Category Archives: General

Lest We Forget

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Obligatory New Year’s Post

One moment you are making lists of all the things that you want to achieve by the end of the year, and the next thing you know you are dissecting the Hobbit and setting off party poppers to welcome the New Year.

Looking back over 2013 it was a pretty good year, but I have to admit I didn’t achieve all the things I had hoped. Of course, that just gives me some more goals for this year!

Some of the highlights:

Some of the disappointments:

  • Still haven’t cracked that pro sale
  • Not catching up with New Who in time for the 50th anniversary special
  • Not submitting to all the markets I had planned to through procrastination

So, what does 2014 hold, other than plugging away with the short fiction?

  • Another tie -in anthology which I can’t announce yet
  • A  sci fi novel which already has a few nibbles of interest
  • Revising my completed first draft of another novel (fantasy) with a view towards shopping it around
  • A YA novel in collobaration with a US author
  • Another conversational review series
  • Loncon and hopefully another con in the States!

I’ve come to realisation that the only thing holding me back is me, and that I need to develop a better work ethic and stop procrastinating. While I am setting myself some high expectations, there is no reason why 2014 can’t be an even better year than 2013.

Thanks to everyone who has supported me over the last 12 months and I look forward to celebrating all your successes over the next year. May 2014 be a wonderful year for you all! :-)

The Trophy

The Trophy

Wednesday Writers…is not here

Because I am currently working in Tasmania, and having such a great time I forgot to organise anything! To keep you going, here is my view from work:

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Unfortunately, the iphone camera doesn’t do it real justice, but hopefully it shows why I think Tasmania is the most beautiful place in Australia (and that’s saying something!).

See you next week! :-)

What can Men do about Sexual Harassment at Cons?

While it’s currently a topic getting a lot of traction on social media, harassment at conventions is hardly anything new. It’s one of those perennial subjects that comes up every so often, is discussed, but never goes away. However, this time around there seems to be a degree of openness and community engagement that goes beyond anything I have seen in my admittedly limited experience, and one can only hope that it translates into real change. Because, when I read the accounts of people’s experiences (for a good roundup that will just get you started, go here), all I can think is that the status quo is simply unacceptable. In a community that prides itself on being progressive and inclusive and generally pretty intelligent, how can these things still go on? How can the same language that was being used about women by Harlan Ellison in his introductions to stories in Dangerous Visions almost half a century ago still be cropping up in industry publications today? How can people use ignorance as an excuse when a hundred blogs or a thousand tweets lay out what is not okay every week?

Whenever this topic comes up I feel a lot of conflicting emotions. The first one is anger. I have a mother, a sister, a wife and I imagine some of these things happening to them and my blood boils. I have female friends in the community who this could easily happen to, or has happened to, and it makes me furious. But, to be honest, it also makes me very uncomfortable. I start asking myself all sorts of questions that, if I am honest here, I struggle with. I have to ask myself, what role do I play in this state of affairs? What should my response, as a man, be? I don’t feel qualified to talk about it, and I wonder whether I should just keep out of it. I don’t want to be one of those people who simply echo what all the cool people are talking about in attempt to look good. So, I sit here and stay quiet. But, then I realise that like in most things in life, when faced with something I don’t want to do, if I feel I should be doing something but am trying to find reasons not to then that’s a good sign that I should do it.

But, what can I do? I’m only one person, and fairly insignificant in the scheme of things – I am not a publisher, an editor or a big name author. It’s hard to believe I can effect major change in our community, or in the world. So, all I can do is control my own behaviour, and change how I act, or don’t act. But, what are the things I am doing, or trying to do? I’ve made a little list, but first, a disclaimer. I don’t claim to be in anyway an example of how men should be, or to live up to the things on the list or to be anyway trying to come from a position of authority on this. Like anyone, I fall short, am a hypocrite at times, and generally have no idea how to go about most things in life. I guess this post is not “What can men do?” but “what can I do?” This is simply stuff I find useful , maybe it will be food for thought or encourage someone else to make their own list.

1. Empathise

Often when something is outside our own experience, it is hard to understand how it can matter so much to someone. I’ve been to about six cons now, and at every single one I have experience behaviour, that if you sat down and described it, could be considered sexual harassment. It’s pretty easy for me to simply laugh it off, or even to be flattered by it, but I need to understand not everyone can do that, or should do that. I am 6’3” and I can’t remember the last time I felt worried for my physical safety. Sexual harassment is not constant background noise in my life, if it happens, it is an aberration. And, fortunately, my worth as human being is not judged by my appearance or my physical attributes. Thinking about what it would be like to have to worry about all those things, constantly, is a sobering experience.

2. Self Examination

It’s human nature to be able to see the mote in our neighbour’s eye while ignoring the beam in our own. We don’t want to believe that we might be part of the problem; it’s much easier to blame it on “other men”. What I try and do is be willing to take a look at my own behaviour. Every time this issue is raised, or I read a blog post that gets me thinking, that should be an opportunity for some self examination. Am I doing some of the things that people are talking about, or that I condemn in other people?

3. Being willing to be called on your behaviour

No matter how hard we try, we all make mistakes. I don’t think that is unforgivable, it’s how we deal with it. Last year, someone whose opinion I trust told me they felt I had crossed a line. I was mortified, I am still embarrassed to think about it. But, the truth is that I would much rather be told so I knew and could avoid doing the same thing again. If I had reacting with hostility, or dismissively, then that person would probably not feel comfortable talking to me about it the next time I stuffed up. If it is a choice between being a guy that people will tell to his face when he makes a mistake, or the guy that women talk about when handing out warnings, I know which one I would rather be.

4. Realise it is not about you

Sometimes when people talk about instances of sexual harassment, or tell you that something you did was wrong, it is hard to understand what the big deal was. You might think that was just flirting, or they are being over sensitive, or whatever. But, that is to miss the point. Everyone has their own triggers and boundaries, and crossing those is what makes it harassment. It’s not about what you think is acceptable, it is what they think that matters. Whether you think something is harmless or not, if you know it is going to upset someone and you still do it that makes you a bit of a dick. No one has a right to force their own standards of behaviour on someone else, and act like they are the one with the problem if they get upset. But, as I said, it is easier to blame someone else, than blame ourselves.

5. Erring on the side of caution

As I said in the point above, people have different ideas of what is okay. Like many other people in our community, I am not really good at the whole social interaction thing, or reading the signals and cues that people give. I often don’t know what the appropriate response or action is in a given situation so I can understand how some men are genuinely confused about what is okay (though I do think some men use that as an excuse). My solution is to err on the side of caution.

As an example, I am perfectly fine with being hugged. But, no matter how well I know someone, I try not to be the person who initiates a hug because for some people being touched is not cool. If they make that decision, though, that is fine. Obviously, once you know someone and they regularly hug that is different because you know what their boundaries are, but that initial call is up to them. That way, even if I am not sure how they would feel about it, I know I am not going to inadvertently cross a line.

I think this lends itself to lots of situations. Some people would be happy having you compliment their outfit, others would see that as sleazy. In some scenarios, offering to buy someone a drink is okay (even welcome – writers love to drink!), in others it would be threatening. If you aren’t sure how it will be taken – don’t do it.

I am lucky that I am married and therefore don’t need to worry about trying to flirt with people, but I would assume the same rules apply. If you aren’t sure whether someone is interested, I would see it as better to play it safe.

As I said, I suck at social cues but I still try and be observant. If I am having a conversation with someone and they keep looking at their watch or around for other people, that’s probably a good sign that I need to change the topic or move on. Again, I think it better to leave people wanting more of your company than insisting on hanging around even when you aren’t sure if they want you to.

6. Keep your eyes and ears open

Since I have become a little more aware of some of the bad things that happen at cons, I have tried to be a bit more observant about what is going on. I can be very oblivious to social undercurrents, but I try and keep an out for things that aren’t what they should be. It might be someone getting a bit loud or aggressive, or a bit too touchy, but if you spot a problem early enough you can often head off trouble before it happens. It might just mean keeping an eye on them, or making sure that they aren’t alone with anyone, or even just hinting they should settle down. But, if you don’t pay attention to what is going on around you then you can end up getting a nasty surprise.

7. Be willing to act

This is the one that I struggle with the most. I live in constant fear of committing some social faux pas and looking stupid, or interfering in something that is none of my business. The fact that I am relatively new on the scene doesn’t help, lots of people have known each other for years, or even decades, and often I have no idea of their history with one another, or the dynamics of their relationships. This means it is sometimes hard to work out whether people are messing around or not. But, the alternative to perhaps embarrassing myself if I get it wrong is turning a blind eye and allowing harassment. Inaction is a form of complicity, after all.

So, what I try and do is give some the option of an out from a conversation or situation and leave it up to them whether they take it. As an example, I was at a con and I saw what seemed to be a situation where a female friend was looking very uncomfortable and seemed to be cornered by a very enthusiastic male conversationalist. He was someone I am friends with, so I really didn’t know what to do, or whether I was imagining things. But, I didn’t think it would be right to abandon her and that it would be better to feel foolish than find out later I had stood by. So, I simply wandered over and, without interrupting, joined the conversation and gave her an out if needed. It really was much harder in my mind than in reality.

It might not even be direct intervention, it might just be that keeping an eye on someone or making sure you are present and in between them and your friends. Whatever it is, you need to be willing to put yourself outside your comfort zone if that’s what it takes.

There will be times when it will be hard, especially for someone like me who hates confrontation and wants to be liked. But, you can talk all you want about wanting to end harassment, but unless you are willing to act you are part of the problem.

8. Engage with the issues

What little influence I have I need to be using to try and change the community I am in. I was really proud to be part of the committee for Continuum 9 because that was a convention that was trying to bring about social change and that’s the sort of thing I want to be giving my time to. But, I can also do it in an unofficial capacity, I shouldn’t be clocking on and clocking off. I can try and influence the groups I am part of by making it clear that I don’t condone certain behaviours or language, and by acting in a certain way no matter who is watching.

9. Be a safe space

What I want is to be someone that people know will be there for them if they feel unsafe or threatened. It is not about “rescuing” helpless women, it’s about understanding I am operating from a position of privilege (big, white, male really helps) and using that privilege to help others. I have mainly talked about the treatment of women, but there are other groups who experience similar harassment and I want to do the same for them. To do that, I need to ensure that when people do express concerns I listen and don’t be dismissive, and that I make time for them, whether I am busy or partying or whatever. It also means sometimes being in conflict with others, and maybe losing friends.

10. Speaking out

Ultimately, harassment in our community will not end while people sit by and say or do nothing. As well as the women and other groups who are experiencing this, men like myself need to be standing up and speaking out against this behaviour. There is no middle ground, you are either against it or you are complicit in it. Whether that is through your actions or inactions is irrelevant.

I really didn’t want to write this post, and I am sure I have made a complete hash of it, but this is me saying that I have had enough of seeing my friends feel unsafe and unwelcome in our community. If they can’t find a home here, I don’t want to either.

Lest We Forget

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

The Apple Isle

After a far too early start, I am now happily (WELL…) working away at a site in Hobart. I love Tasmania, everything about it is beautiful. Even the view as one drives in from the airport is dangerously distracting. While I will be working hard, I am here for a few days and will get to catch up with some of my favourite people. i can’t wait!

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General service will resume in a few days…and tomorrow stayed tuned for a fascinating Wednesday Writer!

loneranger

The year that was, and the year that will be…

Well, after a lovely and relaxing Christmas and New Year’s, where I didn’t even think about blogging, it is time to get back in the saddle. To start with I thought I better do the obligatory round up of the year past, and see what the new year holds.

Looking back, 2012 was a pretty good year as I tried to consolidate myself as a writer and blogger. I didn’t manage to achieve all the goals I set myself, but there were enough highlights to make me feel that progress was made. Hopefully, I will be able to push on and make 2013 a very big year.

BLOGGING

Between Jan 1st, 2012 and Dec 31st, 2012, Ebon Shores had almost 5000 unique visitors. In the scheme of things that may not seem a huge number (that’s about ten minutes worth of traffic for John Scalzi), but I really was under the impression that I had an audience of about three people. It both flattering and terrifying knowing that people actually read my blog. I feel a little bad that some of the most popular posts weren’t actually by me.

The Wednesday Writers series was a huge success, and featured some wonderful articles. I felt very privileged to host such a taleneted group of people, and very grateful for their contributions. For those interested in a breakdown, there were 43 posts, 35 of which were Australians. 24 posts were by women, 19 by men.

The Aussie Snapshot was another source of traffic, and undoubtedly brought many people to my blog who otherwise would have no idea I existed. I loved being part of the snapshot, and I think that, given it was my first time, I did a reasonably good job of asking good questions – but, of course, the main credit for these posts goes to the people who answered those questions!

The New Who Conversations series continues to be a great deal of fun, and I love working with Tansy and Tehani, who I consider two of the nicest, hardest working and most talented people in Aussie Spec Fic. I was deeply honoured to nominated for an award alongside them. And, it included my first podcast, as well!

I was very disappointed with myself to have not completed the Australian Women Writers challenge (unless you count my review of the Creature Court Trilogy as three books – which I don’t). I think this a very worthwhile endeavour and let myself down here.

Of my own posts, the biggest two were my posts on the Avengers and Dark Knight Rises, and my post on being a Straight White Male. The latter attracted a surprisingly large amount of notice and comment. I won’t lie, I was terrified while writing it and unsure of what reception it might receive. It’s not something I feel particularly well informed on, and not something I want to write on, but something I felt an obligation to write on.

I also had a few articles featured on other sites, most notably my piece on Worzel Gummidge for Cult Britannia and my conversational review of the Newsflesh Trilogy with Alisa, Tehani and Kathryn over at Aussie Spec Fic in Focus. The Newsflesh review was born of a chat at Natcon where Alisa blew my mind with a seemingly wild theory that later proved to be uncomfortably accurate!

All in all, I was reasonably happy with how the blogging went last year. I made an effort to post at least one article of my own a week, as not to be simply posting the Wednesday Writers articles, and was generally successful. But, I was disappointed that I didn’t get more written – this post should have been done two weeks ago, for example, and I still haven’t written a Chicago post! Which leads me to…

CONVENTIONS

I had a simply amazing time at Chicago, getting to mix with many of my writing idols, and being involved on a lot of panels. I won’t say too much now as I still need to write a post, even only for myself, but it was the experience of a lifetime. It’s left me with a real travel bug and a taste for Worldcons which I am sure will prove very expensive indeed.

The cost of going to Chicago meant I couldn’t justify too many other trips. Fortunately, Natcon was in Melbourne so I was able to attend. The organisers did an amazing job and, even though it might not be on the same scale as a WorldCon, I don’t think it suffers in comparison when it comes to quality. The programming was incredible, and the social aspect even better. I met up with some old friends and made a lot of new ones. You can read my roundup here.

WRITING

To be completely honest I was a little disappointed with my writing achievements in 2012. I had set myself some lofty goals but I wasn’t able to take the next step and crack the pro markets. I also targeted quite a few semi pro markets and fell short. I did have some encouraging rejections, though, which kept me motivated to continue submitting.

On the positive side, I received a lot of wonderful contributor copies this year, including the Lone Ranger anthology and my first Australian sale which was incredibly exciting. I also saw two of my stories translated into French, which was another first for me. I continued to feature in Black Coat Press’ excellent anthologies.

In terms of non fiction, I managed to pick up some resource writing work which has turned into an ongoing relationship. I also wrote a number of magazine articles (some of which were reprinted), and had a feature spread about my writing, which was both flattering and embarrassing when my workmates found out!

I was also asked for my first autograph, and it was from someone I didn’t know! I was accepted into the IAMTW, and released an iOS app to help other writers. And, I was very excited to be accepted in the AHWA Mentor Program and to have been assigned to the awesome Jason Fischer! Already he has been of great assistance and I am really looking forward to working with him this year.

THE YEAR AHEAD

So what does 2013 hold?

  • More New Who Conversations and podcasts as we ramp up for the 50th anniversary
  • I’ve been commissioned to write screenplays for a series of short films for the education sector
  • Some very exciting guests for Wednesday Writers
  • a new podcast featuring a very well known Aussie Spec Fic personality
  • more pieces for Cult Britannia
  • Conflux, Continuum, WFC and hopefully WorldCon

In terms of my goals, I am going to set the bar pretty high again. I’d rather aim high and fall short

  • Before my next overseas Con I want to be at least an affiliate member of the SFWA
  • which means at least one Pro sale
  • More timely blog posts
  • To be caught up with New Who by the anniversary special
  • To complete the AWW 2013 Challenge

What about you? How was 2012 for you? What goals do you have for 2013?

Cup Weekend

For as long as I can remember, actually for longer than I have been alive, my Dad and his mates have been going up to the Murray over the Melbourne Cup weekend. It’s a very relaxed weekend, and while the purpose is ostensibly fishing, there is no pressure to actually put a rod in. It’s as far as it is possible to get from the city lifestyle to which I have become accustomed and, while I love living in Melbourne, it is always a pleasure to get back to the my country boy roots and just relax. Every year I look forward to the trip and this one did not disappoint.

There were windstorms, sheep races, camp dogs, lots of anecdotes and jokes told around the fire and even a fish or two caught – though many were released back into the wild. Plus I managed to read a heap of books I had been meaning to for ages! So, now I feel refreshed and ready to face the stress of the pointy end of the year.

Then I got to travel back to my hometown and just to show that you never really grow up, Mum insisted on making me a thermos of coffee and a heap of sandwiches for the 4 hours drive home!

How did you spend your Cup weekend?

Jetsetting…

I was planning a detailed Worldcon roundup today, but my planned writing time on the plane did not happen thanks to the gentleman in front of me. But, the good news is that I am Perth which means I get to see a lot of the people I met at Swancon (which has a special place in my heart because of them making my first Con so amazing AND some of the Aussie BwBers – plus I get to go yachting! Oh, and I am meant to do some work lol

This being a jetsetting writer is a tough gig…