every day I'm going to look over my agenda, currently compiled with sticky notes, and focus on accomplishing the few things I need to do. I think this method is vaguely drawn off of David Allen's Getting Things Done; though I've never read the book, I have read about it.

Anyway, that about catches you up for this month so far. I should be able to keep producing words, so stay tuned in that Internety way for more bloggery to come.

What is it with tagging 'y' on the end of words, anyway?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

No, Really

Hey, I have a real website!

No, you can't see it, because I won't tell you where it is. Yet.

I will be moving my blog there as well as launching a pretty big project which will hopefully give people a better reason to visit the site than my mindless yammerings.

In the meantime, let's keep it up with mindless yammerings!

I haven't been employed for just over a year now. I made the decision, but it was easy to go through with it as my employer was reducing hours to the point that I only broke even on gas, driving to work for three hours a week.

Still, I chose to commit myself to this writing career. I'm strongly resisting using quotation marks around career.

That's the problem.

I don't take myself seriously as a writer, or even as a professional in general. Sure, I CAN be professional, but I have trouble picturing anyone letting me anymore. Yes, I CAN write at an acceptable -- even occasionally desirable -- level, but who would give a crap?

It's imposter syndrome without actually having the initial exposure.

The way I see imposter syndrome is you freak out because now that you're in the pro room, they're going to realize you're a fake and oust you, shun you, ostracize you for deceiving them.

I can't even get to that point, because I talk myself out of even peeking into the door. Everyone will know that I'm some chump that doesn't fit in and has no place here, so there is no reason to finish this.

It's stupid.

Many days, I can't see a future where I'm welcomed into the publishing world. I think that's the equivalent to having no hope.

I've written three or four flash fiction pieces that I meant to post and just didn't get to it, because, y'know, whatever. I'm waffling on how to approach this novella series despite the deadline I set coming up fast. I talk myself out of tweeting, for crying out loud. If I can't squeeze out 140 characters without psyching myself out, then I think I'm in trouble.

I am fighting myself about whether to post this or not.

Obviously, I did, as you're reading it, but it was a struggle (he wrote prospectively, hoping he would, in fact, publish this).

Interaction time: How, dear reader, do you drag yourself out of the no-hope-mope (I should trademark that) (actually, no, I should not)?

How do you beat those times when self-doubt topples progress?

I am well aware of the philosophy which says "Give yourself permission to suck." Don't clench, just let whatever fall onto the page and fix it later.

That's a great idea.

I just can't seem to do it.

Heidi tells me that what I actually put on the page is the equivalent of a third draft because I chew it over so much before letting myself write it. That is not very efficient, and it eventually leaves me in a infinite loop of existential crisis and self-doubt.

Posting this is step one on the road to recovery.

I've worn the track out on these first few steps pacing back and forth. You might notice a bit of dried blood on this side of that first hurdle.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Flash Fiction: SOON

My wife thinks I should write.

In this way, I am extraordinarily fortunate. I know many writers don't have the support of those close to them.

In order to help me get back into the swing of things, she suggested I try warming up with quick little flash fiction prompts, which she has been kind enough to generate.

Here is one of my more successful attempts from earlier this week.

Middle of Nowhere, snowy
Car Crash
An alcoholic beverage

— — — — — — —


"They'll be here soon."

Sharon does not look up at Rick when he speaks. She isn't upset anymore. Too tired.

Instead she trails her eyes around the cab of the truck, unfamiliar, uncomfortable, but it is the reason she's still alive.

Rick clicks on the truck's wipers, pushing aside a sheet of white.

The sight of Sharon's car is once again a shock. Bloo -- the car's namesake cleverly gleaned from its shiny blue paint and interior -- is pressed up against and around the front of Rick's truck and buried in a mound of snow.

"You okay?" Rick asks.

Sharon looks down. "Yeah."

The snowflakes, fat and gluttonous, plunk onto the windshield in her peripheral vision.

"They'll be here soon," Rick assures her.

He had been saying that for hours, ever since his attempt to disconnect her mangled car from his truck had failed.

It hadn't been anyone's fault, Sharon decides again. The snow had obscured her vision, gave a hazardous slick to the back country road. Rick had no chance to swerve back into his own lane, the weight of the truck bed pushing his vehicle into hers.

He had called for help, but still they waited.

No one else is foolish enough to risk these backroads, Sharon knows.

No one but Rick and his stupid truck.

"Hey, uh, Miss Sharon?"

Sharon's eyes dart to him.

"Are you cold?" Rick's bushy eyebrows pinch together. "You're shaking an awful lot. Let me get you another blanket." He reaches behind her seat.

"No, that's okay," Sharon stutters, holding up her hand. She *is* shaky. Sensation drains from her fingers, a tingling gel oozing away.

Just how long had they been here?

The sun had already set, but it was dipping before Sharon had left her mother's house. A glance at the clock radio reveals the time, one zero nine. That can't be right.

"Do you have anything to eat?" Sharon asks, strain in her voice evident even to her tired mind.

"Uh..." Rick rustles around in the cab, reaches behind her seat and finally seizes upon a crinkling cellophane bag. Funyons. Glancing inside, he grimaces. "Nothin' but crumbs, sorry. But they'll be here soon."

"Hypoglycemic," Sharon mutters conversationally.

"Whassat?" Rick leans in closer as if to hear her better.

"I need to eat. Blood sugar is low."

"Oh. Uh." Rick slides a hand into his hair. Resumes his search about the cab.

Her mother. Sharon's mother is the reason she got into this wreck. She's to blame. She had insisted Sharon come have dinner with the man who would technically be her stepfather someday soon. Sharon is too old to have a stepfather.


That was hours ago, but...

Sharon remembers what happened just before leaving. Her mother pressed a plastic dish into her hands. "For the road," she had said, with her signature wink-and-smirk.

"I have dinner, I think," Sharon confides in Rick.


"In my car. Leftovers."

Rick mulls that over, glances outside, then nods.

"I'll go get it," he decides out loud.

"Thanks," Sharon says, faintest wisp of a smile crossing her lips. "It was in the front seat, but..." But Rick's truck had rearranged much of poor little Bloo.

"Okay, here I go," Rick says, then pulls the door handle. It doesn't budge, so he puts his shoulder into it. A loud crack and the door swings wide, and a blast of arctic chilly air hurtles into the cab.

Rick slams the door shut again and Sharon sees him brace against the cold. He's much more equipped for this weather, she thinks, what with his shaggy hair and beard, muscular build with the comfortable weight of age sitting around it.

Through the half-covered windshield, she watches Rick, illuminated by the trucks headlights, trudge toward Bloo and dig one of its doors out of its snowy grave.

A chill wracks Sharon at the sight.

The cab is still cold from him opening the door. Sharon decides maybe she will take another blanket. She roots around behind her seat, looking for the warmest blanket of the bunch.

Her fingers slide across cool glass.

She can't help but grip it, pull it out to investigate.

It's a bottle of rum. Some brand she's never heard of.

Sharon looks at the half-empty bottle, then out at Rick, splayed across the front seat and reaching into the back.

He didn't... he wasn't... was he?

No, Sharon is sure she would have smelled it on him if he were drinking.

This is just a simple accident.

Even if it were not, Sharon isn't in the position to do anything about it.

Almost on their own accord, her fingers wind around the metal cap and twist it off. The sharp odor of alcohol tickles her nose and before she knows it, she's tipping the bottle back.

A mouthful of rum slides its way down her throat, burning and tingling, warming her insides.

Sharon is not much of a drinker, but when she does, it always feels good.

This, however, feels amazing.

She takes one last pull from the bottle and screws the lid back on. The windshield is completely covered now, but she can see Rick's silhouette moving back toward the truck. The bottle goes back beneath the pile of blankets.

Another cruelly cold wind whips its way into the truck as he climbs in, triumphantly presenting a green plastic dish.

"You've got a funny idea about what constitutes dinner," Rick says, smiling. "But I'm sure it's mighty tasty."

Inside the dish is a gooey, sticky fruitcake. Sharon should have seen it coming. Her mother's silly holiday tradition is to play Hot Potato with a fruitcake to see who gets stuck with it.

It seems Sharon is going to lose this year.

Rick proffers a set of plastic utensils and cuts off a piece of fruitcake. They share in the bounty together, consuming it in minutes as the cab grows dimmer, less and less light passing through the snow-covered windshield.

The fruitcake sits solid in Sharon's stomach as she collapses down into her mountain of blankets. The alcohol soothes her and the bench seat actually feels comfortable for once.

As she slips into a doze, Rick puts another blanket atop her, patting it as if she were a small child being put to bed.

"They'll be here soon," he tells her.



— — — — — — —

I had a bit of trouble dragging a full story out of the prompt, but I tried to incorporate all of the requisite pieces into some sort of conflict.

How would you have approached this prompt?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year? So what?

A few years ago, the new year meant
+Wil Wheaton  was on a boat.

Guess what? It's almost the new year!

Guess what that means?

Absolutely nothing.

Before you huff off to another blog with a happier year end message, let me clarify my position on the matter.

The new year is an arbitrary date. Nothing in particular separates it from any other day, except for bringing the trouble of writing the wrong year on our checks for weeks on end.

However, this doesn't make it worthless.

The human condition revolves so much around symbolism that the concept of a totally symbolic existence has been promoted by various psychologists I am too lazy to look up and cite. Essentially, your interaction with the world is based upon symbols you have assigned to every single thing you see, hear, touch, et cetera.

The new year can represent something to us, a chance for a fresh start, for new opportunities.

I am a diehard pessimist. I don't mean to be. It takes no real effort on my part to point out everything that is wrong and speculate on how it will get worse. My wife has helped me realize the root of this (beyond the scope of this particular post) but seeing the cause doesn't make it go away. My condition is so severe that half the time I hear anything positive, I scoff and deny it.

It's stupid. I know.

Therefore, the concept of using the new year to springboard personal growth chafes. Every time I hear about a new year's resolution, I want to strangle the person and tell them they're doomed to fail.


I guess that means it's time to make a quasi-resolution. (No guarantees this won't lead to auto-asphyxiation.)

My dear wife has argued that we can just use January 1 as a day to reinvigorate the changes we wish to make. The most important thing in my life (beyond the essentials, such as family, food, and general continued respiration) is writing. Therefore, we are starting a campaign to enforce good habits, because otherwise I won't accomplish a damn thing.

I am in the process of developing a list of habits I need to build up.

I urge you, dear reader, to not use January 1, 2013, to make fluffy resolutions, but rather to re-evaluate your goals and determine how you will reach them. Be realistic, but don't underestimate your abilities, either.

Join me in my quest to ever-so-slightly better yourself, starting today.

Sidenote: the venerable +Chuck Wendig recently posted a list of 25 resolutions for writers. Well worth a look.