Tagged: Terry Pratchett

Emily S. Whitten, Brian Henson, Puppets, and Muppets!


In my recent Dragon Con Round-Up I shared that this year’s Dragon Con kick-started a new fascination with puppetry for me (which, if you can imagine, may someday even rival my obsession with voice actors!).

This was due to two panels I attended, Brian Henson’s Evolution of Puppetry, and The Puppetry of Star Wars’ BB-8. Both were fantastic; and I found it just fascinating to watch the magical way in which the puppeteers, behind the scenes, bring the puppets to life. I was also fortunate to be able to ask Brian Henson some questions at a small press conference; and now, of course, I get to share all of that with you!

First we have a few clips from the Evolution of Puppetry panel which are just super fun. In one, Brian Henson demonstrates the Henson method of puppeteering with an actual puppet. It was delightful to be able to see both what Brian was doing “behind the scenes” and camera; and what the puppet’s actions actually looked like on screen. I tried to capture a little bit of that for all of you as well, so check out the video clip linked above to take a look. The second clip is another fun demonstration, this time of dual puppeteering. In this clip, Dave Chapman (one of the BB-8 puppeteers of the aforementioned Puppetry of BB-8 panel, along with Brian Herring) joined Brian Henson from the audience to help him demonstrate how two puppeteers can work the head and hands of a puppet in synch (or sometimes not so much in synch!). It’s really funny, so check it out here. And finally, we have a bit of the audience Q & A that Brian Henson did at the end of his panel, with some cool insights into what it’s like to be a puppeteer.

Next, I asked Brian some questions during his Dragon Con press conference; and it was awesome. He talked about adapting Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men; the challenges of puppetry; the improv show Puppet Up; animatronics and puppetry; Fraggle Rock; Labyrinth and its fandom; the heart and goals of the Henson Company; previous and upcoming Henson Company projects; the interactions of the Muppets with real people and celebrities; adapting classic literature using The Muppets; and much, much more!

You can watch the whole press conference here; and it’s well worth it. What an amazing, talented guy!

So check that out, enjoy, and stay tuned for more cool stuff coming soon. And until then, Servo Lectio!

Emily S. Whitten: About Letting Go

There are times in life when people must know when not to let goEmily-S.-Whitten. Balloons are designed to teach small children this. – Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett was, in the above as in everything, a wise, wise man. The most valuable things in the world are often ones we should hold onto lest we lose them; and not only hold onto, but treasure.

I certainly treasure the experiences I’ve had while writing my weekly column for ComicMix. Chief amongst these is the valuable experience of actually having to sit down and write something out of my own head for publication on a deadline week after week (despite it having been, hrm, occasionally a somewhat negotiable deadline (thank you, Mike and Glenn, for your patience!). And through the weekly column I’ve had the opportunity not only to develop my discipline as a writer, but also to trot out and work on polishing up several different styles of writing; to continually improve my abilities as an interviewer; to sporadically embark on flights of whimsy and ridiculousness that have nevertheless been surprisingly well received; and to determine just what my opinion was on a variety of relevant comics and genre entertainment subjects, and then how to share it in the way that most reflected my true feelings and yet seemed least likely to result in reams of angry comments.

Of course I also enjoy traveling to different conventions with or as a representative of the ComicMix family; interviewing creators and recapping events, and making new friends through my writing, my travels, my interviews, and my work with other ComicMixers. Writing (almost) every week for ComicMix since May 1, 2012 has opened my horizons, allowed me to have amazing experiences, and certainly changed me for the better.

However, occasionally you have to let go of the things you treasure, even if just for a time. And unfortunately, I find myself at one of those times, due to a convergence of factors; and am thus going to be taking a hiatus from my weekly column here at ComicMix. The main factor is actually one that I’ve been dealing with for over seven months. In short, last July I had a bad fall, and I’ve been living with the repercussions ever since. And while I am generally on the mend, regular doctor visits, medical tests, and twice-weekly physical therapy have sucked a lot of my time away; not to mention that, goshdarn it, this “healing” thing kind of hurts and takes a lot out of you, physically. And, well, then there’s the possibility that I may have to have surgery to fix my thumb because of this (side note: did you know that one of the side effects of getting an MRI on your thumb is to have your entire arm fall asleep? Ooooh, it feels so weird). The sum total of this is that one morning I had to look in the mirror and remind myself that I am not actually a superhero (although if I was I would be awesome) and that sometimes, it’s okay not to be able to do all the things at once, and that if you find yourself, e.g., being very tired and having trouble making your deadline week to week, perhaps you need to take a break from having said deadline.

You might wonder why it took me approximately seven months to realize this. However, as always, Sir Terry has a quote that is particularly apropos:

The whole of life is just like watching a film. Only it’s as though you always get in ten minutes after the big picture has started, and no-one will tell you the plot, so you have to work it out all yourself from the clues.

And then suddenly, all the clues come together, and you’ve solved the mystery of life!

Just kidding.

What really happens, maybe, if you’re lucky, is that you eventually figure out one step you might need to take to improve a current situation. Of course even then there’s no guarantee that it’s the right step. And if you take it, and you let go of that balloon you’ve been treasuring, the fear is that it will be lost forever up in the vast unknowable sky, never to return. All of the work that went into those weekly columns; the vast readership, so painstakingly built (hello, all several of you!); friendships formed in part from my identity as a genre entertainment columnist – gone! Just gone! It’s enough to make me want to hold on tightly to the balloon’s bright ribbon and never let go. But fortunately, columns and readers and friendships aren’t actually balloons that will disappear forever if you let go for a bit; and change can be good, and it can be necessary, and it can lead to new adventures and, after all, sometimes, you must make the hard choice to leap fearlessly off a cliff (or at least move your life onto a slightly different path) because:

If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story.

And nobody wants that.

Not that my story is actually going to be too different around here. Because despite taking a hiatus from the weekly columns, I am not leaving you entirely, dear readers! I fully intend to remain as Your Faithful Convention Correspondent for all of the conventions I attend (which this year looks to include Awesome Con, San Diego Comic Con, Dragon Con, and New York Comic Con).

Also, depending on circumstances, I hope to return to the weekly posts at some as-yet undetermined time. So actually, it’s less like I’m letting go of my balloon, and more like it’s just been tied onto an extremely long ribbon which I can still hold onto, and we’ll still be connected by that ribbon, and really, that’s not so scary after all.

That said, I will miss my weekly interactions here, and wish that I had infinite time and energy to do the infinite numbers of things I constantly want to be doing. But as a wise man (I bet you can guess who!) once said:

So much universe, and so little time.

So until that time in the distant future when I’m back each week: Vigilate!

Emily S. Whitten: On Being of the Tribe of Geekdom

The Dresden Files

So I’m lying on the physical therapy table today, mostly trying to not concentrate on how painful whatever my therapist is doing is (“But it’s the good pain ­– the good pain!” I assure myself as I grasp the edge of the table) when the therapist next to me and his patient start talking about having just seen the Deadpool movie. Naturally I can’t help but join the conversation.

“So what did you think?” I inquire, and both of them enthusiastically agree that it was great. “Have you read the comics, or did you come to the character through the movie?” I ask. Neither has read the comics, although the patient’s son has. But both agree that they are looking forward to the sequel already; and after some talk about Deadpool, the conversation slides easily and naturally into Netflix’ Jessica Jones and Daredevil, and then hops over to The Dresden Files. The therapist and his daughter have found much to discuss in Jessica Jones; the patient agrees with me that The Dresden Files show was mostly a hot mess, but that was a real shame because Paul Blackthorne was so good and we’re big fans of the books. “It’s like you’re all in the same club,” comments my therapist, around this time.

And so we are. Whether we come to it through reading, the screen versions, other avenues, or what-have-you, it’s clear that we three are, as Anne of Green Gables would say, “kindred spirits” (also referred to mysteriously as the race that knows Joseph,” and “the Tribe of Joseph”) when it comes to genre entertainment. We vary in age, race, gender, profession, and probably many other demographics, and we’ve only just or recently met; but in discussing these creations, we easily converse like old friends.

I find it interesting, the ability of some people to meet and immediately have a sociable and passionate conversation on these topics; when others either wouldn’t care, or would only want to discuss them because they are the topic du jour and they don’t want to be left out. And I have noticed that amongst these people, there seem to be less misunderstandings; or at least, more easy understandings of what the other person means or how they feel, even if it’s not always conveyed perfectly. I don’t think the ability to find such kindred spirits only applies with genre entertainment fans – in fact, there is certainly a larger pool of kindred spirits in my world than just these sort. And I don’t think that every geek fits this mold – certainly there are misogynists, pedants, and the like present in any field of interest. But I do perceive a vast overlap in the geeks and kindred spirits in my life; and notice that I get along particularly well with people who are passionate about genre works and the creative arts.

It seems to me that it is a very good thing to be of this “Tribe of Geekdom.” I think the people I meet who are kindred spirits in the enjoyment of comics, genre literature, sci-fi and fantasy TV and movies, and the like are simply more. More vibrant, more clever, more adaptable, more understanding, more creative, more passionate, more adventurous, more fearless; more interesting. And it leads me to wonder why that is. Are some people just made that way? Or is it perhaps because they were introduced in childhood to creative works that opened their minds? Or has our mutual love of these creations simply built a foundation of common ground that has brought us to a similar way of thinking before we even meet?

It also leads me to wonder what the world looks like to the “other kind of folks” (as Captain Jim of Anne’s House of Dreams would say). Does my tribe only look like the most interesting one because I’m in it? Whatever do the other folks think of us, talking enthusiastically about lightsabers, musing on what it would really be like to fight with superpowers, dreaming about living amongst Ray Bradbury’s Martians, or discussing how the rules of magic would function as laid out in our favorite book. And do they, in fact, think that they are the ones in the most interesting tribe? Do they feel like “more” to each other?

Which leads me to also wonder, are there really “two kinds of people”? Or is it simply our view from the “darkness behind the eyes, where the little voice is” as Lady LeJean of Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time described it, that both defines our place in the universe and provides a viewpoint to categorize others in relation to our selves? Is it more likely that we all land on a spectrum of understanding in relation to each other, and those who are too far down the spectrum from ourselves seem, indeed, like another sort of folks entirely? And if they move up the spectrum, will it seem to us like they’ve switched tribes?

Heck, I don’t know. I just know that, like L.M. Montgomery, I perceive a dichotomy of understanding; that it makes me happy to encounter by happenstance as I go about my daily life other people who seem to understand the world in the way that I do; and that many of those folks seem to be, in my experience, most definitely of the Tribe of Geekdom.

So, hooray for the Tribe! And until next time, Servo Lectio!

Emily S. Whitten: NADWCon is BACK, Baby!


Yes, that’s right, The North American Discworld Convention, previously held in 2009, 2011, and 2013, is coming back to an as-yet-unannounced North American location in 2017! And yes, I’ve ordered my con-runner’s straitjacket, as I will be co-chairing the Con along with the Chair from the 2013 Con. (For those who are not aware, I also co-founded NADWCon from 2005-2009, Vice-Chaired the 2009 Con, and Chaired the 2011 Con. In other words, I know a bit about con-running.)

Despite knowing I’m probably going to lose a healthy dose of sanity before the end, I’m super excited to be helping to bring back this awesome Discworld Con for North American (and world-traveling!) fans. We took a break in 2015 (due in large part to Discworld creator Sir Terry Pratchett’s declining health and sad passing in March) but even with Sir Terry gone, his creations and fans live on, and we will continue to celebrate that “until the ripples they cause in the world die away.”

For further convention news, please stay tuned to the new NADWCon website, and check out our first press release there, reprinted in full below.

Fourth North American Discworld Convention to Take Place in 2017 – Convention will celebrate Discworld and the works of Sir Terry Pratchett

The North American Discworld Convention (NADWCon), a literary convention focusing on the works of Discworld series author Sir Terry Pratchett, will be returning to the fandom convention schedule in 2017. NADWCon, which debuted in Tempe, AZ in 2009, and has since taken place in Madison, WI in 2011 and Baltimore, MD in 2013, is a four-day convention of approximately 1,000 attendees which consists of themed Discworld and other Pratchett-related programming and guests.

The 2017 NADWCon will be organized by RavenQuoth, Inc., a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that was responsible for NADWCon 2013, which raised over $24,000 in charity funds that were split equally between the Orangutan Foundation UK and Alzheimer’s Research UK. The 2017 NADWCon will be co-chaired by Emily S. Whitten and Richard Atha-Nicholls. Emily S. Whitten was co-founder of The North American Discworld Convention, Vice-Chair of NADWCon 2009, and Chair of NADWCon 2011. Richard Atha-Nicholls was Chair of NADWCon 2013 and is President of RavenQuoth, Inc.

In the summer of 2014, RavenQuoth, Inc. received approval from Sir Terry Pratchett to organize future North American Discworld Conventions. Sir Terry, best-selling adult fiction author in the UK, award-winning writer of over 70 books during his career, and creator of the Discworld series, passed away on March 12, 2015 at the age of 66 after living with Alzheimer’s disease for eight years. NADWCon 2017 will be held in memory of Sir Terry, in honor and celebration of his works, and in the style which Sir Terry so enjoyed while attending as the Guest of Honor at prior Discworld conventions.

NADWCon 2017 and RavenQuoth, Inc. will provide further announcements and details about the 2017 convention in the upcoming months. Further information will be available at http://nadwcon2017.org.

Until next time, The Turtle Moves! And Servo Lectio!

Emily S. Whitten: Looking With the Heart


“People where you live,” the little prince said, “grow five thousand roses in one garden… yet they don’t find what they’re looking for…

They don’t find it,” I answered.

And yet what they’re looking for could be found in a single rose, or a little water…”

Of course,” I answered.

And the little prince added, “But eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.”

The Little Prince has always been a favorite of mine. It was the first book I read in French, and I still prefer to read it in French, despite being a little rusty on the language. It is also particularly appropriate to quote as I think about what happened in Paris last week. Not only did the book engender in me a fondness for the French language and culture, but it also contains an important message that I feel we should remember in times like this.

There are a lot of reactions to what happened in Paris. Appropriately, there is mourning, and outrage, and sympathy for Paris and for those who have lost people (and I extend my sympathy to them as well). As appropriately, but also somewhat obscenely in the face of such destruction, there is posturing and arguing and debating about the root causes of the attack and the best responses.

People are blaming political policies, organized religion, and entire cultures for what happened. And while in the smaller sense we know who particularly has claimed responsibility for the attacks, in the larger sense, these people are not all wrong. There may be elements of all of these things and more at work in what happened; and even though it sometimes seems to me that ego is as much a part of why certain people step into the limelight to try to address the impetus for the attacks and the best way to respond to them and try to prevent them from happening again, of course it is also necessary to do so.

Today, I don’t feel like doing so. What I feel like doing is reminding myself and everyone, instead, of the importance of looking with the heart. There is so much hatred, violence, and destruction out there; and if we let it, it can consume us. But there is also a lot of beauty to be found; in individual people, in nature, in art and our creations.

I think it can be very easy to lose sight of this, in the face of such sadness and destruction and hate, and of devastating events with global impact; but it is imperative that we remember. Because while geopolitical issues, and religious disagreements, and what-have-you are very important and shape our world; so too are all of the individual lives we touch each day and the care we take over our own actions. These things are what make us who we are, and what make us, in a way, more human. And while I can’t always control what angry, hateful, misguided people choose to do, I can at least control my own reactions and state of mind.

There are a couple of concurrent interesting themes that run through another favorite book of mine, Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods. In it, it is shown how a character named Vorbis is evil not only because of what he does, but because of what he makes other people into – in other words, how he influences them to start thinking and behaving like him, in part through his assumptions about what all of humanity is like. At the same time, the protagonist Brutha influences The Great God Om (in Discworld books the gods are influenced by their interactions with humans) to realize that humanity can’t only be looked on as a whole, because each individual life is as important as all of them. Or, to quote from one memorable scene in which Om storms Dunmanifestin, the home of the gods, and in the process converses with a somewhat lesser god who is still learning about the value of numbers (P’Tang-P’Tang, who looks like a very large newt and has a whole fifty-one followers):

“Is one less than fifty-one?” said P’Tang-P’Tang.

“It’s the same,” said Om, firmly.

“But you have thousands,” said the Newt God. “You fight for thousands.”

“I think,” [Om] said, “I think, if you want thousands, you have to fight for one.”

I can’t imagine the mindset of people who think that a point being made by killing random people is more important than the people themselves. But I can see that these are clearly people like Vorbis, who have lost sight of the importance of the individual, and that in order for us not to be turned into something like them in our reaction to their heinous actions, we need to remember it. We need to remember that each person out there is unique, and is someone’s parent, child, lover, or friend; and that our care for others is what makes us human. After all, as the little prince observed, “To forget a friend is sad. Not everyone has had a friend. And if I forget him, I may become like the grown−ups who are no longer interested in anything but figures…”

We are so lucky to live in a world of endless variety, and the most endless of that variety is the sea of humanity we swim in. I can’t fully comprehend why some people choose to disregard this and instead work to destroy it. All I can choose is to recognize it myself, and act accordingly. Because even in a world where there are terrible people; or even annoying people, or people you might not choose to interact with on a daily basis, the alternative to being surrounded by this sea of diversity is frightening. Again, a concept Pratchett conveys so well in Small Gods, when Vorbis has died, and is alone with Death on the black sand of the vast desert that he must cross to reach judgment:

“Don’t leave me! It’s so empty!”

Death looked around at the endless desert. He snapped his fingers and a large white horse trotted up.

I SEE A HUNDRED THOUSAND PEOPLE, he said, swinging himself up into the saddle.

“Where? Where?”


“I can’t see them!”

Death gathered up the reins.

NEVERTHELESS, he said. His horse trotted forward a few steps.

“I don’t understand!” screamed Vorbis.


“Yes. Yes, of course.”

Death nodded. IN TIME, he said, YOU WILL LEARN THAT IT IS WRONG.”

Indeed, what would we be without everyone else out there? We should remember how lucky we are to be a part of humanity, and act accordingly, and with the remembrance that everything we do is our choice, and changes our world in ways that can’t be undone. Because after all, as Terry (through The Great God Om) once said:

“I. This is Not a Game.

    II. Here and Now, You are Alive.”

My sincerest condolences and sympathy to everyone who has been affected by the Paris tragedy, which is all of us; and let us always remember that this life is not a game, and that each choice we make matters, and that each person in our world is very, very important.

Until next time, Servo Lectio.

Emily S. Whitten: Literary Lacquers

I have a thing for rainbows. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always liked rainbows. Not the upside-down-smiley-face, fluffy-clouds-on-the-ends drawings of rainbows (I kind of don’t like those), but real, elusive, illuminated water droplets in the sky and spectrums created by prisms rainbows. I have even been known to run out into the rain to get pictures of a really good (really big) rainbow.

I also have a thing for nail polishes – my collection of colors and varieties is embarrassingly large – and have been known to play around with sort of complicated designs for kicks, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle nails, Iron Man arc reactor nails, magnetic polish nails, and Union Jack nails. (And so many more, but I can’t find all the pictures, alas! You should have seen the Burberry nails.) I’m also always on the lookout for cool nail polish products, like for instance the Espionage Cosmetics geek nail wraps.

And of course (of course!) I love literature; and especially genre literature. So when I was browsing Etsy for some lilac jewelry to wear on April 28 in memory of Sir Terry Pratchett and stumbled upon a brand of a) holographic (rainbowy!) nail polishes b) inspired by literature, including a fair amount of genre literature, I was very excited. The pictures looked awesome, the descriptions were great (read them!), and the literary inspirations showed that the creator of these polishes is clearly a kindred spirit. I immediately wanted to try them all; so I contacted Literary Lacquers to see if I could get some samples to review, and the great gal behind the brand kindly obliged.

I was stoked to receive my samples a couple of days ago; a sentiment echoed by Catbug and Baby Groot. After much browsing of the many, many choices in the store, which included options from favorite literature like Discworld, The Dresden Files, Stardust, Lord of the Rings, Anne of Green Gables, The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter, Dandelion Wine, and so many more, I made my selections.

Based in part on what colors would actually look good with my skin (I craved Dandelion Wine but doubted it would work for me) I went with Phenomenal Woman, Strong Steady Hand, Avada Kedavra, The Mad Ones, Ether Binge, Swallowed Up In Blue, The Ultimate Outlaw, Marilla’s Amethyst Brooch, Laters, Baby, Sidewalk’s End, I’m Drinking Stars, and Goodnight Moon. I picked mostly holographics, given how much I love them, but threw in some other types for variety to see what the full line is like.

Right off the bat, I will say that they seem to be of a consistently good quality. They go on evenly, and with three coats (I do thin coats) they give me solid color coverage. (They could also be put over e.g. a light colored or silver or gold base coat for a light sheen on top.) They also seem to be fairly durable when it comes to chipping. I have only been wearing them for a couple of days; but in that time I’ve had no major chips and only a little bit of wearing off on the edges of a couple of nails (which happens with pretty much every polish I’ve ever tried).

Most importantly, the colors are great. Even though I have some difficulty in photographing holographic effects (they always look better in person!) here are photos of ten of the colors so you can see what they look like on and in comparison to each other. Also here are a couple of close-ups attempting to capture the holographic effect. And best of all for seeing the full effect, here’s a quick Vine video of Strong Steady Hand in action.

The pure holographics (Phenomenal Woman, The Mad Ones, Ether Binge, The Ultimate Outlaw, Sidewalk’s End, I’m Drinking Stars) all have a consistently high-quality holographic effect in bright light, and even in low light you can see a bit of a rainbow. The glitter holographics (Strong Stead Hand and Laters, Baby) have the same sheen, only outshone by the bigger glitter flecks. I really like these for the fact that the larger flecks of glitter add to the gradient rainbow effect of the holographic, and are of a brighter, more dimensional and holographic quality than glitter I’ve seen in other polishes. Swallowed Up In Blue, the holographic blue that also has a pink shimmer to it, is also particularly cool, because the holographic effect is as strong as the pure holos, but on top of it, even in low light, you can see the pink sheen over the blue.

Marilla’s Amethyst Brooch is one of the rare non-holos I chose; and although I always prefer rainbows, it has a good depth and rich purple glitter to it that is actually slightly more striking in low light than a pure holo. Goodnight Moon, another non-holo, is nice for its light purple sheen and tiny rainbow glitter, along with the bigger flecks, including moons. As with any of the larger glitter fleck polishes I’ve ever used, it needs to be applied with care to get the bigger flecks off of the brush and onto the nail, but it’s no harder to use than any similar polish I’ve used. Avada Kedavra, the only matte I chose (I like the look of mattes but have bad luck with them chipping) is very cool; without a top coat, three coats gives a nice slightly sheer black, with a much more evenly distributed coating of large glitter flecks than similar polishes I’ve tried; and chipping so far is no worse than for a regular polish. With a top coat, the mixed-in tiny rainbow glitter flecks are made brighter, which gives it a bit more pop.

Altogether, I am very impressed with this nail polish line (as well as with the cool themes and descriptions. You should read them! If you like any of the books that inspired them, the descriptions will make you feel happy and nostalgic for your favorites). I would not single out any color as a non-favorite; but I would say that my favorites of the pure holos by a small margin might be Phenomenal Woman, Ether Binge, and I’m Drinking Stars (the holos are particularly visible in them); and of the others, Strong Steady Hand (excellent bright rainbow effect!) Avada Kedavra (cool even glitter application, and can be worn two ways!), and Swallowed Up In Blue (good effects in both high and low lights!). In summary: I recommend!

So if you’re into literature, nail polish, rainbows, and the like, hop on over to Literary Lacquers and give some of these great colors a try. (And speaking of geek shopping, remember my recent column about it? Well I’ve just created a Pinterest board to show some of my favorite recent purchases. Check it out!)

And until next time, Servo Lectio!

Emily S. Whitten: Real Heroes

Superheroes are great. Their adventures are fun to read about, they can be inspiring, and they can do really cool things. I love superheroes. But sometimes I like to remind myself that the most important heroes in this world are the real people without superpowers who live their lives well, make the best of bad times with quiet strength and little complaint, try to contribute to rather than detract from the world, are kind and caring and attentive and respectful to other people, are brave and determined when fear is telling them that may be impossible, and are comfortable enough with who they are to show it to the world. These are people who support and lift others up rather than tearing them down. These are people who make the world better.

My grandmother was one of these people. I lost her two weeks before we lost Terry Pratchett. So much loss in a short span can be devastating; but it can also bring home how very important good people are to us. When Terry passed, I was already writing this piece; and I wanted then to write it about Grandma and Terry – both heroes of mine. Terry’s death was so big for so many people, however, that talking about both of them then would have taken the focus off of my wonderful grandmother; and she really deserves as much focus as any of my other heroes.

Grandma was 94 years old when she passed away, and lived her whole life in the same small area in the middle of nowhere, Indiana (the town had a population of 149 people in 2010); much of it on a 60-acre working farm. She graduated from Ball State University’s first elementary education program and later went on to earn her Master’s degree in education. She was extremely intelligent and taught first and second grade locally for over forty years; and was known for her ability to recall students even if she’d taught them fifty years ago. Grandma’s students remembered her fondly and many, many of them honored her by attending her funeral services and telling our family how much of a difference she made in their lives. And in fact, I attended college with one young man she taught as a substitute teacher in her later years, who adored her and went to visit her sometimes and told me that she was his favorite teacher.

Grandma was a lifelong member and supporter of her local church, and seemed to know and care about everyone in her community, remembering the details they’d share with her about their families, their troubles, and their joys. She also served her community for years through leadership positions in the Order of the Eastern Star.

Grandma was an excellent cook and baked award-winning pies, and had a great sense of fashion and care for her personal appearance that she instilled in my mom and aunt and later, in us grandkids. She was pretty crafty as well, and painted many wooden statues, pieces of china or glassware, and pieces of clothing over the years (to this day I have the adorable little Precious Moments and other tees she painted for me when I was small).

She was also pretty crafty in her sly sense of humor and fun, and the mischievous sparkle she would get in her eye when making a sliiiightly risqué joke. She had a great spirit and good cheer. Most importantly, Grandma was always supportive of her family; she had high expectations, but also always encouraged us in our goals, and accepted us for who we were, caring first and foremost that we were happy and doing our best. She was also as self-sufficient as she could be, even in later years, mowing her own lawn into her 80s, and living in her own home until she passed away. In looking at everything she did, my grandmother truly had a life well lived.

And the story might end there, but I’ve left out one important detail of Grandma’s life. At age thirteen, my grandmother contracted polio. As a result, she had to spend a year in the hospital; and was then affected for the rest of her life by post-polio syndrome. When she attended Ball State, it was on crutches – and at a time when universities were not well equipped for disabled students. For the remainder of her life, she had to wear a brace on one leg, and was impaired in her movement. Later in her life, she had to use progressively more assistive equipment to get around – including, eventually, a motorized cart to move around her own home.

The difficulties my Grandma faced due to polio and its aftereffects were not minor. She had limited mobility, experienced chronic pain, and had to adjust to living her life in a different way than fully able-bodied people. That could have led some people to be dispirited, negative, or bitter, or to accepting limitations on their goals and dreams. But my grandmother was stronger than that.

She went to college, despite the difficulty. At Ball State, there was a requirement that students take physical education; something that would have been very difficult for Grandma. But did she throw in the towel? No; instead, she learned how to swim and became a member of the synchronized swim team! In her adult life, she lived on and helped care for a farm out in the country, shared a full life with my grandfather and raised two daughters, and had a long, successful, and meaningful career. She excelled in her hobbies and gave back to her community. She seldom complained, kept a cheerful attitude, celebrated the joys and achievements of the people around her, and supported her family; even, for example, traveling with some difficulty to attend my high school graduation in New Jersey. And she created, on the farm, an atmosphere of love, acceptance, and contentment that made the house a home and a favorite gathering place for family.

Truly, my grandmother was an exceptional person, and one of my personal heroes. I was very fortunate to know her (and my other wonderful grandparents) for as long as I did. And I think it’s important to think of her; and of Terry Pratchett; and of others from all walks of life that we know and admire for their kindness, giving spirit, strength, innovation, or other excellent qualities when we think of who the heroes really are.

This is not to say that I don’t still love superheroes; but sometimes, it’s good to take a break from fantasy and look around at our realities. Sometimes, they are better and we are luckier than we realize.

So let’s all take a moment to be thankful for the real heroes in our lives; and until next time, Servo Lectio!


Emily S. Whitten: Cyberbullying Is Never The Answer

cyberbullying_introSo if you missed it, a past cyberbullying occurrence (if you can call three years of personal harassment an “occurrence”) involving two comics industry creators made its way to the forefront of comics news last week. Following this, both people involved in the original incidents have taken a few steps away from the online world for a while.

I… have mixed feelings about all of this. Oh, don’t get me wrong; I don’t have a single mixed feeling about the original harassment. Chris Sims was wrong to wage a personal, harassing vendetta against Valerie D’Orazio, and D’Orazio was right to address it in public.

What I have mixed feelings about is the, if you can call it that, “resolution” of this, which could be seen as “too little, too late,” or as “finally stepping up to the plate” to admit wrongdoing; and the attendant fallout from addressing this years down the line. Including the fact that D’Orazio, years after the original harassment, has now been put in a position where she unfortunately feels it necessary, despite Sims’ “apology,” to close her public Twitter due to further harassment – not from Sims; but from, presumably, “fans” of Sims or just generally hateful people.

Just bringing up the old harassment, for which she has been diagnosed with actual PTSD, has brought a heaping serving of new harassment for her to deal with; and that’s awful. Granted, Sims is also stepping away from some of his online presence for a while; but choosing to do such a thing is very different from being forced to in order to escape harassment, feelings of being unsafe, or whatever other terrible stuff D’Orazio has been dealing with.

I also have mixed feelings because prior to knowing about this harassment (I was not aware of it until last week), I really liked reading Chris Sims’ Comics Alliance writings and Twitter. In particular, the Smallville recaps he did with David Uzumeri have cheered me and made me laugh on many a lunch break and dull commute. And from Sims’ writings, he seemed like, for someone I’ve never met, a pretty laid-back guy. Not the sort of person who’d spend hours of his time and efforts trying to tear down somebody else. And yet, that’s what happened. For three years. How completely awful of him.

I don’t know either party outside of a passing online interaction, which could just as easily be smoke and bombast as it could be real sincerity. The interesting thing about this is that Sims, based on his recent addressing of the situation and actions, may possibly have actually grown as a person in the interim between his terrible behavior and the present.

Usually, when I see online harassment I see it in the moment, and the reflection of the harasser is pure awfulness. In that moment when someone is being a hateful human being, there isn’t any change of heart in sight. And yet, because of the time that passed between the original harassment here and the present, it’s possible we are able to observe someone who has actually become a better person since his earlier actions. If that’s true, and Sims isn’t posturing but sincerely regrets his actions (not just because of the consequences to his writing career, but because they were wrong), then it leaves me pondering some questions for which I don’t really have answers, but which deserve to be addressed in an ongoing manner.

Questions like: once a person realizes they’ve behaved badly, what can atone for it? What is the proper societal or professional “punishment” for such atrocious behavior, and is there a time limit to it? And should it be ameliorated by the fact that the person has recognized it? Does any of this help the victim of the original harassment? What would they want to see happen? And what if their harassment is still ongoing, caused by the ripples of the original harassment?

Do others, as observers aware of the situation, have a responsibility to, e.g., boycott a harasser’s creations? To continually speak out against the harasser (and does that sometimes turn into harassment in the other direction)? What if it’s a harasser who has changed his (or her) ways? What then? What is the best way to support someone who has been harassed and speak up consistently against harassment without closing our minds to the possible redemption of someone who has been the harasser? Can they grow if we don’t let them? How can we let them without letting them off the hook for what they’ve done?

I don’t know all the answers here; I really don’t. What I do know is that harassment and cyberbullying are never the answer; and that it is important to speak out against unacceptable behavior, no matter who the perpetrator is.

I also know that for me, anyway, being made aware of someone’s harassing or otherwise cruel behavior either turns me off to their creative work, or, if they are sincerely trying to apologize and atone for it (as I hope Sims is here), at the very least makes me hugely disappointed in them and puts their work into the mental category labeled, “Trust In Creator Lost: Use Caution In Future Consumption of Creative Output.” In other words, even though of course the person harassed is the most hurt, these people are also hurting themselves professionally by their behavior. It astonishes me that more people don’t consider that before they act. Or maybe they do, and their preferred audience is one full of jerks who don’t care about hurting others; in which case, I just feel sad for them. There are so many things in life more worthy of spending one’s energy on than tearing another person down.

I think it’s important for all of us (myself included, because I’m nowhere near perfect and do not claim to be) to make an effort to consciously consider the effects of our words and actions. It’s an old truth that words have power. They can shape the world; but sometimes it seems we are taught little care for them, or that we both accept that truth and then discard it when we act.

There’s a quote from Terry Pratchett’s A Hat Full of Sky that seems apropos here, in which his character Tiffany is explaining how she thinks about the world:

“First Thoughts are the everyday thoughts. Everyone has those. Second Thoughts are the thoughts you think about the way you think. People who enjoy thinking have those. Third Thoughts are thoughts that watch the world and think all by themselves. They’re rare, and often troublesome. Listening to them is part of witchcraft.”

I think we could all use a little more witchcraft, in the sense that we could all do with getting out of our own heads and watching the world and our actions in it from an unbiased observer’s perspective a little more. Or even by flipping the bias and trying to imagine ourselves in the place of the person being harassed. Imagining the continual hurt, anger, frustration, helplessness, and fear that someone must feel when being attacked; and then realizing that this is what bullies choose to add to the world.

Because that’s who a bully is: someone who chooses to create pain for another human being. Someone who wreaks chaos on another life because…because they can? Because they feel small in their own lives? Because they have a grudge for some reason, and think the nuclear option is the best way to deal with it? I don’t know; there may be many reasons – but it’s important to realize that none of them justify, to steal another Terry Pratchett quote, “treating people as things.”

It’s up to each of us to consistently realize that, and to realize that we’re all vulnerable; and that any person could decide tomorrow that it’s your turn to have your life ruined by careless words. And to choose, each moment, not to be that person in somebody else’s life.

I hope this unfortunate situation with D’Orazio and Sims has at least given us all something to think about and grow from; and until next time, Servo Lectio.


Emily S. Whitten: Terry Pratchett – Shaking Hands with Death

Best-selling author Sir Terry Pratchett passed away on Thursday, March 12, and the final tweets from his Twitter account were a fitting and poignant way to announce his passing. Even though I knew it was coming, given Terry’s long struggle with Alzheimer’s and attendant health issues, it broke my heart a little bit more to hear that it really was the end.

I was fortunate to know Terry for almost ten years, beginning with my work on The North American Discworld Conventions after meeting Terry at a book signing in 2005 Along with being a great light in this world and one of my all-time favorite authors, he was also my longtime friend; and it’s hard to know how to sum up my feelings in the wake of his passing.

So much of my life would be different and much less rich without having known Sir Terry. From lending warmth and humor to the reading breaks I took from dry law school texts, to the experiences and wisdom and new opportunities I gained through building conventions from scratch, to wonderful friends I’d never have met if not for a shared love of Discworld, to all of the myriad ways his writing has caused me to ponder and question my views of the world, reading and knowing Terry literally changed my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I know that I am not alone in my feelings here, and my sincerest condolences go out to Terry’s family, his other friends, and the many, many other Discworld fans who are also mourning his death.

It’s both a nice thing and a strange one to see all of the public tributes to a person I am mourning on a personal level as well as due to the loss of his amazing talent; but I am very glad to see Terry getting the honor he deserves the world over for his achievements and contributions. Many are paying tribute to and writing about him and his works, and I’m sure that won’t cease any time soon, which is as it should be. It’s great to know that his impact on the world will be felt for years to come; and it’s comforting to read or listen to the social media posts and discussions by fellow Discworld fans and friends. (And this talk by Neil Gaiman, who honored Terry by devoting much of his time at an event onstage on March 12 to reading a bit of Good Omens and remembering Terry in conversation with Michael Chabon.)

Discworld fans are some of the most fun and intelligent folks I’ve ever met in fandom. As sad as I am over Terry’s passing, it delights me to see the many tributes, stories, and testimonials to how Terry and his work continuously changed people’s views and lives. It also surprises me not one bit to see that Pratchett fans have already begun to think up ways to ensure the memory of Terry lives on forever not just through his works, but through what his writing inspires other people to create. The “GNU Terry Pratchett” code is both a touching reference to Going Postal, and a bit of nerdy fan fun that would have delighted Terry, who was always glad to see fans enjoying Discworld, and unfailingly giving of his time and attention to those who appreciated his work.

But that doesn’t sum up the essence of Terry. The best summation of the Terry I knew comes from Neil Gaiman, in the foreword he wrote for Terry’s most recent collection of non-fiction writings, A Slip of the Keyboard. It can be read here. As Neil noted, Terry, while often genial, could in fact also be angry and impatient – with stupidity, with injustice, with unkindness – and he wasn’t one to hide or repress that anger. Instead, it underlies a lot of the genius that makes the Discworld series great. Underneath the humor and the fantasy, and the trolls, dwarves, wizards, witches, dragons, and more that inhabit that magical land, lie currents of deep and incisive observations and thoughts about how the world is versus how it should be if things were just and fair; and how and why we humans both often fail at being the better people he imagined we can be, and sometimes, against all odds, succeed in glorious fashion.

Terry’s brilliant satire both skewers humanity for its shortcomings and lifts it up for its goodness because of, as Neil put it, his love “for human beings, in all our fallibility; for treasured objects; for stories; and ultimately and in all things, love for human dignity. …anger is the engine that drives him, but it is the greatness of spirit that deploys that anger on the side of the angels, or better yet for all of us, the orangutans.”

This is the Terry that I treasure and will remember forever, from our first genial meeting in a small Virginia bookstore, through discussions and plans about what the North American convention ought to be like, (“by the fans, for the fans!”), and into odd and entertaining conversations had over a shared bowl of edamame at whatever sushi place we could locate wherever we happened to be. Along with his work, the funny and sharp yet still sweet moments I shared with Terry are what I will continue to hold dear. Like the story about the National Book Festival that I told BBC Radio 5live in the interview about 5 minutes from the end of this program. Or the time at the 2009 NADWCon when, after half a day of rushing around with Terry as his Guest Liaison, we found ourselves in the Green Room for a few unprecedented moments of calm. As Terry signed some books that needed signing, I took a pause from working at 2 p.m. to eat my first meal of the day, a yogurt and a granola bar (hey, I never said I acted like a sane person while running conventions). A couple of bites of yogurt in, Terry looked up from where he was industriously signing away and said, in a voice of concern, “Are you alright?” I said, “Yes, Terry, I’m fine. Why?” And he replied, with that slight twinkle in his eye, “You’ve gone quiet. That can’t be normal.” And there it was, the slyly sharp and observant Pratchett humor, poking fun at me for my regular stream of chatter, with which by then he was very familiar; but combined with a genuine concern that maybe something in the universe wasn’t quite right for a friend just then and something might need to be done about it. That was Terry to a T.

From start to finish, Terry was also defined by being a prolific and driven writer. Starting out as a journalist for the Bucks Free Press at the age of seventeen, Terry never stopped writing. Even near to the end, Terry continued to be driven to write, and has thus left us with one more finished Discworld book to look forward to; The Shepherd’s Crown, which should be out sometime this fall. It’s a Tiffany Aching book, which delights me both because Tiffany has always been a favorite of mine (Wintersmith sharing the title of My All-Time Favorite Pratchett Book with Night Watch), and because The Chalk where the Tiffany books mainly take place is closest in Roundworld geography to the area in which Terry lived. When I visited the area and walked out to Old Sarum and the surrounding area after reading the Tiffany books, I experienced the odd sensation of seeing The Chalk through Terry’s eyes and storytelling, and feeling the overlay of his magical fiction on the reality I walked through – or, to put it in more Pratchettian terms, feeling the thinning of the fabric of reality between the Discworld and Roundworld. For that experience as well as the beauty of the area and the feeling that, like Tiffany, Terry was very connected with and grounded in that land, The Chalk has always held a special place in my heart. I find it fitting that the last Discworld book is set in the Discworld equivalent of the land Terry lived in and loved.

In thinking of Terry’s passing, I recall that over the years, Terry noted that many people had told him that they feared Death less thanks to his portrayal of the character as an, if not exactly friendly, then at least comfortable and natural presence in the Discworld series. As with Terry’s other characters, Discworld’s Death reflects some of the fundamental truths about human nature that Terry understood and was so well-versed in; and is, I think, a Death Terry would not have been afraid to meet. It deeply saddens me to know that I will never again share a bowl of edamame and a fascinating conversation with Terry, but it comforts me to think that Death came for him as for an old friend with a mutual understanding of how the world works, and that they are now off somewhere together, keeping company with cats as they “murder a curry” during a companionable journey across the black desert to the ultimate end.

Although I can’t converse with Terry in this life anymore, the final thing I would like to say to him is: Even though you’ve left us, Terry, you’ll always be with me in spirit. I’ll miss you forever. Thank you for being my inspiration and my friend for so many years.

And when it comes to your writings, whether they be the much re-read favorites or the newest and last book of the Discworld series, I will always Servo Lectio.


Emily S. Whitten’s Snow Stories

BlizzardBy the time you read this, we’ll have a much better idea of whether the snow predictions for Winter Storm Juno in the Northeast were accurate, but starting on Sunday with a tweet from the Bowery Boys, I had already started seeing people wondering if this would be a historic blizzard like the Great Blizzard of 1888 (or the apparently lesser-known but just as terrifyingly fascinating Children’s Blizzard of 1888).

The post from the Bowery Boys site (which is worth a read or a click for the pictures alone) stirred my memory – hadn’t I read something else once about the Blizzard of 1888? I didn’t really remember it as its own thing, but something was there. It took me a few minutes of cogitation, but I finally recalled Voices After Midnight by Richard Peck, a children’s or young adult book I read when I was nine or ten, that flip-flops between the story of a modern family who vacations in a historic New York City house and the story of the family that lived in the house before and during the time of the Great Blizzard. It’s a great book for that age group (singled out by Publishers Weekly for its careful historical background), and key events take place during the blizzard. Years after reading it, I can still recall tiny descriptive details about those key scenes, because they are so vividly described and seemed so real.

What I found funny, as I thought about it, was that the book is, as far as I can recall, my only prior encounter with the Blizzard of 1888. Here is one of the biggest snowstorms on record, which killed over 400 people and immobilized New York City for a week, and I only knew it from a fictional children’s book. But then again, it’s really not that odd after all, is it? We learn all the time about real things by reading fictional works, because anyone who’s a writer or even a regular reader knows that “truth is stranger than fiction” is more than a tired old cliché, and that often the things that stick in the mind the most in a good book are the ones that the author has pulled from reality (albeit with tweaks or modifications to fit them to the fictional world).

Often the best work we do is that which we’ve managed to base on something that really happened or some blazingly unique individual who was utterly real. Fiction that has been informed by a wider reality, no matter how otherwise fantastical it may be, is more gripping than the stuff that comes purely out of our own heads – because even the most creative of us can’t imagine the heights and depths to which other humans can rise and sink without observing them, or the potential that each of us has inside without seeing it come to fruition. And even the most creative of us might not be up to imagining a snowstorm that piled snow to the fourth floors of New York City houses, and toppled entire streets-worth of telegraph poles.

These thoughts dovetailed with a conversation I’d been having with a fellow writer, about the little life details that we find which inspire us to create more in-depth characters and worlds, and reminded me in turn of something Terry Pratchett once shared with me during an interview, about a beaded stone bracelet he’d once bought at a convention silent auction, that inspired the scene in Wintersmith (one of my all-time favorite Discworld books) in which Tiffany Aching sees the heart of Summer. It’s a beautiful scene; and it’s these little real things that become the building blocks of the bigger story for writers, and the reason why writers like Pratchett and Neil Gaiman consistently discuss reading non-fiction works (like Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor) when talking about what inspires or helps their writing.

Just like fiction can be a door to a reality we’ve never encountered before, like the Blizzard of 1888, reality is what gives our fiction many of its best moments. As a journalist, I was trained to look for both the facts and the angles of a story I’m reporting – and likewise, as a fiction writer, I can’t help but muse on all the myriad interesting facts and odd story angles that existed in the events of March 11-14, 1888 in New York City alone, and what kind of fictional stories they could inspire (like a story about Augustus Post, who survived the 1888 blizzard and went on to scoff at the 25 inches of snow that came down during a blizzard in 1947. I bet he’d be a fun guy to write about). It’s a little bit mind-boggling, but also comforting, to think of all the material out there – especially when I’m feeling the effects of writer’s block. Because no matter what, there’s always going to be something waiting to inspire; and just like looking for the facts and the angle as a journalist, as a fiction writer looking to create a good story you just have to seek it out.

So off I go, looking for that inspiration, and saying unto all of you in the meantime, stay warm and safe out there, and until next time, Servo Lectio!