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!

The Second Annual Belated Turkey of Gratitude

Still Life with Fruit and Ham, Jan Davidszoon de Heem, c.1649

Turns out the belatedness is part of the tradition. Since we here at Casa Schwarz are committed to not buying anything on Black Friday, this is one of the best days to be grateful.

30 things about writing and storytelling for which I am grateful.
  1. For poetry, which challenges, puzzles, and touches my soul. 
  2. And for Poetry Off The Shelf, the little podcast that has introduced me to several new poets this year.
  3. For my part-time job, which provides structure to my day, a little bread-and-butter money, and interesting coworkers with different experiences and opinions than my own.
  4. For my first WorldCon! Four days in San Antonio immersed in everything science fiction and fantasy. I won’t say more here, as I wrote three long posts starting with this one.
  5. For Patrice Sarath, novelist extraordinaire, my WorldCon roomie, and early morning coffee house writing buddy.
  6. For ArmadilloCon, my awesome local SciFi and Fantasy convention. When money is tight and family commitments abound, it’s great to know that I can always make it to this cool hometown convention. 
  7. For the Slugtribe Writers’ Group. This open critique group has been a staple of my life since returning to writing. It’s a perfect combination of regulars and random wild seeds and never fails to keep things interesting.
  8. For the editors who’ve published my stories and worked with me to make them better. They are as passionate about writing as I am and they spend uncounted hours bringing stories to the world for a very small monetary return.
  9. For the slush readers (and editors) who have rejected my stories, sometimes because they’re not a good fit for their venue, but more importantly, because sometimes they need to be better.
  10. Again, and every year, for my journal. What a glorious mess. Whenever I’m stuck on a story (i.e. the middle of every story), I run to my journal and flail around for page after page until I can see a way forward. 
  11. For my husband who goes along with all my schemes and crazy dreams, like keeping chickens in the back yard, or pounding out story after story on my laptop. 
  12. For my 12-year-old, who keeps me hip to what middle schoolers are into, and who still lets me read her bedtime stories (currently The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.)
  13. For my 8-year-old who has introduced me to the world of My Little Pony as only someone from the target demographic can. 
  14. For Invader Zim and Adventure Time, Red Dwarf and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Family favorite viewing for together time on the couch.
  15. For Leo the dog. The pound puppy that the kids and hubby talked me into. When not laying at my feet while I write, he pesters me to get up off my butt and take him for a walk. Turns out that on foot and in the fresh air is an excellent place to work out story problems.
  16. For the books I’ve read this year including, Jagannath, Saga, Engine Summer (finally), Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar ChildrenBeing Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, and The Blue Fox to name a few.
  17. My little laptop. Repository of my works in progress and window to the virtual world.
  18. Scrivener. I’m using this writing software more and more, though I only know the tip of the iceberg as far as all the different bells and whistles 
  19. For the library, saving me thousands of dollars on my 12-year-old’s manga habit, providing for my eclectic research needs, and loaning me stacks of huge, expensive art and photography books for story inspiration.
  20. For my virtual writers’ communities where I can meet, commiserate and trade critiques with writers from around the world.
  21. For the worlds that have presented themselves in the stories that have created. Fantastic and impossible places of terror, adventure, love and heartbreak. No airfare required.
  22. For the characters who bud off some created world or concept and grow into unpredictable beings who turn the tables to surprise and delight me.
  23. Pinterest! How did it take me so long to get onboard with this visual feast?
  24. For the hour of writing time every morning between dropping my kids off to school and when I have to show up to work. Pure gold.
  25. For drafts that are broken and difficult. These are the ones that have the most to teach me about storytelling.
  26. For LePen felt tip markers in every color; they make my paper-and-pen revision look festive and fabulous.

  27. For a good night’s sleep, when I can get it, and for the strange and delightful dreams that arrive in  the morning just before I wake up. If not fodder for plots, certainly some subconscious images have found their way into my story settings.
  28. For all the storytellers out there, gossips and tattle tellers, pundits and conspiracy theorists. 
  29. For all the surprises, not a day goes by without one!
  30. For all the stories nascent and invisible, waiting to be born. 


Last WorldCon Post

A DRD (Diagnostic Repair Drone) came all the way from Farscape.

Here’s the rest of it.*

I’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming (i.e. whatever tickles my fancy or chaps my hide) next week.

SATURDAY:

Breakfast with a dozen or so conventioneers, only a few of whom I knew, now I know more genre people. The delicious, if expensive, buffet went a long way toward soothing the rather prevalent hangover situation.

The How To Write a Short Story panel had a great lineup of some of my favorite writers dispensing nuggets of pure, golden wisdom:

Michael Swanwick, James Patrick Kelly, Vylar Kaftan, and Cat Rambo
  •  Short fiction is where the new ideas and forms are forged. 
  • Aim high, not just the next sale, aim to make all science fiction to date obsolete. Now that’s shooting for the stars.
  • Short fiction is a good place to work on beginnings, middles and ends.
  • Short fiction is also a great place to find your voice. 
  • Stop looking for heroes, look for who gets damaged in the story
  • If a story isn’t working, sometimes you need to put it in the drawer to let it mulch with other story ideas
  • Don’t hoard your ideas – use them all up. Using them up is what generates more.
  • Try everything, find what works for YOU.
  • Kaftan pointed us to her great blog post The super-cool magic short-story formula. I plan on trying this as a writing exercise as soon as I’m finished with this post!


Kaffeeklatschs:

I sat down with Gabrielle de Cuir and Stefan Rudnicki of Skyboat Media. They’ve been in charge of the Lightspeed podcasts for some time now. I’ve listened to their voices narrate so many stories, it was trippy to sit down and have a conversation with them. They are just finishing up with a full cast audioplay of Ender’s Game called Ender’s Game Alive. They were amused and maybe a little appalled when one of the other attendees admitted that she bumps up the playback speed on her podcasts when she’s in a hurry.

After that, I sat down with Tobias Buckell and David Nickle. I know Buckell more from his blog than his books though I have Arctic Rising on my to read list. Nickle brought some of his books, published by ChiZine, and they were gorgeous. Both Buckell and Nickle were friendly and generous with writing advice and anecdotes.

Another panel about short fiction, this one titled Short Stories – What’s Next? Another stellar group of writers and editors: Kij Johnson, David Levine, Steven Silver, John Joseph Adams, and Damien Broderick

  • There was a lively discussion as to whether length is becoming irrelevant. Certainly electronic publishing does not have print costs, and print-on-demand also mitigates up front print costs, but Adams points out that if you’re committed to paying writers pro rates, the costs are still a factor.
  • Kij Johnson noted the premise that Science Fiction is a literature in conversation with itself (true of all art IMHO), and sees many stories embellishing or rebutting other stories out there. She noted that stories can now respond to each other nearly in realtime because of new technologies. The panel agreed that there are many stories in dialogue with all kinds of media (i.e. responding to movies, comics, TV –  and not just recent material, e.g. Star Trek).

Paul Cornell

I’m not a cosplayer, but I enjoy admiring other people’s costumes, so I checked out the Masquerade. The costumes ranged from fantastic to strange to hilarious. The kids category was adorable through and through. Paul Cornell, Master of Ceremonies displayed his aplomb throughout a technically challenged show (I believe the tech was run by volunteers, God bless ’em. Seriously, tech is hard!) Cornell kept everyone entertained through all the glitches.

After that it was off to the room parties. Patrice scored an invite to a party thrown by a Texan scifi fan in the presidential suite. There I got to chat with David Brin, Michael Swanwick, Neil Clarke, Rachel Swirsky, and Ann VanderMeer! And Patrice got to talk with Lois McMaster Bujold. Honestly, I could have gone home after that and been completely satisfied with my WorldCon experience. But we soldiered on and went to more room parties including the Drabblecast party where we caught up with Matthew Bey and Norm Sherman. I also met Abigail Hilton, an indy author and podcaster. While I don’t have the time or gumption to go the indy publishing route, I am always interested in hearing about how others do it.

One of a myriad of room parties.

SUNDAY:

The presenter, Higashi Masao, has edited
three volumes of Japanese ghost stories.

Disaster and the Literature of the Supernatural, wasn’t so much a panel as a presentation about the nature of ghost stories in Japan both in the past and today. In Japan there is a deep connection between the literature of the supernatural and natural disasters such as the Tsunami of 2011. Here’s a quote from a short film the panelists brought about the ad hoc shrines to the dead that sprang up amid the devastation the Tsunami left behind:

“Each of us alone is weak and powerless, but even the longest story begins with a single letter.” 

Of course I had to check out the panel with the wildly optimistic title of The Anthology Renaissance: The Return of the Short Story Market. It boasted another great line up of editors: Neil Clarke, Ellen Datlow, Gordan Van Gelder, Kasey Lansdale, and Rick Klaw. They discussed:

  • the growth of flash fiction on the internet.
  • that there are more novella markets doing chapbooks – more but it’s still a tough market.
  • that unthemed anthologies don’t sell well. This was an interesting fact for me. I prefer unthemed anthos for the variety, and the panel noted that many people SAY they prefer unthemed anthologies, but they don’t BUY them. Hence the proliferation of themed anthologies.
  • how they ordered anthologies. (Even though people often read anthologies out of order, they still order them with the idea of reading straight through.) The first and last stories are usually the strongest ones. The first story has to be accessible, to invite the reader in and set the tone of the book. The longest story often next to last, with a shorter one at the end as a grace note.
  • the impact of Kickstarter on the anthology market, which is generally positive. From an editorial perspective it has its own challenges, but can be an excellent option if an editor wants complete artistic control over a project.

Selling Poetry, with Mari Ness, Jo Walton, Rachel Swirksy, stayed true to its no nonsense title and was stuffed with lots of interesting information about speculative poetry markets and also poets that I will have to check out.

Markets:
Goblin Fruit, Stone Telling, Strange Horizons, Electric Velocipede, and Mythic Delirium.

Poets (including the panelists!)
Mari NessJo Walton (posts most of her poetry on her LiveJournal, scroll down),  Rachel SwirkskyNancy Hightower, and Catherynne M. Valente

THE HUGOS!

  • I discovered that awards shows are much more interesting if you’re invested in what the awards are for and who’s on the ballot.
  • The short story I voted for didn’t win, but they were all good stories so it’s hard to hold a grudge. 
  • I watched George R. R. Martin and Game of Thrones cream three episodes of Dr. Who. in the Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. Nothing against Dr. Who, but seemed apt somehow, GOT being so warlike and all. 
  • I have decided that Paul Cornell should host the Oscars. Someone make that happen, OK?

MONDAY:

I was pretty exhausted at this point, so I focused on finding some gifts for the family in the dealers’ room and chatting with old and new friends and acquaintances. I did manage to go to a science panel about the Cambrian explosion (I love me some biology).

The last thing I went to was Nancy Hightower‘s reading. She read from her forthcoming novel Elementari Rising, a flash fiction piece, and three amazing poems. She also mentioned that she’s been published in Bourbon Penn, a magazine I am soon to be an alumni of as well!

Nancy Hightower

File under miscellaneous:

  • I got to meet one of my Online Writing Workshop crit buddies, D. L. Young. We had a long talk about fitting writing in around family and kids and about the pros and cons of different kinds of face-to-face critique groups.

People who I didn’t see or talk to nearly enough:



* This isn’t an exhaustive report, just the highlights. WorldCon was great, but it’s gone on long enough!

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

WorldCon: Thursday

OK, I’m terrible at taking pictures. I don’t mean I’m a terrible photographer, just not so good at actually taking my camera out of my purse. I promise to be better over the next couple days.

Thursday 

Took the MegaBus from Austin to San Antonio and chatted with Patrice Sarath while NOT dealing with traffic, which I have to say was awesome! We hiked from the bus stop to the hotel, checked in, freshened up, and got registered. Then we checked out the vast dealers room filled with books, T-shirts, art, displays of astronaut suits, a TARDIS, and one lonely electric bull in an inflatable ring. He was decommissioned after a few hours. It seems the SFF crowd and bull riding aren’t a thing. The thought just makes me want to write a short SF story featuring a bull – Oh wait, I’ve done that with Cattle Futures, which Stupefying Stories will be publishing soon. I guess it will have to be a story featuring an animatronic bull… I know I’m talking nonsense but the poor guy just looked so lonely rolled in the corner of the dealer’s room like that.
I signed up for a “Beerklatch” with Gary K. Wolfe, which is a kind of informal roundtable with writers and editors. The ones held in the afternoon actually called “Literary Beers,” but I think Beerklatch has a much better ring. I was jazzed to let Mr. Wolfe know that I’m a fan of The CoodeStreet Podcast, which he hosts with Jonathan Strahan. Everyone at the table had something interesting to say, we talked about his American Library project, Neil Gaiman’s celebrity, and the state of the novella today.
I sat in on a talk by Sam Scheiner of the National Science Foundation titled All of Biology in One Hour or Less. He went over a kind of Grand Unified Theory of Biology, along with the major principles with the added ingredient of  “SFF Implications.” It was a fun talk and he nimbly handled all the questions the audience could throw at him.
“Why does life manage to persist?” 
                               — biology’s core question.
One of his principles is that life requires a system to store, use and transmit info (for us it’s DNA). He noted that, yes, computers can be alive by this definition – although right now systems don’t self-replicate on their own, which is another way we define life.
He wound up with the deliciously contradictory set:
All living systems come from other living systems (SFF implication: make sure all life on a planet is related to each other in some way). And conversely, life originated from non-life. And from that a million stories were launched.

Inbound from Big Bend, Outbound to WorldCon!

I’m recovering from our family vacation to Big Bend National Park. 

On the way out, we stayed outside of Ft Davis, so that we could go to the McDonald Observatory’s Star Party (definitely worth a stop if you’re in West Texas). Our cabin was right next to one of the dish antennas that are part of the Very Long Baseline Array. The VLBA is a single radio telescope made up of ten separate antennas spread across the United States from St. Croix to Mauna Kea. It was huge and moved around a lot.

We saw three bear cubs and their mama. The cubs ran out of a tree that was ahead of us on the trail, then ran back up into the tree, then out again. All I could think was, where’s mama? (First rule of bear country, don’t get in between a bear cub and its mama.) Eventually the mama bear came out of the tree too! It was not a large tree, and we were all surprised that she was up in it. I didn’t think to get my camera out until we were sure there wasn’t going to be any kind of confrontation, so here is my picture of mama bear’s butt as she ambles away from us.

We went for a horseback ride in the desert and saw some Comanche  pictographs.



A fox came by our cabin every night. He looks a little sad because all we did was take pictures of him and didn’t give him any treats. 


I’m heading to WorldCon on Thursday morning. It will be my first big con, and it’s wonderful that it’s right in my back yard. I’m going for the whole weekend and am looking forward to all the festivities. I will also be attending a writer’s workshop on Saturday. I’ll post some short, newsy blogs whenever I get a chance over the con weekend.