Monday, August 31, 2015

A Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. Anderson

There's this thing Diana Wynne Jones books often do: Magic in the everyday. Determined characters who remain optimistic despite the odds against them or the darkness lurking in the corners of their world. Characters like Eric Chant of Charmed Life or Sophie from Howl's Moving Castle.

R.J. Anderson's A Pocket Full of Murder is also one of those books. Steeped in magic in the everyday and featuring a protagonists who have adventures and fun even though the stakes are high and their lives are far from perfect. In the city of Tarreton spells power the lamps and the economy, while talkie plays air on the crystal sets and nobles ride about in carriages. It's a deftly-crafted world (based on Toronto) that allows for explorations into class and racial tensions around a well-constructed mystery plot with two loveable detectives.

A Pocket Full Of Murder takes a few chapters to build the world and introduce Isaveth. Her small business of spell-baking (SPELL-BAKING!) provides a grounding counterbalance to the murder mystery plot while guiding the reader through this new world. Alternating between the adventure and her responsibilities helps pace the story and endear the reader to the other members of Isaveth's family. By the end of the novel, you'll feel less like you've read about someone and more like you've made a new friend.

As for the mystery: Isaveth's papa has been accused of murdering a prominent member of Tarreton's academia. The evidence is an old argument between the two and the use of Common Magic. She's certain her father can't be responsible, and she teams up with an eye-patch wearing streetboy named Quiz to solve the crime and bring the real culprit to justice.

I appreciated how Isaveth is a capable character with a keen determination to do her best, but she also faces self-doubt. She's more than a kid detective trope; she's a real person. She cares for her family, explores her faith, and hopes one day to be a famous author.

Quiz is... well, he's ridiculous. He's also my favourite, because I love a trickster character. Anderson has managed to write one that balances being mildly suspicious without ever being cruel, and that adds to the kindness and hope that underwrites the story. The way that he and Isaveth interact and the growth of their friendship is one of my favourite aspects.

Another is the Lady Auradia talkie-play that runs as a side-plot through the book—what serves as part of the initial bonding for Isaveth and Quiz—and acts as a quiet commentary on how characters (historical, fictional, fictionalized, or otherwise) inspire us. Anderson has sprinkled samples of the story Isaveth is writing about Lady Auradia  throughout A Pocket Full of Murder, and when things get tough Isaveth wonders what Lady Auradia would do. It's a great extra layer that adds to the story without detracting from the mystery plot.

A Pocket Full of Murder is perfect for young or young-at-heart readers who are looking for some magic to go along with their sleuthing. It'll be available on September 8, 2015 at your local indie bookstore, Indigo.caAmazon.ca, and Kobo.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Lair of Dreams (Diviners 2) by Libba Bray

I loved Libba Bray's The Diviners, so I was thrilled when HBG Canada offered a chance to read Lair of Dreams early. If you're a fellow Diviners fan who's been eager for the follow up to Bray's historical fantasy of 1920's paranormal shenanigans you'll agree that Lair Of Dreams is the berries.

Part of what I admire about Bray's historical fiction is how she takes what is occasionally a cumbersome, dry genre and uses the right details to evoke the setting without the reader getting lost. In her capable hands, early 20th century New York glitters with rhinestones, reeks of speakeasy gin, and crawls with hungry ghosts. Like all great fantasy, these books are more than just vacations to the past. Lair of Dreams may be set in the roaring twenties, but it's very much about the America of now.

Keeping the story relatable and relevant to today's readers, NYC is revisited—and a little creepy crawly reinvented—to discuss issues of race and class disparity that still exist within the country today. It's disheartening to read about the popular eugenics movement and the growth of the KKK months after Bree Nelson climbed a flag pole, but this is why we need the reminders. To remember this isn't ancient history; it all happened in the past 100 years. And it's not over.

The core story of Lair of Dreams focuses on Ling Chan, Henry DuBois, and Sam Lloyd with frequent check-ins by the rest of the ensemble cast. Ling and Henry are both dreamwalkers—Diviners with the power of lucid dreaming and limited abilities to affect dreams. Handy that, given how a sleeping sickness is plaguing the city. The Diviners had a genuinely disturbing antagonist; Lair of Dreams has its share of horror scenes, but the book is far more psychological.

While we follow Evie through her radio razzle-dazzle and all night parties, the dark creeps up from subway tunnels. Amid the fear and uncertainty of the sleeping sickness, evangelicals gain strength. Shadowy government oversight lurks the streets. Project Buffalo grows ever closer to Team Diviners, while Sam tries to uncover the connection between this wartime secret and our protagonists. Weaving through it all: The dead, and the dangerous King of Crows.

Lair of Dreams, much like The Diviners, is ambitious and epic. For the majority of it, Bray's deft hand keeps a tight rein on all of the plot threads. While it does take about half the book before the concurrent subplots pull together and run in the same direction, I believe it only felt like it was a lot of pages because I've become more accustomed to shorter novels. If you also sometimes feel daunted by higher page counts, don't let that discourage you. Lair of Dreams is worth it.

Within it there is a serious, true discussion about the notion of the American Dream living alongside the disillusionment of the Lost Generation. In Lair of Dreams, you can see our well-known boom of internet stardom recast as the rise of radio stars. And fame costs something. All of the artists in this book are struggling: Memphis runs numbers for Uncle Charlie while composing poems; Theta reinvents herself to gather attention for a Folles show; Evie clings to radio success despite the physical pain it causes her to read objects.

Henry DuBois is the main throughline of this theme. His struggle to get his songs published, including his constant comparison to more popular artists who he perceives to be less talented, is recognizable to many of us. Lair of Dreams asks how does he continue his songcraft amid pressures to commericalize? Should he compromise his artistic integrity to fit the popular trends? What kind of life can he have with the art he wants to make?

While Lair of Dreams doesn't tidily answer those questions, it reminds us that we aren't the only ones asking them. This is a book about doing the hard work and seeing reality for what it is when it's much easier to get lost in dreams. Is there a reading here of this being about depression? Abso-lute-ly. But let's dig a little deeper.

One of the first sleeping sickness victims known-to-the-protagonists is courted into a vision of wealth and acceptance, lured by the promise of the American Dream. We can extrapolate how the plague is the danger of a nation dreaming away about being rich and famous rather than facing the reality of racial inequality and class disparity. Some of the smoothest, most resonate writing in the ARC is when the omnipotent viewpoint discusses America as a whole. Is America itself a hungry ghost or just a nation built on them? The American Dream has been a key underlying theme to The Diviners series.

Lair of Dreams is an emotional gutpunch. It's a book about dreams, and what they cost, and the harm that's done when the Shadow-side of things is ignored for too long. It is not by accident that Bray features a sit down with Jung himself. Everything about this book is crafted. The key to unlocking the mystery of the paranormal plaguing the city is also the key to unlocking what the characters are plagued by: An inability to feel they can be fully themselves.

Everyone in this book is repressing/hiding something or depending on something to cope with the reality of their lives. But the characters with solid arcs—Ling, Henry, and Sam—each reveal themselves and confront their shadows. The other characters? Well, we have a sense that reckoning is on its way. (THE KING OF CROWS IS COMING, Y'ALL.)

I also adored Ling and her viewpoint into the aggressions against the Chinese community. How she struggles to make her Diviner power live in the same space as her love of science and rational thought. The way she so perfectly compliments Henry, and the growth of their friendship.

There are romances between Sam and Evie, Theta and Memphis, Jericho and Mabel. Jokes. Spooky monsters. Optimism versus nihilism as an approach to dealing with life. The more I think about Lair of Dreams, the more I find that's brilliant.

Go shine a light on those dark corners. Take a vacation to the roaring twenties with Lair of Dreams. Diviners assemble!



Thank you to HBG Canada for providing the eARC. Libba Bray's Lair of Dreams is available at your local indie bookstore, Indigo.ca, Amazon.ca, and Kobo.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Notes from a year named Kindness: August 8

This week marked my fourth year anniversary of coming to Toronto. I spent three and a half years of my mid-twenties living in Los Angeles, and then a little over three back in my hometown in British Columbia, so this is now the longest I've lived in the same city as an adult.

Earlier this year, a couple friends moved away; one was heading back to BC after 10 years in the Big Smoke. So I was thinking about leaving. I had another year on my lease, but maybe it would be time to try living in Vancouver after that. It was closer to my family, and I'd made a valiant effort to do what I came to Toronto for. Arguably, the thing that had brought me here had run its course. (The entire time I worked for Indigo, I was always thinking about leaving. Mostly because I confused what living in Toronto meant with what working for Indigo meant. They weren't yet separate states in my head.)

Four years ago today I was jet-lagged and starting my first day of work as someone with social media officially in her job title. I had this plan to stay there for a year and learn everything I could then I'd get a job with a Canadian publisher. (Which was ambitious, because the job contact I had at the time was only for six months.) I had no idea how anyone got a job working for a publisher, but I knew I needed to be in Toronto to do it.

Then life went the way it went. Earlier this year, I realized that I didn't want to work in publishing anymore. (I want to publish eventually—when the writing is ready and I find the right agent and editor.) Publishing wasn't going to give me what I wanted. More importantly, it wasn't going to give me what I needed. The work I would end up doing for a publisher if I was hired in marketing, I'd already done via my last job.

I left that job to move forward with my life—ok, I left so I could have a life. But when I went to apply for jobs, I was still looking at ones I wanted four years ago. I'm more than qualified now to work in any publisher's marketing department, and they'd be lucky to have me. I could do those jobs easily. Eyes closed. Half asleep. But there's no future in living like that. That's not forward.

A year ago I was really struggling with this. With what you do when you don't want something anymore but it feels like everyone keeps telling you to feel grateful for having it. I guess it's like any other time someone tells you that you have to care about something just because they do. It's not actually how it works, but that's harder to see when you're standing in the middle of it.

This year, I struggled with where walking away left me. It's more difficult to be around some people, because there are certain kinds of conversations that it's not yet healthy for me to be a part of. Which makes it harder to find things to talk about with those people, because the old standbys don't work anymore. And I'm not always able to make the effort to find something new to discuss. (I'm hopeful that there will be a time when talking about Whatever Publishing Did This Week won't wind me up. It's aggravation I don't want to carry anymore.)

It's a challenge to answer "what next?" when you left behind the dream job. I've never been part of a community as an amateur and then gone pro and then stopped being pro and had to decide what kind of interaction I wanted to continue to have with that community. It's not a story that we tell very often, and that lack has influenced all the fiction I've written this year. It feels like I spent a lot of time drawing maps other people shouldn't follow.

But what I finally fully realized is that it's a hell of an endeavour to uproot your adult life and regrow a support network in a new city. It's more work than I have left in me to keep doing every three to four years. And I like Toronto. I enjoy living here.

So forward. Forward looks like I stopped applying for publishing jobs and started applying for social media roles outside of that industry instead. Because I'm not who I was four years. I like myself better, and I want more from life.

Not being who I was four years ago was why I didn't stay at a job I accepted back in late April. It would have been much easier if I had, because it was income. It was a short-term contract, so I could've toughed it out... but I spent a year toughing out a job I didn't want to do anymore because it was income. What I learned from doing that is it's never a good idea to weather a shitstorm of someone else's making if you don't have to.

So I've been second round searching for about three months now. I'm selective about what I apply for, and my application to interview ratio is high enough that I know my resume is impressive. I write cover letters that sell me to prospective employers. It's going to be a matter of finding the right place, but for the first time in over a year I feel like I will.

Also, I applied to the Toronto Arts Council and the Ontario Arts Council for literary grants in June, which is something that I've been talking about doing since last fall. They're not options I can depend on at this point—I need a full time job—but they are a significant step forward with professional writing for me to take.

And I suppose that's the way we make those maps. Day by week by year. Forward. Whether anyone else should want to follow or not.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Top Five of 2015 (So Far)

Half the summer might be gone, but there's still time for beach/cottage/weekend reading. Here are five of the books published this year (so far) that I've enjoyed the most.

1. The Just City by Jo Walton (Thessaly #1.)
What is presented as a grand experiment involving the goddess Athene to recreate the Just City as described by Plato's Republic, is also a well-constructed narrative about consent as more than how it relates to sex. Walton's passion for the discussion and cast of interesting, relatable characters from throughout history—including Sokrates—make it a satisfying read. While the story does takes a few chapters of alternating viewpoints before it finds its feet, The Just City remains one of the best books I've read this year. ( Indigo.ca | Kobo )

2. The Apple Throne by Tessa Gratton (United States of Asgard #3.)
I still feel this is one of the best ends to a YA trilogy that I've read; I'll miss this world Gratton constructed. In The Apple Throne, she weaves together threads from the previous two novels and the three novellas to give us the fate of Soren Bearstar (everyone's BFF) and Astrid Glyn (the Lady of the Apples.) In addition to the conclusion of that love story, and updates on characters we've previously met, there's a new tale about the various kinds of strength young women have. The narrative reinforces Astrid's agency and its importance while valourizing kindness. (Amazon.ca | Kobo)

3. The Awesome by Eva Darrows.
A feminist take on Supernatural, this paranormal focuses on a Mother-Daughter team of monster hunters and celebrates being comfortable in one's own skin. Maggie Cunningham is loud, crude, and kind of a jerk—but she's got a good heart. This is also one of the few YA's that has a young women unapologetically owning her sexuality. There are so many books about boys on quests to lose their virginities, and it was long past time we got one that features a girl doing the same thing. (Amazon.ca | Indigo.ca | Kobo)

4. Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge.
Hodge's second book finds its inspiration in a mix of Little Red Riding Hood and The Handless Maiden set in an alternative history France (or a second world largely inspired by historic France.) Only Little Red is a member of the king's guards who hunt the wolves while bidding the time before they succumb to being them, and the Handless Maiden is a prince. Both seek to stop a magic dark forest the wolves serve from invading the kingdom. Hodge is one of the best at crafting intricate puzzlebox books; while the structure of this one isn't quite as tight as Cruel Beauty, Crimson Bound's mystery and reveal are expertly executed. (Amazon.ca | Indigo.ca | Kobo)

5. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan.
From Harry Potter references to royal residence facts, The Royal We is a love letter to the way we all get swept up sometimes in the doings of Will and Kate. This romance novel tackles and realistically portrays what it would be like to become a princess—the good and the bad of it. With complex characters you'll care deeply about and the Fuggirls's signature celebrity-culture commentary, it's a perfect weekend/cottage/beach read. (Amazon.ca | Indigo.ca | Kobo)

This upcoming fall is full of superb YA titles, many of which feature goats, so look for full reviews of what I've been reading early to come soon.

My unpopular opinion about free content.

Earlier this month, I happened to tweet that I had read and enjoyed Patrick Ness's THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE. Mostly this was to get the recommendation out quickly, so that I could take my time to do a more expansive review in the future.

Part of why I enjoy the book is that it discusses not needing to be The Chosen One. It refreshingly features a story about living a good life outside of the spotlight, which resonates a great deal with choices that I've made over the past year.

The tweet started I had a quick exchange with a former colleague who plans to talk up the book at every opportunity, and soon after the author favourited it, because I had tagged his account and he happened to see it.

Then someone I didn't know favourited the tweet. As I tend to do when random strangers come favourite things and it's not immediately clear why they're doing it, I clicked on the username. Found out it was a verified account and thought "a BuzzFeedUK staff writer who does book stuff favourited my tweet about a book." Then I thought how that would probably thrill someone who wasn't me. I mostly found it suspicious.

I find BuzzFeed mostly suspicious in general. I know that's a state of doublethink because it's not like I've never read or shared any of their stories. But when I read them, especially the complied/crowdsourced list ones, I always feel a bit...concerned about how they repurpose posts from other sites. It nudges awake that same instinctive response I have to raise my eyebrows whenever someone says "social media is public domain!"

Yes, what you say on social media is in public view. But too often when people are declaring things public domain, they're actually saying "But why can't I casually exploit people for free content? They put it on the internet!" This is not a new problem, either. Being old as the sun, I remember the early art theft days of DeviantART. It's one thing to share content; it's another to profit off it.

The only way BuzzFeed could thrill me is if they added "get permission and then notify people of use" to their company policy. (And replaced staff writers who wouldn't adhere to it.) That's unlikely, because it means changing a model that their business is built on. A company that made $100 million last year isn't going to fix what it doesn't believe to be broken.

Earlier this week, a follower messages me about being on a list. I click the link thinking she's written something and is letting me know she used my tweet. Nope. It's a BuzzFeedUK article about 35 Brilliant Books to Read This Fall written by the staff writer who had previously favourited my tweet. I'm not the only one; as I scan the the article looking for which of my tweets was used, I see at least ten other users have had their tweets included.

For thirty seconds I blame the writer for the death of ethical journalism before I take a deep breath and remind myself it's not entirely his fault. I think it's unethical to use other people's content without their consent to write your stories, but it happens way more than any of us probably realize. Who knows how many BuzzFeed lists I've had tweets in? It's not like they notified me, and I wouldn't have known about this one had someone else not pointed it out.

Given that Twitter doesn't have the technical capabilities (yet) to allow me to disable external sites from embedding my tweets without my permission, it falls to the writers of these crowdsourced pieces to ensure they have received permission to use the tweets and/or—if they don't believe permission needs to be granted—notified the users their tweet has been featured.

Favouriting my tweet does not grant permission to profit from the use of it on an external site. And he did profit, because he's a paid employee of BuzzFeed whose job is to produce these articles. Not notifying me that my tweet had been featured is additionally frustrating, because the follower who told me then also provides BuzzFeed free labour.

The question I had to ask myself was if telling this writer that I thought he had been a bag of dicks unethical would accomplish anything other than hand-delivering him hate. Given the current state of the internet, I decided if it garnered any response someone else would escalate it into an argument that diluted the actual issue. Yes, I could've emailed him. But he's not the issue; he's an example of the issue.

With respect to the fact he did as much as he felt ethically required to do when he favourited the tweet, I've left his name out of this post. Do me courtesy of not sending this to him or contacting him on my behalf in some mistaken attempt to "help" or because you need your daily hit of conflict.

Anyway. I did what I felt was the kinder thing for both of us, and I deliberately did not take a fight to his door. Instead I quoted the tweet that notified me so I could clarify that it had been done without my consent and I'd recommend reading a different book than the ones on the list.

I don't subtweet people. If I didn't bring someone the fight, it's because we aren't having one. (Also, I know people are just as likely to go look at the list anyway.) I trust you'll make your own decisions about what you read, because you're an autonomous human being. Maybe I make you a recommendation, but you're going to be the one who makes the final decision.

Not everyone is aware of the process involved when a site like BuzzFeed uses your content. My follower was surprised that I hadn't been asked. Also confused as to why I didn't think the writer using my tweet was a bad thing.

I invested several hours in reading the Patrick Ness book. I considered carefully how to phrase the tweet, because I included the author in it and I knew at least one member of the publisher's marketing department would see it. When I write about books, I've got my marketing hat on. I'm bookselling.

Writers—all creative professionals, really—get told that our passion ought to be compensation enough. That we should feel grateful if someone "showcases" what we've done. Some writers are happy to be showcased. Some writers review books with no intention of being showcased.

When I do a review, yes, part of it involves a love of that book. But I also get to practice my critical analysis skills. If it's an early review, I probably received an ARC from the publisher or author. Getting to read the book early is the compensation for helping to market the title. I'm digitally hand-selling it each time I message someone to recommend the book. I'm doing work.

I know how much authors appreciate what I do. I know how much publishers also appreciate it. I used to get paid to do this. Now I do it as a side-project. I'm grateful we all continue to work together. I'm also well-aware of how much work I'm willing to do without financial compensation.

This isn't about how BuzzFeed wanting to market a Patrick Ness book. It's about how I didn't agree to go without compensation for the part I played in it. Between me and the staff writer, only one of us got paid for that story—and it wasn't the person who invested the time into reading the book and then tweeting about it.

When I tweet a review to an author or a publisher, I've given implied consent for it to be used. I didn't tweet to this BuzzFeed staff writer. I wasn't answering his ask for crowdsourced opinions. I didn't use a hashtag he created to collect book reviews.

I don't subscribe to the notion that just because I put content on the internet means you are allowed to profit financially from the use of it without even notifying me you've done so. But there are people who do. There also people who haven't thought about or questioned it, so they don't understand why anyone would have a problem with it.

I guess the TL;DR is if being showcased by BuzzFeed is on your bucket list, good luck and godspeed. However, being exploited by them was never on mine.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

What makes a good community manager?

In an interview last week, I was asked what I thought was necessary to being a good community manager.

First: I think you have to be good with people. (And if you're not great with people, you should at least be willing to learn how to be better.) The internet is made of people, and if you aren't good at relating to others or working with them, then you're signing up for a struggle. Because it's people work, done over social media, day in and day out.

Each month we see examples of brands/people misstepping on social media and receiving a giant backlash because of it. Making a mistake when you're the voice of a brand carries a weight that making a mistake as a person doesn't. It's why one of the first things community managers learn (or get taught) is when not to engage. That's more than just knowing how to listen to people and evaluate what's being said, it's understanding which conversations aren't for the brand. There's also a ratio of responding/not responding, and it's not a one-algorithm-suits-all kind of thing. (That's why brands employ people to make those judgement calls.)

However, when brands are tagged into conversations and legitimate concerns are presented... it becomes a brand reputation risk not to engage. Not engaging can be seen as "not caring" or "ignoring" these legitimate concerns. A community manager learns quickly how to acknowledge people and make them feel that their concerns have been heard.

A good community manager puts out fires. Constantly. At the merest whiff of smoke, they're there to evaluate the potential issue. Stop it before it spreads, before the conversation mutates into something that has their brand attached to it but is no longer even really about what may have happened. Sometimes the difference between EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE and an even-toned discussion of how to resolve the concern is beginning a response with "I'm sorry you feel that way." (I am sorry people feel upset or have had a bad experience, because that sucks. Who wants to have a bad day if they don't have to?)

The degree of crisis management involved varies brand to brand, but it's always beneficial to be able to keep calm and remember comments received aren't personal. They're about the brand, and a community manager serves the community in order to preserve the integrity and good reputation of the brand. (Most brands also have commenting policies that help to protect community members—and the brand—from abuse.)

Second: The most important thing in your life is you. Or the best life advice I ever got from a job interview:

• First you take care of yourself.
• Then you take care of your loved ones (partner, family, friends.)
• Your job comes after all of that.

In service roles a large percentage of time is spent expanding energy on the needs of other people. To be generous of spirit, empathic, and professionally courteous, we have to take care of ourselves before we get to work. Eat well. Get enough sleep. Do things that make us happy. Live life.

But that's good advice for any career.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Let's have the talk about fandom and privilege

Earlier this week there was an interview with Cassie Clare and Maggie Stiefvater about dehumanizing authors. There was a point from Stiefvater about how hatred in her fandom isn't an issue of success. It's an issue of fandom. (That's rather paraphrased, so feel free to read the actual interview.)

It's a little horrifying that we don't stop and consider how toxic it is to normalize hating those who are successful. It's a shade of victim-blaming that gets a pass from a lot of individuals under the banner of dismissing anyone who has perceived privilege. Which only works if you subscribe to the belief that oppression is entitlement to dehumanize—and let's be clear, I don't subscribe to that belief. (Perhaps it is my privilege to believe that if one is going to disagree with someone, do it fully aware they are a person.)

For the sake of this discussion, let's posit that it is incorrect to normalize hating those who are successful. It creates a false hierarchy, in which we marginalize ourselves. We give power to successful people and then we hate them for the power we gave them, so we're awful to them as some sort of attempt to re-empower ourselves.

Why would we fall into this self-created trap?

Fandoms are pre-packaged social groups. It's an easy, instant connection over a shared interest. Meaningful connections are difficult to make, time is hard to find, and we are conditioned to accept easy solutions because they take less effort and are therefore less risk. If we identify as socially awkward and/or lonely people, this ease is that much more important. We're starving for the sense of community that fandom promises.

If the fandom we identify with hates an individual, then we also feel pressured to behave in this way. Especially if you've come to that group for acceptance and feel they are the people who best understand you. Risking not behaving as a group member could see you ostracized. When you're lonely, being left is the worst possible outcome. We contort ourselves to avoid it.

A toxic fandom forms from the mindset that authors and creators are Authors and Creators. They exist outside the group; they cease to be considered a group member. When this happens the creator isn't interacting with individuals within a group; the creator is interacting with a group. Unless influential members of that group adopt the requested behaviour, the situation won't change because the person asking for it is viewed as an outsider—a privileged outsider.

I grew up in various fandoms. I've had both personal and professional interactions with them. I've had the experience of being both a creator and an appreciator. Please note that I said experience and not privilege. It was part of my job to interact with the "famous" people of the book world—and it's not a privilege to do your job well. That's what a paycheque is for.

I left that job with suitcases full of scene points—the imaginary currency of status among fans. Whatever they might still be worth is the only reason I'm bothering to post a discussion I was content to have offline with friends. (I am leaving it to their discretion whether or not they wish to join this discussion online.)

If you got lost in the metaphor: I don't think I'm the influential member of the group who needs to say this, but I don't know who they might be. I also don't hear anyone else saying it.

I've worked two Cassie Clare events. I've seen firsthand how well she treats the people who come to her signings. I've also worked with Maggie Stiefvater and seen how giving she is to her readers. She treats us like people. Thus, I react very specifically when I see she is having to ask to be recognized as a person.

There's a distrust of people who are employed in publicity, because we're paid to be professionally enthusiastic. It's difficult, especially in a digital setting, to know if the genuine enthusiasm is being recognized among all the marketing. In a way, it's like when fandom has an edict of unquestioningly supporting anything the creator does. It doesn't build sustainable relationships, because people are going to make mistakes.

The other issue of fandom and publicity/marketing—a discussion unto itself—is that fandom is commonly used as publicity. When possible businesses reward fans (usually referred to as influencers) with perks like early access to items/events or access to creators and other exclusives. It's an acknowledgement of the work being done for the business. (If influencers are paid, then let's consider them marketers to keep the terms clear.) Many fans who aren't influencers—yet still actively promote books/movies/merchandise—exist as unpaid publicity.

While there can be an underlying resentment from some fans, an influencer has a safe kind of status. They're elevated in the perceived hierarchy, but they're still a member of the group. It's a specific kind of privilege where you're often protected from what creators endure, and people often look to you for behavioural cues.

The privilege of my marketing position—or any position like it—was imbued by people who thought the access my job gave me should carry status. So here's the inside of that: It doesn't mean anything more than we make it mean. The fame most authors have is entirely restricted to their fandom. It's a personally meaningful thing to interact with someone who has created something you love. If you're surrounded by people who also love it, then the event appears to carry a greater meaning.

My point: Toxic fandom reinforces among fans the very privilege it punishes creators for. Access to creators and attention from them gives fans status. But if those fans become creators, then they have to fear what will happen if they are perceived to no longer be a fan. I know someone who lost friends after she published because she was then viewed as an Author instead of a person. When I left my job, I feared people would stop being my friends. (Spoiler: They didn't.) Toxic fandom, like all toxic systems, lies to you. It tells you that need it. That you're either part of the group or an outcast.

We as a digital culture are embroiled in some serious and much-needed conversations about privilege. Legitimate conversations about systemic issues in our society. But when we hijack these conversations to use privilege as permission to be awful to people, we are still stuck in the thought-process of these toxic systems.

When a group of people wants to say Cassie Clare was a bully in Harry Potter fandom so she deserves getting bullied by her own fans—that's victim-blaming. Should she have to disclose if she treated people poorly in the past? No, because it's dismissive of the experience she is having now. Let me translate this for you: It doesn't matter what she was wearing or where she was walking or how many guys she smiled at before—she didn't ask for it. The fans who are being abusive have the agency to choose not to be abusive.

Harassment is abuse. I'm tired of hearing people claim that discussions of abuse can only focus on specific systemic issues. We are able to have more than one conversation without it diminishing the importance of the multiple things being discussed.

Of course, that's another problem of toxic fandom: The inability to be more than one thing. Because the group demands your complete attention it fosters this mindset that everything is a zero-sum game. If you're talking about the dehumanizing of Cassie Clare and Maggie Stiefvater, then you aren't talking about spreading false allegations against John Green, and if you're decry the false allegations against John Green then you're ignoring the need for diverse books or the abuse those marginalized authors have each day.

Bullshit. It's a big world. There is room in it for all of these conversations. They don't cease to exist if they fall out of the trending topics. You can participate in all of them. You can participate in some of them. You can participate in none of them. That's the power of individual agency.

I realize the new social norm is to diminish our pain because someone else's suffering is perceived to be greater. But it doesn't logic. Allowing people to use oppression as privilege creates a system based on suffering. A system based on suffering is not a healthy one; it's the same issue of inequality with new wallpaper.

Social media is trembling with the underlying fear of someone saying we are privileged. It is damaging our abilities to make any real progress, because we have people who are using privileged as the new mean. "This person is so privileged, isn't that awful? Let's publicly shame them!" You are not automatically a terrible person because you are privileged, and you are not automatically a wonderful person because you are marginalized. People are more complicated than that.

Look at the social consequences of Rachel Dolezal, who marginalized herself for access to opportunities. Privilege is a nuanced and complicated discussion. It requires critical thinking beyond the simplicity of rigid binary systems. Which we can't do in toxic fandom, because we are so afraid of saying something that cause us to be abandoned by our peers.

Also, much of our social media wasn't built for nuance. It was built to be nimble and highly reactive. Twitter limits how much can be said in a single tweet. Tumblr minimizes the ability for users to directly interact. We classify into groups because it helps give a sense of order to a place that is only beginning to examine how to govern itself. So we punish others for not behaving as we believe the group should behave—without recognizing there are multiple concepts of what the group's good behaviour should be.

Do you see how big this is? I'm sorry, but if you want to be serious about intersectionality and addressing systemic issues then we also need to build better systems in fandom. Social Justice has a fandom, too.

My concept of good group behaviour is that someone I know never has to clarify all she is asking for is to be treated like a human being. My concept is that no one in the group should ever have to ask for that, because it should be basic human behaviour. But I understand that is not the concept shared by everyone. When I say that fandom is why I can't have nice things, this is what I mean.

The answer to this is not pick a side and try to yell the loudest. That doesn't resolve conflicts. It just enables toxic fandom. We also can't expect the creators to fix this for us, because that's still treating them like they god-like abilities.

My answer to this is to continue to interact with people like they are human beings—to talk to them like they are more than a common interest or a thing they created. I also need to critically examine the things I love, pull them apart and put them back together to see what I can learn from them. I don't insist anyone else do that. All I ask is that we respect we each have ways of enjoying stories.

The only agency I have over the world is to govern myself and ask of others what I would like them to do. It doesn't sound like much, but it's a place to start. It's forward instead of this loop that toxic fandom insists is the best we can do.