Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Branding your platform, or platforming your brand?

When you are first thinking about starting a new blog or website, if you're like me and you go searching for tips and tricks to make it look interesting (eye-catching but easy-to-maneuver), one tip is often to make sure you know what your site's purpose is and make sure you keep the focus on that. If you blog is about being a first-time mother and is for first-time mothers, you shouldn't stray to movie reviews. If yours is a crafting blog, there shouldn't be posts about your trips to the gym. 

I've always thought this was good advice—your goal is to build a brand, so to speak, and talking about anything and everything dilutes that brand—but I've also always had a hard time sticking to that. CoffeeQuill was a blog I began because 1. I am a writer, and 2. A writer has a blog, for them to talk about their process, their stories, their tips and tricks, and the challenges and delights of publication. 

But earlier today I was reminding a friend that they are more than a writer. It can be a big part of a person's identity—it certainly is for me—but it isn't the whole of who I am. And frankly, there are only so many posts one can make about the importance of the oxford comma. (Don't get me wrong, I will defend the oxford comma to my dying breath, but there's only so many times someone wants to hear about it, and I know from experience, for someone people the number of times is often zero.) 

I am a writer, but I also love music and art and fashion and history and nature and crafting. I take photographs of the flowers around my neighborhood, and landscape pics of the sea. I sew stuffed animals and messenger bags and totes. I wire-wrap gemstones and create necklaces and bracelets. I loved sculpture when I took it in high school, and the only thing really stopping me from doing it now is space and equipment. I love fantasy art, and am essentially teaching myself Photoshop to improve my digital art and graphic art design skills. Don't get me started on my love of watching (and critiquing!) TV shows and movies. 

I have a variety of social media outlets, tumblr for the fandom primarily, twitter for short bites about important issues in the publishing and movie industries. Both of these to address, signal boost, and examine issues of privilege, equality, and representation. Facebook is for more daily life things, keeping in touch with friends I don't get to see as much. Livejournal (yes, I'm still on LJ) for personal venting and self-analysis, and for keeping in touch with some authors who also use it (I am not the only one!). And two blogs, Red-Inked Leaf for very specific editing posts (updated rarely because so much has already been said, and I don't want to rehash the same things without adding something new or different). 

That leave CoffeeQuill. As I said, it started as a writer blog, but my interests are varied. 

I made a Yakul (from Princess Mononoke) for a friend of mine.
Here's what I realized. Even though I think it's a good idea to have a focus for one's blog, there is a way to do that while still bringing in the variety of interests you have. 

That mom blog reviewing movies might do so from the perspective of someone who needs/wants to bring their child, or for whom being a mom has changed their perspective on what they find amusing or worth their time. The craft blogger talking about their time in the gym might be examining time management—how to fit in crafting with self-care or other obligations. Or they might be talking about how the gym provides them the energy to craft, or a chance to generate ideas, returning home with a lot more plans for things to make. 

I write fantasy. I create worlds that are informed by my knowledge of art and fashion and history and politics. The publishing industry is informed by and informs the world's ideas and attitudes about equality, representation, and diversity. The photographs I take sometimes become inspiration for locations, and the drawing and painting and crafting are ways for me to give my mind a break when a story is being difficult, and sometimes they help me visualize something I couldn't before. When I post about the ABC show, Once Upon A Time, I am breaking down the story structure and looking for ways to make my own writing better. When I write about white privilege, I am examining my own attitudes and seeing how they inform my writing, whether I want them to or not. 

The key is bringing it back to your platform, your brand. It's not always easy. (I'm sure there are posts where I could've done better to bring it back to the writing angle. It's a learning process.) But it's worth the effort. You get to write about something you enjoy, and you give readers a bigger glimpse into who you are. 

The author blogs I've most enjoyed have been ones that also talked about their families and pets, their daily walks, the shows they enjoy watching, and the issues that are important to them. There's more to them than just the writer, and it's okay to show that.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Why Pop Culture Matters

It's the "Age of the Geek," as Alec Hardison would say. He's a hacker on a TV series that ended four years ago, but his words are no less true.

In many ways, most people are geeks, expressing their deep interest in a particular film, television show, band, hobby, or sport. They are not just comic-collecting, bespectacled nerds brandishing a wand at a moment's notice. The world is full of geeks, and many of these geeks engage directly and enthusiastically with popular culture.

Pop culture is usually viewed as something silly, fun, and not worth thinking about too deeply. Tell that to the sports fan with countless stats memorized, or the budding musician who spends hours practicing their favorite band's songs. Fans of the "geekier" side of geekdom—genre-specific films, shows, and books—often express their  interest by writing and creating art based on it, but some also engage with it through critiques of the shows and movies they love.

Unfortunately, critiques of big names in pop culture are invariably met with someone saying, "Why are you complaining about this? It's fiction! It's not real! It doesn't matter!"

They couldn't be more wrong. Yes, these stories are fictional. Yes, wizards and superheroes aren't real. But it absolutely does matter.

Recently, JK Rowling was criticizedfor her presentation of Native American magic in the wizarding world. Many people, including fans of the Harry Potter books, felt she didn't do enough research. They argued that she appropriated concepts and values of Native American nations (ignoring the differences between nations), and that she presented a non-white culture as less civilized than their European counterpart. For example, while establishing in the original series that wandless magic showed exceptional skill, she implied the lack of wands among Native American magic-users was a sign that they were less developed than European wizards.

Marvel is also not immune to criticism, as more images from their upcoming Dr. Strange film illustrate a blatant appropriation of Asiancultures with nary an Asian actor in sight. Films like Dr. Strange contain costumes, settings, and props inspired by Asian cultures (often lumping the many different countries into one vague culture. And yet, the presence of Asian actors is completely missing. When that occurs, it can feel as if the filmmakers are treating the cultures themselves as props—that the look of Asian cultures is worth using, but the actors from those countries aren't. Children notice that.

Fiction—be it fantasy, science fiction, horror, superheroes, or any genre bringing the unreal to the page or screen—tells us something incredible about the things that are important to us as human beings. It matters, not just to the fantasy and sci fi geeks, but to everyone who reads and watches and engages with these fictional portrayals.


Rowling writes about wizards and dragons and magic. She also writes about a boy growing up in a role he never asked to be in, joining a new school, and navigating a culture that's unknown to him. How many people have been the new kid at school? How many have had to deal with the expectations of adults around them?

Marvel's X-Men, the crime-fighting group of super-powered mutants, has long been seen as a metaphor for race. Kids growing up with the comic books, learning how mutants respond to often hateful reactions from non-mutants, see a similarity in how people from other races are treated, making real-life experiences easier to understand.

Representation matters. Pop culture matters. Because even in a world of magic, superheroes, aliens, or ghosts, the characters are based on our understanding of humanity, and there's no way to write a story or make a movie without consumers looking for themselves and learning about life. When a piece of pop culture deliberately ignores a group, or dismisses a population's experiences or identity, it is a reflection of the world we live in.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Privileges of Foot-Stompers

Earlier today I read a post on an author blog (passionate, full of truth bombs strategically dropped) that used the example of someone stepping on a person's foot as an analogy to explain what it's like for a person of color to deal with the problematic and privileged things people say, even when the foot-stompers in question are friends.

"It's like someone stepping on your foot and getting angry with you for saying 'um, ow, could you get off?'"

It got me thinking about the different ways white people react to being called out for saying or doing something racist. [It can apply to various types of privilege, of race, gender, sexuality, or socioeconomic status, but in this case, we're focusing just on race.]

Disclaimer: I am white, so while this is me trying to understand and frame the issue in a way that makes sense to me, it is also through my observations as someone with white privilege. Hopefully, I get it right, or at least, don't get it wrong in a way that hurts people of color.

Types of Privileged Foot-Stompers:

1. If you're lucky, you meet someone/are friends with someone who, even if they have privilege, walk carefully, so as to avoid stepping on someone's foot altogether. This strikes me as the Informed Ally. They might still step on your foot, but it tends to be a rare occurrence.

2. Then, you have the Newbie Ally. They know they should step carefully, but they don't know the way just yet, so they stumble a lot. They will step on feet, but they tend to apologize, and use the experience to try and avoid doing it again.

3. The Ignorant Ally/Neutral Privileged is someone who thinks they know where they are going and is walking pretty confidently to their destination. They may not be looking for feet to step on, but they also are not watching out for people's feet. They may apologize because they know they should, but they don't tend to look at their behavior, reflect, and change route.

4. The Arrogant "Ally" is exactly that. They think they know everything, they think they are an ally, but they don't really listen. They step on people's feet and say they didn't, or that it isn't their fault your foot was there. Apologies are begrudging, often insincere, and it becomes more about them feeling attacked for being called on the foot-stomping rather than the fact that they stomped on someone's foot.

5. The False Ally claims to care about the daily micro- and macroaggressions POC have to deal with/suffer from/try to survive, but they blatantly say and do things that show they either do not know or do not care. They stomp on feet and not only claim your foot shouldn't have been there, but that you must have put your foot there on purpose, in order to get it stomped. Why, you were probably trying to trip them. How could you do that to them? They've tried so hard to be a good person, and you know, people have stomped on their feet, too.

6. I don't have a good name for this last category. They're bigots. They're deliberate foot-stompers, out to hurt people because…who knows. Maybe they like hurting other people, maybe they were raised to stomp feet and don't want to think about changing, don't want to see that it hurts others, or maybe they are just so afraid of being called wrong that they double-down on their feet-stomping, because if they're louder and stomp more feet than anyone else, that means they're right.

Here's the take-away: Stepping and stomping on other people's feet is wrong, hurtful, and you should not do it. And if you do, apologize sincerely. If you have a moment of thinking, "It's not my fault! I didn't mean to!" keep it to yourself. It happens, stepping on others' feet. But even if it's unintended, you still hurt someone else. It doesn't matter if it was an accident or done out of ignorance. Apologize to them, then take a step back, look at the interaction. Was there something that precipitated the foot-stomping? Something you said or did that changed the interaction from friendly to foot-stompy? Think on it and try to change. But don't put the onus of your change on the person whose foot has been stepped on, they are already in pain, and they have probably had their foot stepped on multiple times that same day.

Words may not break bones the way sticks and stones will, but words still hurt like a thousand papercuts, or a million foot-stomps. Worse, words can sometimes inspire others to become foot-stompers. Think about what you say and what you do, educate yourselves. It's an ongoing process, but why harm when we can try to make the lives of others just a little less painful?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Helping the Syrian Refugees

I don’t normally do things like this, but my friend Ariel Ricker is currently in the area where refugees are fleeing. She was first in Turkey, helping out with refugees leaving and is currently in Greece, helping when refugees arrive. She is working with others to put together care packages–food, clothes, shoes, and other necessities. She’s told me the refugees are no longer even allowed to bring one bag of belongings, so they are literally arriving in Greece with nothing.

I’m sure many of you have seen the photos of refugees who have not made it. But for those who have reached the shore, there is still a lot that can be done to help.

If you are in that region, this is the website of an organization she’s working with where you can find out what refugees need and where you can drop items off: Care Packages for Syrian Refugees.

My friend is also personally going into stores, and buying food and supplies, but her financial resources are not limitless. If you are in the US and would still like to help her, you can go to her GoFundMe page. The money donated there will help her with basic housing and necessities so she can stay there as long as possible to help, and the rest will go towards helping the refugees.

I know some folks like to donate through larger organizations, others prefer something more direct. I have seen the posts from my friend, the photos of what she's seen and who she's met, so I know she is there and doing the work.

If you have a few dollars and have been looking for a way to help, I’ll hope you’ll consider donating to my friend. If you can’t, please spread the word.

Related to this, she is also a journalist and writing articles on the situation: 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Searching for Sabrina

2015 isn't done yet, but it's had its share of ups and downs for me.

I've been a teacher for nearly five years--July would have been the 5-year anniversary of my starting my teaching job. But things happened and basically, the school closed. It was the sort of thing that was out of the hands of the campus administration, but my life went from prepping for a new quarter of English and psychology courses, teaching the first week and settling in, to waking up on a Sunday morning in April with a new email me informing me the campus (and all the other campuses for this college) was closing. 

So I was suddenly without a job. It was sort of shocking, but in some ways, well timed. It had been a fast-paced school, a new bunch of students every quarter (100 or so new names and faces, four times a year), and very little time to catch my breath or focus on other interests.

I'd struggled for a long time to get back in the habit of reading for leisure, or writing, or crafting. I often didn't have the energy, and when I did, I often didn't have the motivation or inspiration.

I felt like I was losing myself.

Without the daily grind of teaching, and being lucky enough to be in a home situation where I could take a few months off, I figured this was a good opportunity to rediscover what makes me happy.

I start the job search in earnest in September. I gave myself the summer to focus on finding my joy, so I've been writing and making jewelry, and decorating trinket boxes, even doing a little painting and trying to get back in the habit of drawing.

It's kind of glorious. I get sleep, I have more control over my daily schedule, and I feel like I found Sabrina, finally.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Chosen One*

*But only if male, cisgendered, and white.

[It's been a while since I last posted and I have no excuse. I'll sum it up as LIFE and leave it at that.]

Instead, here's what I want to talk about: The Chosen One trope.

It occurred to me today that often, when this trope is used in a story, it refers to a male protagonist. Usually young (10-18), always--as far as I can recall--heterosexual cis-gendered, and frankly, usually white.

The kid learns that their normal life is a fraud/to keep them safe/about to change irreversibly, and they have been chosen to defeat a great evil. Harry Potter was far from the first, and nowhere near the last.

It's not to say girls/women can't be protagonists or heroes, but more often, they seem thrust into the role through circumstances. Katniss just wants to protect her little sister. Sabriel just wants to find her father.

What I do find more is the role of female protagonist as "Not like the other girls." You see it a lot in romantic comedies. Debra Messing's character, Cat, from The Wedding Date: not the first woman to hire Dermot Mulroney as a date, but the first to make him fall in love. Katherine Heigl's Jane in 27 Dresses is like many women in her love for weddings and desire to help friends, but she's the only person to make James Marsden's Kevin see the love and romance is weddings and marriages.

It feels like a way to simplify their characters. Why, out of all the other women these men meet, are these the ones who get through to them? Why, they aren't like other women! Of course! How aren't they like other women? Uh, well, they sing? You know what? Just trust us on this.

But that's not the only place. You can find the trope in fantasy books as well, but they take a different approach.

Alanna is the only girl who wants to be a knight in Tortall and poses as a boy to do it, and later, Kel is the first girl to become a knight since it was allowed through royal decree. Daine, in the same world, is the only Wild Mage. October Daye is a changeling who has one foot in the fae world and one in the human world, the first person to really befriend the Luidaeg, who doesn't like anyone. Cat and Beatrice in Cold Magic have their own special (slightly spoilery so I won't mention specifics) traits that set them apart from everyone else in their community.

But rather than being called Chosen Ones, and beyond their special something that separates them from other women, they are heroines through the choices they make and the circumstances of society around them.

It makes all of these characters even more complicated--sometimes they make the wrong choices and have to deal with those consequences. Sometimes they want to do one thing, but the rest of the world is working against them because other forces have their own motivations and goals. The characters are complex and the worlds are complex.

On the one hand, it'd be nice to see more female Chosen Ones. But maybe the answer is more to get rid of the Chosen One trope for males. One of the fan theories (almost canon? actually canon?) that's always intrigued me is the idea that Neville could have been the Boy Who Lived. He was born around the same time, his parents suffered because of Voldemort, and if Voldemort had thought it was him and gone after his family, the books might have turned out differently in some very interesting ways. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy in terms of the villains choices, but how could it have been different if there wasn't the label of Chosen One hanging over Harry's head?

Anyway, those are my thoughts today. I'll try not to wait so long to post again.

Books/Series referenced:
Harry Potter: The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
Katniss: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Sabriel: Sabriel/Abhorsen by Garth Nix
Alanna: The Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce
Kel: Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce
Daine: The Immortals Quartet by Tamora Pierce
October Daye: The October Daye series by Seanan McGuire
Cat and Beatrice: The Spiritwalker Trilogy by Kate Elliott

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Cake or Death: Con Edition

I have recently found out about a great organization that has set out to help sci fi and fantasy fans of color attend SFF conventions: Con or Bust.

From their "About" section: Con or Bust is a non-profit "whose mission is to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction. Con or Bust isn’t a scholarship and isn’t limited by geography, type of con-goer, or con; its goal is simply to help fans of color go to SFF cons and be their own awesome selves."

Con or Bust has been around 2009 as a response to Racefail09, which was about the lack of characters of color in fiction, and whether non-people of color have the right, responsibility, and/or ability to write COC. Reactions were varied, and many of them were passionate, some angry or defensive, but it broke wide open the discussion.

A side issue was the dearth of POC sci fi and fantasy writers. Linked to that was the lower numbers of convention-goers who were POC.

So Con or Bust decided to do something about it. Since then, they have made it possible to make donations, and also hold an auction (full of awesome stuff!) in order to raise funds that are then used to send fans of color to various SFF conventions.

The auction for this year opens on February 10, and closes on February 23. (Keep in mind timezones, folks).

Some of the offerings:

A poem written for you/about by Jane Yolen. (Yeah, that Jane Yolen!)

A custom, handspun, handwoven scarf, your choice of color

A custom, Police Box bag or laptop/iPad case

A manuscript critique up to 10,000 words by Lynne M. Thomas, or a fiction critique up to 10,000 words by Yoon Ha Lee (who also has a short story collection Conservation of Shadows available as a separate bid)

Pillow cookies from one person (cookies wrapped in brownies, anyone?) and a New Orleans care package from another

Books, many many books (including The Spiritwalker Trilogy by Kate Elliot with a copy of "The Secret Journal of Beatrice Barahal"; multiple series by N. K. Jemisin; the Newsflesh series by Mira Grant; signed ARCs of A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents; an illustrated, hardcover, gift edition of Stephen King's The Shining; and many, many more).

This is only a sampling of the auctions on the first two pages. The auctions for this year are already up to page 4.

So please, take a look, ogle the wonderful, and get ready to bid on the 10th, and/or spread the word about an organization doing a lot of good.

Monday, February 3, 2014

White Privilege

The past handful of days, the concept--and reality--of white privilege has been bouncing around my small corner of the internet. It's been even more prevalent for my friend and fellow writer, Xen.

As a response, he posted this reference guide for dealing with white privilege when you encounter it. He says it so well, I got his permission to post it here, so I hope and encourage everyone to read it and to think about their own behaviors and the privilege they might be benefiting from without even realizing it.

Xen Sanders on 'white privilege':

A handy-dandy reference guide on what to do when offering advice regarding white privilege and how to deal with it in society:

1. Look in the mirror. Are you white?***

2. If the answer is yes, please sit down, observe a respectful silence, listen to what people of color are trying to tell you, and remember that you are not in any way, shape, or form qualified to advise on this subject. If you think you are, please see step three.

3. Google "white privilege." Educate yourself about what it is. Do not get defensive; do not automatically assume it cannot be you because you just don't like the idea. You are not being attacked right now. You are not an awful person. No one thinks you're horrible. No one hates you. And no one is calling you a racist for enjoying white privilege, so don't worry about that, either; let's get past that right now and work past that defensive knee-jerk reaction. If you see signs of white privilege in your life, it doesn't mean you're a racist at all. It just means society subconsciously favors you, and you've never even been aware of it. That can change, but please don't expect sympathy or congratulations for realizing your privilege.

4. Look in the mirror again. Still white? Yeah, that's not going to change. That's okay. There's nothing wrong with being white, just as there's nothing wrong with any other color. What can change is you, and how you respond to the people of color--if any--in your life. It is never okay to tell people of color how they should feel about race issues. I'm sorry, it's just not. It's never okay to presume to speak for us, either. We are intelligent, well-educated people. We can speak for ourselves; the harder matter is actually getting people to listen when it doesn't impact your life if people who aren't like you don't enjoy the same privileges you do, and when sometimes listening involves an uncomfortable and embarrassing level of self-analysis. Also? You don't have to shout louder than we do to be an ally. Sometimes the best you can do is listen, ask questions, and try to empathize, even though you can never understand because it's not a life you've lived. We wouldn't expect you to. But we do expect you to realize that--that you do *not* understand what it means to live life in the role of a person of color, and no amount of advocacy will change that, and any claims that you "get it" are false and offensive.

Check your privilege. Check yourself.

Show a little respect, and we'll be happy to give it back to you.

***If the answer to #1 is "no," disregard #2-4, and just do your best to educate, advocate, and not bite the heads off your white friends if they need to be told over and over and over again because they're just not getting it.

Here's the link for his post: Xen Sanders' facebook status on white privilege 

And here's his website: Xenarchy

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Saying Goodbye to the Year

I usually try to come up with resolutions when the new year rolls around, but the more I think about it for 2014, the more it seems like a futile endeavor. My resolutions always end up the same: write more, read more, edit this or that, send out queries, focus on my health and try to lose some weight, build better habits and try to get closer to some of my life goals.

All very general in recent years, because the years would pass by without nothing achieved (or not enough) when I had more specific resolutions.

This year, I am not going to worry about resolutions, promises to myself to do X or Y.

This year end, I have spent New Year's Eve day spending time with my aunt, watching "Frozen" with my mother, crafting a gift, listening to music, talking with friends online, and shortly, a bit of writing on a story I began earlier in the year.

Tomorrow, I will spend more time with family, rest and relax, grade, and edit.

I want 2014 to reflect these two days, full of obligations and enjoyment, and balancing between the two. A year where I have time to rest, but also to have fun, and to get projects done that are just for me, as well as complete projects with and for others.

Happy New Year, and happy writing.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Great Advice for NaNoers

Robin LaFevers (author of Grave Mercy) has some great advice for writers who get stuck and the usual methods are just not working. Some tips are meant to prepare for the writing (so you have all the tools at hand), others are tips to help you just get the words on the page.

Post is here: Frog Marching The Muse

Also, she has chapter one of the sequel to Grave Mercy, available on her website: Dark Triumph.

Read, write, and for those of you doing NaNoWriMo, good luck making your word count goals.