Polenth’s Dream Rep Bingo

The #dreamrepbingo challenge is to make a bingo card with things we personally want to see in book representation. This isn’t a list of things that are the least represented overall or anything like that. It’s my personal bingo, for things I’ve looked for and rarely found.

My bingo is a different format to a lot of book bingos, because this is the form I grew up playing. I’m probably going to use this more as a reminder of things to include when I write, rather than read, because for some I don’t know any work that isn’t something I wrote. It wouldn’t work very well as a reading challenge for that reason. But if you manage to fill all the squares you will win the eternal prize of knowing you’ve read a lot of really obscure stories.

Here is the card. Click on it for a bigger version. The description below explains each square in text for those who can’t see the image, as well as providing some expanded thoughts on the choices.

Image Caption: A bingo card with three rows and nine columns. There are five content squares randomly placed in each row, which list an item of book representation. The other squares are plain blocks of colour. Each column is one rainbow colour: the text and plain blocks in that column are that colour. It starts at violet on the left and goes through to red on the right.

Bingo Items List:

  1. Tinnitus from birth with hidden hearing loss – It’s rare to see tinnitus at all, but it’s usually shown as coming from later accidents. This is a problem in medical literature as well, to the point I’ve met doctors who are amazed I’ve had tinnitus from birth. Hidden hearing loss can go with that: this is a type of hearing loss that doesn’t show up with standard tests, as it only shows in loud environments. A lot of doctors haven’t heard of that either.
  2. Delayed sleep phase syndrome – The daily sleep cycle naturally drifts towards going to sleep in the early hours or morning, rather than at night. In short, this means being nocturnal, but not due to being a secret wereowl.
  3. Non-white character with uncertain ancestry – Not everyone knows their ancestry to the point of being able to list percentages. Uncertainty is not that uncommon in the real world, but somehow book characters know it all, unless they’re secretly descended from aliens/fairies (to be revealed by the end of the book). I’d like the character to be uncertain and stay that way without any tidy answers.
  4. Marginalised in five or more ways – All in the same character or it doesn’t count, because people act like even two marginalisations is pushing it and totally unrealistic.
  5. Multiply marginalised character is happy – Everyone is not dead, they have friends and family, and a fluffy pet kitten. Maybe they get what they want for a change.
  6. Dyslexic character can read/write well – Dyslexia is often revealed because a character cannot read or write at all, to the point where it’s really notable when this isn’t the case. This focus also ignores how things change during someone’s lifetime, as though all dyslexic people are locked in childhood. Teens and adults can have other things going on, such as difficulty with schedules and organising tasks, which rarely gets shown because authors are obsessed with small children reversing letters. I still reverse letters sometimes, but it’s really not the most noticeable part of being dyslexic these days.
  7. Ambidextrous character dithers on side choice – Often where an ambidextrous character is shown, it’s like a special superpower to not have a dominant side. So I’d like to see some of the un-superpowered realities of being ambidextrous, including the dithering that happens due to not having an automatic side for things. An example is being hit by a ball because it takes too long to decide which hand to use to catch the ball.
  8. Not feeling emotions is totally fine – Not feeling certain emotions (or any emotions) is often used to show characters as being inferior. If they gain them, they become more human, and therefore more worthy. If they don’t gain them, they’ll probably be the villain. Less of that. More people with different emotional experiences getting to be the hero with no attempt to change them.
  9. Human has phantom limb tail with no supernatural cause – This is me unless I’m secretly magical and don’t know it. I don’t mind the whole wish fulfilment thing of finding out you’re a werecreature and all that. I’ve written such stories too. But sometimes it’s nice to see these themes handled in a more realistic way.
  10. Non-humans with marginalised humans – I love stories with non-humans of various kinds, be they robots, aliens or strange critters from the deep ocean. But so often they’re used to replace marginalised people, rather than being written as their own thing. I also like seeing how marginalised non-humans and marginalised humans interact.
  11. Working class character is not the one good exception – It’s clear how middle class a lot of authors are by their handling of working class characters. You get the working class person with the heart of gold. But expect their community, and often their own family, to be the worst of working class stereotypes. Bonus hatred points if that one working class character gets to become middle or upper class by the end, due to their pure heart and hard work. It just reinforces the idea that most people are working class because they deserve it, and those who don’t deserve it will be elevated. Class structures are not fair, so I don’t want stories pretending they’re fair.
  12. Intersex character with no genital descriptions – There’s apparently no possible way to know someone is intersex without someone feeling up their genitals, seeing them naked in the shower, or other such things. Maybe instead of ever more creative ways to show genitals, someone could just say they’re intersex.
  13. Asexual character not placed in awkward sexual situations – It’s okay to have an asexual character say they’re asexual. It doesn’t have to be revealed by making them walk into the sexbot district and feel uncomfortable because everyone wants to have sex with them.
  14. Non-binary person is not misgendered – It’s like authors think if they have a non-binary person, someone has to misgender them and highlight their gender assigned at birth. This links to a trend where non-binary people are constantly referred to based on their assigned at birth genders (AMAB non-binary and AFAB non-binary, but never plain old non-binary). Some people are really uncomfortable if they can’t continue to split non-binary people into binary categories.
  15. Romani people aren’t inherently magical – I still remember that time I critiqued a piece and commented on the “gypsies” being shown as though they were inherently magical. The author replied that it was okay because she’d always considered them to be like magical fairy creatures and that was totally the vibe she wanted. There are a lot of other stereotypes, including even otherwise progressive spaces being happy to have the dark traveller as the shady criminal who attacks the pure blond main character, but the first step is to understand Romani people are not actually fairies. I’m starting small here.

2016: Diversification

Happy Rainbow OctopusThis has been a year of shifting around what I do. I have a lot of detail about that, but if you want the quick version, skip to the end. The long version might be useful to someone else considering going in a similar direction.

I’ve been writing and blogging for around eight years. In the last few years, I’ve had to acknowledge that I’d never really fit in when it came to the writing world. I’d spent years trying, but it wasn’t happening. A few people talk to me, but they’re usually on the fringes as well. If this was a social club, I’d have left years ago. But it’s a work environment, so it’s difficult to stop being involved entirely. What was for sure is continuing with more of the same would not change anything. I was spending a lot of energy on something that was never going anywhere.

The big issue with my writing is that I write about characters and themes that make it hard to get by in the mainstream, but in all the wrong ways to be seen in the diversity community. The recent push for own voices work has pretty much guaranteed anything I write will sink, as so little of it can be promoted as own voices. I’ve always tended to write about the world around me, which includes a lot of people who aren’t like me. Even when a character is like me, it’s not really the narrative people expect from own voices. An example would be a non-white character of a specific race is expected, but a non-white character who isn’t sure of their own ancestry is not expected. People aren’t going to buy something when they’re not looking for it.

So this year was about diversifying in a different context. If writing couldn’t be my career, maybe a whole lot of little things could combine to be a career.

 

The Art of Zazzle

When I was trying to get reviews for my novel, I got a reply that hated the novel idea, but loved the cover. The cover had always got much more positive feedback than the novel itself. So late in 2015, I started up an art store on Zazzle. I chose Zazzle because it’s a large site with a wide variety of products. If my art was going to sell anywhere, it’d be there.

Zazzle is overwhelming at first. There are so many products, and the design tool gives a lot of freedom when it comes to placing images, making text editable, and other things like that. I focused on common items at first, like badges, fridge magnets and keychains. I turned things into t-shirts where I could, including a special t-shirt version of the novel cover blue jay. I made random stuff like ping pong balls to see if anyone would buy one.

The first year was pretty quiet, but I’ve been slowly building up the store. This paid off this year, as the festive season went well for me. The blue jay is one of my bestselling designs, to the point that it’s going to end up earning more than I’ve made selling the novel it illustrates.

One reason this is working out well is it’s reaching new people. Most sales are either through Zazzle’s own search engine or third parties linking to a product. My writing tends to attract other people who aren’t that wealthy, but Zazzle attracts people with money to burn. I have to keep this in mind when I’m designing. I’d never pay that much for some of the items, but there are people who will. On the other side, the smaller items are in a price range that someone on a tight budget could afford, so I make sure I always have some of those for each design.

Zazzle has an affiliate scheme that is part of their normal artist membership. I can gain referrals on anything I link to, including if I buy the item. It’s a very relaxed affiliate scheme, which makes a change from certain other programmes.

My plans for next year are to keep expanding my designs. I want to do some more animals, as they’re popular designs. Probably cats, because cats are great.

 

Blogs and Reviews

My blog used to have content that was more article-focused. I wrote about general issues of representation, the community, a bit about science in writing, and other things like that. This was never an easy road. Lack of support is a bit of an understatement. Negativity and death threats would sum it up much better.

It might sound strange at first to switch to book reviewing, as authors behaving badly over reviews get a lot of attention. But that’s also precisely why I switched. When an author attacks a reviewer, people defend the reviewer as a matter of principle. That’s why you’ve heard about it. Reviews are an ideal area of blogging for a stranger, because the principle of letting reviewers have opinions doesn’t require being known or being popular. The number of death threats and the like has gone down dramatically.

At the same time, I’m still talking about the same things as before. I’m just doing it in the context of specific examples, rather than broader overviews of an issue. I also hope this will do more good, as it’ll help people find / avoid books and other media.

Though I do tend to look for work by marginalised creators, I haven’t limited the blog to this. I know from my own experiences that it can difficult to be the right sort of marginalised for blogs with limits. It’s also difficult for anyone who is quieter about their identity. So I review anything that I feel like reviewing, with a focus towards authors and stories that are underrepresented.

Reviews are working as a way of producing regular free content. It means people can see I’m working on things, even if the big projects take more time to appear. It also passively promotes my other stuff (and stuff in my section for other creators) as it’s all in the sidebar.

 

Amazon Associates

Amazon is strict with their affiliate scheme. Affiliates must state they’re part of the programme and let website visitors know that cookies can be set by third parties. I wrote a privacy policy to cover this. However, affiliates also have to be careful exactly what they say. They can’t make it sound like Amazon endorses them or beg people to use the links to purchase items to support them. Prices can’t be listed with links. It’s very easy to step over the bounds of what is allowed. I keep a close eye on the official forums, so I can try to fix mistakes before they’re an issue.

I haven’t hit the threshold for payment yet, but it makes sense to keep using this system as I link out to so many books (and other items). It is allowed to link to my own books, which is useful.

I’m open to joining other affiliate schemes, but it has to be one where I’d have a chance of earning enough money to get paid. Amazon is chugging along about as expected, so I’ve no complaints, other than I wish I didn’t have to be paid by cheque.

 

Patreon

Patreon is something I couldn’t see working, because it requires having people who’ll sign up to pay money every month. I can’t work fast enough to provide guaranteed content as rewards, which makes my Patreon less appealing. But I do know people who run Patreon as a tip jar rather than a content subscription service. I didn’t see there was anything lost in trying.

I don’t make much on Patreon, but it is paying for my website. It’s a small thing, but it takes the pressure off anything I earn. It means I can pay for things other than website fees, including getting review items and supporting crowdfunding campaigns. It also covers the website being more expensive this year, due to the exchange rate changes. Patreon pays me in dollars, and I pay my website in dollars, so it’ll keep covering the fees even if my home economy completely falls apart.

I did do one Patreon-only post, which was a picture of a warm glow (the thing people get for supporting me). I did initially mean it more metaphorically, but there you go. I will likely do some other things sporadically, but it’s better not to commit to it and have it be a surprise, than to say I’ll do it and not deliver.

 

Amazon Wishlist

My wishlist isn’t new. I started it up around my birthday one year and I’ve never had anyone buy me anything from it. But some people like buying stuff from wishlists as a way of support, so I cleaned it up and linked to it. This was late enough in the year that I don’t know if it’ll do anything, but any item will be a bonus. The list is mainly review items from the serious to the silly.

 

Other Art Sites

This comes right at the end of the year, as it was part of setting things up for next year. After my art success, I wanted to put a few eggs in other baskets.

The first I looked at was Redbubble, but I discounted it as it’d be a tax nightmare. Redbubble is in Australia, so they should be withholding 5% of my income to pay as taxes (under the tax treaty agreement with the UK). They don’t do this, and they say it’s up to artists to pay those taxes. Except it’s not, because the method for paying those taxes is through withholding, which Redbubble should be doing. Tax avoidance is something I try to avoid, so no Redbubble for me.

Society6 is an American site, so it’s the usual 0% withholding deal. I’d like it better if they were keeping the proper forms on file, but either way, I’m only liable for taxes in my home country for any earnings here.

Society6 is both simpler and trickier than Zazzle. It’s simpler in that it has fewer products and has simplified the process of putting art on stuff. It’s trickier because that means it has fewer tools. Things can’t be tiled or layered, it doesn’t show bleed lines and the like, it doesn’t take vector images… there are a lot of handy things it won’t do. Files at the biggest size are a problem when it comes to previewing. I’ve found the best way is to attempt to preview, then back out and try again tomorrow. It appears to figure out the preview in the break.

All that said, the site does function and the products look reasonable. I do like that I can tweak product image placement after the product goes live. The product pages also show my other work very clearly to the customer: both what other designs I have on that item, and what other items have that design.

There is an affiliate scheme (curators) which has to be signed up for separately. I’ve signed up for this. Also, payments will come in more regularly, as there isn’t a threshold. I know some people prefer to buy from Society6, so hopefully it’ll spread my earnings a bit.

 

Writing

The result of working on everything else was I didn’t release any new books. What I did was work on projects as I felt like working on them. The pressure was off, which gave me some space to decide what I’d do next. I have a novella that will be released next year, at the same time as related cover art merchandise. This will be the first release that ties everything together.

After that, I’ll be working on the second book in my urban fantasy series. This series is not something I can see as ever being popular, but if I’m making money on art, I don’t need it to be.

I am still writing short stories, but the list of markets on my submissions list is a lot smaller now. It’s not the primary way I make money anymore, so I can be more selective.

 

Skip to the End

To round it all up, I deleted my old blog content and have replaced it with reviewing. This has dramatically reduced the death threats. I put art for sale on Zazzle, which is working out nicely. I’m on Patreon, which covers my website costs. Towards the end of the year, I put together a wishlist and started a second art store on Society6. I’m part of a few affiliate programmes related to these things, which is listed in my privacy policy.

Next year, I will have a novella out at some point. I’m going to draw lots of pictures of kittens.

Crowdfunding Arrivals: Mewshrooms and Vampires

I have been known to support crowdfunding campaigns, which means I sometimes get shiny things. Or very fungusy things. Here are my crowdfunding rewards crops for the season.

First is the mewshroom by Stitchmind (Andrew E. Yang). The mewshroom is a mushroom cat toy, who quickly settled in helping with the decorations.

Mushroom cat toy with tinsel

Image Caption: A cuddly toy mushroom cat. The cat has a large red head with embroidered white spots, a white body, frill just under the cap, and a fluffy ball on the end of its tail. The mewshroom is playing with tinsel on a festive plaid backdrop (red and green with gold strands).

Mushroom cat toy with snowflake ornament

Image Caption: Mewshroom faces forwards, showing two dark eyes and an embroidered nose. It stands on a sparkly snowflake ornament.

I backed the campaign at the level for just the toy, though also got a sticker and badge thrown in. The fur is soft and it does stand up despite the huge cap. They come in other colours, but I went with traditional red. Stitchmind has a website where the toys are on sale, and a Zazzle store with related merchandise.

Second is an ebook of Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. This is a vampire novel set in Mexico City. I haven’t read it yet, but I’ll review it when I do. Tinsel probably doesn’t say horror and vampires, but it has some black in it so I’m sure that counts. I own a lot of tinsel.

Silvia has a website with more about her writing, and the book is for sale on Amazon.

Book cover on an iPad with tinsel around it

Image Caption: An iPad on a background of silver/black tinsel and cloth. The screen shows the cover of Certain Dark Things: a face in black and white, with fire and red patterns overlaid. The iPad camera is covered by a sparkly mushroom sticker.

Polls and Patreon

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Winning Stuff

The results of the Strange Horizons 2015 Readers’ Poll are in. The piece I did with Bogi Takács (article here) came joint first in the articles category. The other first place article was by Rose Lemberg (article here). This is apparently the first time there’s been a tie.

It’s also the first time I’ve sold non-fiction, so that went pretty well, all things considered.

 

Patreon

I’ve started a Patreon. This is a tip jar, rather than a rollercoaster of nifty rewards. The main reward is it means I can keep doing stuff. If the Patreon does well, it’ll give me space to get my longer work complete (that includes novels and writing short stories for the next collection). It will also help fund the things I don’t get any payment for, like the blog. For example, it can help cover web hosting fees and pay for review copies (where free ones aren’t available).

Here is my Patreon: Support Polenth and get a warm glow every month!

 

Reviewing

I’m now on Netgalley, so there will be even more reviews with the little disclaimer so that the American government doesn’t try to sue me. Honestly, I don’t think anyone would think a free copy changes my view of the work, as I don’t gush unreservedly about everything I review. But you can’t be logical with bureaucracy.

Something I hadn’t realised is some books are available for all Netgalley members, without needing approval. These are their ‘read now’ books. I’d have signed up earlier if I had known this, as it’s obviously a great way for new reviewers to start getting review copies. I thought I’d pass that on for anyone else who didn’t know that.

Bobble Robin Cupcakes

‘Tis the season for festive cupcakes. This year, I went for making cupcake toppers, rather than elaborate edible decoration. These cakes have white chocolate and glitter coating, with bobble robin toppers. I made the robins from felt, beads and cocktail sticks (I’ve been getting into the whole handmade felt thing… it’s a great material to work with). Managed to stop anyone trying to eat one of the robins…

Here they are in their birdly glory:

robincake