Sunday, September 7, 2014

Scalzi at Vroman's

Tonight Derek and I went to Vroman's (link to tweet w/ pic) to see John Scalzi talk about his newest book, Lock In. I was anxious about this event for a few reasons: 1) My anxiety has been getting the better of me lately, a problem I credit to being socially oversaturated the past few weeks; and 2) I wondered if it would be better not to meet someone I've admired from afar.

People often say, "Don't meet your heroes." That resonated with me because Derek and I recently met an artist responsible for a huge, beloved photograph that hangs in our home. She told us about the creation of the photograph and afterwards, I felt a little let down, like I had been happier not knowing the technical details. It wasn't a huge disappointment, but I felt that by meeting the artist, I had made a preventable mistake, and I was eager not to repeat that mistake so soon.

However, I had already bought the Scalzi book earlier in the week, and I wanted to fight my anxiety by being brave. So I got dressed, put on my make-up, liked what I saw in the mirror, and off we went.

By the time we arrived - 10 minutes early - the event was standing room only (link to tweet w/ pic - I'm in that cluster in the back left). I didn't mind because I actually had a good view, and I was standing next to shelves full of fancy soaps that smelled like heaven, and I ended up, through some stroke of serendipity, standing with "the cool kids". John Scalzi entered the event space through my cramped corridor and he stopped to talk to several friends, all of whom were standing close to me. He gave Derek and I a brief, puzzled look, perhaps wondering if he knew us, too. I assured him that he didn't know us, but I was very happy to meet him.

So what was this particular hero like in real life? Well, shorter than I expected. When I read Scalzi's tweets and blog, I picture him as this wizard-of-oz-type floating head, issuing tweets like decrees in a booming, amplified voice. Seeing his normal-sized head on shoulders was a little weird, but nothing disappointing. Beyond trivial details, he was more cheerful than I expected, humbled by how many people were there and by how many old friends and schoolmates had come to see him. In general, he walks an artful line between confidence and humility. This was definitely going better than my introduction to the artist.

Scalzi read to the crowd, not from Lock In, but from an unpublished work; a treat, he said, for those of us who made the effort to come to the signing. I had never seen an author do this before. The result was fantastic. He read a whole chapter, and he had my attention completely. As he joked afterward, the chapter was about a conversation between four people sitting around a table, yet the dialogue was so engaging and clever that I wanted to hear what came next!

Finally came the Q&A. He got some good questions about what inspired him to be a writer (encouragement from teachers and friends + the realization that writing gave him a voice he might not otherwise have), whether he'd write more books in the world of Lock In (that depends on Lock In's success), and whether he could talk about the TV shows and video games based on some of his earlier works that are currently in production (a producer there stated he could not).

One woman who was called on admitted that she didn't have a question. Instead, she wanted to thank Scalzi for the topics he tackles on his blog, saying that his words meant a lot to her. This resonated me with deeply. Here's a confession: To date, I have not read any of John Scalzi's books. I plan to, but I went to the signing tonight primarily because I have read his blog and followed him on twitter for years, and everything I read makes me admire him more.

In the midst of the recent misogynistic chaos plaguing the gaming world - neck-beards threatening violence against female gamers and those who speak up about the way women are portrayed in and excluded from gaming - people like Scalzi roll their eyes and shout that the men who oppose female voices in gaming are being sexist, plain and simple. Scalzi admitted that he has several advantages which allow him to say such things with impunity. He's male, white, straight, and respected in his field. He does get backlash when he supports people like Anita Sarkeesian, but the backlash he gets is, "I'm not buying any more of your books," a consequence which does not bother him because he knows he has plenty of other fans who will. He knows that if he were a woman and did the same thing, the repercussions would be far worse, probably along the lines of what Anita and others like her are facing now: threats of violence beyond the scope of what most people would believe.

In the interim between Q&A and signing, something happened that bothered me. Derek and I ran into an acquaintance we had met at another book signing months ago. I was happy to see him, but I wasn't happy with how the conversation went. He talked to Derek about the tech world, the space program, etc. and asked some half-hearted questions about what I do. I said that I was writing and then he asked me if I'd read a certain book. He told me the author and claimed it wasn't an obscure title, but I had to admit I didn't recall ever coming across it. And then he said, "Well, that just tells me you know nothing about fantasy."

The book I'm writing now is not fantasy; it's YA science fiction, yet YA and fantasy and sci-fi are all worlds in which I feel supremely comfortable. Hell, I have an Elvish tattoo on my back. I've not only read The Silmarillion, I've read it multiple times and I can tell you that my favorite book in it is Akallabeth. Mists of Avalon is one of my favorite books, and I can tell you the mottoes of every major house in A Song of Ice and Fire.

Yet - based on one title I haven't read - I know nothing about fantasy?

I hardly feel the need to argue that the world of fantasy literature is large and diverse, full of sub-genres and countless titles, all of which carry different values to different readers. Most people I know don't read as much as I do, but when they tell me what they do read, I always try to react positively, because at least they're reading something! I might make a recommendation for something else I think they'd like, but even if they said to me, "I like 50 Shades of Gray, so I'm really into romance," I would not react with a comment like the one I heard tonight. I would understand that this person may not know a lot about the romance genre - maybe they haven't read a single other romance book! - but I would not quiz them or lecture them or shoot down their excited claim that they're really into romance. (As I side note, I didn't even tell that acquaintance tonight that I read fantasy. He must have made the assumption that by writing any fiction at all, I must be a well-read expert in every genre . . . *facepalm*)

My general view is that if people are reading ANYTHING, that is GOOD, so I do not like this dismissiveness when it comes to single titles or authors. I know from being a teacher that discouraging a kid from reading a book they like may discourage them from reading for the rest of their lives.

- end rant -

I was relieved when the acquaintance left and it was time for Derek and I to join the signing line. Given that it was Vroman's, the queuing process was very civil. We picked out Christmas cards while we waited and when we reached the front and John signed my book, I barely summoned the courage to tell him that I, too, appreciate what he writes online, and that I'm glad he uses his voice the way he does. Not at all an eloquent speech, but he seemed to understand me, and to Anxious Dani, that's called success.

In terms of John Scalzi, meeting my hero did not at all diminish the admiration I have for him. It DID make me determined to finally read some of his books.