In 2014, I set a goal of 50 books for the year, and managed 34. When discussing our reading goals for the following year, I set it at 100, because I am clearly insane. I trailed behind pace for most of the year, but with a massive push to the end and helped by a bunch of middle grade and the fact that paperbacks of collected comics are 1) listed as books on Goodreads and 2) available at my library, I hit the goal.
So am I gonna do it again next year? Hell no. I’m setting a more reasonable goal of 60 for 2016. A pace of a book every 3-4 days is certainly doable… if you’re reading consistently all year. But I tend to go in fits and spurts and books that required close reading (like Perdido Street Station), that were a slog to get through (like Strangers on a Train), or were simply longer than I anticipated (like Winter) further threw me off. And I wasn’t just reading short books, I was eschewing several long books that I wanted to read but knew I couldn’t fit into my schedule. (Someday, Seveneves.) Plus, while it’s certainly possible for me to read most books in a single sitting these days, the practical effect of staying up well past midnight for several nights running is not pretty, especially when one’s first alarm goes off at 5am. The balls-out pace was certainly fun just to say that I did it, and even factoring in all the short books I still read significantly more words and pages than I had done for a long time, but I don’t see a need for a repeat performance.
Now, out of curiosity, I decided to break down the demographics of the stuff I read this year. I’ve professed in the past my support of the We Need Diverse Books movement, so I figured I’d take a look and see how my actual reading shapes up.
Spoiler alert: It’s not pretty.
The 100 books I read came from 55 writers (and 11 comic artists). When I went through the demographic groups, here’s what I found:
Women: 30 writers, 5 artists
Gender non-binary: 1 writer
People of color: 5 writers, 6 artists
Women of color: 4 writers, 2 artists
LGBT+: 7 writers
LGBT people of color: 1 (Hi, Malinda Lo!)
Disabled: Big fat 0
Repeat authors: 7 women, 8 men
Repeat LGBT+ authors: 1
Repeat authors of color: 0
(I should slap a big fat disclaimer that I gathered most of the demographic data from quick scans of Wikipedia pages and Twitter and Goodreads bios, so it’s entirely possible that I’ve miscategorized people who, say, are light-skinned but don’t identify as white, or who don’t have their sexual/gender identities thusly listed. Hell, my 1 repeat queer author, Victoria Schwab, is someone I only know of as bisexual because I follow her on Twitter. So it’s possible that my numbers might not be quite as dire as I think. But they’re still pretty bad.)
I’m clearly doing okay with female authors, which doesn’t surprise me much given my preference for YA, fantasy, and female-driven comic properties like Ms. Marvel and Lumberjanes. But on other fronts? I’ve been talking the talk, but clearly not walking the walk.
So whether I end up reading 60 books, many fewer, or many more, I’m making the commitment that at least half of the books I read will be from authors in these underrepresented categories. It’s not like I don’t have tons of them on my TBR list, especially since I started seeking out recommendations for them, so now I just need to actually make a point of reading them. This doesn’t mean that I’m rejecting authors from majority groups, more that I need to consciously seek a balance, paying attention to the voices that I’m absorbing and amplifying. Awareness of the issue is good. Doing something about it is better.
On Friday and Saturday, I attended ConQuesT 46, a long-running local Kansas City convention that I heard about for the first time this year, despite having lived in the area for going on four years now. (Advertising in the Planet Comicon program was a good move.) I’ve only really attended big industry cons in the past; hell, SDCC was my first one, which is kind of saying something. So this is probably the most intimate con I’ve ever attended, which I dug.
A few thoughts:
- The programming was really densely packed. The schedule was organized in hour-long chunks, and each panel ran pretty much from the top of the hour to the bottom. But this leaves no time at all between panels, and that’s a real problem. People were coming and going constantly during the panels, which could get really distracting (especially when panelists were running late). One panel going over in a situation like that has a cascading effect that messes with everything else after it. Most of the panels were on the same floor, but not all, and the elevator situation was kind of a mess. There was very little chance to grab water or take a bathroom break if you didn’t want to miss your programming. And honestly, spending six straight hours in panel discussions is draining as hell even when the panels are all great. If they’re going to stick to a block schedule, I’d have preferred to see the panels limited to 50-55 minutes rather than going the whole 60. Speaking of which…
- Moderation was kind of hit and miss. Some mods were great at keeping things on track and keeping any one panelist from dominating discussion, but for the most part (especially on my Friday panels), things had a tendency to wander. Stronger moderation might have also prevented a couple of unfortunate situations where a random dude in the crowd basically decided that he was on the panel, including talking over the designated panelists. Perhaps some sort of survey system would help the organizers identify who their best moderators are and leverage that information in the future.
- I attended eleven panels over the course of the two days, and every single one was mixed gender! Gender representation on panels is a well-documented problem in the industry, and it seemed like the organizers made a conscious decision to combat that. There was also a clear harassment policy and a phone number for reporting that was listed on the back of every badge. These don’t seem like huge steps, but they’re very important components of making a convention feel safe and welcoming, and the folks in charge deserve recognition and commendation.
- Other kinds of representation, on the other hand… I was really glad that there was a black dude on my final panel, because room after room with just white people was getting a bit awkward. That might be a function of it being a smaller con in the Midwest, so to a certain extent they have to work with who they can get. Still, I’d love to see more development and outreach in that area.
- I was really surprised by the hospitality on offer. As I mentioned, I’d never been to a hotel con, so it wasn’t until opening ceremonies the first evening that I heard about the Consuite, a giant room with couches and free food. My husband had opted not to attend, but said he might have changed his mind had he known about the room parties (which weren’t mentioned on the website). I ended up spending quite a bit of time chilling in Consuite on Saturday when I needed a breather or a sandwich. Definitely a perk of attending a smaller event; no way something like that would be possible for attendees at SDCC.
- Story in a Bag was great! At a convention largely based on writing, it’s nice to have an opportunity to, you know, write. I may be a little biased toward it, since my story, Model Operative, was one of the winners in the sci-fi amateur division. Also, immense gratitude to the Lawrence NaNoWriMo contingent who brought a printer and kindly let me use it, because no one would have been able to read my atrocious handwriting.
Overall, it was a lot of fun. I took loads of notes at the panels and got some good ideas I’m looking forward to applying. I’m definitely planning on going back next year. (Which, given that KC is getting Worldcon and I’m very likely going to New York Comic Con, is going to be a pretty busy year…)
So, we’ve survived the A-to-Z Challenge! This was my first year, and I managed to pull off the whole thing more or less on time, with only one slight cheat to the schedule (taking a break day on a Friday instead of the Sunday). I found some interesting new blogs, picked up some Twitter followers, saw a huge jump in site traffic, and have a couple dozen essays I didn’t have before.
So it was a pretty good first year. It’s also going to be my last year.
This is not an indictment on the challenge itself. It’s a great idea and a great community, and definitely something worth trying. This is a solid case of, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
For one thing, my posts are long. I deal in analysis, which means cited examples and explanations. I almost choked when I saw that posts for the challenge should be 100-300 words. I mean, that’s barely an introduction! My posts averaged about 700 words or so, and I clocked in just over 18,000 words of posts for the month. That is a lot of words. The process of writing a post–figuring out what my point actually is, sourcing all the links, putting together images, etc.–takes an hour or two, and that’s not counting revisiting the source material if I hadn’t watched it recently.
There’s also the fact that April is kinda busy for me. Of 30 days in the month, I was traveling for 10 of them. So getting ready for the trips and actually being on the trips demanded a lot of my time and attention. I had fully intended to spend my downtime on vacation reading, because I have a ridiculous Goodreads goal for the year and I’m 7 books behind schedule, but I barely got any in because I was spending so much time on blog stuff.
The shit is this?
And that’s just on my own blog. Visiting other blogs? Forget it. I was pretty good about it for the first week, but once vacation prep kicked in there was just no time. I mean, I can barely keep up with my own stuff as it is. My Feedly backlog is so huge that the unread counter has stopped talking to me. That’s not a joke. I did add a few new blogs to my Feedly for the challenge, but they’re a small percentage of the (presumed) total.
As for leaving comments, it’s just not my thing. For one, I only comment if I feel like I have something substantive and original to add to the conversation. Part of why I consume this stuff through RSS is that that need is a very rare occurrence. For another, I’ve never gotten the hang of following an actual conversation on a blog post. You can subscribe to comments, but that ends up with a whole lot of spam on popular posts to see if someone has responded to me (which they usually don’t). I much prefer something like G+ or a forum where I can see all the relevant updates in one place and it can feel like an actual conversation. And I’ve been around the internet long enough that the lesson of “Don’t read the comments. Ever. Seriously, just don’t read the comments. Why did you read the comments? What did I just say?” is pretty deeply rooted in my brain.
I think what I’ve learned from this experience is that I’m not actually a blogger. This thing exists so that there’s something resembling content on this site, and so I can do something with the observations and theses my media studies brain can’t help producing. Perhaps I do need to keep to a stricter schedule, but daily is right the hell out. Balancing my time between myriad projects is a continual struggle for me, and this challenge created a massive time sink that I couldn’t afford.
I don’t regret participating, necessarily. I’m proud of what I accomplished this month. But if anyone ever suggests that I sign up for another blogging challenge, my response is going to be, “Hahaha, no.”
Today, the people participating in the A-Z Challenge are sharing with the world their theme for the month. So, here’s mine…
Literary analysis of books, movies, and other media with an eye toward advice for writers!
Eagle-eyed regular readers will recognize that this is otherwise known as the theme for every other month on this blog, and you would be correct. However, regular readers will also know that my usual posting schedule is “Mondays when I can be arsed,” so daily posts are going to make life a little interesting.
So howdy, new people! You may want to check out the Blog Disclaimers page, which tells a little about what I do hereabouts. Posts will be long, occasionally sweary, and spoilery as balls. Or you can wander through some of my older posts, where I’ve discussed topics like Captain America, ultra-violent fairy tales, and why I hate the phrase “strong female characters.” And if you like what you see, be sure to hit up the subscription options on the sidebar so you can get notified when the schedule goes back to normal.
I have a blog post percolating, I swear. I actually have several percolating, about Captain America and Jack Sparrow and the Jungle Cruise and the merits of writing reviews. (Those are all separate topics, before you go getting any ideas.)
However, there are two reasons why I have no new post today.
Reason the first: I am participating in CampNaNoWriMo this month (yay!) and am rather behind (less yay).
Reason the second: Apparently the combination of Tylenol PM last night and caffeine this morning has resulted in Jitters O’ Doom.
So coherent thought isn’t really a priority at the moment. I really am trying to set something of a normal schedule with this blog, but trust me, we’re better off this way.
For the last few weeks of #saturdayscenes, I’ve been sharing bits from the first draft of Chaos Theory (my version of Alice in Wonderland) as I mull over what to do with it.
Recently, I decided that one of the things it needs is to eliminate the current protagonist, because it’s just not working out. It’s not you, darling, it’s… No it’s basically you. While most of the other characters and a lot of the ideas are still sound, this means that the actual draft I’ve got so far is now pretty much unusable for a cohesive novel.
But it’s perfect for sharing delightful little snippets! To that end, I’ll be posting all of the good bits (and there are some really good bits) of the current incarnation, right up through where the draft ran out. This means I have to go back and add a couple to the current progression, starting today. They’ll go up weekly over on my Google+ profile. I’m discontinuing the blog updates for Saturday Scenes in favor of adding them to the shiny new Fiction section of the site after they’re posted to G+.
Also, I am thrilled to announce what is becoming a rather large project will feature illustrations from the fantabulous Laura Toivola! You guys, I absolutely cannot wait to show these to you. They’re seriously amazing.
Just wanted to get all of this administrative stuff out of the way. Actual snippety goodness can be found here.