Scalzi at Vroman's

Tonight Derek and I went to Vroman's 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 over-saturated 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 resonates 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. 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 people, 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, but I was very happy to meet him.

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 not disappointing. 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Scalzi read to the crowd, not from Lock In, but from an unpublished work; a treat, he said, for those of us who made the effort to come to the signing.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 just 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 the book'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. I wanted to raise my hand and say, "Seconded!" Now here's my confession: To date, I have not read any of John Scalzi's books. I plan to, but I went to the signing tonight because I have read his blog and followed him on twitter for years, and everything he writes in those venues 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. 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.

Finally, it was time to get in line for the signing. 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.

So 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.