Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The WorldCon is Not Enough

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Well, it's probably a little of both: after a month of couch-surfing, con-crashing, clan-bonding fun in the Pacific Northwest, I'm finally home again. I don't think the cat remembers me, but we'll work on that.

If you look closely, you can see the banana peel on the back of the Prius.
Because we're Thompsons, and this is how we motherfucking roll.
Anyway, so WorldCon.  Look, I don't need to tell you that I had a terrific time. I might as well tell you that I metabolize oxygen. And I don't need to tell you that this year was a hugely political and contentious one for the Hugo Awards (because if you know what I'm talking about, you're already sick of hearing about it, and if you don't, have a Wired article.)

And yes, it is AWESOME that two translated works got the Hugo. Yes, it is GREAT that Helsinki won the bid to host in 2017. And I am absolutely delighted to see women and minorities receive more critical attention for producing truly master-class work. All of these are tremendous achievements, and part of what I hope will be a larger continuing trend.

But I don't think we can act like we just blew up the Death Star.

The thing is, WorldCon itself is still a huge ivory-tower event. It always has been. It has to be. A ~$200 ticket, plus airfare and hotel and meals for the better part of a week practically guarantee that anyone not within driving distance will be dropping at least the better part of a grand on this event.  It's great that you don't need to attend to vote on the awards - but that $40 supporting membership still means that we're only hearing from people who can afford to drop $40 in the ballot box.

With that said, the Gallifreyan contingent may be saving significantly on travel.

As Selina Rosen put it on Facebook (lightly edited by yours truly),
WorldCon is for people with lots of disposable income. It's for the big pros, the big publishers, and the big fans. It's not for people like me. [...] For me, a WorldCon is a huge affirmation that I have failed to make a name for myself in the business, and it has cost me more than I will ever make back. Most of the debt I have left to pay is because of the many WorldCons I attended. 

So I get it that you're all having a good time and that so many of you wish you could be there. I'd rather stay here and stick twigs under my fingernails, thank you very much.
And y'know, she's not wrong. The only reason I got to do this is because I signed with a publisher who could afford to pay me a good advance, and because I have a lifestyle that allows me to stuff that advance in a big sock and spend it all on traveling and self-promotion. I've truly enjoyed getting to be a part of this club, but I'm acutely aware that there are many, many people who are getting caught behind the velvet ropes, and I'm one bad die-roll away from being one of them.

And to be clear: this isn't strictly a WorldCon issue. Movement takes energy, which costs money. Space costs money. Time costs money.

To be fair, the wildfire smoke and eerie Kryptonian sun were complimentary.

So at the end of the day, any event that requires in-person travel is going to exclude a whole lot of people. Thus it has ever been. If we have a reason to feel better about this now than in decades past, it's because the Internet is helping us broaden the conversation to include the people who can't be physically present - and that is a great thing.

But speaking as someone who got to watch the Hugos at WorldCon and simultaneously follow the online feeds, it feels to me like what we have is two different conversations - maybe even two different communities.

From everything I saw, the mood at the event was overwhelmingly joyous. The people in my posse were ECSTATIC that Laura Mixon won. We were DELIGHTED for Wes Chu, and Wendy Wagner, and Julie Dillon - because for most of us, those people are our colleagues and friends.

By contrast, most of what I saw online was about who lost. The Puppies lost. Bigotry lost. Slate voting and awards-gaming and the Evil Empire lost. The virtual conversation seems to be much more about promoting ideas than individuals - and if we are talking about an individual, it's usually to rip them apart.

And of course, this is hardly an objective analysis. Everything I see and hear only amounts to a single anecdotal data point.  But I worry that the convention-going subset of our community is diverging significantly from the rest. It bothers me that the online medium seems to reward hyperbole, stifle nuance, and feed anger. And I hate that the forum where we get to see each other face-to-face, where we're naturally prompted to treat each other as real human beings, is also the smallest and least accessible.

I talk a lot about 'getting on the wagon', but a con lets you
and Team Novelocity literally GET ON THE WAGON.
This is fantastic! I want this for everyone!
I don't know how to fix that. I do know that I want to keep supporting causes like Con or Bust!, that work to bring fans to conventions, and throw more weight behind traveling circuses like WorldCon, WesterCon, and NASFiC, that serve to bring conventions to the fans. And I want to work on my digital game, because I know I'm missing out on a ton of cool people that I won't get to meet in meatspace.

I also know that it's my bedtime in at least two time zones, so I'll close here. All navel-gazing aside: thanks for a grand time, world-conveners. Until our next great conjunction...!

Be excellent to each other.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

SASQUAN COMETH: WorldCon Demi-Schedule!

Yep - it's almost here. Geekdom del Grande. The Big Enchilada. The Conferminator.

As you might know, WorldCon is the biggest literary (notice I say literary!) sci-fi and fantasy convention out there - frequently north of 6,000 people. The Hugo Awards are given there. It moves from year to year, like a barbarian king feasting on the seasonal largesse of his thanes - this year is Spokane, last year was London, the year before that was San Antonio, and before that I was a zygote floating in an oblivious creative placenta.

1956 WorldCon in New York, with Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov.
I missed ALL the good stuff.

And though I still harbor fervent fetal dreams of one day making it onto WorldCon programming, the reality is that I am still a pretty small fish, and in my world, that is the biggest pond there is. So I didn't officially make it onto the schedule.

But I've done a fair bit of convening, and I'm getting pretty good at working my way into the party anyhow, like an ambitious piglet angling for the tit.  So my dance card is filling up fast - and if you're going to be there, I'd love to join you for a reel!

((Weds, 9-11PM - Writers Workshop reception))

Thurs, 12-2PM - SFWA autographs & tabling - Riverside Exhibition Hall A, E16 & E17
I'll be signing autographs from 12 to 1 and then manning the table from 1 to 2 - come find me!

Thurs 7-11PM - Drinks With Authors - Black Label Brewing Co., Saranac Commons
The fabulous folks at r/Fantasy are at it again! Come rub elbows with a veritable smorgasbord of fantastic folks - there's food to be eaten, drinks to be drunk, and books to be won!
This con is gonna roc!
((Fri 9 AM - Codex breakfast))

((Fri 10 to 1 - Writers Workshop section 13))

((Fri 7 PM - redacted))

((Sat, 8AM - redacted))

((Sat, 9-11AM - SFWA consuite))

((Sat 5PM - Codex dinner))

((Sun, 10-1PM - Writers Workshop section 19))

((Double parentheses are for membership-limited events - I put them here to help me keep my own schedule straight, and to advertise in case you-the-reader are also part of the club!))

But taking this particular con aside for a second: if you interested in being part of this kind of social scene, let me just reiterate again what huge, huge value there is in volunteering, in joining organizations, in putting your ear to the ground and your hand in the air almost every chance you get.  Some of the above groups did require book-publishing bona-fides in order to get me past the velvet rope, but you would be amazed how much work goes into putting on a capital-E Event like this - and how many great connections you can make just by pitching in a little.

Anyway, I'll be largely off the grid until next week, and if all goes according to plan, I will be exhausted, euphoric, and hopelessly monosyllabic by the time I make it back to Texas. Plan on it!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Guest Post: Straight From the Marginalized Horse's Mouth

Well, guys, it's like this: when somebody as devastatingly great as Ally Bishop says, "hey, there's this really cool guy I know, and you two should totally share crayons and trade pudding cups"... you listen.

And when he turns out to be William Galaini, you make everybody else listen, too.

See, it turns out that William and I have a lot of the same ideas about fiction - about what we love to read and write, about who's not showing up often enough on the bookshelves and how we can help be part of the solution, even though we're both members of an already well-represented cultural majority.  (That sounds so much better than "raining down social-justice hellfire from my privilege-encrusted mayonnaise throne", doesn't it?)  Spoiler alert: you really can't do a good job writing about other people if you haven't ever stopped to listen to them.

Anyway, so William's been out practicing what I've only preached, and I am so, so excited that he's agreed to come practice HIS preaching here on the blog.  Take it away, buddy!

Straight From the Marginalized Horse's Mouth
by William Galaini

The imagery evoked from the word ‘diversity’ can be overwhelmingly… diverse. This is understandable given the breadth of sexualities, ethnicities, religions, physical conditions, and ideals that comprise the human condition. But culture, novels particularly, has yet to catch up. ‘Diversity’ is a buzz word at conventions and perhaps a signpost for quirky genre-fiction, but we have yet to see the larger scope of writers and publishers not only explore the ocean of diversity but embrace it.

Tex wanted me to do a blog post for her. She wanted it to be on diversity, and my publicist encouraged me to do so because my new novel due in November has a homosexual main character.

But I’m no authority! I’m as vanilla as it gets. I’m a white, heterosexual cismale with daddy issues and high blood pressure. Truth is, I have zero right to assert any thesis on bi-sexuals, asexuals, trans-sexuals, homosexuals, women, men, etc. 

So I went to the experts. I found three souls who are directly connected with the issue of diversity in pop literature but to protect their anonymity, I will only disclose their gender and sexual orientation. I asked each of them the same five questions, and here are their answers:

1.)    How is your sexuality represented in pop literature?
a.    ‘Billy’ is a demisexual transgender male: “My sexuality is not represented in pop literature. In fact, there's very little light on demisexuality at all, and I've never ever read of an asexual (which is similar in some aspects) character in mainstream literature.”
b.    ‘Katie’ is a bisexual female: “It really isn't. I have yet to read a ‘popular’ book (or any book, really) with a character that even slightly represents my sexuality.”
c.    ‘Noah’ is a homosexual male: “I don't think it is represented in pop literature.”

2.)    In what way did public school literature influence your exploration of your sexual identity?
a.    Billy: “I don't recall it ever influencing me to explore my own sexuality. Outside media (I wouldn't exactly call it literature) prompted me to explore myself far more than anything I ever read in public schooling. Though, that's assuming I did most of the readings.”
b.    Katie: “It didn't. There were never any class assigned books mentioning anything about relationships past the lines of: the guy gets the girl, and there was much rejoicing.”
c.    Noah: “If anything, it's hindered it. There's not much of a sexual side to public school literature, but when there is it's always the annoying cliché of the guy gets the girl. Rejoicing.”

3.)    What would be the most AWESOME protagonist you could imagine that would represent YOU?
a.    Billy: “Oh jeez. Honestly, I would like to see a man portrayed as asexual, or demisexual. I'm not sure who, as it would take a considerable amount of thought. Perhaps someone of influence, whether it be a warrior or military personnel. A president or a prime minister. Someone with the power to do with as they will. Those who are often viewed as sexually deviant because of their position.”
b.    Katie: “Honestly, I'd rather have a character that represents me be the antagonist. But, as far as protagonists go, a girl that isn't really wimpy or overly touchy-feely about most things would be a great start.”
c.    Noah: “I can't think of a PROTAGONIST that is a selective extrovert, very sarcastic, doesn't suffer fools, and is smart, to be perfectly honest. (That sounds stuck up-ish, but I feel it's accurate).”

4.)    Why do you not encounter more sexually diverse characters in mainstream and genre novels?
a.    Billy: “I think because it doesn't appeal to the masses, to read of someone perhaps loving someone of their gender, or being open to loving someone of their gender. With a majority of our population being heterosexual, it's easier for the readers to identify with a heterosexual protagonist, when they inevitably find someone and fall in love. It gives it that extra sense of normalcy. I've only ever read one pop culture series that has an openly gay couple whose story is not abandoned or tossed around like dead weight. It was approached with care and a realness to it. However, it was side characters, so it was only a small story arc, but it was there.”
b.    Katie: “Because sexually diverse characters don't represent the majority of the people reading those types of novels.”
c.    Noah: “Because sexual diversity isn't necessarily mainstream; by the act of making a character sexually diverse, the chance of a book becoming mainstream is significantly reduced.”

5.)    If every single author and publisher was reading this, what would you want them to know about diversity?
a.    Billy: “I would want them to know that sexual appetite is not the solitary fuel to a character. As a writer myself, I try to focus on those of the lesser known orientations and genders. For example, take my own sexuality into view. I'm demisexual, and hardly anyone knows what that means. Even with a proper explanation, it can be taken entirely out of context. My sexuality means that I cannot find someone sexually attractive until I first get to know them. And then, maybe, just maybe, I might find them attractive sexually. Hence why it is either often confused to be asexual, or I've actually been asked "So you wanna fuck all your friends?" No. That is not what my sexuality means. It just simply means that I am sexually attracted to personalities, not bodies. And even though I have figured this out, I still question it. I still wonder if maybe what I feel isn't sexual attraction, and I'm really just asexual. Or if it's my gender getting in the way of my sexuality.”

b.    Katie: “I don't think it's really their fault, to be honest. They're writing to the largest part of their audience, meaning they only have a select amount plot lines, stereotypical characters, etc. to choose from. Straying from those options don't usually work out in the author's favor, so every book ends up being the same to a certain extent. But it is a little disheartening to not be able to find a character that I can truly connect with.”

c.    Noah: “I don't feel it's necessarily the author's or publisher's fault for there being a very obvious lack of sexual diversity in literature. Most authors will write what they know will sell, while settings and names may change, rarely is there an original plot. When you add diversity, sexual or not, it makes it difficult to use time-tested plots. But I would say to come up with original plot lines that don't require the use of hetero-normative and/or cisgender people.”

So, what can we learn from this? Let me speak from the perspective of a vanilla American male. Here’s my takeaway:

•    MANY of the books we read exist for money. They are written by money and for money. Money typically does not represent human diversity. Money represents money.

•    These three people are amazingly gracious about being overlooked on a consistent basis. Has our society conditioned them to accept being ignored? How have I, as a vanilla, perpetuated this either overtly or even covertly?

•    The Hero With a Thousand Faces really nailed a lot of the cultural impact behind the idea of a ‘protagonist.’ I greatly suspect that even Campbell would concede that it could be “Hero of a Thousand Genders” or “Hero of a Thousand Sexual Identities.” So why don’t we see more high-profile novels of this nature? It’s 'Hero with a Thousand Faces', not 'Hero with MY Face'.

•    Until vanilla people like me stop blenching at “diverse” protagonists in literature, these authors won’t be getting the exposure and support they should.


So there you have it, y'all: the bad news is that we still have a long, long way to go - but the good news is that every new kind of author or story you try, every new kind of person you (thoughtfully, carefully) include in your own writing, every time you step outside your comfort zone makes you part of the solution.

And if you're looking for something new, may I recommend William's Trampling in the Land of Woe? Frankly, he had me at "journey into Dante's steampunk hell" - but this time the hero is Hephaestion,  braving the city of the damned to rescue his soulmate, Alexander the Great, and I could NOT be more excited.

Seriously, seriously check it out - and while you're at it, head over to he's got a wonderfully sharp and insightful writing blog, including an amazing 'how-to' series about how he successfully crowdfunded this book. Don't miss this guy, regardless: we might be too late to get in on the ground floor, but I bet we can catch him if we take the stairs!


Monday, August 3, 2015

Galacticon Recap: Parts and Pieces

Well y'all, it's Sunday evening and I'm freshly arrived in Portland, silently bearing witness to Auntie M's wonderful hospitality, not to mention her incomparable car-packing skills.

Yes, that is a black-mesh banana containment field. Your argument is invalid.

This is fresh on the heels of Galacticon, which was – well, a first for me in several ways. 

Back in June, I was hugely surprised and delighted when the programming director took me on board, even though I was applying less than six weeks out – and then took all three of my panel suggestions!  "Hot damn!" I thought. "This is going to be a great time!"

And it was!  Just not in the way I'd originally planned.

See, it took a bit of doing to get there (an hour and a half of busing, another hour of me wandering around the Seattle Center like a clueless rube because I was too dumb to check my email and actually look up where registration was).  That was kind of sweaty.  And I was a little nervous to realize (way, way too late to do anything about it) that media cons don't work like literary cons – you have to bring your own panelists. Which meant that I was going to be by myself for mine.  But finally I made it to the panel room... and nobody was there.

I may have had a diva moment.
But I stuck around, and eventually a couple of folks wandered in, and then a couple more, and they all had the same question: "what's this panel about?"

That was when I realized that all the schedule said was "What Does God Need With a Starship?" And that there were no panel descriptions in the program.  And that they weren't on the website either. So people had literally no way of knowing what this one was about. (I'm so lucky they were curious enough to come find out!)  Not only did I not have a bio or photo anywhere, my name wasn't even under the panel title on the schedule, so nobody who enjoyed one of my events would have had any way of knowing that I was also running two others. (And, as I found out the next day, the printed schedule didn't match the online/emailed schedule, so I showed up for an 11:00 panel that had theoretically started at 10:30. Ouch.)

Later that night, I checked the Twitter tag and found out that Galacticon was having major, major issues.  I can believe it: I was there all three days, and didn't see a single panel in my corner of the world with more than ten attendees. (Word on the street was that the mainstage activities and events were super fun and well-attended; I just didn't get to stay for them because of the commute.)

But you know what, y'all?  It was a really, really good time.  I had five to eight people at each of my three panels, which meant that it was the easiest thing in the world to deputize them as co-panelists, pull the chairs into a circle, and have us a good hearty gab. It was genuinely fun and wonderful and relaxing, that was what – easy and stress-free in a way that sitting up at a head table in front of a room full (or half-full) of people can't be.  It worked out great when this happened at CONvergence, too – there were sixty people in the room instead of six, but the spirit of the thing was the same.  It felt like the invisible wall between the audience and the panelists disappeared, and we were genuinely part of a single shared conversation.

From left to right – Nicholas, Joel, Jessica, Catherine (whose name I am almost certainly misspelling) and Emily. I am so happy to get to say I know them!
You know, there's a trend in education right now, which trains teachers to think of themselves not as the 'sage on the stage', but as the 'guide on the side'.  And the more I see that in action, the more I love it. Some of the most rave reviews we got at DFWcon this year came not from the classes, but from the workshops – where people bring in their work and their questions and get help with both.  Some of the most fun I've had at conventions has been at kaffeeklatsches and 'literary beers', where you pull a drink and a seat and get to have a ten-person totally unscripted chat with the author of your choice.  I know that's not always feasible or appropriate, but I also know I want more of it.

And as for the con itself... you know, I don't know nearly enough about the whys and wherefores to venture any opinion about it, except to say this: anybody who invests their time in a convention wants it to be a success. It is a hard, grueling, invisible and thankless job, often sucking up hundreds or even thousands of hours for the higher-ups, and I'm amazed that it works as well as it does as often as it does.  I know that Galacticon didn't turn out like its organizers intended – but everyone I interacted with, from the first email to the programming director to the last wave to the janitor, was pleasant, professional, and working their hardest to make this event a good time for everyone.

Well, I didn't have a good time. I had a GREAT time, and I couldn't be more impressed or grateful for their efforts.  At the end of the day, you can break fandom into as many parts and pieces as you want - staff vs. attendees, panelists vs. audience, fanficcers vs. cosplayers, whatever. But we are fundamentally one community, and the more I see that community come together, the prouder I am to be a part of it.  Thanks for a wonderful weekend, Washington - I'll see you again for Worldcon in two weeks!

So say we all!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Galacticon Schedule!

Hello again, happy people!  This one's going to be short, because I am currently having a near-life experience in my ancestral fortress of fun.  (GOD, it's amazing. There's cookies and writing time and pleasant morning runs by the ocean. I have never loved a guest bedroom so hard in my life.)

But I will emerge this weekend for Galacticon, so if you're going to be anywhere in the vicinity of the Seattle Center, please come find me, starting... today!  Here's my agenda:

What Does God Need With a Starship?
Friday, 5:00-6:00PM - Armory 2
From the Christ-like figure of Superman to the frequently metaphysical adventures of the USS Enterprise, fantasy and science fiction have long provided a fertile ground for considering religious and philosophical questions in a new light. What is it about spaceships and superheroes that touches our spirituality, and how can a passion for one inspire the other?

No Aliens Needed: Human-Centered Sci-Fi and Fantasy 
Saturday, 11:00AM-12:00PM - Armory 3
From Firefly and the new Battlestar Galactica to the conspicuously elf-less Game of Thrones series, aliens and strange creatures seem to be taking a turn on the bench. What's behind this interest in 'humanistic' speculative fiction, and what does it mean for the future of the genre?

Play It Again, Sam: Rewatching, Rereading, and Replaying the Greats
Sunday, 12:00-1:00PM - Armory 3
Some stories are like a drive-through dinner: cheap, easy, and ultimately disposable.  But more often than not, our all-time favorites reward – or even require – revisiting multiple times in order to get the most out of them. What is it about a great story that urges us to return to it over and over again – and what's the secret to crafting a story that your audience will keep coming back to?

That's it!  That's all I got - see you there!

On your feet, nuggets!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Preaching in the Dark - a DFWcon Epiphany

Ah, you guys. What can I say about DFWcon that I haven't already said?  It's the highlight of my year, the filling of my well, the thing that convinces me that yes, I can and should do all those other, scarier things.

But here is a thought that might be relevant to you, whether or not you went to the conference, whether or not you're even a writer.

See, I did a great class with Laura Maisano on Saturday, called Prose P90X.  It went swimmingly - we filled up the whole room, and got loads of compliments. We were a great team!

Look at all those shining faces!
But then I had to rush off to do a solo class, The Comma Sutra, in a different part of the building.  It was on the main stage of the theater - big lights, black curtains, the whole nine yards.  I was flattered they booked me there - obviously the Powers That Be expected that I could fill a significant chunk of the seats.

Here's the thing, though: because the class started exactly when extra pitch sessions went on sale, I didn't get nearly that kind of turnout.  When it came time to start, there were only maybe twenty people scattered through that huge, cavernous room.  More than that, the bright stage lights meant I couldn't see them, and the distance meant that unless they hollered right at me, I couldn't hear them either.  It felt like teaching a class at the bottom of an empty swimming pool at midnight.

Meanwhile, photographic evidence suggests that it LOOKED
like some kind of xenopornographic TED talk.
(Big thanks to Amber Draeger for the photos!)
That was a really hard thing.  My entire schtick relies on being able to see people's faces, to hear when they laugh and notice when they're confused or annoyed or distracted.  (This is one reason I'm comparatively crap at social media - my super-empathy powers don't work when there's an Internet between your face and mine.)  And let me tell you - it is SUPER awkward telling grammatically-instructive alien sex jokes when all you hear is silence.

But I kept at it, and kept soliciting questions, and started getting substantial answers, so I knew there were at least a few people who were out there and wanted to talk to me. By the time we finished, it had stopped being a sermon and become a true discussion, which is what I love best.

Well, imagine my surprise when I finished and stepped aside, and saw that the room had filled up.  People must have been trickling in during that hour, coming in ones and twos as they finished buying their extra pitch sessions and headed up to catch the class.  I don't know how many were there at the end, but I got over sixty names on my email sheets - and that's just the ones who cared enough to stand in line and sign up to get the PDF slides.

Image blurred to protect their identities.
And of course, the happy denouement: I got some great compliments on the class, and found wonderful mentions of it on Twitter. I even got this amazing email, which has been lighting up my life for three days straight now:
I'm sorry, but this morning I didn't know who you were.

Then you showed up on a panel and made some great comments.

Then I saw you at lunch and you were having SUCH a great time.

So when I checked my after-lunch class selections and saw your name, I altered my initial choice to take in P90X.

Wow... Great information, delivered fast and entertainingly.

So here I am in the balcony, listening to Comma Sutra. (Excellent!) But mostly I'm wondering: who the Hell are you and where did you come from? You're a freak of nature, and we need more.

Thanks for sharing yourself. You make it a better - and smarter - world.

And thanks for making my conference!

And maybe this doesn't make for a riveting anecdote, but like... that hour summed up my entire year to date.  I've spent so much time out and about over the past few months, striving like the dickens to be seen and get known. It's fun and I genuinely love doing it - being out in the real world with real people lights me up like nothing else! - but there are so many nights when I flop into a Motel 6 bed, utterly spent, and stare up into the darkness wondering what the hell I'm playing at. When you're promoting yourself, you're not really helping other people, and not really creating anything new, either - you're just trying to shine a spotlight on something you've already done, which people may or may not even notice, let alone care about. And most of the time, you can't tell if it's working.

And I know that's not just me, and not just book-promotion. Every facet of writing is like that sometimes. Shoot, LIFE is like that sometimes.  My mom said that about raising kids - you know, how you spend your whole entire day exhausting yourself, and at the end of it, you can't see that you've accomplished anything, because the house and the kids and your life look exactly like they did when you got up that morning.  My dad would say the same thing about his job, too: how he was so happy to mow the lawn on the weekend, because it was a measurable thing with a definable, visible, guaranteed result - not at all like the nebulous phone calls and vague paper-pushing that made up the rest of the week.

The red days are my out-of-town days - which are usually interspersed with oh-god-I'm-wasting-my-life nights.
So I guess what I'm saying, to myself as much as to you-all, is that at some point, we're all just preaching in the dark. It's a hard thing to do - to stick to your guns, to resist the urge to stop and check for approval, to trust that what you're doing is noticed and needed (or will be), even when nobody is there to tell you so.  It requires you to be truly self-sustaining, which is so, so much harder than it sounds.

But I hope you'll keep at it, whatever 'it' may be - and I believe that if you do it well enough, for long enough, you will eventually start getting those pingbacks, seeing the fruits of your labor.  Maybe you'll fill up the metaphorical room, and maybe you won't - but statistically speaking, there is almost-certainly somebody out there who's waiting to hear EXACTLY what you have to say... and you can't know that until and unless you have the courage to stay the course and say it.

All right - sermon over.  Go forth and preach, y'all - and if you have time, holler some encouragement to the people in your life who are doing likewise. Yours might be the only voice they can hear.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Five Hot Tips For Rocking DFWcon

It's almost here!  Christmas-Hogwarts-Burning-Man-Woodstock-carnival-prom is almost upon us!  (We call it the DFW Writers Conference for short.)  And this year, I've suckered not one but TWO amazing writers into dropping out of the con circuit to join us - and you better believe I'm out to show them a good time.

Heck, I'm out to show EVERYbody a good time - because let's face it, writing conferences are tough.  You don't want to just sit in the back and be all

But at the same time, you can't exactly roll up and holler

(Well, you can, but you REALLY have to play it just right.)

So let's talk about how to win the weekend! Here for your edification are five hot tips for rocking DFWcon.

Great!, I hear you say. But why should we listen to you? 

So glad you asked!

1. Got my agent, Jennie Goloboy, at DFWcon 2012
2. Joined the conference committee for DFWcon 2013
3. Became editor / arch-machinator for DFWcon 2014
4. Now a super-cool published author and sort-of-professional con-goer
5. Natural 20 charisma

Got it?  Good.  Now here's how to have a phenomenal weekend.

...but we can fix that!

1. Do your homework.

Did you look at the genre matrix?  Good!  Did you go to the agent's website and read up on them? Great! But don't stop there. That's basic stuff. You're not here to be basic. Make this a movie-montage-Googling session. Go find some recent interviews they've done. Check out their Twitter. See if they have any clients whose work you know. If you want that agent to be interested in you, start by being interested in them! 


2. Perfect your pitch.

Think of it like trying to convince a friend to go see this really cool movie. Are you going to talk for ten minutes straight? No. Are you going to dump in a whole load of names and places? No. You're going to keep it short, sweet, and awesome - aim for about a minute, max, before you come up for air. 

"It's about this doctor guy who comes home one day to find that someone's broken into the house and killed his wife - and now the cops think HE did it.  So he's on the run from the authorities and simultaneously looking for the killer... and then he finds out that the hit was meant for HIM. He was the one who first blew the whistle on a lucrative new drug that actually turned out to cause liver damage. Now big pharma wants him dead, and if he doesn't stop them, they're going to push the drug through and potentially kill thousands of people.  It's a little bit Count of Monte Cristo and a whole lot of Bourne Identity, with less amnesia and more prosthetic arms. You're gonna love it."

The box office certainly did.
(Bonus points if you start with something personalized that you learned in step #1, and end with a question that isn't "do you want it, huh, do ya, do ya?"  "Thanks so much for meeting with me, Mr. Spielberg - I know you're really on the lookout for a new take on the whole alien-invasion thing, and since you're also into middle-grade fiction, I think I have something that would be right up your alley. It's called 'E.T.', and...")

Remember: your pitch session is not a 60-second monologue. It's a 12-minute conversation. Your pitch is only the beginning of that conversation - so make it a good one!

3. Cultivate your expertise

This is especially true if you don't know many people at the con.  Are you commuting there?  Maybe clean out your car so you can offer your new out-of-town friends a lift to dinner. Are you a black-belt Googler?  Consider printing out extra info on all the agents in your genre, so you can help other con-goers who don't know who to talk to. Foodie? Look up all the best restaurants nearby and be ready to recommend. Heck, you can make friends just by offering to let people practice their pitch on you and giving them good feedback!  Bottom line: think about what kind of problem-solver you want to be, and then get out there and get known.

NB: If you are an actual black belt, you may need to diversify your skill-set.

4. Collect touchpoints, not targets

In other words, don't pitch to anything that moves. Really. Yes, you have a limited amount of face-time, and yes, you want to get the most bang for your buck out of the weekend, but con-going is like dating - hustling people into the sack rarely works. This a game of multiple touches. Go to the agent's class. Say hi in the hallway. Chat at the cocktail party. Talk up somebody else's work. If the weekend's over and you never got to pitch to them?  GREAT. 

No, really.  That is great - because ANY interaction you have with an agent this weekend is query-letter gold.  Picture opening your email thusly: "Ms. Maisano - I so enjoyed taking your Prose P90X class at DFWcon last month. It was hugely helpful, and now that I've had a chance to sit down and apply those ideas, I wanted to query you about my novel. It's a 70,000-word YA sci-fi adventure called Bacne to the Future, and..." 

You ARE coming to class, right...?

RIGHT AWAY, you shoot to the top of her inbox. RIGHT AWAY, you are flagged as a person who made a serious investment in your writing career (and who wanted to query her, specifically - not just blanket the Internet with a form letter.)

5. Make friends

Cheesy, but true. Rachel Swirsky said something at CONvergence earlier this month, which I thought was so wise:  "Cultivate lateral and downward connections, not just upward ones. You never know where someone will end up, and people have vastly different resources."  Which was followed by this keeper from Lee Harris:  "Publishing, like any business, is all about relationships... and you can't fabricate relationships."

So if you end up sitting next to Rachael Acks, say hi - she's a fabulous writer and a geologist by trade, and who better to talk to for that big-oil thriller you keep meaning to write?  If you see Mark Finn in the hall, tighten your sphincters before you bend his ear - he will make you laugh 'til you leak, and he knows more about Robert E. Howard, indie-publishing, and master-class party-schmoozing than anyone should. Larry Enmon is retired Secret Service. Taylor Koleber is an LDS missionary who speaks Haitian Creole. Michelle O'Neal works as a forensic chemist at the local medical examiner's office (she can tell you where ALL the bodies were buried, and when and for how long.)  I could go on, but you get the idea: there are going to be 300+ phenomenal people there this weekend, at every stage of their writing careers. Don't be so fixated on the agents that you forget to look around and notice the social gold mine all around you!

It's actually 37% gold and 63% sweaty, unfettered enthusiasm - you're gonna love it!

Anyway, last thought, lovelies: if you're nervous, that's okay. It's a big deal. But no matter what you do, you're going to come out of this weekend a winner: you will know more going out than you did coming in, and have shown to everyone who claps eyes on you that you are NOT a person who wears your pants on your head, but a dedicated writer making a commitment to your career.  And if you need any reassurance on that point, come find me - I'll see you there!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Prose, Panties, and DFWcon Schedule!

Hey, Internetizens - this one's going to be quick and dirty, because I'm sitting in a departure lounge awaiting a midnight flight back to DFW, and absolutely will not have a brain left to post with by the time I get home.

But post I must, because the DFW Writers Conference cometh - and I am SO STOKED to go!

I'll spare you the whole schpiel, but if you're just now tuning in, DFWcon is where I met my agent, lo these many moons ago (not to mention my whole writers workshop), and where my home and heart will always be.  This year, I can only be there for Saturday, but the organizers have very-kindly obliged my request to take it to the limit all day long.  Look at this line-up!  LOOK AT IT.

Secrets of Success
9:45 to 10:45AM, Saturday
Session 1: Kevin J. Anderson, Rosemary Clement Moore, Charlaine Harris, Jenny Martin, Julie Murphy, Me Ra Koh, Tex Thompson

What’s their secret? How did these traditionally published authors achieve their objectives, cross that threshold and get their writing career started? And what have they done since to build on that success? The authors will share their experiences and helpful tips and field questions from the audience.

Prose P90X
1:00-2:00PM, Saturday
Laura Maisano, Anaiah Press
with Tex Thompson
NOTE: this class was previously listed as 'Intro to Style'
Do your sentences sag? Does your description drag? Or is your manuscript simply struggling to lose those last 5,000 words? Never fear! Veteran editor Laura Maisano and relentless red-pen-thusiast Tex Thompson are teaming up to help you trim and tone your prose in a fearless, fun session that’s guaranteed to leave your work leaner, cleaner, and meaner than ever before. Come learn how to take your writing style from flab to fab!

The Comma Sutra : A Better-Punctuation Guide to Spicing Up Your Text Life
2:15-3:30PM, Saturday
Tex Thompson

Does your writing lack a certain… variety?  Does your manuscript suffer from premature exclamations, heavy or abnormally frequent periods, or have difficulty maintaining even a semi-colon?   Don’t suffer in silence!   You too can enjoy the satisfaction and self-confidence that comes with knowing how to please your critique partner.   In this class, we’ll practice the ins and outs of good punctuation (and yes, it WILL be raunchy.)  Join us, won’t you, as we embark on a journey of true textual healing.

Read and Critique, DFW Writers Workshop Style - pre-registration required
4:15-5:45PM, Saturday
Tex Thompson, David Goodner

One great way to hone your craft is to read your work in front of a critique group. The DFW Writers Workshop has been doing just that since 1977, and has perfected its system over the years. Bring your current work in progress, read it in front of a group and receive critique from published authors.

Seriously, guys.  I know over-the-top excitement is kind of my jam, but I am unbelievably stoked to get to collaborate on a presentation with bitextual author/editor wonder-wizard Laura Maisano, and get to co-workshop with future bigger-than-Jesus picture-book rock-star David Goodner, and get to exchange oxygen within breathing-distance of Charlaine Harris AND Kevin J Anderson.  Binaca, don't fail me now!

So if you're going - set your schedule!  If you're not going - console yourself as best you can! And if you're on the fence - boy, you better hustle up and get yourself a ticket tout-de-suite, cuz we've only got a few left, and this year's conference is going to be off ALL of the chains.  See you there!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Five Reasons CONvergence is Better Than You

No, really. I mean, I like you and all, but this con, you guys. This freaking con.

And I know secondhand conventions are about as much fun as listening to somebody tell you about their D&D character, but hey – I've been aggressively vivacious and charming for WEEKS now, and today it's my turn to have poor social skills.  *pops zit* *whips out crappy smartphone pics* So as I was saying, my level 16 half-orc ranger-druid...

1.    Killer Costumes 

Okay, it's a sci-fi/fantasy convention. Of course there's going to be costumes.  But almost more amazing than the sheer NUMBER of people in costume (easily half the 7,000+ attendees) is the quality and variety of their work. 

And it IS work.  I don't even want to think about how long it took to bring La Muerte to life.

Seriously, it's so much more than just steampunk matrons and trending anime characters.  There are brand-new Mad Max characters and others from shows that haven't aired in twenty years (when's the last time you thought about Doug, let alone Quail-Man?  And remember that time Jewel Staite was a 15-year-old in a rainbow wig and I loved her?)

Me taking a picture of Raichu taking a picture of Journey travelers. It's deep.

There were a terrific number of original characters and costumes, too – I so, so wish I'd thought to take a picture of the lady who'd dressed up as a YA dystopian love triangle!  But I was busy being amazed that she'd turned up for my 11:30PM Shapeshifters panel, which brings me to my next point...

2.    Awesome Attendees

Seriously.  Seriously, seriously.  It doesn't matter what rotten time slot you're talking about – people will turn up. The 2:00 Thursday panel on Shakespeare?  40 people.  The Sunday afternoon writing panel?  50 people.  The 10 PM Saturday night conlang panel, on the Fourth of Goddamn July?  FREAKING FULL... of people who actually wanted to talk about constructed languages!

Look at all these people. LOOK AT THEM.

Shoot, I thought that Shapeshifters panel was going to be a bust – it started at 11:30PM, and my co-panelist didn't turn up, so it was just me and 35 eager geeks, and I was honestly worried about how to keep things on track if someone was drunk or just over-talkative/domineering.  But we had an absolutely *delightful* roundtable discussion – I just asked the attendees some of the questions I'd thought up for the panel, and they educated me and each other as cheerful and respectfully as you could imagine.  It was so much less stressful than subtly wrestling with five other people to try to get a word in edgewise, all while audience members weakly raise their hands in despairing near-futility.  I wish we could do moderated group discussions at every con – I think I can say that it was genuinely fun for everyone, and such a surprising change of pace.

Anyway, so there are a ton of real people who really want to talk about real panel topics – but the whole con has a wonderful atmosphere.

Exhibit A:  a poorly-photographed shot of a guy making a Golden Snitch swoop and fly on the end of a fishing pole, ready to toss candy down to any kid who can catch it (and I believe that one in the blue shirt actually did).  Who does this? Convergence people, that's who! 
And to be honest, I expect that has a lot to do with the con-culture that these folks have cultivated over the past decade-plus.  Which brings us to the next point...

3.    Style for Miles

I don't actually know whether this is true, but I strongly suspect that Convergence is one of the largest fan-run conventions in the country – and it shows.  You have much bigger cons, like DragonCon and San Diego Comic Con, but these 'media cons' are run by for-profit companies – and while there's nothing wrong with that, it does make for a different feel.  Busloads of big-name actors being carted in to sign autographs and take pictures all weekend, so that you have the pleasure of paying for parking, paying for entry, paying for the privilege of standing in line for three hours to get personalized scrawl from a glassy-eyed Patrick Stewart... it's not bad, but it's not what fan-cons are generally there to do. 

You may be asking yourself "well, what ARE fan-cons there to do?"  The answer, of course, is "hold PVC-foam jousting matches for papier-mache Jabba's entertainment."
I love, love, love how easy it is to buy a ticket to Convergence and then not open your wallet again for the entire weekend.  Parking is free. Autographs are free.  Food is free – oh, god, they have an entire food court's worth of goodies available all weekend – everything from the traditional pizza and sodas to milk, fruit, rice, soup, and fresh veggies.

Look at that. It's not a con-suite. It's an entire con-boulevard!
They even have a hotel TV station running and overflow rooms set up so that the people who can't fit in the main ballroom can still watch and enjoy the biggest events.  And everywhere – everywhere! – are flyers, posters, and fun con-propaganda:

Look at this. This poster serves no functional purpose.  It's not advertising anything.  It's not directing or informing you. But this year's theme was dystopia, and by gum, we are going to act like it!

And this! It's not enough that they're doing a free four-day smorgasbord - they have to design and color-print advertisements to remind you of it!
End result: you aren't a paying customer spending a weekend at the Hilton Doubletree – you're at Convergence, and you're part of the crew.

4.    Organization

This part really blows my mind.  An event of this size takes MASSIVE organization – and it's all volunteers.  I volunteered with the programming department again this year – setting up table tents, resetting rooms, picking up trash and taking census at the panels – and I am just, like, amazed at the size and scope of the organization here.

The organization, plus the branding - Connie is EVERYwhere.
Programming does the panel-type events.  Mainstage handles the big shows.  Nerfherders organize lines and man the elevators to keep the crowds moving along.  Hospitality keeps the food and drink flowing, Wandering Hosts roam the halls to help out wherever they're needed, Registration, First Aid, and the Volunteer Desk are exactly what their names imply, and the Bridge crew keeps every other department coordinated and communicating with the hotel staff.  It's an incredible system, and astonishingly efficient – and everyone who gives up their time to contribute does it for love of the convention. (Well, and for the free massages in the volunteer den, too.)  It's everything I love best about fan-cons, operating on a massive scale.

5.    Inclusiveness

Another astonishingly bad photo from yours truly, of the sign for the Sensory-Friendly Space Lab. Wish I'd gotten a shot of the interior - it's dim and cool and quiet, with glowy blue lights and alien decor.  Gorgeous room with a brilliant concept!

This one maybe wins me over more than anything.  Like... it's one thing to put a non-harassment policy in your program.  It's another to have sign language interpreters and typists/transcribers ready on request, taped-off squares on the floor of every room for wheelchair and scooter users, consistently-posted reminders about what is and isn't appropriate behavior, and labeled "safe spaces" and the aforementioned Wandering Hosts to make sure that anyone in trouble can find help immediately.

This con is assiduously, consistently welcoming to all kinds of people, and it shows in the diversity of its attendees.  In my experience, it's incredibly rare for the people inside a convention to actually represent a fair cross-section of the community it's held in – and while I'm not an expert on Minneapolis demographics, I daresay Convergence comes closer than any other con I've been to.

That's what I love most, I think.  That's what I want to see elsewhere - everywhere!  Yes, not every con can or should be this big - but they absolutely can and should be this inclusive, this accessible, this welcoming.

Where is the 1 AM card game?  Right in the middle of the concourse, of course - come on down!

And as for me personally - I blogged last year about how happy I was to have gone, but felt a little crowded, a little lonely.  This year, I was so thrilled to see the seeds I planted in 2014 springing up - to walk in the main doors and be accosted ten seconds later by people who recognized me from last year and wanted to fold me in to the group.  I'm going to try to remember this for future events: it's hard sometimes to play the away games, to leave your home turf and go mix with people who don't know you from Adam, who already have their old buddies and big networks ready to hand.  But if you're brave and persistent and keep giving yourself mingling-missions (volunteer six hours, compliment three people on their costumes, go to two room parties and stay ten minutes at each, chat with one person each time you go to the consuite), it's amazing how quickly today's acquaintances can become tomorrow's legendary lifemates.

Barf and I are not technically LLs - he is his own best friend! - but trust me, I have others.

Anyway, I could write 5,000 words more - I haven't even touched on all the extracurricular adventures from this weekend, or mentioned any of those aforementioned lifemates - but this is long and time is short and it's almost time to finish the mighty drive through scenic Oregon.  Big sloppy post con-noital love to everyone - now go get your tickets, people: only 357 days until Convergence 2016!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

SoonerCon Recap and CONvergence Schedule

Where am I?  What day is it?  Is it time to have more convention now?

Well, I'm here at the airport watching the sun rise through the departure gate window, so I reckon it must be!

So this marks the end of the road-trip portion of my Summer of Shenanigans, and the beginning of the jet-setting phase.  Last weekend I drove up to SoonerCon in Oklahoma City - and let me tell you, it is a hell of a production.

It's a real family-oriented con, for one thing -

You know what they say: the family that crushes the Rebellion together, stays together.

- and they let a horde of us authors absolutely tear up the ballroom for a mass koffeeklatch -

THEY EVEN SERVED COFFEE. And pastries! And fruit!
I'm pretty sure that has literally never happened before.
- which Mark Finn further enlivened by holding court with a box of moon-donuts, like a regal barbarian king distributing sweet yeasty plunder to his thanes -

Basically, my new life-goal is to become a Mark Finn sommelier.
"Elegant, yet unpretentious. Honest, yet gracious. Erudite, yet perfectly
comfortable bringing up 'the meat-sweats' in casual conversation."

- but for me, the real highlight was getting to stay with Jeannette Cheney for the duration.  For one thing, it's a real treat to stay in high nerdy style -

For the record, that's a framed copy of Tolkien's "The Road" poem,
a Dalek pillow, and a dog hair roller. I defy you to find this splendor at any hotel.
- and you absolutely can't beat the company -

These are my newest and most favorite host-dogs, Penny and Al!
- and honestly, the longer I do this, the less willing I am to pay for a hotel room, 80% of which I don't use.  For real. I don't need a coffee maker or a hair dryer or a TV. I don't need my bed made or towels changed. I don't even need reconstituted apple juice and stale freezer-pastries in the morning. I need a small, clean space with a bed, good wi-fi, and air conditioning. That's it. If somebody can figure out how to sell me that, I am unbelievably ready to buy it... on the unfortunate occasion I don't have a legendary life-mate with a guest room, of course.  (Thank you, J!)

Okay, rant over. But seriously: you know, there are times when nobody comes to your reading, when you and your fellow panelists outnumber the audience two-to-one, when you can't help but wonder whether any of this even matters.  But this friend-network of mine is growing and deepening month by month, year over year, and it is unbelievably life-sustaining. So much of this whole low-rent show-business thing we do is random and unpredictable, and it is absolutely vital to hang on to the one thing you can directly, reliably influence - which is to say, the people you meet and how you treat them.

And now, my friends, it is nearly time to go find some of my most favorite folks!  CONvergence is about to converge, and I could not be more jazzed.  My actual official events listing is a short one this time around: