Prepare yourselves, dear readers, for today I will be telling you about an experience that changed my life.
No, not a death-defying feat, a thrilling adventure, or an inspiring turn of events.
Specifically, “You Can’t Suck at Everything,” a writing workshop that I was lucky enough to attend last October at GeekGirlCon ‘18.
As someone who has abandoned so many half-finished novels I could set up a small graveyard in my backyard, I couldn’t get to this workshop quickly enough. Not only did it promise to help provide the basics of a 3-act story structure, delve into character creation and worldbuilding, and explore how our perceived “flaws” are actually key to finding and articulating our own unique perspective as writers, but it was also run by the one and only Margaret Stohl.
If you are one of the ten billion people (a rough estimate) who devoured the Beautiful Creatures series (co-authored with Kami Garcia), you might be familiar with the powerhouse talent that is Margaret Stohl. As if being an internationally bestselling author isn’t enough, Stohl has also written multiple comics, including the Mighty Captain Marvel series, and has a long career as a writer and narrative director for video games.
Almost immediately, Stohl cultivated a sense of community in the workshop, uniting us all as writers, artists, and creators of all kinds. It can be so easy to feel isolated as a writer or creator. If you’re like most of us, you’re probably plagued by constant doubts, spend an unhealthy amount of time with fictional characters, spin off into daydreams when you should be doing things like “concentrating” or “working at your day job,” and guard your work like a fearsome dragon mother.
This workshop felt like the perfect antidote to the self-imposed isolation of doubt, fear, and embarrassment. When everyone’s in the same boat, what is there to be self-conscious about?
There were so many points, tips, and ideas that I walked away from the workshop with, but, in the interest of not making you read a full thesis, here are some of the highlights:
Everyone has a story, and everyone wants to tell a story. As Stohl said, “I’m interested in yours and you should be more interested in yours than anyone.”
Don’t put off what you want because you’re worried about failing. You will fail! Spoiler alert: that’s okay.
It’s hard to take yourself seriously as a writer and creator, even–and especially–if it’s the thing you want most in the world. Do it anyway. Affirm yourself as a writer and creator.
“If you want something, you take it. There is exactly nothing standing between you and that thing.”
“You cannot write a protagonist without being a protagonist in your own life.”
Understand who you are writing for, and write for them, not for the whole world.
A novel is, at its core, just 30 words. Write a list of 30 words that map the arc of your story, and make those your chapters. Go from there.
You are probably a specialist in fear. Write about that, use that. There is nothing you know more about than what you fear.
Start developing and curating your “brain office.” Collect and organize your material, even in your own mind.
Keep everything. Old lists, descriptions, terrible poems, scraps of dialogue. Keep it all.
Find a critique partner for accountability and support.
“Do not confuse sucking at one thing with sucking at everything.”
There you have it, some solid gold advice for when you’re feeling stuck, uninspired, or insecure. If I came away with one conviction from the workshop, it’s that I’m a writer. I’m a creator.
Veronica Hernandez, Senior Roto/Paint Artist at LAIKA and the host of the Enter LAIKA: Behind the Scenes panel, kicked off her introduction to LAIKA with the clip above. “We’re all super geeks,” she explained when it ended. “At LAIKA, being weird is a superpower. We get to come together and make these amazing films.”
The fourth member of our Voice of a Hero panel was one that I was particularly interested in listening to at GeekGirlCon ‘17. Kimberly Brooks, whose voiceover work you’ll hear just about everywhere, shared with us her years of experience working on everything from Rugrats, to Bioshock Infinite and Voltron. A fan of hers myself, I was ecstatic to cover her personal Q&A at the convention.
Art saves lives.
Kimberly was really shy growing up, and faced a pretty rough period during her childhood. It was her 5th grade teacher that really helped spark her creativity. She had a small puppet theater set up in her classroom, and Kimberly started voicing all of the puppets in her own little shows. After listening, her teacher invited Kimberly to audition for the children’s theater. They were putting on Alice in Wonderland.
She gave Kimberly the confidence to believe in herself, and like all creatives eventually do, that’s how she got the bug.
She did the children’s theater, and later moved on to a good high school in LA with a pretty stellar theater department. She was in Sweeney Todd, she played Mrs. Lovett. It was a great experience where she learned different aspects of production, like directing.
As some of you already know, I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember. I had been eagerly awaiting the GGC’17 Looking for Leia panel since I first read about it while helping edit the con’s program booklet. The panel highlighted filmmaker Annalise Ophelian’s six-episode docu-series Looking for Leia about women of the Star Wars fandom. The panelists included Annalise herself, along with droid-builder Christina Cato, Rebel Legion member Pat M. Yulo, physician and starwars.com writer Linda Hansen-Raj, fanfiction author and cosplayer Maggie Nowakowska, and KUOW reporter Jamala Henderson.
Given the wildly fluctuating highs and lows of 2017 (let’s face it, mainly lows), this past year’s GeekGirlCon represented the perfect space to reflect on the progress that has been made in the media we love, as well as the work that still needs to be done. One panel which perfectly encapsulated this blend of nostalgia and foresight was Lassos, Lightsabers, and Stakes: Assessing the Heroine’s Journey 20 Years After Buffy.
Image Description: Buffy twirls a stake in her hand. Source: Giphy.
Since 2017 was the 20th anniversary of the premiere of the complex and groundbreaking Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series, this panel highlighted the ways in which the entertainment industry still struggles to accept the lessons demonstrated by the enduring impact of the show, its characters, and its fans. Simultaneously, panelists celebrated the gains made through media ranging from Wonder Woman and Star Wars at the movies to Supergirl, The 100, and The Crown on television.
Drawing on the theory of the Heroine’s Journey – a counterpoint, most notably presented by Maureen Murdock in her 1990 book of the same name, to Joseph Campbell’s famed Hero’s Journey – in which characters experience a cyclical journey of personal and communal growth, the panelists analyzed the state of affairs in media representation for women and other underrepresented communities.
Image Description: A gif of Buffy squinting her eyes and looking intense. Source: Giphy.
The panelists included B.J. Priester, a law professor, novelist, editor, and self-professed “lifelong geek;” Tricia Barr, an engineer, novelist, and writer at the FANgirl blog; and Jennifer K. Stuller, a writer, editor, and pop culture critic and historian specializing in the history of American female superheroines and action heroines in comics, film, and television.
Image Description: A gif of Buffy and Willow, with Buffy sucking on a lollipop. Source: Giphy.
Fittingly beginning with the enduring significance of Buffy, the panelists discussed the modern-day resonance of its values, especially the themes of community, friendship, mutual support, and female empowerment and leadership. The panelists argued that, while many shows shaped the values of young people at the time, Buffy truly defined those values. However, the show is not without its flaws. The panelists noted the egregious lack of diversity in the show’s cast as a particularly frustrating limitation. Similarly, the actions of the show’s creator Joss Whedon – which have been incredibly problematic and disappointingtosaytheleast– are important to grapple with for fans who continue to glean insight, comfort, and empowerment from the series.
Image Description: A gif of the character Rey from Star Wars, with the caption saying “Follow me.” Source: Giphy.
The panel subsequently analyzed Star Wars and Wonder Woman, pieces of media which represent both how far we have come in terms of representation for women in film, as well as highlight the limitations that we still encounter time and time again. With the emergence of the character Rey, the Star Wars universe has introduced an exceptional new example of a heroic arc, as well as an inspirational figure for audiences and storytellers to connect with. At the same time, the film series needs to ensure that all female characters are depicted as full human beings, with agency and complexity of their own.
Image Description: A gif of the character Diana from Wonder Woman, deflecting a bullet with her forearm cuff. Source: Giphy.
As Jennifer noted, Wonder Woman not only became the highest grossing DC comic film ever, but had a “visceral, resonant impact,” due to the care with which director Patty Jenkins crafted a narrative of empowerment and the struggle for power and self-determination in a world marred by war and misogynistic violence. However, as Trisha noted, Wonder Woman is far from perfect, and it too falls far short in terms of full representation for women and marginalized groups as a whole.
This panel is a perennial staple at GeekGirlCon, a chance to check in on the state of affairs in feminist media. As the panelists noted, every year there are more stories to talk about, more examples of exciting and necessary representation, and more opportunities in the future to look forward to. But as with the Heroine’s Journey itself, the progress of intersectional feminist representation is never-ending, and we must constantly challenge ourselves to support diverse media, to fight for greater representation, and to create our own narratives which challenge all of us to extend our knowledge, understanding, and empathy.
Image Description: A gif of Dawn from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with the caption saying “Cause at least I admit the world makes me nuts. Source: Giphy.
I should be fanning myself, really, as I recollect Fryda Wolff’s Q&A at GeekGirlCon ‘17. So buckle up guys, because I’m about to reiterate why her panel was one of my absolute favorites at the convention, and how Fryda easily became one of my top girl crushes of all time (nice and snug between Maggie Stiefvater and Danai Gurira).
GeekGirlCon was Fryda’s first ever convention as a voice actor, and we couldn’t have felt more honored or humble to have her with us. She was a force to be reckoned with, whose voice didn’t demand but immediately earned my absolute attention when I first heard her speak during the Voice of a Hero panel the day before. Her confidence was intoxicating, and made live-tweeting her panel almost impossible, as nearly everything she said was a quote that could be used to inspire the masses. She was truly amazing, and was eager to share her experience getting started in gaming and how that got her into voice acting.
While Fryda began her voiceover journey in 2013, that’s not where her career in gaming started.
She graduated high school a year early, in fact, the week she turned 17. She wanted to be a campaign manager back then, and didn’t have a clue how far from that she’d end up (although it did play a pretty big role in how she got there).
Even though Fryda ended up in the gaming industry, it wasn’t until high school when she got her first PC. She then dubbed herself a PC gamer, and got really into Blizzard (because I swear, all us cool kids started our Blizzard phase when we should have been studying). The interest sort of sparked from there, she really loved to game. “This is what happens when you don’t let your kids do things,” Fryda joked. Gaming wasn’t something she did a lot growing up, so the infatuation was serve. It was fun and exciting.
…and then it just happened.
Sony was hosting an event in Vegas, Fryda’s home town. The event was supposed to host about a thousand people, but unfortunately the venue could barely hold two hundred and fifty. She put that prior interest in campaign management to work and did something about it. She started organizing people, and eventually ushered those who couldn’t get in to all meet at a nearby GameWorks.
Long story short, someone from Sony hunted her down and nonchalantly asked “do you want a job?”
Being a Disney fan can be tough sometimes. Despite the countless hours I’ve spent rewatching “Moana” and belting out the entire “Mulan” soundtrack, it’s impossible to ignore the many, many ways in which Disney films – as well as all the other aspects of the massive capitalistic juggernaut that is the Disney corporation – have been incredibly problematic, normalizing sexism, racism, and other forms of oppressive bigotry. For many of us, Disney is an omnipresent influence throughout our lives, representing all that is beautiful, nostalgic, and hopeful, while simultaneously perpetuating harmful messages and stereotypes.
Given this dilemma, I couldn’t wait to sit in on the Dissecting Disney: Race, Gender, Sexuality in Children’s Films panel from this past year’s Con. Led by Dr. Arielle Wetzel, a lecturer in Writing Studies at the University of Washington Tacoma, and an amazing group of her students both past and present, this in-depth, thoughtful panel addressed how we can still love Disney films while finding them problematic, analyzing films such as “Zootopia,” “Moana,” “The Lion King,” and many more through a critical, intersectional lens.
The panelists began by introducing themselves and their geeky, Disney-related interests. At UW-Tacoma, Dr. Wetzel has taught a variety of pop culture topics, including television, warrior women, Disney, and Mr. Robot. She was joined by Theo Calhoun, an Ethnic, Gender, Labor studies major who enjoys film and board games; Larissa Bokoni, a recent UW-Tacoma Communication major graduate who is also a French translator and MAC makeup artist; Kiona Jones, a graduate student in the Master of Social work program at UW-Tacoma and an intern with the Children’s Administration; Ashley Primer, a recent Art, Media, and Culture graduate from UW-Tacoma and former intern at the Destiny City Film Festival; and Joshua “Rocky” Marks, a Psychology major at UW-Tacoma who is also a semi-professional voice actor who has had a few roles in audiobooks, games, and animation.
Now, without further ado, let’s dive into the panel itself!
Image Description: The character Wendy Darling from the film “Peter Pan” jumps off the plank of Captain Hook’s pirate ship. Source: Giphy.
One of my favorite things about GeekGirlCon is the way provides a space to critique the media we love and discuss how it could be made better. The Do Black Heroes Matter? panel was a perfect example of this. The panelists included writer, filmmaker, performer, and self-described hater on twitter Isabella L. Price, writer and GeekGirlCon twitter administrator Kristine Hassell, and tech professional and self-described Superpowered Diva of Dopeness Risha K.
Isabella set the panel’s tone in her introduction when she explained that this was the panelists’ third time doing this panel and said, tongue-in-cheek, that, “this is old hat. We’ve already solved racism; this is just a refresher course.” Once the introductions were done, she went on to dedicate the panel to Darrien Hunt, a twenty-two year old black man who was shot and killed by police in 2014 while cosplaying as Mugen from Samurai Champloo. Police saw him as a threat, she explained, which is one of the reasons why the fight for representation is so important.
Going into my second Con as both an attendee and a copywriter, I was incredibly excited to attend the panel “¿Como Se Dice ‘Nerd’?” Last year, this panel was without a doubt one of the highlights of my entire convention experience, and this year proved to be no different. Moderated by Sylvia Artiga, a writer and the creator and manager of ¿Cómo Se Dice Nerd?, an online spaced dedicated to celebrating Latinx nerds and their contribution to art, music, and pop culture, the panel explored the fraught yet joyous intersection of Latinidad and geekdom. Artiga’s fellow panelists included Tristan J. Tarwater, a prolific comic and fantasy writer, Isabel Ann Castro, an illustrator who acts as co-founder and art director for St. Sucia, an international Latinx art and literature zine, and organizer for the San Anto Zine Fest, and Joamette Gil, an illustrator, cartoonist, curator, podcaster and publisher.
Image Description: Panelists speak at the “Como se dice ‘Nerd'” panel at 2016’s GeekGirlCon. Source: Sayed Alamy via GeekGirlCon flickr
The panel was guided by a variety of questions surrounding creativity, community, and identity. How does language, nationality, race, and history influence the way Latinx nerds interact with fandoms, hobbies, and geekery in general? What are some of the works or places that make Latinx nerds feel welcome and represented and what feels isolating? How can geeky interests be used to confront issues of colorism, colonialism, and culture clashes in the Latinx community?
The beginning of the panel focused on introducing the panelists, a diverse group of self-identifying Latinx nerds from a wide variety of backgrounds. The panelists immediately reflected on the difficulty of the time in which the panel was taking place. This year, the convention took place during the utter devastation of Hurricane Maria, and the ensuing governmental and aid response (or lack thereof). Artiga and her fellow panelists noted that it was a “heavy time” for the Latinx community, and that GeekGirlCon provided an opportunity for those carrying so much stress and heartache to still recognize how much they simultaneously deserve joy and fun.
The panelists then highlighted some of the ways in which their geekery interacted – and often clashed – with their Latinx identity growing up. As fledgling nerds within a Latinx community, the touchstones of nerd culture that they loved were often seen as “American” (read: white), leaving the panelists in a difficult position in which “American-ness” was both venerated and discouraged. As Tarwater pointed out, “the whiter you acted, the better you could do,” highlighting pressure from within the Latinx community to comply with the forces of assimilation in order to get by. Artiga underscored this point, noting that there is a “painful and complicated narrative of passing into ‘Americanness.’” Ultimately, many of the lessons that the panelists absorbed growing up played into the false narrative that if marginalized people play by the rules of assimilation they will succeed and be accepted. Part of their individual and collective activism lies in recognizing the damage of this narrative, making sure that the Latinx community knows that it doesn’t “have to play the game anymore,” and creating new spaces for Latinx people to thrive without having to adhere to the strictures of a white, capitalistic, colonialist society.
In order to create these spaces, the panelists spoke about the crucial importance of the internet as a tool for communicating, collaborating, sharing work, finding your voice, finding an audience, and, ultimately, expressing yourself independently and authentically. In this way, Latinx creators can push for their own representation, creating media that speaks to their experiences far more directly than anything in the mainstream. The internet also tends to have a snowball effect, creating large-scale change out of small-scale projects and mobilizing people around common goals and experiences. To this end, the panelists highlighted the hashtag #latinxscreate, which provides one such space to share and celebrate Latinx work that is also inclusive of the Black community.
Image Description: Audience members at the “Como se dice ‘Nerd'” panel at 2016’s GeekGirlCon. Source: Sayed Alamy via GeekGirlCon flickr
The panel moved on to a discussion of the challenges facing Latinx nerds and how to face them. The panelists noted how much guilt can be involved in the process of creation for Latinx individuals – a sense that pursuing their passions means betraying both their community and their ancestors. They reflected on the importance of being self-centered rather than selfish, of paying attention to what you are and what you want as long as it doesn’t hurt others. They spoke of the fact that guilt will inevitably crop up, but alongside it there must be space for a reclamation of happiness and joy, and a recognition that incredible suffering has occurred in the hopes of building a better future.
The panelists then offered a few examples of great representation of Latinx identity within mainstream media, such as characters from “Jane the Virgin” and Cisco from “The Flash,” as well as the re-vamped America comics from Marvel. Alongside these positive representations, the panelists also expressed uncertainty about Claire Temple from “Luke Cage” and frustration over the fact that white brunette actors are often substituted for Latinx characters and that Afro-Latinx women are usually cast as Black characters. Because of the disappointing nature of so much media representation of Latinx identity, many of the panelists spoke about purposefully avoiding content that promises Latinx characters in the understandable fear that they won’t deliver. The representation that is necessary is of Latinx characters as authentic, well-rounded, diverse people – a low bar, but one that mainstream media all too often fails to meet.
Image Description: Panelists speak at the “Como se dice ‘Nerd'” panel at 2016’s GeekGirlCon. Source: Sayed Alamy via GeekGirlCon flickr
The panel concluded with a question and answer period. One attendee reflected on the fact that too many Latinx characters are written by white people and the result is almost uniformly terrible. They wondered where consumers should be looking right now to nurture Latinx creators. In response, the panelists pointed to the aforementioned #latinxscreate hashtag along with the #comesedicenerd hashtag as valuable resources, as well as the power of writing and creating for yourself. They noted that it’s important for Latinx creators to allow themselves space to fail and get it wrong, but that putting their work out their is too important to stay silent out of fear.
Another attendee asked about Latinx-owned businesses to support, to which the panelists noted that many creators at the Con itself were incredible and more than worthy of support. They also highlighted zine fests, creator Patreon pages, and the importance of supporting friends and utilizing community resources, as well as prioritizing money to support independent creators of color. One of the final questions centered around “passing privilege” as a light-skinned Latinx person, and wondered how they could interact within Latinx spaces without bulldozing and taking advantage of their privilege. In response, Artiga noted that “there is space for people to be the scaffolding and make the space” for others to speak, to provide crucial behind-the-scenes support and signal boosting and to use privilege and the energy that privilege provides to call out racism and prejudice where those with less privilege might feel unable to. Ultimately, the panelists also emphasized the fact that light-skinned Latinxs are “part of the story too,” and have an importance space within the larger fight for greater representation of the incredibly diverse Latinx community.
This panel was thought-provoking, beautiful, and an important reminder of the power that creators have when nurtured by an inclusive and committed community. Here’s hoping that the panel will be back to provide additional insight and inspiration at this year’s Con!
(Also, a reminder that, more than three months after Hurricane Maria, nearly half of Puerto Rico’s residents still do not have power and the devastation from the hurricane (and the lack of an adequate governmental response) means that attention and support is as necessary as ever. Alongside supporting Puerto Rican creators, please consider checking out the following links and directly contributing to disaster relief efforts:)