Archive for the ‘Conventions’ Category

Boskone 52 Report

Posted: February 15, 2015 in Conventions

a.k.a How I Spent $8k and Never Made it to the Convention



So that looks like a lot of fun, right?

I commute to the Boston area cons because A) I don’t really have the money to stay for a whole weekend B) I work Fridays anyways C) I have a two year old who is really rad and D) Even the raddest and most well behaved two year olds are still a handful and that’s not fair to my wife to just up and go for a whole weekend.

So Boston is a hellish place to drive in but it’s only actually 60 miles away from where I live in Rhode Island. I drive 45 miles in the other direction every day to work in Connecticut. Not a big deal. Well I never made it out of Rhode Island yesterday.

That picture is of a completely seized engine.

The short version of the story (which isn’t that short, but I don’t want to repeat it a lot so I’m putting it here)… Between my house and the gas station, my car was perfectly fine. Since I started working in Connecticut, I’ve put a big chunk of miles on my car, but it’s a Subaru. Once a Subaru hits 100k, it’s just getting warmed up. That’s half the reason I got a Subaru and mine wasn’t on track to hit 100K until this summer even though it’s seven years old. After the gas station, I hit the interstate pointed north to Boston. The car started rattling. You can’t tell, but my bumper is held together with zip ties because it hooked on a snowbank a couple years ago. So sometimes it comes loose and rattles. The rattle didn’t change with how much I was on the gas. I figured there was some snow up under the wheel well that was screwing with the bumper.

At this point I was in Providence. Rhode Island’s capital kind of sucks. I avoid the city when I can but I know that the exits will dump you in crappy parts of town or near the mall. Neither of which are convenient places to stop and mess around with your car. I knew of a nice gas station right off the highway just over the Massachusetts line and planned on stopping there.

I didn’t make it that far.

The horrible noises got progressively worse. Stopping had to happen immediately. The engine light flickered once and went off. I’ve had it go on for a week at a time before so I didn’t think one flicker was my car’s death knell. It was.

I was on the exit ramp in Pawtucket (Rhode Islanders are wincing, The Bucket isn’t a great place) when the engine cut out completely. I was EXTREMELY lucky that it was on the exit ramp at about 30mph. Power steering goes away with the engine. Rhode Island also sucks at plowing and with all the snow, there would have been no where to get my car off the highway. As it was, I randomly picked an exit right next to a gas station and was able to manhandle the steering wheel to get it in there and out of the way.

car bork 2

Still borked.

I waited for a tow. Ironically, when the tow truck pulled up, it wasn’t for me. There was a car right next to mine in the gas station. I figured it was the guy who worked there. It wasn’t. That car was also dead and waiting for a tow, the driver just wandered off and abandoned it instead of waiting in the cold. The second tow truck showed up and took my car back down to the Sears Auto Center not far from my house. (Butch, our local guy, isn’t open weekends) The guy at Sears took one look at it and said “Oil’s gone. The damage is done and I doubt it’s salvageable.”

At least I didn’t have to pay an $80 diagnostic fee for that.

My car gave me ZERO warning that was going to happen. Really, as soon as it started rattling on the highway, it was already too late. No oil lights. No engine lights. No smoke. No leaking fluids. My driveway is covered in snow, I would have easily noticed a leak in the white snow. I had that one flicker of the light one mile before it seized up, which doesn’t really count as a warning since the car was borked before that. (The Subaru guy later told me that oil light only comes on with low oil pressure not low oil level cause that makes a lot of fucking sense.) When I popped the hood waiting for the tow, there was a sleight smell but I don’t exactly sniff my car that often to diagnose by nose.

So back to Sears. They conveniently does not do that level of engine repair. I waited for another tow. At this point, the blizzard had started so it took me 20 minutes just to get a call through to AAA. My wife is awesome so she came over with her car and we cleared out everything from mine and got some noms from Wendy’s while we waited in the snow. The car got towed to the local Subaru dealership this time because they can dive into it hardcore.

Prognosis from Subaru is not that good.

With this level of damage, our only practical repair option is an engine swap. I do not have the money or the desire to send a forensic repair team into the innards of the car for hours to tell me it’s borked. I know it’s borked. I had my last oil change in my car in mid-December and the same place did my state safety inspection a couple weeks later. I was scheduled to go there again on Tuesday for another oil change. I’ve had a number of people suggest that I call up and make them fix it. That’s not even worth the stress to me. I would have to pay for the lengthy diagnostic labor for a 50-50 shot that it was someone’s fault. The roads in Rhode Island are so shitty, it’s more likely a pot hole caused it. I don’t need to pay someone money I don’t have for those odds.

So what did Subaru tell me? Labor is going to up in the neighborhood of $2k. Then they need to source a used engine. Oh, did I forget to mention Subaru doesn’t sell crate engines? Yeah. That. Subaru only sells the engine blocks and then you have to put all your own pieces on it. Well my engine seized… who the hell knows how many parts are any good on my car. My car only had 88k miles on it. My car did not have a turbo or any of the WRX go-fast parts, but a low mileage used Subaru engine is not going to come cheap. I don’t think they show up on the market that often. The ballpark figure to getting my car back on the road is $8k with zero estimate yet on the time frame.

The dealership isn’t open on Sundays (cause, ya know, why be open when it’s convenient for people to get things done like get cars repaired) so my car is sitting in the snow at the dealer, waiting to get looked at and see what the damage is. Hopefully on Monday they can give me a real estimate. And then if the estimate looks good, I need to make sure they stay with that estimate because there is a very finite line where it’s not worth it to bother. That’s both a dollar amount line and a engine mileage line. They could do it on the cheap, but hell no am I putting some 120K engine in my car.

So that’s the story. A new Subaru Impreza starts at $21k. A quick google search shows only three 2008 Imprezas for sale. The only low mileage one is 800 miles away for $15k. Which is funny because I paid $16k in god damn 2008 for mine. I don’t want to buy one of these things. My car was supposed to last long enough for my kiddo to drive it (and then not be allowed to because I know how much trouble I would have gotten into with a Subaru at age 16).

Boskone 52 Incoming

Posted: February 13, 2015 in Conventions

It’s that time of year for my winter con, Boskone!

Even though they picked the worst weekend ever to host it on, my wife is awesome enough to be cool with me going to play Saturday and Sunday. Seriously, my wife rocks.

Mine is Red, but you get the .... drift.

Mine is Red, but you get the …. drift.

Of course, there’s an epic ton of snow in the forecast for this weekend. I think three years in a row with a right proper blizzard makes it a tradition. Snow doesn’t bother me. That amazes people constantly, even native New Englanders who not only have winter, they have the same winters that I do. A foot of snow? Whatev. Me + Subaru > Nature. Really, the only downside is that I was thinking about taking the train to Boston this year. Boston is a horrendously miserable place to take a car and the T actually runs a train down into Rhode Island that stops four blocks from my house. But anyone who’s seen news from around here and all the snow knows the MBTA is a big mess right now that can’t seem to get out of its own way. So driving it is. I’ve never really lived in a place with functional public transportation anyways so am not comfortable relying on others for my travel plans anyways.

Boskone, and Readercon in the summer, recharge my creative batteries. I think my wife gets that better than I do, what with her being ok that we go to dinner later tonight instead of tomorrow. Writing, and more so writing successfully, is not an easy thing. If what we did was easy, everyone would. Or at least there wouldn’t be so much free self pubbed garbage cluttering up the ebook world.

So I’m marching off to Boskone tomorrow, commuting up each day and spending most of my money on overpriced hotel parking. Since this is my fourth year, and many of the same faces go to Readercon, half the crowd will do the Polite Head Nod of Recognition. I’ll see and chat with people I’ve seen and chatted with before. Maybe I’ll pretend I’m an extrovert and chat with more people. I’ll take notes for my writing. Ideas and inspiration and maybe I’ll remember to blog about all the cool topics that come up, unlike Readercon where I still haven’t blogged half the topics yet. Maybe this year the Dealer’s Room will have Max Gladstone or Mur Lafferty in stock and I can get more signed books. I’ll get Myke Cole to sign a whole stack of books because for some reason it’s become tradition for me to buy his book for Fred. I’m going to find ML Brennan because Rhode Island really should be run by vampires. I’ll discover new authors and maybe their books will actually be in stock for me to buy.

I am going to read a story for the Flash Fiction Slam and damnit, it’s the best little piece of micro fiction I’ve written. Related, this year I’m not bringing a cyberpunk story to lay out in front of judges who invented the genre.

When I get home on Sunday, I’m going to be riding a wave of momentum. It usually lasts a month. I recently twigged on how to fix the plot of the godpunk novel that I’ve been fighting with since I realized it was broken a couple months ago. I’m going to take that momentum and the third reboot of that novel is going to be the charm.

I’m going to get to the other side of the fence to go play with the cool kids.


Remember that really cool thing I did last year at Boskone?

Yes, all of it was cool but I’m talking about the Flash Fiction Slam. Well I’m gonna do it again.


Sunday, 9:30 AM

Marina 4

Flash Fiction Slam

Join Boskone’s second Flash Fiction Slam. Be one of eleven (11) writers to compete for the title of The Flash, reading your own original fiction — which must tell a complete tale within a 3-minute period. Our expert panel of judges will score your work, and you automatically lose 10 percent for going over your 3-minute time. You may only read your own work. The reader with the top score wins! Sign up before the con for one of eight (8) reading slots on a first-come, first-served basis by e-mailing Or sign up onsite at Program Ops in the Galleria for one of three (3) at-con openings. A waiting list will also be available.

Carrie Cuinn (M), James Patrick Kelly, Kenneth Schneyer, Fran Wilde, F. Brett Cox

I got a good draft in hand to read at the slam. It’s a bit too long right now at 710 words. Last’s year’s story nailed the three minute time limit perfectly at 560 so I’m going to need to trim it down. Short fiction, especially flash, is tough for me. You get very conscious of each word used.

I’m excited for this. The story is really weird and all sorts of cool. I plan on improving from last year and I think this story can do it.

In the meanwhile, if you want to read last year’s story, it’s right over here.

Readercon 25

Posted: July 23, 2014 in Conventions, Genre

Better late than never, eh?

Readercon 25 was not that long ago and it was my second trip up to that con. It’s a lot more commuter friendly than Boskone. Readercon isn’t in the middle of Boston, one of the suckiest places on earth to drive, and the likelihood of having a blizzard (again) was pretty low. Also, free parking. So I look forward to this one a lot. The hotel that houses the con was remodeling last year, so the facilities were swankier this time around.

Anyways. I doubt anyone really cares about how nice the hotel was. Content! What about the content?

I’m getting there.

And now I’m here.

A lot of the con programming, at least on the Saturday-Sunday that I was able to go to, skewed to genre talk and publishing chatter. There was not a big emphasis on craft. That’s not a good or bad, just a thing. My favorite piece of genre talk was “The Shiny, Candy-like Zombie: Commoditizing the Undead” and featured one of my new con favorites, Max Gladstone. Part of why I liked the panel is that it drew in other types of media into the discussion. Yes, it’s a book con, but books don’t exist in a vacuum and are influenced by other types of media too. It can be a positive to talk about all that sort of stuff too and on this panel, it most definitely was.

My other favorite genre panel was Long Live the Queen. This was all about Victorian influences on genre writing with (the obvious) steampunk as a starting point. The panel, in particular Theodora Goss and Catt Kingsgrave, were very well versed in the history of Victorian times which brings in a whole additional layer to a genre discussion.

The only sad part about that panel was the old couple that sat behind me saying “Oh this is steampunk, I hope it’s not.” They sat there and talked down on the newer subgenres and then walked out of the panel acting all disgusted. To each their own. You can like whatever you want, it’s not going to bother me, but there’s no need for people to be condescending tools. Good riddance. Better off without “fans” like that. That one incident aside, I thought this year’s Readercon was better than any con I had been to before in regards of avoiding “Old Timer Wanking about the Past and Hating on Anything Not Twenty Years Old.”

One of my new favorite con people is Kameron Hurley. She’s rad. I knew this thanks to twitter and her kick ass book, but it’s still nice when that translates into real life. She signed my copy of God’s War and was all like “Hey, you’re Mike from twitter.” So I won at the internet. Again, since that’s the second time I’ve had an author say that to me out of the blue at a signing. I saw Hurley on two panels and a reading. She’s very well spoken and I think if she suggested we all went and jumped off a bridge, there’d be takers based solely off her rhetoric and not the fact that jumping off of bridges is fun. She moderated an excellent panel on New Models of Masculinity, which later gave me a chance to recommend Saladin Ahmed’s short fiction to someone. Hurley was also on a panel about Marketing that had another one of my con favorites, Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld. One of the other panelists decided to make a point about “Marketing only works if you’re the first person to do something.” I don’t think there was a single person that thought it was a good point but Hurley had a Picard level face palm and then proceeded to own this guy.

This brings me to the highlight of Readercon. A whole crew from Women Destroy Science Fiction and Women Destroy Horror had a group reading. Amal El-Mohtar, Sarah Pinsker, Holly Schofield, Kameron Hurley, Liz Argall, Livia Llewellyn and Gemma Files all read pieces from the anthologies. I was actually pleasantly surprised that my favorite piece was a nonfiction from Argall. Hurley also read a nonfiction piece from the essay/blog that she got the Hugo nom for.

So that’s Readercon 25. I had a lot of fun. I’m going to end with some quotes really fast now since my kiddo is demanding satisfaction right now in the middle of the night.

  • “Yeah, he’s an old man leading a charge… but he’s a fucking wizard!” -GoH Andrea Hairston on Gandalf making a point on realism in SF
  • “I like men and I wish people would stop writing them lazy.” -Catt Kingsgrave on New Models of Masculinity
  • “As an erotic story, there is too much body horror with zombies, but-” shrug “-people are weird.” -Max Gladstone
  • “It’s like 1998 again. The Internet, it’s going to kill us all.” -Robert Jackson Bennet on Extrapolating SF from Science

51logoIt’s February so that means it’s Boskone time! This is my third time around at this con and the second year in a row that this con commuter got to drive through a blizzard. It’s a good thing I have the blood of the frigid northlands in me and winter doesn’t bother me.

I rolled in for two days of the con and hit up eight panels plus the Guest of Honor interview and the flash fiction slam. Wow, I didn’t realize I was that busy. No wonder I didn’t have time to eat lunch. The panels were split evenly between shop talk and fan stuff. There was talk of positive work habits at Finish It: Completing Your Work. I got that 500 words/day seems to be more of a magic number for pros and pros with day jobs than the mythical 1666 2/3 words/day from NaNoWriMo. That’s always a positive to hear what with having the day job and family. Food in Fiction was another fun shop talk panel. Elizabeth Bear, who is always a delight to hear talk on panels, pointed out how food is very underutilized in world building. World building is pretty damn important to any flavor of our genre so it was rather productive shop talk.

Pixels to Print: The Challenges of Running a Magazine was a behind the scenes with the head people from Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Galaxy’s Edge. I seriously wish my writer / newspaper editor friend had been in on that. I tend to only dabble in short stories, but I love learning about the behind the scenes stuff that goes into the products we all read. The last shop talk panel I hit up was Writers on Writing: Sex vs Romance. It bordered on genre talk at times because the relationship expectations for different parts of our genre can be wildly different. I have to admit, I lost track of a little bit of this panel because it keyed into something that was missing in my novel-in-progress and I outlined a new opening chapter on the spot. So super huge thanks on that even if I did miss a bit of what was said.

I drifted into Ezines, Fanzines and Blogs on Sunday. That frustrated me a bit. Waxing nostalgic about “the good ol’ days” has its place but it shouldn’t be paired with “new things are horrible and different and just go too fast.” I was seriously glad that Mallory O’Meara was there to be “yeah, no.” She runs a New England wide thing called Arkham Horror Book Club and was all “Yeah we do digital and still do all those things you think are missing from today’s fandom.” High five for all that.

Genre discussions always make me happy. I find that stuff fascinating, going back to the same kind of discussions in film school. Urban Fantasy in Transision tracked how the subgenre is evolving. I completely agree that it has come a long way from the “Buffy lookalike kills [insert monster] with [insert magic/weapon].” This is a good thing because I think UF has some of the most progressive storytelling around now and when it first came about, it was very needle-in-a-haystack to find the good ones. Future Fantasy and the Teen Protagonist spent a lot of time defining terms. That sounds boring written out but it really wasn’t. It keyed in with some of the YA trends. Apparently to kids these days (I think it makes me old because I just said “kids these days”) consider ‘sci-fi’ a dirty word. Future fantasy is becoming a term for “sci fi with wonder.” It’s a term I like that fits and I really wish I had written down which panelist said it. Wicked Good Villains went into how storytelling is evolving past black and white good versus bad. The best baddies are the ones you can understand, think Magneto, and the best protags are the ones who are a bit messed up. I’ve actually been thinking about a whole post on that for a while and took some notes to use accordingly.

The Guest of Honor interview was a lot of fun. Seanan McGuire is just as fun of a storyteller in person. Elizabeth Bear was doing the interview which really consisted more of “Hey, deadly viruses!” or “Tarantulas!” and then stories just happened. I also hadn’t realize that the massive pile of publications she’s written has all been since 2009. Damn, I knew she had a busy schedule but now that’s gone from damn to holy crap! I am seriously amazed by that time management fu. It’s also nice to hear someone say her name aloud because I wasn’t ever sure I was saying it right in my head. Having a last name no one ever pronounces correctly, but really should unless they’re from Canada, makes pronunciation something I worry about getting right.

I rolled in for the Kaffeeklatch with Myke Cole. He continues to be engaging and helpful and an all around cool person.

Reading at Boskone 51.

Reading at Boskone 51.

Oh hey, you didn’t think I’d forget to tell you how the reading went did you? It went well. I kept the nerves down and busted out my radio DJ voice. One thing that I knew but didn’t really click before the reading was that I brought a cyberpunk story to lay in front of people who helped invent cyberpunk. The inventors of the genre. Let that sink in for a moment. And then think if that was a really good idea. Whatever. I brought it, I laid it down and it was good. I didn’t win but the people who did dropped some excellent stories. The competition was very close. One of the judges said he thought there was a moment that seemed a bit dated, like a 70s or 80s kind of SF. That may have been the kicker, but you know what, I can live with that . That’s a personal preference. Everyone has them, doesn’t mean the story is bad. I had a couple people come up to me afterwards and also on ye olde Twitter tell me they liked my story. That’s a fantastic thing to happen after reading in public for the first time. An extra high five for Brenda Noiseux, a twitter pal I got to meet for real and was at the reading. She snapped that pic of me.

Last and certainly not least, my favorite part of going to these cons, finding cool new authors. Both of these authors this year sold me on their work during the Urban Fantasy in Transition panel. Like I said above, UF has some of the most interesting storytelling going on now. I will definitely be picking up the books of Mur Lafferty and Max Gladstone. Lafferty’s book, The Shambling Guide to New York City, I knew of but talking about where the character arc was heading for book two and being an all around well spoken and interesting individual really sold me. Gladstone is also well spoken and interesting, (there’s a theme, being cool helps sell) but I hadn’t heard of his books at all. Three Parts Dead is urban fantasy written from a fantasy world evolving up to the industrial age rather than most UF which is a real world base and magic added in. Necro lawyers. That’s bad ass. The only downside was that I was hording my cash money in case I got snowed in Saturday night and the books were all sold out from the huckster’s room when I went to get them on Sunday. Oh well. I’ll just get them on the next big order.

Quotable quotes, (sometimes with context):

  • “Just slide your Ender’s Game across the table and nod.” –Anna Davis, author of The Gifted, in the Future Fantasy panel
  • “We’re in a golden age of flawed heroes and sympathetic villains.” -Myke Cole on Wicked Good Villains
  • “It was my midlife crisis. Instead of buying a red convertible, I set up a company to see how fast I could lose my money.” -Shahid Mahmud (Galaxy’s Edge) on getting into publishing
  • “My comments aren’t as valuable as the quick turnaround.” -Niel Clarke, founder of Clarkesworld, on using form letters
  • “Everything is a draft until you die.” –Fran Wilde on Finish It: Completing Your Work
  • “Sci-fi is sort of a dirty word.” -Stacey Friedberg, Asst Editor at Dow on the Future Fantasy panel on marketing to a younger audience.

So Boskone 51 did everything I needed it to. I got fodder for the work in progress. I got fodder for the blog. I met and talked to some cool people. (Look mom! Introverts being social!) I had a lot of fun.

Counting down the days til my next con. Readercon in five months.

I am fortunate enough that that couple of SF’s bigger cons are within commuting distance from Rhode Island. Coming up next month is the 51st installment of Boskone. This is going to be my third time rolling in to that con. I’m excited for this one. Seanan McGuire is the Guest of Honor. There are a lot of names I’m happy to see again and new names for me to discover.

And it’s going to be my first time on the con programming.

Ayup. I’m part of the shindig. Check this out from this year’s schedule.

Flash Fiction Slam, Sun 09:30 – Sun 10:50, Burroughs

Join Boskone’s first Flash Fiction Slam. Eleven (11) writers compete for the title of The Flash, reading their own original fiction — which must tell a complete tale within a 3-minute period. Our expert panel of judges will score your work on a scale of 1 to 10, and you automatically lose 1 point for going over your 3-minute time. You may only read your own work. The reader with the top score wins! Sign up before the con for one of eight (8) advance reading slots on a first-come, first-served basis by e-mailing Or sign up onsite at Program Ops in the Galleria for one of three (3) at-con openings. A waiting list will also be available.

  • Paul Di Filippo
  • Nancy Holder
  • James Patrick Kelly
  • Erin Underwood (M)
  • Walter Jon Williams

So I’m not really in the guidebook or anything, but I am going to be a part of this. I saw it announced on twitter two weeks ago. Remember the line from Ghostbusters, “If someone asks if you’re a god, you say yes.” I signed up before I could talk myself out of it. Then I timed myself reading one of my stories and realized three minutes is a hell of a lot shorter than you think it is. So I wrote a fresh story. I’m still tweaking it, but damn, I’m happy with it. Doubly so because keeping things short isn’t usually my strong suit. It was definately a challenge to keep someone so concise.

I am confident in my story. I might not win. I can’t control how well the other people in the contest write. I can control the quality of what I’m going to present.

And it’s a damn good story I’m proud to read to these people.

Readercon 24

Posted: July 14, 2013 in Conventions, Genre

Clearly I was at Readercon 24 over the weekend what since I talked about it in a post yesterday and also it’s the title of this post. So I’m going to talk about it. Cons in general are something I wish I could go to more often. Realistically though, they’ve got to be within commuting distance of Rhode Island. That means even Hartford is a bit of a stretch since there aren’t any highways that go in a straight line west. If there are a dozen cons within commutable distance of me, I’d be surprised the number was that high.

I consider myself crazy fortunate that one of the most known SF book cons is right near by.

This wasn’t my first rodeo, but it was my first Readercon. I heard lots about the reputation before hand and it wasn’t really an exaggeration. The staff ran a tight show. The hotel decided they wanted to close the lobby for renovations which kind of sucked not really having a hang out area but that was beyond anyone’s control. I never felt like it diminished from the con. Everyone collectively said meh and rolled with it without letting any parades get rained on. It was a nice feeling to recognize faces, on panels and in the crowd, from Boskone.

On the panels and such, I was pleasantly surprised. Sometimes con panels are just fun or interesting. I got a lot out of them that I’m going to use in my writing and about a half dozen scribbles in my notebook saying “Use this for a blog.” That’s a big combination of good panelists, chemistry between the panelists and a great topic. I hit up eight panels and two readings, more than I crammed into Boskone. I’m not a reporter, so I’m not going to give a blow by blow color commentary of the con, but I will throw down some of the highlights from the panels.

In Ode to Unpublished First Novels, Ann Tonsor Zeddies put something into words that I’ve noticed in my reading lately. I find a lot now, I seek out the first books of newly published authors. Wes Chu, Madaline Ashby and a lot of the other stuff coming out of Angry Robot are new. As a reader there is something extra special about discovering a new author when they’re new too. Zeddies said that with the first book there is a fearlessness that is often lost, never to be recaptured. I’m just about ready to start shopping my own first (finished) novel and start the next so that really hit home for me.

Drinking Horror’s Blood, a panel on horror tropes bleeding out into other genres, made me super happy. Genre theory was always one of my favorite topics back in film school and that needs no translation from film to writing. It’s all the same thing. I don’t think enough people talk about genre theory in SF circles, which is odd because we are it by definition. Back in film school, Horror was always the easiest to talk about because it seems to have a much faster cycle of Innovation – Convention – Self Referential than other genres. I found it facinating to think that before the 1920s and 1930s, it was just literature. Genres didn’t exist. The relationship between horror movies and horror literature was very facinating to hear about too. They don’t seem to play as nicely as you’d think. That idea might turn into a whole blog post.

Pining for the Fnords: The New Nostalgia (which is a mouthful of a title) was really genre theory in disguise and had the best crewed panel of the whole trip. It was a State of the Genre kind of panel largely in response to books like Redshirts and Ready Player One. The panel collectively refuted the idea that SF is going backwards or longing for things left behind it. It’s a much better, and more natural idea, to take the same kinds of scenarios from the past and reuse them with modern sensibilities. I think that’s especially true of sci fi since the actual science used changes so rapidly. Some super techie guy in the audience tried to say writers were afraid of technology because they didn’t use all the super most up to date stuff in their books. Elizabeth Bear, who is fast becoming my favorite panelist for anything, tried to explain reasons and logic to this guy but he was stubborn and ended up just saying “Your premise is wrong so we can’t answer you.” It was great.

Readercon does this cool thing called the Memorial Guest of Honor. They bring a focus to the forerunners of our genre who have passed away. This year it happened to be Roger Zelazny and he happens to be my all time favorite author. The panel included his biographer, who also put together an Amber Encyclopedia which I didn’t previously know existed but need to get now, and also his son Trent Zelazny who is a mystery writer. Sometimes its tough for role models to be real people too and I know the wikipedia version of his biography, stripped down to basics. So I walked away real happy to know Zelazny was a great person in addition to a great writer.

Trent Zelazny is also a really cool guy and I’d be picking up his books regardless of his last name.

The last panel I want to talk about at length (because I’m starting to get a runaway word count and still have that novel to work on), is the one that will be effecting my own writing the most. It was Making Love Less Strange: Romance for the SF Writers. First off, I was real surprised there were more than 10% guys in the crowd. The very idea of romance turns people off for some reason. Sam Sykes, one of the most thoughtful writers out there when it comes to genre issues, wrote a big blog piece on that topic a few months ago that stuck with me. Story is conflict and relationships are inherently conflict. This panel of romance writers stripped down their genre, (one that has subgenres magic and monsters and the like already) and showed us how we’re practically doing the same thing already. They threw down a basic structure of the romance story and I sat there thinking, “Well hell, that’s practically my next book already.” And it’s true. That basic structure, plus punk rock, plus a few deities, plus Rhode Island (because it’s not Connecticut anymore) is my next book. This is going to help me in the same way as writing blog posts about other books helps me with my writing. Being aware of the tropes I’m tapping in to will help me to do it better.

I want to talk about people before I wrap this up because cons are really all about the community and connecting in a way that you can’t on the internet. Each con I go to, I come across people at these panels who sell me as a person and make me want to go and find their books. But only a few really impress me so much I think they should be on every panel. Last year that was Myke Cole. This year, between Boskone and Readercon, it’s Elizabeth Bear. She’s a very great speaker and really helps to energize a panel. I already thought that her writing was great but now I need to track down her entire backlist. She sat next to me in a panel audience too. I felt too weird to just say hi. Social butterflies have it so easy.

Bear was also one of the two readings I went to, the other being by Theodora Goss. Both read from in progress pieces and it’s not fair the world needs to wait to read these in their entirety. Both were excellent pieces and not nearly so unpolished as the disclaimers at the start of the reading. It made me feel pretty damn fancy to get a sneak preview. I want to throw money at them already.

My only real complaint about Readercon is actually the same one from Boskone. The availability of books by the program participants wasn’t always there. A lot of the book sellers at the con were rocking used books. That’s all well and good. I get that I am really spoiled by The Book Barn. Yeah it’s down in Connecticut and I don’t live across town from it anymore, but it’s not that far off I can’t jaunt down there when I need to. So all that mass of out of print old school stuff is really a non issue to me. I can mine the depths of old school SF for a buck a pop and then take the kiddo to his grandparents all in one trip. I did see a lot of books I want to read. Chuck Wendig’s Dinocaplypse, Gwenda Bond’s Blackwood, DB Jackson’s Thieftaker… I could go on and on. My To-Buy List is a mile and a half long. But when I go to these cons, I want to get things I can’t on any regular day. I make it a point to buy stuff from the people I see at the con. I dunno, I guess that isn’t really something that the con itself can control. They’re not actually selling the merchandise, but there’s got to be some way to have a better availability of the participants.

I did manage to score a couple great books. Ironically, both authors were there at the con, but not actually panel participants. I got a signed copy of the Clarkesworld magazine that has Catherine Valente’s “Fade to White” which is my favorite short I’ve ever read. Super happy to have a signed hard copy of that now. I also got a copy of Evie Manieri‘s Blood’s Pride. I saw it for sale and was all “Oh! Twitter said you’re here and it’d be epic if you could sign the copy for me.” It happened. She was a delight to meet. I also got my well-used copy of Lies of Locke Lamora signed by Scott Lynch. Another really awesome person and it’s the first Shelf of Honor book I’ve ever gotten signed.

I’ve been working on this for far too long tonight and my brain is starting to melt. I will end with some of the best quotes of the con.

“A majority of readers will remember your story and not your prose.” -Nicholas Kaufman on Workshopping as a Lifestyle

“I feel a little bad that we’re stealing their toys, but not bad enough to stop.” -Elizabeth Bear on the SF genre moving forward

“The sun may be going nova, but we’re not going to change our marketing plan.” -Ann Tonsor Zeddies on markets boxing in writers

“We just offended every Belgian in the room.” -Scott Lynch … still no context for you because I find it absurdly funnier that way

Mini Readercon Post

Posted: July 13, 2013 in Conventions

This year I planned ahead and got to go play at Readercon. I’m actually going to go play again tomorrow too. I’m going to do a full on post about the whole adventure and whatnot either tomorrow night or Monday. In the mean time, here’s some snippets out of my notebook from the panels I went to today. Context not included. Direct quotes and ideas attributed where applicable, otherwise it’s just the general sentiment from the whole panel.

“I didn’t know any badass characters. I had never been a bad ass character.” -Daryl Gregory

“He breathes oxygen, she breathes hydrogen. How will they make this work?” -Natalie Luhrs

Urban fantasy took off so fast because it’s romance with world building.

Horror, as a hard to define whole, is one of the easier genres to mix into other things.

Until the 1970s and Anne Rice, vampires had absolutely nothing overt to do with sex.

Trent Zelazny is a really cool guy and would be regardless of his last name.

Evie Manieri is super awesome for taking the time to meet me after “Ooh! Twitter said you were here too and I absolutely want to buy your book and get it signed!”

And the current front runner for Best Random Quote of the Con… “We’ve offended every Belgian in the room.” -Scott Lynch

Approachable Authors

Posted: February 19, 2013 in Conventions, Stuff, Writing
Tags: ,

I spent a good portion of my day talking up my Boskone weekend to anyone that would listen (i.e. my wife and that’s about it). I had one of those moments where I stepped back from it all and thought if I could tell thirteen year old me that I could go shoot the breeze with an author or trade digital high fives via twitter… damn that thirteen year old would be stoked. Also confused because I think I was still rocking the Tandy computer back then and internet and twitter would have been mythical concepts. And then excited again because at thirteen I would have known to take the information from the time traveling version of me who just told him cool shit about the internet and run to the market with it and made a butt load of money. A whole butt load.

Before I tangent off into time travel paradox, I am serious that it would have blown my mind. Even five years ago it would have.

See I picked up all my reading habits from my parents. Being from Connecticut and New Hampshire, it’s not like there were big city cons and huge bastions of fandom for me to grow into. Oh it was probably out there in some form, but it wasn’t their scene regardless, especially since I was six when my parents were my age. Hell, I barely knew anyone other than my parents who read the same kind of SF I did. Authors were mythical beings up on a pedestal. They were personified by a paragraph and a mug shot on the last page if I was lucky. They certainly weren’t people you could talk to.

So early on in high school I eventually figured out that being a writer was something you could just do. And I started putting some things on paper. At the time, most of what I read was either epic fantasy or space opera, both sub genres that lend themselves to massive ongoing series with sprawl. Being an extrovert isn’t something that always comes easily to me now as an adult so back then I was kind of an introvert and really got into the world building and stuff. Funny considering I didn’t get an opportunity to play DnD until I was seventeen. So, being emotionally invested in these worlds, some of the stuff I put on paper was epic fantasy fanfic.

Now I wasn’t playing with someone else’s characters. It was like a Wild Cards story. I was playing on the map but I brought my own toys. That is to say, I wrote characters and plots that were off to the side who might have waved at a main character from the actual series.

This coincided with getting a computer with a consistent internet connection and finding out about a thing called email groups. Just thinking about email groups is laughably archaic now but it’s what we had back in the day (because I never did time travel to invent twitter ten years early) and damnit we were happy with it. I joined an email group for the author of this favorite world and was thrumming full of energy because holy crap the Author was a part of it! Well brilliant thirteen year old version of me brought up fanfic. I didn’t even know what the fuck the world ‘fanfic’ was until someone said “Oh… Author doesn’t like that stuff.” There was a round of back and forth direct with the Author and I couldn’t tell you exactly what I said. I was frazzled nerves at my keyboard going “Oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap…” I’m sure whatever exactly I said was probably standard nervous weird kid. The problem became the response I got. I don’t remember specifics but it was condescending and snarky and frankly, just douchey. Did being a weird teenager blow something out of proportion? Not that badly. I know tone can get misconstrued in email, especially back in the day when email wasn’t ubiquitous but somethings you can’t miss that much.

It discouraged me at a time when that wasn’t exactly helpful. I took a small sampling of writing classes in high school and college. I even had the head of the creative writing department at my college tell me “Please take our program” and I didn’t do it. I stayed with the film program I had started. It was eight years from that time in high school until I had an inkling that writing might be a good thing for me. It was another three before I actually acted on it.

I’ve never read any of that Author’s books again.

Now this is a story I don’t actually like to talk about. I doubt I’ve told it a half dozen times and I never have (and never will) say who the Author was because said Author is still publishing. After typing it out here, I’m debating deleting the whole thing because it’s going to nag at me for days now. But when I talk about how much sheer awesomeness I feel at the state of current fandom, I can’t convey it without telling where I came from.

Ever since I made headway into the internet I was always reasonably tech savvy. Probably more so back in the Wild West days of the internet where you could teach yourself what was going on without needing advanced coursework. But thanks to that Author, I never sought out SF fandom online. I still read voraciously as ever but authors remained a mug shot and a paragraph.

The first toe into the SF community was after reading Old Man’s War in 2009 (Zoe’s Tale on the awards lists that year got me to go find the first book of the set). John Scalzi’s blog is essential reading for anyone even tangently interested in SF. I started getting a lot of book recommendations from his Big Idea feature which remains one of my favorite things to read in the entire community.

After going to a writing conference at the University of Rhode Island (got a lot of dirty looks for being a genre writer) and having a writing group fail (again, literary vs genre problems), I realized I am at my most productive when I am around writing. I sure as hell wasn’t finding good ways to be around it kicking around in Rhode Island. My adoption of twitter, creating this blog and my first literary con all happened within six weeks of each other.

Authors have become real people.

Twitter is fucking magic. I started with Scalzi and worked outward. I’ve had conversations with a plethora of different authors, a lot of times not even about books or writing. I made the “Hope your flight doesn’t make it to Providence… the airport is in Warwick” joke to Tobias Buckell who got a chuckle out of it. I had a discussion with Madeline Ashby about how American infrastructure isn’t designed for public transportation outside of big cities (three hours by bus to go to work from my old apartment). I follow a cadre I’ve dubbed the Writer Dads because they’ve all got kids in the little kid bracket (Buckell, Saladin Ahmed and Peter V Brett). I discover more new authors who sell me as a person now and make me want to find out what they have to write. People like Chuck Wendig. I’ve had more than one author tell me I turned around a crappy day because I sent them a tweet saying how much I liked their book. It’s hard to explain how awesome that made me feel. Writing is fucking hard work, it can drain your psyche. But the littlest of things can make you feel like King of All the Words though and when you feel like King of All the Words, magic happens. (or Queen of All the Words as applicable. It’s not applicable for me what with being a dude so I chose the word that was)

I mentioned yesterday how at last year’s Boskone, I was kicking myself for not talking to the pros more… or at all really. I always feel like I’m in this awkward spot where I know enough not to ask the obvious questions but not enough to ask the good questions. With the crappy weather on Sunday and my friend I went with Saturday not able to go for a second day, I almost stayed home. But I had this moment of zen where I was like “Fuck it! Ima gonna do this!” and I went for the day and went to Myke Cole’s kaffeeklatch.

If you want the epitome of approachable authors, it’s Myke Cole. This guy could run a master’s class in public speaking and he will talk to you about anything. He’s also got some of the coolest swag associated with his books ever in the history of book swag. I think the kaffeeklatch may have been one of the coolest things I’ve ever done because it was so… normal. It was a small group with similar interests hanging out shooting the breeze and talking some shop. I didn’t realize it until later in the day, but I walked away from there more determined to get on that side of the con table. It was kind of a “Fuck discouragement! Look at all the cool shit you could do on that side of the fence with all those other cool people!”

It was a full circle thing for me because Myke Cole was the first person I reached out to in anyway out in the nebulous social media. I was all “Dude! Your unit logo is awesome, is it available on a tshirt?” and he was all like “Absolutely. Cafepress.” And I never did get a shirt made because I thought it would be cheating getting a cafepress shirt that didn’t send him a dollar for it.

Someday I’ll get to the other side of the fandom fence where all the authors get to play and talk shop and curse together over low word count days. And lately I am starting to actually believe myself when I keep saying that I’ll get there. But it’s truly wonderful to know there are people who will lean over the fence and talk to you.

Boskone 50

Posted: February 17, 2013 in Conventions
Tags: , ,

And the blog has come full circle. This site was all of what, two weeks old, when I went to my first Boskone and right up until the last day of the year, it was the most trafficked thing here. This time around, for Boskone 50, I made the commute for two days instead of one. The downside is that I had to drive to Boston twice, and that isn’t fun.

But this isn’t a 2k word tirade about how much Boston is lame (18 and 1). This is a pile of words about how Boskone is awesome.

I went to seven different panels and a kaffeeklatch, which last year took me half a day to figure out what the hell it was. I was at The Year in Short Fiction, Military Motifs in SF, Death Becomes Her (or Him), Safety and Security Now and in the Future, Writing Advise: The Next Level, Worlds You Won’t Forget, NonEnglish Fiction and Translation, and Exit Stage Left. Whew. That was a long list. But I was able to do a lot in two days.

The Year in Short Fiction was a lot of fodder for my own reading. I’ve talked here before about how I want to read more short fiction, but it is very needle-in-a-haystack-y for me. I get most of my novel recommendations from other authors now so this served a similar purpose for short fiction. The people on the panel are all involved in editing so there’s a lot of fodder for my reading enjoyment.

Military Motifs in SF and the Safety and Security panels were very similar in that they both ended up on the topic of authenticity. This is where I got a lot of useful ideas for my own writing. Myke Cole and James McDonald were on both and Jerry Pournelle is the kind of old guy that every young guy should strive to be. They’re all great speakers and could talk about paint drying and make it interesting. They talked about the mindset that goes with the field. When they talked about it out loud, it sounded like a no brainer, but it’s the kind of no brainer that is easily missed anyways. It’s almost too obvious until you slow down and look at it. It’s got me thinking a lot about the level of professionalism by the crew on the ship in the novel I’m writing. It’s not something I even touch upon since two of the three protags aren’t involved with the daily operation of the ship. But I’m thinking it’s something I need to add in, even if just in little bits. Show the commitment of the revolutionaries.

And I’m off on a tangent. But they got me thinking a lot, which is the great part the cons.

Back on topic though. The Death Becomes Her panel explored Death as a character. There was a lot of philosophy in this one. Michael Swanwick actually shared a near death experience with the panel which is a pretty intense way to start out. The personification of the intangible forces is something I always find ripe for fiction, godpunk or otherwise. F Brett Cox was there again on that one. The panel stayed in the neighborhood of personifications to help people cope.

The Writing Advise panel didn’t quite hit on the stuff I was looking for but it was still a good panel. Elizabeth Bear is a very quotable personality. I was also incredibly amused at the end during questions when one older woman asked her what process she uses to put together her novels. Bear went on to explain that each one she does is different and the method she uses for writing are subservient to the story she’s telling. The woman asking the question seemed to insist otherwise. I think Bear answered three times before people started shuffling in and out for the change of panels and the woman couldn’t ask again. I chuckle, but I also imagine it was frustrating so golf clap for dealing with the repetitive newbie question. Bear also dropped a Futurama reference. Made me happy.

Worlds You Won’t Forget was another one full of reading fodder. I happen to think world building is awesome and when the land or city becomes a character in itself, it’s one of the most enjoyable things out there for me. I love the books when I can tell there are details in the author’s head that I’m not actually reading about. Bear was a font of great quotes on this one again, but it was really interesting that Melinda Snodgrass said how hard she finds worldbuilding. It was totally unexpected from one of the architects of Wild Cards.

I went in to Non English Translations looking for some reading fodder. I have been looking for new stuff to read all the time and the new point of view is always something I want to check out. The guys on the panel were specialists in East Asian stuff because those are the languages they know. Apparently there’s some Chinese space opera coming out soon which is something I want to look forward to. It’ll be good to get beyond just Battle Royale and the Nightwatch series. I think those are my only non English novels and I’d like to check out more but unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much of a two-way traffic in translations.

Exit Stage Left was all about character death. That’s another one that came down to serve the need of the story. That kind of came down to plotting vs pantsing. Something as big as character death really needs to be prepared for rather than thrown down out of hand. There needs to be significance to it otherwise the reader starts to dismiss the story.

Whew. Rambled a lot about the panels. One of the big things I made it a point of doing, was going to the kaffeeklatch. Last year I kicked myself for not talking shop with people in person. It’s a lot different than floating around the internet. So this year I was all like Bam! Gonna do it. So I went to Myke Cole’s. He’s a nice guy who’s super approachable and we had talked earlier in the con. (More on that when it shows up on his blog) It was eight people hanging out and shooting the shit. Damn that’s the kind of stuff I wish I could do everyday. It’s that exact kind of being around writing which makes me more productive and better at my own.

Another of my favorite parts of these cons, is finding authors who sell me as a person and make me want to go read their books. Last year it was Cole, Peter V Brett and Ben Tate/Joshua Palmatier. This year, it’s Elizabeth Bear, David Anthony Durham and Theodora Goss. I saw them all a couple times and they had very thoughtful, intelligent things to say involving the topic and their work. I’m game. Downside, the dealer room didn’t carry any of their stuff. There were some tables of uses books which is all well and good for people who don’t have access to The Book Barn, but you’d think the book sellers would stock up on the people who are going to be at the con. I picked up one of Bear’s books but so many others that I’d be interested in buying weren’t there. Yeah internet and all. But I want to buy stuff at the con from the people I see. I got a signed Wild Cards book, one of Bear’s and an unrelated cyberpunk book that invoked the Rule of Books. I was looking for Goss, Durham, Cox, Jennifer Pelland (who was at the con but I missed this year) and nothing. From a purely business standpoint, you’d think they’d want to have the products that correspond with the participants.

I’ve been typing a lot of thoughts and it’s time to wrap it up. I leave you with some of the choice quotes. Mostly proper quotes, not just amusingly out of context one-liners like last year’s quotes.

  • “Being dead was not a barrier to participation.” -Walter Hunt on killing off characters
  • “We come to stories because we want drama. We have tedium in our day to day lives.” -Myke Cole
  • “Turns out, living forever kind of sucks.” -Theodora Goss
  • “There’s no twelve year old that doesn’t want to be a dragon.” -Elizabeth Bear
  • “I don’t think we get the props for what we do. [World building] is a daunting task.” -Melinda Snodgrass