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:

Monday, June 29, 2015

Remembering Chris Harvey

A brief interlude from con-madness today.  Full disclosure: discussion of death, grief, and suicide ahead.

So Saturday was the eighth anniversary of the death of my friend, Chris Harvey.  I was 24 when he died, and it came as a huge shock.  He was the first person I ever really 'lost'.

I'm struggling with this blog post, but it feels too important to not write something.  His mom said it better than I could:

8 years ago tonight my son Chris Harvey died at Parkland Hospital, 10 days after jumping off a 10-story building due to undiagnosed and untreated bipolar II. A part of his mother died that night too. But I'm still here today, thanks in large part to his amazing friends-who took me into their hearts and lives and gave me a safe place to remember him through tears and laughter. I will leave some out by accident I know but thank you all

I keep thinking about lots of little things - bits and pieces, mostly.

I remember how shocked we were to get the news that he'd attempted suicide.  I remember how hugely relieved we were to hear that he'd survived it with nothing but bruises and broken bones.  I remember how my sister and I went to visit him, how the three of us were joking around (in that kind-of-uncomfortable 'holy shit, dude' kind of way) and how it felt like this would be a turning point for him - how glad we were that he would get the help he needed and get his life back on track.

I remember getting a call from his mom while I was at work, and how I let it go to voicemail.

I remember not even wondering about it until hours later - how it didn't even occur to me that anything bad could have happened.

I remember playing the message that told me he had died.

It seems so, so unfair, even eight years later - that someone could survive a ten-story fall, but not a tiny little blood clot.  And I know some of my friends still feel guilty even now, because they hadn't gone to see him yet - because we all assumed that he was going to be fine.  We were young, most of us barely more than teenagers, and we'd never had anything but time.

It was a hard lesson, but we tried our best to learn.  We took turns speaking at his funeral, half of us incoherent through tears.  We went with his family to scatter his ashes at the lake.  We printed out his picture and took it with us to go see the first Transformers movie, because he had been so excited for it.  Even today, his name comes up at D&D sessions and in fond 'remember when' moments.  And here I am now, trying to communicate him to you and making a total hash of it, because his life is what matters, and all I've talked about is his death.

Maybe that's because death is so much more finite and expressible. A cause, a date, a narrative small enough that we literally put it on a certificate.  You can't do that with a life.  A person doesn't fit into a little 100-word column in the newspaper, no matter how eloquently we try to summarize them.  I can tell you all about how good he was at doing the Eric Cartman voice, how you could loan him any Nintendo RPG you wanted and know that you'd get the cartridge back with every character leveled to 99, how he drove his brother absolutely bananas watching Toy Story on repeat all summer long.  I think that's the secondary sadness - I can go on and on, but for everyone who didn't know Chris while he was here, he will only ever exist in summary.

You know, a wonderful new friend of mine gave me a phenomenal compliment a few weeks ago, which I didn't fully appreciate then.  "I think that's why people like you," she said. "When you talk to people, they feel seen."  It was nice to hear at the time, but the more I think about it, the more vital that seems. We need people to see us, to really pay attention and understand us, so that they can carry us forward when we're not here.

And to be honest, that's a big part of what keeps driving me on to do all these cons and events, to go to workshops and parties and adventures every chance I get. Part of it is egotistical book-pushing mercantilism, yes. But when Chris died, I went from being someone who had never experienced a tragedy to someone who had. It changed me. And I know that someday, something else will happen - an illness, an ordeal, a death - and I'll change again.  The person I am right now will be gone. I'm mostly okay with that, but I desperately want you to see her while she's here - to have proof that she was real.

And of course, I want to see you-all too - to know you and carry you with me.  I want you to take Chris with you, and so does Dana Beth (who has given her warmest blessing to my sharing all this.)  I want us all to carry our nearest and dearest with us, and to constantly reach for new people too, so that the people we are today can continue on, no matter what happens to us tomorrow.

And the more I think about it, the more ordinary and sensible that seems.  After all, we're human beings. We sustain each other.

To infinity, and beyond.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Book Review: Quaternity

Howdy, partners!  As I pack my bags to head up north for SoonerCon, this seems like the perfect time to get back on the book-review wagon – and back in the spec-fic saddle.  This book here is special to me: it's not often I get to make friends with a fellow Weird Western author – and a real treat to read one whose knowledge so far surpasses mine.  If you're a fan of five-star, old-school, blood-spattered Western horror – BOY have I got a book for you!

by Kenneth Mark Hoover
Hell is Truth Seen Too Late! Before he became a U.S. federal marshal in Haxan, John Marwood rode with a band of killers up and down the Texas/Mexico border. Led by Abram Botis, an apostate from the Old Country, this gang of thirteen killers search for the fabled golden city of Cibola, even riding unto the barren, blood-soaked plains of Comancheria. And in this violent crucible of blood, dust, and wind, Marwood discovers a nightmarish truth about himself, and conquers the silent, wintry thing coiled inside him.

You know those old silver-screen cowboys, like Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger, who wore white hats and fought for justice and shot the guns right out of the bad guys' hands?

This is not that.

This is the polar opposite of that. 

In fact, we spend 80% of this book with the black-hatted desperadoes who are raping, murdering, and pillaging their way along the Texas-Mexico border (light on the rape, heavy on the murder).  If you are not up for skinnings, scalpings, hangings, beheadings, disembowelings, feticide, homicide, and a body-count to rival the Alamo AND Goliad, this is not the book for you.  If you are looking for a progressive vision of women and minorities, this is definitely not the book for you.

So now that we've got that out of the way: this is an exceptionally well-written book.  I can't emphasize that enough.  The style is sharp and spare –ideal for the stark, grim subject matter.  The language is pitch-perfect, not to mention immaculately researched: if you know your Sharps from your sofkee, this will be right up your alley.  (If you don't, you might like to keep Google handy: there is plenty of jargon, not to mention a handsome amount of Spanish, and the narrative will not coddle you.)  For me, this was a huge plus: I love a story that expects the reader to pull her weight, and an author with a truly masterful command of his material.  With that said, be prepared to do some reading between the lines, as the 'whys' of the venture are sometimes not as clear as the brutal, bloody 'hows'.

In short, Quaternity is a grisly old-western Odyssey, starring the apex of antiheroes in a world drenched in history and horror.  If you think you can handle that, saddle up and hang on.

Buy at Barnes & NobleAdd to GoodreadsOrder From Amazon

My favorite bit:

Botis sat in a leather chair before the flames, dressed in rancid skins and wearing his black galero. His face was lit like a sword, and he was prepared to pass judgment on those men who had declaimed him. Buzzards sat perched in the high branches of tall juniper trees along the riverbank. The ground below was carpeted with a bed of their long, stinking feathers.

Botis picked up the tortoise-shell pince-nez with his customary dainty ease. He set them on the end of his nose and addressed the frightened congregation by the light of the burning church.

"I am Abram Botis," he said. "I ride with demons. I have come among you to judge all things past and future given."