Hey Toto, we’re in Kansas! Readings and Panels at WorldCon!


It’s been a crazy, busy summer with lots of travel and time with family. I’ve managed to do some writing. I thought I’d take a quick break from the novel by writing a short story, but the story grew (as my stories seem to do nowadays) into a novella. I’ll finish revising it and return to the novel just as soon as I get back from WorldCon!


I have an early flight tomorrow, which is a good thing as I have a busy day coming up.

I’ll be reading at 1:30 in room 2202
I can’t wait to share a story or two live and in person.

From 5:00 – 6:00 I’ll be moderating “Knock on Wood: From Squirrel Girl to Lumberjanes” (room 2207) with fellow panelists Jason Stanford, Catherine Lundoff, Adam Rakunas, and Tom Galloway.

“What the junk?! In the last couple of years we’ve seen the growth of comics that might superficially appear to be aimed at a YA audience, however these titles are hitting the mainstream with a vengeance. Marvel are leading the pack with Squirrel Girl, Ms Marvel and Captain Marvel, but there’s also a vast amount of Indie work coming through such as Lumberjanes, Space Dumplins, Khaos Komix and Footloose. Our panel discuss why these titles are so popular, and what they have to offer both new and established audiences.” 

From 6:00 – 7:00 you can find me participating in “Cleaning Up Your Prose” (room 3501B) with C.C. Finlay(!), Randy Henderson, Rob Chilson, moderated by Alan Smale.
My love of revision is no secret. I’m looking forward to a lively discussion about how writers go about improving their work once the first draft is finished!

Then on Saturday from 4:00 – 5:00 back in room 2202, I’m thrilled to participate in Flash Fiction Online‘s group reading. This one is going to be tons of fun. Hosted by Anna Yeatts and Chris Phillips, come by to hear stories from Sunil Patel, Kelly Sandoval, Laura Pearlman, Beth Cato, and yours truly!

You can check out my schedule and more here. Hope to see you there!

Other Story Forms: Comics

A panel from Beautiful Darkness

It all started for me when I was a librarian at the Queens Public Library in the early 90s. Shortly after I arrived, I was charged with starting and curating a comics and graphic novel collection. I hadn’t grown up reading comics and was a complete newbie. The library entrusted me with a budget of a few hundred dollars, which I took to a comic book shop (can’t remember which one now, or even which borough it was in). When I told the guy at the desk that I needed to start a collection for a public library, well his face lit up like Christmas. My only limit was that I could only buy bound books (actual comics are too ephemeral for public library use). He got out a big cardboard box and filled it with the basics from DC, Marvel, Vertigo, Dark Horse, Image and others. 

Curating a collection means you have to read it, or as much of it as possible. I’ve been reading comics ever since. While I appreciate DC and Marvel, the classic superhero comics don’t really light my fire (I prefer the movies as my superhero delivery medium). What really turned me on were the darker, quirkier graphic novels like V for Vendetta, Sin City, Watchmen, Maus. These are the comics I would later go on to buy for my own personal bookshelf.

Like genre writing, comics are often pooh poohed as a literary form, but they have so much to offer! If you love the lush visual stimulation of movies and also love reading, comics are the best of both worlds. Yet they are very much their own thing. They are a variety of story telling experience that shouldn’t be neglected. While it is important for writers to learn guidelines about plot beats and characterization. The greater the variety of storytelling experiences you engage in, the deeper your intrinsic understanding of story will be, and it will pay off in your writing.

There are a million million comics out there, and a million websites and blogs to tell you about them.* Here is my idiosyncratic list of the best comics I read over the last year (many of them borrowed from my local library, so not necessarily published recently – the Austin Public Librarymaintains excellent comics collections for both adults and Kids, BTW).

First:

If you’re curious about comics, but feel like you can’t quite connect with the form, a good place to start is Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. Written in 1993, it is still a relevant and passionate primer for medium.

Saga

Series:

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fionna Staples. Vaughn also wrote Y: The Last Man. This one has me hook line and sinker. It’s a sci fi soap opera in the best way. At the core it tackles issues of relationships and family.

East of West by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta. Apocalyptic (as in the Book of Revelation) religious themes set in a science fictional weird west. Volume 1 was an excellent beginning, the following volumes are a little uneven in their pacing. The large cast of characters can make it hard to connect to emotionally, but when it hits its stride it’s brilliant. 

Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios. Another weird western about love, both twisted and true, and sacrifice.

Big Questions

Stand alones:

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen. A flock of small birds trying to make sense of a strange event. Very post modern in the literary sense. Beautiful minimalist artwork. Here’s a NYT article about the book.

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann. A miniature world rendered in beautiful watercolor that is both violent and poignant. It captures the darkness and light touch of true fairytales perfectly.

Trillium by Jeff Lemire. I found this one challenging but worth it. Some sections are intentionally formatted upside down or progress backwards through time as truly star-crossed lovers travel through time, space, and alternate universes.

The Wrenchies by Farel Dalrymple. I found the artwork arresting and the characters fascinating. Ultimately, the story failed for me. It had too many ideas, which made the plot hard to follow and required too many characters, so that I couldn’t connect with the core of the story. Still, so much potential! I will read more by Dalrymple.

reMIND

Some things for younger readers:

Stuff of Legend by Mike Raicht. This is a little dark in places, but the whole family fell in love with the characters and the world.

Cardboard by Doug TenNapel. We’ve been reading the very productive TenNapel‘s books for years. He’s the creator of Earthworm Jim, Tommysaurus Rex, Ghostopolis, Bad Island… Cardboard is one of his bests IMHO.

reMIND by Jason Brubaker. Talking cats, and evil lizard king ruling an underwater kingdom. Great stuff! This comes as a gorgeous hardbound two volume set or you can read it for free on his website!

Monster on the Hill by rob Harrell. Adorable characters, lovely story. Great for younger kids.

Marzi by Marzena Sowa. A memoir in comic book form.  Marzena shows us what her childhood in Poland was like during the end of communism there. Beautifully told with lots of history
Clan Apis by Jay Hosler. A good story with real science about bees written by a biology professor.

The Wrenchies

* Criminally omitted from this post is the fact that the web is bursting with amazing web comics, only a fraction of which get bound into physical books. They deserve a post of their own, but since I have no idea when I might get around to writing such post, check out io9’s list of Best New Web Comics of 2014, or their 17 Fantastic Completed Web Comics to Binge Read.

Emerging from the Vortex that was WorldCon 2013

So, the WiFi in the lobby was was not great and my phone’s battery is also not great, so instead of tweeting and blogging throughout the con as I’d hoped, I simply gave in and experienced WorldCon live and in real time. 

Before I recap last Friday, I want to note the interesting – and important – discussion about diversity in the genre that’s sprung up on various social networks. This is because of the often glaring lack of diversity at these events in both the attitudes of some panelists (no panels that I attended), and too often in the demographic of attendees. WorldCon did skew old, white, and male. This is a worthy conversation and I have some thinky-thinks I may blog about in the near future, but for now I’m just going to talk about the experience of my first WorldCon. Being constrained both financially and by my delightful family life (Seriously, it’s hard to abandon my husband, daughters, dog and chickens!), there aren’t many big cons I’ll be able to attend. So, by way of “loving the one you’re with,” I really did have a fabulous time.

Friday was my first full day at the con and I started it out by meeting one of Short Story heroes, Kij Johnson, in the hallway of our hotel. We had a wonderful chat in the elevator and on the walk over to the Convention Center. She was genuine and gracious and even went so far as to ask the people at the registration desk for a “First WorldCon” ribbon for me.
 
I only made it to a couple panels. The first one, Graphic Novels You Should be Reading,
was more nostalgic than I expected with a fair amount of discussion about some of the greats of the 1960s and 70s, especially the Europeans. I started reading comics much later and am not familiar with most of the books they brought up, so I have more to add to my reading list like the Blueberry comics and Onward Toward Our Noble Deaths. 

The next panel, The Things They Never Tell You About Getting Published the First Time, was a nice mix of informationa and anecdotes about both novel and short story publishing. Vylar Kaftan pointed out that, especially in the short story market, new venues often have poor contracts because they don’t know any better. The panelists also agreed that you shouldn’t put too much importance on reviews. What really matters for a story to get traction is readership from the venue. In other words, getting the work out there in front of eyeballs can trump the opinions of reviewers. Words of comfort indeed!

I sat in for half of the Editors and Writers panel before I had to leave for my Writers’ Workshop.
This one had some heavy hitters: James Patrick Kelly, Gardner Dozios, Janet Harriet of Apex, Lou Anders of Pyr Books, and Shelia Williams of Asimov’s.

Gardner Dozios told an anecdote – and others agreed that they’d had the same experience – about writers who have had a story accepted then withdrawn it to revise or workshop it. I couldn’t believe anyone would even think of doing this with a SOLD story. I can’t believe any editor would even agree to it (which just goes to show that editors can be nice to a fault). They all agreed that the stories they got back weren’t what they wanted, i.e. what they had originally BOUGHT! Chasing perfection can lead you down some dark paths. Don’t go there!

Shelia Williams said that, in the short story market, she is always looking for writers who can reliably (every other month or so) send her good stories, reminding me again just how important it is to produce consistently! She also mentioned that she loves novellas. Good to hear since I’m working on a couple.

I hated to leave that panel, but it was time to be off to my Writers’ Workshop. There were just three writers and two pros. Our pros were John A. Pitts, a novelst at Tor and Alex Shavartsman (read his con recap here), a short story writer and publisher of the Unidentified Funny Objects anthologies.

I brought a slightly older story, but one that isn’t selling, and got some great feedback. After their comments I could see some missing pieces in this story and now have some ideas about what I can change to really make this story pop (and sell)!

After the workshop, I had lunch with Alex and another workshop attendee. Sure I missed some panels, but that’s what conventions are all about — making connections, renewing old friendships and forming new ones. And, spending every day from dawn to well after midnight talking about writing!

After that, I perused the Dealer’s room, took a catnap, grabbed some dinner, then off to make the party rounds with Patrice, my partner in crime. We checked out the Helsinki Bid party, The Tor Party and the Dell Party. I saw Marshal Ryan Maresca and Stina Leicht, who I know from ArmadilloCon. I met Keffy Kehrli (Shimmer) and Lynne M. Thomas (Apex) and continued my conversation with Alex about how hard it is to write humor and the difficulties of translating fiction.

I opened far too many conversations with “You rejected me!” Even pitched in thrilled fan-girl voice, really, it’s a terrible line. Everyone was awesome and fun to talk to. It was great to get to know the human face behind the genre that I love.

Here I am with Alex Shavartsman at the Dell party