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World Fantasy Con 2017

Hello, friends!

First, allow me to apologize for my relative inactivity here over the past month. Things have gotten a little crazy in Habershaw-ville – there’s a novel deadline looming, the semester is in full swing, and a new baby has recently arrived, all of which has cut in to the time I use to keep this place updated. I’m certain my routine will stabilize sometime soon (I hope) and I’ll go back to posting once or twice a week.

But that isn’t why you came, is it?

San Antonio!

San Antonio’s scenic riverwalk, by night

This past weekend I attended World Fantasy Con in San Antonio and had a grand old time. I didn’t get on any programming myself, so I was worried it wasn’t going to be a productive trip, but boy was I pleasantly surprised to be wrong! Here’s what I did:

Panels

I got in on Friday afternoon and immediately attended some readings. I saw friend GV Anderson read from her story “I Am Not I” from the July/August F&SF. Then I went to see friend William Ledbetter read a bunch of flash pieces from various venues. It was a delight to finally meet both of them in person and their readings were very good.

During the rest of the weekend, I saw five panels.

Panel #1 – Borrowing From History: Intention and Appropriation

This panel interested me because, as a white man, I am concerned that I have not always done justice to other cultures I have portrayed (however indirectly) and wish to do better. I was hoping to get some tips on how to responsibly explore and portray cultures other than my own. Unfortunately, I didn’t really learn that. The panel was chiefly concerned with exclamations that appropriation is a problem (which I knew) and that publishers and gatekeepers have a lot of responsibility in giving persons of color greater voice (which, while true, wasn’t especially helpful for authors trying not to be exploitative). The general advice was to do your research and tell stories that do other cultures “well.” While I applaud the sentiment, such advice was sufficiently vague as to be practically useless.

Panel #2 – Religions of the African Diaspora: Beyond Zombies, Ancestors, and Giant Apes

This panel, made up almost entirely of African American academics and authors, was intended to discuss the vast array of African religions and discuss how to portray them in fiction. This, as it happened, wound up being mostly a panel about cultural appropriation, however it was much more useful and concrete from an author’s perspective. Panelists pointed out the hypocrisy of European views of Voudoun (“voodoo”), for instance, which is portrayed as a wicked blood magic when, at the same time, the Christian church frequently displays a corpse (the crucifix) and engages in blood magic itself (the Eucharist). It is not the ritual of voudoun that is frightening to a white audience, it is the fact that it is black people worshiping.

The panel was comprised of a lot of observations like this, demonstrating how so much history goes unresearched and  unknown because of accepted cultural and racial biases. It did a good job of getting me to be aware of those biases in myself and give me places to look to dispel them, which made it a lot better (in my opinion) than the previous panel.

Panel #3 – Ancient Cultures, Modern Sensibilities

This one was all about how and whether to use problematic aspects of ancient cultures (human sacrifice, incest, slavery, etc.) in modern fiction and how to portray characters living in those times as sympathetic even though their behavior doesn’t mesh with modern morality and taboos. It was interesting, but I don’t have any tidy soundbites for you.

Panel #4 – Which Witch is Which? Power and Portrayal of Magic in Fantasy Literature

This panel contrasted fictional witchcraft with historical (and contemporary) practice. It was very interesting, especially from a world-building perspective, as witchcraft has an incredibly varied history, ranging from simply local women practicing traditional medicine to those identified as the political enemies of the church all the way to modern Wicca and other traditions.

Panel #5 – The Secret History of the Hyborian Age

This late-night panel was basically for Conan enthusiasts and fans of Robert E Howard’s work. Panelists – mostly anthropologists and Howard historians – explained new revelations about Howard’s life, his work (and world-building) and his correspondence with HP Lovecraft (which was quite extensive, apparently – those two fought like cats for decades). The basic thesis was that Howard was far more conscientious about his world building than originally thought and was in some ways a precursor to the complex fantasy worlds common to the genre today. Fascinating stuff.

Books and Signings!

This year’s haul.

As usual, the WFC bookbag was amazing. I would post a picture of it, but wordpress is not cooperating and won’t upload any files. It contained such highlights as Martha Wells’ All Systems Red (which I later had signed), Cargill’s Sea of Rust, The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera, an issue of F&SF, and a bunch more stuff, too. I didn’t take all of it home (limited suitcase space), but the satchel bag was nice and the haul was probably the best I’ve gotten.

At the mass signing on Friday night, I ran into a lot of friends. I saw Sara Beth Durst with her super-professional spread (her own bookmarks and everything!). I ran into Beth Cato, who was hawking her super cool short fiction anthology Red Dust and Dancing Horses and, as usual, had cookies on-hand. C Stuart Hardwick was there, too, sitting in the corner and pretending not to be a science fiction author among fantasy authors (and, seriously, don’t we all read both?). I met Martha Wells and got her to sign her book, said hi to lots of other people, and overall had a great time.

People!

Beyond the official events, I spent a lot of time meeting new people and catching up with folks I already knew. I went out to dinner with a bunch of folks from my agency, had breakfast with Charlie Finlay of F&SF and a bunch of fellow F&SF authors, reconnected with Scott Anderson of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and met a bunch of folks from Boston, of all places, who happened to be out in San Antonio and also happened to know people from my Writers of the Future year.

As a final note, my friend GV Anderson won the award for best story! How awesome is that?

So, yet another good year for the WFC. Next year is Baltimore, which is a short trip from Boston. I’ll definitely be there – I hope to see you, too!

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Convention Report: World Fantasy 2016

Hi there! Haven’t posted in a while. Did you think I was dead? Well, I was. As it’s Halloween, however, I have risen from my grave to tell you what I’ve been doing in the Underworld Columbus, Ohio.

That’s right – just got back from the 2016 World Fantasy Convention! Great times were had and now, in brief and pithy statements, I shall explain such times to you.

Lovely Columbus

First off, I have to say that, despite my little crack above, Columbus is a pretty nice little city. The food was good, the neighborhood around the hotel was really cool, and the weather was downright pleasant. As a highlight, I got to go to a burger place that served not just regular hamburgers, but also burgers made of turkey, duck, elk, wild boar, or bison. I had an elk-burger with bacon, pepper jack, and a variety of interesting mayonnaises and it was quite the flavor explosion. I could probably eat at that particular restaurant every day for a year and not get sick of it.

So…Many…Books…

WFC is a convention of readers above all else. Nowhere is that more noticeable than in the book bag you get as a bonus for attending. Check out this spread:

Wow.

Wow.

Them’s a lot of books, folks. So many books, in fact, that after stuffing said haul into your suitcase by some feat of spatial gymnastics and raw strength, on the way into the airport on the trip home the TSA will yank that suitcase out of the X-Ray machine and hand examine it. The guy unzipped my suitcase, peered inside, and offered up a non-plussed “it’s…just a fine selection of books…”

Yes, TSA guy. Yes it is.

The Panels!

I went to see several panels over the course of the weekend and even sat on two myself (I’ll explain those two later). The panels and the highlights were basically as follows:

I Believe I Can Fly was a panel on the mystique of flight in fantasy fiction. I saw it because my friend, Dan Koboldt, was sitting on it and I knew he and I would be on a panel later together on a similar topic. I was worried I didn’t have a lot to say about flight, but it turned out that I totally did and I wound up talking a bit much during the panel itself even though I wasn’t on it (sorry, folks). One of the better comments came from Curtis Craddock (I think) who said that, as mammals who sleep on our backs and look at the stars, flight has always been important to us. Alan Smale was also on the panel, and his alternate history novel Clash of Eagles (where the Roman Empire has survived to the 13th century and invades North America) sounds cooler and cooler every time I hear him talk about it.

Trilogies? Small Stuff! This was possibly the best panel I saw. You got to watch Mercedes Lackey and Lee Modesitt argue over who has longer running series and more books altogether (the answer is Lackey, by a country mile as it turns out), got to listen to David Drake and Sharon Shinn and Kay Kenyon talk about how to keep from getting burned out (a lot of them switch protagonists or POV as the series develops) and all of them talked about the size of a story you were planning to tell. Quote of the panel was probably from Lackey: “My muse is my mortgage.”

L.E. Modesitt Jr. Guest of Honor Speech Listened to Lee Modesitt talk about how he wound up being an author (basically spending a lot of his life working in jobs he was poorly suited to), how he writes (2.5 mile walk in the morning, then breakfast, then writing from mid-morning until 7 or 10pm, with breaks to shop, eat, etc.), and how he wound up writing fantasy (he found himself as a junior author on a panel as the only scifi writer among fantasy authors. When asked “what do you think about modern fantasy authors’ takes on economics and politics his flustered response was “they don’t seem to know anything about either one of them!”).

Sword and Sorcery Today: Still Slashing Away featured moderator Scott Andrews (of Beneath Ceaseless Skies) trying in vain to get panelists Mercedes Lackey, David Drake, SM Stirling, and James Moore to talk about contemporary sword and sorcery but instead they mostly argued about what it was and whether they wrote in the genre or not and why it mattered.

How Does Who We Are Affect What We Read was an interesting one featuring Robert J Sawyer, David Coe, and others wrestling with the interaction between reader and text and, more importantly, to what extent can we or should we learn from past writers who held reprehensible beliefs by today’s standards (HP Lovecraft, for instance). I found the discussion really interesting and the panelists got very contentious at times, which itself was instructive. No clear answers were arrived upon, as expected.

Old Stories, New Twists talked extensively about re-tellings and fairy tales – a topic that I’m professionally interested in as a professor, even if I haven’t done that myself. The panelists explored how you get into your head to retell something (the stuff that annoys you about the classic tale and exploring that further) and what new you can bring to old texts. There was also a shout-out to the fact that Belle’s behavior in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is textbook battered wife syndrome, which is something I’ve discussed at length before on this very blog.

The Mass Book Signing!

Look at that! I'm all official and such!

Look at that! I’m all official and such!

On Friday night, all authors who were on panels or otherwise part of the convention gathered in the ballroom to meet and chat with fans and sign any books of theirs that happened to be present. To my mild surprise, I had a name tag and everything and was entitled to a seat at the table with everybody else!

Now, I had but one copy of my novel and none were for sale in the dealer’s room, so I figured I wouldn’t be doing much signing. I parked myself next to Sarah Beth Durst (read The Queen of Blood, by the way – it’s great!), who I expected was going to get a lot of traffic (she did!) and maybe, just maybe some of those folks, while waiting in line, would talk to me. It worked pretty well, actually, and I maybe convinced 4-5 people to buy my book.

Then, to my complete surprise, two people (separately, without coordination) came up and asked me to sign my short story “Lord of the Cul-de-Sac” in May 2016 issue of Galaxy’s Edge. So I did get to sign stuff, after all – cool! Of course, next year I need to remember to bring actual books or see that they’re stocked in the dealer’s room, at least.

My Panels!

I got to sit on two separate panels, both of which were a blast.

An Aviary of Beasties was a panel all about flying critters in fantasy and what kinds were at our disposal and what to do with them and so on. It was me, Dan Koboldt, EJ Stevens, Rajan Khanna, and Susan Shell Winston as moderator. I mostly talked about the difficulty of owning or training flying mounts in a fantasy world (what do you feed them? How do you train them? What do you use them for? How expensive are they?) and a fair amount about the evolutionary role such creatures should or ought to play in your environment. EJ Stevens talked a lot about the role of various fey creatures in her own novels and some discussion was had about the dichotomy between the really big flying things (Dragons, the Roc) and the really little ones (Pixies, sprites, etc.). Dan talked a bit about the meeting of high-tech drones and dragons in his work, and Rajan discussed how his post-apocalyptic airship setting had to do a lot with how flight was an escape – freedom, essentially. Me, being the party pooper of a modernist that I am, talked about how that could also be taken as a myth – how conflict can develop from wishing you were free and then finding that you aren’t.

The second panel, and the last panel of the convention, was Atheist Fantasy: Is God Dead? This one was a real treat, with me getting to share the table with Max Gladstone, Lee Modesitt, Larry Hodges, Kevin Maroney, and Jeff Minerd. This, as you can imagine, was a really heady one. We discussed the origins and purposes of religions and how such things were (or were not) distinct from belief in or the existence of a deity figure. I offered the question of whether or not you could have supernatural, super-powerful beings and not have gods (isn’t a god just a supernatural being with a fan club?) and where the line was drawn. Max, of course, was all over the topic (and if you’ve read the Craft Sequence, you know why. If you haven’t, do so!) and Lee Modesitt was an able and provocative moderator. He left as soon as it was over, though, so I didn’t get a chance to ask him to sign my copy of The Magic of Recluse. Alas.

The People!

Much of the purpose of these conventions is to meet people – fans, other writers, editors, agents, etc.. In that regard, this convention was a great success – much better than last year, where I knew no one and nothing. In addition to catching up a bit with Sarah Beth Durst, I met fellow Harper authors Kelley Grant-Kelley, Dan Koboldt, and Laura Bickle. I saw CC Finlay and met Gordon VanGelder (both of whom are the nicest people!). I went out to dinner with a whole lot of authors and editors, had lunch with aspiring authors and fans alike, chatted with people about Neal Stephenson and The Grapes of Wrath and Black Mirror and on and on and on. It was fantastic, and I’m excited to go again next year in lovely San Antonio.

That’s about it about that. I’ll be back to my regular posting habits soon, I’m sure. Just as soon as I beat back this encroaching con-crud. Ugh…

Has to be a downside somewhere, right?

My Crazy Good Year

Yaaaay!

Yaaaay!

You know how your social media feed is starting to sprout all those posts about how hard this year was? This ain’t one of those, folks. Not because it wasn’t hard, but because it was totally awesome.

My (professional) year by the numbers:

Novels Published: Either 1, 2, or 3, depending on how you count. The Iron Ring was released in February, Iron and Blood in June, which are the two halves of The Oldest Trick, released in August. All parts/versions of the same book (my debut), mind you. Yes, it’s complicated. But also awesome.

Stories Published: 2 (“A Revolututionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration” in The Writers of the Future Vol 31; “Adaptation and Predation” in Escape Pod)

Stories Sold: 3 (to WoTF, Escape Pod, and Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Awards Won: Writers of the Future Award, 2nd Place, 1st Quarter 2014 (award ceremony was in April)

Memberships Achieved: SFWA Active Membership

Conventions/Workshops Attended: 3 (WoTF Workshop, ITVFest, World Fantasy Convention)

Novels Written: 2 (3, if you count total rewrites)

Stories Written: 6 (only counting complete, saleable stories currently on submission/accepted)

Total Words Written: ~300,000 (an average of about 820 words per day)

Along the way of this bang-up year, I made a bunch of new friends, found new groups of support and keen eyes to read, made a bunch of fans (I think/hope), and even got some fanmail. Hard to beat that.

As for this blog, its followership continues to grow. I’m up over 1300 followers now, which is really cool (and thank you, all of you, for reading…assuming you do. But since you’re reading this that would seem to imply that you…you know what? Never mind.).

What About Next Year?

Well, I’ll still be posting here, of course. In terms of Writing, No Good Deed is slated to come out, though it’s been moved back AGAIN by my publisher to April (no idea why). I would expect to see a few more stories from me to come out, given the contracts I have in hand (or will have shortly). My personal goal is to write more short fiction and publish more of same, score another book deal (hopefully extending The Saga of the Redeemed by another two books, if possible), and maybe even nab myself one of those elusive literary agents.

Stay tuned, folks! I’ll see you on the other side of the New Year!

 

 

 

World Fantasy 2015, the Recap

I had the great fortune this past weekend to attend the 2015 World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, NY. Here is a brief recap of my experiences there.

Friday

I drove out on Friday and arrived at about two in the afternoon. I checked in and got a massive bag of paperback books (seriously, there was a small library in there – I think the Kindle is going to go on a bit of a hiatus). As I knew approximately zero people, I wandered about for a bit.

Okay, I wandered around all day.

Going to conventions alone is a tough thing to do, especially if you’ve never gone to that particular convention before. While I’m not exactly shy, I don’t want to be that weirdo who creeps his way into other people’s conversations, so I walked around looking for somebody I recognized – my editor, somebody I’d met before, etc. It didn’t happen.

So, for lack of anything better to do, I bought a couple books on the Sellers Floor (a copy of The Lies of Locke Lamora in paperback for Scott Lynch to sign, a Game of Thrones Coloring Book for grown-ups, and one other novel – I wanted to find a paperback of a Max Gladstone book, too, but couldn’t find one). Then I went to a panel on Politics and Economics in Fantasy Worlds wherein the panelists discussed how important it was to consider such things when building a world (and admitted that most good fantasy authors do, to some extent).

Next up was a reading by Max Gladstone from a forthcoming work (not part of the Craft Sequence – wholly new!) which sounded really cool. I introduced myself to him afterwards, mentioning how we’re practically neighbors. I’m pretty sure that weirded him out. Go me.

Then I went to a panel on the surrealist scifi artwork of Richard Powers, which was really very interesting but I do not have time to go into here. Anyway, it solidified my belief in the strong ties between the Modernist movement of the early 20th century and the science fiction and fantasy genres (something to explore at greater length in a different post, I think).

Lastly, I went to the signing hall that night to get Scott Lynch to sign his book for me, which he did. Then I wandered around and around and around, wondering if I was going to spend the entire weekend not talking to another human being, when, lo and behold, Sarah Beth Durst, a YA/Middle Grade author I’d met in NYC recently, flagged me down. I hung out with her for the rest of the night, pretty much, since she’d been coming for a while and knew all kinds of people. I got introduced around. I met Katherine Addison, ran into Scott Lynch again, and really hit it off with fantasy author SC Butler. We stayed up way past our bedtime telling each other stories, which was fun.

My first day goal – meet new people – was a success!

Saturday

Saturday, I went to a ton of panels. An absolute ton.

This is basically what I did all day.

This is basically what I did all day.

What were they on? Hmm…

  • The Quest (and whether it has become passé). The conclusion was that it actually couldn’t become so, since it’s so ingrained in us. The line of the panel was Leah Bobet, who said “Not every quest needs to be David Eddings’ ‘go to each country on the map, find a friend, and slay the giant monster with the glowing blue thing.'”
  • Anthropology and Archaeology and how it can influence Fantasy writers. It was interesting, but no real zingers.
  • Faerie Courts and Fairy Courts and portrayals of the Fey in Fantasy literature. Much was made of moving away from Victorian Tinker-bell types and getting back to terrifying hobgoblins like Red Cap.
  • Violence and the Epic: how to portray violence in Epic Fantasy, why to do it, and when does it become gratuitous. Very interesting discussion. Glen Cook was on the panel and said less than a hundred words, but those he did say were doozies. Line of the panel (and probably the convention) was by him:

We live in a society where we think it’s really really bad to hurt people, but other places and times they’d throw a guy on the fire because it was fun to watch him scream.

Yikes.

I also listened to Scott Lynch read from The Thorn of Emberlain, which was freaking amazing and I can’t wait to read the whole thing.

That night I wandered around the art show for a while. The fantasy artists on display were crazy good. No pictures were allowed to be taken in the gallery (they’re trying to sell the artwork, you see), but take my word for it – jaw-dropping stuff. A lot of airships and steampunky stuff, for some reason. I loved one called “War Griffon” which showed a griffon decked out like a WWI fighter plane with a flying ace holding his reigns – goggles, cap, scarf, the whole thing. Very cool.

While there, I ran into Sarah again, and again I met a lot of other people by dint of my knowing her. Wandered from party to party for a while, then turned in late.

Sunday

Sunday morning I went to two panels. First was “Genre Tropes That Deserve to Die,” which was mostly hilarious and offered numerous injunctions against having fantasy characters eat stew while on the road (it takes way too long to cook. Frodo and Sam would have never made it out of the Shire if they had to spend a day making stew every time they were hungry). It was pointed out, though, that all tropes can be done well. It just gets harder for some to work once they’ve been overused.

The second panel, and my favorite of the convention, was on weapons beyond the sword and how can be used in the fantasy genre. Very cool stuff, very interesting. Turned out there was an actual bladesmith in the audience who contributed to the panel a great deal. I stayed afterwards to talk with Ian Cameron Esselmont (who let me babble on about Alandar and The Saga of the Redeemed for a bit) as well as Chuck Gannon and the aforementioned bladesmith (whose name sadly escapes me at the moment). Very, very interesting talk.

Finally, then, there was the banquet. I got a seat at the Harper Collins table between my editor, Kelly O’Connor, and author Rio Youers. The table mostly talked about baseball. The awards were fun – all the winners seemed surprised, and pretty much nobody had a speech prepared. There was a real sense of community in the room, which was nice – these were all friends, all who knew one another, all who supported each other. It was a really pleasant atmosphere, and I know I’ll come back. I want to become a real part of this community, not just somebody on the periphery. Goals to shoot for.

But, with that said, the convention is over now. Back to work, both real and fanciful.

Congratulations to all the winners! I’ll be back next year!

Here I Go Again (On My Own)

Health? History? Horses? Sounds like a Fantasy Convention to me! (Well, except that first part)

Health? History? Horses? Sounds like a Fantasy Convention to me! (Well, except that first part)

In about two weeks time, I’ll be hopping in a rental car and driving out to Saratoga Springs, NY, to attend the World Fantasy Convention. I will be going alone. I barely know anybody who will be there (I think). I have no idea what to expect. Well, that’s not entirely true – I imagine there’s going to be a lot of sitting in Samsonite chairs in convention halls. Beyond that, though, I’m stumped.

I’ve done this before. Some years ago, I attended Readercon (a scifi convention local to the Boston scene). I went in, I sat through a few panels, I bought a couple books, ate dinner, and went home. Afterwards, I wondered what I had spent my ticket money on, exactly. I hadn’t learned anything worthwhile, per se, and I didn’t meet anyone (hard to do that when you don’t talk to anybody), and I had no idea what to do. The whole experience put me off conventions for a good long while.

Here I am, though, doing it again. This time, though, I can’t just hop in my car and drive home for dinner. I’m there from Friday to Sunday, folks, and there’s no turning back. I plan on making this convention experience count. My advantages?

  1. I am a published author with a major publishing house (albeit the least well known author in that imprint). As my editor stressed to me when I met her, I have something to talk about.
  2. I know some people who will be there (my editor, and by “know” I mean “met exactly once and have corresponded via e-mail,” as well as some other Harper Voyager folks) and I will, therefore, not drift through the crowds entirely aloof and alone. I have been promised a “seat at the table,” though what table and who, exactly, I’ll be sitting next to is unknown.
  3. I have an actual goal. I’m looking for an agent who might be willing to take me on when I get around to pitching parts 3 and 4 (or 4 and 5, depending on how you count) of the Saga of the Redeemed. In order to achieve this goal, I will have to be social.
  4. Scott Lynch will be doing a reading there. As he is my Spirit Animal, I will try and get him to sign one of his books for me. That will be awesome.

Thusly armed, I shall journey forth in the snowy wilds of northern New York State and see if I can, through wit or will, advance my craft and my career in some way.

Either that or I’ll spend a significant portion of my time grading papers in my hotel room.

Assuming that isn’t the case, then maybe I’ll see you there! Drop me a note here if you plan to attend the WFC and, if so, what you hope to do or accomplish.