I did not wake up this morning thinking that there would be anything special about today. Months ago, I completely forgot Book Con was even a thing because I knew it wasn't happening. This morning, I happened to see on Facebook that they were doing Digital Panel discussions all day today. I only saw the event posts for a few and thought, whatever I'll check them out.
Little did I know, I was going to have the most inspiring, thought provoking, mind blowing day.
I had no idea what to expect, having never attended any sort of con before. And, of course, I understand this is not the typical situation for a con, but I still had an amazing day.
I started the morning with a really interesting panel discussion by a group of five women of color who all write some sort of super-hero/sci-fi/fantasy books for kids. Most of them were specifically writing within the confines of someone else's property. Two of the women were writing Marvel books, one was writing an overwatch book, and most of them said they had written within the Star Wars Universe, which I had never even really thought about what it is to write within someone else's world. It's sort of like fan-fiction that you can actually make money off.
Anyway, this was a fascinating start to my day with these five very intelligent women talking about things they wished had existed in books when they were kids. There were so few people of color in the comic books and stories they liked reading. And even fewer women of color. All of these author's are writing books now that feature girls of color, which is awesome. This was a serious, yet light hearted, discussion of how representation matters. I loved that they talked about how there's no reason to de-politicize kids books.
And they are so right.
Next I listed to a panel of five author's from Tor books, which I am probably biased towards Tor because I am obsessed with Writing Excuses and most of their books are published through Tor, but I was really excited. I hadn't read books by any of these particular authors but they talked a lot about how you can use fantasy books specifically to incorporate a lot of lessons people need to learn in the real world. I really want to read V.E. Shwab's new book when it comes out. It sounded awesome. They talked about the inclusion of race issues, sexual identity issues, climate issues and more. It was really neat to hear what all their takes on these issues were and how they have used them in their writing.
The third panel I listened to was a fascinating discussion about the inclusion of non-binary genders in YA fiction. This was a panel of all authors who consider themselves to be gender non-binary, and they talked about the different real issues that they face and how they have included these things in their writing. A very interesting take away was that they are super careful and worried about mis-portrayal of other gender situations than their own because they know what it's like when they are mis-represented. They talked about the importance of inclusion of all types of people in stories because representation matters, but that a white, cis-gendered, american probably shouldn't try to tackle the big issues that marginalized people are dealing with because they can never truly understand. But that it's still important to add these types of characters as other people in your books because these people exist in the world and they should exist in your world as well.
There were fascinating discussions about how it can be difficult to be Latinx and dealing with gender issues because in Spanish everything is gendered and it can be even harder to explain in Spanish that you don't align yourself with a particular gender when the language literally assigns a gender to everything. Or how it can be hard to belong to more than one marginalized group because you might feel somewhat excluded even within those groups.
The most powerful discussion I listed to was about teaching young people to stand up for what's right. These 6 YA authors tackled some awesome things in their writing from sexual assault, to racism, to activism. I found myself moved to tears a few times as these authors talked about the difference they were hoping to make by showing young people how they can make a difference.
A really interesting point made by two of the authors was about what teens can do. In their book, the teens ended up participating in a door to door campaign to make a difference in their community. They talked about how with Covid-19 happening today that isn't possible, so what else can you do. Teens have a loud voice to make a difference. Companies study them for marketing their products, they make things popular. The authors talked about the importance of speaking up on Social Media, and disagreeing with your bigoted family members even when it's hard.
The last panel discussion was another YA discussion about Epic Fantasy in YA. And yet again I heard over and over the message about how the youth is our future and these authors are doing their part to show what's ugly about the world in a way that will hopefully help young people see that they can make a difference. There was more great discussion about sexual orientation, and racism, and all these important topics. One of my favorite quotes (And i'm paraphrasing because I didn't write it down exactly)
Victoria Aveyard was talking about her Red Queen series and how many people tell her they don't like the books and feel like she is pointing too strong a finger at "a certain person" with her villain. And she has to remind them that her first book came out in 2012, many years before 2016. She also said that she is a huge history buff and that she based that character on Mossolini. She was like "I mean if you're making that comparison, well... maybe you should be looking at that..." She talked a lot about how weird it was because she started writing the books so long ago and they are a Distopian world and that it's getting harder to write them because she has less to "speculate" about how people would act because we're living it.
I have to say though, for me, the absolute best part of the entire experience was that because these were all Facebook Live videos, people could comment the whole time. And there were no negative comments. Even though people were talking about racism, and sexism, and the differences we need to make, all I saw in the comments were people agreeing. People asking what they could do to make it better. People thanking these authors for bringing to light things that really needed to be. People asking in the most sympathetic ways what the right way to go about doing things was so that they are helping, not hurting.
It was truly heartening to see that most of the world isn't as horrible as it seems. The horrible people just have louder voices.
I have literally never seen a video where people could comment like that where I did not witness one instance of anyone saying anything hateful to each other. I came out of these panel discussions itching to share what I learned about, itching to write about it, and itching to write my own fiction that can hopefully help in the same ways.
I can not wait for tomorrow's panel discussions, and I am seeing the silver lining in COVID that I am able to experience this at all. I never would have been able to afford the convention and I am getting to experience this all for free. And all the panels are recorded and watchable later, so even though they were happening simultaneously, I can watch them all!
I will leave you with this that my cousin shared on facebook.
I have privilege as a white woman because I can do all of these things without thinking twice:
I can go birding (#ChristianCooper) I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery) I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothamJean and #AtatianaJefferson) I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride) I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark) I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards) I can play loud music (#JordanDavis) I can sell CDs (#AltonSterling) I can sleep (#AiyanaJones and #breonataylor) I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown) I can play cops and robbers (#TamirRice) I can go to church (#Charleston9) I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin) I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (#SeanBell) I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant) I can get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland) I can lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile) I can break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones) I can shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford) I can have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher) I can read a book in my own car (#KeithScott) I can be a 10yr old walking with my grandfather (#CliffordGlover) I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese) I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans) I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood) I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo) I can run (#WalterScott) I can breathe (#EricGarner) I can live (#FreddieGrey) I CAN BE ARRESTED WITHOUT THE FEAR OF BEING MURDERED (#GeorgeFloyd) I can call the police for assistance and know I am safe (#RegisKorchinskiPaquet) White privilege is real. Take a minute to consider a Black person’s experience today.
I would like to use my privilege to make a stand.