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Windy City Worldcon 80

So… it’s been a while.

My last in-person con was FOGcon in March 2020, when COVID was just starting to build itself up to the life-changing, death-dealing, absolute FUBAR pandemic that continues to run off-Broadway (and everywhere else).

My last Worldcon was #76 – San Jose (2018). The ones that followed were avoided due to finances /COVID (Ireland, New Zealand) and scheduling/COVID (Washington, DC). Which brings us to Chicago in 2022.

By this time, my daughter was starting her third year at Columbia College Chicago, giving the family an opportunity to travel together, get her new apartment set up, and maybe take in some panels. Thanks to a fellow Viable Paradise alum, we were able to snag another adult membership for $0. Huzzah!

We stayed for the entire length of the con (plus an extra day for me) at the Hyatt Regency, the event venue. In a suite. So there was plenty of time to sprawl and, later, host our first Cards Against Humanity game in, uh, about 4 years.

It was good. Weird, but good. My in-person event skills were rusty, to say the least. So many people! So many masks! The volunteers/staff all did a pretty fine job of herding the cats. There was an enormous, overwhelming amount of programming, offered in-person, online, and hybrid. So kudos to everyone who pitched in. I wished I’d had the time and energy to do more.

Hotel lobby

So what did I do, between getting my daughter moved in and trying to catch a few minutes to say hi to friends from the Before Times?

Thursday – Got our badges and attended the Opening Ceremony. The toastmasters, Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders, acquitted themselves pretty well (although I will admit their shtick works better in online venues).

Friday:

  • Tabletalk – Catherynne M. Valente. She was an utter delight and her stories of writing in These Trying Times™ resonated strongly. (Full disclosure – I had entered the lottery for two different author talks (the COVID version of the traditional Kaffeeklatsch) and had to bail on one. Sorry, Lawrence M. Schoen! )
  • Geeky Parenting: Raising the Next Generation
  • What’s With Chicago? Its Quirks, Personality and Charm – Hey, I learned some fun things about the Windy City
  • Improv Star Trek – Attended with my daughter. An absolute hoot.
  • Themed Readings: Fairy Tales and Myth – Spent a lovely hour listening to Elise Stephens and Jean Bürlesk. Quality writing and excellent performances in a small room so we could hear everything. We could have spent a few days just doing this.
The crew of the USS Sisyphus does the opening credits, TNG-style.

Saturday

Cat M. Valente doesn’t talk about her SEKRIT PROJECT, but pretty much anything else
  • Let Me Tell You About the Very Alien: They Are Different From You and Me
  • Getting the “Cyber” Part Right
  • Best of the Year – Listened to a top-shelf panel of anthology editors, including Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, who overcame all manner of obstacles to reach Chicago. Pleased to finally meet him in person after following his social media.
  • Dealer Room – As the last part of my belated birthday celebration, I bought a couple of prints in an auction, and acquired several tee shirts and books.
  • Cards Against Humanity in our suite – our intrepid band included four (4!) Fire Wombats, plus family and friends, two of whom had never played. Much horribleness ensued.
Archival prints: “Saving Throw” and “Snake Eyes”

Sunday

  • What makes The Good Place Work – a fun, philosophical panel devoted to the themes and characters of the meme-worthy sitcom. Got to meet one of my Canadian editors, Andy Dibble!
  • Themed Readings: Humor-A – Listened to another Fire Wombat, Alex Shvartsman, read from his new novel, The Middling Affliction. Found a copy later in the Dealer Room.
  • Hugo Awards Ceremony – watched the stream from my suite because the reported COVID numbers were starting to creep up.
VP 16’s own Alex Shvartsman

Et cetera

Our suite didn’t have a kitchenette, or even a microwave (boo, Hyatt) so we stocked up on Whole Foods groceries and gave the local restaurants some business, as long as we could get outdoor tables. Special mention goes to FireLake Grill House and Cocktail Bar around the corner at the Radisson Blu hotel. There we encountered The Primordial Pretzel. Two pounds of salty, bready goodness. With sauces.

Why did we bother with entrees?

In summary

I’m glad I went, even if it felt particularly awkward at times. My one wish would have been more time just hanging out with people and buying them drinks. It was very, very good to see my fellow VP 16 alum, and some of my favorite writers and editors.

More writing time (or writing brain) would also have been good.

And yeah, I didn’t take enough pictures (or good ones, at least).

View from our suite on the 29th Floor.

Airport return – required meal

Significant Dates and Anniversaries, Part 2

Ten years ago, I attended Viable Paradise 16, where I met many fine folks and learned a lot, especially how little I actually knew about writing. Up to that point, I’d been running on ideas, ego, and caffeine. (The official term is “pantsing” but you already knew that.) Sure, I’d attended a moderately competitive and stupidly expensive MFA program, but my primary advisor didn’t really grok “fantastic literature” and my utter lack of life experience didn’t help.

Since having my words dissected, inspected, and cheered on by 23 other students, 6 instructors, and 3 awesome house elves, I am happy to report (and a little surprised, honestly) that I’m still doing this thing. And I’ve made friends. Thank Buddha for the interwebs, for apart from a few cons and weekend writing get-togethers, most of my interaction has been online. Zoom, of course, is a game-changer (as was Google Hangouts before that). Most weeks I get to see at least a couple of friendly faces who understand what it means to grab a pick and shovel and head into the Word Mines.

(*Actual dates Oct 8-12)
Mostly VP 16 – Fire Wombats

Doing a very unscientific review of my fiction efforts (thanks, Submissions Grinder, you’re the best), here’s what I came up with:

  • Stories accepted since VP: 25
  • Total all submissions same period: 357 (approx)
  • Fewest submissions to sale: 1 – Tie: “The Long View” and “Jizo Rides the Bus”
  • Most submissions to sale: 23 – “The Astrologer of the 5th Floor”
  • Most submissions without a sale: 44 (and counting) – “Schadenfreuders”
  • Stories in submission as of today: 10
  • Stories abandoned to the trunk/did not finish: 6
  • Stories in progress: 8 (some of which will probably be trunked)
  • Public readings: 5 (including podcasts)
  • Total $$ to date: Don’t go there.

Next week is Worldcon in Chicago. It is my sincere hope that I sit down with some of my fellow Fire Wombats and raise a glass to 10 years of serious mining.

Significant Dates and Anniversaries, Part 1

So… I woke up this morning another year older, as such things are measured. Not thrilled to be reaching such a high number, but as wise people have noted, it sure beats the alternative.

This year, I permitted excessive decorations.
This is Fred, a dinosaur, which in no way is a comment on my taste in music or impending extinction.

To help me celebrate, my spouse and daughter bestowed upon me a number of gifts that shows they do, in fact, understand me:

  1. Single malt scotch from Skye
  2. A package of edibles (“the relaxing kind, not the take-a-trip kind”)
  3. A bit of pottery: a Felis domesticus fighting off a band of garden gnomes
  4. An open gift certificate to acquire something fun from the Dealer Room at Worldcon next month
Whisky and cannabis, breakfast of champions?
Apex predator battle

Tonight will feature Indian takeout and something with dangerous levels of chocolate.

For my part, I acknowledged the event by getting a deep-tissue massage, a chiropractic adjustment, and braces. Yup. Braces. I’ve never liked my smile and hide it in most photographs. (There were also some long-term issues with my front teeth that will be addressed at the same time.)

By the way, when you see this well-known brand:

(Wow, her teeth were white before the procedure!)

it’s important to note they don’t mention the appliances need anchor points, so that procedure makes you feel like this:

(You know the Night King is running his tongue over the plastic edge ALL THE DAMN TIME)

I also participated in DayJob today because I wasn’t brave enough to call in sick. Yeah, bad choice.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of paying a mortgage. That fun won’t end anytime soon, although we’re accelerating our payments to try to put a stake in it ahead of schedule.

And it’s been 10 years since I was accepted to Viable Paradise (which took place in Oct 2012!). More thoughts on that later.

Now I must return to planning meetings. A heartfelt thank you/tusen tack to You Who Read the Blog.

You’re the best.

Hey, I did my first (video) reading

Karl Dandenell reading "The Stones of Särdal"
Story Hour 07/13/2020

My first reading took place (mumble mumble) years ago when I was teaching English Comp and Creative Writing at a community college in Puyallup, WA. I think I did about 15 minutes of my story “Walking Backward Through Death’s Door.”

Since then, I’ve done one reading at FogCon and another in San Francisco for the Abandoned Places book launch. That was a dark and stormy night, literally, so we had only 4 people in the audience.

Last night I participated in Story Hour at the invitation of fellow SF/F writer, Laura Blackwell. This is a weekly online event that gathers together some excellent writers to read a complete story. In my case, I didn’t have anything of the appropriate length (20-25 minutes), so I did a selection of flash fiction.

Man, I wish I had a TelePrompter – it was a bit of a challenge to balance reading from my screen and monitoring the Zoom call. Having said that, folks seemed to enjoy my performance. (And kudos to the other author of the event, Izzy Wasserstein. Go read her stuff. She’s really good.)

Here’s a video of the event – there is a brief intro, then I do my four stories.

Not exactly a writing square, but I’ll take it

Some of you may be familiar with the Career Bingo tab on the Tools for Writers spreadsheet, which is distributed every year by Christie Yant. There are squares for things like “First submission!” and “Apply to a workshop.” I’ve added my own squares, such as “200th Rejection.”

This month I hit a small milestone: four sequential months with stories published. It wasn’t planned, believe me. Just the vagaries of publishing, or the alignment of planets.

Here they are:

I still have one sale that’s pending publication, but the magazine seems pretty backed up. Still, this is my longest streak.

Like I said, it’s not a big deal like a sale to Clarksworld, but I will raise a glass and toast the words.

Skål!

War and (Inner) Peace

The anthology Strange Religion launched today, the companion volume to Strange Wars (which debuted last week). I’m pleased to say that in addition to assisting with first reads (i.e., slush), I contributed one original story and one reprint to the project.

(Some of you may remember my appearance in the first volume in the Strange series, “Supply and Demand Among the Sidhe” in Strange Economics. So I’m 3/3. Huzzah!)

,

“Burial Detail” is a reprint (with minor edits/updates) from The Word Count Podcast. It’s lovely to see “Burial Detail” in print, though it was published not long after the death of my university partner-in-crime, Dr. John A. Maynard. Our conversations about his military service helped inform the story.

“Jizo Rides the Bus” was a much more difficult story to write since it was the first new fiction I attempted after the death of my father, Frank Schlosser. I learned about Jizo, a bodhisattva popular in Japan, during a practice offered at the San Francisco Zen Center. Jizo is the patron of travelers and children who die before reaching adulthood. An unusual bodhisattva, Jizo vowed to avoid Nirvana until he could accompany all beings to safety, even those trapped in the hell realms.

Statues of Jizo are common in Japan, especially in graveyards, and are often decorated with red hats and scarves, since the color is often associated with protection from evil.

After I completed the practice period, I decided that Jizo would make an excellent POV character for a story about grief and samsara set in Silicon Valley. I hope you enjoy it.

For the next few days (May 7-11) Strange Religion is available as a free Kindle download. Please have a look. It’s a big volume with a lot of ideas.

Two years of lockdown; one year+ writing on Zoom

In March 2020, California decided that non-essential employees should start working remotely. You know, just for a bit, until all the fuss died down and we could all return to our cubicles.

By Feb 2021, after numerous in-person events were either canceled or migrated to online formats, I realized it was probably going to be a serious stretch before I could hang with my fellow word miners. No coffee shops, no bar-cons, no weekend workshops, and no woodsy retreats. Thank you, pandemic-enablers. Really, you shouldn’t have.

We were truly stuck inside for the duration. So, taking a page from a weekend Google Hangout group, I decided to try my luck at this whole Zoom thing. I called it “Story-breaking and kvetching” after two of my favorite group writer activities. It started out as a Saturday thing, and then an occasional Sunday thing, with the times alternating from morning to evening to accommodate folks in different time zones.

Once, last summer, I even held a late-night session from Sweden and was able to snag a guest appearance from a London friend. Score!

The number of participants varies. A few times I’ve been alone and used the time to write quietly. Once we had 10 people. Mostly, it’s a die-hard core of 3-5 folks from Viable Paradise, Paradise Lost, and CODEX. Tuesday nights and Saturday mornings. Plus the odd Thursday when I’m on deadline.

I’ve moved away from the “kvetching” aspect (although that still happens, because, writers) to focus more on a 30-minute check-in before we do 90 minutes of writing. I’m always interested in how people are surviving the Permanent Health Crisis, what are they working on, and hey, did you sell a story or finish your novel? Excellent! Virtual high fives all around.

I’ll be honest. I would much rather sit with my friends on comfy furniture with laptops and beverages than stare at this screen and chat in a side window. And that time will come again, in some form. Meanwhile, I hope people continue to show up, or stop by for the first time, and mine some words.

You are most welcome. Tuesdays and Fridays. Plus the odd Thursday.

The Great March Massacre

In March 1998, I was working with a small market research department at Macmillan Publishing in Santa Monica. It was also my second gig working with my friend John Arthur Maynard. (The first was another industry publishing house whose name is lost forever.)

On that fateful day, Macmillan’s parent company (which I believe was Paramount) decided to liquidate our department as part of a larger corporate reorg. The guys in suits considered the writers and researchers superfluous and handed us our severance checks with only terse instructions to clear our desks. While their goons were trolling through our paper files, I took the opportunity to wipe my PC’s root directory (one quick script) and cut my local backup disks in half. Yes, they were floppies.

For some weeks, we had been hearing rumors about layoffs, and John casually asked me if it were possible to leave some sort of boobytrap for our corporate masters in case they screwed us. I told him I’d look into it.

When the marketing team reconvened across the street for Mexican food and a view of the Pacific, I told John what had occurred at my workstation. He bought a round for the table. And I think the waiter brought us extra drinks when he heard we’d all been sacked. It was a terrible day shared with good people.

“Tell me how you’re feeling today!” Photo by John A Mayard, Ph.D

We even gathered the mob two years later at that same restaurant. We all agreed that it was good to be out of publishing.

John and I had become friends while toiling away at the University of Southern California main library. I was working on my MFA (Writing) and John was finishing up his Ph.D. (History). When he wasn’t working on campus, he was usually hanging out at one of the old-school gyms in Venice Beach, pumping iron with the locals. He was great bear of a man, fond of mugs of decaf espresso and beat poetry.

We went our separate ways after graduation, but both ended up in trade publishing, selling ads and convincing doctors to write free articles for us “to promote their practice.” You did what you had to do to make those student loan payments.

I went into consulting and software training and John eventually found a proper gig teaching American History out at Cal State Bakersfield.

He shared an interest in photography: he was a talented amateur who always carried a small 35mm. He did my wedding pictures. I returned the favor with a borrowed Apple QuickTake. Good times.

While we hadn’t seen each other since his wedding, we kept in touch. I sent him stories. We talked about getting together but I was never in Bakersfield and he didn’t get up to the Bay Area.

He contracted Lewy body dementia some years back. I sent him news and stories, which his wife read to him. She said he enjoyed them.

John died on Monday. I will miss his humor, his intellect, and his unfailing commitment to call me on my shit.

Dr. John Maynard – The Great Massacre Reunion (1990)

2021 Writing by the Numbers

I thought it might be interesting to look at my 2021 writing stats, courtesy of The Submission Grinder:

Note: this includes only those stories that were sent out and responded to during the calendar year.

Overall

Accepted4
Never Responded7
Pending Response9
Rejection, Form41
Rejection, Personal16
Withdrawal1
Grand Total78

Accepted stories

Burial Detail (reprint) – Forthcoming in the anthology Strange Wars
Jizo Rides the Bus – Forthcoming in the anthology Strange Religion
The Stones of Särdal (reprint) – Little Blue Marble
Final Exam – Wyldblood Press

Interestingly enough, both reprints started as original audio productions in The Word Count Podcast.

Withdrawal

I pulled one simultaneous submission after the story sold elsewhere.

Rejections

If I assume “Never Responded” as a tacit rejection, that brings my total rejection count to 64, breaking my 2014 record of 42 rejections in a calendar year. WOOO!

Success rate?

About 5 percent. At that rate, I would need to make at least 100 submissions this year to beat the sales number. Or write better stories/find more compatible markets.

Let me get on that.

Eligibility Post 2021

This one’s easy: