General, Personal

Well. This is frustrating.

on falling afoul of Twitter’s banhammer

As of about midnight last night, I learned that I have been “permanently suspended” from Twitter. The reason given was “spamming or platform manipulation.” There was no warning, nor any indication of which tweets might have violated Twitter policy. My account has simply been locked down.

As anyone who ever looked at my Twitter feed could attest, I am guilty of neither spaming nor platform manipulation. (If I could figure out how to game the algorithm, I suspect I’d be selling more books through it). So, I must wonder what, exactly, got me banned. It happened rather soon after I retweeted several posts about Elon Musk’s forthcoming policies, such as only allowing Twitter Blue subscribers to participate in polls in the future. I find that policy grimly hilarious, since Musk governs by the fiat of the polls — so of course it’s to his benefit if the only people voting in them are those who’ve drunk enough of his Kool-Aid to give him money every month and help the richest man in the world settle the absurd debt he took on in acquiring the platform. My most offensive tweet in this stream, I confess, was likely my assertion that Musk’s ego has the tensile strength of dry basil.

I’ve heard reports before that Musk searches his own name, looking for just such things to be offended by, and certainly his fanboys do.

But maybe it wasn’t that. Maybe it was a malicious report by someone who doesn’t like my politics, or by someone I blocked (which I do with absolute freewheeling abandon), or who wanted to screw with me because I’m anti-AI-in-the-creative-arts, anti-piracy, anti-TechBro, anti-whatever-their-thing-is. I don’t know, because the accusation as stated is so absurd as to be irrelevant.

Among the many frustrating things about this ban is that it effectively hides all of my content — including the pinned post telling people where else to find me. If you’re here, well, you know one of those places; others can be found on my LinkTree.

Even more galling is the fact that I pretty frequently have to report people either for spamming or for abusive behavior. I’ve seen friends get death threats, get doxxed, get abused with racial or gendered slurs — and almost every one of those reports receives a “sorry, this does not violate our policies” response. This morning, a few friends have tweeted at Twitter Support on my behalf — and those posts, almost invariably, attract spammers claiming they can get my account back if I just pay them some money over on IG.

And never mind, of course, the actual criminals and seditionists that Musk gleefully welcomed back to the platform.

This is all within his right, of course. It’s his platform, and he can suspend or reinstate whom he pleases. It sure feels like so powerful a social engine shouldn’t operate that way, but it does.

I’ve filed an appeal, but gods only know if or when it might come to anyone’s attention. Some friends have asked if they can do anything to help, and I honestly don’t know. In the past, I have seen others who were maliciously reported and suspended get reinstated after enough people made noise about it, so it’s possible that tweeting at TwitterSupport and pointing out their error might move my appeal up someone’s to-do list. But, Twitter is grievously understaffed, and many of those still there are held hostage by work visas. It’s hard to say what will be effective.

Hell is empty, and all the devils are here

Back in November, I blogged about Twitter’s likely downfall. Honestly, in some ways I’m very surprised the platform has survived as long post-acquisition as it has. Musk has certainly been doing his best to get it to fail. And yet, it has churned on.

This suspension brings into stark relief my fear from the autumn, though: that my dependence on that platform, personally and professionally, means that losing it will have significant impacts on my life.

In a lot of ways, that sounds so absurd. It makes me feel like the petulant 13 year old version of myself who thought she would just die when her parents took away AOL for a week.

But the internet is more fully a part of everyday adult life than it was in 1998, and for certain communities, Twitter did become vital. As I said in November, my writing life would not be what it is without that platform.

I had, at the time of my suspension, somewhere around 4100 followers. I’m not a big dog in the Twitter park, but that following is meaningful. It’s meaningful to me just as someone who likes talking to people, who found a lot of community on Twitter, who likes reading and saying clever things. But it is, somewhat tragically, also meaningful to me as a creative professional.

Any author will tell you that your Twitter following has no direct impact your sales numbers, but the indirect impact can be huge. Twitter is often how writers find each other — and when a writer recommends a fellow writer’s book, that actually can move the sales needle a little increment. (And at my level, little increments are a big deal). A thread going viral can suddenly get you new followers, who may, over time, become readers. It’s where people who might be interested in acquiring my work can check me out to see if I’ve got an engaging personality that might be marketable, and depressing as it often is to be a brand, that’s the reality of our current capitalistic paradigm. So I worry, a lot, about losing all of that and what it might mean for my future career as a writer.

[hautboys and torches]

Last night, I was angry. And I’m still angry, but I’m also scared and sad, and those emotions are starting to win out. I’m mourning the loss of connection, just as I feared I’d have to back in the autumn.

And I don’t know where else to go.

I’ve tried basically every other platform that’s flared up in the last six months. All of them have disadvantages of their own, and that’s to be expected on any platform — but none of them offered real advantages over Twitter. Take Spoutible, for instance, which I had high hopes for — but which very quickly demonstrated that, since it’s also run by an individual with an apparently fragile ego, it’s subject to the same vagaries as Twitter. Plus, I found the vibe there to be full of toxic positivity and puritanical leanings, and I just… do not want that. So while Twitter was still bad, why would I trade it for a similarly bad place where I had only 40 followers rather than 4000?

And that’s the calculus everywhere. Every other platform has some issue, whether it’s useability or discoverability or toxicity. Clearly, I’ll tolerate a certain amount of those problems — but only when there’s sufficient value in doing so.

If I manage to get reinstated, I know I’ll go back to the hellsite. It might be a toxic relationship, but… well, I like it there. I like my friends there! I like sharing their books and hearing about new releases and participating in hashtag games! My Twitter experience has stayed pretty good even over the past few months, because I have always used Tweetdeck, which means I don’t see ads, I don’t see algorithm-inflicted posts, and I see everything in the proper order — or, saw, rather. (And on desktop, anyway — Musk did kill off all the third-party mobile apps that did the same thing, like TweetBot.)

My point is that Twitter has long been where I go for connection and community. It’s where I go to express my random thoughts and know that at least someone’s hearing them. If I don’t get it back, I will miss it. I will miss the friends that I won’t be able to find elsewhere. I will miss the ease of use.

I continue to pray for the rise of a new platform, something that takes the best bits of Twitter (ease of use, discoverability, ability to attract users) and adds new things or revives things we loved about platforms in the past (rigorous protections from abuse, ability to control our data, ability to control who sees and can interact with posts). As I’ve said before, I would pay for such a platform. I spent a few bucks on the Spoutible experiment, alas, and I paid for LiveJournal for years, back in the day.

But I will absolutely be damned before I pay Elon Musk a single red cent.


All* Are Welcome (*terms and conditions may apply)

When a convention or conference chooses its Guests of Honor, the conrunners are making an inherently political choice.

They are giving that person a platform and a microphone. They are, in most cases, giving that person money, if not a direct honorarium, then in-kind, in the form of travel arrangements, hotel, and other expenses.

They are also sending a signal to potential attendees about whose voices they care about — who they value, who they want to promote and endorse — and thus, who will be welcome at their event. Who they’re reaching out to. Who they want to see and interact with.

My favorite conference, Sirens, always chose its guests very carefully. They cared about inclusion and about giving the mic to guests whose diversity and intersectionality — of race, of gender, of sexuality, of disability, of body type, of socioeconomic background, of nationality, of religion — represented the magnificent spectrum of the field of speculative fiction. They included academics as well as the “big draw” authors; they chose people whose words and work had made a positive impact on the community. They chose people whose views might challenge those of us in the audience to do better, be better, challenge ourselves more, to consider life experiences outside our own, to think about the things our own life experiences might have insulated us from. I was ever grateful for it.

A lot of cons aren’t as intentional about their choices, particularly the small, regional, fan-run cons. They often choose people they know, and thus people they know will say yes, with the result that the GOH pages end up looking pretty similar year-to-year, and con-to-con within a region. More effort should certainly be spent to do better, to look outside a con’s familiar bounds, to prioritize reaching out to the communities that are less likely to have platforms offered to them, and thus to welcome new members into the experience — but those cons are not, I think, making their choices out of malice, rather out of inertia.

And then there are the cons that make very deliberate, very intentional choices in the opposite direction.

Yes, this is about MarsCon.

MarsCon is one of my local Virginia cons, and they made a Whole Choice recently. I’m not going to use the name of the GOH who is the center and originator of the maelstrom, because this post really isn’t about him, but you can read up on it here.

The short version is that MarsCon, like last year’s FenCon, chose a GOH best known outside of his own circle for leading a campaign against the recognition of the contribution of marginalized voices in SFF and for being a bully employing classic DARVO techniques whenever anyone voices disapproval of said campaign.

I certainly would have no idea who he was if not for those two things, nor, I suspect, would most of the SFF folk of my acquaintance. He belongs to a sub-genre that has no interest for me and very little overlap with the readers and writers I hang with. Which… fine, in and of itself. He can have his personal politics all he wants. But he chose to make his personal politics everyone else’s problem, which is why a MarsCon regular guest very mildly voiced a concern, on FB, over whether or not he was the right choice for a con that claimed to want to be inclusive.

This GOH, and others like him, do not respond well to such statements. When they hear “Some people choose not to be around you because they find you unpleasant,” they perceive it as an attack, and they determine that a rabidly vitriolic response is not only warranted but necessary. (Again, DARVO).

The GOH wasted no time, it seems, in calling in his flying monkeys to harass the person who voiced concern, swiftly turning the FB threads into an unqualified shitshow. MarsCon responded by shutting down all comments and, rather than addressing the concerns that had just been proved entirely valid, doubling-down on their support for their aggressive GOH.

A whole choice.

MarsCon then made the choice to post a new “Interim Online Policy” claiming that “MarsCon is as it has always been an apolitical Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. It is the firm stance of MarsCon that personal politics should be left outside of the convention. It will not allow itself to used as a place for anyone to try and forward their personal political views.”

There’s more to the statement and the word “political” is doing some heavy lifting throughout.

For one, speculative fiction is inherently political, as are the people who create and consume it, and it’s entirely disingenuous to pretend otherwise. The only people who want to pretend otherwise are those who have the privilege and luxury of pretending that politics don’t matter, because their own lives are sufficiently insulated from its effects, and whose feelings get hurt when you point that out.

For another, no one that I saw was attacking the GOH’s politics, but rather his well-established history and ongoing practice of being a bully about them.

For a third, MarsCon’s definition of “political” seems to be “anything that we disagree with or that criticizes our choices”.

There’s something particularly craven about conrunners that choose an infamous GOH best known for his politically-motivated aggression towards others and then try to claim that all they want is apolitical civility.

The conrunners set a fire and then wept about how unfair it was when others commented that they smelled smoke.

When they say “leave politics at the door,” what they mean is “your politics must be left at the door; ours will define the tone and tenor of the convention.” And that’s their right — but they shouldn’t try to weasel out of accountability for it.

This post is, truly, not about the GOH himself. As I said, I’d have no idea who he was if he didn’t make himself a nuisance within larger SFF spheres, and I’d be happy to go back to forgetting he exists. This post is about the choices that conrunners make and the effects those choices have on attendees.

Many of the commenters supporting this GOH did what I’ve seen them do at other cons with other, similar GOHs in the past. “Just ignore him.” “Don’t go to his panels, then.” “You can avoid him.” “Just go and enjoy yourself, you probably won’t even notice.”

This places the burden upon the harmed rather than the one doing the harm.

I cannot enjoy a convention if, every time I enter a room, I’m wondering who in there is a potential threat to me. Who doesn’t want me there because I’m female, queer, pagan. Who doesn’t want my friends there because they’re people of color, or trans or nonbinary, or disabled, or anything else they see as not really part of the SFF community, as they would define it.

It’s not just the GOH. For one thing, he is not unique. There are others who operate with the same methods and have faced similar criticisms. So it’s not just him, and it’s not just them. It’s the flying monkeys they bring with them. It’s the tone of the convention. It’s the toxic atmosphere thus created. It’s how the presence of someone with an exclusionary attitude affects other congoers.

I’m lucky. I have other options for congoing. I have money enough to travel. Sometimes I even get invited to do so at someone else’s expense.

But for lots of SFF fans, their small, local, fan-run con might be their only opportunity to attend a convention, to gather with other geeks, to hear from the authors they admire. My heart breaks for those in Virginia who will either lose that opportunity because of MarsCon’s choices, or who will attend, perhaps not knowing what toxicity they’re stepping into or deciding the risk is worth braving it, and who will then be fending off an onslaught of aggressions, both micro and overt, all weekend.

Tragically, MarsCon will probably survive this just fine. What they lose in those of us who don’t want to enter a toxic environment, they’ll likely gain in the GOH’s flying monkeys. Certainly enough of them are crowing about it, about how brave MarsCon is to stand up to the woke mob. About how great this will be, and all cons should take a similar stand, for the sake of civility, because these snowflakes complaining are so intolerant.

I really rather want to shove an explanation of the paradox of tolerance under all their noses.

Honestly, though, it isn’t a surprise. It’s a culmination of what should have been apparent about this particular con a while ago.

I’ve attended a few times, but not in the past couple of years — not so much because of their covid policies themselves as because of the explanation I was given when I (privately) asked what protection measures they were planning for the 2022 convention. Not much, I was told, because if they required those things, people might boycott.

Ah. So you care more about making sure anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers feel comfortable to attend than doing the same for those of us who favor reasonable protection methods? Gotcha. Message heard.

This is also the convention at which this incident occurred.

The full story is there on Twitter, but the short version is: I was moderating a panel. An audience member made a shockingly racist comment. I cut him off, told him that was completely inappropriate, and moved on. He left the room. I was annoyed with myself for not doing more, for not getting his name so that I could give it to the con staff with a suggestion that he was, perhaps, not the sort of attendee they wanted to welcome.

I see now how very wrong I was. That guy was, clearly, exactly the sort of attendee that MarsCon values and seeks to protect.

And, y’know… If you want to host a convention that exclusively caters to the tastes of fans whose idea of what specfic should be calcified somewhere in the Eisenhower administration, who find the beautiful diversity of SFF storytelling threatening, who don’t want cooties getting on what they consider their genre, who don’t like the discomfort they feel when exposed to life experiences that have differed from their own… Then, this is America and, so long as you’re not plotting a crime, you’ve got the freedom of assembly and you can choose with whom you associate. You can choose to run a con for those people.

But just say that. Don’t put out false DEI statements. Don’t catfish the rest of us into giving you a chance. Don’t pretend all are welcome when you are deliberately creating a hostile environment.

And don’t pretend what you’re doing is apolitical.


The Aven Cycle Continues… Today!

Today’s the day! The Bloodstained Shade is officially out and in the world!

Book covers of FROM UNSEEN FIRE, GIVE WAY TO NIGHT, and THE BLOODSTAINED SHADE against a white marbled background

I’m so excited for y’all to read it. I’m incredibly proud of this book, not only for the determination it took to produce it, but also because… it’s really good, though I say it myself! I hope you find as much delight in reading The Bloodstained Shade as I did in writing it!

Here’s where you can get it: 

And yes, you’re reading that right — the book is available in both ebook and print format!

In case you missed the big announcement last week, the entire Aven Cycle (thus far) is back out in brand-new paperback editions, featuring their gorgeous new covers. The matched set is definitely lust-worthy.

Paperback editions of FROM UNSEEN FIRE, GIVE WAY TO NIGHT, and THE BLOODSTAINED SHADE, standing upright and overlapping on a wooden table

And if you’ve already ordered — awesome! Now help me spread the word to readers who don’t yet know how much they love the Aven Cycle.

Readers sometimes ask me where’s the best place to buy my books, if I get any more money from one retailer or another. In general, the answer is that it doesn’t make a ton of difference. The retailers with lower royalty rates tend to have higher volume, so it evens out in the long run. 

I will, however, always recommend asking your local indie bookstore to carry them, if possible. You can also request them at your local library! Or, use this link — then I essentially get to double-dip, since Bookshop gives me a li’l somethin’ as an affiliate.

And, because I just can’t help myself, if you haven’t picked up the e-copies yet, I’m having a this-week-only sale on From Unseen Fire and Give Way to Night! Just $0.99 at all your favorite ebook retailers, for a limited time.

As I’ve been preparing for this release, I’ve been giving a peeks inside the process over on Patreon and Ko-Fi! Here’s a round-up of what I’ve been doing on those channels recently: 

  • Sneak peek of the print cover From Unseen Fire
  • First pictures of the proof copies of the print editions
  • Book-bub ad testing and geeky data analysis
  • Mages of Aven microfiction — we’re up to 250 snippets!
  • A look at using AutoCrit to assist with editing

You can join on either Patreon or Ko-Fi and get access to the same member-exclusive content! 

My wonderful supporters are, truly, what have enabled me to get The Bloodstained Shade into the world. Patreon and Ko-Fi funds allowed me to commission that wonderful cover art, to put the books into print, to hire my amazing editor, and to put effort into marketing and promotion. I truly could not be more grateful.


New Aven Cycle Paperbacks

Three paperback books standing upright on a wooden table: FROM UNSEEN FIRE, GIVE WAY TO NIGHT, and THE BLOODSTAINED SHADE, all with Roman decor, dark backgrounds, and colorful filigree overlay

Joyous News!

The Aven Cycle is back in paperback! With its gorgeous new covers!

These editions are available through IngramSpark, so you can request them for order at any bookstore! Simply ask for them by title and author, or give them these ISBNs:

  • From Unseen Fire: 9781088078440
  • Give Way to Night: 9781088078488
  • The Bloodstained Shade: 9781088078495

You can also get them on:

And other retailers should be coming along soon — it just takes some time for them to populate everywhere.

Now is an especially wonderful time to order from Barnes & Noble, as they’re currently (Jan 25-27) having a pre-order sale! You can get 25% off either the paperback or ebook of The Bloodstained Shade (or both!) — and enjoy it next week!


Requiem for a Hellsite

I write this post knowing it could, at any moment, be rendered outdated in one way or another.

Twitter could crash entirely. Predictions are that it will sometime over the weekend, since there are apparently all of 3 engineers left.

Or, it could somehow survive. I’ve retained a hope that we’ll somehow manage to Roadrunner ourselves right off the cliff and onto a different plateau on the other side.

Either way, it’s all… concerning. And if you’re someone who spends most of your online time on Twitter, as I am, it’s been a very strange and weirdly painful few weeks.

We called it the hellsite, but it was our hellsite.

For all my complaints about it over the years — and my continued insistence that the internet peaked in 2007 — Twitter has been my home base for online community for a very long time. Many of its larger problems (ads, sponsored posts, the firehose of randos) were avoided by using Tweetdeck.

I say without exaggeration that my writing life would not be what it is without Twitter. I learned so much from following authors I admire and the craft threads they posted. I got windows into the publishing industry that just didn’t exist before — from agents reviewing queries and editors talking about the process. From other authors sharing their progress and pitfalls. I found my agent on Twitter. I found new conferences and conventions on Twitter. I found so many friends on Twitter.

If the site really does crash entirely, or loses so much functionality that there really is an exodus, I will mourn.

The big conversation the past few weeks has been: Where do we go?

People who are on Twitter — which, for all its outsized influence on media & communications on a global scale, is still a smaller platform than many of the other options — are there because we like words. We like text.

Twitter has always been easy to use. There’s a very low barrier. You don’t have to have graphic design skills. You don’t have to learn video editing. You don’t have to put on makeup and do your hair and have good lighting and figure out how to use a ringlight and set up a decent backdrop.

TikTok exhausted me. I gave it a good eight months, during which I was posting pretty much every day. Then, during camp season, I went cold turkey. And I discovered that I did not miss it. I think I’ve posted four times since the summer ended, and not at all since September. The idea of going back just makes me want to collapse in defeat.

Instagram? Well, it already has a bookish community, but it’s owned by another contemptible billionaire, and it’s also become functionally unusable in the last couple of years. I used to use IG a lot. But then they changed the feed so that literally every third thing you see is an ad or a sponsored post, and there’s no way around it like using Tweetdeck for Twitter. It’s also become impossible to get your posts seen without forking over cash — just like on Facebook.

Newsletters? Good for major updates, yes, but not good for conversation. No one wants their email inbox spammed with the little nuggets that Twitter was so great for.

I’ve seen some folks who are loving Mastodon, and I’m happy for them, truly. Some of them seem to really value having a smaller forum — especially those who had much larger followings on Twitter, because one of the definite downsides to that platform was that one you had a large following, you also attracted more trolls. So I can entirely understand the appeal of a cozy little common room where not just anyone can come yell at you.

The thing is… I don’t need Mastodon for that. If I want that, I already have it on a few small Discord servers, where I know and generally trust the people. Mastodon still has randos, and each instance is its own little fiefdom, and while they may seem cozy now… I’ve been around this here internet long enough to know what happens when those fiefdoms start to develop their own problems.

But it’s also just… too small.

I want the town square. I want the piazza, the plaza, the public green. I want the Forum Romanum.

This isn’t just about promotion — though that is an important component. Social media really doesn’t drive sales in any kind of direct way (publishers do that, when they choose to), but I think its indirect impact is larger than many people assume. One of the biggest advantages of Twitter has been getting to know other authors — and when my friends have books, I shout about them, and when I have a book, they shout about it. I’m more likely to buy a book my author-friends have shouted about. Twitter was a great place for us all to hype each other up and perhaps extend our reach a bit.

But the town square isn’t just about shouting. It’s about finding. It’s about wandering around and overhearing an interesting conversation. It’s watching the juggler, then meandering off to hear an activist standing on a soapbox, then joining a group all huddled around the same scandalous pamphlet.

That’s much harder when the conversations are silo’d off, as they are on Discord servers or Mastodon instances.

Most of the people I follow on Twitter are in some way related to the publishing world, but I don’t think it’s a terribly large majority. I also follow academics — many historians, of a variety of eras and cultures; some economists; some poli-sci folks; even a stray volcanologist. I follow activists and community organizers. I follow experts in fashion and lingerie. I follow wildlife conservation organizations and researchers. I follow people who just really love dogs.

And these people lead me to other interesting people. At the moment I’m writing this, I’ve just been introduced to a fascinating thread on Viking golems, because a writer I follow RT’d it.

I gather that this sort of thing can happen on Mastodon, but it seems rarer. Discoverability is so low that you sort of have to already know what you want to see.

I didn’t know that I wanted to know about Viking golems!

I write this on Friday, November 18th, and I am, for what it’s worth, dug in on Twitter. Nothing else yet has sufficient appeal to pull me away.

At the same time, I am a little excited for what comes next. I just wish it had had a chance to build up before this too-rapid collapse. But the internet has calcified over the past decade, and I don’t think that’s been to its good, or ours.

My hope is that something new will rise from Twitter’s ashes: a site that, perhaps, combines short-form and long-form; that relies less on data mining and algorithms; that protects its users from hate speech and abuse; that shows zero tolerance for bigotry; that allows the piazza to flourish. Something that corrects Twitter’s flaws — because they were many, despite the good use many of us made of the platform. Something that recognizes (as Elon Musk is currently learning, or would be, if he had the capacity to acknowledge his own errors) that the humanities are crucial to the survival of tech companies, because people are not, in fact, machines. Something that allows us to be people rather than content.

Something new will come. I hope it will represent change in a positive direction, and that the next phase of the internet will be better than its current shape.

Yes; I’m an optimist.


Cover Release & Pub Date: The Bloodstained Shade

The Bloodstained Shade, Book 3 of the Aven Cycle, will release on January 31, 2023!

And it has a magnificent cover, designed by ebook launch.

Isn’t that glorious? I’m madly in love with it.

You can pre-order The Bloodstained Shade now! On most platforms, at least. Kindle-only readers will, unfortunately, have to wait for release day, because Amazon does not play nice with other distributors.

In other news, I’m now on Substack! I’ve migrated my newsletter there, as Mailchimp was becoming too annoying to deal with, and I may end up doing other, more trivial communications there as well, if I end up liking it.


Giving Good Panel

With in-person conventions back (if often in modified form), I’ve had the opportunity in recent months to think about what makes a panel fun and interesting both to be on as a panelist and as an audience member.

If you’re attending cons as a writer, you’re selling yourself and your work. It can be a great opportunity to reach new readers and develop relationships that can be fruitful in the long term. The exact procedures and best practices can vary by con, as some are more formal than others, but on the whole, here’s my advice for giving good panel — which, for me, means being both engaging and considerate:

Practice (and tailor) your introduction

Introducing yourself at the start of the panel isn’t the time to go into your full CV or publication history. It’s not even the time to recite your full 100 word bio that’s printed in the program.

A good formula? “Hi, I’m [name], I’m the author of [most recent publication or series] and [something else relevant to your writing career]. I’m also [whatever your day job is, or if you don’t have one, mention a hobby].” Then, if there’s anything particularly relevant to the panel I’m on, I’ll mention that. I tend not to go into my background as a Shakespeare scholar, for instance, because that’s usually not directly relevant — but at RavenCon back in April, it was! I was on a panel called “Elements of the Fantastic in Shakespeare,” so it was good to establish my credibility to speak on that particular topic.

Keep the intro to your book or series brief — an apposition, just a short phrase. “I’m the author of the Aven Cycle, historical fantasy set in an alternate ancient Rome” or even just “I’m the author of epic fantasy series the Aven Cycle.”

Something else relevant to your career could be mentioning another book or series, particularly if you have a sizeable backlist. It could be mentioning that you’re a cosplayer, that you write for a fanzine, that you’re also a vendor, whatever. For me, it’s generally mentioning Worldbuilding for Masochists.

Practice this so that you know what you’re going to say before the panel even starts. You don’t want to sound like you don’t know what you’ve written!

Two women in masks sitting at a long table
Me with Marie Brennan at ArmadilloCon 2022

Try to give actionable advice

If you’re on a writing panel, your audience is interested in the craft of writing. Many of them may be writers themselves, whether they intend to seek publication or not. So don’t just talk about what you’ve done; tell them how you do it. Break it down into chunks that could apply to anyone doing this kind of work, not things that are so idiosyncratic to you and your own work that they’d be hard for anyone else to mirror.

For instance, I was on a panel about creating magical systems. We had a question about what to consider when developing them. So I broke it down into three simple things: the source, the cost to the mage, and how it fits into the society around it.

All of those three things are places I can go a lot deeper, of course. Thinking about the source can mean deciding if your magic is divinely inspired, rises from nature, whether there’s a finite or infinite amount of it, whether it’s innate or can be learned. The cost might be literal or more figurative. The societal considerations might cause you to ask how common magic is, how it relates to religion, if a career can be built off of it, etc. And we did go deeper into some of those ideas. But when the moderator or an audience member asks “How?”, I try to keep the initial answer simple and brief.

That’s important because it keeps things nice and clear for the reader, but also because you need to…

Be mindful of time

Every panel seems to have at least one guest who talks for three times as long as anyone else. Maybe they’re arrogant. Maybe they’re oblivious. In either case, it’s not kind either to the audience or the other panelists.

So, be aware of how long you’re speaking! I know some panelists who prop a clock up in front of them, giving them an easy way to track how long they’ve been talking at a quick glance.

Don’t feel like you have to get everything in. You may have a lot to say! You might be able to fill the whole hour on your own! But that’s not the point of a panel. Be careful, too, not to belabor a point. You don’t need to reiterate the same idea four times in slightly different words; make the point, then stop talking.

If you’re nervous about going on too long, practice ahead of time. If you know who your moderator is going to be, email them and ask if they have questions prepped — or, just take a guess at what some questions on your topic are likely to be. (The panel description might help you out there.) Then, set a timer and practice answering. This can be helpful just to get you comfortable knowing what talking for thirty seconds, one minute, or two minutes feels like! (It’s not nearly as long as you think). And, really, that’s the range you should be aiming for.

In a fifty-minute panel, most moderators have six to ten questions prepped, though I’ve been on panels where either the conversation was good enough or someone bloviated enough that we only got through three or four. Rarely do you actually get to ten. So, let’s say six — Well, at least 5 minutes at the beginning and a few at the end are gonna be introductions and wrapping-up. If you want to get through six questions, that’s seven minutes per question, and at least one of those is probably going to be the moderator asking and explaining it. So, six minutes to divide between panelists. If there’s only two or three of you, you can go on a bit more. If there are five of you, less so!

A short, pithy answer is also going to be more memorable to the audience than a long meander.

Don’t give a full synopsis of your book

One way to make sure you’re not going on too long? When you’re talking about your own work, keep it brief.

You want to give the audience the flavor of your book, enough that it might pique their curiosity and make them follow-up by taking your card, following you on social media, or — glory of glories! — actually purchasing your book.

A detailed synopsis isn’t going to do that. They haven’t come to have a book report read to them. So don’t give them plot point by plot point. Don’t even give them the jacket copy. Give them major concepts and themes.

So, for example, when I’m talking about the Aven Cycle, I don’t get into the specific moves and countermoves that the characters are making; I talk about how the books explore power and agency in a complex world and about how I love the intersection of magic and socio-politics. Let the audience hear the big picture things that make you excited about your own work!

I also recommend not mentioning your characters’ names. For the most part, the audience is not going to retain that information. Just say “my protagonist,” “my antagonist,” “this great side character,” “the love interest,” etc.

Three authors sitting at a long table
Me with Lindsay Ribar and Mark Oshiro at Leviosa 2016

Spread the love

Don’t just talk about your own books. Yes, you’re on this panel because of your expertise, but it comes off as tedious and self-centered if you can’t seem to relate the topic to anything but your own work. Recommend other books that exemplify what it is you’re talking about. Pass along craft advice that you’ve received from other authors. Tell the audience where they can go to expand their horizons.

And, of course, I advise being mindful about who you’re recommending. I’ve sat next to a lot of older white dudes who don’t seem to have read anything new since 1990, so that’s all they can rec. It’s highly predictable, and it’s not really helpful for anyone in the audience hoping to be published. They need to be investigating the genre as it exists now. I intentionally recommend authors from marginalized communities as often as possible, and I try to keep those recs very current. I’ll only dig back in time if I need to talk about something that was formative for me or for the genre; otherwise, I go for things that were published within the last few years.

Listen to your fellow panelists

It’s super easy, when you’re on a panel, to fall into the trap of just waiting for your turn to speak, practicing your own answer to the question in your head. This is particularly true if you’re nervous. But do both your fellow panelists and yourself the solid of actually listening to them!

For one thing, they’re here for a reason. They’re going to say smart things, and you never know who might be your next great read, critique partner, podcast guest, or just good friend! And you won’t find out if you’re not taking in their words.

For another — and this is, admittedly, a paneling preference of mine — conversations are more interesting when there’s some interplay between the panelists. Now, not all moderators really allow for this. Some are very strict about one person answers, then the next, then the next. But the best panels I’ve been on have had some flexibility, and once everyone’s at least had a chance to talk, allow for some chitchat between panelists. I was on one at ConCarolinas where the conversation was so great that forty-five minutes passed and it felt like twenty.

It’s also wonderful to be able to refer to what someone else has said — and not repeat it! It’s always okay to say, “Yeah, I think [Other Author] summed that up perfectly” and then allow the panel to move on.

The panelists’ table is not authors’ alley

At many cons, authors and other creators will bring samples of their work to put on the table in front of them while they panel. It’s a mini-marketing opportunity, and it’s great if the audience can associate your face and words with your work right off the bat. Whether this is commonly acceptable or considered crass depends a lot on the con, though. I find that the more academic or professional the assembly, the less likely people are to do this. It’s a lot more common at fan cons, where it’s generally accepted that everybody’s trying to sell something.

What you don’t want to do is usurp the entire table with a display of all your books and other knick-knacks. This isn’t the vendor room, and chances are good that anytime someone bumps the table, something’s going to fall over.

I typically have one book and a stack of my postcards with me. I’ve invested in a couple of solid stands so that I’m not trying awkwardly to prop a book open. (I use these). And I usually wait to see what other folk are putting out before I do one, both, or neither.

Let them know where to find you

Most moderators will give all the panelists a chance to close out with a mini-pitch for themselves and their work. If you’re going to be on other panels during the con, it’s great to mention that; if you have a table in authors’ alley or the vendor room, point the audience there; if you’ll be hanging in the bar and are open to random folk coming to talk with you; if you’ll be at karaoke or a dance and want people to hang out with; if you’re leading a tabletop game — all of those things are great to mention! If the audience is digging you, you want to be able to build on that connection.

And, let them know where to find you post-con. I used to try to rattle off my website and socials, but now I just tell folk to come up and grab a card, since that has the QR code for my LinkTree on it. Then they don’t have to try to scribble anything down or memorize a handle.


News for the Future of the Aven Cycle

This month, I have had the utter joy of returning to the world of Aven in a deep way for the first time in quite a while.

Since finishing drafting The Bloodstained Shade last September, I really haven’t done much with the story. Not much new, anyway. I did some polishing on From Unseen Fire before the relaunch back in the spring, but that wasn’t deep work. In May, however, I set to the task of finding a developmental editor for Shade (Cameron Montague Taylor, whose praises I intend to sing quite thoroughly whenever I can, and whom I heartily recommend to self-pubbing authors in need of editorial services), and a couple of weeks ago, I received her notes on the manuscript and editorial letter.

I have so much enjoyed digging into them. The tribulations of the past year have been, I have to confess, somewhat disheartening, but getting feedback from someone invested in and excited by the book has really re-energized me. I’ve remembered how much I love this world and its characters!

I’m hoping I’ll be able to announce a release date for The Bloodstained Shade soon, once I’ve assessed how long I think the remaining work will take me. There’s less to do than my anxiety feared, I think, but a fair bit of heavy lifting will be required to strengthen the bits that currently droop and to maximize the potential of some character arcs. Once I figure out how long that’ll take, I’ll announce a date, get a cover made, and set things up for pre-orders!

What I can definitely announce now is…

The Bloodstained Shade will not be the end of the Aven Cycle.

“But Cass,” I hear you inquire, “I thought this was a trilogy?”

Well. Yes and no. It was initially acquired by DAW as a trilogy, but even before From Unseen Fire was out, we were talking about expanding it to at least four books. My second editor wanted to call it the Aven Quartet rather than the Aven Cycle for that very reason. The contract for the fourth never manifested, however, and y’all who’ve been following me know what else followed (and those of who you follow the SFF publishing industry closely may now also have a clearer idea of why). With the reins firmly in my own hands, though, I get to make the choice! And that choice is definitely that The Bloodstained Shade is Book Three of Four.

The biggest reason for this is that it allows The Bloodstained Shade to be a stronger book on its own. Cramming in conclusions is something I actually tried, early in 2021. It was a mess, and it made me miserable. So I stopped! I wrote a book that tied up some major arcs but left some threads dangling for my future use. After getting feedback from my new editor, though, it’s clear to me that I need not only to tie those threads up, but to let readers of Shade know that Book Three is not the end.

I will be upfront with y’all now: I have no idea when Book Four will come out. I have pieces of it blocked out in my head, but I have not written an actual word of it (beyond bits that were initially stripped out of earlier books and will get reconfigured). I haven’t even started a Scrivener project or anything. I’m working on an entirely different manuscript that I will finish before I turn my mind back to drafting anything new for the world of Aven.

The good news is that I am feeling fresh, reinvigorated, and ready to put in a lot of work on my entire writing life. I’m also going to be starting a new full-time job in August, and I’m so excited for that transition. While on the one hand, full-time work might seem like it would leave me with less time for my writing career, I genuinely think it’ll be a boon. I’m going to have stability that I haven’t had in ages, and the job itself is one that I expect to keep me engaged with my creative side and in touch with my imagination. I’m hoping to get all my gears aligned to be more generative in the coming months than I’ve been able to be for a long while.

Thanks to all of you who have loved this story! I look forward to giving you its continuation.


The Queen’s Ball: A Review

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Bridgerton Experience: The Queen’s Ball! And while I enjoyed myself, I…. also have Notes.

While there are a lot of highlights, I confess that I don’t really feel like I got my money’s worth. If you’re thinking about going, well, maybe this will help you decide. I went to the DC location, and I am someone who also works in immersive theatre, so my observations are coming from that perspective. Some of the things I would do differently would also cost more money — but considering how much Fever is raking in from this, I think their profit margin would still be fine. Other things are easy fixes that would cost literally nothing.

Please note that there will be lots and lots of spoilers below. If you would rather attend the Queen’s Ball entirely unspoiled, click away now!


The DC location was… not great. It’s at a sound studio in the middle of a warehouse district. When that news broke a few months ago, people questioned it, and the Bridgerton Experience IG assured us that it would be beautiful. Something about “easier to build up and create something new”.

They… sort of did that. There are lots of stage elements that look great. The wisteria walk going in is as beautiful as it looks on social media. But it’s impossible to avoid the knowledge that you are in a giant black box. The floor is unimpressive. The walls are unimpressive except for the few spots where they’d draped curtains or put up a set piece. The lighting is really not very flattering, which is odd for something where you know people are going to want good pictures of themselves.

My group paid for VIP tickets, which got you a prosecco and a special seating area. The seating area is only for the floor show, however, and they’re not actually great seats — you’re really far from the action. I didn’t use it at all. I wish we’d had access to it earlier, though, because juggling a purse, phone, ticket, scandal sheet, gloves, and drink got very challenging for all of us. Just having that little table to put things down on while we explored would’ve been great.

The location is also 15 minutes from the nearest Metro stop, through a part of town that would not be great or easy walking even if you weren’t wearing a ballgown. You pretty much had to either drive yourself — which, driving in DC, no thank you, plus we were all in from out of town — or pay for a Lyft. (They had valet parking for people who drove, but I have no idea if it was included in the ticket price or not, since we didn’t do that).

This all meant that there was not a real sense of occasion as you approached. I feel like more could’ve been done to spruce up the entry area, but really, I wish this was in a hotel like the LA and Chicago versions of the event. This just felt cheap. The moment of entry — and, for that matter, the process of re-entry to the real world — is an important component of crafting an immersive experience. This one misses the mark.

You can’t do it all

For something billed as an “experience,” I expected more time to soak it all in. I would’ve loved the chance to luxuriate in a lush fantasy atmosphere.

Instead, we found ourselves chivvied along every step of the way. We arrived about five minutes after the doors opened but ten minutes before the show officially “started.” As soon as we stepped into the wisteria walk and started trying to get photos and video, one of the event staff was trying to shoo us along. It wasn’t like we were holding up a line — the walk was plenty big enough for all the people who wanted in at the time we were there.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see why this staffer was being pushy. She was trying to communicate that there was not enough time to do everything in the room itself. But that, in itself, is a problem, and feeling rushed right at the start did not help me feel like I was sinking into the world.

A group of women in fancy dresses

One of my easy fixes would be to print the schedule of events for the evening on the Lady Whistledown Scandal Sheet that you get handed as you come in. It would be so easy and cost literally nothing, and it could’ve clued us in to the fact that you really do have a very short amount of time in the first room, which you don’t get to come back to once the floor show starts.

We got in and first decided to stand in line for another photo op. I sort of wish we hadn’t — it wasn’t that great a photo op, because the hanging beads obscure everyone’s faces, and standing in line there was time we could’ve better spent elsewhere.

Know that if you go, you will likely have to prioritize what you want to do. I prioritized the scandal scavenger hunt and dancing, which meant I missed out entirely on getting a fancy portrait, and I had no real time to look at any of the costumes from the show that were on display. I had friends who stood in line for the portrait, so I know how long a wait it was. They told me later that the set-up there seemed inefficient, too. There’s only one person taking the portraits, and then you go to an “easel” to customize it — but if you take more than one shot, like a group shot and and individual, you’re taking up two easels rather than sending both of your pictures to the same one. This is, I’m guessing, why the line moved so slowly.

As for the scavenger hunt… honestly, that was a big let-down. I love things like that, but this one felt severely underbaked. You followed a set of clues, starting with the Whistledown scandal sheet. Each clue sent you to a new card with a different symbol on it, in a different part of the room. Well. Sort of a different part of the room. Most locations actually had multiple cards at them. The idea was that you’d ping-pong back and forth, I guess?

A card with clue information on it, stuck in a false window

But by that point I was catching on to the idea that we were short on time, so I just… took pictures of all the cards at each location and was going to assemble them in my head, rather than wasting time running back and forth. Except then I figured out pretty quickly which was the last card in the sequence. It tells you to go to a certain location and give a password, which I did — and the lady there just…. revealed another card essentially saying “good job.” It would’ve been a lot more satisfying if they’d had, like, little enamel pins or something for people who got to the end of the clue-chain.

Partway through this block of time, the Queen enters and everyone has a chance to make their curtsey or bow. This is when she starts selecting potential Diamonds. Those who impress her get handed a card as they leave. I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do to impress her with your curtsey, because none of the five women in my group got a card! I even tried twice, because Lady Whistledown’s sheet suggests it! — but no dice. She was having none of me. There’s a Lady-Whistledown-esque voiceover narrating things, which is pretty funny to listen to. The Queen doesn’t speak at all, which is a bit boring for someone used to Renaissance faire interactions.

Eventually a Lord Something-Or-Other appears to show off for the Queen, then he leads a short Regency dance. Unfortunately, while I desperately wanted to participate, I couldn’t hear a word he was saying. If you weren’t one of the couples at the top of the line, you just sort of had to guess and try to follow along as best you could. This seems like an easy fix — the Queen was no longer watching curtseys at that point, so why not have the not-Whistledown voiceover give the dance instruction? Then everyone would actually be able to hear it.

After this (and I think this was about at the halfway point of the evening, so 45 minutes in that room), the Queen exits and focus shifts to the next room. We realized then that we hadn’t gotten the drinks included with our VIP tickets, so we dashed to the bar cart to claim those — and there were, again, event staff getting really pushy with us to get us into the next room. We didn’t realize until later that you couldn’t go back to the first room once you left — I guess they started cleaning and resetting for the second performance of the day then. I wonder if we would’ve felt so rushed along if we’d attended the later time.

The floor show

This is absolutely spectacular. The performers were beautiful dancers, full of life and personality.

Dancers at the Bridgerton Ball

I liked that this portion of the evening alternated between “watching” and “doing.” It was really great to watch super-talented people creating something beautiful! But I am also someone who likes doing — particularly in an immersive environment! That, to me, is sort of the point. I’m not there just to observe; I’m there to be a part of things. So I was delighted that there were group dance portions, too.

The dance was simple, more modern than Regency but still with some historical flourishes, and, this time, I could actually hear the actor calling it. No idea if people further down the line could, though, but she was doing her best. And I’ve done that, at Ren faires and special events and conventions. It’s hard. It takes a good sense of the rhythm, an ability to give directions crisply and quickly, and unflagging energy. This woman had just danced for several minutes herself and was about to dance several more, so major kudos to her for managing to also lead us through something fun.

Lady Whistledown’s sheet advises anyone who hopes to be the Diamond not to be shy on the dance floor, so if that’s something you’re aiming for, get out there! Participate in the group dances, claim a moment in the center when that opportunity arises, and look like you’re having a good time.

You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here

All the parts of the floor show together lasted about half an hour, I think? Then the Queen named her Diamond and it turned into a dance party.

For fifteen minutes.

And then the event staff were back to chivvying us. I totally understand why! They needed to clean and reset for the 9pm show. But it was still less-than-optimal. Getting pushed along by guys in black polos just doesn’t feel special, y’know? And an immersive experience should feel special.

This is another place where the location is a let-down. At a fancy hotel, you could continue your evening! Stroll through the lobby, get drinks at the bar, wind down while still feeling fancy. Instead, we were in a dimly lit parking lot having difficulties securing a Lyft driver.

In summary:

This might’ve been worth the $45 regular ticket. It was definitely not worth the VIP ticket. My biggest wish is that the event was just longer. Honestly, three hours would’ve been great. You could have music playing for more of the time but also allow for more exploration.

Honestly, I’d have loved if the scavenger hunt were more involved and more difficult, too — like if there were other actors you had to get information with, or puzzles to solve, not just following a series of cards. You could also use that, frankly, to push people to the other places to spend money! Have certain clues that you can only get by talking to the bartender or the modiste, and I bet people would buy more while they were there.


Newly Amended and Improved

Today’s the day! It is Rome’s 2,774th birthday, and in honor of the Eternal City, today is the day that the new e-book editions of From Unseen Fire and Give Way to Night are released into the wild!

You can acquire them from your favorite purveyor of digital fiction* at the hot-hot price of just $2.99 each.

*The Kindle version may be slow to appear, because AMZ chooses to be difficult if you upload through a third party rather than through them, but it will be there soon if it isn’t at the moment you see this!

Why am I calling them “newly revised and improved”? Well, it’s mostly a joke. Early modern books would put that on the cover to sell second editions of their quartos. Sometimes the revisions really were substantial, as when Q1 Hamlet became the version most people know today. Sometimes… enh, not so much.

What’s the case for the Aven Cycle? Well, From Unseen Fire most definitely is amended, augmented, and, I think, improved! I trimmed over 6,000 words from the final draft! And… you won’t miss most of them. A lot of that was tightening verb forms — getting rid of extraneous “had/were/was” constructions — and trimming clutter. Amazing how much of that bloat there can be in a manuscript!

I would remiss not to mention the software that helped me do all of that, AutoCrit. It is genuinely such a helpful tool to help a writer think about choosing the best, strongest words. I’m really loving it, and I’m looking forward to using it on my books in the future!

I also did trim a few full paragraphs out of From Unseen Fire. Not many, but there were a couple of places where I bounced into the head of a character who I once thought might’ve had potential to grow, but who never ended up developing into a full POV, or where I foreshadowed something that will never come to fruition. It happens! And one of the advantages afforded to me by these strange circumstances is the chance to go back and tweak, which many authors never get a chance to do.

So, like I said, it’s probably not anything you’ll even notice if you read the first edition of From Unseen Fire and decide to revisit the story in the new e-book edition, but I hope it will make for a more satisfying experience, even if subconsciously. Give Way to Night, I pretty much left alone, as it was a tighter book to begin with. I learned a lot between 2011 and 2018, as it turns out!

I would really love for these new editions to have a solid re-launch, so if you have $2.99 to spare, or even $5.98!, I would be thrilled and delighted if you bought a copy.

Thanks to everyone who’s been so supportive as I’ve careened my way through these rough waters!