Consent Violations and Bystander Intervention

With convention season in full swing, now is a good time to talk about consent violations and how you can help. With the upswing of the #meToo movement, people are feeling more and more comfortable at least calling out behavior that makes them uncomfortable — or worse.

On this panel, Lisa Adler-Golder, Bill Lawhorn, Jennifer Povey, and Stephanie Burke discussed ways to avoid inadvertently (or intentionally) “creeping”, how people and conventions can discourage violations from happening in the first place, ways to help someone escape harassment, how to educate a violator, and what the process is if you need to report an incident.

What Is A Creeper?

There’s a lot of worry out there about intentions being misunderstood and being accused of “creeper” behavior. Plus, there’s the assumption that people who don’t consider themselves conventionally attractive are going to be accused of “creeping” for doing the exact same thing that is welcome from conventionally attractive people.

Let’s start off by leveling the playing field. ANYONE can be creepy. No matter their gender or hotness-rating-level. Those “conventionally attractive people”? Are just more likely to be labeled “sleazes” than “creepers”, but the behaviors are in the exact same category.

Creeping is simply unwelcome and unwanted contact.

While it’s true that some people with poor social skills have issues, often they’ll find that people of the same gender aren’t getting “creeped out”. If you examine their interactions, you’ll find that their behavior around people of the opposite gender is decidedly different. Trying to treat all people the same can go a long way to reduce any perception of creeping.

Many people have been socialized that making a fuss or a scene is worse than putting up with unwanted and uncomfortable attention. And creepers take advantage of that.

Most creepers are pushing boundaries on purpose. They’re probably not some conniving villain, but they are trying to pressure the target into giving them their attention, their time, and maybe more.

Ways To Prevent Harassment

The best way to prevent consent violations is to be aware of boundaries and stop harassing behavior before it starts.

If you have trouble reading cues

Maybe you know you have a problem pushing boundaries, but finding the limits don’t come naturally to you. That’s when you should ask for help.

The panelists recommended:

  • Group dynamics therapy
  • Workshops/lectures on communication – especially mirroring

For conventions

  • Having a Code of Conduct
  • Badge ribbon activism – cosplay/kilts are not consent
  • Modeling good behavior
  • Penalize offenders – if they’re over the line or repeated offenders
    • kick people out of parties/panels/the convention as required.

Note: Legally, it’s hard to share information between events — although videos on YouTube and opinions from participants in good standing can help.

What Are Creeper Behaviors?

  • Sidling up
  • Staring
  • Overly intimate behavior
    • NOTE: Often when you meet a new group of people, you’ll see them being more casual about hugs/touch/etc. Remember that their comfort with that level of touch has been built up over their friendship and just because it’s okay for someone they know to do, doesn’t mean it’s fine for everyone.
  • Skirting the line of acceptable boundaries AND the subject is uncomfortable
  • Stealthing with cameras
  • Startling people, then snagging photos
  • Getting too close on the bed/sofa, during a room party
  • Talking to/at them, and not giving them an opportunity to leave
  • At vendor tables – monologuing at the vendor
    • often (in)advertently blocking sales because people won’t want to interrupt
    • the audience is captive and obligated to be nice

How You Can Help As A Bystander

First, determine if they need assistance. Evaluate their body language.

Watch for social cues

Often, the person being targeting will be:

  • Looking away
  • Crossing their arms and hunching forward
  • Stepping back
  • Looking cornered

Discrete Ways To Help

  • Stand between target and harasser in the conversation huddle
    • Not too close! They don’t need a NEW source of discomfort
  • If you’re helping someone at a vendor or signing table, call out, “I think it’s time for the next person
  • If you see them trapped at a vendor table, start up a conversation with the vendor yourself.
    • Once the harasser has moved on, move on yourself. Don’t replace them.
  • Invite the target to go somewhere else with you, even if it’s just across the room
  • Start up a conversation with the harasser and distract them, giving the target an opportunity to get away.
  • Model good behavior yourself
  • “Can I talk to [Target] for a minute?”

By Calling Out The Behavior

Sometimes, the time for subtly has passed. Or the behavior requires a more forceful intervention. In that case, do it loud and proud. Make sure the room or the people nearby know that this person has crossed the line and there is an issue. Once one person steps up, other people often feel comfortable helping — knowing that then help is needed and welcome.

NOTE: ONLY call out their behavior if you feel safe doing so. There is no shame in not feeling safe enough.

  • “Why are you messing with her/him/them?”
  • If they’re being touchy-feely? Grab the hand and ask loudly, “what are you doing?”
  • “Do you need help?” to the target. Or the harasser.
  • “Excuse me, what do you think you’re doing?”
  • “Excuse me, could you repeat that?”
  • While ignoring the harasser, “are you okay?”

What To Do When You Don’t Feel Safe Intervening

Especially if the harasser is larger and drunk, or otherwise not sober, it can be dangerous to intervene yourself. Sometimes, there’s a disparity in level of, or perceived level of authority.

Subtle interventions can be very handy here, but don’t always work.

  • Take pictures/video of the situation
  • Call for backup – a friend, staff, security
  • Call 911 (If you feel safe doing so, tell the harasser that’s what you’re doing)

What To Do If You’re Harassed

This is for harassment, for anything more egregious, do whatever you need to, to be safe.

While they’re harassing you

Here’s the standard escalation process.

  1. Ask them to stop
  2. Ask someone else/an authority to get them to stop.
  3. Get Security, or send someone.

Once you’re away

Should you file a report?

Assuming the incident did not require police intervention, this is 100% up to you and your comfort level. Most con staffs want to do the right thing. Things to consider if you’re not sure the incident warrants a report:

  1. Did they respond well when you asked them to stop?
  2. Did you have to escalate?
  3. Did they immediately find a new target?

Once you’ve decided to file a report

  1. Go to Con Ops to file an incident report (any staffer should be able to direct you)
    1. Who/description
    2. What the behavior was
    3. Your contact info

This way, the convention has a paper trail. They can penalize the offender as necessary. But also? The paper trail makes it harder for people to downplay the incident years later. (i.e. If someone is banned, con staff changes, and the harasser shows up again, asking to come back.)

Are They Educatable?

Especially for convention staff looking to minimize future incidents, you might want to try and educate the harasser. Sometimes, people make mistakes. But, not everyone is going to listen.

  • When you intervene, do they seem open to critique?
  • Are they doing active listening, or are they full of excuses/talking over you?
  • Ask their friends
    • is this is normal?
    • have they been warned before?
    • are there extenuating circumstances?
    • is this a pattern, a 1-off, or a specific personality clash?

Intervention Success Stories

Our panelists have been involved in the behind-the-scenes at conventions for years.

It’s just part of what Stephanie does. But she’s ashamed of her fellow con-goers when they just keep walking and don’t step up.

Lisa considers it her job, but likes when the harasser apologizes and doesn’t offend again.

At CapClave last year, the Guest of Honor told Bill that this was “Only the second convention I’ve been to, where I wasn’t harassed.” Result? They’re planning on coming to the reunion!


YouTube Survival Guide

I know, I know. I’m a writer blogger, but I’ve got this YouTube channel thing, as an #authorTuber. So, when I saw this panel at Balticon53, I had to pop in and take some notes. I’ve blogged about my approach before, but these notes come from the experts!

Thanks to Rebecca Davis, Devin Jackson Randall, and JP Beaubien, moderated by Melissa L Hayden, I’ve got some validation for things I do, and some new things to try out.

YouTube Basics

How do you even START a YouTube channel?

If you have a gmail account, you’re already there — at least for personal use.

Why you might want a separate email and channel for your YouTube Channel

  1. Prevents hackers or trolls from easily interferring with your day-to-day accounts.
  2. Helps with branding.
  3. Because you can’t keep your subscriptions entirely private from the one you’re subscribing TO — and not all the YouTube channels you follow are likely to be on-brand.

How Private Can Your Activity Be?

  1. You can hide/show a lot of things from your feed, but on the individual videos/channels that you’ve responded to, your name is still attached. Such as:
    • likes
    • subscriptions
    • comments

Why You Might Want Your Activity Public

Just like with blogging, a good comment on another user’s blog can drive traffic back to your channel.

Plus? People like to support people who support them — the reciprocal nature of YouTube can be strong, especially among smaller YouTubers.

The “Rules” of YouTube

Before you start putting everything out there, you’ve got to know the rules.

Legally

  1. Copyright infringement check is mostly automated — a single report of infringement is a lot less “weighty”. (Thank you, trolls)
  2. You can get hit months later with an infringement charge — that results in your video getting removed — for sharing a Picture.
    • Typically, in this case, you can successfully argue that it is:
      1. Fair use
      2. Parody
      3. Education
  3. To avoid charges — video clips from movies/etc need to be a small percentage of your video.
  4. If you get 3 strikes in one year, your site is DELETED.

Why are copyright claims important?

1. If a property doesn’t protect their copyright material, then it enters into common use and their copyright holds no weight.

2. If your channel is big enough to be monetized, there are more restrictions on what you can share from other sources.

How DOES One Get Monetized?

The big question that a lot of YouTubers want to know.

CAVEAT: the rules are ALWAYS changing.

The big things you need to know:

  1. Over 1,000 subscribers
  2. 4,000 hours of watch time in the last year
  3. You get no payout until you’ve earned $100

If your content is tagged with a yellow dollar sign, it means some ads may not be appropriate for this video. In other words, you get fewer ads and less money.

I.e. Some key words, that are not listed anywhere, can lead to less visibility and ads. Experience has shown YouTubers that “corpse” is one of those words.

How To Monetize A Post If You Can

  1. There will be a “Monetization” tab in the YouTube creator studio
  2. You get to select where in your video the ad is:
    1. Preview
    2. Mid-video, 30 second, unskippable ad
    3. Ads at the end
    4. Pop-up ads

Where Do The Ads Come From?

By the time you have 20-30,000 followers, you’ll start getting propositions, although it might not be ads that you want. These days? It usually starts off with:

  1. Russian Ads
  2. Phone mobile games.

Where Do YouTubers Make Their Money?

It’s not from the monetization. Yes, they get some money from there, but that’s not where the salary-level YouTubers get paid.

Sponsorships are where it’s at. After you have about 70,000 followers, sponsorship offers will be coming in. Make sure it’s something that matches your brand and something you’re not embarrassed to tie your name to.

How To Find A Sponsorship?

Wait for them to come to you, unless you have a great pitch, for a company that is an excellent match for your channel. Don’t accept a sponsor you don’t believe in.

  1. The recommended way to handle a sponsorship is through an agency like socialBluebook.com.
  2. Typically, you’ll have a contract and a due date, with 2 business days for you to approve their ad. The contract is typically terms:
    1. Either X views in Y days
    2. Or you’ll have to show their ad again

YouTube is a Hussle

For people who aren’t monetized through YouTube or sponsors, there’s still ways to make money — if just to support your YouTube habit.

  1. Merchandise
  2. Patreon

Community Expectations

YouTube isn’t just screaming into the void. You want to have something to offer. You want to have a theme, so that subscribers know what to expect — not meeting expectations is the best way to lose followers and get down-voted.

  1. You need to have a personality! People watch videos because of the person, more than the information. They can probably get the information elsewhere.
  2. Building on that — you need to entertain the audience and have energy.
  3. Invest in a decent microphone (Audacity is a decent, free, voice editing software program)
  4. Manage the comments on your posts
    1. You can ban certain words
    2. You can shadow-ban: the user sees their comment, but no one else does.
  5. Watch and comment on other people’s videos. Especially in your niche:
    1. Your videos should appeal to their audience
    2. You can see what other people are doing in your niche
    3. You can see what’s overdone and what’s not covered
    4. And? If you’re posting on the topic, you’re probably interested in it
  6. CAVEAT: Don’t spam comments. “Nice post. Check out my site.” are obvious link spam and won’t get you far.
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Clearly, this is a high-level conceptual approach to YouTube. Where to start, the big copyright worries, some of the details about how monetization works, and community expectations.

Is there anything the panelists missed? Anything I wrote down wrong?And… is there anything you’d like to share about YOUR approach? Let me know in the comments below.

And? If you’re an #authorTube blogger, this is a call out for you to share your links below! I’d love to connect.

Advancing the Story Without Traumatizing Your Characters

You know stories need stakes. You know you need to get your readers to care. So? You try to make the stakes big enough and scary enough to drive the story forward. But you don’t HAVE to traumatize characters — or readers — to advance your story.

From the titular panel at Balticon53, Jean Marie Ward, Eric Hardenbrook, Steven Wilson, Jamaila Brinkley, and Mattie Brahen shared their tips and tricks.

Conflict versus Trauma

We all know that stories thrive on conflict. If everyone is in agreement, marching forward, you don’t have much of a story.

So, what’s the difference? When you boil it down to their core:

Conflict is:

  • when two or more entities have opposing goals — or at least, not-aligned ones

Trauma is:

  • a change that damages you
  • is harmful

Now, a caveat: There isn’t a one-size-fits-all definition of what is traumatic. Thanks to people’s pasts, their mental health, and their current emotional state, what is traumatic to one person may be fine for another person.

Where Some People Draw The Line

This is clearly not a comprehensive list, but the panelists shared their following lines.

  • Explicit sexual abuse
  • Dismemberment
  • Kids shoved out of windows
  • Children soldiers
  • Explicit assault/violence
  • Killing the cat/dog

How To Raise the Stakes

Without trauma, what are other ways you can raise the stakes?

  1. Family
    • Protecting/defending them
    • Handling with their expectations
    • Dealing with the family history and fraught relationships
    • etc
  2. Survival
    • Human versus nature (or space) is a classic story of stakes.
    • Hunger
    • Illness
    • Injury
    • Weather
  3. Meaningful relationships
    • Trying not to disappoint people
    • Satisfying the needs of different people
    • Handling emotional baggage — the main characters OR those they love
  4. Separation
    • Take them away from their friends or family — this can be as serious as fleeing in the night or as light hearted as a RomCom

If You Do Include Trauma: What About ‘Trigger Warnings’?

It’s contentious.

On one hand – Books shouldn’t shy away from hard topics. Sometimes, trauma is exactly what needs to be worked through in a story. Plus, you don’t want to give away spoilers!

On the other, there people are dealing with depression and loss and are trying to avoid stories about suicides. Or have dealt with miscarriages and find it upsetting to read about them.

Since we’re talking about books, and the characters being traumatized are usually the main characters — we typically get to watch them work through their trauma, grow and manage to move past it. (Or, become Batman.) And seeing that healing can be good for people.

However – dealing with that can be exhausting, especially with a good writer and an immersive story.

Especially in genre fiction, people are looking for escape from the real world. And there’s plenty of books that offer that without triggering content — if the reader knows where to look.

Clearly, one cannot give a trigger warning about everything that might be traumatic to anyone. But, some are some triggers implicit in certain genres – like suspense, or thrillers, or military fiction.

Personally, I think there are ways of writing blurbs that can hint at the content within. We already rate these things for movies.

When books are used in schools, they often have themes listed, I think we should be able to do that.

Mine would probably be something like: “This book deals with themes of: religion, magic, suicide ideation, violence, and the killing of both humans and animals.” Then again, I’m mostly writing young adult, so letting libraries and teachers know can help them know if my book is right for their freshman class, or if they should save it for their seniors.

Clearly, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. This one is mine.

Compounding Traumas

Once you’ve decided that your story should include traumatic events, you need to look at who you’re traumatizing.

This is obviously not always the case, but very often, when you look at which characters are being traumatized in books, you can see a pattern. It’s not usually the man in authority. It’s the woman. The person of color. The lgbtqa character.

Is this due to cultural biases about who can be traumatized? Maybe. It’s impossible to know.

There are obvious exemptions from this: look at Iron Man and his phobias.

But, if you’re traumatizing women, people of color, non-cis het characters in order to motivate your main character? You’ve fallen into what is known as the “fridging” trope — named after a Green Lantern comic where his girlfriend was killed and shoved in a fridge just to motivate him.

Try to do better. It’s lazy writing, overdone, and often done to a 2-dimensional character.

Moving Beyond Trauma

Can limiting characters, through trauma or otherwise, make them stronger?

It makes for a more compelling story. We’re drawn to stories of people overcoming obstacles. Just be sure to avoid stereotypes — like the brave little disabled kid, who, with relentless optimism, overcomes ALL obstacles.

But without limits, there’s no conflict.

Be certain that you’re giving your traumatized characters agency to make decisions — not just react to what you do to them.

Captain America dealt with his trauma through altruism.

Black Widow dealt with hers by devoting herself to her job.

Which brings us to the flip side, you can give characters advantages — and regrets about what they had to give up to get them.

The panelists sitting at the table.

I know these notes covered array of topics, some only tangentially related to the premise. But, it’s good to remember that stakes don’t always have to be paid in flesh and blood.


Let me know what you think!
Do you hate the idea of sharing themes about your novel?

Do you have a better method in mind?
Do you have some ideas of new ways to raise the stakes — without destroying your character’s psyche?

NOTE: Opinions are welcome, as are discussions, but I’m not going to argue with people. I know I’m unlikely to sway your mind.

Pitching Agents And Readers

I talk a lot about pitching agents via the query process, but that’s not the only way to pitch. There are verbal pitches to agents. And? There’s the pitching you need to do to the READERS!

6 New Tips For Pitching Agents

Here’s a couple things to keep in mind.

  1. In person, if you’re not very social, it’s fine to keep the pitch extra short!
  2. In the written query, the part addressing the story is typically
    1. First paragraph is the character, setting, and inciting incident
    2. Second paragraph is the escalation
  3. It’s okay to close with a question!
    1. I’d heard so many times that agents “hate rhetorical questions” that I’ve just banned any question from my query letters. BUT! I’ve been told, it’s okay to have a question, especially in the summary sentence. “Will Carol manage to finish dinner before the store closes, or will she find herself locked in, forever!
  4. A strong character voice in the query is very dangerous, but on rare occasions will work.
  5. Only describe your background/education if it’s on display in the book.
  6. A lot of publishing houses are looking more for duologies and stand alone books than series. It’s a smaller commitment, that can be expanded if the book(s) sell well!

Pitching Readers

The number one thing you have to remember when pitching to your readers is … if you’re planning on selling on Amazon, no matter how amazing your cover text is, Amazon only shows the first 2 lines of your blurb. Make Them Count.

No Matter Who You’re Pitching

There are two things your pitch has to accomplish.

  1. Show how your story is distinct from the others in its genre
  2. Show how your story fits in the market

What pitching tips work best for you?

What ones would you suggest we avoid?


Here were more notes from all the panels I hit at Balticon53 and I’m still not done. I attended all the panels, so you don’t have to.

Tune in again next week for more writing tips and writerly musings.

Dynamic Voice Acting

Whether you’re thinking about a podcast, joining #AuthorTube, or just wanting to wow the audience when you read an excerpt from your own writing aloud to an audience, being a dynamic voice actor has a lot of benefits — for writers and creators of other forms of media.

In the titular panel, August “Gus” Grappin, Starla Huchton, Tee Morris, and Veronica Giguere, with Erin Kazmark moderating, shared tips to help you rock the voice acting world.

How IS Voice Acting Different Than Just Acting?

Of course, voice acting is a form of acting. But, when most people think of “actors”, they think of people on stage, television, or film. Without others to interact with, voice acting is a whole other ballgame.

  1. Without an audience, there is no feedback
    • Those who feed off the audience find this a detriment
    • Those who the audience makes anxious, find themselves better able to relax and get into character
  2. Theater is a team sport, unlike most voice acting
    • In theater, a good actor can bring you up, a bad one can kill the scene
    • In voice acting, you’re typically recording in a room by yourself and you have to trust the others to bring their A-game
  3. It’s hard to match the energy, when you’re not all recording together
  4. For audiobooks – it can be challenging to get feedback or direction from the author.
  5. You have to use a microphone!

4 Tips To Keep The Narrative Itself Dynamic

Characters lend themselves to different voices, based on age, gender, and energy level. Narrators can be trickier. Third person narrators are almost an eye-in-the-sky, while differentiating a first-person narration from the character’s dialogue offers a few challenges.

  1. Find a ‘character’ for the narrator. With good writing, the setting itself is a character and lends itself to a certain tone.
  2. “Make a meal of your words,” says Phil Rossi. Linger on the words, with the exploration of the world coming through with your tone.
  3. Think of the ‘narrator’ as ‘the storyteller’. Not someone reciting the words but someone telling the story to a fascinated audience.
  4. In that vein — try to imagine that you’re talking to an actual person. A friend that you don’t want to bore (or roll their eyes).

7 Ways To Make Characters POP

When you are trying to differentiate in your voice between different characters, it can be easy to fall into cliches — be it a shrill woman, a thick-accented foreigner, or a slow, low male voice. And wild characters can be hard to understand.

Luckily, there are some tricks that can help.

  1. Moving or changing posture between characters.
  2. Giving a character a physical tic — twirling hair, glaring, talking out of the side of their mouth
  3. Being careful not to mumble or speed up during action scenes
  4. Pay attention to your use of breath and pauses. They can be dynamic but, don’t “Shatner” or you’ll “Shat all over your audience.” (thank you, Tee)
  5. Pay attention to the character’s attitude — don’t make the focus of your delivery be on their gender
  6. If your voice is naturally feminine, hardening your delivery, even without lowering your voice can help
  7. As the narrator, hold the tension. Let them relive the experience as you bring the listener along for the ride.
    • I have a horrible habit of rushing jokes because I can’t wait to share the punch line. You don’t want to drag it out, but you want the audience to get there at a natural pace, not rush them, nor drag it out.

Reading aloud, be it for a animated show, podcast, or live audience can be nerve-wracking. But, if you’re dynamic, your audience should enjoy themselves.


Were there any tips you know that the panelists didn’t get a chance to mention? Are there things you enjoy in your audio dramas that you’d love to see more of? Or things you keep seeing that you HATE?
Let me know!

Thanks for reading! I’ll be back again next week with even more panel notes from #Balticon53. Because I’ve got a book of notes here.