Gender Bending at Salt Lake Comic Con (FanX) 2014

I want to say again that my experience at Comic Con last year and this year was so very different from what I expected. I feel like all the media coverage of Comic Con focuses on how “weird” the cosplayers are, and how they seem irrationally caught in another world and unable to connect in this one.

That was not my experience at all. I am sure there are weirdos at Comic Con, as there are anywhere, but the cosplayers I met were articulate, smart, and subversive. They all put their own spin on their costumes.There was a commentary inherent in almost every costume I saw. Some were just adorable, like the families from Star Wars where you saw a little baby Jedi and a Dad Darth Vader with a mom dressed as Lando Calrissian. There was the Asian Elsa I saw, and the homemade T-shirts with pithy sayings, some twisted from the original, some not.

One of the spins I was most interested in was gender bending. I took some photos of the VAST number of women who were cosplaying as Doctor Who, which seemed to me in direct defiance of the showrunners’ insistence that there would never be a female Doctor Who. Many of these were cleverly redesigned versions of the doctor. I saw cute skirts with the standard bow tie and jacket, and lots of feminine touches. There were also women who were dressed in masculine attire. I found them both interesting.

Here are a few:

And finally, there is this photo of a female “Captain Hammer,” which I find to be the most interesting of all. Captain Hammer is the most obnoxious stereotypical male super hero, over the top, so to speak, making fun of the maleness of super heroes. So to see a female version does some serious subversion.

Anyway, I love Comic Con. I love the cosplaying. I loved talking to people about their costumes and choices. Where else in the world do people dress in a way that invites immediate comment? And I had fun asking to take pictures, since normally that would cause a fearful reaction, but here, people were delighted and flattered that you wanted to take a photo.

FAQs from panels

Seriously, every author has answered these questions a thousand times.

1. Where do you get your ideas?

I get a lot of ideas from other art, especially when I dislike it and want to write my own version. People get ideas from lots of places. What you really need to be asking is—where do I get my ideas. And no one can answer that question but you.

2. Do you do your own illustrations/cover art?

The general answer here is no. If you publish traditionally, this isn’t something you either worry about or get much input on. If you publish yourself, then yes. But I advise finding a professional.

3. How do you get an agent?

You go to Literary Marketplace at your local library and look at the long listings of agents and write down their addresses and send them a query letter or whatever it is they ask for. Or you can go on-line to Writers Market and pay a monthly fee to get a list of agents interested in your genre there. But as a warning, it may take you a long time to find the right agent, and you will probably not find the right one with your first book.

4. How do you find a publisher?

Go to the local library and look at Writers Market. It takes a long time to look through all the listings. There’s no good shortcut in my opinion. Many publishers are closed to unsolicited submissions. You will either need to get an agent to get around this or go to conferences where editors give you a special code to get around it. Truth.

5.  How long is a MG or YA novel?

Really, the length can vary widely, but I would see a MG is about 50-60,000 words and a YA is 60-80,000 words, but genre fiction can be about 20% longer. Also, if you use bestsellers as a guide (which I don’t recommend), then you will think your books should be a lot longer than a debut author can usually get away with.

6. Do you have to know someone to get published?

No. Most authors I know get found either by the slush pile or by meeting editors at conferences and wowing them with a first chapter.

7. What is the new trend in YA/MG/adult right now?

It doesn’t matter what the new trend is now, because it will already be over by the time you’ve written something good enough to be published. So write what YOU want to see published, and hopefully you will find someone who is in sync with you, and you will convince other people that you’re brilliant. And write another book, and another one, until you find the right match.

8. Should I send my son’s manuscript in for him?

No, please don’t do this. I strongly believe teenagers’ manuscripts shouldn’t be published and that parents shouldn’t push this. When your kid is ready to submit, they’ll figure it out on their own. I’m not saying kids shouldn’t write or try to be published.Only that they should do the driving themselves, and that they should be judged the same way anyone else is, and not as cute kids who are prodigies.

9. Why are terrible books like Twilight published?

If you want to get into a rumble with me, start saying misogynistic things about Stephenie Meyer or her fans. If you want to have a genuine conversation about problems with Twilight and you’ve actually read the book (preferably the whole series), I’ll happily sit down and talk about it. However, please remember that different people like different things in their books and that any author who has found so many readers is doing something right that you probably need to learn from.

10. Do you have to have romance in your books to get published?

No. But there’s nothing wrong with romance, either. I personally love romance, especially when done well. I love that publishing has realized that there is a significant teen girl market out there and that they love romance. I was a teenager who read a lot of adult romance because there wasn’t anything else. I would have adored teen romance.

11. Why aren’t there any good books for boys being published today?

Ha! There are lots of good books for boys being published today. Just because every book isn’t for boys doesn’t mean there’s a problem here.

12. How much do you get paid for a first book?

To be honest, I would say $5,000-$10,000 is a decent advance on a first book. I don’t recommend going with a publisher who pays no advance at all. I think at least a token is nice. But on the other hand, I also think that it’s not very polite to ask about how much money someone makes in public. Maybe the simpler answer is to say—don’t quit your day job when you sell your first book.


You worry you are lacking some internal element necessary for writing anything that matters. I want you to know that, while this is a lonely suffering, you are not alone in experiencing it. Also, it can be survived.

"…I was so bogged down after so much time working in the dark that I saw the book foundering and did not know where the cracks were. The worst thing was that at this point in the writing no one could help me, because the fissures were not in the text but inside me, and only I had the eyes to see them and the heart to endure them."


— American writer M. Rickert, quoting Gabriel Garcia Marquez (via ellenkushner)

Mental Illness and what you can do …

Talking to a depressed person as if you are talking to a mentally whole person is only going to end with you being frustrated that the depressed person “takes everything the wrong way.” Of course they do. That is the symptom of their problem. It isn’t that they are doing this willfully, however. Don’t imagine that they *want* to remain depressed, though it may seem that no matter how stubbornly you present the “real” facts to them, they won’t listen.

You can talk all day long about how grateful they should be about the good things in their life. And none of those good things will matter to them. They can’t weigh the good and the bad. They can’t feel happy just by thinking about good things. They can’t because they’re depressed and that’s what depression is. It means they can’t just turn a switch like a normal person can who feels a little blue—but isn’t clinically depressed.

When I look back at my experiences as a depressed person and think of the people who said things that hurt me, I am aware at the same time that it is entirely possible I am remembering every single one of those conversations incorrectly. It may be that if there were some objective view of the universe that we could go to, rewind the tape, and see it again, I would be astonished to discover that not only do I have the intent wrong, but all of the words wrong, too. I could have made things up that other people didn’t say simply to fit with my depressed mood.

I don’t think that’s what happened, but that’s another one of the effects of depression, that you end up unable to tell what’s real and what’s not. It’s another reason why people who are depressed tend to stay away from other people, which in some ways deepens the depression because all humans have a basic need for social interaction. We aren’t sure that we are being rational and we don’t want to think that we are causing other people hurt. Even if our brains aren’t working, that doesn’t mean that we’re mean (not usually). We can’t trust ourselves, and so we do this self-protective thing to keep from doing crazy stuff.

You can’t just fix this with a book on how to be happier. You can’t fix it with love (though love certainly doesn’t hurt).

Right now, Robison Wells, a good friend and someone who suffers with multiple mental illnesses needs help right now. We can’t help in many ways, but we can do this one little thing. Please, donate!

The Good and the Bad

I can name some good things that came from my daughter’s death:

1. I learned to love my remaining children with renewed fierceness.

2. I got into better shape, and so did my husband and the kids.

3. I was able to write about grief in a way that other people connect to, because I am a good writer and those skills transferred.

4. I became more compassionate and aware of the pain of others.

5. I learned how to find real happiness.

6. I learned how to calm myself in the midst of anxiety and troubles.

7. I learned how to stop expecting so much from myself and others (though I wonder if anyone can see this change but me).

8. I have learned to let go of things I cannot change.

9. My beliefs in God and religion are more real and more important to me.

10. Music is sweeter to me.

But there are probably a lot more things that remain bad about the bad things, and even the good things have tinges of bad things in them.

1. Just because I feel pain for others doesn’t mean I can do anything to help them. I often have to leave because I feel so much and I feel like I have to take care of myself first or I’m no good to anyone.

2. I feel more distance from other people because my experience is not a typical one.

3. I don’t find that church soothes me in the way that it once did, because the casual assumptions of most people are painful to me, and I am always having to decide I should challenge them aloud or now.

4. I am angry more.

5. I feel broken most of the time. It has become the new normal for me.

6. I feel like I have a smaller capacity to deal with stress. I reach a limit and I will NOT push past that.

7. I need more sleep, food, and habitual, familiar things around me.

8. I need more silent, private time.

9. I find it more difficult to focus.

10. I find it difficult to talk about what I really think, and therefore wonder how much of my life is authentic.

11. I spend more money on myself for frivolous things.

12. I don’t pay much attention to politics anymore.

13. I say no more often. I have less of myself to give away.

14. I feel less in control of myself and my emotions. I fear that when I am hurt, I tend to lash out and hurt others in return.

15. I have to consciously work at enjoying myself. My mind naturally spins to the negative and even the most wonderful positive things tend to have a shorter effect on my mood.

16. I tend to do things less often simply because other people tell me to do them, or because they are expected of me. I don’t follow rules unless I know the reason behind them. Times ten.

17. I have a handful of weird quirks that I know are a result of my emotional wounds. Things like checking all the doors to make sure they are locked at night, hugging and kissing everyone in the family before they leave for the day because who knows if I will ever see them again. Making sure we have more food in the house than we can ever eat.

18. I tell myself a lot that I will get to things later. And I may or may not get to them later.

19. I break promises with myself and other people more. I used to feel like a promise was an unbreakable trust. I just can’t do that anymore.

20. I am more likely to make snap judgments and adhere to them.

After nearly ten years, I have come to accept that these effects aren’t likely to go away anytime soon, and that it’s useless to whine and complain about them anymore, or feel like I am somehow not a good person because I can’t say everything has changed for the better. I am still wounded and I refuse to insist that those wounds be overlooked.

A Good Panel Moderator …

1. Is respectful to everyone on the panel, even if s/he disagrees personally.

2. Makes sure that everyone has a chance to speak, even if some are shy and don’t jump in.

3. Goes beyond the scope of the basic, least interesting questions.

4. Resists the easy temptation to allow the audience to run the panel.

5. Does the brave thing and shuts down microphone hogs, even if they are friends.

6. Is flexible enough to go with the flow of the panel, throwing out previously useful questions and inventing new ones.

7. Does some work beforehand, figuring out who panel members are, what their expertise is, and thinking up at least a handful of beginning questions.

8. Introduces the audience to the panel and to the style of the panel first and foremost, so that everyone knows what to expect.

9. Makes sure that the panel does not devolve into name calling.

10. Steers the conversation back to something at least related to the panel topic, even when the diversions might be very interesting.

11. Suggests which people might have prejudices toward certain answers because of their background and training, but without being insulting or condescending.

12. Arrives early and makes sure everyone knows that s/he is moderating, so there is no confusion or panic.

13. Has a watch and keeps track of time, so that there’s a good chance to end on the right note.

Time Travel and Grief

My theory is that all time travel stories are a manifestation of grief. We humans want to go back in time because we are grieving. In time travel stories where you can’t change the past, you still want to view it. You want to see people you miss, as you saw them before. If you go even farther back in time, you feel a nameless grief over missing something that you wish you had lived.

Of course, time travel where we want to go back and fix something “gone wrong” is a manifestation of denial, the refusal to accept what has happened and the desire to live out the life expected, deserved or better than the real one. Wanting to kill Hitler is really just a metaphor for humanity’s collective grief over the lives lost in World War II .

Time travel where you try to change something and can’t, then end up changing something else that goes bad is another kind of grief story, the reminder that we should be grateful for what we have and not demand more.

To some degree, alternate universe stories are much the same. There canbe a daily grief over having to make one choice over another and to have to live looking forward rather than back.

I love time travel stories but I think they are always very sad.

There are no shortcuts

I guessed asked a lot by beginning writers what they should do to get better at writing. Some are teenagers, some are adults. But the answer is always the same:


If you want to be a better runner, would you listen to someone who told you to watch other runners on videos, to do yoga and to only do a little running a day? Let me tell you, I wouldn’t. As a runner myself, there is nothing better to improve your running that running. A lot of running.

If you want to be a better swimmer, swim. Put in those 10,000 yards a day.

If you want to be a better cyclist, you spend a lot of time in the saddle. Every day.

If you want to be a better musician, practice.

If you want to be a good cook, do it. A lot.

Writing is the same. If you can’t write every day, write as much as you can. Write while you’re on the train. Write when you’re walking to school. Plan things out. Play with bits of dialog. Lay out the perfect plot.

But you’re not going to escape doing the writing. Just sit down and get it done. They say you have to write a million bad words before you’re publishable. I’m sure it’s not true for everyone, but it was true for me.

Let yourself write what you feel like writing. Let yourself write badly. But I think there is nothing so good for a writing career than getting into the habit of writing even when you don’t feel like it, even if you think it’s crap.

Stretch your legs and put your hands on the keyboard. Write.

The Problem Isn’t What You Think It Is

Working on a revision a number of readers told me that my ending felt “rushed.” I was sure that the fix would be addind a chapter to the climax. It wasn’t. I ended up adding a bunch of chapters in the mid section.

Another revision, I got the advice that a certain character needed to be more sympathetic. But instead I had to increase the conflict between that character and another one.

A third example, I had to add more tension to the novel by adding backstory. I kept thinking it would slow down the plot, but it only added to the stakes.

You can hope for that reader or editor who understands how to tell you in the right way or you can have a more flexible mindset and the willingness to try lots of different fixes.

How Parenting Is Like Writing

Basically, you say no to your characters just like you say no to your kids.

I want to be special.


I want to have magic.


I want to be important/famous/popular.

No, no, no.

I want to have friends.


I want Mr./Ms. Hot to fall in love with me.


I want life to be easy.


I want people to do what I tell them to do/what I want.


I want my ending to be what I expect.


Now, of course, your characters aren’t really your children. If you tortured your real children the way that you tortured your characters, you’d probably get put in jail.

However, do consider the delights as a parent of watching your children make mistakes, especially if you already told them not to. You can totally use this for your next book. I give you permission.