Capclave 2014

A week has passed, and I’m still a little buzzed about Capclave. Our small-town convention returned to a relatively normal size after the great George RR Martin machine passed through last year. This year the guests were Paolo Bacigalupi, Holly Black and Genevieve Valentine.

Overall, this was a lovely conference. At no point did the panels flag or the panellists feel tacked on. Even at the end of Sunday, everyone’s energy and engagement remained high. I even dragged myself to a few parties and faked sociality. At the YA Author’s meet & greet, I learned there’s a new marketing term brewing: “New Adult.” New Adult is apparently edgy and real in the MTV without videos sense.

“Corrine is a troubled woman from a privileged background, torn between a forbidden love with her half brother Derek, and the man who may be her stepmother’s contract killer!”

New Adult – Telenovelas for the young.

I attended a lot of writing groups with Ruby, whom Lisa and I met at ReaderCon, and the crew from my local book club. (Due to presentational obligations, Lisa couldn’t join me this year. I tried to give her updates, though. And she kicked ass at the presentation, as she is wont to do). At no point in the writer’s panels did I feel the need to put down the pen, as I’d heard it all before.

The two best were Holly Will Fix it (though Paolo helped, too), and Online Tools for Writers. Bud Sparhawk and Jamie Todd Ruben did a great job discussing different tools, such as Scrivener and Evernote, for writers of both the architect and gardener persuasion. They also gave us all a copy of their power-point, with tonnes of important references.

It was at “Holly (and Paolo) Will Fix It” that I had a moment to pick these best-selling author’s brains regarding my elephant in the room: Ivre. Instead of NaNoWriMo, I’m spending November on breaking down Ivre and revising it.

I explained how I’d written it without chapter breaks, only scene breaks, etc. and they offered me some very good advice for how to review it. “Make sure the scene earns where it is” and, most important, “Don’t be intimidated by the draft.”

But the one panel which may have interesting consequences was “Whiter Shade of Pale.” Sherin Nicole hosted this 10pm on a Saturday panel with Day Al-Mohamed, Shahid Mahmud, Emmie Mears, and A.C. Wise. The first thing she asked: “How many of you have been to a diversity panel before?” And we all raised our hands. “OK, so we know the issues so how about this: what are we going to do about it?”

The discussion focused on diversity and access and reading in general as well. We talked about market pressures. Mahmud said there are at least 17 markets in the US skittish about buying books with people of color on the cover, unless they’re specifically marketed as niche fiction for those groups.

We shared issues and concerns. One young woman said she was the only black person in the entire plotting workshop. So to change it, we needed to get more people in, and more diverse folks, and folks interested at a younger age. Young readers are out there, but they’d rather head to an anime con or comic con than anything like CapClave.

My suggestions were, in bullet points:

    • Expand your view of Writer – Where are the comic writers? The game writers? The radio drama teams? Writing and storyteling is key to all these media. We need to bring them into fold.
    • Expand your view of SFF – Tie-in novelizations, young adult books and manga/comics still get a long look down the nose, even though they are often a gateway into deeper reading. Embrace it! For some, the Dragonlance books were their first exposure to the genre. Don’t push them, or authors who created those books, to the sidelines
    • Get your Library/School/Book club involved – Have an astronomer who’s the guest of honor? Let schools know, especially groups fostering STEM interest for women. Go to book clubs and reach out. See if any school reading groups can participate. And don’t forget libraries and their reading groups!
    • If you See Something, Say Something – If you see a bookstore heavily trending towards certain writers in their displays and promotions, say something. Be polite, but let them know there is an interest. More importantly, if you see someone doing a good job promoting a wide variety of authors, thank them! And vote with your dollars.
    • Bring Friends – Know someone who loves reading an author coming to a local con, but they don’t attend? Well, bring them along. Offer to get them a day pass so they can take a look.

I’m sure there are other suggestions out there, but just a few thoughts for me.

November looms!

She’s Gonna Dream Out Loud

The line is from an under-appreciated song by a band who’s seen better days. Waddling through rewrites, trying to get perspective on the gaggle of stories I have siting on my virtual desk, it’s important to remind myself of the stories I’d love to read:

  • I want a mecha story with a woman in the lead. Something like Zeta Gundam with Katee Sackhoff’s Starbuck in the lead. Or Armored Trooper VOTOMS starring Jenett Goldstine’s Vasquez.
  • I want a massive, weird space epic which captures the feel of old Metal Hurlant artwork by Moebius & Druillet
  • I want a trope ripping D&D style fantasy… but actually, I have that now. Have you read Rat Queens?? Why not?
  • I want a story where the H.R. Giger style biomechanoid is the hero

I think we write from a lack. We feel like there’s a story out there we want to experience, but we haven’t found it yet. The frustration can bubble into a desire. But it’s an uphill fight to make the desire reality. After a bit, you feel… numb.

But you have to push on. You have to dream of the world you want to live in. Otherwise, how will it appear?

“Why, Hello There, Young Writer.”

On his blog, Chuck Wendig is holding an “Awkward Author Photo Contest.” How could this little hobbyist photographer resist? So, I submitted an entry, which I will now share with you:

For those wondering the basic Strobist information: This was shot on manual. F 5.3, 1/200th shutter speed, ISO 400 to try and get some of the background ambient light. On camera left I had an SB-900 with a beauty dish set for 1/8th power. Inside the lamp was a SB-910 at 1/8th. Both had tungsten gels for color matching. This was processed in Lightroom, where I added in some grain and softened the background.

Lisa and I had a blast making this. She’s an excellent costumer/set designer who helped me get all the pieces in place and took the photo itself. I was a fun way to spend an evening, and apparently folks like the result!

Given I’m in the contest I can’t vote, which is a shame because there are brilliant photos there. Go and vote for your favorites. We want to encourage this kind of insanity.

UPDATE: I sorta came in 2nd place with 42 votes.

Closing the Bag of Doom

As I cause the chains I forged in life
To shatter on the floor.
– “Crime Scene Part One” from Black Love.

I completed a difficult story today; one which pulled from ugly source material, but which demanded writing. The Afghan Whigs provided a soundtrack. Greg Duli’s vocals carried me into old hallways, and helped me dig out sensations I never quite succeeded in letting go.

My question, and the challenge for the story (and future revisions of the story), is can I really translate what I felt, what I saw, into a story any reader can pick up and read? Can I generate sympathy? Did the language alienate potential readers? Or help them get into the moment?

I now have a bouquet of stories either in second or soon to be third draft stage. Outside eyes are still needed, and I have at least two more I can write this year before going into editing Ivre and, gods help me, the treatment for Piranhacane.

And Thus Went London

In truth, I should say London, Cardiff and Edinburgh. But for this, my journal of things writerly and creative, I’m going to focus on two areas: Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival, and LonCon3.

I’ve chosen to represent Edinburgh with this image taken from the Devil’s Advocate. Very nice pub hidden away in Devil’s Close. Love places like this – they’re designed to have small corners where you can hide away and talk, or write.

The main attraction, for us, at the Fringe Festival were performances of “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” by the Neo-Futurists troupe of New York. You may know one of their members, Cecil Baldwin, as the voice of “Welcome to Night Vale.”  The performance consisted of a series of very short plays, arranged on a menu. A clock is started for 60 minutes. Everyone is encourage to yell out a number.

The troupe then grabs the appropriate play and performs it, trying to get all the plays completed in one hour. We were in the second performance where they managed to (almost) finish the plays, with the timer ringing half way through the last play. Each play was short, imaginative and unique. My favorites were “The Apollo Moon Landing,” “A Hot (Cis)gender Mess,” “Tet (Offensive),” and the brilliant “Anti-Mime.”

And then they would have a new menu for the next show. I can only imagine the time and effort it takes to write, practice, perform, and then update and rewrite this kind of show over and over again.

***

The train from Edinburgh to London gave me time to write. First class is worth it; I was showered in hot tea and pastys, and I finished a short story. The next one, “Bag of Doom” is proving difficult to gestate. I should just start ploinking away, but it’s personal so I may need more room.

***

London itself will take up a massive journal entry. I’m honestly hoping the photographs (which I need to process and upload) will speak for the trip. I’m going to focus on LonCon3.

Before anything else I want to thank the following folks:

  • Paul Cornell, for signing my copy of Timewyrm: Revelation and suggesting I may have one of the last intact copies.
  • Mary Robinette Kowal, for signing Shades of Milk & Honey, providing a very useful scented fan and pointing me to where one can find old handwriting tutorials
  • Cathrynne M. Valente, who signed Palimpsest and seemed intrigued when I said it made me dream of Dubrovink
  • Patrick Rothfuss, who signed and complimented me on the well preserved “Fabio” edition of Name of the Wind.
  • Jeff VanderMeer, who signed Wonderbook for me. I do hope he gets to record the conversations he’s had with musicians who’ve used it as a creative guide, and post it on the website.
  • Madeline Ashby, who signed vN who was very kind and signed the book between panel
  • Anne Leckie, who signed Ancillary Justice, seemed very happy I was rooting for her at the Hugos, and give me a ribbon.

And a very special thanks to:

  • Scott Lynch, for the very fun Literary Beer session and discussing the idea of a Scott Lynch/Jim Butcher black metal band.
  • Seanan McGuire, who held a great Literary Beer and organized an impromptu signing after her reading. I’ll treasure my copy of Sparrow Hill Road
  • Pat Cadigan – who was amazingly gracious and fun, signing my copy of Dirty Work, chatting at her Kaffeklatch about everything from how rough the tube is for anyone with a mobility issue to her position as a 2016 Toastmaster at MidAmeriCon (http://midamericon2.org/)

And now, the impressions:

Mind you, this is from my own little narrow perspective. I probably missed quite a bit which was right in front of me, but I saw a lot which surprised me. This was my first WorldCon and based on previous descriptions, I expected the SF convention equivalent of my family Slavas – the same old crowd, everyone knowing everyone else, gather together in a smoky room talking about the good old days and how things used to be back in Serbia.

LonCon3 was much larger and more expansive than I thought. Using an actual convention center had its boons (the fan village, where I crossed several family picnics and children playing with lightsabers), and its downsides (meeting space was relatively small compared to the sizes of the crowds. At several points, were were barred entry to panels because they’d reached fire code capacity.

That’s not to say there wasn’t enough programming – the schedule was packed with items. I was glad to see a wide variety of topics and attempts to introduce people to SFF from other countries and cultures. The programming team tried, at least on paper, to actually embrace the idea of a WorldCon.

And I was gladdened by the variety of ages throughout the con. There were families there. Young kids participating – even panels designed just for young fans. The non literary tracks didn’t feel tacked on. I almost squealed when a panelist on the Philosophical Mecha panel mentioned Armored Trooper VOTOMS.  So I got the sense the convention runners did want to reach out SFF fans of many different stripes.

The only time things really slipped is how narrow the world at WorldCon was – it felt like the crowd at a NATO meeting. North America, the EU, UK, Nordic countries, bits of Eastern Europe, etc. but I didn’t see any heavy presences from beyond there. Which was a contrast with London itself – I heard everything from Chinese to Italian to Farsi spoken on the streets as we walked around. Part of me wanted to see more of this, but it may be a bit much to ask.

Going to WorldCon was part of our two week vacation. We saved for a year to get everything settled. To someone on a smaller income – heck, to me, just ten years ago – this would be out of the question.   Maybe next year they can use some of the drones they were selling in the dealer’s room to help give people who can’t afford to attend a chance to participate in some way.  Maybe panelists Skyping in?

All in all, I did enjoy myself. There were times when the size was very isolating, and the fact I’m a terrible introvert did not help me. But I’ll still have my memories – how could anyone forget Patrick Rothfuss photobombing Scott Lynch’s literary beer? – and I’ll leave you with this image, which I think sums up the conference. At the info desk, one could see “Lost Tribble” notices… and cricket results.

Haiku Project

Remember training?
All three sessions of training?
No, you don’t.. do you…

My dayjob focuses on client services work. Alas, this means interacting with some unpleasant aspects of human behavior. The best way I had to deal with it was haiku and tanka, posted on my Twitter account. I’ve collected quite a few. Apparently, they are rather popular amongst folks who deal with similar issues.

Why yes I, the small
cog in our machine can totally
change legal language
in our standard renewals
I’m so godlike that way

As a lark, I thought “What if I made a book of the haiku and tanka? I could tie them into photos I took for each of these haiku. I should carve out some time to pick through my haiku, collect them, and see which ones will work best. I’ve got at least two friends who have offered layout skills to make an ebook.

This should be interesting.

I Believe in Blast Mancheese

 

I have an idea for a short story, but it’s a terrible one. So I’m writing it out over here. Just bits and bobs, for the purposes of exorcising it.

***

The story opens with our rocket scientist hero, blonde and muscular as all true heroes must be, arguing with politicians. The Martians have directed an asteroid towards earth, and the only way to intercept it is to ignite the booster rockets on an asteroid brought into the Earth/Moon sphere for mining purposes. He proposes a military strike to take the asteroid from the thugs and killers currently operating it.

The politician is objecting to the plan based on the recommendation of a so-called scientist (because sociology and those other sciences are not real. And besides, the scientist is a woman and a diplomat, which undercuts her greatly).  The asteroid is filled with refugees from various failed ethnic colonies. They can negotiate a resettlement deal without military action.

Our hero is resolute, even when his trusty ethnic subordinate thinks they should try negotiating.  And when our Hero confronts the woman sociologist, they reveal a mutual anger style attraction.  A plan is set to meet at a neutral colony. The hero is not invited.

Of course it’s a trap – the asteroid scum can only think about money, drugs and rapine, which they try to extort and take from the sociologist and her politicians. Our hero comes in with military support and rescues them all.  As a reward, the hero takes our woman sociologist to bed, where she admits the error of her ways and agrees to a military strike.

During the raid he sees the so-called refugees have a luxury items, thus proving they were wasting their resources instead of improving their lot in life and didn’t deserve any kindness. During the raid, the hero is just about to set the controls and start the burn when his trusty ethnic subordinate betrays him! The betrayal is for money and power, as the Martians have promised him debauched pleasure for the rest of his life.

Our hero kills his former sidekick, adding manpain to the story, and then launches the asteroid. After venting the remaining scum into space, he goes back to the colony for his reward – the woman, now ditching her former ways and supporting her man in every way.

***

Of course, this isn’t the whole story. In the end we would have a small paper written up by a Martian settler, discussing how stories like this one have gone on to shape Earth-Mars relations. It’s hard to negotiate with someone who sees your seed ethnic stock as traitorous, any sciences without direct military or industrial applications ‘useless’ and military action as the only solution. So the war continues.

Again, nothing interesting. But I had to get it out of my brain somewhere.

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