Writing News: an Update

An update, although not much of one.

Copper Road will probably come out sometime around January 14, 2021. That’s later than I had hoped, but not all that far away. It will be available by pre-order through Amazon.

They are working on a cover, and I hope to have a cover reveal in a week or two.

I will have electronic Advance Reader Copies (ARCS) available. If you are a reviewer and you are interested, let me know.

On my secret project, I got an editorial letter on Friday. I plan to look closely at it starting Monday. The timeframe for that project is pretty long, so I’m going to stay focused on Book Three of the Copper Road series for right now.

Welp. That’s it.

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The Way We Live Now 9: Masks.

The minority opinion: I like masks. At least, I kind of like them.

I feel obligated to point out a few things I don’t like about wearing masks. When it’s hot outside, it’s hotter and more humid inside the mask. I don’t like that. When it’s cooler, my glasses fog up. It’s difficult to make myself understood sometimes, through a mask and a plastic barrier. Some masks dislodge my glasses and make them go sliding like an Olympic ski-jumper, which is inconvenient.

But there are several cool things about masks that I feel are being overlooked.

Minimizing Make-Up:

I was never a big make-up person; okay, any kind of make-up person. In my case, the degree of improvement never justified the expense or the effort. A mask covers enough of my face that I don’t even need sunscreen most of the time.

But, for those who wear make-up, masks give you an excellent “stage” for first-class eye cosmetics. I’ve seen men and women making the whole eye-liner thing work, and the masks really help draw the attention upward. A woman cashier in her twenties helped me at a shop in Mendocino. She wore a moss-green mask with bold flowers—orchids, I think—as the print, and a tracery of gold. She’d done the elongated, cat’s-eye line in kohl-style eyeliner on her eyes, had spikey black lashes, and her shimmery shadow was the same shade of green as the fabric. Way to rock a mask!

Fashion Accessory:

Masks can harmonize with your outfit, or be outfits in themselves, with sequins, flashing lights, and fashion prints. I have two cotton masks with bright floral embroidery on them and I get compliments every time I wear them. And at least once a day I acknowledge someone else’s mask.

Sloganeering, Not Just for T-Shirts Anymore:

Our chests, backs, heads and arms are already prime real estate for brands, sports times, artists we like, our pets, our favorite witty sayings, favorite art, or strong political statements. And now, masks. I’ve seen many I Can’t Breathe and Black Lives Matter masks. The other day at the farmers market I saw a Biden/Harris mask. People wear the stars and stripes. There could be Trump/Pence masks—oh, no, I guess there wouldn’t be. I have a mask of a print that shows old book covers, and my Mendocino Coast Writers Conference mask is my spare mask, in my purse at all times.

Mask of Mystery:

Various face coverings come in different shapes. I have two that have the flexible nose wire and extend down under my chin—like superhero masks. I can pretend I am a superhero. All I need is a cowl and a cape. Oh, wait, no capes, we know they’re unsafe. Anyway, mask, cowl, and a superpower, and I’m good to go.

Plenty of Cover:

The one thing no one admits; it is much easier to talk to yourself when you’re wearing a mask!

So, other than the most obvious thing about wearing a mask—that you are protecting others and yourself from a potentially deadly virus—there are several other benefits! And, in closing, I restate that I know this is a minority opinion.

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Squeeze Me and Topo Chico; a Perfect Pairing

Writing friend Donna Banta introduced me to two good things; Squeeze Me, by Carl Hiaasen, and Topo Chico, a sparkling water from Mexico that is currently having a moment.

Hiaasen’s latest propulsive, bananas-crazy acid-dripping satirical Floridian outing takes place in and around the Winter White House of a completely fictional US president. The unnamed president is referred to by his title or by his Secret service Handle, Mastodon. Much of the action happens at the luxury hotel Mastodon owns, Casa Belicosa. The bored, gorgeous, much younger ex-model first lady is called Mockingbird.

The protagonist of the story is a wildlife retrieval (or removal) expert named Angie Armstrong. Angie is a classic Hiaasen protagonist. She has a love for the dwindling wilds of her home state, she’s practical, smart, tough and sexy. She’s willing to manipulate if it’s in what she believes is a good cause. Angie has a strong sense of justice and a temper that’s maybe a little bit too strong, and a tendency to take things into her own hands… well, so to speak.

Angie gets called to a fancy fundraising venue to deal with a burmese python, which is found in a tree near a koi pond. The python is clearly sleeping off a very large meal, the evidence of which is still obvious. By no coincidence, one of the president’s supporters, an old, wealthy white widow named Kiki Pew Fitzsimmons, disappeared with no trace from this very venue only a few nights earlier, despite the presence of numerous cameras. She left behind only a purse and a half tab of Ecstasy, found near the koi pond.

Kiki was a proud member of a cadre of septuagenarian widows who call themselves the POTUS Pussies or Potussies for short. In no time at all, Mastodon has whipped up racist sentiment by blaming a random Honduran man who came into the country without papers of the murder of Kiki, or, as he calls her, Kikey.

Despite his short attention span, his love of MacDonald’s, his ignorance, his hotel and his ex-model wife with an unidentified accent, Mastodon is a fictional character and I’m sure any resemblance to the current occasional occupant of the White House is coincidental.

Mastodon has a part to play in the story, but this story is Angie’s. The plot is as propulsive and twisty as a world-class rollercoaster, swirling with pythons, pink pearls, secret service agents, bobcats, raccoons, very stupid criminals, horrifying production numbers, tanning beds and an eccentric man who lives in the wilds and was once the governor of Florida. I can’t remember what names he’s used before, but in this book he goes by Skink.

You can’t write such precise and savage satire without fueling it from a deep well of rage, and clearly Hiaasen has that. There is no mention of gun violence or the anti-journalistic sentiment vocally and viciously expressed by the current occupant of the White House in Squeeze Me, but Hiaasen’s journalist and editor brother was killed in a gun attack on the Capital Gazette in 2018. Don’t get me wrong, Hiaasen was dissecting stupidity, greed and corruption long before then. This story seems exceptionally vitriolic, but it’s precisely aimed and exquisitely delivered vitriol.

I’ll end the review by letting you spend a few moments with Mastodon.

On only his second day in the White House, the President had ordered his chief of staff to arrange a trip to the National Zoo to see a real mastodon. The chief of staff wasn’t brave enough to tell the President the truth, so he cooked up a story that the zoo’s beloved mastodon herd was on loan to a wildlife park in Christchurch, New Zealand.

This acerbic, jabbing story pairs perfectly with a tall glass of Topo Chico over ice. The sparkling water comes in various flavors, but I prefer the unflavored with a slice of citrus (my fave at the moment is lime). The beverage comes in 12 oz bottles and at my local store it’s anywhere from twelve to twenty cents cheaper per bottle than other sparkling waters, even local ones. (There’s a message there of some kind). It’s sold in four-packs as well. The drink is very bubbly–like, if you haven’t refrigerated it, open it over the sink–refreshing and festive.

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Checking In

I was slightly relieved to see that it hasn’t been a full month since I blogged. It’s just been close.

There have been a few distractions around my place, mostly good, but not all. I managed to go up the coast for a few days after my birthday; that was pleasant and ultimately productive.

Before and after that trip, there have been fires. Currently, a fire that is a eerie rerun of 2017 Tubbs Rd fire is burning east of Santa Rosa, having burned and threated much of St Helena and Calistoga in Napa County. In Sonoma County, 65,000 people have left their homes under an evacuation order.

There’s good news I can’t talk about yet, so.

And there’s good news I can talk about. Copper Road, the sequel to Aluminum Leaves, should be coming out by the end of the year, baring unforeseen circumstances. (A foolish thing to say in 2020, I know.) In fact, it might be out mid-November.

Once I have a cover I’ll do a cover reveal here.

Copper Road is a full novel, about 90,000 words. While part of the book follows Erin Dosmanos and Trevian Langtree as they try to beat back the mind-controlling parasites from another reality, I also introduce Trevian’s smart, take-no-shit ex-fiancé Ilsanja Silvestro and Trevian’s sister Aideen, who struggles to save the family’s company when her father is the victim of a murderous attack. It’s got bandits, mind-control, a lesbian love story, horses and chocolate, so there should be something on that list that will appeal to you. More later!

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The Dragon Awards

The Dragon Awards, for excellence is speculative fiction, were awarded over Labor Day weekend. Depending on your point of view, you might say there were no surprises, or the results were a stunning surprise.

Here are the various Best Novel category winners.

Best SF Novel: The Last Emperox by John Scalzi
Best Fantasy Novel: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Best Ya Novel: Finch Merlin and the Fount of Youth by Bella Forest
Best Alt History Novel: Witchy Kingdom by D.J. Butler
Best Military SF Novel: Savage Wars by Nick Cole and Jason Anspaugh
Best Horror Novel: The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher
Best Media Tie-In Novel: Firefly–The Ghost Machine by James Lovegrove

That’s a lot of winners, which is fun for everyone, but also points out an area of complaint for the Dragon Awards. It has so darn many categories! I’m not even done yet. There’s short fiction, comic books,graphic novels, games, movies and TV adaptations. This is all in keeping with the DragonCon brand, but makes for an overwhelming ballot.

Scalzi winning for the final book in a popular series, books of which have been nominated before, was no surprise, although it outraged a vocal group of people who don’t like Scalzi and who supported Dragon mostly to try to escape Scalzi’s popularity. As far as I’m concerned, the best horror novel is a perfect fit; T. Kingfisher’s hill-country horror novel was scary, homey, folksy and funny. I hadn’t read any of the Military SF (MILSF), alt history, the media tie-in or the YA.

The Starless Sea was a surprise. The book is beautifully written and fulfills a lot of wish/fantasies; friends to the death and good cocktails being two. The plot meanders and the book is luscious, but slow. That was a feature for me, and I guess it was for Dragon voters too, but I wouldn’t have guessed they liked that sort of thing.

There are some real plusses to the Dragon Award, and some minuses. Some features end up in both categories.

Some plusses:

The Award itself is pretty! It looks like art glass.

By the stated intent of the Dragon Award committee (I guess there’s one?) the open voting, which makes it more like a People’s Choice award than either the Hugos or the Nebulas. The closest other genre award is the Locus Awards, I think.

The number of categories. (Plus and minus.)

Some minuses:

The Dragon Awards page insists that even though anyone with an email address can vote, each person can only vote once and they can control that. I’ve read several comments in various places about people who voted more than once, because they have more than one email. I don’t know how Dragon has addressed this or if it plans to. Right now they’re a fun award. If they want the kind of credibility that gets a sticker “Winner of 2020 Dragon Award” on a writer’s book for a marketing boost, they’ll need to offer better accountability around voting, I think.

Odd eligibility period, short gap between finalists and final vote date. The eligibility period can be managed. The short time period between the announcement of the finalists and the final vote means there is no way to read/watch/play everything that’s nominated. To me this is a bug; to them it might be a feature, because they expect people to just vote for their favorites and not bother sampling something new. If that’s the case, it’s a shame.

Too many categories. This is definitely meant as a feature, and you don’t have to nominate in every category, but still, it looks confusing and exhausting.

As I said in an earlier column, the Dragon Award is four years old. If it were a human child it would be toddling off to preschool, or at least sitting down in front of a tablet. They’ve got time to make necessary tweaks. And, as more people find out about it, more people may choose to nominate and vote. I’ll stay tuned.

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The Way We Live Now #8

Stranded cruise ships.
No masks needed.
Six feet of distance is good!
Walk in the street.
Making sourdough.
What’s Zoom?
Masks made from socks.
Masks made from T-shirts.
Masks made from scarves.
N95 Masks.
Don’t use N95 masks.
Social distancing.

YouTube “living room” concerts.
Stores closed.
Essential workers.
No funerals.
Bodies in ice rinks.
“Anyone can get a test.”
Not enough tests.
Don’t pet the dogs!
Zoom calls—it’s easy!
Teddy bears in the windows.

Drive by church services.
Not enough tests.
Wearing a mask certainly can’t hurt.
Beaches are closed.
Parks are closed.
Toilet paper shortages.
Hand sanitizer shortages.
Sugar shortages.
Flour shortages.
Hand sanitizer recipes.
Zoom meetings.
Isopropyl alcohol shortage.
180 proof booze shortage.
Video weddings.

Wear a mask.
Testing centers.
“What do you mean, no live sports?”
Current episodes of Jeopardy.
“Hydroxychloroquine—a miracle cure!”
Hydroxychloroquine is not the miracle cure.
Beaches are open!
Beaches are closed.
Jeopardy tournaments.
Drive-by birthdays.
Graduation greetings on the sides of cars.
Blue tape on the floor.
Drink bleach.
Inject disinfectant.
“What have you got to lose?”
Cats of Quarantine.
Cats with masks.
Sculptures with masks.
Zooms drinks parties.
“Plans for Reopening.”

“Jeopardy—from the vault!”
“Hydroxychloroquine—a miracle cure!”
Hydroxychloroquine is still not the miracle cure.
“Limit one per customer.”
Restaurants open for takeout.
Stores—curbside service!
“The poop plume!”
Designer masks.
Zoom fatigue.
Uplifting Youtube videos.
Randy Rainbow.
Parks are open to locals.
Parks are open.
“A crowded park is a closed park.”
White circles in the grass.

Stores are open.
Outside dining.
Message masks.
Hair salons are open.
Bars are open.
Bars are closed.
Hair salons are closed.
“I don’t have to wear no stinking mask!”
In-person political event.
Hot spot.
Hot spots.
Colleges open for in-person activities.
Frat parties.
Hot spots.
Colleges close.
Protestors—wearing masks.
“Oleandrin—it’s a miracle cure!”
Oleandrin is not the miracle cure.
Discussing your Zoom fatigue on your Zoom call.
Plan for Reopening.
“There is no green for normal.”

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The Way We Live Now #7: My Bags Are Packed

My suitcase sits upright by the door. It’s so heavy I’m glad it’s the wheelie kind. The closest thing to clothing in it are a pair of shoes and a couple of towels wrapped around family pictures, still framed. One device is packed up and nestled on top of the towels. The rest of the space is filled with the binders holding the trust and the wills, several paper files with active issues (medical, contracts) and a few books.

On top of it sits my Go-bag, holding spare glasses, medication, toothbrush-and-paste, shampoo, soap, etc, charger cords (colorcoded and labeled), a copy of my birth certificate and California Drivers License–although I should check because it might be the expired one–and about four days’ worth of clothing.

There will be a third bag that will hold bulky items, that I won’t pack until the last minute–which could mean some of them won’t get packed.

I hadn’t bought fuel for my car since February, and I still had half a tank, but day before yesterday I filled the tank, and ran the car through the carwash. More about that in a minute.

Since March, my life, like everyone’s, has mostly been about the coronavirus. The bags aren’t about that. They’re about wildfires and evacuation warnings.

My post-coffee morning routine used to be: Sit down at the computer. Check email. Go to socoemergency.org and check the coronavirus dashboard for daily updates. Move on to social media. Get some writing done, or procrastinate and later pretend I’ve gotten some writing done. (Throughout the day things like Go For a Walk, Buy Groceries, were in there too.)

I didn’t power down my device every night, but I tried to about once a week, mainly because of updates.

Now my routine is; power up the baby laptop. Sit down in front of it. Go to socoemergency.org and check evacuation information. Flip over to coronavirus dashboard. Check email. Move on to social media. Don’t even pretend to try to write.

I wear a mask every time I step out the door now, even to handwater in the yard, not because of the virus, but in the hope it will cut the particulate matter (read; ash, cinder, smoke) slightly.

Remember how I said I washed my car? I mention that because if you saw it today you wouldn’t be able to tell.

My night routine used to be: Put my phone on the charger in another room, go to bed. Now it’s: Power down the baby laptop and put it on top of the box with the fully charged power brick, the fully charged Jet Pack modem, the cords for the second phone charger. Carry the phone into the bedroom and put it on the bureau so I will hear a Wireless Emergency Alert or a Nixle alert during the night. Charge the phone in the morning.

My point? It’s the third week of August. Our really bad fires usually start in October. Until now.

I fully believe those bags will wait by my door until December. This is how the world works now.

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Dragons and Hugos

(This is a snarky, opinionated post. I’m entitled to those once in a while.)

The Hugo awards, recognizing excellence in speculative fiction, were first awarded in 1953, according to the Hugo website. The first Hugos were presented at WorldCon in Philadephia.

The Dragon Awards, recognizing excellence in all things Science Fiction and Fantasy, began in 2016. They are awarded annually at DragonCon in Atlanta, Georgia, a huge gaming, entertainment media and book convention–the largest one I know of. According to an Atlanta business journal, 85,000 people attended last year. (DragonCon’s online this year.)

To nominate a work, or vote, in the Hugo selection, you must become a member of WorldCon for that year. That doesn’t mean you have to shell out the full registration and plan to attend the convention; you can join as an associate member.

Anyone who registers with a legitimate email address on the Dragon Award website can nominate and vote for that award. The founders of the Dragon saw this as a way to truly democratize the vote; it’s kind of like the People’s Choice Awards.

Dragon was a direct response to the Great Puppy Kerfuffle of 2015. I don’t have a timeline, but I can give you the gist. A right-wing urban fantasy writer who sells extremely well began whining publicly that he never got nominated for a Hugo. Obviously this was only because the Hugo were controlled by a bunch of snooty nose-in-the-air lefties who wouldn’t know a good book if it booted them in the behind. On his behalf a group of conservative SF writers who didn’t like the way things were going in the field–a shocking number of people of color and even women were selling books and getting awards!–so they mounted a campaign to get their guy a nomination. I think that was in 2014, and they fell short of enough nominations to qualify him.

But a more mischievous and virulent group of misogynistic white supremacist writers/game developers/bloggers picked up this technique and decided to “game” the Hugos in 2015. They banded together and stuffed the nomination box. I say “game,” but nothing they did was ineligible under the Hugo rules at the time. Basically, they controlled several categories on the short list. The Hugo vote is a ranked vote, not one-person-one-vote-per-category, and it gives voters the No Award option in a category during the final voting. A running joke during the awards for that year was how many awards were presented to that virtually unknown writer, Noah Ward.

However, the Puppies Kerfuffle stirred up a lot of performative rage, a lot of poison and hatred and helped one cynical sociopath (in my opinion–I’m not a clinician) get a lot of free advertising for his “brand” and for his newly opened tiny alt-right press.

Here’s what it didn’t do–get the original whiny guy a Hugo.

In 2016, DragonCon developed the Dragon Awards. Their focus was on democracy–anyone can vote! You can only vote once per email address, but if you have several emails, you can vote that many times. Dragon is a con that loves video and tabletop gaming, military science fiction, action adventure movies and cos-playing. It is a younger crowd than the graying WorldCon attracts. It seems reasonable that the Dragon Awards would choose different books than the WorldCon voters.

The first year, a couple of Hugo nominees and winners also got nominated for Dragons. Several withdrew their works from the list in protest over how they viewed the inception of the award. One desired outcome was achieved though–the whiny guy got a Dragon Award.

Since then, the Dragon awards have refined their eligibility a bit. Their finalists lists have become more popular, a better indicator of the field, and less reactionary. They are not really the rightwingers’ “award of our own,” but that group has certainly embraced them, in a hard, suffocating embrace.

Which brings us to the shock and indignation they are expressing at this year’s group of Dragon Award finalists. I’ll give you a minute to go look.

Oh, dear! Margaret Atwood is a literary writer first and foremost. (One Puppy calls her a “parasite” on his blog .I think he means she’s a parasite on the SFF genre.) And John Scalzi and Chuck Wendig are on there! The Puppies are obsessed with Scalzi in an unhealthy way, and he enjoys taunting them, maybe a little too much. They hate Wendig too, same reason. Annalee Newitz? Oh, the humanity! She lives in San Francisco! She’s a lesbian and partnered with a trans woman who’s also a highly successful award-winning writer! Tamsyn Muir; responses tend to read like this: “I don’t even know who that is and who wants to read about futuristic lesbian necromancers with sunglasses anyway!”

Muir’s nom is a complete non-surprise. It seems to me the overlap of cos-players and gamers who love heavy metal, piercings and tattoos, with lovers of Gideon the Ninth would be about one hundred percent. Role-playing-game players who don’t love necromancers? Are there some?

Scalzi comes as a complete non-surprise too. The Last Emperox was fun. Dragon Awards participants like fun.

Tade Thompson, a Black man, who wrote something they won’t ever read–yeah, I see why they’re upset.

I will believe that these vocal outraged white men have not heard of The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow because it’s too far beyond their experience. Harrow’s literary-tinged portal fantasy, a critique of colonialism, with two rich and tender love stories and its glimmering prose, is about as far from the experience of these guys as successfully singing an opera aria would be for me.

I’ll say, Harrow and Newitz on this list surprised me too. It’s almost like a Secret Conspiracy of Left Wing Elites (SCOLWE) banded together, communicated in secret, and “gamed,” the Dragon Awards–almost as if there were a model out there, somewhere, for how to do that.

Or maybe, the Dragon Awards cleared their throat, pushed at the suffocating arms of the misogynistic white supremacists, and said, “Hey. Personal bubble. I don’t give you permission to grope me.”

Most likely, the democratization of the award is doing what it should do. 2019 had a bumper crop of excellent speculative fiction works. Maybe these are the books that people really liked. Maybe next year’s ballot will be filled with shoot-em-up space operas that don’t demand much of the reader, but were really fun–or a bunch of soapy paranormal romances because everyone read for escape in 2020. I don’t know, but I’ll be watching.

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Copy Edits Done

Today I sent back the Copper Road manuscript with the copy edits made. My copyeditor turned the document around pretty fast, I thought.

All in all, this process is much faster than “Aluminum Leaves.” There was a several-month gap between the time I submitted AL to my editor and the time she got back to me, based entirely on her workload. And there was a gap between the time I sent the revised version to her and it found its way to copyediting. Those gaps have been bridged, as Falstaff creates and codifies its procedures.

This time, they let my book jump the line because I sent it in a little early, my developmental editor Erin had a gap in her schedule and she thought Copper Road didn’t need any character, plot or structural changes.

The vast, vast majority of copyedit changes were to punctuation and punctuation-related things (I don’t know if three asterisks to indicate a section break is actually punctuation, but it seems like that’s the best category for it) to match the house style. In two or three places my copyeditor questioned word choices. Most of those I explained and didn’t change, but Melissa, the associate publisher, may push back on that. We’ll see. And in two places, the copyeditor thought the sequencing wasn’t clear and I actually rewrote a sentence or a paragraph.

For a 92,000 word book, I think that’s pretty good.

Some other documents went along with the manuscript:

  • The dedication
  • The acknowledgments. Along with all the people I thanked in “Aluminum Leaves” I added some more. You might be one of them!
  • An About the Author statement
  • An Other Works By list (a short list).

The next thing should be the cover. After that, page proofs. And after that, it’s real!

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The Way We Live Now #6: #MCWC2020

2020’s Mendocino Coast Writers Conference was entirely online. Zoom provided the backbone of the event, used for the morning workshops, the afternoon talks, readings and Open Mike, and as far as I know the consultations.

There were some surprising bonuses to an online conference. I’ll break them out below, but I want to call out one right now. People from Maine, USA, Britain, France, and Taiwan participated in the conference. (I think the person from Taiwan was getting up to start the “morning” workshop at midnight their time.)

Before I get into the pros and cons of an online conference, I want to mention the entire MCWC staff and their excellence. At the top of the list is Amy Lutz, who managed the logistics brilliantly.


I touched on access, but physical distance and travel wasn’t the only obstacle brushed away by technology. The conference is not terribly expensive for a conference, but in person you pay for three (possibly four) nights of lodging in a well-known resort town at the peak of the season. And you buy at least a few meals. MCWC2020 was instantly more affordable.


I didn’t have to wear shoes. It was nice to sit in my library in a comfortable chair rather in in a classroom three hours a day. I could refill my coffee or brew a cup of tea without worrying I was disrupting the class or missing anything vital, because I could hear the workshop from my kitchen.

Often presenters use a whiteboard or a chalkboard. In the in person morning workshops, this works well. In the larger in person afternoon talks, visibility can be dicey. With screen-share, everyone could see the material equally well.


Chat is a feature on every video conference platform I’ve seen. The conference encouraged the use of it during the sessions, with it set it to Everyone and Host. Those were the people you could chat with. Chat has a feature that lets you share with individuals only. It doesn’t show on the Chat screen, but it is not private. By setting the switch to, basically, Public, the conference made sure everyone knew that what they chatted about would be seen by everyone in the session.

And Chat was a great workshop feature! You could repeat names of titles people missed the first time around, clarify points, and post links without interrupting the group. Anyone having problems with their audio, which happened once or twice, can use Chat as an immediate backup. Chat gave an elegant pathway to agreeing with another participant’s comment, without slowing down the group.

If you really have to share something snarky  with a fellow participant, well, that’s what texting and email are for.

Tech Reliability:

My morning workshop experienced almost no technical problems. Yes, a few individuals had momentary glitches, but the software and the internet delivered, and that went a long way to making the conference a success. And again, kudos must go to the people working behind the scenes to make this experience seamless.

MCWC2020 was a great online conference and I’m glad I participated. It wasn’t the Mendocino Coast conference though, because the Mendocino coast wasn’t present.  Here are some other things that didn’t work as well for me.

Channels of Data Closed Off:

Weird subheading, I know. I learned a lot about how I take in information about other people. I think of myself as someone who processes information primarily visually. I don’t engage easily with audio-books. I like words, pictures, movies, plays, TV, slide shows and written instructions. Theoretically, then, video conferencing should be a good match for me. I only realized how much information I extract from nonverbals and non-audibles when I couldn’t access them.

I don’t even know what I was missing, exactly. The sense of connection to the group was tenuous. I couldn’t read body-language, of course, but somehow there is a whole cartload of cues I pick up in person that just weren’t there. And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one.

Losing the Margins:

Great conference stuff happens in the margins of the formal events—a conversation at breakfast, a few minutes in the classroom before or after the workshop, a meeting in the bathroom or while out on a walk. Those things didn’t happen online.

The conference staff know how important those peripheral moments are, and they tried to model them with a breakfast meeting and some breakout rooms. I never used those breakout rooms, but another attendee did. She said it worked well for her. For me, the breakfast room experience was mixed.

I had two experiences that approximated the marginal ones; a scheduled Zoom lunch with two friends on Friday, and a random chance to visit with another friend when we both went to one of the breakout rooms and no one else was there for a few minutes.

Ignorance of Etiquette:

I am ignorant of the etiquette of leaving a large group, like the breakfast room, and moving to a breakout room, without looking rude. This, in part, kept me from doing it. I hope by next year I will know a little more about Zoom etiquette. (There’s a project.)

No Immersion/ No Buffer:

Yes, I could wander into the kitchen at any point during the workshop and make some tea. I could also wander in and start washing dishes or be bombarded by the latest political atrocity before almost before I drew my first non-workshop breath. No walk back to the inn, no stroll on the headlands while I let the morning’s material settle in my mind. No immersion.

I did build in a walk after the morning session the first two days. That was good for my physical health but did not create the illusion of immersion. It was much too easy to leave a session and start a load of laundry or go grocery shopping.

This leads to–

Self-care and Zoom fatigue:

Somehow, sitting for hours staring at a screen is physically exhausting, a fact which still surprises me after all these years. A participant friend said she was at the level of exhaustion collapse by Saturday night. She participated in more events than I did, and was not able to build in a walk or other physical activity. “I’ll need to prioritize self-care next year if it’s online,” she said, and so will I.

Zoom fatigue is a thing, and I needed to adjust for that too.

Lessons Learned:

  • I trust the tech more than I did before the conference.
  • Learn online etiquette. If next year’s conference in online (most likely it will be) I’ll be more assertive at seeking out the breakout rooms and figuring out how they work the best for me.
  • Create the environment. Surprisingly, the village of Mendocino is open to tourists now. Next year, as long as I wear a mask, practice social distancing and honor the innkeeper’s rules around sanitizing, there’s no reason I couldn’t go to Mendocino and participate in the conference from my room. It wouldn’t be a perfect replica, but it would be close.
  • Embrace it. Intellectually, of course. The online conference is a new experience for me. Now I’ve compared and contrasted it, I need to embrace the new.

Part of embracing the new is trusting the board, faculty and staff. They rose to the occasion in 2020. I trust that they will make #MCWC2021 the best conference possible.

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