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Here, have some tweets from me.

This didn’t used to be an issue for me, as I say in the first of those tweets. I spent most of my first year or two on Twitter talking to my friends, or maybe making some new ones–mostly friends of friends, right? I had maybe a couple hundred followers, who I mostly also followed. And even at that level it was difficult to keep up.

Then Ancillary Justice came out. I now have nearly eight thousand followers. It would be beyond pointless for me to follow all or even most of those–I couldn’t possibly pay attention to even a significant fraction of that, and I’d likely entirely miss anything from my actual friends–which is mostly what I follow Twitter for to begin with.

Now, I do look at my mentions, and not infrequently reply to those in some way. I do enjoy doing that. But every now and then, someone will turn up in my mentions in some way that’s very clearly designed to get my attention in a particular way–the tweeter wants me to notice their book, or asks explicitly that I follow them back (and they’re not someone I already know). I’m going to be honest, this irritates me. No offense, right? They’re obviously using Twitter as a promotional tool, where I’m using it to hang with people. This is mostly fine with me, in the abstract, I’ve got no problem with publicity or promotion. In the concrete and specific, I’d suggest that approaching promotion on Twitter as largely a question of amassing a lot of followers who you can then tweet to about your book is, perhaps, not as effective as you imagine it might be. I’ll also suggest that, if you want to engage the interest of someone with a lot of twitter followers, whose retweets or conversations with you might bring you the visibility you’re after, you might want to do your research about who that person is and why they have those followers, and not try to engage them with generic questions, let alone passive-aggressive tweets meant to guilt or provoke that person into replying or following back. But, you know, it’s your call, your life, your Twitter feed. And I’m totally okay with using the block and mute buttons whenever it seems convenient. (That would be the way the “react badly” mentioned in the tweets above usually manifests itself.)

I do follow people back who I know in real life (though not always, sometimes I have a reason for not following back or I’ve missed the follow). And I do often respond to mentions, even if only to heart something that amuses me. But I don’t always respond, and I don’t consider myself to have any particular obligation to respond, to be entirely honest, and nothing will take the shine off someone’s @ing me like their acting as though they are entitled to my attention.

And–this ought to go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway–I block the tweeters of abusive or offensive tweets, without saying anything more about it. To be entirely honest, I’ll block the senders of such tweets even if they haven’t sent them to me, and I’ve just happened across them in a conversation. The begging for follow-backs I describe above doesn’t fall into this category, of course, but I still ignore or mute it.

Seriously, I tweet to hang with my friends, and I enjoy answering questions or hearting or retweeting comments from my readers when I have a chance to. I love sharing things my readers have made, like fan art, or silly jokes. Occasionally I’ll tweet announcements about my stories or books. That’s how I use it, and you’re free to use Twitter however you like. Just don’t expect that I’ll play along.

I am signing on to Mary Robinette Kowal’s Convention Accessibility Pledge. I’m doing it in this blog post because I think it’s important as many people as possible are aware of this issue.

I’m not going to pull out of convention appearances that I’ve already committed to. (And as it happens, ConFusion and Vericon have both assured me they’re taking accessibility issues seriously, so kudos to them.) But going forward, I will only attend cons that meet the (let’s be honest, pretty minimal) criteria outlined in MRK’s post:

  • The convention has an accessibility statement posted on the website and in the written programs offering specifics about the convention’s disability access.
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  • The convention has at least one trained accessibility staff member with easy to find contact information. (There are numerous local and national organizations that will help with training.)
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  • The convention is willing and able to make accommodations for its members as it tries to be as accessible as possible. (We recommend that the convention uses the Accessibility Checklist for SFWA Spaces as a beginning guideline. Other resources include Fans for Accessible Cons, A Guide for Accessible Conferences, and the ADA rules for places of public accommodation, which apply to US conventions.)
  • This shouldn’t be an issue, in the US. Hotels and convention centers are already required by law to provide accommodations like ramps and lifts. It doesn’t take that much extra effort to assume you’ll have folks with mobility issues attending your con, and to say so to the hotel when you’re talking about how things will be set up.

    I’ve heard complaints that this is just too expensive–well, you’re already shelling out for the facility itself. That is, in fact, a kind of accommodation. Why not just have your con out in a park? That would be uncomfortable and inconvenient for a lot of congoers, right? Especially in bad weather. But imagine if a convention insisted that paying for an indoor facility was just too expensive and would drive up the cost of membership? Imagine the indignation.

    But having a con inside a dry, heated and/or cooled building with sufficient space for people to move around and stairs between floors is in fact an accommodation. We just don’t think of it as one, since we’re used to seeing that particular attention to our needs and comfort as normal and understandable and worth going to some effort to ensure. And yes, stairs are an accommodation. What, you can’t climb up that rope ladder to the next floor?

    Claims that arranging in advance to have some ramps or lifts on standby is just too much trouble or expense are, frankly, claims that the needs and comfort of members who need them just don’t matter to you.

    And let’s consider the question of the $800 charge for a ramp at World Fantasy. That was a quote for a last-minute request for a ramp–likely if WFC had told the facility in advance that they’d need one, it would have been much less, or possibly even not an extra charge at all. But let’s consider hiring one ramp for WFC, at $800, and how much that would affect the cost of membership. Now, WFC has a membership cap, right? It’s 850, according to this. So if requesting a single ramp in advance of the con costs $800, to be added to the cost of memberships, that comes out to less than one dollar a person. Let’s say they only get half that (I’m given to understand they routinely sell out and have a waiting list, but perhaps that’s not the case). Two dollars a person. And I’m not even counting supporting memberships.

    Now of course, since this charge was coming after memberships had already been paid it was dauntingly large. Which doesn’t make me more sympathetic–it would have been easy enough to say, up front, during the planning stage, “And of course we’ll need some kind of access to the dais or stages in case there are wheelchair users or folks with other mobility issues. How do we make that work?”

    I do understand feeling defensive when you’re caught out in a mistake. Okay, feel defensive. Complain to your spouse and/or close friends in private, have some ice cream or a hot bath and some tea. And then go to whoever it is you’re working with at the facility for the next event and let them know that you’ll need to accommodate members with mobility issues, and what are the options and how will you make that work? Have SFWA’s Accessibility Checklist in hand.

    The fabulous Lee Martindale had a hand in that checklist. Lee has been fierce in her advocacy for accessibility at cons–and elsewhere. Walking around a con with her is an eye-opener, I’ll tell you. There are so many things you don’t notice if you’re not currently in need of mobility assistance. I was pretty appalled, though not terribly surprised, honestly.

    And Lee makes a good point:

    But for her part, Martindale says she won’t be signing the pledge, because she’s learned in 40 years as a human rights activist that “change is not brought about by using only one approach.” And in addition to public protests and boycotts, another valuable approach is “those directly affected by the exclusion communicating with those perpetuating it, explaining and demonstrating why the exclusion is a problem and what to do about it.”
     
    “If I’m not there, as a scheduled guest, a rolling reminder of why accessibility is important and capable of explaining what I need to do the job I was brought in to do, it all becomes purely academic and easily dismissed,” says Martindale. “It’s hard to dismiss someone sitting right in front of you.”

    Not everyone is as fierce as Lee–she’s a pretty impressive lady–but for those who are willing and able to get right in there, that needs to happen, too.

    So, out today is an anthology called Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Stories Inspired by Microsoft.

    Check out the authors involved! Elizabeth Bear! Greg Bear! Jack McDevitt! Seanan McGuire! Wait, who’s this Ann Leckie person?

    It’s me!

    Yes, there’s a new, by me story in this anthology, which you can download starting today. There should be direct links to the various places you can download it, if you click on that link above. And, I know it says “near future” but honestly, near future isn’t really my preferred playground, so that’s not really what I gave them. But, you know, I had a good time writing it and I hope you enjoy it! And I don’t doubt you’ll enjoy the other stories.

    Incidentally. While I was working on my story, I had my usual problems with titles. I finished the thing and was still casting around for a good title, and a friend of mine said, “Hey, why not look through Elise Matheson’s stuff!” Because Elise makes lovely jewelry and often gives it wonderful names. The names are half the fun, really–I’ve done a couple of her Haiku Earring Parties at Wiscon, where you pick up a pair of earrings off the table and Elise gives you a title. Grab an index card, write a haiku that fits that title, give that to Elise for her approval and the earrings are yours. It’s great fun.

    Anyway. I scrolled through Elise’s shinies page. And I came across a pair of earrings called “Everything a World Can Hold.” Lovely title, right? Lovely earrings. It didn’t quite fit the story, but it was the best I could do. So I typed that across the top of the ms and sent it in, with a note that I wasn’t sure about the title and would be more than willing to entertain other suggestions.

    The editor replied that he couldn’t wait to read the story, but he thought it was a fabulous title! Which it is, of course. Just maybe not for that particular story. The editor, once he’d read the story, admitted as much. After some discussion, we arrived at “Another Word for World.”

    Oh, and I bought the earrings.

    Anyway. Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Stories Inspired by Microsoft. Check it out!

    This is partially a writing advice post, and partially the beginnings of an answer to several questions I frequently receive about my work.

    So what I want to talk about is word choice. One of (several) common problems I saw in slush, back when I was reading slush, was iffy word choices. That is, words that are dictionary-correct, but wrong for the context.

    At least some folks will take issue with my having said that. “Ann, if the definition is correct then how can it be the wrong word?”

    Obviously the wrongness of the choice doesn’t lie within the dictionary definition. But what a word means isn’t confined to its dictionary definitions.

    The thing is, we mostly don’t learn our vocabularies by reading dictionaries. We learn words by hearing people talk, and by reading. When we were babies, we learned by hearing others around us talk, and watching what they did while they were talking, and by repeating things and discovering that particular words would elicit particular reactions. So one of the ways words mean things is by their associations–with real objects, with other words, with the circumstances in which we first heard or read those words, or the circumstances and context in which we often or nearly always hear those words. For most of the words we use on a daily basis, and quite a few others we use a bit less often, the most painstakingly accurate dictionary definitions are nothing more than schematics of our experience of their meaning. Indeed, the dictionary definitions are derived from those experiences and associations, not the other way around.

    This is one of the reasons, by the way, that incautious use of a thesaurus can lead a writer astray. There aren’t actually any real synonyms–that is, you can’t just freely replace any instance of “purse” with “receptacle” even though the thesaurus lists them as synonyms.

    Anyway. For most of us, we don’t experience words as distillations of their dictionary definitions, but as a set of associations. If I say “table” you’ve got some idea of what a table is, formed either by your personal experience with tables, or ideal cultural images of tables. Or, more likely, both. If I say “operating table” you get another very specific image, likely formed by movies or TV unless you work in the medical profession or have a lot of experience with healthcare.

    Let’s imagine I’ve written a story with, oh, science fictional tables that do things. Like, oh, a Star Trek kind of replicator table. Or, really, it doesn’t matter. What matters is, in this scene there are several tables, but only one of them works. Now we write this sentence:

    She put the tray of tools on the operating table.

    Let’s even grant that context has been sufficiently established–yes, the reader understands that we’re in a table repair shop, and that all the other tables in the room do not, in fact, work. Still, that phrase, operating table is going to pull up associations that are entirely inappropriate for the scene. I’m not trying to associate my replicator tables with surgery (I might want that, on another occasion, but not this time).

    The dictionary definition of “operating” will not help me here. I need another word. Or another set of actions. (Even “working table” might not be best–is it that the table works, or that it’s a table for working on? Dictionary definition says “absolutely correct.” Actually reading the sentence says “ambiguous meaning.” You can spend quite some time settling on the best sentence to describe this action. Personally, I think one ought to spend that time, and personally I aim to reduce that sort of ambiguity wherever I find it, or make sure that when it’s there, I mean it to be. Your work, though, your call.)

    So, it’s extremely important to be aware of the associations words have, because your reader is going to be experiencing those as they read. And you can get a lot of mileage out of choosing the word with the right association. If our table story were, say, a horror story in which a character was going to be disassembled by a replicator table, then “She put the tools on the operating table” might be exactly the sentence I want, to set some associations ringing right away. Or maybe not, right? Maybe that would still be clumsy. The only way to know is to think about how it might or might not work for me, if I were the reader.

    Which brings me to my next point. Our ideas about what words mean, and the associations words have for us, are all a product of our personal histories–our families, our families’ in-jokes and private conversational tics, where and how we went to school, the version of English that dominated where we grew up, the books we read, the shows or songs we’ve seen and heard, the kinds of things our friends talk about. There is no universal experience of a word. You can mostly (mostly) rely on really common words, that most of us use every day. Most people will have the same (or same enough) set of associations with the word “table.” Being aware of those common associations, paying attention to them and choosing words accordingly, will get you part of the way, keep you from the clumsiest of missteps.

    But you want more than that. Right? The problem is, not all your readers will have the same set of associations.

    The most obvious example of this is one I tried explaining to my daughter, years ago, when I was telling her that words are like plants–the word itself is leaves and flowers, but its roots under the soil are entangled with other roots, and you can’t pull on the flower without also tugging on those other plants. In the right circumstances, you can say one word and your listener will hear some of those others more or less faintly in the background. “In the right context,” I said, “if you say the word spice to a science fiction reader, they will instantly think of sandworms. ” She was dubious.

    A while later, we were walking somewhere and were talking about water and rain, and walked past a bakery, they must have been making fruit pies, or cinnamon rolls, or something, because there was a delicious waft of cinnamon and cloves, and I said, “Ooh, I smell spice.” Without meaning it to happen, the memory of Dune came to my mind. And my daughter said, “Mom! That thing with the words, it just happened!”

    Of course, she’d read Dune. If she hadn’t, she wouldn’t have had that same experience I’d just had. I could have said “Ooh, I smell spice!” to my mother-in-law, and (lovely mother-in-law though she is) she would have had no reaction, or only thought about food.

    So, this is my point–the language we speak isn’t like a programming language, where definitions are set and meaning follows an absolutely logical sequence and there’s some perfectly logical way to decode the meaning of any word or sentence. (No one has actually died in the shower from not being able to exit the loop on the back of the shampoo bottle. Indeed, the joke is funny because it never has and never would happen, because human languages don’t work like computer languages.) The dictionary definitions of words are only the surface of what they mean–but what’s below that surface is different from person to person, even if some meanings are common to some groups of people.

    As a writer, your work is to some extent made more difficult by this. But if you turn it around and look at it as a tool to be used, you can get some really cool effects from it. Just, not every reader is going to be in a position to experience the effect. But that’s all right, that’s just life. That’s how it is.

    The writing advice here is, think very carefully about the resonances and associations of even common words, while you write. Be sure the echoes of your words are the ones you want. Always remembering, of course, that some readers won’t hear them at all or will hear different ones, but that can’t be helped.

    The answer to the questions about my work? Well, if a dictionary-correct word isn’t producing the set of associations I want, I’m going to either try to manipulate the context so that it’s closer to what I want (by, say, using other words in immediately previous sentences to prime the association I’m after), or choose a different one. So if you’ve wondered why I chose one word and not another, that would be why.

    First up–a really nice writeup of the Ancillary trilogy at Slate:

    The protagonist of the series calls herself Breq; she was once an ancillary and is the sole survivor of the destruction of the Radchaai ship Justice of Toren. Breq is One Esk Nineteen, a single segment of Justice of Toren, but she also is the A.I. Justice of Toren—its last remnant. If that seems hard to wrap your head around, well, that’s rather the point: At the heart of Leckie’s series is a profound grappling with the way identity—our very sense of self—is imagined, is regulated, and shifts over time.

    And at Interfictions, “Translating Gender: Ancillary Justice in Five Languages“:

    After reading a comment by the Hungarian translator, Csilla Kleinheincz, posted on Cheryl Morgan’s blog, we wanted to know more about this. We invited the translators of the novel into Bulgarian, German, Hebrew, Hungarian and Japanese to discuss the process, with particular interest in the translation of gender. What emerges is an insight into the work of translators and the rigidity and versatility of grammatical gender in the face of non-standard demands. Where necessary, translators turned to innovative and even inventive ways to write their languages.

    And last–a link to my Etsy store. I have ordered another batch of Awn pins, plus a batch of Spoiler pins. I still have some Translator Dlique pins left. Once the Awn pins arrive here, I’ll start listing them again (and the others as well). I’ll do the same thing I’ve been doing–I’ll list them in batches of twenty, I’ll combine shipping if you order more than one pin, and I’ll leave a listing up a day or two before I tweet or blog or tumbl about it. In the past, they’ve gone really quick once I’ve tweeted! So if you’re one of the folks who keeps just missing them, favorite the shop and check back regularly probably starting in about two weeks.

    So, that was an eventful couple of weeks! I’ve been thinking “I should totally write a blog post about this/that/the other thing” and then realizing that actually I just want to not do anything for a while.

    Which means that I’ve got kind of a list of things to share. Which, okay. List!

    1) I have a Facebook account, but I pretty much never use it. Lots of people want to friend me on Facebook lately, though! Which is nice and all, but.

    So, I made an Ann Leckie page on Facebook. I will try to remember to post things to it. But that’ll be better than my actual Facebook account, which I basically ignore unless someone tags me or sends a friends request.

    2) Last week, Ancillary Mercy hit the New York Times Bestseller List! Only for the one week, and it was the very bottom of the list, but it counts! I am now officially a best-selling author, and AM is a bestseller. Which is kind of super awesome.

    3) You may have noticed there are a number of songs in the trilogy. A few of them are real, existing songs, but many of them aren’t. The always awesome Foz Meadows has set “It All Goes Around” to a tune of her own, and then that kind of started some stuff. I’d give a bunch of links here, but Abi Sutherland at Making Light has gathered them all together, including a link to Foz’s tune, so I’ll link to that.

    4)For those of you keeping tabs on my Etsy store, well, I ran out of Awn Elming pins halfway through my tour the other week. I’m ordering more today, but it will take a couple of weeks for those to come in. Once they do, I’ll probably start listing batches again. And the Translator Dlique pins, and the Spoiler pins as well.

    5)Big thanks to Subterranean Books and the University City Library for hosting my Ancillary Mercy release party. Cookies were eaten, wine was drunk, books were signed, and it was a great evening.

    I think that’s it, actually. Well, I went to ICON40 and had a fabulous time, but that really ought to be a post of its own. Maybe not today, though, so let me just say that ICON was a great time and I really appreciate all the hard work of concom and all the volunteers to make it such a wonderful weekend.

    Wanna come meet me? Maybe hear me read a bit, maybe ask me a question or two? Wanna buy a copy of Ancillary Mercy and have me sign it?

    If you answered yes to any of those questions, consider coming to the University City Library at 7pm this evening.

    Subterranean Books (not the publisher, the St. Louis bookstore) will have copies for sale, and if I get my act together there will be cookies.

    See you there!