When I was a kid, I was introduced to science fiction two ways: through fantasy novels, which my Grandma collected, and through Omni Magazine, which my Grandma subscribed to (though I called her to check and she said she couldn’t remember…it may have actually been my Grandpa).
Omni magazine was cool in that it introduced me to the concept of the short story. Plus it had awesome gorgeous illustrations to go along with the stories. Ask me what story I remember most--I won’t be able to tell you, but what I can tell you was that it was about an angel because there was this wonderful image of an angel in the magazine.
Omni also had neat science articles—most of them went over my head, except one. It was an article on dreaming, and there was a section that talked about how to control your dreams. Something about learning how to recognize that you’re dreaming, and then building up to changing little things in your dream, until you’re able to to make big changes like being able to fly. That article so stuck with me, I ripped it out (Don’t know if my grandma knew) and took it home. I then spent the next several months trying to follow it. I think I did get to the point that I sort realized I was flying, (though I never really flew in my dreams; at the most, I’d hover two-three inches off the ground.) But still, for those couple of seconds before I woke up, it was the most awesome thing ever.
I think my Grandma let her subscription lapse, so it was a while before I learned they stopped producing any more issues. But now, you can read the entire series at the Internet Archive. I’m going to check it out now and see if I could find that dream article again. It’s been a while since I hovered in my dreams.
- Current Mood: nostalgic
Due to a wedding I won't be joining Wiscon until Friday evening, so I'll probably miss out on the Gathering. But here's what I'll be doing when I do get there.
Friday, May 24 9pm Oxford Comma Bonfire Reading, Michaelango's
I'll be joining Vylar Kaftan, Michael Underwood and Nancy Hightower for a reading at Michaelangelo's. I'll be reading my story poem from Dark Faith: Invocations "All This Pure Light Leaking In". This is open to the public, so if you're around, stop by!
Sunday, May 26 8:30am Intimate vs. Remote Gods, Senate A
Is it faith if you run into the god in question while doing your grocery shopping? What is the nature of a god whose existence you don't have to take on faith? What does believing in an unseen god signify? I’ll be joining Heidi Waterhouse, Rose Hayes, Janice Mynchenberg, and Judy Peterson to discuss examples from recent and older literature, including N.K. Jemisin, Mary Doria Russell, Phillip Pullman, and Lois McMaster Bujold.
Monday, May 27 11:30am Sign Out, Capitol/Wisconsin
If you have a copy of Dark Faith: Invocations, bring it by for me to sign. Or just come by to chat, because, really, this being my first signing, I have no clue how to do these things.
- Current Mood: dorky
So you're probably noticed that the Cafe has been seeing more business as of late. It's true, I have been posting more...if not every week, then at least every other week or so. That's because I found something to keep me on task, and so far it's been successful.
I play HabitRPG. And I am getting so Much. DONE.
Pairing task management with a role playing game has been done before. I was interested in EpicWin, but they never released it for Android (plus, I don't think it's updating anymore). I tried the Android app Task Hammer, but grew bored with it. None of the characters were customizable, and there was no real incentive, other than a pretty sound once I completed a level. I use Outlook to keep track of my submissions, which usually keeps me on track. The problem with Outlook tasks is that it's easy to ignore, and it’s a plain ole task list. I can put tasks on, and make tasks from email, but once the overdue time passes, it's still easy to ignore. I'm good with keeping track of my submissions, but any other task, I don't do so well on.
HabitRPG is a website that pairs task management with the incentive of role playing games. But it's much more than just a task list. It helps you to develop daily habits.
As a character, you get an experience bar and a health bar. You do a task, you get points and money. But if you don't do some tasks, your health goes down. Lose too much health, you die. Luckily, get enough experience points to level up, and your health bar resets to full again. You can even form parties with several people to keep everyone accountable.
There are three columns (well, four, but ignore the last column for a moment). Habits are things you want to do overall. You get points for doing them or in some cases, your health suffers. So for instance, I have a plus/minus by use the standing desk. If I do that once a day, I can click the plus button and get experience points. However, if I found I've been sitting all day and I ache all over, I click the minus button and my health goes down (and for reals--if I sit all day, I feel incredibly sore).
Dailies are tasks you want to do every day. This is good if you have big projects that you want to focus a certain amount of time on each day (the days can be also customized so you can do it on workdays or weekends, or two days a week, etc). Dailies are renewed each day--if you have valid ones left over from the previous day, your health takes a hit. If you don't do a certain daily for a while, it turns red. The redder it gets, the more health it takes off. Conversely, if you check off the red one, you get more experience points and more money.
Todos is a regular task list. You won't get penalized if you don't do them in the day. However, they do age--the older they get, the redder they become. Again, the incentive is to get you to do those tasks you neglect, so if you get around to checking off the red todos, you get more experience points and money.
What do you do with those points and money? Buy stuff, of course! The fourth column lists all the weapons and gear you can get--usually to help slow down the health you lose or to increase how much experience points you get. You can also buy pets, although they've implemented a new feature so that you can randomly find eggs and hatching potions by checking off tasks.
What really impressed me about HabitRPG, though, is the community. there's an active blog and forum, and, if you're into geekery and programming, you can go on GitHub and suggest features, as well as go on Trello and see what projects are being worked on. I know for instance, they're working on a Android mobile app—Trello shows me where they are in the process (Plus, it's fascinating to see the programming process it.)
HabitRPG has really been good for me. I like the incentives. I like dressing up my little avatar (which is dark-skinned like me and doesn't have armored boobs getting in my way. I mean, seriously, TaskHammer so ticked me off). And seeing what they plan to put it in, I love to stay with it for the long haul. And once this goes live, it'll be so satisfying about checking off a Blog: HabitRPG box and seeing how much I can get for it.
Maybe I'll get a tiger egg this time!
(Okay so tigers don't really come from eggs, but hey, it's an RPG. Anything can happen)
- Current Mood: productive
Last year around this time (was it really last year?) I was spazzing out on my writing. It felt like it was taking me forever to do things. And then, I got the revelation to trust my words. I decided to hold off on any new short story writing while I worked on Willow. It's been a year, and I'm now halfway through. I've been workshopping Willow to a new writer's group I've been attending, and that has been super effective.
Well, a couple of months ago, I was asked to submit a short story to an anthology that had the deadline of April 1. It just so happened that I had a story idea I thought would fit perfectly with the anthology’s theme. The only thing was, it wasn’t written out. All I had was a scene and a vague idea of the format I wanted to use, and that was it.
Usually, when I do a story, I write it out first, sit on it a bit while I research, write a second draft, sit on it while I do more research, then fine tune fine tune fine tune until I reach a point where I get sick enough of the story to stop working on it and send it to beta readers. This time,I decided to try something new.
Instead of writing out the story and figuring out what needed to be done, I would outline, research and finally write the story. In that order.
This was inspired by Writing Excuses podcast, specifically the episode where Mary Robinette Kowal showed her writing process, from Brainstorming to outlining to writing. This is similar to Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method, another style of outlining, but up to this point, I haven't really tried it, mainly because I'm an organic writer, someone who likes to figure out the style of the story as I write. For the outlining style, basically, I wrote out the main idea of my story, then expanded it to a synopsis, then expanded that to a scene-by-scene outline. I used the outline to figure out what to research, then adjusted the outline to add in what I learned from my research. I then wrote the story, fine-tuned the outline from what I wrote, then used that to fine-tune the story, sent it to beta readers, got their feedback, did a final draft, then I was done.
I also tried another new writerly thing I’ve grown enamored over, which was mainly stepping up my use of placeholders. I've always been a writer who would sit and stare as I turn a phrase over and over in my head to get it just right. Thus, while I write really good stories, my writing tends to be very, very slow.
Within the past few months however, I've been using placeholders more and more, particularly while working on my novel. I find if I get stuck on something, if I don't figure it out within a few minutes, it's better to make a note about it and move on with editing. 9 times out of ten, when I come back to that note, I know what I want to say; sometimes, even in the process of making that note to myself.
I'm starting to use tricks, like for instance, instead of stopping my writing and searching for a character's name, I type @@CHARACTER NAME HERE and continue writing the story. When I come back to it the next day, I search for all the @@ and plug the information in. It's enough to get me back into the story. I also use the “Insert Annotation feature” in Word to write notes to myself, such as what feeling I want to invoke in a scene, or "I want something that tastes like the color blue here. What tastes like blue?" If I’m not happy with a word, I highlight it in yellow. Then if a better word comes along, I can plug it in.
I know, I know, every writer knows about placeholders . Even I was using placeholders to a degree. But forcing myself to put them in if I was just diddling with a passage, in allowing myself to say, it's okay to come back to it, just keep moving with the editing, it’s increased my writing speed. In some cases, in the course of rewriting, I may do away with the sentence altogether, which means that placeholder is no longer needed. I feel like suddenly, I have REVISION SUPERPOWERS!
I finished this short story in two months. And I didn't start the actual writing of the story until the second month.
I'm floored by how quickly I was able to churn this story out. Normally it would take me up to six months to do a short story. Granted, this was a 5000 word short story. I haven't seen what would happen if I did this with a longer story. What I can say is that outlining gave me the ability to gauge what I could put into the story to approximate the world count. I'm going to try it again with another short story that has a word count of 7500 and see if I can get the same results.
I'm also trying to incorporate this into Willow. I already have an outline, and the book written. Bust instead of going back and rewriting previous chapters as I edit, I just make notes in them for me to come back to later. It makes me wince, knowing that I'll have to do another revision pass, but at the same time, I'm making my notes more detailed, so that all I need to do is plug in those revisions in the next pass. I'm also having my book beta read, which means that those notes will tighten up the story enough that after that next revision pass, the book will be the best I could make it.
I don’t think I’ll do every story this way. I’ve got another story that I’ve written out the normal organic way, and I’m having just as much fun working on that. But I have to admit, outlining really works. I like to think it's helping me grow as a writer. And if not [INSERT SOME METAPHOR HERE].
- Current Mood: chipper
Back when I wrote fanfiction on the FanFiction Mailing List (FFML), I used to critique fanfics by writing "R&R Reviews", which had the characters Ranma & Ryoga from the anime Ranma 1/2 giving reviews just like Siskel & Ebert's "Sneak Previews", but with more fighting. I even ripped the opening theme to "Sneak Previews" as a sort of homage.
That's how iconic Ebert was--his signature style was instantly recognizable, even in anime fanfic.
I don't write fanfiction anymore. I don't watch movies all that much anymore either. But Roger Ebert was a great influence in my life. I appreciated his reviews. I also appreciated his written works. His writing had a wonderful, clear, humorous, deep quality to it that made nonfiction fun to read. Even when I had moved on and only kept up with him off and on through the Internet, I enjoyed his wit, charisma and insight.
So, for old times sake:
(The familiar whistling music from the tv show 'Sneak Previews' begins to
play. Ranma is seen coming out of the Tendo Dojo and casually walking up
the street. Next, Ryoga crawls out of a tent, stretches, stuffs everything
into his backpack, and begins walking. Ranma is seen buying rice balls from a
stand. Ryoga is still walking on the street. Ranma walks in front of a
theater and looks about. Ryoga is looking bewildered as he stands in the
middle of a forest. Ranma looks at his watch and frowns. Ryoga is talking
to an eskimo who points in one direction, and Ryoga begins walking the
opposite way. Ranma shrugs, goes into the theater, runs up the stairs, and
takes his seat in the balcony. Cut to the theater's front again. Ranma
begins eating his rice balls. Suddenly the wall caves in and Ryoga emerges,
looking pissed. Ranma begins shouting at Ryoga, who shouts back. They get
into a fight and fall over the balcony, and the camera pans away to the movie screen, which displays the words: R&R REVIEWS.)
(The lights go off except for a spotlight, highlighting LaShawn, standing on the balcony.)
LS: Mr. Ebert, thank you. Your words and reviews will remain, but you will be sorely missed.
(LaShawn leaves the balcony. The spotlight shines on the empty balcony for a period of time.)
(Then it shuts off.)
A few weeks ago I took my son to see Wreck it Ralph. Aside from being the only person in the theater to get the Final Fantasy VII reference, I really enjoyed it and I think Daniel did too. However, throughout the movie I noticed he would bury his face in my arm and whimper at certain parts. Not the scary parts, mind, but at the strangest places, like when Wreck it Ralph meets King Candy for the first time. Or right after Ralph and Glitch bake her car. Finally, I asked him what was wrong.
"He's gonna get in trouble!" Daniel said.
"No, he's not," I said. "See? Look. Glitch likes her car. You have to watch and see what happens."
"Oh," he said. "I thought she was going to get upset and yell at him for making an ugly car."
And that was when I realized something. My son wasn't scared of conflict, per se. He was scared of people getting into trouble. When Ralph ran into Candy Land even though people told him not to, he was Breaking the Rules. Which meant he would Get in Trouble, and that made Daniel uncomfortable enough that he didn't want to watch Ralph Get Consequences.
I get it, because I am very much the same way.
Maybe it's a first-child thing, where we were always told we were the oldest, so we have to set an example for the younger kids to show them how to do things to go the right way. Maybe it comes from being a Christian, where we hold ourselves up to such a high standard, we can't even contemplate doing something wrong before telling ourselves it's sin. (I tell you that verse, whatsover is pure, whatsoever is holy, whatsoever is righteous...etc etc...has made my life as a writer a tightrope). Or maybe it's due to conflict-avoidance, something I do at every chance possible.
I want all my characters to travel the least resistance. I want them to be happy. I want them to achieve their goals the right way.
But that's not how stories work.
I'm working on a scene in Willow now where one of my characters lies to another character. I originally didn't do it because, hey, this character is basically a nice guy, and I really liked him. But as I edited, I realize that he wasn't doing what he was ordered to do, which was to break up a relationship between the main characters. Which meant that he would have to lie. It makes me squeamish, because there will be consequences from this, really bad consequences. And the guy knows it. But he does it anyway, which will mean alas, this guy isn't as nice as I want him to be.
But that also makes him more human.
I will admit, there is a small part of me that makes me want to bury my face whenever conflict or trouble or any sort of uncomfortableness rises in my stories. There’s that part of me that cries, if she does that, she’ll have to suffer the consequences. But if there is no conflict, there’s no growth either. Characters need conflict to learn. They need to test boundaries. They need to stand up for what they believe in, even if they’ll get in trouble for it. Wreck it Ralph wanted to be treated nice, so he went outside of his game to get a medal, which was against the rules, yes, but to him, it was taking a chance to get him some respect. He suffered some dear consequences for that, but he learned a lot about himself. And by the end, we were rooting for him to succeed. That what makes a great story.
As writers, we need to show the good and the bad, the angels and the demons, the unbreakable and the rule-breakers. It's how we connect with the characters. If you struggle with it, just tell yourself, watch and see what happens, because sometimes (though not always) it all pays off in the end.
You can also play chaotic evil characters in RPGs, which is what I’m doing. Which is not as easy as you think. Do you know how long it took to get up the nerve to steal something in Skyrim? I mean, sure, you can put a bucket over the shopkeeper’s head, but it’s the principle of the thing…
- Current Mood: sad
I don’t have best novelette or novella because, well, I never got around to reading them. There are many other sites out there who list story nominations, so go google them.
Of course, I am a complete and utter dunce, so I missed the deadline to do nominations for the Rhysling award, which is a shame, because the only works I got published last year were poetry. Actually, that’s not quite true. Both were prose poems, so maybe they can be eligible for short stories. I’ll mention them just in case:
“All This Pure Light Leaking In” published in the 2012 anthology Dark Faith: Invocations, by Apex Publishing, editors Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon
“I Will Keep the Color of Your Eyes When No Other in the World Remembers Your Name”, published by Stone Telling Magazine.
And here’s what I’m going to be nomination for the Hugo awards this year:
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin
The Straits of Galahesh by Bradley P. Beaulieu
Best Short story:
“They Make of You a Monster” in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Damien Walters Grintalis
“Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream” in Lightspeed — Maria Dahvana Headley
Best Dramatic Presentation - Long Form
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Best Fan Writer
K. Tempest Bradford
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Daily Science Fiction
Writing Excuses Season Seven
Chicks Dig Comics
Best editor short form
Maurice Broaddus & Jerry Gordon
Lynne M. Thomas, Jason Sizemore, Michael Damian Thomas
“The Situation” by Jeff Vandermeer and Eric Orchard
Damien Walters Grintalis
Adventures in Scifi Publishing
Good luck to everyone!
- Current Mood: aggravated
So remember in my last post where I said I should go to a Christian con in 2013? Funny how I mentioned that….
A week after I wrote that post, I learned about a consultation that the organization I work for, InterVarsity, was doing to help support their arts ministry. Any staff who either worked with art students, or who were artists themselves, were invited to attend. I'll report on the consultation in a bit, but wanted to write about the couple of weeks before the consultation.
You see, before I went, I experienced the worst imposter syndrome ever. So much so that I nearly did not go.
Not that this was visible to anyone. I told people I was going and they were excited. My coworkers thought it was a perfect fit. My husband thought it would be a good way to nurture the writer side of me in a Christian setting. Everyone felt I should go to this. And the fact that hotel and meal expenses were paid, I would have been stupid not to go. But I struggled with it. I really did. I really, really did.
There were many reasons, but the main one I want to write about here as that up to that point, I saw genre writing as separate from, "Christian art”. Seriously, when have someone gotten up in church to read a page from Harry Potter during the sermon? Well, uh okay, nevermind, apparently I’m at the wrong church...but that's besides the point. The point is, the Christian arts seem to only promote those that are done corporately.
I remember last year, I learned there was an Arts seminar thing being held at one of the churches around here. I thought it was cool...until I took a look at the actual workshops. They had panels for worship leaders. Ones for musicians. They had an art gallery for those who painted. For writing, they had a "drama category for writing skits to incorporate into worship"….
…and that was pretty much it.
And then there was last year, where my small group did a study of spiritual gifts. My gift came up as (duh) writing:
"How do you plan to use your gift?" asked the leader.
I said, "Well, I use it a lot when I'm writing stories. I tend to put in a lot of faith elements--"
"No, I mean, how do you plan to use it for the church?"
When writing is incorporated into worship, it's more along the lines of spoken word/poetry that had to refer to God. I remember back at Urbana 09, I read an excerpt from "She's All Light" during the black lounge open mic. All the other acts were pretty much gospel songs/spoken word/rap that was pretty much psalms. A lot of people liked my reading, true, but still, it made me feel sort of weird, like my science fiction story was the oddball out.
From my experience, singing, playing instruments or performing in drama skits, all worship skills, are valued higher in the church than, well, writing stories. Wait, let me change that--writing speculative stories. Granted, I could write and/or edit church bulletins. Heck, I can even write drama skits if I wanted to. At best, I can write worship poetry, and that's a whole different set of neuroses. I remember a long time back, before I'd started writing, when a worship leader at our church asked me and my friend to write spoken word pieces to read during worship (because this was an awesome church that had the creativity to do that). This was before I started professional writing, and I had very little experience with poetry, so I pulled some stuff together from a journal and threw in a bunch of "God make stars, made mountains, is awesome, blahblahblah" sentences. And then I read it straight, because, well, it was poetry. It was okay. On the next song, though, my friend came up and read hers. She did spoken word. With attitude. And it was awesome.
And at that point, I realized--I don't have a gift for writing spoken word poetry. I deeply appreciate it, moreso now than I did back then, but it's a different set of writing skills altogether.
Here's the thing. I love stories. I love wrestling with deep truth in them. I love tales of growth, tales of woe, tales that would have you on the edge of your seat. Even my poetry are stories--just in a different format. Stories are my way of having deep conversations with people disguised as narrative. Plus, my characters get to do awesome stuff. I just had one of my main characters in Willow do a flip off the side of a building and nail a bad guy between the eyes with a knife.
That...probably won't hold up too well if that's read before a sermon.
I've come to terms that my writing life, at least the story part, and my church life, would be pretty much kept separate. Notice I didn't say Christian life--I've have many good conversations in fandom with atheists, feminists, what the church would consider "secular". I also am quite blessed to work at an religious organization that has as many geeks as it does, so I'm not hurting for that. It's just that with the actual church, I pretty much have to check my writer side at the door. And that was one of the reasons why I really struggled with going to the IV Arts conference. If it was just going to be a bunch of worship leaders there talking about church stuff, then I didn't belong.
But luckily, it wasn't that.To go to the conference, you either had to be a staff worker who ministered to arts students, or you were a staff worker who was an artist.And that included writers. Even genre fiction writers.So I went.
The consultation was two days, and was a more like a Christian retreat, than a con. The third day was called SALT, and was more of a day seminar, where Christian student artists met on Wheaton campus to discuss being an artist and Christian at the same time. I got to meet many other artists--graphic artists, filmmakers, opera singers, tap dancers, harpists, small theater actors, costume designers—all who worked in Christian and secular settings. And I even got to connect with a student who drove up from Urbana because she had written several fantasy novels, but haven't sent any out yet because she's constantly revising them. And she had never been to a con before. At that point, I think I went supernova, I was so happy. I dare say this was the first time that my InterVarsity staffworker side and my writing side intersected.
Of course I told her about Wiscon and Viable Paradise. Who do you think I am?!
So in the end, I'm really, really glad I went. It was exactly what I needed. And I came away with my creative meter/spiritual meter refilled. And it got me rethinking the question how do I plan to use my writing for the church? Part of it may involve blogging more about my spiritual journey. As for the church, perhaps I shouldn't be thinking in corporate worship terms but in relational terms. I happen to know there are a couple of fans who like to play RPGs. I could start up a gamer group at our church.
After all, if there was one takeaway I got from the conference, it was this: artists are bridges between the church world and the secular world. Evangelism works both ways.
- Current Mood: hopeful
There's this meme post going around called "The Next Big Thing" where new authors answer questions about the books they're working on. I've been tagged by Sofia Samatar back in October, and then tagged again by my VPXV classmate Blair MacGregor in December. So I am really, really late on this. But never late than never, hey?
1) What is the working title of your next book?
The Weeping of the Willows.
2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
Different elements of the story came from different parts of my life.
When I was in college, I had a friend who had kept swords in his dorm room. Sometimes, we would stage fake fights. From that, I got the idea of a black girl assassin.
Because of my Christian charismatic background, I wanted to write a world that explored the nature of prophecy. I combined that with the madness of the Greek oracles to come up with the concept of voices in my story. I also love growing herbs, and that's where I got the idea of herbmasters instead of doctors.
3) What genre does your book fall under?
4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I doubt it would ever get turned into a movie, but I think an older version of the girl who played Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild would be perfect as my main character, Coren.
5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A black female assassin is assigned to kill a herbmaster, but becomes a bodyguard to his son, the prophesied destroyer of the world.
6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
When I finish it (and by God, it will get finished), I plan to send it to agents, but also to publishers. We'll see what happens then.
7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Officially, I started writing this in 1992 and made it up to 15 chapters before I stopped in 1997. I picked it up again in 2004, decided I had no clue what I was doing, threw all those chapters out, and started rewriting from scratch. I finished the first draft in July 2007 and saw that I had enough for two books. So I broke them in half, and I've been in rewrites since.
8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Hm...probably the closest would be the Sun Sword series by Michelle West.
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Over time, the story evolved to the theme of identity. What is identity? How can you claim identity when it's been taken from you without your knowledge? What must you sacrifice to forge your own identity? In a way, the book mirrors my own journey as I wrestle with these questions.
10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
Swordfights! Plagues! Talking trees! Politics! Meddling aunts! And lots of swears and oaths...
Include the person who tagged you, and add other people if you like:
As I said, I was tagged by both Sofia Samatar and Blair MacGregor. I'm going to return the favor and tag my other VPXV classmate Veronica Henry, as well as fellow Madisonite Monica Valentinelli, and David Steffen who is one of the masterminds behind The (Submission) Grinder, an alternative to Duotrope.
- Current Mood: good
Readers to this blog will know that I have two day jobs of sorts--besides being a speculative writer, I work in the HR department for a Christian non-profit called InterVarsity, a ministry on college campuses throughout the United States. Every three years, InterVarsity does a huge missions conference called Urbana (though it's nowadays held in St. Louis, MO) where thousands of students go to hear speakers, attend seminars and get information of going into missions, whether overseas or in their own backyards. Because it is such a huge event, many campus staff come to serve at the conference, and that includes us in the national office.
I've never attended Urbana as a student, so I don't know the full experience, but having been to science fiction cons for about four years now, I couldn't help but compare Urbana to a gigantic con of sorts. I mean, I didn't see a single person doing cosplay. The entire conference was geared towards missions, which would probably set many of my non-Christian friends to twitching. And...no alcohol, so no Barcon, which would send many of my writer friends (myself included) screaming. Oh, and the job they had for me was working for Urbana.org, so I had the strange, disorientating experience of spending most of my time at the conference not networking, but writing.
But I learned a lot at the conference that I realized that I wanted to...no...needed to do a con report.
Urbana 12 had a huuuuuuge concom.
You think the concom at Wiscon or any other large con is big? We hire people to work on the conference a couple of years before the conference. And that doesn't include the production staff, the set up crew, registrar, communications. This Urbana, they had a social media team whose sole purpose was to tweet, Facebook, tumblr, Hootsuite, the conference around the clock. Because I was with Urbana.org, I got to be backstage, so I was able to catch a small glimpse of the work done to put together the main sessions in the morning and evening. And that in itself was a small glimpse of the whole.
Views from backstage
Urbana 12 had safe spaces for POC.
When I served at my first Urbana in 2008, they had me working the BCM lounge (Black Campus Ministry). For four days, 6 hours per day, I would feed students, talk to students, play games and basically hang out. It was a lot of fun, though by the end of the conference, I couldn't talk to people, I was so peopled out (I was not the extrovert I thought I was.)
In 2009, I went to my first full Wiscon and attended the POC dinner. When they were talking about the safe space that POC could go to decompress and have a safe place to talk about the Wiscon experience, I was like, dude, it's just like the black lounge at Urbana!
Urbana had several lounges in fact--they also had an artist lounge, an international student lounge, and an InterVarsity Staff lounge. But still, the ethnic lounges (they had one for black students, Latino, Asian, and Native American) stood out to me as awesome spaces for people of color to sit, process, and hang out with other people of color. I liked how they were all next to each other, so you could visit them (and I saw a few non-ethnics wandering about as well). This year, the black lounge also had panels and roundtable talks of their own. I sat in on a roundtable about being black in an predominately white setting. Very interesting discussion--I wished I stayed longer. I also missed the open mic, the dancing, the games...
My only complaint is that I wish there was an easier way to get to the lounges. They were located in the Ramada on the west side of the America Center, and there was no quick way to get to it except go all the way around the block...which in winter, made for quite the trek. (Interestingly, the POC safe space for Wiscon was also in a hard to find, out of the way spot, but at least it was still inside the Concourse Hotel.)
Urbana 12 had a con suite.
That first night after doing registration, I was pretty exhausted, but my body had gone into con mode--which meant that had this been an actual con, I would go and hang out with other writers. And where else did all the writers go but to the bar--or if the hotel had no bar, some place where the writers could sit, drink, and bemoan the whole writing business.
But Urbana was a Christian conference, so there wasn't a bar to hang out (not one I would tell you about anyway). However, there was the aforementioned staff lounge, so I went there instead, and found it to be comparable to a con suite. There was snacks. There were games. And there were plenty of
writersInterVarsity Staff, bemoandiscussing campus ministry.
So the time I wasn't working or wandering about, I hung out in the staff lounge. Got to meet new people, and I even learned how to play Dominion--which satisfied my geek fix.
Urbana 12 helped hone my writing.
So I was given a job at Urbana--helping out with line direction during registration, and helping out with the Urbana.org site. Since all that was involved with line direction was repeatedly yelling "WELCOME TO URBANA! IF YOU ARE A STUDENT AND PAID IN FULL, GO STRAIGHT! IF YOU HAVE NOT PAID IN FULL, GO TO THE RIGHT! IF YOU ARE AN EXHIBITOR, GO TO THE LEFT!" I'll just spare my vocal cords and talk about the Urbana.org job.
I had the pleasure to work with Kurt Bullis and Mark Breneman on the Urbana.org website. This basically meant I got to put my writing skills to work mainly through editing and formatting articles and writing blurbs. I also got to perform and transcribe an interview, which I hadn't done in years. And I pulled quotes from blogs to give to the social media team to tweet.
While working on Willow, I've been learning how to utelize placeholders in my writing. I used that to help me in writing the blurbs--when I couldn't think of anything to write, I put down something I'd would like for it to say, like <some sort of description about Bibles here> and moved on to the next blurb--then I would rework it the next time I came back to it. I also had to write fast, which meant I couldn't spend a few days working on something. I had to write fast, take a break, proofread, then give what I had to Kurt, who could use it as is or completely rework it.
It was an interesting process. I didn't have time to make things completely perfect, so I had to make placeholders work for me fast. And that's something I want to bring to my novel revision. So, in a way, Urbana helped with my writing skills. Also, as you can see, I know how to write headlines within an article now. WRITING SKILL POINTS GAINED!!
Urbana 12's spiritual side
Urbana still is, though, a Christian conference, and one thing I don't get from cons is nourishing the spiritual side of me. Though I didn't go to any of the seminars, I did get to see the speakers in the plenary sessions and participate in the worship. And let me tell you, the worship was awesome. Not the average 'let's-get-a-guitar-and-sing-kumbayah'. It was worship in many different languages, with many different instruments. Very diverse, plus, doing it with 16,000 other people made it fun. They had drama pieces which ran from ballet to stomp dancing to rap. They also showed videos, which I may have taken part in.
I truly enjoyed listening to the speakers. And it also confirmed that I'm right where God wants me to be, though I am also being challenged on a number of things (most of what I'm still processing). And having communion on New Year's Eve with 16,000 people was a phenomenal.
Plus there were other perks, but I'm not going to go into that.
So, all in all, Urbana 12 may have not been a con, but I got a lot out of it. And I'm not as exhausted or stressed out at the end the last Urbana (oh, a whole number of factors went into that). That said, it did make me eager to start working on my con schedule for 2013.
Maybe I'll include a Christian con this year...