The Art of Threading

A Conversation with Alexandra Erin

Alexandra Erin, aka @AlexandraErin, is an American blogger, satirist, and author. She writes short stories, fiction, poems, and tabletop gaming content. Aside from her deep passion for fantasy, she writes political threads on Twitter since the election of 2016. She’s also about to publish First Dates, Last Calls, a series of short stories.

Interview published on June 26, 2019

Q. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

A. So, my name is Alexandra Erin, and I'm an author of multiple genres and forms. I'm originally from eastern Nebraska, but currently live in western Maryland. I'm a trans woman, very proud to be queer. I enjoy writing poetry, fiction, and gaming content. I especially enjoy the form of satire, which helped propel me to the rare honor of an Alfie Award, an award bestowed by George R.R. Martin and named in tribute to his friend, the late Alfred Bester.
The year I won it, he was actually an alternate runner-up further down in the same category. So I can tell people, in perfect honesty and total humility, that I beat George R.R. Martin for a writing award that he invented.
Now, the category was for fan writing, and I don't imagine he was trying very hard to win, nor do I think he wouldn't have stepped back had he become a serious contender. It was a very strange year for science fiction and fantasy literature. But I am a storyteller at heart, and so when I show people the trophy, I tell them, "George R.R. Martin handed this to me after I beat him for a writing award he invented," because that's the way that makes the better story.
Though I won the Alfie for writing about fandom politics, I started getting serious attention on Twitter for my threads about actual serious business politics during the 2016 election season. It occurred to me, as election night neared, that as a woman of 36 years old at that point, I had been through more presidential elections than most of the people on Twitter. It was kind of my "wait, I'm the adult" moment. So I decided to assume the responsibility that goes along with the position.
On election night 2016, I started explaining things as they happened, and they kept happening, and I kept explaining them. I'm still explaining them. It's how I pay the bills, but more than that, it's a calling. I've got for-real journalists and politicians following me. I've had people with checkmarks by their names message me to ask me my opinion on when or if someone was going to leave the White House. I've had big name journalists ask me to tell them I think everything's going to be okay. I got to explain to Chrissy Teigen why internet weirdos were accusing her and her husband of being child traffickers. That was a surreal experience, probably as much for her as it was for me.
I've decided to embrace the fact that my life doesn't make a lot of sense right now. When people ask me what I do, I show them a gif of Morpheus telling them that they have to see it for themselves. I introduce myself as a leading expert in the field of *gestures vaguely* whatever it is I do. I call myself Twitter's Weird Politics Mom or a well-respected fake internet pundit.

Q. How did you get into writing?

A. The biggest single factor there, I think, is that I had parents who read to me. My mother especially, my father as well, used to read Madeleine L'Engle and C.S. Lewis, among other classic fantasy and science fiction, to my siblings and myself. I have a mitochondrial condition that resulted in a lot of painful, scary tests when I was a kid, and some uncertainty about my future, and one of the things that helped me cope with that was Madeleine L'Engle writing about mitochondria like it was an epic battleground of good vs. evil in A Wind In The Door.
Stories have always made sense to me, and they help me make sense of the world, which helps me make the world make sense to others.

Q. You write on politics in the form of Twitter threads, why this specific format for the topic?

A. I think most of my non-fiction writing as a way of working through my thoughts on a topic. My blog usually has as a header some variation of "Quietly Thinking Out Loud". I think Twitter's a really great medium for that, in that it forces you to process what you're thinking a little bit at a time, but it also gives you freedom because you don't have this whole blank page in front of you, just a tiny little box. So if you only have a place to start, you can tweet it, and then if it turns out that's all you have, you're good, but if you find it inspires another thought, you can just keep going.
You know, I find it interesting to be asked this in a pro-threading context. I used to get this question a lot, though it was often with a note of exasperation. "Ugh, why so many tweets, why not write a blog post?"
I did write blog posts, for several years. On my own sites, on Livejournal or later Tumblr, on Medium. And as someone who was trying to make a go of this writing thing, one way or another, I paid pretty close attention to the statistics for how widely they were read and shared.
And when I learned how to thread on Twitter, I discovered something: Twitter threads go further and are more widely read than blog posts.
It's very counterintuitive to some people, or it was as recently as a couple of years ago. They would swear to me, "I have friends who will totally read this, but I feel embarrassed linking to a tweet. I know no one's going to read it. If you type this thread this up as a blog post, I will share it everywhere." I'd get multiple people making the same entreaties on any popular thread I'd make, and so I would type it up, and be, "Here's the blog post you asked for!"
And I would check the stats, and three people would have read it, and no one had shared it.
Meanwhile the thread was being read by tens of thousands of people.
Threads have legs that blog posts don't. If somebody likes any part of my thread, they QT or RT it, and that puts the entire thread out in front of their audience. That doesn't happen with blog posts. Nobody's hanging out at my blog except people who know about my blog, so I don't get new eyes on my work every time I post there. At the peak of my popularity as a blogger, I had maybe a thousand people reading my blog, maybe a couple thousand. But my most popular blog posts aren't as widely read as some thread I'll toss off about some random topic, and that's to say nothing about my serious threads.
I mentioned that this question comes up less and less. I feel like the thread is becoming an accepted form now, and people who don't like to read them may have either gotten over it and moved on. I don't know if Threader is a result of that change or part of the cause, but I'm glad it's happening and I'm grateful that resources like Threader exist.

Q. You write stories and poems among other things; why did you choose to publish them on your patreon?

A. This goes back to the early 2000s, when I decided to launch my writing career. I focused on crowdfunding my work through social media before we had words like "crowdfunding" and "social media" or really the tools to do it. I understood as soon as I saw Livejournal that it had the potential to connect me to a larger audience, as people would find my work and then follow me and comment, and the social aspect of Livejournal would turn their interest into advertisement.
I used Paypal's subscription feature as a sort of ad hoc version of Patreon for years, until Patreon existed. Sometimes I put stories behind paywalls, but I grew up on shareware and so my thought has always been that whatever gets my work in front of the most people is what's going to get me the most customers. It's a big old world. I like to write the kinds of things that I like to write. If I had to go out and find the individual people who want to read that and convince them to hand me money before they could even see what I had to do, I'd be broke.
So I put most of my work out there for free, for anyone to read, and if people want to pay for them, they can. If it takes a hundred people passing it along to find 1 person who will give me a buck, that just means I want hundreds of more people reading.
My vocation as Twitter's Weird Politics Mom has put a dent in my creative output, but it's also helped me connect with a wider audience.

Q. In a blog post, you mention you’re experiencing “maladaptive daydreaming”, which you define this way: “the technical term for when you get so wrapped up in an imaginary world it begins to affect your real life”. Does this phenomenon inspire you to write fiction?

A. It has, when I pull myself out of my fantasies and then try to make something productive out of them, but it's really more the other way around. Being a writer gives me cause to let my imagination run wild, and so when things get bad, it can be hard to rein that in.

Q. What are your plans for 2019?

A. 2019 is the year I'm taking my creative operation into the physical world. I have been doing open mic night at a venue here in Hagerstown, MD called The Flying Camel, where I have been networking with other local creatives. I'm going to be announcing a reading there in support of a collection of short stories I've Kickstarted (First Dates, Last Calls) that will be coming out this summer, and we're talking about having a launch party for the book. I've sold a digital collection of short stories before, but it gets awkward going to conventions and not having anything for people who want an autograph.

Q. If you had to recommend one book for your followers, which one would it be?

A. ...well, I'd like to say mine, but the Kickstarter is over and the pre-order won't start until April. The book I read over and over again, though, is Going Postal by the late Terry Pratchett. It's something I reference again and again in my political threads. It's a brilliant work of political satire with a decent and even kind heart, and along with two other of his Discworld books Making Money and The Truth, it really heavily informs my political compass.

Q. Who do you recommend to follow on Twitter?

A. Well, since the larger topic here is threads, I'll tell you about some of my favorite threaders. @karnythia is an incredibly gifted storyteller and any time she starts talking about her youthful hijinks, look out, but she can also explain to you a thing you should already know. @gaileyfrey has some legendary Twitter-told tales, including the saga of the ped egg and the ballad of the apple cider vinegar. @AngryBlackLady is my go-to for actual legal insight into the complex goings on. @killermartinis is someone I feel a certain rapport with, as when I fell into the whole "drinking heavily and explaining politics to people on Twitter" thing, she was already there. She's one of the people who have given me the best advice for dealing with suddenly being very visible on a public platform. One of the reasons that these people in particular stick in my head as being worth following, though, is that each of them has led me to a lot of other great follows. They have interesting conversations, they attract interesting people. A good Twitter account can be like a Wikipedia article where you just start clicking links and before you know it, you've lost three hours but now a whole of things you didn't know you needed to know.

Q. Can you share one of your favorite quotes?

A. How about one from Twitter? Erin Keane (@eekshecried) tweeted last summer: "Every woman I know has been storing anger for years in her body and it’s starting to feel like bees are going to pour out of all of our mouths at the same time." With that one, she said a mouthful.

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