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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Posted onJuly 14, 2022|Comments Off on Hey, I did my first (video) reading
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.)
Posted onJune 16, 2022|Comments Off on 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.
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.
I’m happy to report that my story, “The Long View,” will be appear next year in a new anthology, Reading 5 X 5. The anthology is organized by the editor of Metaphorosis Magazine, with the proceeds going to support the Jo Clayton Memorial Medical Fund for SFF writers
The concept behind Reading 5 X 5 is five different genre story seeds (ranging from Hard Science Fiction to Contemporary Fantasy) that would generate a total of 25 stories (five writers per genre). I volunteered to write a story seed, and ended up with Hard Science Fiction. So that meant research.
This represents the second time I’ve been invited to contribute to an anthology and the first time my work is supporting a charitable (and writerly) cause.
Comments Off on Another anthology achievement unlocked
Posted onOctober 26, 2015|Comments Off on Viable Paradise redux: Burden of Exposition
Three years I attended the week-long bootcamp/spiritual pummeling/lovefest known as Viable Paradise. If you’re a serious genre writer, or simply looking for your tribe, check them out.
Several of our instructors discussed the special challenge faced by SF/F writers: how much exposition is necessary to create the world? More importantly, how much is too much? They referred to this as the burden of exposition. For every cool technology, language, ritual, gender, and dinner item that you invent for your story, there is a corresponding weight for your reader. They have to carry that around in their mental backpack as they traverse the landscape of your tale. After a while, that backpack is going to get heavy. When it’s heavy, it’s distracting.
I had a trunk story that I revised after VP. It was a Jack Vance-inspired story, set in a far future Earth where garbage men were priests, and hereditary Princes ruled absolutely, surrounded by Official Toadies. I filled it with all sorts of weird world building because hey, I was having fun.
However, the story was too long. I needed to bring it in at 5000 words. I needed to lose at least one scene, and a lot of description. I really fought through those edits, since I was worried that the readers wouldn’t appreciate the story I didn’t provide context for everything.
Wrong. Readers are “extrapolating machines” (Therese Hayden Smith). Give them enough clues, and they’ll usually figure it out.
Once I embraced this principle, I carved away enough words to meet the editor’s requirement. The end result wasn’t my original vision, but it got the job done. And I still liked it.
So did the editor at Perihelion SF. In his acceptance letter, he wrote:
“I’m sort of glad you didn’t make any attempt whatsoever to explain how that society came to be. That would be unnecessarily confusing and probably elicit an immediate rejection.“
So when you’re asking the reader to carry all your Cool Details, choose wisely.
Comments Off on Viable Paradise redux: Burden of Exposition