Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Social Anxiety, Imposter Syndrome, and Conventions

Looking thoughtful at the Doctor Who panel with John Chu and Don Pizarro
photo by David Marshall

Imposter Syndrome.

Yeah. It's something that all of the writers I know have struggled with at different times in their careers. For me, it seems to be the strongest at venues like cons, where I am thrown in with other writers. It's hard not to fall prey to the inevitable comparisons game: I'm an indie; Writer X is published by Tor. My books haven't won awards; Writer Y is a Hugo winner. I've published 6 novels; Writer Z just published their 30th. And has a new 3 book contract. And their panels are SRO. And. And. And.

I typically both look forward to and dread cons. I know I will exhaust myself being 'on' so I can make sure to present my best self during the event. And I will walk around feeling insecure and anxious, certain that I don't belong in the myriad of conversations happening all around me. Still, I force myself to interact, all the while believing the people I'm talking to just want me to shut up and leave.

That's my anxiety brain talking. My rational brain knows that's bunk: I'm not intrusive. I do respect boundaries and personal space. I don't monopolize conversations.

The biggest problem I have at cons is that anxiety brain doesn't typically listen to rational brain.

This past weekend, I was a guest at Boskone.

For the first time since I started attending cons, and certainly since I started to be invited to participate, I didn't feel limited by my anxiety brain.

I was scheduled for 4 panels (moderator for 2 of them), a reading, and a signing. For all of the events, I felt comfortable and prepared, without the sense of manic pressure that usually carries me through a con.

I moved in and out of conversations with a fluidity that was new to me. I met old friends, long time acquaintances, and made new friends.

I've been trying to figure out what changed for me this year. Many folks remarked, both during Boskone and afterwards, that this was the best Boskone they remember. It felt more inclusive, more welcoming, more relaxed. I'm sure some of that external energy helped me, but my ease was bigger than that.

After a number of years attending, I think I've finally reached critical mass where I recognize enough people and enough people recognize me that I don't feel like the eternal wallflower. And it's more than that, even.

I've finally reached a place where I'm comfortable with both who I am and where I am in my writing career. The dreaded Imposter Syndrome is intimately tied up with the unhealthy comparison issue. Those things have less power over you as soon as you understand and accept that there will always be writers with more success than you, more prestigious publishers, more awards, more reviews, more income, more fame. And NONE of that has anything to do with you. (By which I mean *me*.)

NONE of that has much bearing on you (me) as a person, your (my) writing, and your (my) publishing career.

Where I am in my writing and publishing has nothing to do with where someone else is.  

This is not a Reality TV show. No one gets voted off the island or disqualified in the lightning round. 

I think this was really hammered home for me in a conversation I took part in at 'bar con' (a random assortment of folks who happened to be at the same table after the formal part of the con was over. Some of us had drinks). There was a gentleman at the table with a "my first Boskone" ribbon on his badge and we asked him what had brought him to the con.

He was very reticent to tell us, but after some good-natured teasing, he admitted that a friend convinced him to come after reading some of his writing.

"Aha!" I said. "You're a writer."

He spent a good part of the evening denying it, even as we discovered (all hail the power of a smart phone!)  he'd written multiple novels and teaching guides to those novels, published, and had his work used in teen gang violence prevention programs.

Even through his full-on Imposter Syndrome, any of us at the table could see the truth: he had lit up when he talked about his writing. It was clear where his passion lay. And we all called him on it. (In a supportive way.) I hope he came away with a new appreciation for his creativity and an acceptance of himself as a writer.

Even as I was calling on him to accept himself without apology or caveat, I was simultaneously reminding myself of the same lessons.



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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Where to find me: Boskone edition

I'll be reading from Dreadnought and Shuttle, and maybe a bit from the forthcoming Parallax!

This weekend, I'll be participating in Boskone, the Boston area's longest running SF convention. It's a place for readers and authors to connect and have great conversations about all things geeky. There are some great panels every year and I'm on some fun ones, including:

Katniss, Furiosa, Elsa, and Rey: The New Woman in SF/F Film

They each made big impressions in big recent genre movies. What do these characters say about the current state of heroic female figures in our cinematic imaginings? What traditions do they uphold or subvert? What promise do they hold for our futures?

So You Wanna Be a Time Lord

The time for a new Time Lord is fast approaching. Peter Capaldi is on his third season, which means his stint as The Doctor is likely nearing an end. We've seen speculation about casting the next Doctor, but maybe Capaldi isn't ready to go, especially since his character is starting to gel. What are our hopes for the future? Do we want to keep Capaldi? Whom would we like next? Maybe we can even ask our panelists why they might make a good Time Lord....

From Maladies to Medicine

Panelists share tips and tricks on how to realistically injure and heal your characters. Learn what questions to ask when it comes to the effects of specific injuries. Hear how certain modern and ancient medical practices and medicines can help with healing. Find out how authors make their characters’ pain and recovery feel real and relatable.

When Is It a Gimmick?

Story gimmicks often seem like good ideas at the time — but instead of applause, they get eye-rolls. What is a gimmick, exactly? Are they all created equal? We'll discuss common gimmicks, identifying traits, and ways to transform them into truly fresh ideas.

I also have a solo reading and a signing scheduled. My books will be for sale in the dealers room at the Broad Universe table.

So if you're going to be in town this weekend, please come find me!



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Sunday, February 05, 2017

Old Friends Newly Met

Yanna, Rick, and I

One of the phenomena of the internet age is the ability to make connections with people separated by geography and joined by common interest.

I've been participating in online communities since the early 1990s and have, in the intervening years, had the chance to meet in 'real life' aka 'meat space' many of the people I've enjoyed computer-based relationships with.

Not one of them has been an ax murderer.

I think it's a function of connecting over shared interests. The reality is that friendships are initially forged through those interests no matter where the friends are located. Relationships are nurtured through shared experiences.

Many people believe that online relationships cannot be 'real' friends. I beg to differ.

Perhaps because I am a writer and have a long history of communicating through words, I took to the internet like a duck to water. Some of my dearest and longest standing friends are ones I made on web forums.

I am currently in Denver, Colorado, staying in the home of one such friend. I initially met Yanna through Google Plus several years ago. I got to meet her in physical life a year and a half ago when her family summered in Vermont. (I live in the Boston area and drove up for a holiday.)

The tall gentleman standing between us in this photo is Rick Wayne, a writer who I also met through Google plus. He and I quickly became fans of each other's writing and became friends. We've corresponded through threads on G+, through email, and through video chats over the years. We're in the planning stages of co-writing a novel.

We've never met.

Until now.

He drove nearly 8 hours from his home in Kansas to meet us in Denver.

And it feel like a reunion with an old friend.

There have been long conversations, laughter, and comfortable silences.

Yanna has been an amazing host, welcoming all of us with open arms and gentle hospitality. My husband and I feel like we are staying with long lost family and happily pitch in with meal prep and clean up, playing with Yanna's dogs, and hanging out with her children.

I feel so blessed to have these people in my life.

No ax murderers need apply.


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Monday, January 30, 2017

The personal is political; the political is personal

I have seen a lot of criticism in social media directed to artists, writers, and other creative types that we should stop talking politics and go back to our work.

I get it. Really, I do. And I share the frustration of spending so much of my time curating my twitter feed, facebook, and google plus, sharing relevant and important political updates. Trust me, I'd rather be talking about my next book, or anything else in the life of a writer.

But I can't just pretend that the world isn't in significant flux, and dangerously so. To ignore the political landscape when the people I know and love are being harmed by our current president's actions is to deny the responsibility of my humanity.

So much of what this president has enacted is personal. None more so than his executive order to selectively deny entry into the US of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.

In the summer of 2007, an email found it way to me, forwarded from one email list to another, and it was about to change our lives.

The email was about a young woman from Kyrgyzstan who was about to start her graduate degree in Anthropology and Women's Studies at Brandeis University. She had received a scholarship and money had been raised for the rest of her studies, but she still needed a place to live.

We had never opened our home to someone - certainly someone we had never met and from another country, but there was something about Nurjan's letter that spoke directly to my heart. We had a family meeting (including our two sons, 10 and 13 at the time) and made the decision to offer her housing.

Goofing around with Nurjan, January 2008

Nurjan moved in with us during the fall of 2007. From the moment she entered our lives, she became family: the daughter I never had; older sister to my boys. She helped me cook, turning the daily grind of meal prep into a shared joy. She taught me the dishes she'd grown up eating - laghman, plov, dimlamah. I taught her our family favorites - pasta with meat sauce, apple cake, roast chicken and potatoes.

I always knew when Nurjan was struggling with writing a paper, because I would find her in the kitchen, cooking for us. I started helping to edit her papers because while her English was quite good, she had some difficulty with the formal language of academic work.

She encouraged my creative writing and I discovered that having another grown woman in the house was an incredible boon, especially having 2 sons and a husband who works 60+ hours a week. Nurjan always talks about how lucky she was to find us as a host family. I know I was the lucky one.

In 2009, our whole family traveled to Kyrgyzstan to attend Nurjan's wedding. She had met Chad, an American, when he had done a stint in the Peace Corp in Kyrgyzstan years before she'd come to live with us. It may have been love at first sight for him. When they reconnected in the states years later, it was clear that he was still in love. (I am still amused when I remember how adamant Nurjan was that she wasn't interested in dating during her schooling and she certainly wasn't going to marry an American and become an ex-pat. When we met Chad, we realized she didn't stand a chance.)

Nurjan & Chad's wedding. Osh, Kyrgyzstan, 2009

Kyrgyzstan is a place of astonishing beauty and incredible hospitality.  We were able to travel through the country with Nurjan and Chad as our guides and translators and we went to places where Westerners typically don't go, including the highlight of our trip - sleeping in a yurt in the Kyrgyz high mountain plateau - the jailoo.

It was a trip that changed our world views and perceptions, most particularly those of our sons who were young teens at the time. They learned a fascinating paradox: that as Americans, they had a degree of privilege that they had been utterly blind to, and that their privilege didn't mean their lives were necessarily better in all ways. One of the things that struck them then, and has continued to resonate in their lives is the way Kyrgyz community was so much more closely knit than theirs in the US. 

Me and Nurjan, early morning walk, Kyrgyzstan
After she graduated, Nurjan and I kept in contact while she and Chad were doing development work in Brazil and then in East Asia. Now they live in the San Francisco area with our two 'practice' grandchildren - their fraternal twin boys who will be 3 next month.

Nurjan is now a US citizen, bringing her rich culture, her heritage, her education, and her global experience to enrich her adopted homeland. Not to mention these two little boys - did I mention we consider them our grandchildren?

Sadly, I don't think their Kyrgyz grandmother will be able to visit them. I can't imagine she will get a visa now, even for a short trip. All because we have a unreasonable fear of the other.

Neil & I with the boys, San Francisco, 2016

If the current president had been in power in 2007, I doubt Nurjan would have been admitted to the US as a student. She is Muslim, from a country that has had its share of political unrest and sectarian violence.

I think of all the other possible 'Nurjans' who are even now being turned away, dissuaded from sharing their experiences with our polyglot culture. I think about all the refugees and asylum seekers, fleeing from death and destruction in search of better lives for themselves and their children and I am ashamed of my country for shutting its doors.

And for what? To keep us safe? Isolation, anger, and fear cannot lead to safety.

We are safer and our lives are enriched when we broaden our world view to understand other people and their lives.

We are safer and our lives are enriched when we learn to live and love together.

I am grateful for a world in which Nurjan was able to be a part of our lives and hope that world isn't gone forever. 


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