Category Archives: writing

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.

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.

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:

A Halloween Tale

My story, “Final Exam, Demonology” started out as a contest entry for 500-word stories.

It didn’t win, legitimately. I wasn’t able to create a believable world and enough characterization while staying within that limit. Once I opened things up to full flash length, the story felt complete. The editor at Wyldblood Press thought so as well.

Enjoy!

Heja Sverige

Today my story “Stones of Särdal” appears in Little Blue Marble, edited by one of my Canadian friends, Katrina Archer. (An earlier version of “Särdal” appeared on The Word Count Podcast as part of their “Humans of the Future” series.)

Little Blue Marble is a beautiful and fascinating publication that showcases fiction, poetry, and news related to climate change. I’ve wanted to place something with them for a while, and was thrilled that Katrina chose this reprint. Her minor tweaks and insightful questions brought the story into sharper focus and resolved some minor issues that I hadn’t noticed. Good editors are a blessing.

The story was inspired by my clan’s summer home (above) located on the west coast of Sweden. As a bonus, the story’s featured image is a sunset I captured from the Särdal beach this past August. (In a happy bit of synchronicity, the acceptance email for “Stones” showed up on my phone as I was clearing passport control on my way to Sweden.)

Enjoy!

Writing year in review – 2020

In spite of *everything* I published some fiction. And poetry. Considering where I was in 2019, this is pretty impressive.

The reality is that only one writing project was new. The others were either rewrites or waiting their turn in the publisher’s queue. Still, they made it out of the trunk, fought their way up the slush pile, and saw the light of readers’ eyes.

Started off with “The Carpetbaggers Ball” (Stupefying Stories Showcase – Book 1) – Feb 2020 – I was very happy to be included in this new imprint from the folks at Rampant Loon. One of my early cyberpunk efforts, given a new coat of paint.

Seven Cups of Landfall” (Dreams & Nightmares Vol. 115) – May 2020 – My first SF poem!

The Stones of Särdal (The Word Podcast) – Episode 100, Season 10 – Nov 2020 (story begins at 14:30) – I committed to contributing a flash story for this editor, and tried to do the whole thing in one go.

Sullied Flesh” (Speculative North, Issue 3) – Yes, I wrote a Hamlet story – Dec 2020 – My first publication in a Canadian magazine.

So my total is 3 stories and 1 poem, with another story going through final edits for a January 2021 release.

If you downloaded, purchased, or reviewed any of these publications/podcasts, THANK YOU!

This would be a lot less fun without readers.

The Artistic Tradition of Theft

My story “Sullied Flesh” is out.

Given that Shakespeare is considered one of the greatest writers in the English canon and Hamlet is one of his most-quoted works, it was inevitable that I would borrow liberally (or steal entire passages) from that play at some point in my career.

Here we are.

I sketched the bones of the story years ago. I think my brain said, “What if the only way you could get a theater acting job was to be a meat puppet for a famous actor’s performance?” Not an interpretation, or homage, or imitation, but the closest possible clone of that performance? You know, like having it plugged into your brain?

Of course, as a former English major I had to choose Shakespeare, which meant Hamlet. When I was a lad, the Big Three roles were Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear. But you can only do the Danish Prince when you’re relatively young, so it’s the place to really boost your career. That’s where I put my main character, Girard.

My own experience trodding the boards is limited to some high school hijinks, and a few spear carrier roles in The Merchant of Venice. Still, I’ve spent enough time behind the scenes to see the potential for er, drama, and thus was born “Sullied Flesh.”

The story had a long, long road to publication. It was too long, the conflicts weren’t well presented, and as one editor noted, it required “an in-depth knowledge of Shakespeare to appreciate.”

I’ve had worse critiques.

Fortunately for me (and you), the lovely folks at Speculative North took the time to give me some on-the-nose feedback and several strong suggestions for a revision. Despite all the challenges thrown at us by Mundane Reality 2020 Edition, everything came together. “Sullied Flesh” escaped the trunk.

The whole issue (Vol #3) is free to download TODAY (Dec 19, 2020), so hurry yourselves on over and get some new words.

Enjoy.