Dragon Con 2018 – Diversity in Speculative Fiction & Literature Fandom Track

Interview with Jarvis Sheffield
“It is essential that fandom is represented positively, diversely, and fairly.  An important part of understanding diversity is that it includes similarities as well as differences. Understanding that we have similar interests or beliefs can encourage cooperation and cohesion within our community.”
~ an excerpt from the DSFL Mission Statement, adapted from the Luther College diversity center in Iowa.

Dragon Con has always had panels to promote critical thinking about diversity. In 2015, the con hosted a round table discussion panel titled Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Contemporary Comics. Writer Brynna Owens wrote a great, in-depth article about that panel titled Contemporary Comics Face, and Overcome, Diversity Missteps, published in the convention’s Daily Dragon newsletter. In 1999, there was the Women in Gaming panel writer Jason Mitchell wrote about in his article of the same name. That’s just a couple of examples, but there have many diversity panels throughout the years.

Dragon CON 2018 introduced a new track for fans titled Diversity in Speculative Fiction & Literature Fandom, organized under the direction of Jarvis Sheffield whose passion, unique insight, and experience helped make the track a huge success this year.

For the last 10 years, Sheffield has been the administrator of the Black Science Fiction Society, a “social network for black people around the planet who like science fiction” with more than 5,000 registered members worldwide and around 12,000 on the Facebook group. The society also has a Genesis anthology series (Book I & Book II), and the Genesis Science Fiction Radio Show—it’s a lot to manage.

In addition to running the BSFS, he is also the editor-in-chief for the society’s Genesis Science Fiction Magazine. “We also go to different events, the different cons—particularly the ethnic cons around the country. So, I get to be involved in all kinds of diverse environments,” said Sheffield. For his day job, he works in special collections for the Tennessee State University library and manages a 3-D Maker space there. And if that is not enough, he also manages the Universal Africana Literary Arts Movement Facebook page, and he is pursuing a doctorate in education with a focus on leadership.

Sheffield gave insight into how the track came into existence. “There had been some discussion between Mr. Pat Henry and one of my friends that I met in the Black Science Fiction Society, Glenn Paris. He mentioned a couple of years ago that they were thinking of adding some diversity to Dragon CON, and I was like ‘Well, if that happens, just let me know. I’d be more than happy to chip in were I can.,’ Sheffield said. “And so, we had that same discussion again last year at another con; he linked me up with Mr. Henry and we talked. Shortly thereafter, I became one of the directors and since January, I’ve been doing stuff in the background to prepare, learning all the processes behind Dragon CON and facilitating the different aspects that I wanted to bring to the track.”

He said that the reception to the track has been fantastic. “I think that more than half the panels that we’ve had have been standing room only,” said Sheffield. “I’ve been getting really good feedback. People are excited about being acknowledged and feel they are being embraced more by Dragon CON.” The track covers a wide range of topics, such as LGBT, Diversity in Comics, Women’s Issues, Race, and Disability, and others. “We’re trying to cover the entire spectrum of attendees,” said Sheffield.

The track was in the standard discussion format followed by a Q&A session, but there were also interactive workshops which also included a Q&A segment. Panelists were chosen from the list of pre-approved individuals in the Dragon CON directory for the first draft, and for the second draft, Sheffield connected with individuals he’s met over the past 10 years from attending different conventions. 2018 topics included the definition of diversity, diversity in cosplay, a woman’s perspective, gender and sexuality in writing, age and disability, and others. No diversity panels were offered on Thursday, but the track had full days for the rest of the convention, not closing until 2:30 p.m. on Monday.

“This has been a great opportunity and a great experience being a part of Dragon Con. I have a list of great things to add. We were able to have photographers cover the event; but, next year, we want to add video for documentation, so if someone misses something, they can pull it up and watch it,” Sheffield said. “Some of the people I wanted to add to the roster this year weren’t able to appear because of scheduling conflicts, or they weren’t an approved vendor. They didn’t have a badge and couldn’t pay to come, which is understandable.” Sheffield is hoping that those panelists who couldn’t come this year, will be able to participate in the track for Dragon CON 2019.

Sheffield is also encouraging everyone to use the Dragon CON app, which can be found on the convention’s website, iTunes, and Google Play, to rate events. He is hoping for a lot of fan feedback. “That’s one of our points of the group is to try to get input, so that we can grow this,” said Sheffield. “If there is something we didn’t do this year, that you are interested in seeing, or if there is something that we can do better, let us know.”

Those wanting to contact Director Sheffield can message him on Facebook.

Interview with NY Times Best-selling Author: Kim Harrison

I had a hard time not fan-girling over Kim Harrison when I met her at Dragon Con 2018 in Atlanta this Labor Day weekend. Harrison is best known for the Hollows books, a New York Times #1 best-selling paranormal fantasy series.

Harrison has written more than two-dozen books, some in the young adult genre (Madison Avery trilogy), and even accelerated-science thrillers (Peri Reed Chronicles). Her work can also be found in various anthologies, and she scripted two original graphic novels set in the Hollows universe. She has also published other traditional fantasy under Dawn Cook, her real name. Harrison said she began the Hollows series out of desperation to find reader, agent, and editor attention.

“The Hollows started as a short story. In the 1990’s, I was trying to break into print in the short story market. I looked at what was being published in the science fiction and fantasy area, and it was really weird stuff at the time,” Harrison said. “I knew I couldn’t match that; I couldn’t come close to it. But I said, you want weird? I’ll give you my kind of weird. So, I put a pixie, a vampire, and a witch in a bar. What happened was the first chapter of “Dead Witch Walking.”

After shopping the story around and not finding a buyer, Harrison put it in a drawer while she worked on a traditional fantasy story she had in her head. She broke into print with that story as Dawn Cook. Later, when her editor asked if she had anything else, Harrison opened the drawer and pulled out the short story. “I think I called it ‘Life is a Bowl of Cereal,’ because of ‘Lucky Charms’,” said Harrison. “I beefed it up into a novel; it took a while, but it did sell. I’ve never looked back since.”

As for what is next for the Hollows series, Harrison said she is starting the series back up. “I kicked around a lot of ideas. Do I develop the demons, or do I concentrate on the elves? But I just kept gyrating back to Rachel when I started writing in the Hollows again,” said Harrison. “The next story is called “American Demon” and it starts just two months after “The Witch with No Name.” Harrison likes to make a play on Clint Eastwood movie titles when naming the Hollows books.

“In the new book, the church has been destroyed and there is a lot of political upheaval. Rachel is feeling very lost and alone, because the church is gone and she’s not sure where she’s going to be living. She doesn’t want to live with Trent. She wants to make it on her own. And when magic went down in the previous book, a lot of things in cages got out.”

Harrison is still working on the rough draft for “American Demon” and has no clue as to when it will be published. She said it’s going along really well and will be at least a year. But she is no longer publishing with HarperCollins and is exploring new avenues for publication. “I am free and clear to go with whomever I want at this point, and it’s an exciting place to be,” said Harrison.

As for the Young Adult Madison Avery trilogy, Harrison said she probably won’t continue the series. “I enjoy writing Young Adult. I was writing about a book and a half a year, but [HarperCollins] only wanted a book a year in urban fantasy, so I thought I’d try my hand at Young Adult. That is what I was reading at that time,” Harrison said. “I love it, because the stakes are higher. When you’re young, you don’t feel like you have any resources and you feel lost and alone. But you find out that isn’t the case, that you have an amazing number of resources, usually in the form of friends. I had a great time with the Madison Avery Series.”

Harrison doesn’t see a lot of difference between writing for the Young Adult reader and writing for older readers. “It depends on who you ask. In my Young Adult, I’m targeting high school and college age. They’re dealing with a lot of the same issues adults are. They have few resources. They’re backs are against the wall more. They’re learning about themselves more,” Harrison said. “It’s more fun, because I enjoy that part of the writing process, the learning about characters and how they grow and interact, what’s important to them and how their needs and wants motivates them. I try not to write any differently. I still use that wonderful, big vocabulary.”

“Perfunctory Affection” is a new book by Harrison that isn’t in the Hollows series. “If you squish it together, you get the short title “Perfection,” which is really what the book is all about. It’s a step away from Urban Fantasy for me, but I still have magic in it,” Harrison said. “Magic is not a tool in this one, it’s a kind of force. Things that happen are magical. It’s portal magic. It’s kind of a psychological thriller more than I’ve ever done before. I had a blast writing it and it’s coming out under Subterranean Press, late first quarter. I don’t have a date yet. It’s longer than a novella but shorter than a novel, so it was really hard to place; I didn’t want to beef it up with nothing, just to hit that magical mark.”

Harrison’s home and office

Harrison grew up in the mid-west but lived for a while in South Carolina before returning to Michigan. She started writing when they lived in Michigan originally, but she said she had a huge learning curve, because she didn’t take any classes in college for writing. “I have a degree in science engineering and technology, which I bring into my work all the time. My dad said, ‘she goes to school for that and now she’s writing,’ and I said ‘Dad, I use my degree every single time I sit down.’”

When she moved to South Carolina, she found a “fabulous, writers’ critique group” with an amazing amount of talent and dedication. “We met every week, face-to-face. Everybody got to read and critique. By the time we were ready to move up north again, I had found publication, mostly due to the people in there.” Once back in Michigan, she began “writing more and more with less input from other people.” She added, “I still look on those days as my Camelot. It was such an amazing time.”

In addition to writing full-time, Harrison also manages her website and social media, and writes a blog. After being a writer for 20 years, she said her schedule has become pretty static. “I am usually up in the morning; I have a light breakfast and I eat lunch at my desk. I try to be out of the office by three,” said Harrison.

When she and her husband Tim moved back to Michigan, they bought an old Victorian house and slowly remodeled it, adding a new porch and a gazebo. “Tim said ‘you should move your office out to the gazebo.’ About a minute later, I’m lugging out my desk and I’ve been there ever since,” Harrison said, laughing. “I have a beautiful office. It’s in a gazebo in the middle of Michigan winters, and it’s enclosed on all sides. I can see everything, and no one can see in. The windows have a light tint.” The gazebo also has a heated floor. She showed a picture of the idyllic view from her office, which had a babbling brook, a statuette of a wading bird, and lots of beautiful, lush green foliage. Harrison loves to garden in her spare time. “I figured if I’m going to be looking at something for six hours a day, it’d better be nice,” she said. “I don’t know how some writer’s stare at a blank wall, but maybe they need that.”

She also enjoys cooking and made sugared pecans this year to keep up her energy, using her grandfather’s recipe. Harrison is full of surprises. She has two black belts, one in Hapkido and another in Taekwondo, but is thinking of moving to Tai Chi because the other forms have become too rough on her back. Now we know where Rachel gets her fabulous fighting moves.

For more on Kim Harrison, visit her website at www.kimharrison.net.