Japan Day 15: Akihabara, Ikebukuro, and Nakano Broadway

Tokyo is a mecca of shopping districts, divided by subway and train lines, thrown up around major stations and sprawling like monstrous octopod extensions of the skyscrapers that house them. In an effort to find everything you seek, you may tromp back and forth, up stairs and down escelators, through the metro and across the Chuo and Yamanote lines…

So here I will give you a comparison of the super-meccas of anime/video games, because everyone has heard of Akihabara, but perhaps you have not seen or heard of Ikebukuro or Nakano Broadway–and both of those may prove more interesting and fruitful in your search.

We shall start with Akihabara, which I have covered in part on a previous post, but I’ll touch on it briefly here.

Akihabara is a major stop on the Yamanote line. It is home to Electric Town, and if you walk out of the JR Station from the Gundam Cafe side, you will see before you staggering towers with Sega, Apple, Sony etc on them. If you walk out past the Gundam Cafe you’ll find the seedy electric flea market area off a distance to your right. The area is filled with bins and shelves crammed with electric devices that might be of value to someone. Many older computer parts and lots of shops with $100 laptops that probably weren’t more than $250 new. Buyer beware, because even the cheap stuff will garner a profit. If you want cheap cables, I advise trying Amazon (if you have a Prime subscription) rather than surfing through these bins. But you might find rare camera parts, and patience will net you some interesting treasures.

Aside from this, Akihabara houses at least a dozen shops at ground level (and more higher up) that are exclusively dedicated to figures and “character goods” and cards. In Akihabara you can find a lot of the most current and popular animes and games. And that’s just about it. If it’s not One Piece or Gundam you aren’t likely to find anything older than the last couple of years. Even Sailor Moon is only around because of the reboot they’re releasing, and you can’t find much Final Fantasy or anything else around. Lots of Jpop stuff, though. The shops are fairly well split into appealing to “girls” and appealing to “boys.” And maid cafes are everywhere. Almost every building has two or three. I reviewed Queen Dolce in my last post about Akihabara, but most of the cafes target guys and involve girls in costumes serving drinks. A large and popular cafe is inside the building right in front of the station.

Akihabara is the place to spot lolitas, the place to wander around and be ignored by the cool kids. It’s the popular anime destination, but also a madhouse of teenagers, especially on the weekends.

Move on to Ikebukuro, a major stop on the Yamanote line.

Most people don’t realize that Ikebukuro hosts any anime shops at all. It has lots of big shopping right outside the station, and is also home to Sunshine City, a big shopping mall with absolutely zero geek merchandise. But it does have a large Tokyu Hands (DIY for geeks of all types, really). And if you walk straight out from the station and past the Sega sign for a crane game arcade, you’ll find the largest An!mate store in Japan (and arguably the largest anime store in the world). THIS location has a floor dedicated to each kind of interesting shopping, from the bottom floor with series snacks, to the 4th floor with doujinshi, to floor 5 with figures and keychains and everything else series related (and Kingdom Hearts/Ghibli/Final Fantasy goods galore) all the way up to the 8th floor. If that wasn’t enough, the “old” An!mate store around the corner and down a couple of blocks now houses 5 stories of cosplay goods. They only have full costumes from newer series, but loads of wigs, makeup, accessories, etc.

Dispersed between An!mate the new and An!mate the old are a series of KBooks satellite stores. Rather than renting 9 stories of a building, they have 9 main-floor shops that split out each category including CDs/DVDs, figures, character goods (like pillows,   folders, etc), manga, doujinshi, etc. And right next to the old An!mate is a store called Mandarake, with its largest Doujinshi supply (and some CDs/DVDs in the back). This place buys/sells doujinshi new and used, and loads of their titles are available for only 200jpy/ea. They are by far the cheapest supplier we’ve found.

Now, move on to Nakano Broadway, which is a very quick jump from Shinjuku Station if you grab the red Chuo Rapid toward Nakano. Walk straight out from the exit (south side I believe, turn right from the JR platforms) and you will see an arcade archway. Just walk to the end of that archway (passing a used game store on your left) and you’ll find Nakano Broadway. There are anime stores on every floor, but the best stores are on floors 2 and 3. Be careful, though, because the escalator in front of you will take you right to the third floor.


Now there are also some cheap clothing stores and other things around here, so it’s a good place for bargain shopping. The stores tend to be a little dusty, and there are antique shops studded throughout. In the very center of this mostly-geek mall is a super high end watch shop. Weird.

If you’re looking for the new stuff, this isn’t the place to search. But inside you will find a vintage movie poster shop, something like 8 Mandarake satellites catering to doujinshi, figures, games, DVDs/CDs, character goods etc. Loads of Mario and Disney goods (some made in Japan, lots of Disney imported back from the U.S.). Lots and LOTS of toys. You have to search the whole place to find the right bargain, but there are also several suppliers of antique robots and things of that nature. An entire store dedicated to Kaiju (Godzilla).

The storefront of the branch of Mandarake that is filled with expensive antique robots–it might as well be a museum.



And an awesome ice cream shop.


But it’s not all innocent, because this vending machine next to the ice cream shop vends *coughcough* panties and vagina-shaped sheaths. Yes, really.


But then all the doujinshi…




There is a super cool game store on the third floor filled with games older than my parents maybe, and gold copies of everything. They have more reasonably priced vintage games in the back, but everything in the front case is at least $60, and more likely $250.

There’s also a big cell and drawing auction store up on the 4th floor, with some neat stuff from Full Metal Alchemist among others.

Nakano Broadway does have a few downfalls–aside from the fact that most of what it carries is not totally new, some of the shop owners are not overly fond of foreigners. But even in the late afternoon it was much less crowded than Akihabara or Ikebukuro, so we could mostly shop in peace. That’s definitely an improvement.

Oh, and there’s this place called Uogashi Nihonichi down in the arcade (it’s a chain). It’s a standing sushi bar, and one of the best sushi experiences I’ve ever had–the prices are really good too. Give it a try.

Tomorrow I’ll cover Shinjuku in its entirety, as well as our experiences in a wholesale kimono shop.

Japan Days 11 and 12: Ikebukuro and Akihabara

I’m going to combine some days of exploration (mainly places like Akihabara and Ikebukuro) because it’s difficult to separate them.

First there was breakfast at the host family’s house.


And then waiting for the bus.


We started with Ikebukuro, and we were there early but on Saturday morning–and that was our first mistake. There were huge crowds everywhere, of the teenaged variety.

But at least they lock their smokers together in cages:


It’s a forward thinking place with loads of American food…


Ikebukuro houses Sunshine 60, a huge shopping complex with 60 floors. The 60th floor is a 360 degree observatory area that you can pay to look out from. But the elevator…it’s the Shinkansen of elevators. Our ears popped as we rode it!


Aubri was asleep, so we didn’t actually go out on the observation deck. We just rode up and down.

Once back down, we set out to the task for which we were in Ikebukuro…the giant An!mate store that is possibly the largest anime store in the world, and also a couple of manga stores specializing in doujinshi (fan drawn manga).

From An!mate we acquired a huge headache, two hours of losing each other, and a couple of boxes of Final Fantasy Creatures. I got Alexander. Twice. The FFVIII version and the FFXIII version. Seriously.

It took us a bit of wandering, but we finally found Mandarake, our favorite store. It’s actually just a few doors down from the old location of the An!mate store, but it’s hard to locate because it’s inside a basement floor reached only by a deep winding staircase. Seriously. We spent a good amount of time perusing, but we could barely breath inside because of all the teenaged girls. They have lots of quality items from 200jpy, though, and by far it’s the cheapest place to go.

Nearby is KBooks, but we were afraid to venture in with the crowd. We DID make it to An!mate (the big one), though.

Nearby, a few quirky signs:

(RolePlaying Cafe)


(Japanese Grumpy Cat Cafe)



And Aubri met some mascots:




We had some kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi, but Jamie and Aubri weren’t impressed by the selection. The place we will go later, in Minami-Senju station, is much less expensive and much tastier.

We also passed some BakudanYaki!


After sheer exhaustion settled into our feet, we headed back home for the night. The next day we ventured out into Akihabara…which might seem like madness on a Sunday (and actually is, if you think about it). Akihabara is home to Electric Town, a place where you can find parts and gadgets for maybe less than they would be normally. It’s like Made In China Ebay, but at a flea market. But Akihabara also is internationally famous for all the anime shops.

On Sunday they close some of the streets to cars so that only pedestrians can cross. The result is a swirling vortex of mostly non-Japanese Otaku mixed with lots of Lolitas and other craziness… All concentrated in a 6 block by 6 block radius.

The last time we were here we got REALLY lost looking for a host club targeted toward girls called Queen Dolce. This time we found Queen Dolce while looking for a used cosplay store called Jupiter.


Jupiter was OK, but very creepy and packed with almost strictly obscure female costumes (not just for women, but female characters). Add to it the very creepy old guy working there who looked pretty annoyed to be seeing us, and it wasn’t someplace I would recommend for the sewing disinclined.

However, beneath it is a collector store with old figures and sets. I got the Secret of Mana for PS1 collector set (sans the game, alas) for 300jpy. The figures and music box are cool.


We wandered into a department store afterward and found these essential convention survival kits:

Also this was in the window of an Adult Shop, being advertised as extra sexy. Wait, what?


Oh, and this thing…


We went inside virtually every anime and hobby store in this 6 block radius, seeking Final Fantasy action figures among other things. We finally found *one* Lightning from Lightning Returns, and wound up acquiring it. I probably could have paid the same $80 (7910 yen, to be precise) on Amazon, but I can’t tell if the one they carry is the big size.

I also picked up a couple more Final Fantasy Creatures packs. I got the Bomb and another Alexander, alas.

Aubri decided we needed more pictures of her…


We found a duck while wandering around the Electric Town area looking for friends…


Gave up on the friends and went back to Queen Dolce (which doesn’t open until 4pm). Basically it’s a small, quiet little place where the girls wear men’s clothes and talk in their version of deep voices instead of high pitched “cute” voices. To be in the cafe you have to buy at least a drink an hour. We ordered their “original blend” tea and a caramel latte, as well as waffles with ice cream.


Aubri proceeded to adopt one of them and ran her ragged for the next 50 minutes or so. It was adorable, and we talked her into letting us take a picture (normally not allowed)


We trudged back toward the station, feet aching. Aubri wanted another cameo.


We found a “Victorian pub”



And then we stopped by the Gundam Cafe on our way out.


Fist bump the Gundam…


Had to get a Gundam-shaped taiyaki of course.


And then it was time to go home…seriously. And for the next day: Tokyo Disney Sea!




The Bechdel Test Is Not Enough

Lots of new movies are coming out, as is the usual happening at the beginning of the year. Of course this creates this whirlwind of discussion about how movies are not representing the non-male population. My wife was kind enough to link me this video, which is a Ted talk about how movies are impressing our young people.

For your reference, the Bechdel Test basically has three requirements: Are there at least two female characters, do they talk to each other, and is that conversation about something other than men?
A friend also shared this article with me, which is a good argument on why the Bechdel Test isn’t enough.

Now fast forward about 35 seconds, and this sparked a conversation about the Lego Movie, which just came out on February 7th and has a staggering 96% on Rotten Tomatoes as of the time of this writing. Whoa. Very few animates movies ever maintain that kind of high rating. I just happened to see it this past Sunday, right before this whole conversation started.

Now, the Lego Movie barely passes the Bechdel test, and it only passes by virtue of the fact that the Unikitty character is being considered female (although it’s a cat unicorn thing, so I don’t know how much identity reinforcement is really happening there). The main female character, Wild Style, is a totally kickass Master Builder who basically has no romantic interest in the other main character until she does. I don’t want to spoil the plot for you, but of course they get together in the end.
Here’s the not-so-awesome. There are basically exactly four female characters in The Lego Movie. Five if you count Unikitty. Out of thousands of characters. You have Wonder Woman, Random Cat Lady, Female Construction Worker (with cleavage), Unikitty, and Wild Style. The last character they had to invent, because there are basically no female legos in the real world.
EDIT: Apparently there are actually six because Lego Cleopatra.

You know how I know that? Because I LOVE Legos, I play with them more often than any adult should. Oh, and because this brilliant 7-year-old also noticed that there are no girl legos.

But despite this weirdly disproportionate arrangement, the Lego Movie still technically passes the Bechdel Test. I hope you will understand, then, that I feel there is a call for a greater test.

We’ll call it the Seibert Test because that’s my last name and that’s how you name stuff like this.

First, to adequately represent the actual population of the world, is the cast (including minor and major characters) made up of at least 50% female characters?
-If you don’t think this is a problem, you need to read this amazing article on Geena Davis. “The percentage of women in crowd scenes in films is 17”. 17%, not even close to the actual nearly 51% of the population that is female.
In order to pass this test there must be both minor and major characters, so a movie with one main male character saving a planet full of women only to be wined, dined, and sexed by them? Does not pass. Sorry, Captain Kirk.

Second, because we’re all sick of the stereotypes, is the genre ANYTHING other than romance?
-If you don’t think this is an issue, name three movies with an all-female or mostly-female cast that are not porn or romance movies (especially rom-com). Let me see… Steel Magnolias? Nope, 8 female and 12 male characters. Arguably a rom-com-drama. Bridesmaids? Rom-com. Sex and the city? C’mon, it has the word Sex in the NAME. If you think of three movies, now think of three that have been released in the last decade. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
I want for someone to prove me wrong, except that rom-coms keep being delegated to the girl’s section in the movies. This needs to change.
To pass this portion of the test, the movie can’t be filed under one genre but so full of romance that no one really knows the difference. It’s safe to say if it fails the Bechdel it will also fail this one.

THIRD, do any of the female characters have power over their own destiny?
Movies like The King and I, which have literally 60 or 70 female characters, would fail this portion of the test because basically everyone is stuck going along with the whims of a powerful male. Some define this as being a “strong” character, but I like the way my friend Betsy Dornbusch calls it “women of impact.” If a character just goes with what’s happening and lets the world hand her platter after platter of whatever the hell, she’s not really a character of substance. Which means she exists to tick a box. This is not how real people work, and it’s not how characters should be either.
For the record, if there are no intelligent conversations between two women, there probably won’t be any evidence of passing this point.
A caveat/addendum to this rule is that rape may not be used as a plot device to further the story unless necessary for the sake of historical accuracy or because of a “real events” representation. It is not an easy out for the writers to use to show how much of a jerk the bad guy is and may not be used as a power play or in any way painted in a positive light. Rape strips power from the characters in a movie or show and that can never be fully recovered.
– Why do we need this check? Because otherwise movies with one dude with a harem would totally count as gender equal because there are lots of women in it.

FOURTH: Are ALL Characters capable of being equally hypersexualized regardless of gender? You can put the girls in awkward skin tight clothing if you do the same thing to the boys because it’s A. Porn or B. A World Device.
Examples of this: The Avengers in Joss Whedon’s World, the characters in Remember Me (a recent Capcom/Steam release that got not enough attention), Orange is the New Black (mostly).
– If you don’t think this is necessary you probably also don’t notice yourself staring at cleavage.

FINALLY, as a bonus point, shoes. Sensible freaking shoes. Dear DC: Catwoman probably shouldn’t wear spikes. Neither should Wonder Woman. Kate Beckett would be one of the coolest characters ever if she didn’t wear those idiotic heels. At least Lt. Rizzoli only wears those heels in the promo photos. As sexy as they make you look, they are clearly a crippling disadvantage–especially in action situations! No real woman makes these dumb footwear decisions if they live in a highly active situation.
…except my wife who insists on cute shoes, but she clearly isn’t guiding my action star criteria.

Interestingly enough, there are lots of series that seem like they would make this cut–and that’s our perception of female-crowding in media going on, apparently. For example, I feel like Once Upon a Time has a solid and extensive female cast. But according to their wiki, they have only 61 female characters and over 100 male. Hey, L Word has lots of ladies, but it’s basically porn, sex, porn, romance, drama, porn. It was on HBO, though, so what do you expect?
Frozen by Disney has two female protagonists and they talk about lots of things besides boys–but as soon as Elsa hits 18 she becomes weirdly hypersexualized, and they are basically the only female characters in the whole movie (except Mom who dies, random lady with a kid, a single servant and a female troll or two). In the grand scheme of things there just aren’t a lot of girls around in Disney movies. This is kinda weird considering the fact that the Princess market is their biggest money maker…

Recently someone linked this very sarcastic and brilliant Cracked article  (yes, I did just say that) reversing the roles and calling out bad characterization of women in movies. I appreciate their points of view, especially since my biggest complaint in the Lego Movie was not its lack of female characters. Instead, I was frustrated by the “wind-blown plastic hair” and the fact that Emmett completely tuned out Wild Style because she was pretty.

To recap, the Seibert Test  calls for the following:
1. That a movie or TV show contain at least 50% female characters comprised of both main and minor characters.
2. That the movie/tv show be any genre other than romance and not have a romantic element so heavy handed that it “might as well be” romance.
3. That at least some of the female characters have impact over their own destiny and rape is not a plot device.
4. That if hypersexualization occurs in the movie/show, it is equally applicable to all of the characters regardless of gender.
4.5 That there are sensible shoes where sensible shoes should occur.

If film and TV directors and writers would take the reality of what the world looks like into account, and apply this test not just to female characters but to minorities as well, we would see a drastic shift in the way the next generation looks at people. We aren’t invisible and we aren’t going to be the silent majority any longer.

Identifying Plagiarism, Ethical Boundaries and Beyond

This is a really complex and controversial topic, despite the fact that it doesn’t necessarily have to be. I also do not purport myself to be the expert. These are my opinions based on experiences, and they are intended to start a dialogue rather than to be the final stance on anything as sensitive as intellectual property.

First off, let me start by saying that I work in an industry wherein every company makes you sign away intellectual property. If you’re lucky, they only make you sign away the property you actually create while on the clock, and not the ideas and so on and so forth that you produce from the comfort of your own home. This idea that a company can own the very thoughts in your head has been a given, legally, for some time in the technical industries. It makes a lot of copyright law etc very cloudy.

Let me give you a few grounding links. This is the U.S. Government’s take on copyright as a definition.

Ultimately, the key word here is “original work.” Unfortunately, logically this means that research (which involves compiling a bunch of other peoples’ work) isn’t really covered under this definition. However, there is a “Fair Use” clause that dictates that work used for teaching etc is protected against a copyright consideration.

Ultimately, this clause is what protects people who run panels at conventions, for instance, from being sued for referencing their favorite book and movie material when conducting a panel.

Now, enter the concept of plagiarism. This is a new idea in the last couple of centuries. Composers have been copying each others’ work for ages, and nobody complained back then. Now Wikipedia conveniently outlines that plagiarism is pretty unclear in a lot of cases, because the rules are different if a work is collaborative, different if the borrowing of ideas is used for teaching, etc.

I offer up an example from my own experience. It’s a sore subject for me, and one that almost caused me (in a fit of rage) to quit AC entirely.

Last year on a long road trip to go promote the convention, my board members and I were discussing ideas to get more promotion out there. We threw around a lot of thoughts, and one of my board said “We could do some top 10 lists or something.” I ran with that. “Yeah, we could do like a Top Ten Steampunk Travel Destinations, have one destination each day and then a final list go out on Twitter or something of all 10 together.” We agreed it was a cool idea and moved on to discussing slogans and themes for 2015.

Fast forward a few weeks, and I started blogging some Top 10s–Victorian destinations, Steampunk destinations, etc. I did a ton of research and wrote little mini-travel-blogs about it. I was reposting those on my own Facebook page (because I wrote them) but also cross-posting to the AC page because we needed more traffic.

This blew up in my face, because the board member who had suggested the Top Ten lists (just that, no topics for them) was angry that I was posting to my own blog and just building up my own traffic with his idea. The argument between us was that the Top Ten idea was not unique to him, and I did all the research and wrote all the material, so I deserved the credit. Also we didn’t *really* have an AC blog. That was my logic. He was pretty convinced I was using his idea for my own glory. In all but name, he accused me of plagiarism.

So I stopped writing those Top 10 blogs and the other ideas never got realized, because it was that or one of us was quitting. Despite being really really angry about the accusation and all the work I’d put into it, I chose to swallow my pride (and my opinion of what plagiarism is) and salvage what I could of our relationship.

Now, someone’s currently taking pot shots at me indirectly because they think my definition of plagiarism adjusts to suit profitability or something. Not exactly the best way to sway me to their opinion.

Here is my definition, and you can express your own thoughts.
Plagiarism is the unadapted use of another person’s unique creation without permission and without citation for personal gain, specifically claiming it as your own.

I took lots of writing and ethics, legal writing, etc classes in college. I am more than a little comfortable with the discussion of what is legitimately stealing and what is an admiration of understanding. For example, I like to rephrase other peoples’ research to be more understandable when writing research papers. I do cite my materials (because it’s a paper). If I quote somebody or tell a story that isn’t mine in a panel, I usually say “A friend of mine tells a story…” I may not use their name, because no one is retaining that information in a convention panel. If they ask I will tell them, unless it was a mean story about them. As far as I am concerned, a verbal citation in a panel is as good as a footnote, because we’re talking about science fiction conventions here, not science conventions.

Now, when you get down to things like collaborative work, it gets a little funny. For example, I wrote a LOT of RadioSteam episodes, so it’s generally acknowledged that I wrote them all. I think four or five total were guest authored across four seasons of 16 episodes each. However, at the end of each episode, we changed the end credits to credit the author–despite the fact that I heavily edited all of the guest written material. But that’s a downloadable podcast.

If you’re on a panel with someone, people usually assume the material you present is yours and the material they present is theirs. But if you work together to produce a slide show or whatever horrible method of presentation you have, and then you don’t show up to present, and they say “So and so was going to be here but isn’t, so here we go,” is that stealing your portion of the presentation? They acknowledged that you were supposed to be present. Maybe the entire audience doesn’t know who did what, but it isn’t a case of a paper being published with someone else’s name on it.

Now let’s get even better, to collaborative writer’s groups and critique groups and stuff. If we define every unique way of putting things as belonging to the author, we have a problem with writing groups. Let’s say I author a 20-page 2-chapter submission to a contest. And then I get four authors to read over it and give me their opinions. Each one likes or dislikes different things, so I take what I like from their suggestions and rewrite the piece. Now one of those authors is laying claim to the changes I made, and taking credit for those suggestions (although 3 other authors were involved). What kind of dicey mess is that? Is my work still mine? Do editors take ownership of the work once they’ve tweaked it? Is that other author actually violating 4 authors’ rights (including mine) by claiming credit for my changes?

This vortex of cloudy ethical mess can be a disaster, especially since the very accusation of plagiarism (true or false) can utterly ruin an author’s career. Even worse, false accusations not only make the accuser look like a petty person with a personal vendetta, they are rarely held to the same scrutiny as the (so-called) plagiarist.

And then there’s this whole credit problem. Because if we’re really strict about this, panels are going to get dreadfully boring.  

Solomon declared eons ago that there is nothing new under the sun. Unless you’re inventing your own language, I dare say your ideas may not be so unique as you think.

A friend of mine, Peter J. Wacks, wrote a book called Second Paradigm. As I understand it, it’s designed so that you can read any chapter in any order and eventually come to a conclusion. When he described it to me, I thought it sounded weirdly like the movie Memento, which also plays sequential details in the wrong order due to a memory disfunction of the main character. Strangely enough, I never thought to accuse Peter of stealing the movie’s idea or vice versa, because stuff like that happens. Part of the creative process is realizing that other creative minds will trigger brilliance in you that you would not otherwise be able to put into expression. That’s why writing and critique groups are so important.

But if we fear that sharing ideas will lead to accusations of plagiarism or claims of what we have legitimately worked on, how can we ever be bold enough to go forward in social groups of inventors, authors, and writers.

A different pair of friends recently have been estranged because of the accusation of plagiarism. I was presented with the evidence that one writer’s research was used without his permission in the other writer’s presentation during a panel. More accurately, the permission and research were offered freely in bullet-point form, until for whatever reason that I don’t claim to need to understand, the accuser revoked permission (and asked that his name be removed from the presentation) a few hours before that panel teaching was to occur. The accuser states that he read over 200 books to come to his conclusions and is unhappy that his research went uncredited. However, in his work as presented by him to me, I never saw a single case of citation of the novels he read and gained those ideas from. In other words, he was claiming someone else’s work as his own… By his own strict definition, in fact.

Please realize I am friends with both of these people, and they were in a collaborative writing group together before this happened.

Right now I feel like I am dealing with a pair of authors who feel that they are Tesla and Edison. Except that instead of inventing, they are both expressing an idea of what they believe is a success point in someone else’s work. It’s not a new thing they have invented. They are embroiled in a sociological war over whether round lightbulbs work better than square ones. But neither of them invented the lightbulb.

Is this the author version of the Superbowl?

Overcoming Sexism in Geek Culture

This past weekend was MileHiCon (MHC), and I experienced a whirlwind of conversations in peak moments. However, I was also on two specific panels back to back that become controversial (by nature), and I want to contrast some of the shared concepts and get my thoughts out on virtual paper. This post likely will be less cited than most of my comments about women’s rights–this is a reaction/conversation post.

The two panels in question were (in order): Overcoming Sexism in Geekdom and Geeks Assemble! (the latter being a panel about whether it’s good that Geek is going mainstream).

On the first panel I was amongst many women plus the brave Dan Dvorkin, who likely expected to be shunned as the only male on the panel. I also found it interesting that every single participant was white and some variant of blonde–interesting because that theoretically focused our specific discrimination complaint to being female, although we had other variance in the group.

Now, there are some things I want to point out about both panels. In both cases someone pointed out that members of the geek culture frequently serve as “gatekeepers” for other members–they feel the need to keep the girls, or the anime geeks, or the goth geeks, or the sports geeks, or whatever kind of geek, out of their area of enjoyment. They pee on the lamppost of their geekdom and expect their loud chest-thumping declaration of adoration to stand for ownership in absence of their creation of the very geekdom/fandom they seek to claim. This very tendency even started a casually loud argument between Aaron Ritchey and me about whether JJ Abrams’ Into Darkness is ruining his childhood or shaping the childhoods of the next generation. I believe that any sci-fi that entrances a new generation is worthy of attention. Just like the Romeo and Juliet remakes that keep causing the grownups to roll their eyes–how else will the new age of technology incorporate the classics?

Someone asked the question “When did Nerds become Geeks?” I answered that it happened as a transition when being a “geek” might mean that you made a lot of money in that thing you were passionate about. It’s the Age of the Geek, so to speak, and smart people are making loads of money on things that probably got them beat up or shoved into lockers in high school.

Now, apologism is high in the sexist anticulture, and I have a particular problem with the way that people (male and female alike) will apologize for the geeky males. “Oh, they don’t know how to act around girls, so that’s why they do those socially unacceptable things.” Yes, absolutely. I always threaten to rape anyone who makes me uncomfortable in a social situation. It’s like a chest bump of love.

In my experience, the reaction I have had from the geek guy community has been that they treat me like one of the guys, or fail to acknowledge my existence. The former is assisted by my appearance (not exactly boobalicious here), and the latter is difficult for most people to do. So when I flare up in a conversation and say “Hey! That was a misogynystic comment! I’m still identifying as female over here!” it’s usually a cold bucket of water over their heads. Sometimes that means I lose the friendship. If I were more traditional (ha, ha) in my mentality, that would probably be enough to keep me from speaking up. But you know what? Misogynyst jokes are just like racist jokes, because they are against an entire group of people. A REALLY BIG GROUP OF PEOPLE.

There was a middle aged white guy in the audience sitting up front, and he had a lot to say. Some of it could have used some social understanding (IE, not making those blanket “well, *I* don’t behave that way toward women” statements), but mostly he was participating despite potential backlash. And he did get it. Someone in the back verbally bitch slapped him for speaking up. Shortly thereafter, someone else went on a tangent about white guy shaming, so called.

So, I guess the definition of white guy shaming is calling out the group (white guys, particularly aged 18-85) for the fact that their privilege is out of control and they’re abusing the system. And then one white guy gets upset, offended, feelings are hurt whatever. And we’re comparing that to slutshaming where a girl thinks she looks pretty and the whole world tells her she obviously is just in it to be a whore. Oh, and she gets rape threats. Bet the white guy gets those too, right?

Someone pointed out that it’s not possible to white guy shame, and I kinda agree, but on this point:
My pointing out that your common white male name on the top of a resume makes you at least 40% more likely to get a callback than my unidentifable maybe-black-maybe-female-maybe-European name does not cost you jobs or even encourage you to change your name to Locutus. You don’t lose anything.
My pointing out that being white and male makes you considerably less likely to be followed around a store by a clerk who expects you to steal does not make the clerk follow you around.
My pointing out that you being a white male gets you a high-five-free-rape-pass (especially if Football is involved) obviously doesn’t limit your opportunities or capability to rape.

Verdict: My shaming doesn’t cost you anything. Shaming is the wrong word. I’m calling you on your historical right to be better than everybody else because culture and society told you you can have whatever you want, and you bought into that malarky when it was bottle fed to you by everyone around you.

But you know what? You’re a grownup now. And now you are required to take action and take responsibility for that action.

My friend Matthew Boroson tells the story of his father who, in 1970s New York, parked by the side of the road only to find a very large angry African-American screaming at his window. “Move this car!” he shouted, over and over. Finally, Matt’s dad rolled the window down and said “What do you want?”
The man said “You parked on my foot!”
Matthew (who wears shirts like “This is what a feminist looks like”) relates this to the so-dubbed Dinosaurs of groups like SFWA, who make the argument that they are old and set in their ways. But even those set in their ways have a social obligation as not-socipathic-members-of-society to stop and listen when someone says “You’re hurting me!”

Someone else made the argument that not every woman feels safe coming out and saying “Stop. You are hurting me.” To that I say that is our responsibility to speak out. If we do not speak out against the attitudes of our peers and those before us, how will our daughters learn to walk with their heads up? But if you are faced with something that you can’t speak out about, it is your responsibility to find someone who can speak on your behalf. We are 51% of the population. We have voices, and if we cry out and let them hear us we will overshadow and drown out the voices of those who try to shout us down.

Another person mentioned that they were upset by a concept called “slobshaming,” particularly when people call out how she dresses at cons. I will agree that, prior to the business conferences I have attended, I previously might have been upset with someone asking me to dress “more professionally.” My issue with this idea is that how you dress portrays what you want other people to perceive about you. That’s your control over the situation. Hygiene is important, and using independence from judgment as an excuse for poor hygiene is just that–an excuse. However, the problem is that “professional dress” is defined completely differently for men and women. Case in point: The KMBS manual for business attire had one page for men and twelve pages for women. Seriously. Lots of “you aren’t allowed to wear this” type images. Really discriminatory, but this IS the company that wouldn’t cover my wife because they didn’t have the funds…11 billion dollar company and all.

This may be one part rant and one part recap.
But it is also me speaking out, and bringing some thoughts into the conversation.

NaNoWriMo: Surviving and Winning

NaNoWriMo is coming up, and as a repeated achiever of that madness I wanted to share some insight with you all.

For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writers Month, indicates the month of November, and is a brilliant literacy-and-creativity-encouraging event thought up by some people who thought it was a good idea to try to pack 50,000 words into 30 days. During the beginning of the holidays. And then they added competition, community support, and the idea took on a life of its own. For those who don’t do novels, per se, there are also script frenzies, edit frenzies etc that they sponsor. The group is a nonprofit that lives off the talented volunteering they have garnered across the globe. I discovered the community in 2005 and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Those who have read some of my work may be surprised to know that Beneath the Crust was written during the 2009 NaNo, a giant chunk of STEAM scripts were written during the 2011 NaNo, and I wrote book 2 (Breaking the Light, working title) last year during the 2012 NaNo. My intention is to write the final book of the trilogy, Defying the Sky (working title) during this NaNo. Having those successes is great, but I wanted to lay out the pros and cons for you and let you make your own decision about whether NaNo is for you. I’ll also give you my methods for survival, because the first time you try to write 1,667 words a day for 30 days you will experience madness.

Some PROS of NaNo:

  1. It gets you writing.
    Seriously. Even if you don’t consider yourself a novelist, the act of pouring out 50k words is an experience everyone should include as part of their ongoing education in life.
  2. It creates a deadline.
    Most people don’t realize how much deadlines impact what they accomplish. If you are an aspiring writer, whether accomplished or not, having deadlines will drive you forward. If you’ve never worked under deadlines before, you will learn a skill that many editors wish many authors had acquired.
  3. You have community support.
    Most of the time, if you tell the people around you that you are going to write a novel, they will tell you to get a real job. Or tell you about their story. Maybe they’ll be supportive, but secretly they think you’re nuts. The upside to the NaNo community is that everyone involved is there to help you reach your word count–whether you like it or not.
  4. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
    It’s generally understood that the first 50k words or so you spew forth in a frenzy will be unedited and in need of some love. And that’s OK.
  5. You can use run-on sentences.
    This blog is my practice for NaNo, and like my novel will likely need additional editing after the fact.
  6. People who would never have written anything are enticed by the competition.
    With any luck they are reading thanks to NaNoWriMo too.

Some CONS of NaNo:

  1. You have a deadline.
    And that means you have to be self-motivating. Get your stuff together, kid. You’re going for a ride.
  2. The “novel” you create will be really rough.
    No one. NO ONE. Writes a perfect novel without editing. You will need lots of it after this.
  3. 50,000 words is a really short novel.
    Good thing you have all of December to write another 50k, right?
  4. Holiday Season.
    It’s easy to get sidetracked by the second half of November. But at least it’s not December?
  5. People will think you are crazy.
    But that’s a given.
  6. People who have no business writing will be writing.
    But don’t be an elitist, seriously.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the ultimate goals of NaNoWriMo.
Your absolute first goal is to hit 50,000 words. This is the definition of “winning” at NaNo.

Your second goal (which is important AFTER 50k words) is to complete the first draft of the manuscript. That means continuing after you hit 50k if that is not a complete work. And this goal is the hard one, because you’re going to want to pop a cork after you hit the first one.

Now for the protips. The techniques and methods discussed in this blog post have worked for others, but we cannot guarantee the techniques and methods utilized here will work for you. But for the love of Zeus, try them anyway. If you haven’t already succeeded at NaNo, your best bet is to hear out the people who have. So, here are my steps for success (survival) and winning.

  1. Use a word processor like Microsoft Word if you can, because it keeps track of words. Save your work often. Don’t lose a whole chapter to system failure. Use this word counting system to keep track of how many words you are up to, so that you can track your progress.
  2. Sign up on the website for an account and join your local NaNo community. And then stay off the forums once the thing actually starts, unless you’ve hit your word goal for the day.
  3. This one is really important, and it’s the reason this post is coming out in early October. Do some prework before you get to November. Decide on a general idea for your story. Decide on a working title. Figure out a main character and write a paragraph or two out about who that person is. Without these ideas you will have a hard time starting strong. To go the extra mile, write a personal profile for each of the core characters for your story.
  4. This ties into #3, and is absolutely my most important protip. Write an outline of your story. If you expect to write a 60,000 word novel with 20 chapters, get a sheet of paper. Write #1, then next to it write 3-4 sentences about what will happen in that chapter (generally speaking). For example (from book 1):1: Kip Jensen Awakens from a strange dream and finds herself in the bunker she shares with Aria, her close friend. She prepares to leave for a day of exploring Old Denver and swipes a map from Aria in the process. She and Aria have a heated discussion about history and the government. Kip leaves Aria to her own devices and races off to the city on her cycle, Bat.This outline you are writing may change entirely while you actually write, but it is your lifeline to keep you on track when you get writer’s block. And you will get writer’s block. The outline (if you stick to it) will also be a rough basis for the synopsis you will need to write when you start pitching your novel, so get to it! You want to do this for every single chapter. I usually find that some of my one-sentence ideas really need a whole chapter, and when I am actually writing I will edit the synopsis as I go. The important thing is to have the synopsis ready.
  5. Set a goal of how many words you will accomplish each day, and don’t go to sleep until they are written. If you need 1,667 and got 3,250 done today, don’t take a break tomorrow. Get your 1,667 done anyway. If you take a break you won’t finish.
  6. Be firm with yourself and your schedule. Select a time every day (the same time every day, if possible) that you are going to write. Give yourself at least an hour. Don’t let yourself off the hook–if you don’t plan for the time you won’t get it done.
    I find the best time for me is before I go to work, which means I do most of my writing from 5am-6am (and then get ready for work). Unfortunately, having a toddler has made my sleep more precious to me, so last year and this have/will have experienced quite the sleep challenge in November.
    The most important part of this point is that you need to pick a time that won’t be too hard. If you’re not a morning person, don’t try to write at 5am! If your job is really tiring, don’t try to write immediately after you get home from work. If the time is too hard, you will struggle to maintain your schedule.
  7. If you maintain a busy schedule away from your keyboard, carry a notebook with you. Any time a thought comes to you jot in those extra 25-200 words. Every little bit is progress, but don’t forget #5. A notebook is no substitute for a word processor.
  8. If you hit a wall, just keep writing. It might get weird, it might get redundant, but the point is to make it to Goal #1. You can fix the reappearance of the word “ash” 67 times during editing.
  9. Attend a write-in if you can (see the NaNo forums for details) because it’s good to look for community support. But don’t expect to get a ton of writing done there, make sure you get your day’s words in beforehand. It’s hard to write and socialize at the same time.
  10. Turn off the internet. Seriously. Do NOT surf Facebook during your writing time. It won’t work.
  11. This crazy thing happens when you’re focused on writing one novel–other ideas that sound more amazing will come to you. Don’t start over! Finish what you started! Even if you hate the 50k words, just sludge through to the end. Editing can turn a painful story into a brilliant gem! If you have time after the first 50k, start the next novel…
  12. Don’t lose momentum. If you’re on a roll and you hit 1,667 words, keep writing if you can spare a few extra minutes. At least finish the thought you’re working on.
  13. If you’re having trouble sleeping, get up and write.
  14. Finish what you started! I can’t say this enough. If you hit 50k early or if you hit it on the 30th, focus on writing that novel to a conclusion. Remember goal #2: A complete first manuscript. The first 50,000 words will only carry you forward. Keep going.

Well, that’s the main gist of my formula, and I hope it helps you NaNoWrites out there–go forth and be prolific! Those of you who are already accomplished authors, weigh in–how do you NaNo?

Steampunk World: Steampunk Archetypes

It might be said that you know a genre has hit it big when it has more than one archetype. Steampunk probably has hundreds, but there are a handful of “character archetypes” that I’d like to discuss today. If you’re struggling to come up with costume or character ideas, these will hopefully help you get started. I don’t have a full complement of photos, but feel free to add your own!

Note these are not ALL the Steampunk Archetypes, just the most common ones…

First, there’s the ever-present Airship Pirate Captain. This character has the tendency to be a mixture of Mal from Firefly, Captain Jack of Pirates of the Carribbean fame, and Indiana Jones. The character will most likely wear more pirate-esque clothes, may be male or female, but likely carries more weapons than anyone else. The gadgets are not as necessary to the image as the style. Charming rogue is the name of the game.

Next, though less common, is the Airship (non-pirate) Captain, whose attire is likely more militant. Naval Captains fall under this group because there simply aren’t enough Naval Captains to get their own category. This is a more lawful good type, but they still have a roguish quality about them. They are most likely well-decorated and may fall under the category of the Modern Major General of the Pirates of Penzance.


Now we have the Pilot (Airship or biplane). Amelia Earhart falls under this category and it is more often characterized by women in the Steampunk genre. This person is a speedster, constantly dresses as though they are about to hop into a plane, always has goggles, likely has a scarf, and certainly would never be caught without boots. This character looks like Indiana Jones in aviator form, and is likely obsessed with the air. They don’t necessarily have the confidence to be a Captain–or they are a loner, or they understand that there are more captains than airships in the world. This person might also pilot a dirigible.


Next is the explorer, who is likely to dress as an individual just coming back from Safari. They likely have something like a weather vane or goggles on their safari helmet, probably have whiskers (if male), and likely dress in khaki. They might carry compasses, spyglasses, fairy nets, scientific objects or any number of varietal “exploration” tools. This character is likely eccentric and certainly will be entertaining on a field day. He likely will have a monocle on him somewhere.


Now–and I’ve edited this post to add this forgotten (but vital) archetype–you’ve got the Airship (or whathaveyou) Mechanic. She can be male or female and sports engine grease and a knack for making the mechanical magical. They tend to love their machines and desperately want you to respect them. Sometimes they just need a coal-smudged hug. A great example is Audrey from Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire.


Next is the Highborn Lady or Gentleman of the aristocracy, whose clothes are of unquestionable cut. These likely wear either a glorious range of colors or none at all, sticking strictly to black. Both ladies and men are likely to wear tophats, and pocket watches are an absolute must. They may or may not carry weapons, but are just as likely to have parasols, canes, monocles and fancy jewelry. They may wear tailcoats and will surely have neckware. Accessories are not as important as fine cut cloth. This is the most Victorian of the Steampunk stereotypes.


Now we have the Gambler/seedy gentleman/lady of questionable background. These are likely to dress in a western style, often show more skin than they should, and might include such well-dressed entrepeneurs as Howard Hughes or span all the way to the devilishly handsome lady with bare ankles who runs a brothel. These often wear bowlers rather than tophats. They aren’t poor, but they are certainly industrious. Women will likely have pinstripes on them somewhere and men may wear waistcoats without ascots, sleeve garters, etc for example.

HHughesNow there is the inventor, who might also be eccentric and certainly is intent on showing off their latest gadget.  This character tends to be similar to the airship pilot or the gambler, but with more handmade objects. They might blow something up. They are fond of jetpacks/wings/other flight objects. They likely carry unusual wristwear.


Finally, we have the Mad Scientist, whose view of the world really comes down to “can I weld/redesign/rebuild/reproduce that or blow it up?” They are likely to wear lab coats (not period), leather aprons, other big coats and simple enough clothing, but literally be covered in gadgets and strange objects. They might go the route of an alchemist and carry phials and vials with toxic chemicals. They enjoy freaking out their fellow Steampunks.