Today’s writers are both photographers as well as writers. They are two people I thought should know each other better but who hadn’t really crossed paths. I’m pretty tickled with how their Conversation went.
Andrew Williams and Elsa S. Henry
Andrew Williams: Hey Elsa– I’m ready to do this thing if you are.
Elsa S. Henry: I’m ready! (Just put my dog up for a nap so I could focus)
Andrew: Excellent! Surviving the weekend and GenCon preparation then?
Elsa: Trying to! I have almost all my clothes packed and now it’s just the Other Stuff
Andrew: Cool. Are you doing any programming at GenCon?
Elsa: I am, yeah. I’m teaching a class on accessibility for disabilities in game design and then I’m on a panel about inclusivity in gaming and then I’m running the Storium meet & greet as the official community manager of Storium, and then I am running into a panel on cultural appropriation. SOBUSY
Andrew: Awesome! I didn’t realize you were involved with Storium. And yeah, that sounds kinda crazy-busy… in a good way (hopefully)
Elsa: Yeah, I was hired as their community manager about 2 months ago. It’s a good gig. And yeah, it’s all good. I’ve just never been to Gen Con before. Have you?
Andrew: No, I haven’t. Everyone I talk to seems to have a good time, but gaming is one of my weaker links in the geek continuum, as it were. That said, I will be at PAX this year and am looking forward to it
Elsa: What part of the geek continuum have you fallen down the wormhole for?
Andrew: I’m primarily a reader and sci-fi/fantasy writer. I love me my John Scalzi, Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Mira Grant… The last game I played hardcore was WoW, and I escaped with kind of a sigh of relief. That said, I do love playing games with friends, and have been involved doing photography with a company called GamesToGo at their booth at some recent conventions (They sell board games and the like)
Elsa: And yeah, I hear you on running away from WoW, Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire is currently my new favorite author
Andrew: I really liked the Feed series. Her urban fantasy stuff is on my to-read list
Elsa: Feed was SO GOOD it definitely inspired me for some of Dead Scare (the RPG I’m writing right now)
Andrew: Sweet! Can you give me the thirty-second pitch for Dead Scare?
Elsa: It is 1953, you’re a housewife alone at home when the Emergency Broadcast goes off and tells you the United States has been attacked and the President is dead. Then the undead rise, and you have to stay alive. Better red than zed.
Andrew: Heh. Awesome
Elsa: Essentially the Soviet Union drops a biological weapon on the United States turning everyone in major city centers into zombies. AN almost entirely female cast for every game. Armed with lawn mowers, cadillacs, and rolling pins
Andrew: Nice. Sounds like all the old 1950s tropes turned on their heads… with zombies.
Elsa: Yep, that’s the exact concept
Andrew: Do you write prose as well or mostly games? (I assume writing games must involve some prose writing, but I’ve never done it)
Elsa: This is actually my first game I’ve ever written. I primarily do fiction and nonfiction writing
Andrew: Cool! Yeah, I read some of your blog. You do a good job of tackling major, blood-pressure-raising but very important issues
Elsa: it is not easy
Andrew: The sort of stuff I can only blog about once a month or so before my head explodes
Elsa: I haven’t been posting much recently because of Lots of Life Changes, but I’m hoping to resume a more regular schedule soon
Andrew: Yeah, my regular blog has fallen off a lot as I’ve been working more on photography this year and trying to something resembling a business running
Elsa: I saw on your blog that you’re going to Nepal in a few weeks, is that for writing inspiration or photography or…
Andrew: Yes. Actually, it’s mostly because I love to travel, so when a friend happened to ask if I wanted to go to Nepal, I figured out if I could possibly wing it, and the answer was yes. The sort of trip I’d seriously regret if I didn’t go. I’ve actually never been to Asia, or to a non-English-speaking country outside of Europe before, so I’m really looking to it. Of course, I will be lugging along several pounds of camera gear as I hike through the Himalayas, because ZOMG PHOTOS
Elsa: Uh. Yeah. Those photos.
Andrew: And I also have a story I’m writing where one of the cultures is Tibetan-inspired, so I’m hoping to see some things that may inspire me along the way.
Elsa: Will be amazing.
Andrew: I CAN’T WAIT. Actually, I leave five weeks from today
Elsa: EEK you must have so much prep to do.
Andrew: Mostly just getting stuff together (a lot of backpacking gear which I generally already have). And luckily I won’t have to bring a tent because even though the trek is three weeks long, you stay in teahouses every night at villages along the way
Elsa: I miss travelling a lots, out of the country anyway. Hoping to go to Sweden next year
Andrew: That’d be awesome. Scandinavia is on my to-visit list. I’m hoping Finland wins the WorldCon bid in 2017 After Nepal, I’m planning to swing back through Hong Kong and Seoul before coming home
Elsa: You do WorldCon? I’m considering going to Spokane next year. I went to college out there and haven’t been back since graduation
Andrew: Yeah, I’ve been to a couple. And of course, being a Seattleite, I’ll do Spokane. I’ve never been there except as a transit point on my way to Montana
Elsa: I think WorldCon sounds like fun. But granted, I’m terrified of Gen Con, soooo I’m not sure WorldCon would be kinder
Andrew: Gen Con is really big, isn’t it? Like 40K-ish people?
Elsa: On the other hand I know Spokane really well. Yeah, Gen Con is ENORMOUS. Not SDCC enormous, but big enough to be a little anxiety attack-y
Andrew: Yeah, WorldCon generally runs about 7-10K. The tough thing is, because a different group runs it every year, you’re never entirely sure what you’re getting
Andrew: What school did you go to out there?
Elsa: People give me funny looks when I tell them – I went to Gonzaga
Andrew: Heh. Y’know, I didn’t even realize Gonzaga was in Spokane until I happened to be reading an article about Desmond Tutu earlier today (he apparently gave a commencement speech there a couple of years ago)
Elsa: He did! Yeah, super Conservative Catholic Very Not Where People Expect Me To Have Gone
Andrew: Were you super conservative Catholic at the time?
Elsa: I raised a lot of hell. Nope. They offered me a very nice scholarship
Andrew: Heh. That must’ve been an interesting four years (for certain values of “interesting”)
Elsa: But I credit my time there with why I can talk about blood raising things in a relatively reasonable manner. Interesting is most certainly a word I would use to describe my time
Andrew: Not planning to go to graduate school at BYU or anything, are you?
Elsa: I went to grad school at Sarah Lawrence College. My ability to stay calm when people were screaming at me was useful there, too!
Andrew: It’s a useful ability to have, even if practicing it is a pain in the ass
Andrew: I consider myself lucky that I’ve never really had to… part of why I try to jump in now when I see such things going on
Elsa: I think that’s lucky. I mean, ok ,in undergrad I ran the first ever AIDS Awareness program at Gonzaga my father died from HIV/AIDS in 1993, so educating people on care and prevention is very close to my heart and very important to me. The pro life student group actually protested the event
Elsa: It was one of the harder examples of “Deal with the screaming crazy people without stabbing someone” situations I’ve had to deal with
Andrew: Wow. I can’t even imagine. Protesting AIDS Awareness is wrong on so many levels I just can’t… even…. but that’s awesome that you followed through on a cause so close to your heart
Elsa: The fact that I managed to get the Vice President for Mission at a Catholic University to approve me MENTIONING CONDOMS during my talk was a miracle. And that is why they protested
Andrew: That is, indeed, quite the miracle. I seem to remember reading in the past couple of years that even the Catholic church in Rome has slowly begun to make noises that maybe such things aren’t totally evil in all circumstances
Elsa: YEP. Also, Pope Francis is almost reasonable on some matters
Andrew: There’s still a heck of a lot to disagree with, but he’s a breath of fresh air compared to Benedict
Elsa: RIGHT? I’m not Catholic – I’m actually Jewish at this point. But having spent so much time in a culture of Catholicism I actually care deeply about progression and change
Andrew: I mostly like Pope Francis for his focus on aiding the poor and the less fortunate, and the way he seems to focus on a lot of what Jesus actually said in that regard. I was raised Protestant Christian but I’m an atheist these days.
Elsa: I married an atheist Jew, but I have faith so I ended up going to Temple
Andrew: That’s cool. It must have been an interesting experience (sorry to overuse the word, but I mean it in a more positive sense than earlier)
Elsa: Considerably more interesting, also hilarious
Andrew: Heh heh. Ironically, I find being an atheist has made me more spiritual than I used to be. In that my own ideas and spirituality feels more internal and rooted in who I am, rather than something imposed by outside
Elsa: SO, you’re writing your own beliefs
Andrew: Sort of. I feel like I’m more interested in what might be than in what is. Religion, and different aspects of God, are more interesting to me as stories than as explanations.
Elsa: Yeah, I minored in religious studies because religion is interesting to me. I find people fascinating
Andrew: (Most people would call me agnostic, but I prefer “atheist” because agnostic implies that you think the deep truths are unknowable, and I’m not sure that’s the case)
Andrew: Oh, totally. I love talking about this sort of stuff with people and hearing their thoughts and ideas. As long as they aren’t screaming them at me. I wrote a long blog post on that once that I sort of considered my “coming out” as an atheist, on stories and beliefs and the nature of what might be vs. what is
Elsa: Link? I’d be curious to read it
Andrew: Pretty sure I can find it… one sec http://offthewrittenpath.com/2011/12/13/of-stories-and-beliefs/
Elsa: I’m curious how you feel about the skeptic community.
Andrew: cue headsplode
Elsa: evil grin I THOUGHT YOU MIGHT HAVE OPINIONS
Andrew: I actually got involved in the skeptic and atheist community after I moved to Seattle a few years ago… looking for friends and community and the like. And that blog post was part of my reaction/eventual recoiling. It’s a completely cliche thing to say, but I see in the organized atheist/skeptic community a lot of the same things that drive me nuts about organized religion
Andrew: Putting one’s own personal opinions/beliefs on a pedestal, and defending them with hardcore tenacity while discounting other people’s experiences and feelings, for one. Obviously it’s not everybody in the community (#notallatheists), but I just couldn’t stand the lack of empathy I saw from lots of people. The refusal to see things from other perspectives or recognize that other people have valid emotions and experiences. I found I didn’t relate to much of the skeptic community. I like being independent, and finding my own way to various truths, which might occasionally include dabbling in things that skeptics would laugh at me for but that I find extremely intriguing (for example, I’ve taken a lot of classes in hypnotherapy)
Elsa: I know a lot of people both in and out of the skeptic community feel the way you do about the pedestal thing
Andrew: Part of why I love being a storyteller and creative person is empathizing with other people, in understanding their experiences and perspectives, and seeing certain things (like how that community treated some of the social justice-oriented folks in their midst) sent me running away
Andrew: Which makes me sad. Part of why I call myself atheist is that I see so many asshats use the term, and I want to keep them from claiming it entirely
Andrew: Nor do I particularly like the term humanist or freethinker, for various reasons. So yeah, I don’t know what I am. I’m just a writer. Oh man, I could totally go off on another rant about how I hate labels, but that’s a whole other three-hour chat. So, what creative project are you working on right now that you’re most excited about?
Elsa: Definitely Dead Scare. I think its going to be one of those games that makes people think, because I’ve designed it to push people to think in terms of morality and choice
Andrew: That’s awesome. Good luck with it!
Elsa: What about you?
Andrew: Hmm. At the moment, it’s probably my photography. I’m working on a yearlong project where I try to make at least one photographic expedition to a Seattle-area landmark or event every week (you can follow it at http://www.journeysincolor.net/blog). And of course Nepal is coming up. For writing, I’m working on a steampunk novel that takes place in colonial Hong Kong called Noah’s Dragon. So I’m excited about that too, and I’m trying to squeeze it whenever I’m not working on photography.
Elsa: This is my first con I’m going to WITHOUT my camera
Andrew: What? A con without a camera? /recoils in horror But given your schedule, I can kind of see why
Elsa: and also, that book sounds awesome
Andrew: Thanks! It’s partly why I routed my return trip through Hong Kong.
Elsa: Makes sense
Andrew: Plus, there’s a British privateer captain in it who’s a mix of Mal Reynolds and Blackbeard, and she is hands-down my favorite character I’ve ever written into a story