Monday, November 23, 2015

Faking It, vis-à-vis Making It

Sorry, y'all. I've been behind.

It's a funny thing about being behind, though. When you're really in the weeds, you don't have the time or energy to notice other people like they deserve to be noticed. Emails and messages and callbacks and check-ins - all your little thoughtfulnesses choke down to a trickle, and the ones from other people pile up unreturned. It's not a good feeling - but it's not one I'm unfamiliar with either.

I tell you what, though: there's a weird extra dimension to it when you're playing in the pro leagues. When you can't promote other people properly, it feels doubly greasy to go on promoting yourself. So you stop doing any promotion at all... which means that all the people who are out there promoting YOU get utterly shafted, because spotlighting their efforts means spotlighting yourself, and since you just absolutely can't bring yourself to do that, you end up doing nothing and helping nobody.

Look, I never said it wasn't dumb as hell.

Here's the thing, though. The longer I play this game (and granted, it's not been long at all), the more I notice the reputation I'm garnering - and honestly, it's a prize in itself. I love walking into a room and instantly getting hollered on (which, for those of you unfamiliar with redneck prepositions, is totally different from getting hollered at). I love it when somebody I don't even recognize holds an elevator door for me and says "get in here, Tex!" I love, love, love being the kind of person people want to glom onto. More than anything, I love sucking up all that energy and blasting it back out, like the sea receding in the moments before a devastating tidal wave of enthusiasm.

But the thing is, that only works because it's REAL - and because it involves feeding off the realness of other people. I am 100% legit psyched to be there, and it's the easiest thing in the world to reflect that back on other people. Much harder to feel that joy when there's nobody around to draw from, and it's just me alone in a room with a blinking cursor and a to-do list.

I'm still working on that.

And I know that no job is fun all the time, and that sometimes you just have to fake it 'til you make it. But man... as dumb as it feels to write this, I just 100% seriously don't want to end up like one of those plastic talk show hosts - you know, always SUPER PSYCHED about how whoever/whatever is their FAVORITE BEST EVER, even as that weird dead-eyed expression sets in and rumors swirl about a secret drug problem. Enthusiasm is a sacred thing, at least to me. It feels like a special kind of wrong to fake it.

Or better to say, I know I need to do better at this - be more present and consistent, especially online - if I'm serious about getting somewhere. And I am. But there's got to be a way to do it that doesn't involve selling out my one special mutant power. I don't want to get better at pretending to be excited. I want to find new ways to actually get excited, and do a better job of expressing that, especially here in cyber-land.

So I'm going to take this week to do some visible and long-overdue appreciation of the people whose work I am genuinely enjoying. I'm also going to play board games and eat ridiculous things with my family and read books in the bathtub and enjoy the little quiet spaces in between. Enjoy the reprieve, citizens - next week, we're getting back on the wagon!

Monday, November 9, 2015

No Longer At Ease

Well, it's not quite official yet: as I type, I'm sitting in seat 22F, watching Tom Cruise get the stuffing knocked out of him by Russian heavies on an 8" screen. But if you're reading this, it's safe to say that after three weeks, eight flights, four time zones, and more wonderful people than I can count, my grandiose gallivanting is finally over, and I'm home again.

I'm really, really glad I got to do that.

I really, really should not have done that.

But let me back up.

I spent the weekend at World Fantasy Con in Saratoga Springs, New York. Getting there was an adventure in itself, but I'm so glad I got to go: WFC is the first "all-pro" convention I've attended, and spending a weekend at what feels like the ends of the earth, stuck in with a few hundred of your peers, is a real experience.

I'm calling it "Still Life in Hilton Bathroom: How To Tell Your Roomie Had a Great Night."
I got to sit in on some TERRIFIC readings – truly, you don't know how badly you need psychic elephant-men, wind-tunnel aerial knife-fights, or grade-school taxidermists until you finally get some – and meet wonderful new people and have tremendous conversations. There were shenanigans and shoe-hunting expeditions and the most lavish ice cream bar I've ever seen.

And this guy. THIS FRICKIN' GUY.
Then on Friday night, a funny thing happened.

There was an "all-call" mass autograph session, which if you ask me, is a really great idea: they just filled up a ballroom with tables and chairs and invited everyone who wanted to (not just the people on programming!) to find a seat and sign their books.

And boy, it was the best kind of bedlam. I had never seen so many people rushing around with armfuls of books – not comics, but actual honest-to-god novels to be signed. It was glorious!

Look at it! Isn't it the most stupendous sight?
It was also kind of a mess: since it was open seating, there was no alphabetical order – no order of any kind. You had to cruise the aisles one at a time, angling to try to get a glimpse of the little printed name-cards – not an easy feat with people clumped up and queuing in front of the tables. After I'd looked and looked and still couldn't find the author I wanted (one of the guests of honor, no less!), I decided to go find a staffer who might be able to direct me.

That's when I realized that I hadn't seen any staffers. No volunteers at all – not one in the entire weekend.

They were there, of course. Handing out packets at the registration desk, flashing five-minute signs at the panels, setting table tents between each of the readings. But they weren't marked at all: no vests or shirts or colored badges. Just the same street-wear (okay, nerd-shirt-wear) as the rest of us. If you weren't actively watching them at work, they were invisible.

And that's when it hit me: what would I do if there were an actual problem? Forget missing out on an autograph – what if I got the bad touch, or watched it happen to someone else? What if there were a fight, or a theft, or a creeper?

Look again: which of these people do you go to for help?
Graceful segue goes here.

One of the readings I went to was Mike Underwood's. Well, tried to go to: I showed up, along with a few other people. Mike never did. That was unusual: we knew he was at the con, and he's not one to flake on a gig.

When I caught up to him later and gave him grief about it, I found out what I would have known days ago, if I'd been paying literally any attention to the digi-sphere: he'd declined his programming as a matter of principle – as a way of protesting WFC's disaster of a harassment non-policy.

And like... I did know about that. I wasn't so completely up myself that I hadn't learned about the controversy. But I'm ashamed to say that it wasn't until that moment in the autograph hall that I actually felt it: that it finally occurred to me that I might not be in a safe place.

I'm not proud of that. I don't like to think of myself as a person whose empathy doesn't extend past her own nose, whose concerns stop at the boundaries of her own experience. I've been doing this convention thing for two years now – more than enough time to catch wise to the serious, pervasive behavior issues that have long festered in our backyard.

Reminders of which were literally spelled out for us this weekend.
And I wonder if it's easier to dismiss those issues when it's "just us". Just us pros, or just us fans, or just us girls, or just us anything. It's easy to drop your guard around people you've known since forever, easy to forget the duty of care we accept when we undertake stewardship and hospitality. Much harder to see your community's potential for causing harm and distress, especially when you yourself have such generous intentions, and have benefited so much from the generosity of others. And downright impossible to know who's missing – who you're missing out on – because you were so caught up in the camaraderie that you neglected to take on any accountability for your guests' well-being.

I'm not sure what the right answer is for those of us on the attending side of the table. There's not a firm consensus, even among the leading lights of our community: John Scalzi has implemented a standing boycott of conventions that fail on this front, while Kameron Hurley has critiqued this approach as unfeasible if not blatantly counterproductive.

Regardless: I know what the ancient Greeks said about hosts who disregarded their sacred duties. I know we can work harder and do better. And with all my '90s-kid heart, I know I wanna be like Mike.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Bold, the Beautiful, and the Badass

Oh, friends. Oh, blog. Where do I even start?

Well, let me start back at the beginning of this trip. Earlier this year, the fantastic Dr. Maslen invited me to speak at the University of Glasgow, which was a huge honor, and turned out to be an amazing time. I'd asked to do more of a discussion than a lecture, and he kindly rounded up a conference room and as many willing bodies as would fit in it (and then some!) It was a terrific conversation, and a phenomenal evening.

As you would expect, given that he's one TARDIS away from world domination!
A few of the hardiest souls joined us for drinks afterward, and then I learned an amazing thing: of the students at our table, none were from Scotland – and most had only been at school for six weeks. We had students from China, from the US, from Italy and Greece, all packing up their lives – sometimes on less than a month's notice! – and moving to Glasgow for the promise of a first-rate education.

That was nearly two weeks ago, and I'm still thinking about it. Like, I just can't fathom what kind of guts it takes to do a thing like that.

Nor am I a very good photographer for the people who are actually doing it!
I guess I've been thinking a lot about bravery this year, and on this trip in particular. Since I left Dallas, I've done things that my soft, doughy soul couldn't have contemplated five years ago. I sang karaoke, badly and stone-cold sober. I went by myself to a country where I can't even read the alphabet, nevermind speak the language. I held a baby. I let myself get lost. I ate horse meat and beef tongue and things I didn't even think to ask about. By the time I go home, I'll have solo'd New York City public transit, shared a room and a bed with someone I haven't actually met, and probably racked up another couple of firsts along the way. And while I'm proud of all those things, I still don't feel even half as brazen as those students, some of whom are at least ten years my junior.

For the record, this is свински късчета по кметскн, or "pork nibblies in the mayoral style." I didn't meet the mayor, but let me tell you - she's got serious swagger.

While I was in Bulgaria, Evil Dan and I had a great discussion about this, because (as someone who likewise packed up his life and moved halfway around the world) he's also high on my list of unfathomable badasses. His theory is this: a badass is someone who's been through something worse than you have. When you're five and the worst thing you've done is shut your finger in a door, it's the kid who broke his arm falling out of a tree. When you're twenty and just moved away to college, it's the student who spent two years living on the street. When you're thirty and just had a baby, it's the parents who had preemie triplets and lost one.  It goes on forever, because there's always someone who's had it worse than you. 

And of course, we all have to deal with something sometime. Badness happens, and you just have to suck it up and handle it somehow. So what really stands out to me at the moment are the people who have actually volunteered for that up-suckery - who willingly put themselves out there for something that they knew was going to be tough (even if it's also worthwhile, because why else would you do it?)

Because you can't get to the land of immaculate patisserie by staying safely in your house, that's why!
Actually, I didn't intend to talk about book stuff here, but that's one reason I'm so glad that Pamela Skjolsvik asked me to edit her first book, Death Becomes Us (which I just finished last week!) She's a friend of mine from our writers' workshop, and she's a lot like me, bravery-wise: we both feel like sheltered little homebody hobbits for whom the wizard never came calling. The difference is, when she decided to hitch up her britches and do something about that, she really went the whole nine yards.
Hello, my name is Pamela Skjolsvik and you don't know me and neither does your son, but he agreed to talk with me the day before the State of Texas kills him, so um, can I take the 9 to 10 slot or would you prefer if I spoke to him later in the day?
And yes, she is exactly as awkwardly, sweatily badass as she sounds. You'll be hearing more about her before her book comes out on the 13th, but don't wait on me – check her out and then get you some.

I mention awkward and sweaty because I think that's what really holds us back, most of the time. There's the brain-stem fear, sure (what if you get lost and mugged and eaten?) – but past that is that insidious fear of failure, of humiliation, of looking foolish and feeling ashamed. It's SO hard to do the hard things, not just because they're hard, but because you know you'll do them badly (at least at first). That's probably killed more dreams than anything else: whatever you do, your first efforts are going to suck – and it takes real courage to be okay with sucking. Or as they say in Saga, "You have to be brave before you can be good."

So whether you're doing NaNoWriMo, moving to the other side of the planet, or just trying to work up the guts to say hello – go bravely, y'all. Goodness awaits.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Notes From a Nottingham Laundry

Hello, friends! Tex here, reporting live from a laundrette (=laundromat) somewhere in Nottingham. I'm pleased to report that the spin cycle is proceeding industriously, and that the lone sock dangling from the dryer opposite has been rescued by its owner.

Needless to say, it's been a hell of a week. 24 hours of planes, trains, and my saintly mother-in-law's automobile got me from Dallas to God's Own Country (as my dad calls it), where Dr. Robert Maslen hosted me for a discussion on "The Changing Faces of Fantasy" at the University of Glasgow. And that was... friends, it was entirely too much. More on that next week – if I write it now, it will be nothing but Oscar-clutching tears and snotters.

Right now it's pretty much just wall-eyed vegetative stupor.

But let me tell you about FantasyCon. And maybe extend that to the wonders of British SFF-lit cons generally (as I am operating on about 18% over here, and couldn't rake my fingers through this one with my usual hair-pulling intensity.)

This was my third UK con – after WorldCon in London last year and Eastercon back in April – and while that's not much of a sample size, I'm noticing a pattern. FantasyCon in particular was just astonishingly organized: every panel (that I saw) with exactly five panelists plus a moderator, every moderator prepared with questions, every panelist enthusiastic but mindful in their contributions, keeping up the conviviality without running roughshod over their colleagues. They all took questions from the audience. They all ended on time (thanks in no small part to con staff at the back of the room, flashing "five minutes" and "end now" signs as appropriate). It was like a party in a pocket-watch – and a huge departure from the wild, improvised scrum that seems to be the hallmark of so many American cons. ("Moderator? We don't need no stinkin' moderator!")

Which is not to say it wasn't spontaneous or fun. Around midday on Saturday, the fire alarm went off. Everyone dutifully gathered their things and trooped outside to the parking lot, waiting under the overcast sky with tea and portions of chips still in hand.

It was a social event, of course.
After we were allowed back in, the warm, brassy curls of a Midlands accent came on over the intercom in perfect deadpan:

"Would all FantasyCon members please be advised that the 2:00 barbecue has been cancelled."

We thought it was a pretty good joke :)

And speaking of food, it's an odd thing here. Unless someone is throwing a capital-P (usually) by-invitation-only Party, you don't see free food or drinks anywhere. Sometimes you can't even pay for it (which is more about the venues than the cons – even their sandwiches keep bankers' hours.) It's made me realize just how odd it is to expect to have food available anytime, anywhere.  No wonder the French think we're savages.

But that also means there's no culture of room parties here, at least not any that I can see. It's a huge part of the US con scene: people will spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to spill-proof and then decorate a hotel suite, setting out a whole smorgasbord of free food and booze, and then advertise to all comers. Sometimes they're small and simple, sure – you can throw a room party with just a bag of Doritos and a cooler of beer – but they're as much a part of our conventions as league sports are to our schools, and Greek life is to our universities – and it probably looks just as frivolous and bizarre to the rest of the world.

And speaking of frivolous and bizarre, can I just say how proud I am that my publisher was the one hosting the karaoke?
So what do you do when you don't have room parties? Why, you follow standard British procedure, of course: you meet at the pub!

And god, what a great idea. Instead of wedging ourselves awkwardly between hotel beds, circulating through a stuffy, overcrowded room to try to reach the snacky-cakes on the nightstand, let's just meet at the bar and buy each other a round. Everyone's there. You can scan the crowd and find your crew and introduce people to each other in a space custom-made for the purpose. Now, if the hotel bars of the world could just be persuaded to serve cupcakes and Cheetos, we would truly be living in a utopian age...!

Well, I'm taking matters into my own hands, and heading off for the post-Soviet paradise that is Bulgaria. Wish me luck, friends:  if I can survive the customs interview, there will be a grand time waiting for me on the other side!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Great Trans-Atlantic Tour of 2015: Oh-My-God-Whytinerary!

Holy mackerel. HI there! It's been ages. How the dickens are you?

No, wait, don't tell me – I'll just come find you. I mean it. I'm mustering my all for one more grand tour this year, sowing my sunny oats all the from Eastern Europe to Newer York.  So if you live within global-melting distance of the Atlantic Ocean, there is a 30% chance of me being within 30 miles of you at some point in the next three weeks, and I vote we take advantage of it.  Here's what I got!

10/21 - 23 Glasgow, UK

You know, there used to be days when I doubted myself. Then one day, Dr. Robert Maslen invited me to speak to his Masters of Fantasy Literature students at the University of Glasgow, and I forgot how to angst. The big day is tomorrow! So, so looking forward to this – it's going to be such a good time!

10/23 - 25 Nottingham, UK

It's a myth! It's a legend! No, it's FantasyCon, which together with Nine Worlds makes up the crown jewel of the British SFF con scene. This is the nomadic home of the British Science Fiction Award – and this year, the circus has come to Nottingham.  Look me up – schedule is below the cut!

10/26 - 30 Bulgaria!

Yes. Because BULGARIA IS NICE, dammit! Actually, this leg of the trip is less of a professional venture and more of a moral obligation. From their secret underground fortress in the Balkans, 'Evil' Dan Bensen and his fiendish family are plotting world domination and eating cake – and I get to help!

10/31 - 11/3 London
Someday, I will be a big and famous author who does big and famous things in this biggest and most famous of cities. Until then, I roam wild and free: streaking through the tubes, crashing bookstores, and inveigling dinner invitations out of the locals. Watch out, London: I got an Oyster card, a Blackberry, and a penchant for misbehavior!

11/3 - 5 – Philadelphia

Okay, less Philly and more Pennsylvania in general – but I'm sure I can make time to cheez-wiz the liberty bell at some point. So excited to see Ally Bishop in her native habitat!

11/5 -8 – Saratoga Springs, NY

World Fantasy Con, like the world itself, just keeps on turning. This year, it's turned up in upstate New York, which is just fine by me: this is my first time at the convention AND in New York – and in both cases, everyone who's ANYone hangs out there. Watch me infiltrate paradise and ingratiate myself with the beautiful people!

And then, of course, I will go home to sandwich myself firmly between cat and couch, to hibernate as hard as humanly possible until March. Once more unto the airport, dear friends... once more!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

FenCon Recap: Beating Back the Brain-Hamster

Okay, so this one's a little bit out of the blue. I didn't post about FenCon last week, because I wasn't even sure I would go. I didn't make it onto programming this year, which isn't the end of the world, but stings when it's one of two conventions in your own hometown (and one that's had you as a guest before.)

Yeah, I know. It's just one con, and it's not like I haven't had my share of airtime this year. I wasn't crying myself to sleep. It's just one of those irrational things that feeds the evil brain-hamster - you know, the one that runs on its squeaky little wheel of insecurities, and every squeak-squeak-squeak is another you suck, you suck, you suck.

Despite vast plastic piles of evidence to the contrary!
Well, that little bastard was only going to get louder if I sat at home, so I went to the con to drown him out. (Hamsters, being solitary, skittish, nocturnal creatures, flee in the presence of other humans. Or at least mine do.)

And man, I am so glad I did. It was so much fun to remember what conventions were like before I turned them into tax-deductible platform-building calculated marketing maneuvers. It was great to just open up the program book and see what I felt like doing - to sit back and enjoy a panel, a reading, a dealers-room stroll - to see my friends again and shoot the breeze.

Then I started to feel guilty, because I'd spent money and writing-time to be there, and I shouldn't just go to amuse myself. A local con is a valuable opportunity, and I should try to make it worthwhile for my team - among others, my agent, my publisher, and good ol' Willie Siros there in the dealers room, who lugged copies of my books all the way from Austin to sell them here. (This is the great thing about having a team, by the way: you can't blow off the people who've invested in you, no matter how fervently the hamster assures you of the foolishness and futility of your efforts.)

Basically this.

So I screwed up my nerve, mustered up my cute, and moseyed into ops to ask ever-so-sweetly if they'd had any last-minute cancellations who needed a wonder-fabulous last-second replacement.

And oh, the delight! Oh, the enthusiasm! Those beautiful people could not have been kinder or more gracious. Robyn and Meredith and Julie loaded me up with a full slate of panels and a fancy-fresh name-card and sent me straight out to play. Can anyone ask for a greater posse than the FenCon crew? I would submit that they cannot!

And somewhere in the middle of all that was an absolutely beautiful wedding up in Olympia, a little overnight sojourn in the Portland airport (planned, that is - so much better than the other kind!), and a rocket-fueled return for the end of the convention.

DID YOU KNOW that small airports are creepy as hell at 2AM? True story!

And now that I'm back home in the stillness and the quiet, the brain-hamster is running that wheel again, trying to tell me that everything I did was haphazard and self-serving and mostly-fruitless, that instead of choosing one thing to do well this weekend (go as a fan, go as a pro, skip the con altogether and go to the wedding), I ended up doing three things badly. If I hadn't asked for programming, I could have gone to my friend Shawn's first-ever reading (among other things!) If I hadn't skipped town on Saturday, I could have probably sold more books, and definitely seen more people. If I hadn't tried to work the con in around the wedding, I could have stayed for the whole nine yards - the rehearsal dinner, the after-party, around-town adventures with the fam the day after.

And if the happy couple hadn't plied us with pies, I wouldn't have had to... well, let's move on.

But when I look at it objectively, I got to enjoy a wonderful lunch with my friend Jeannette, two readings, five panels, a dead-dog drinking session, my first-ever airport sleepover adventure, 250 miles of quality car-time with my mom, and a once-in-a-lifetime barnstormer of a wedding party. Even the hamster has to admit that that's a pretty good haul.

Anyway, but enough about him. Life is good, people are wonderful, and it's time for me to buckle back down and finish this book. Big love to everybody who's folded me in to the fun (and who's been waiting eagerly to do that very thing!): you are heavenly people-grease for a chronically squeaky wheel, and the silence is delightful.

And one day we will die and our ashes will fly
From the aeroplane over the sea
But for now we are young let us lay in the sun
And count every beautiful thing we can see

Monday, September 21, 2015

10 Things I Learned About Writing From Vegas

Well, look: I've had more adventures this year than even I can keep track of. Some of them you don't even know about!

But since I'm stuck at home being responsible this week, let's revisit the Vegas wedding I attended back in March (courtesy of my un-bachelored buddy James and his fabulous bride-wife Katie!).  Here are ten things Sin City taught me about the delicate craft of writing!

1. Don't worry about asking for feedback on your work. Your audience will let you know which parts they like.


2. You gotta sell the sizzle - but it helps if there's some steak.


3. Taste is subjective.


4. Lie stupendously.

Taken at The Writers Block - Vegas' best indie bookstore!

5. Great writing is about seeing the world from a new perspective.


6. A little shameless pandering never hurt anyone...

7. ...but stick to your principles, whatever they may be.

Did I mention that The Writers Block doubles as an artificial bird sanctuary?

8. Go for crossover appeal.

9. Your audience is looking for an experience. Give it to them.

10. Subtext is everything.

I know, right? Doesn't it make you want to give your life the finger and go fun yourself to death?

Well, for those of us who have to settle for living vicariously, Jamie Wyman has it covered - her Etudes in C# series is busting out with a third book! Gods and satyrs and mayhem abound in Cat Sharp's not-so-glamorous Las Vegas lifestyle - and that's before we get into the technomage club scene. (NGL, you guys - my inner fishman got a little too excited when I got to the condo-wrecking shark-monsters.)

If that sounds like your kind of fun, start with Wild Card and then sally forth to help us Kickstart the rest of the series - we might be stuck here in real life, but by gum, we can read like shameless hedonists!

“Marius, where are my pants?”
His grin widened. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

Monday, September 7, 2015

One Year Out: On Fame, Fear, and the End of Debut-dom

So about a month ago, I had a real Twilight Zone moment. See, my mom tagged me in one of those time-hop things on Facebook -

- and my first thought was, "holy mackerel - has it been a year already?"

My second thought was, "oh my cheese - has it only been a YEAR?"

But lo, it was so: Sixes launched in the US on July 24th 2014, which means I've officially been doing the published-author thing for over a year now.

Now, a whole belated month-and-a-half after the fact, I'm sitting at home in my clean, quiet little me-space, and I finally have time to think about what that means. Or rather, what's appropriate to say about it.

Y'know, I was having an email conversation with my great buddy Merlin a few months back (a terrific writer you haven't heard of yet, because he is almost-literally working in the salt mines while he composes his magnum opus.) We were discussing how the ups and downs get harder to talk about once you start formally putting yourself out there - because you need to cultivate a professional image, and also because nobody wants to hear a bunch of first-world problems (especially from somebody who's achieved something most of the rest of us would give our eyeteeth for). But he added something I hadn't thought about before, with a phrase I will probably remember for the rest of forever. He said,
I think people have a romanticized idea of what it is to write a book, to tell a story that needs telling.  And that idea gets sold again and again because that's the only way to keep people doing this difficult thing, right?  So, if folks published a book and then told everyone they knew 'It was just the hardest, saddest, most wonderful but exhausting thing I've ever done' then someone else that had a story to tell might think twice.  
And man, that's it. That right there. I'm overjoyed to have had the opportunity to put my work out into the world this way. I'm so, so grateful to everyone who's invested in me. I am also frequently sad, ruinously tired, and absolutely terrified of failure. Actually, it's fair to say that I spend most of my time feeling like I'm failing.

But the thing is, when you accomplish something, that accomplishment is defined just as much by what it isn't.  We see every newborn baby as a potential president or cancer-curing scientist - but that's because they're literally 8 pounds of raw human potential. They haven't had the chance to TRY, much less fail. We fill graduates' heads with grand sweeping commencement speeches about infinite possibility and unlimited opportunities - but that's because the little darlings haven't gotten out into the world and DONE anything yet. And whatever they do, no matter how valid and important and fulfilling it is, they have to give up a hundred thousand other possible futures to do it. Every decision narrows the field of future decisions. Every choice is limiting.

And that's a hard, scary thing. That's why we have the quarter-life crisis. That's why so many of us spend our freshman adult years in angst and insecurity. I felt it then, and I'm feeling it all over again now. My first book didn't set the world on fire. It didn't win any awards. I didn't generate a whole bunch of buzz or get featured on NPR or score a blurb from Stephen King. Those possibilities are gone.  I've mourned them more than I probably should.

Most of that is probably just the inevitable death of an immature dream. Hell, I can remember finishing my first novel at 17, and fantasizing about what it was going to be like to be a published author too young to drink champagne at her own launch party.  As the kids say, "LOL."

But here's what I've noticed. The other authors in my cohort, the ones who just seem to be busting out all over the place? They might be putting out their first novels, but they have been pillars of their communities for YEARS. Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a short-story juggernaut, not to mention a hell of an editor in her own right. Beth Cato is the most prolific human being I've ever met - the adult version of that one kid who was in every extracurricular activity known to man and still found time to volunteer at the homeless shelter and earn a perfect 4.3 GPA. Julie Murphy basically runs her own e-church - preaching the gospel of body acceptance and self-love, giving and taking heartfelt and frequently hilarious confessions, making time to have passionate, relevant conversations with everybody who darkens her door.  You might not have heard of these people, but their posters are plastered all over my bedroom walls. They are my rival-frenemy-secret-crush-golden-shining-idols - and as badly as I want what they have, I simply haven't matched what they've done. I haven't even come close.

I haven't put out a whole passel of short stories. Hell, I haven't put out one. I haven't edited anything or taken any freelance writing gigs, and my online presence is the digital equivalent of me sitting in my living room with the lights off and the shades drawn and then wondering why I'm not getting invited to parties. And the one place where I basically am Celebrity Rockstar Author Jesus? Is DFWcon - where I've been pouring in volunteer hours and workshop face-time for three straight years. Is anyone else sensing a pattern here?

So... I guess what I'm saying is, this is the year I found out that the magical buzz-fairy is not going to sweep down and bless me with a box of instant-fame potato flakes. I am not writing accessible fiction for a well-established audience. I am not (yet!) a well-known person. I do not have the marketing heft of a Big-5 publisher throwing hella dollars to promote me. Those three things together mean that if there is an easy elevator to the top, I can't count on it. I am going to need to join 99.9% of the entire rest of the world in taking the stairs.

I'm up for it. I still feel like I'm failing. I'm absolutely terrified of going out of print, of being a confirmed dud that nobody will want to do business with. (Seriously, y'all: if you've read my stuff, please please please help me out with an Amazon / Goodreads review. It doesn't need to be Shakespeare. It doesn't need to glow. Short of buying 50,000 copies of my books and lobbing them through people's windows, this is the single best thing you can do to help me not sail my failboat all the way to remainder-land.) But I can do more than I've done so far, and the game isn't over yet. 

And speaking of which... you guys.

Thank you for this.

I may not have shown up on the New York Times, but my man Merlin put me front-and-center on the company shipping newsletter. Don't tell him it made me cry.
And for this.

Yes, that is one very well-loved spine.
Yes, those are marker tabs and page notes.
Yes, this is ego-pornography for authors - and my Uncle Sanford is Hugh Hefner.
And this.

Look at you. Look at you, you goddamn beautiful disasters!
And this.
FAN ART, people. Actual, honest-to-god fan art. This is not a drill!
And this, and this, and this, and this. (I print these out and love them until they're kleenex. You know that, right?)

Oh my god, and THIS.
Because you haven't truly made it as a writer until Frank has named MapleStory characters after your fictional friends.
Seriously, guys. Thank you so much for everything you've done to help launch me out into the world. I have no idea whether I can actually fly or whether I'm just 'falling with style', but you are absolutely the reason I haven't already splatted on the pavement. And let me tell you: even when it feels like the ground is rushing up to meet you, the view from up here is still pretty damn glorious.

...but if I go cold, I won't get sold

I'll get put in the back, in the discount rack
Like another can of beans

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!