An Interview with Scott Woods

*“But it’s really hard to learn and grow because the opportunities as a Black artist here are not significant. Part of that is there were never many Black venues. And largely white venues only booked certain types of things. You can be Black and play rock and still not get the rock club guild. And then you can’t go to the Black club if you don’t play the right music. Now it doesn’t matter because all the clubs are gone. You know? Or they all are jukeboxes. Getting to play live here is not what it used to be. Campus used to have venues all up and down the street, bars where you could play live. You could do a whole week of shows on campus, do it again and do it again. And all of those places are gone. And so Columbus just developed its culture, you know, the artistic culture out of itself. And it’s only largely interested in it now because it needs to sell.”*

Watch or [read the SLF’s interview](http://speculativeliterature.org/…/Scott_Woods_Transcript_C…) with Scott Woods, who has been working in Columbus, Ohio, for 20 plus years, developing its arts scene and culture.

On YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch…

At our site (with transcript): http://speculativeliterature.org/portolan-proj…/scott-woods/

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World Fantasy Going Virtual

Quick note for SF/F writers. World Fantasy just e-mailed to announce that they’re cancelling and going virtual. I’m saddened that I won’t be going to Salt Lake City this fall, but I do think this was the wise decision (and taken out of their hands by the hotel cancelling.)

Having just attended the Nebulas this weekend virtually, and found it immensely useful and much more social than I’d expected, I’m delighted to note that this is happening, and that the registration cost of $125 for the virtual WFC is a very good investment for those serious about their writing career.

Usually attending WFC is much more expensive, esp. when you factor in travel costs. I’m registering now, and recommend it unto you. October 29 – November 1.

ALSO, they will surely need a lot of volunteers to pull this off well, so if you have time to volunteer, do consider it. It’s a great way to get involved and get to know people.

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Attending a Nebula Panel

Attending a virtual Nebula panel with Whitney Strix BeltránRyan Schapals, etc. on narrative game design, and once again, talking with them makes me want to do more work in that arena. I am such a distracted ADD magpie! Ooh, pretty shiny! (Maybe I should go back to the idea of pitching a project to Choice of Games? Hmm….)

That said, it continues to be pretty awesome that I can attend this panel (occasionally chatting in the text box with other attendees, or posting questions for the panelists, which makes it different from just watching a recorded panel) — while also straightening up my kitchen, which is sort of a disaster at the moment. 

Fascinating to think about how conventions are going to evolve going forward. Among other things, I’d love to see someone try a weekend-long round-the-clock convention, where we, say, start on Friday morning, and then hand off responsibility every 3 hours to a time zone further along.

So start at 9 a.m. in the Eastern time zone, for example, and then 3 hours later, hand off con management (moderation, tech support, etc.) to people in California, and keep rotating westward, following the setting sun.

There’d be some gaps for oceans, so you might not be able to stick strictly to every three hours, which is fine, but it’d be fun to ‘hand off’ to Saudi Arabia (I was in a room party yesterday evening that was being hosted by the bid party for the Saudi Arabian WorldCon, and it was 3:30 a.m. for them when I was attending) at a reasonable hour for them, etc.

As we think about international cooperation and welcoming everyone into the speculative fiction experience, I’m super-interested in seeing what a real NonStopCon ™ might look like.

(I didn’t really trademark the name NonStopCon. But it’s pretty good, huh? Someone should do that and give me credit for the idea… I tried to talk Steven H Silver into it yesterday in a room party, and he said, a little frazzledly, to let him get through the Nebulas first. Fair enough. )

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Something Satisfying

There’s something really satisfying about sewing Dr. Who toile masks (TARDIS and Dalek) while attending virtually the SFWA business meeting, listening to SFWA President Mary Robinette Kowal and worthy others talk about SFWA activities in general and the Nebula conference in particular (last weekend in May).

I’m honestly really excited about the way SFWA and other orgs have pivoted to presenting virtual conferences — without the costs of airfare and hotel, without the need to find childcare to attend, etc., this will make conventions accessible to a much broader range of attendees than previously.

I hope that having built these new structures (and forced to practice with them for a year or so), we’ll be able to continue with them in the post-Covid era as well, so that even when we’re meeting in person again (which I do love, and wouldn’t want to give up entirely), we can offer a robust virtual convention alongside the in-person (or perhaps in alternating years?). I’m very interested in seeing how this evolves.

Conference registration for this one is $150, which is on the pricier side, I know, but funds raised will help with SFWA’s COVID-19 relief fund. Beginning in April, the board will be offering grants of up to $1,000 for SFWA members financially affected by COVID-19.

The Nebula conference includes three days of online panels with real-time interaction, an annual subscription to archived content, and a one-year subscription to the Bulletin. I’m really looking forward to it — SF/F writers, hope to see many of you there!

Register here: https://nebulas.sfwa.org/nebula-conference/

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The Portolan Project Moving Forward

I’ve written to a possible donor about funding for the SLF that might allow me to put off doing a Portolan Project Kickstarter for a few months, which would be great; I could just focus on producing good work, rather than taking out time to raise money — it’d also mean that we would have a more complete project to show as part of the Kickstarter, so people really understood what we were asking them to fund.

I’ve also written to one of the writers we interviewed, to start the process of creating materials to supplement the teaching videos.

What I’m hoping to do is attach little assignments to each teaching video. I can write them, but if the writer wanted to contribute something, we’d love to have it from them. So

for example, to accompany the interview we did with George R.R. Martin, I’d love to present:

***

George R.R. Martin on writing epic fantasy: [15-20 minute audio embedded on the page]

George recommends: [3-5 texts that are relevant]

George suggests you try this: [writing prompt(s)]

***

I’m trying to balance this in various ways. For one, the page itself, I’d like to be welcoming and non-intimidating. This isn’t where we’re going to get three pages of Delany essay — not for the first round assignments, anyway. 

That works on the teaching side too — if I keep what I ask of the writer very simple and brief, then hopefully it doesn’t feel so onerous that they would need to be paid to do it.

There’s a tricky line here, because on the one hand, I think teachers should be paid for their labor, obviously. I don’t want to undercut the work that teachers put in creating serious lesson plans and designing courses.

But on the other hand, if I have to spend a lot of time fundraising to pay for instructional labor, this project will honestly not be in my capacity, or the SLF’s capacity this year. (I am trying to be much more careful about capacity these days, so I don’t overcommit and run myself into the ground.)

So I’m going for a sort of middle ground, where I ask the writers if they’d like to contribute something small and relatively easy, it’s entirely up to them, I fill in where they’re not interested, and that will hopefully let us get up at least a dozen videos and instruction pages by the end of the summer. (My actual stretch goal is 3 dozen finished by the end of the summer, to set up for a fall Kickstarter — we’ll see.)

And then if all that goes well, then I can build in fundraising that will let us actually pay at least a small honorarium for that work of creating instructional materials going forward. This is the proof-of-concept phase.  I’d like to pay people for the interview itself as well — it takes time from them, and that time should be compensated if possible.

We’ll see how it goes, and if people actually find this useful!

(Am I completely off-base, thinking the world could really use better free instruction on how to write fiction and create interesting stories? I guess we’ll find out…)

Photo of George form our interview in Dublin — I wish I’d been set up to do video as well as audio. Oh well. I’ll make him talk to me again sometime. 

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Waking Up Full of Don’t Wanna

Sometimes you just wake up full of don’t wanna, and I’m thankful that this morning, I don’t haveta. I have a university Zoom town hall at 10:30, talking about the fall semester (sigh). But until then, I’ve put on comfy pj’s, gotten myself coffee and meds and two seeni sambol buns, and returned to bed to sink back into Cadwell Turnbull’s _The Lesson_, which is entirely gripping.

Turnbull does a terrific job of balancing the brutal aspects of his quiet alien invasion story with beautiful language, rich characterization, thoughtful implications around gender (very reminiscent of Octavia Butler in that regard), and even humor.

So great to have something great to read. I’m going to have to see if I can squeeze this novel into my American writers of color in SF/F class. If anyone is teaching an African American SF/F class, this would be great in conversation with Nisi Shawl’s _Everfair_, Samuel Delany’s _Tales of Neveryon_, and Butler, of course.

It’s giving me little sparks of ideas for my own SF too…

(Side note: I think we may have settled on a name for Benjamin’s and my new podcast: “Mohanraj & Rosenbaum Are Humans.” I really like it. 🙂 Darius, I want to interview Turnbull for it or for the SLF or both, perhaps in conversation with Yudhanjaya Wijeratne. Make a note, please.)

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Maintaining Community and Managing Work

I’m thinking a lot about maintaining community and managing work this morning, in various ways. For one, it’s been really hard keeping up with communication even with SLF folks and Serendib folks through normal channels — and I’m not sure it really worked all that well before either.

We were doing a mix of in-person meetings, e-mail, FB messaging, which sort of worked, but not as reliably as I’d like. And without the in-person meetings and with everyone hit with executive functioning challenges due to coronavirus, we mostly kind of went silent for six weeks or so.

But my semester is essentially over now — I have final papers coming in tomorrow, so there’s grading, and then I’m done. So I want to ramp up both the SLF and Serendib Press more actively again, which I think means figuring out how to help keep everyone active and engaged without in-person to help.

I know managers get a bad rep in labor conversations, and I do think managers often get paid more than is reasonable, but good management really is important. Part of what Stephanie does is assist me, but part of it is manage me, and also manage the rest of the Serendib staff (Heather and Darius and Emmanuel). We get a lot more done that way, but coordinating has gotten more challenging in pandemic times.

I think we may have to schedule more meetings, honestly. A weekly Zoom meeting + a time when we’re all working and all on Slack, maybe? Tips welcome; I’m a little lost here. Assume 4 people, each putting in about 10 hours / week.

As Benjamin Rosenbaum and I make plans to try launching our podcast (and oh, it was GREAT doing a 1.5 hr Zoom call with him yesterday, I miss that convention energy buzz, must find ways to bring it back into a socially-distanced life), the first thing I did was secure my just-graduated student Darius Vinesar to be our manager for that project. Because Ben and I will happily natter on in somewhat random fashion, but if we want this to be done professionally (or really, done at all), we need someone else to help the trains run on time.

I still think I could use someone for the SLF to do similar work, but I don’t have any budget to pay them for it right now. Karen is able to do tasks as I assign them, but she’s not actually a SF/F person; she doesn’t know the field or the people. She’s also not on Facebook, which is turning out to be kind of essential for communicating with me, at least right now. Back to the communication problem, sigh.

I should be able to find that kind of person to volunteer at the SLF for now (probably an early-or-mid-career writer, someone with experience going to conventions, who knows people and is personable would be ideal), who will get paid when we can, but it takes a level of management from me to find that person, and I haven’t had the capacity.

I have a large list of potential volunteers, actually, but I have to activate and train them first, and then also figure out who among them (or from elsewhere) might be able to take on more of a management role. (If that’s you, do talk to me.) The SLF should be able to offer a summer internship, which I imagine would be of interest to a lot of young people, even if it has to be unpaid for the moment — but someone has to organize and manage that too.

Cee Gee, thankfully, has taken ownership of the fundraising & development aspects and is doing a great job, so once she’s fully recovered from Covid-19, I’m hoping we’ll be able to start doing more to bring in money, which will make it possible to hire more people, which will make it possible to create more content, which will make people want to join us as members, and it should all be a beautiful growing cycle…

But right now, we’re just trying to get through, and figure out how to stay connected and start working again. Not easy. In theory, I think Slack would help with this, but I just haven’t been able to get myself to remember to even check it regularly. Maybe I just need to be more hard-core about that. An hour on Slack every morning for the various projects.

Okay, off to a Zoom meeting with Karen and Cee Gee. Maybe we can figure some of this stuff out.

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A Good Time for Online Internships

For high school and college students, this might be a good time to explore internships that can be done online, especially if they have free time now that they wouldn’t normally have.

I suspect paid internships will be scarce on the ground right now, but even unpaid may help set them up for better options in the future.

I don’t know yet whether we’ll be offering SLF internships (sadly unpaid) through UIC this summer; I need to look into the options for that. But I expect we will in the fall. Interns would be working on grant writing, website development, social media, and more.

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SLF email to staffers

This is the e-mail I just sent my non-profit & small press teams, sharing in case it’s helpful as a model (and as always, if you’d like to come volunteer with the SLF, we’d love to have you — we’re trying to get organized to better put people on projects now):

*****

Hey, everyone. Sorry I didn’t write more coherently sooner — I really was very exhausted coming back from travel this weekend, short on sleep, and I think the ambient stress is getting to me a bit too. I’m going to try to be in better communication going forward, and I’m going to ask you to do the same. I know e-mail isn’t necessarily the best mode for everyone; we’re going to try a few different remote tools (see below), and see what works.

Thank you for being flexible — hopefully at the end of this process, we’re all going to be a lot more comfortable on remote tools! (Some of you may already be very adept at them, which is great — we’ll rely on you for help and advice!)

*****

Serendib Press: Stephanie, you’ll be in charge of getting Heather, Darius, Emmanuel, Julia, and Mizan up to speed on the tech. I’ll help. 

SLF Management Team: Karen and Carly, I’ll need you to get up to speed, and get the interns (Julia, Emmanuel, and Darius) and ideally Mizan too, if he has time, up to speed this week. (Stephanie will be working with some of the same people, but a little duplication and practice won’t hurt.)

SLF Chicago Chapter: Chris, if you can work on this with Dain and Jeremy, that’d be great. Even if you’re comfortable with the three of you working elsewhere, I’d like to make sure you can join the rest of us on these tools.

SLF Maram: Carollina, Pamela, Pam, Kurt, Amanda, if Maram starts actually doing stuff, which it may soon, with UPG at least, then this will be relevant to y’all soon. So if you can join us and try out the tech this week, that’d be great, though not as urgent. I plan to write to you all in more detail shortly.

SLF Portolan: Niall, Gary, Farah, Dale — we’re just starting this, of course, but if you can take some time to try out the tech, it’ll only help. I plan to write to you all in more detail shortly. (Matthew, this is mostly FYI; we’re not planning to keep bugging you on this going forward.)

SLF Bookkeeeping, Tech and Publicity: Kirsten, Gregory, Kaolin, Jed, Ellen, and Irene — I’m not expecting much of the rest to be relevant to you, but wanted you to be informed, and if you do want to join us on the remote systems, you’d be very welcome.

*****

GOING REMOTE: While we can all just work on our own in theory, in practice, in-person work tends to be much more effective for getting things actually done — it helps keep everyone on track and accountable. But it seems irresponsible to gather people together without real need right now, so I’m going to ask that we start to avoid larger gatherings for the SLF or Serendib Press until you hear otherwise.

The last actual event the SLF is hosting is this Saturday’s Deep Dish; we’re going to go on hiatus for the reading series for a few months after that (we may try to organize a virtual reading of some kind for those spring dates? Chris, I’ll look to you to take the lead on that, maybe with the rest of the Chicago chapter team — brainstorm and see what you come up with. At the same time everywhere in the world, SF/F writers post little videos of themselves reading? Is that goofy? Might be kind of fun if we set up a place for people to post that they’re doing it, with the links so everyone can check each other out).

For Serendib Press, I’ll still be doing a few book events locally this week, but am mostly thinking that I’m going to postpone scheduling much more until later in the year, when the situation should be clearer.

For our planning meetings, if a few of you want to gather in person to meet, I think that’s up to you. But I’m going to ask Karen, Carly, and Stephanie to try supervising the SLF interns / Serendib Press staff remotely this week and see how it goes. I spent several months working on a video game project with a game studio in Vermont, and although at times we had frustrating technical difficulties on occasion, for the most part, Discord (a system like Slack, more common in the game world) worked pretty well for that.

*****

SYNCHRONOUS VS ASYNCHRONOUS: The first is when we’re all on at the same time, the second, we’re not. Both can be effective. I like to do asynchronous chatter in the background over the course of the day, as I move through domestic chores and work projects. It’s nice company, and helps keep me on track. I like quick synchronous ‘stand-up’ meetings for talking something over between a few people. “Hey, everyone, let’s gather on Slack from 9 – 9:15 tomorrow to run over a few things.”

In terms of specific tools:

PHONE: Sometimes the easiest thing will be to call me — please do. I’m at [————-]. I can be phone avoidant sometimes when I’m really stressed and feeling bombarded with inputs, but I’m going to try to be better with that now, and this slowdown should counter that effect to some extent, I think. Please do leave a message if I miss you and you’d like me to call back.

FB MESSAGING: Since I kind of live on Facebook, this is often the fastest way to catch me if you have a quick question. Stephanie and Heather and I use it pretty constantly right now, and it works well, esp. when we’re synchronous (all on at the same time).

SLACK: This is a very nice system (both desktop and mobile) where we can have different channels for different projects, we can see what we’ve said previously (up to a point — it doesn’t hold onto it forever, I think), etc. It offers voice chat as well, though I think mostly we’ll use it for messaging, either in groups or individually. I’d like us to shift over to using it more intentionally.

We have Slack set up for the SLF already; we should set it up for Serendib Press too, and I’ll be talking to Stephanie about that separately. Karen, can you please get all the SLF folks on this thread onto Slack this week, and set up times to practice with them? (I don’t remember if we have a channel set up yet for the Chicago chapter, but if not, set that up, and Chris, please bring your team on board there.) Stephanie, ditto for Serendib Press, once we set it up? We should talk through how best to organize that.

My challenge with Slack has always been remembering to check it and see what’s going on there — you can set it up to send you notifications, but that can be annoying if there’s a lot of chatter going on. I’m planning to just plan to be online there at certain times daily, so that people can easily come find me and check in with me. 8-10 a.m. CST for now, and then again in the afternoon, 3-4 p.m.

Karen and Carly, I’d love to work with you two at least on Slack at 3-4 today, if that works for you — let me know? Stephanie and Heather, shall we try 9-10 on Thursday?

ZOOM: This free video conferencing system should also be helpful. I’d like us to try a Zoom call in the next few days, make sure everyone can get on smoothly. Given schedules, not everyone may be available at the same time, so we should probably do a few. I’ve used it before, but only as a participant, for an international call with several folks, and it worked pretty well. (I expect Zoom stock is booming right now.)

Karen, can you pick 3 times for Zoom calls in the next few days (today @ 4 p.m. plus one in the evening and one in the morning), and send Zoom invites to ALL the SLF folks? (I think that’s everyone on the e-mail thread above except for Stephanie and Matthew.) Let’s see how it goes — if you can’t make any of the times Karen sends, let her know, and we can set up another time. Aside from my teaching, I’m pretty available. (If you don’t know how to do any of this, Karen, just get in touch, and I’ll talk you through it. If you want to come by and work with just me in the dining room, that’s fine with me.)

FINAL NOTES: There are other possible tech options, but let’s start with Slack and Zoom for now. I expect that there’ll be some tech hiccups and frustrations initially, and that this will slow us down for a bit, but that’s fine — nothing we’re doing is super-urgent and needs to race along.

Any questions? (If I had more energy, I’d have done this with a lot of cute graphics so it wasn’t a big block of text. Sorry! Maybe next time! Thanks for reading!)

– Mary Anne

P.S. It makes me sad that I can’t feed y’all as much as I often do for our in-person meetings. Maybe, local folks, I can leave you boxes of cookies on the porch for pick-up, at least…stay tuned. 

#serendibpress
#slf

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