Tuesday, August 25, 2015

THE WORLDCON EXPERIENCE


I think I’m going to spend my twilight years vacationing at fandom conventions. They are relatively brief, provide intellectual stimulation, are full of instant friends to chat with and everything’s as accessible and non-physically-challenging as possible. The last couple I’ve been to had to do with video games, and were bright and flashy and loud, and full of people younger than me. Worldcon was peaceful and mellow and full of people older than me, although there was a little crossover.

I got into lots of impromptu random conversations. Sometimes I was organized and got the person’s name and copies of their card/ad/flier/whatever, and sometimes I didn’t.

NETWORKING AT WORLDCON

It was strange and wonderful being surrounded by other writers. The ones I chatted with were very gracious and encouraging when I admitted I was an unpublished noobasaurus.  I thought I’d mention some of the ones who encountered me when I was organized enough to learn names.

Annie Bellet – I met her at the SFWA booth where there were charity auctions to have various sci fi writers write a personal story about the bidder.  And I was tempted to enter them all, just so my name would actually appear in published sci fi. John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow were both participating, and I’ll admit the idea of buying (cough, charitably contributing) my way into getting my name in print appealed.

Annie went them one further and offered to kill me. I told her pshaw, I die all the time in World of Warcraft, and we began discussing this very interesting subject. Annie revealed she would like to play a mage but had trouble getting started. I made brief mention of my leet WoW skillz.  Annie, if you see this, my offer for assistance in becoming an overpowered, strutting, leet mage stands. Any time, any server.

I have been reading about Annie, and how she was one of the people who got hosed by the slating, and now that I’ve met her I’m even more annoyed because I really liked her.  So I went and acquired two of her books, both series-starters:
Justice Calling: The Twenty-Sided Sorceress, Book 1
and
Witch Hunt (The Gryphonpike Chronicles Book 1)
(I say “acquired” because she cleverly does the first-one’s-free marketing scheme, which I have been thinking of doing myself – I’ll read further into whichever series grabs me.)

Heather Rose Jones – I met her at a hive of scum and villainry, and later on I attended her reading. She writes lesbian regency romance with alchemy and magic, and her series begins with Daughter of Mystery.  I haven’t bought it because I’m kind of Austenphobic, but I am following her on Amazon in case she gets around to writing down some of that amazing haunting spin on the Mabinogion she sampled for us at the reading.  Do it, Heather!  I’m still thinking about the bread as thin as linen!

Mark Van Name – I showed up too early for Heather’s reading and got to hear some of Mr. Van Name’s reading, from a military sci fi story with a gay couple dealing with PTSD in the midst of a big war.  I’ve got a soft spot for mil sci fi, having read and forgotten (this way I can re-read it for the first time again, later) large amounts of Heinlein. At the end he said a few things about diversity, and Baen, and being liberal. I looked him up and noticed he has co-written with Sad Puppy founder Larry Correia.  I liked his reading very much, and he was another of the many people I encountered at Worldcon who brought it home for me that the slating mainly hurts the writers who have not yet achieved GRRM or Scalzi level status. 

Leigh Kimmel – She sold me some awesome Killer Bunnies t-shirts, and her work is in progress.  Do it, Leigh!

John Scalzi – is already megafamous and rich and everyone knows who he is. I can say that he’s lots of fun to watch – very energetic and clever and funny. After his reading, an audience member handed him a ukulele (all decorated gothy-like, with skulls) and he burst into a rendition of Radiohead’s hit “Creep”, and got us all to sing along on the chorus, which was probably my favorite thirty seconds of the entire convention.  He’s like the Mick Jagger of writers.

George R.R. Martin – I went to his reading and was utterly transported while he told us a tale from that book he’s taking forever to write. I also went to his old-dudes-remembering-Hugos chat with Robert Silverberg. Later, I saw him just hanging out being a nerd – chatting about nerdly things, cruising through the dealer’s room. I could have approached him in an obnoxiously fannish way and asked him some doltish question he’s probably already been asked several hundred times, but I gave him space and respect, like everyone else was doing. I saw other luminaries like Scalzi and Silverberg and Gerrold doing the same.

David Gerrold is not my friend.  On Facebook. But a couple of my friends are his friends and sometimes they link his posts, and I enjoy them so I follow David. That means I’m muted and can’t comment unless I do it on a shared comment, and I’ve actually gotten some decent book recommendations that way. Maybe one of David’s friends will read this and let him know I’d like to be on his friend waiting list.  I liked hearing his talks, I was part of a large general conversation he was also in, and I think he did an awesome job hosting the Hugos.  While hanging out waiting for him to show up late to his own panel, I was chatting with Wendy Sheridan, who does web/graphic design.

Robert Sheckley – is, unfortunately, dead. BUT.  I just have to mention this Sheckley book I was reading on the airplane, because it’s … rocketing its way into my all-time favorites list. After identifying him on File 770, I acquired most of his works on Kindle for a shockingly low price, since he seems to be sliding toward obscurity, and I want to do something to stop that if I can.

Options by Robert Sheckley.
You know that last scene in Mad Men? In my headcanon, the absolute next thing Don Draper does is run off with Robert Sheckley to some wild psychedelic party in Malibu where they sit up all night on the beach talking about what the future will look like while teenage George Lucas spies on them, concealed behind a surfboard.
Options has that same delirious, tomorrowland-sliding-into-counterculture, beat poetry kind of feel. It’s mostly about Mishkin, and this robot, although realities change from chapter to chapter (“absurdist” according to Goodreads, where I just five-starred it). If it helps, I was reading it simultaneous with the first Discworld book, which seemed cozy and orderly and British in comparison. Options made me laugh out loud on an airplane (the part about the guy who had his own way of catching fish for dinner – boring them to death with discussions of inalienable rights).  It’s philosophical, it’s zany, it’s got darkness, it’s brilliant. I plan to read it at least nine more times.

Anyway. Back to writers that are still alive.

Sheckley’s name was the first thing I saw when I entered the convention, because there was a big stack of big fat Sheckley books entitled Moon Over Manana on the free table. Moments later, I owned one, as well as an autographed copy of A [sword]ex Twice Abducted by TL Walker, who was manning the freebie table.

Mike Glyer does a webpage called File 770.  I have vague memories from when it was a printed zine. It has been an invaluable resource during the last few months as I sought to inform myself about the Puppies, their detractors, their supporters and the surrounding history.  Along the way I have learned a lot more about science fiction and related subjects, and my Kindle app staggers under the weight of books I have purchased solely through recommendations in the comments on File 770.  I have found my new literary gatekeeper.

I went to a soiree with a bunch of people from the File 770 comments, and (gulp) wound up sitting right next to Mr. Glyer, trying not to implode in a fit of spontaneous noobish combustion.  Mr. Glyer is the science fiction community’s chief reporter and gumshoe. He knows where all the bodies have been teleported to.  His comment section is now my favorite go-to spot for smart conversations.

Karen Azinger wrote a series called Silk & Steel, and she had the initiative to hand out postcards advertising it just before the GRRM reading. I admire initiative, and I bought The Steel Queen (The Silk & Steel Saga Book 1) for my Kindle.

Chad Scheres is an artist, not a writer.  He draws Big Daddy Roth style horror icons, and he makes resin sculptures too. If that sounds appealing, you should check him out. 

S. Usher Evans hangs out at http://www.susherevans.com/blog/ and has an article about not self-publishing which I should probably read, as well as links to several of her books. I have a coupon for a free copy of Double Life, the first of the Razia series.

Aviva Bel’Harold wrote a vampire story that looks pretty good, called Blood Matters. I remember looking at two different covers for it, an eye-catching-but-disturbing one and a toned-down one. 

Raymond Bolton wrote a steampunk story with space – Awakening: The Ydron Saga.  I have just acquired it for Kindle.

Henry Melton has written a lot of YA stories that sound interesting. He’s got a cool slogan – “Small towns, big ideas.”

Francis Hamit was also at the File 770 soiree, and I just bought his e-book Meltdown, a story about a nuclear accident. 

PANELS AT WORLDCON

I went to a few panels.

Women in videogames.  I walked out because there was some outdated info presented in order to portray one of my favorite games as being more sexist than it actually is. 

Violence in fiction.  This panel seemed comfortable with the idea that yes, some art is violent, plus some people like that, particularly those who enjoy a subgenre called grimdark, which probably needs no further explanation. Nobody was grandstanding about how books cause violence, although there was a threatened side discussion about the ethics of torture.  I liked the consensus suggestions to make sure the violence is necessary, and realistic. 

Writing about controversial subjects. Like many people, I sometimes wonder if mobs will converge on me and attempt to destroy my life for expressing honest opinions about things like mayonnaise (disgusting) and Obamacare (in favor).  It was nice to see high profile people like Laura Mixon, Mike Glyer, John Scalzi and Eric Flint elucidate on controversy, and remind us that there are far more opinionators, and people supportive of them, than silencers.

Self-publishing. In this panel I learned one can make about $200 for typesetting a manuscript in e-book format. This is nice to know, since I planned to learn how to do that anyway.

It also made me think seriously about joining the ranks of the self-pubbed, mainly since my first novel kind of deviates from the established path.  Possibly it will open doors to future publishers. Maybe self-pub would be a good route for me, since I’m ornery and don’t take direction well.  Something to ponder, anyway.

AND I LUXURIATED IN MY ROOM

The Davenport has these special mattresses that are topped with pillows, for sort of a featherbed effect. It was definitely one of the most comfortable beds I have ever encountered. And that was a good thing, because my back was screaming at me throughout most of my journey through the land of seating without lumbar support. 

In fact, the Davenport is my favorite out of all the hotels I’ve ever visited. It was built in 1912, and is covered with marvelous Victorian gingerbread. All the furniture has clawed feet. The party suites have middle-of-the-room fireplaces. I’m a sucker for restored old hotels, as opposed to creepy modern corporate hotels, and the Davenport delivers in spades. 

At turndown they give you their very own special recipe soft peanut brittle, in chocolate and regular, which is very much like pralines. Everything I ate in the restaurant was delicious, and the French Dip was so good I ate it twice.  I had the most perfectly-cooked filet mignon there, crispy exterior and rare center.

I did eat outside the Davenport a couple times, once at a chain and the other time at Saranac on Main Street near the convention hall, where I had killer kalua pork and mac ‘n cheese. Conclusion: there is no bad food in Spokane. There is also plenty of coffee in Spokane, and none of it is bad. 

PLUS THERE WAS A DISASTER

Spokane is a lovely Pacific Northwestern town full of funky old brick buildings and street art. It seems like there’s always a freight train going by. A river literally runs through it, complete with waterfalls and a little gondola ride that goes over them. I rented a car initially, and twenty minutes after I left the airport I made my way to a park full of towering evergreens, and then I found an overlook atop a gorgeous gap in a neighborhood full of spiffy old houses. After I got a look at the environs I turned the car back in, since Spokane is walkable, and I had pretty good luck with the convention shuttle. 

The Evergreen State was looking a little brown and crispy from the drought, and forest fires were burning all around the eastern half of the state. When I first arrived, you could see brownish haze on the horizon, coloring the sun a bright bloody red.  By Friday the smoke was so thick you could smell it inside the convention center, and the sky was thick and sepia-toned, and full of nasty little particles that inspired some people to don breathing masks, or handkerchiefs wrapped around their lower faces in train robbery fashion.

We were all advised to hole up in our hotels, so I did that, and discovered the president had declared an emergency.

AND AS FOR WHAT’S LEFT IN MY BIG BAG FULL OF MISCELLANEOUS PRINTED MATERIAL

Let’s see.  There’s going to be a Norwescon in March 2016, and Tanya Huff, Janny Wurts and William Hartman will be there.

Westercon is bidding for Denver, and invites me to help make this happen.  In 2016 it’s going to be in Portland. I like Portland. I should go. Stross, Scalzi and a bunch of other people will be there.

Northwest Independent Writers Association is something I may want to join if I ever move to WA or OR.  Just kidding! I love it here in San Francisco!

www.edgewebsite.com is a publisher of F, SF and H.  One of their books has an intriguing Space Invaders style cover. 

I have a coupon for a free e-book from Dreamspinner/Harmony Ink/DSP Publications.  I’ll have to investigate their offerings.

I also have a cool artsy bookmark plugging Guts & Glory, at Jessica-Rising.com.

www.galaxysedge.com is a SF&F magazine. I should read it.

http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/ is also a SF&F magazine,and I should read that too.

DID I GET INSPIRED OR ANYTHING?

My current game plan: 
  Spend at least a week sleeping on this before I do anything about it;
  Self-pub the novel on Amazon. It's broken into long chapters, four per novel. I can do those separately, with the first one being free. 
  I will need thumbnail-friendly cover art. My skills fail at big elaborate cover paintings of the type I fantasize about, but I could probably make a thumbnail.
  And I will also need to learn to typeset for e-book. That shouldn't take too long.
   Produce more publicity, so that I have cards to hand out at conventions.
   Give this thing one more good strong read-through, and toss it out there. 
   If it's good enough, publishers and editors will happen for subsequent books.
   Finish the short stories too.
   Always be writing.


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