Janet Harriett is often an editor, sometimes a writer, and always a lover of all things penguin. She is the senior editor at Apex Publications and editor-for-hire specializing in science fiction, fantasy and horror.

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Con Report: Summer 2013

I'm at least three cons behind with con reports, so I'm going to do something drastic and forgo con reports from here on out. Retroactive to the WorldCon, you can assume every con report is as follows:

"Wow, what a great con! I am exhausted from all the partying and meeting people and learning new things! If you were there and we interacted, wasn't that just the best time ever? Especially when we did that really fun thing that people who weren't there totally missed out on. If you weren't there, people were having a whole mess of fun that you weren't. This one time was particularly fun. Sorry you weren't there."

Please assume in the future that if we interacted, I would name drop you somewhere in this.

NOTE: Post title edited because con weirdness makes you lose track of time. At WorldCon, it manifested as not one but two conversations with people trying to decide what day it was, one of which was solved by unilaterally declaring it Monday to facilitate the conversation. This time, it seems to have made me fast-forward a year.


What's in a Name?

I have an odd relationship with my name. I've never really felt like it suited me. It's a relentlessly orderly name. Consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel-consonant, with the consonants and vowels each in alphabetical order, and three short letters bookended by tall letters. Surrounded by Jennifer, Melissa, and Jessicas (those three names alone were 7% of the girls in my birth cohort), running around with a five-letter, two-syllable name seemed like just another way I didn't fit in.

I don't feel like a Janet - though, having met very few other Janets in my life, I don't quite know what the Janet archetype is. At the same time, it's the only name I'll respond to, even if it does make me nervous when people call me by name. I've had people try to call me Jan, and they can stop trying to make that happen because it doesn't even register that you're talking to me.

Ditto being called Harriett. People have remarked on me having two first names. Normally, I live by the rule of never remarking on a person's name because there is pretty much no chance that they have not heard whatever comment I first note (please, I beg of you, remember this any time you get an urge to make a RHPS comment in my direction, especially if involves a song title...seen it, loathe it). However, I had been married a couple of years before someone called my attention to the fact that my surname is also given as a first name. To this day, I often forget that, when giving my name to fronthumans for the bureaucracy, they'll interpret me leading with Harriett as me giving my first name.

Even though my name feels like I'm playing dress-up with someone else's clothes, I can't imagine writing under a different name.


Achievement Unlocked: Author

So, I'm a published fiction author now. Actually, I have been for a couple of weeks. My novelette, "Dawn of the Living Machines," came out in Ravenwood: Stepson of Mystery Volume 2 (yes, that shameless linking will take you to where you can buy it). It's nothing highfalutin', but I try to keep you entertained for 15,000 words.

The cover art for the volume is based (loosely) on my story. To short-circuit any disappointment, the busty unconscious babe from the cover isn't in the story. I'm not quite sure where the robot found her, but there she is, whoever she is. I just write the stories. This one is a fun little romp with characters that appeared in the back of Secret Agent X pulps back in the day, and large chunks of the novelette are set in a warehouse in the '30s pulp era. There were probably whole storerooms of damsels in distress just offstage the whole time I was writing.

I've been a professional editor (in several versions of what that word means) for more than a decade, full-time at it for five years. I've midwifed several books into the world in the last couple of years. I've been paid to write too many things to even keep track of; I feel kind of like a sperm donor with potential word babies scattered far and wide. But those weren't fiction (though in my content mill years, I did pretty much pull some of the pieces out of my ass). With this, I finally feel like I might really be a real writer.


Report Forthcoming; Meanwhile, Rejuvenation

I am drafting my WorldCon report. It will be a multi-part thing, so it takes some time. Plus, it was a big event to digest. Mostly, though, the delay is because I took a day off.

Actually, I took close to three days off, ignoring the Internet. I peeked into my email and what people were saying directly at me on social media, which is how I came to discover that I'm editing/publishing an anthology (apparently, much like when you miss a meeting at work, when you take a day off the Internet, you get volunteered for projects). For the most part, though, I spent a few days in the physical presence of a friend. The friend was going through a bit of a rough patch, and as helpful as social media can be with showing support in such matters, there's still something to be said for non-virtual hugs and going out to take a few laps on the carousel on the last really warm day of summer. That's not a euphemism; the town where I live has an old-style carousel with hand-carved animals and an organ providing the music (also not a euphemism).

You know what? I felt better, too. Refreshed. Fandom crap hit the fan without me knowing or really caring too much. Political stuff went down. I missed it, and I didn't miss it at all. I like all of my friends who live in the ether scattered across the globe, but having a couple of days where I was only paying attention to one of them...I think my brain needed it. My brain also seems to thrive on looking at headlines and acknowledging "This will only make me angry at something I cannot affect" and skipping on to the next thing. I've decided to do that more, and take care of me as much as I take care of other people.


WorldCon Report Preview

I'm off the con grid and decompressing before I leave San Antonio. My brain is such a jumbled mess that I tried to pay for my coffee with my room key, and I had two separate debates about what day it was, one of which ended with us arbitrarily declaring the day after tomorrow to be Wednesday for purposes of the conversation. I'll provide a full report if I can ever brain again, but in the meantime, the highlights:

1. My feet hurt. A lot.
2. SPACE!!!
3. Panel moderation. I did some. With some people I am generally in awe of.
4. Podcast interview. I failed at author, and had to do an addendum to shill my books because I totally forgot I had stuff being published.
5. Met lots of interesting people.
6. Caught up with old friends.
7. Hugos. I did not have to thank myself in Jason Sizemore's acceptance speech. Bummer.
8. Pet K-9.


Indigo Montoya vs. Humpty Dumpty

Before the Global Engine of Outrage got distracted by the latest casting of Batman, it had its knickers in a knot over several dictionaries having added the emphatic usage of "literally" to their entries on the word. I would say they have literally shit bricks over this, but I that would only lead to pedantic inquiries as to whether I had eaten a bunch of Legos and Metamucil for breakfast. People's strong feelings about the proper use of "literally" are right up there with their feelings about the propriety of the Oxford comma, and just as often coupled with a wry sense of humor and artistic skill beyond mine:

Me, I have problems mustering outrage for this, and not just because I have a finite supply of anger and better things to expend it on, like the Sisyphean task of keeping all the letters in "doughnut."

Simply put, English doesn't work like that. Many languages have official or semi-official arbiters – a word is French when the Académie française says it is – but American English pretty much throws stuff at the wall to see what sticks. Once something enters common usage, it gets recorded in our dictionaries. The former is prescriptive language; the latter is descriptive.

Descriptive is Through The Looking Glass...

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master — that’s all."

...while prescriptive is The Princess Bride:

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

I venture that it's no accident that Indigo Montoya gets more memes than Lewis Carroll. If there's one thing the internet likes more than being right, it is being right when someone else is wrong.

This single-minded quest to be right overlooks that the primary purpose of language is not to comply with the rules, but to communicate ideas. The funamental rightness or wrongness of a sentence lays in whether it carries all the subtle nuance of an idea from one brain to another. Umbrage at the hyperbolic use of "literally" is predicated on the listener's willfull misunderstanding of the sentence. One has to be trying to not understand that the intact-headed person in front of them saying "My head literally exploded" is using the word for emphasis.

This is not to put it all on the listener. If someone says, "That was so funny, I literally peed my pants," rather than one of the other many serviceable emphatic adverbs, it is absolutely logical to assume that urine was involved. At that point, noting the apparent dry state if the speaker's trousers is being nosy, which is a separate etiquette violation from being a pretentious d-bag.

Here's a rule of thumb: in conversation, never correct another person's grammar. If you're genuinely unclear on someone's meaning, ask for clarification. If a person's word choice is proving embarassing to themselves (e.g. railing on the dangers of marrying sheep when the conversation moves to animal husbandry), discreetly point it out. Don't be a grammar jerk.


Mission Accomplished: Page Proofs

The proofs of "Dawn of the Living Machines" are winging their way to the editor/publisher, ready to go out to the world in Ravenwood, Stepson of Mystery Volume Two.  Looks like I'm finally going to have published fiction out there in the not-to-distant future. I'll post ordering info when it's out.

"Dawn of the Living Machines" is the story that taught me that, if you're going to start off with 500 words of "headless robot kidnaps itself," you need to have really big plans for the remaining 14,500 words.


My WorldCon Schedule

LoneStarCon 7 is next week in San Antonio. Here's my schedule of panels and events, so far:

The Business Side of Writing (Thursday 7 p.m.-8 p.m.): So you've written a novel. What's next? How do you get an agent, get published, market to readers, network, avoid scams... writing was only the beginning!

The Relationship Between Writers and Editors (Friday Noon-1 p.m.): What makes for a successful relationship, and what do you look for in a partner? Readers (and new writers) want to know.

Stroll with the Stars Sunday - Alamo edition (Sunday 9 a.m.-10 a.m.): The Sunday Stroll with the Stars will head towards the Alamo, a few short blocks away. It will be led by Alamo aficionado and LoneStarCon 3 Chair Randall Shepherd. Meet Randy in the lobby of the Marriott Rivercenter for his personal tour of this famous Texas garrison.

Space is Really the Old West (Sunday Noon-1 p.m.): Wagon train to the stars is a familiar trope in SF. Firefly, Star Trek, Farmer in the Sky, Outland, Cowbows vs Aliens, Exterminator 17 are all examples of western stories set in space or featuring cowboys in one form or another. Immense distances of space form obstacles and difficulties analogous to those encountered by American settlers as they crossed and colonized the continent. Come and join in the discussion of this popular form of our genre.

I will also be attending the Hugo Awards ceremony Sunday evening, as well as the reception prior to the Hugo ceremony


Stan Lee on Bi Spidey

I was supposed to be at Fandom Fest this weekend, but the cat had other ideas (short version: she spent Wednesday and Thursday night as an inpatient at the vet).

Stan Lee was there though, and during his Q&A, someone asked him for his thoughts on the notion, floated by the current Spider-Man actor, that Spidey should be bisexual. His answer:

“He’s becoming bisexual? Really? Who have you been talking to? I don’t know…seriously I don’t know anything about that.”

So Stan Lee doesn’t know everything that the star of his cash cow franchise is saying. No problem there. He’s a busy guy, and who among us has time to keep up with every rumor that circulates through geekdom? This is a perfectly great response to hearing a surprising rumor about a property that is so strongly associated with his name. Nothing to see here. Next question, please.

Or he could keep going. Also an option. Not a good one, but an option:

“And if it’s true, I’m going to make a couple of phone calls.”

I admit, here is where I started reading subtext into his comments, and the subtext is not that these are going to be calls to congratulate a person on their incredibly insightful suggestion for bringing depth to the character and using one of Marvel’s headline franchises to reach out to an under-represented segment of fandom. When Stan Lee responded to the prospect of a character he created being revamped to be bisexual by saying he would “make a couple of phone calls,” what I heard is “Over my dead body!”

By now, he was getting laughs from the audience, though. Laughs at the creator responding that the prospect of a bisexual Spider-Man is absolutely unthinkable. Imagine, if you will, hearing that in a universe where being bitten by a radioactive spider gives you superpowers instead of a nasty staph infection and New York City still can get P&C insurance in spite of being flattened by mutant villains every month, we draw the line of believabilty at making the person with superpowers share a fundamental characteristic of your being. Stan Lee kept going:

“I figure one sex is enough for anybody.”

I stopped reading subtext and started sputtering. You really need to see the video to get a sense of just what layer of meaning the dismissive hand gestures added to that statement. It’s an offhand joke.

It’s an offhand joke that outright dismisses an entire sexual orientation (one which already has issues getting recognized). Because apparently writing comics qualifies Stan Lee to pass judgement on the validity of the feelings of an entire swath of the population, and his readership. Kinda stings a little, even though, to be honest, it’s not exactly new. I’ve gotten the “You shouldn’t feel those feels” message more directly from people who have had more say in how I conducted my life. However, if a person gets used to being invalidated, it apparently takes more than 35 years, and I thought that geekdom was a place I would be spared that.

Once the sting faded, I started to be glad Stan Lee rejected the very idea of a bisexual Spider-Man. If he dismissed the idea of a bisexual Spidey, or even the validity of bisexuality in general, he wasn’t going to be writing any bi characters. Speaking only for myself, I’d rather continue bisexual invisibility than have comics get bisexuality so incredibly wrong.

Bisexuality isn’t about one sex not being enough. It’s not Woody Allen’s dream of doubling one’s chances for a date on Saturday night. It’s about the flutter of attraction tingling in response to characteristics that are not limited by genital configuration.


Cultural Water We Swim In

Until a friend posted commentary in the form of an indictment against Pepe le Pew, it hadn’t registered that the skunk’s entire schtick was sexual assault. I was more of a Marvin and Roadrunner/Coyote gal anyway, but how many times as a child had I laughed as Pepe went all rapist on the cat?


The whole time we studied To Kill A Mockingbird in middle school, it went without saying that of course the pretty white lady was falsely accusing Tom Robinson* of rape. Tom Robinson was a sympathetic character, after all, and people we’ve befriended don’t rape people because then our friends would be rapists, and the townspeople were just flat-out racist for believing the pretty white lady over the nice black man. Nary a word was breathed that, notwithstanding racial issues, it's perfectly reasonable to believe someone when they say they've been the victim of a crime. Sometimes, when I'm In A Mood, I wonder if this oversight in the one time that public school discusses rape has anything to do with skewed perceptions in some quarters about how often women cry wolf about having been raped.


My public school experience actually included two discussions of rape. To Kill a Mockingbird was the second. The first was when I was in second grade, not part of the standard curriculum. The teachers pulled all the girls out as a group to give us a refresher course in Stranger Danger because a man in a van had nabbed an 9-year-old girl off the street (in front of my house) and raped her. They didn’t explain what rape was, but at age 7 it was already something that strangers grabbed you and did. Not people you knew. Not friends. Certainly not boyfriends.


To date, two men have made my heart melt. The details are personal, but both situations boiled down to practical demonstrations that nothing was going to happen without my explicit consent. What does it say (about me, about the cultural water we all swim in) that I consider “I’m not going to rape you” to be a romantic sentiment? Or that two separate men understand that it still needs to be said?

*-Edited to correct the character name. The original post misidentified the character in To Kill A Mockingbird who was accused of rape