Workshop Episode 8 (Guest Host: Justin Macumber)

The Roundtable Podcast, Workshop Episode 8, with Justin Macumber and Scott RocheJustin Macumber – author of Haywire, co-host of The Dead Robots’ Society and The Hollywood Outsider, writer of a diverse spectrum of intriguing speculative fiction – rejoins us for an awesome Workshop episode.  We are joined by Scott Roche, an accomplished author and podcaster in his own right, offering up a very cool YA superhero tale that generates an epic Roundtable Podcast discussion. (And Justin’s showcase episode is just as fabulous!)


PROMO: The Full Cast Podcast

Workshop Episode 8 (Guest Host: Justin Macumber)

[caution: mature language – listener discretion is advised]

Check out this episode on iTunes


Justin’s Fabulousity…


Scott’s Awesome Goodness…


(ADDITIONAL REFERENCES TO BE ADDED… but I’m really tired and it’s late)


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Comments (8)

I just listened to the episode and wanted to say this is a really great story idea.

I wanted to make a character suggestion. In a lot of stories, cartoons and anime, battles occurring in high schools often leave the building half wrecked with damage from gun fights, explosions or feats of super human strength, such as throwing someone through a wall. But, the next day the building is pristine with no evidence of the mayhem that had ensued. This is all due to the tireless efforts of the lowly janitor.

What if the janitor for the high school in this story was the person who possessed the supper uber tech both the bad guys and the MIB types were looking for. Perhaps the janitors tech bestowed two types of abilities, the ability to manipulate matter and precognition. Everyone wants the ability to tell the future but no one understands it only works for inanimate objects that don’t have the ability to make decisions or perform actions that change the future. For objects its a simple matter of “tomorrow there’s a fight and I get broken.” Perhaps the janitor is paranoid about being captured and does his dead level best to cover up the goings on at the high school so the MIB types or the bad aliens don’t come snooping around.

So glad you enjoyed it! I agree that consequences are often missing in these kinds of stories. I appreciate your suggestion and will give it some thought. 😉

Michael Brudenell

Great episode guys. I just got my wife hooked on listening.

I agree with Tracy’s analysis of how some anime and manga stories make it appear normal for destruction to clear up in a day, but I wonder if the janitor having clean up tech might be a little too contrived. People will still take notice unless his tech includes mass mind wipes, as well. Scott, I don’t know how much of the action you plan on using the high school as a backdrop for, or is the city where the big action happens, and the school is just the petri-dish?

I would take the “Big Guns” tech out slowly. Mark and Rose’s powers are subtle, and Maria’s moments of berserker attacks would be isolated. The quicker the violence rises the quicker law enforcement gets involved, and for a town this size the city police would quickly call for federal help if you have heavy artillery right away. Probably eventual, but I would give it a slow burn.

Could Rose be using illusion to try and keep things under wraps, as tension and violence mounts? This could be a tax on her and the price she pays for using her abilities. She wants to keep things under control, but eventually she taxes herself too much and the illusion falls in a big way. Even though the movie was cheesy, I have a guilty pleasure in “The Shadow” feature film (probably in large part because it co-stars Tim Curry). The way they used illusion was glorious.

Excellent suggestions, particularly the subtlety. Thanks!

Michael Brudenell

Also, Dave, I really want to hear the drop in sound effect of “The Whip” become a regular staple. Tee has his bell and Pip gave you guys “The Whip”. Own it!


I discovered this podcast several months ago, and have been burning my way through the archives with great enthusiasm and enjoyment. I love you guys, and I love what you’re doing.

However, there was one incident from this episode which stopped me dead in my tracks, and for which I feel compelled to make a response.

At approximately 1:02:30, Dave says: “Unless there is a very specific reason as to why this person is there and they are transgendered, I think it almost becomes a disservice, it almost becomes the Token Transgender”

… in the first eight episodes, this is the one which most immediately struck me at the time as a clear case where the standard disclaimer needs to be invoked: “Everything we say could be complete bullshit.”

Just to be clear about where I’m coming from: I’m a straight, white, nondisabled cis-male, US citizen, financially comfortable and hailing from the middle ranges of the social strata. So my firsthand knowledge of these issues is nil, and anything I say could also easily be complete bullshit.

However, I have been making a study of social justice issues from various angles for the better part of a decade, and everything I’ve ever learned has taught me Tokenism Does Not Work That Way.

Chiefly, tokenism merely refers to there being a “token” number of characters (perhaps only one) from a marginalized group. Queen Amidala in the Star Wars prequels, for instance, is a Token Woman because out of a main cast of over a dozen, she’s just about the only female character of any importance in those films. Most US TV shows these days will also have a Token Black (or, more rarely, Token Asian, Token Latin@) character in an otherwise all white cast. (Tokenism is also a problem in real life institutions like boards of directors, city councils, and the like.) Token characters like these are problematic because (among other things) they become stand-ins for the entirety of the marginalized group(s) they happen to belong to – whereas each straight, white, cismale only represents himself.

Another problem with tokenism in fiction is that the Token X character often tends to be stereotyped, characterized mainly by their status as a member of Group X, and of secondary importance to the plot. These are legitimate dangers for a writer (especially one who doesn’t belong to Group X) to watch out for.

More to the point: Another major problem with the Token X character is when they’re clearly only in the story because their having X trait is a major plot point. It’s bad enough when (mostly male) writers include only a single female character primarily so she can be a love interest (a la the Star Wars prequels), but imagine a reader’s reaction when they think, ‘Hang on, did you only make this character black so they could pretend to be related to Whoopi Goldberg?’

It comes back to the point about characters being defined by the trait for which their group is marginalized. The assumption that there has to be a narrative reason for a character to be a person of color, or disabled, or genderqueer, is deeply Tokenizing and problematic. Fiction is littered with characters who are white, cis, nondisabled etc., not for any narrative reason, but because they happen to possess those traits, and their status as such is rarely if ever a plot point.

There can be many good narrative reasons for having a character who is a person of color, or disabled, or genderqueer etc. (as well as some not-so-good ones). But “just because there are people out there who happen to possess these traits” is also a more than sufficiently good reason to include one or more such characters in a story.

I was getting pretty uncomfortable when there was the first push to make Rose’s transgender status a plot point (why can’t she be a superhero who just happens to be transgender?). But to then go ahead and suggest that NOT making it a plot point is Tokenizing? I find that a dangerously wrongheaded and misinformed notion.

Again, I love you guys, and look forward to being a guest myself in the not-too-distant future, but everybody flubs sometimes, and I think this was one of those times.

(Perhaps this issue has been fixed in the ~2 years since the episode was broadcast, but even if that’s so, I think it’s worthwhile to have this pointed out in the comments section to the episode itself.)

Hey Collinn!

You’re absolutely right… that observation on my part was complete bullshit and your comment has illustrated that eloquently. I have no intention of defending what I said because it’s basically indefensible. But I’d like to try and articulate the mindset that prompted it.

I believe the issues of diversity – in race, gender, sexuality, culture, religion, etc. – that have been raised among the genre fiction community to be profoundly relevant and vital (not only to the genre but to our species). That said, it is also one of the most disturbing issues for me as a writer.

I have enough problems curbing my inner editor when I write, but I find it almost paralyzing when I consider any of those issues in relation to my characters.

I wrote a story a while back where a female character was the antagonist, and now I’m wondering if I’ve bought in to some deeply coded male aggression behavior in doing so.

I recently listened to a panel discussion on diversity where the panelists lambasted Joss Whedon for killing off Willow, thus dissolving the only lesbian relationship in the series. I remember watching that episode and thinking what a horrifying tragedy it was that a human being had been killed so senselessly. It never occurred to me to be outraged that it was a lesbian character that had been killed. Of course, that’s part of the problem… a straight white male isn’t going to go there but I can understand the hurt and frustration of a lesbian fan at such an outcome.

I think I’m a genuinely nice guy, Collinn, and I respect my fellow human beings. I also respect the power fiction has on a culture. I just want to tell good stories, but the current climate feels incendiary when it comes to these issues. Thus, I tend to backpedal dramatically when the issue comes up. I actually thought I was being sensitive to those issues by raising that point, which only serves to illustrate how messed up I am over this.

I think your observation that “… ‘just because there are people out there who happen to possess these traits’ is also a more than sufficiently good reason to include one or more such characters in a story” is the most sincere and honest approach to take. I’ll work to embrace that open and honest perspective in my storytelling (and my workshopping).

I deeply appreciate you taking the time to voice your opinion on this matter, Collinn. I doing so, you’ve certainly given me a more informed perspective and provided a means for me to work through what continues to be one of my greatest challenges as a writer.

So no… I don’t think the issue has been “fixed”… but I really am working on it. You may even stumble into it again in future episodes (for which I’ll apologize in advance). I wish I could say I’ve seen the light, but if it was that easy, then the issues wouldn’t be as pervasive or persistent as they are. All I can ask is that you accept the sincerity of my desire to understand, and be patient as I work through it (with a little help from my friends and listeners).

Hi Dave,

This is a very thoughtful and (to my eyes) well-reasoned response; I shall take it as a model for how to take criticism graciously.

And I don’t want to make out as if I occupy any sort of moral high ground when it comes to these issues: I tick just about every major privilege category that exists in the world, and my worldview is just as skewed my status as anyone else’s.

What I’m trying to say when you articulate where you were coming from with that comment is: I get it. I’m in the same boat as you are – I care about these issues, I think they’re crucially important both in the fiction community and the world at large; but my perspective on them is fundamentally that of an outsider, and one who wields a disproportionate amount of power where they are concerned. I’ve been working to educate myself on social justice issues pertaining to various demographic categories for years; but I still feel acute anxiety at the prospect of writing a character who is demographically very different from me, because there’s so much I still don’t know, and I’m paralyzingly afraid of screwing it up and causing harm. It’s one of my greatest challenges as a writer (and more generally) as well.

And I have definitely had occasions where I’ve caused (mercifully minor) harm when I was trying to be sensitive to an issue, but muffed the execution. I’m sure I’ll do it again at some point, however noble my intentions.

I apologize the confused wording: when I referred to the possibility of this issue having been “fixed,” I meant it in the narrower sense of this particular misrepresentation of what constitutes tokenism being revisited and a more accurate definition provided in a later podcast or blog post which I haven’t listened to/read yet. The larger issue of addressing matters of race/gender/sexuality/etc. from a position of privilege without screwing it up and causing some level of harm is, as you point out, much less easily “fixed.” That part is a lifelong process, one for which I’m sure you and I shall both have many occasions to beg patience and forgiveness of our friends, colleagues, readers and listeners. My philosophy on the subject is shaped by an anti-racist activist whom I consider something of a mentor, who once said “It’s okay to stumble, so long as we’re stumbling forward.”

Once again, thanks for your thoughtful and gracious response, and for your willingness to explore these issues with care and humility. I look forward to having some more enlightening and (hopefully) mutually-beneficial conversations with you in the near future.

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