This past weekend I attended Readercon for the first time. This was only my second con, so I don’t have a huge history to draw from, but Readercon is definitely my favorite. I came away from it with wonderful memories and fantastic ideas. There was a really diverse cross-section of people and it felt a little more up-to-date than Boskone. I’ll give you the goods and the bads first, and then if you have a burning urge to read the more in-depth analysis of the panels I attended, that will be at the bottom.
Seeing so many of my Viable Paradise classmates again. They are an amazing, funny, and stunningly intelligent bunch of folks. If you haven’t yet, please check out the VP section of my links and go to their blogs. Every one of them is worth reading and knowing.
A Most Readerconish Miscellany – Two hours of amusement and the only cost is whatever you would like to donate to two great causes. Music and poetry and prose all in one place. It was wonderful and I highly recommend it to anyone attending next year. The range of experience and emotion evoked by enormously talented people showing off what they do best was nothing short of miraculous. C.S.E. Cooney made me cheer, Amal El-Mohtar made me cry, and Daniel José Older made me laugh.
The Booty Don’t Lie: A Cheeky Discussion of Butts in Literature – Okay, so there wasn’t much literature discussed, but this was a great panel nonetheless. Silly and fun in all the right ways, and the audience definitely learned a thing or two. I had never heard the story of Hottentot Venus before and I found it both tragic and enlightening. There was also a pretty racy discussion of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight which may actually get me to pick up a book on Arthurian legend again.
The hotel restaurant was slow. Tragically, painfully, shamefully slow. I’m not sure why exactly, but there’s really no excuse I’d accept for a two and half hour lunch during which one of our party had to fetch someone each time we wanted something, like say a menu.
Things I learned:
More people than I imagined in the publishing industry are looking for stories that don’t fit into the classic Fantasy and Science Fiction archetypes. I’m encouraged by the amount of diversity among panelists, and how committed many in the industry are to changing the dominant paradigms.
Science and Magic are more closely related than I would have guessed.
Plot without conflict is not only possible, but other cultures tell their stories primarily without conflict. Dovetailing interestingly with this is the idea that empathy can be used to propel stories rather than conflict.
Experiences in the life of an individual can impact gene expression not only in that generation, but in all subsequent generations. (This seriously blew my mind, more details below when I discuss the presentation.)
The emphasis on traditionally masculine characters has more to do with our definitions of heroic rather than anything particularly beneficial about that character model.
Things to remember for next year:
Next time, take an actual camera. Yeah, my phone has one, but I find when I actually want to take a picture it’s always almost dead. Plus I can keep the camera out without being tempted to look at my Twitter or whatever.
Seasons 52: It’s a tasty restaurant near the hotel that will get you a meal in less than three hours.
You can see a run down of all of the programming at Readercon here. I’ll give a brief impression on the panels I attended.
Empathy, Identification, and Stories – A great panel about how empathy benefits a story and how to create it with a particular emphasis on connection to the reader. My first introduction to Guest of Honor Andrea Hairston, who really impressed me with her wit and presence. The overall message was that needs and wants are the best way to assist your readers with connecting to characters they don’t immediately identify with.
The Difference Between Magic and Science – This was one of my favorite panels, mostly because the discussion seemed almost circular at times. The definitions of Magic and Science have a great deal of overlap in the most fascinating ways. There was also much discussion on exactly what constitutes technology and how that fits into the discussion. This panel was a wealth of civilized, thoughtful disagreement that is everything a great panel should be. I could have listened to the panelists for an entire day, but alas it was only an hour.
When the Magic Returns – For me, this panel veered off course a bit, which is not to say that it wasn’t interesting, just not what I expected. They didn’t really touch on what I felt like the core issue of the panel was, why the future and fantasy seem so incompatible, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable discussion of magic. Having been in the Science and Magic panel just before, I was left with the impression that fantasy may be a way for those of us in a modern society to be sentimental about our more innocent past. Now that science has removed so much of the mystery of the world, is fantasy our way to connect with that bit of naivete we’ve lost?
Plot without Conflict – This panel of all the ones I attended at Readercon may be the one that changes my writing the most. It was a discussion on storytelling without the traditional conflict model. They mentioned that stories in other cultures don’t rely so heavily on conflict. Of particular interest to me: Masala movies use balance rather than conflict to shape their stories. Japanese storytelling uses a totally different structure and as a result emphasizes change rather than conflict. Expect more posts about this kind of thing in the future!
Can Heroes Be Happy – Tempest Bradford ran a very organized, amazing panel about why we feel the need to make our characters suffer. They focused much of their time on why the suffering hero trope is used so often, and what we can do to change it. Why can’t a superhero (or any protagonist) have a happy home life? We need more stories in the world where the hero is a loving parent and or spouse.
Romance Recs for Spec Fic Fans – This panel was exactly as advertised. Basically, a long list of romance books that would be of interest to fans of speculative fiction. I came away with a long list of new books to add to my to be read pile, as if I needed anymore. Check out the list of recommendations in the hashtags #romancerecs and #readercon. Many thanks to Rose Fox for livetweeting the list for those of us slow at taking notes!
Parallels Between the Evolution of Human Language and Genetics – J.M. Sidorova is one of the unexpected gems I discovered at Readercon. She wowed me first on the Science vs. Magic panel, and with genetics being so near and dear to my heart, I decided at the last minute to go to this presentation. Mostly this was a pretty light-hearted look at the parallels between language and genetics. Sidorova showed how genetic ‘words’ can be looked at through a similar lens as language. It was a unique perspective I really appreciated. What really blew my mind about this panel, though, happened at the end. Sidorova closed with a recent study by Michael Meaney and others dealing with how gene expression in mammals is passed down to subsequent generations. Understanding this might require a brief review of what gene expression is. Basically, when organisms encounter different environmental stimuli, the genes they express can change. This is most commonly associated with bacteria who when put in solutions devoid of certain nutrients can cause different proteins to be synthesized which will produce the necessary item a different way. The study involved stress hormone generation in rat pups as a result of handling the mothers. Gene expression is eminently heritable, which is really sort of mind boggling when applied to mammals. I’m going to read up on that and will probably have a longer post at some point because holy crap that’s fascinating.
Imaginative Resistance – An interesting panel about the interplay between morality and suspension of disbelief. It morphed into a bit of a discussion about the resistance being specifically present when readers can’t identify with the protagonist.
How to Write for a Living When You Can’t Live Off Your Fiction – I don’t have much to say about this one. They did offer a few good nuggets of information, but nothing earth-shattering. Probably the best bit of advice is that it is okay to write for free for exposure, especially when you’re trying to get jobs writing non-fiction online to build up your portfolio. They gave a link to Resources for Writers which may have some good information available, I haven’t had the time to check it out yet.
New Models of Masculinity – Another one of my favorite panels. There were some great ideas about how to make male characters less traditionally masculine, but the thing that really impressed me about this panel was that there were actual editors there saying they wanted out-of-the-box characters in no uncertain terms. They emphasized the need for more paternal characters that aren’t villains, stories featuring men being good dads, and characters that derive their self-esteem from cooperating, rather than dominating. A really great idea for a new model of the masculine came from one of the panelists about the men who stay home rather than go to war (for a reason other than disability or injury), and the strength it takes to make that decision in the face of ridicule.
The Booty Don’t Lie – I mentioned most of the important stuff in my highlight above, but really just a feel-good panel that had the audience laughing and cheering almost non-stop. Fun, and awesome.
Variations on Unreliable Narrators – I only got to sit in on the second half of this panel, so I think I missed most of the meat. What I remember most about this panel was afterwards John Wiswell told me about a really interesting sounding book about a schizophrenic protagonist that I feel like I have to read, Caitlin R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl which he enthusiastically recommended.
Publishing and Marketing – An unremarkable panel for me. Different ways you can market but most of them I’d heard already. The big takeaway was that the best way to market changes constantly because people hate being to marketed to.
Phew! This turned into a much longer post than I intended, but there was so much to talk about. As I said there will probably be more exploration of some of this stuff at a later date. For now, I have to get writing non-blog stuff because I have so many ideas my head may soon explode if I don’t unburden it.
Hearts and puppies,
The subtitle for this post is: And Why Your Story Doesn’t Suffer Because Of It
Since around September of last year Diversity in SFF has been a conversation a lot of people are having. I have some rather strong opinions on the matter that I might have mentioned on this blog a time or two.
Most of the time, it’s hard to get people to care about more equal representation in fiction, especially genre fiction. We tell stories about aliens and artificial intelligence, isn’t that diverse enough? I have heard so many variations of “It’s the story that matters” and I shake my head every time. The common argument is that using diverse characters gets in the way of the story and makes it somehow hard for some people to relate to your character. Here’s the flipside of that. Is there a real story reason your main character has to be a straight white guy? If there isn’t, shouldn’t you change it in the interest of making the story better? In fact, isn’t the story made more interesting by making your main character someone you don’t expect? Let’s take an example, just for laughs.
Let’s say we’re going to rewrite Robin Hood in modern times. We could make Robin a white guy, just like the original story. He runs around stealing from the rich and giving to the poor because someone in a position of authority killed his family. I don’t know about you guys, but I really don’t feel the need to tell that story again. You know what I do want to tell? A story about a Mongolian girl who turns a gender biased system on its head and becomes a hunter. When someone she cares about is killed in an accident caused by a greedy company executive, she vows to avenge their death by bringing down the corporation. The bones of the story are the same, but isn’t the second version more interesting? Yes, you do have to do a lot more research to make an authentic story about the Mongolian girl. I didn’t say this was the easy path. It’s certainly not, but it is the right path.
Why is it important? Why does it matter? Because Art is a reflection of Life. Our world is magnificently diverse. There are all kinds of people. So many different kinds of people that it makes my head spin to think about it. Why shouldn’t they all get stories? The Mongolian girl who became a hunter despite the fact that girls don’t get to be hunters? She deserves a story. The Filipino boy who wanted nothing more than to become a model? She deserves a story. The dancer who lost a leg but doesn’t give up on dancing? She deserves a story.
Everyone in the world deserves a story. Don’t you want to tell it?
I hinted earlier this week that I made my first sale but I wasn’t sure if I was clear to talk about it. Now I am! My first story as a professional writer (meaning that someone else paid me for a story) was sold to Dreamspinner Press for their 2014 Daily Dose. The Daily Dose is a collection of themed romantic stories that are sent out over a month that you can buy as a set or individually. This year’s theme is Mended, love stories that feature healing. “Deep Water” was my submission to this collection. DW is one of my favorite short stories and the most sweetly romantic story I’ve ever written. Pre-orders for the Daily Dose collection will be up soon, and the stories will be available on June 1st. I’ll provide the sale links as soon as I get them.
Yes, sweet readers, I’ve been a slacker. This shouldn’t come as news. I blog when the muse moves me, and she’s been a frugal bitch lately. Actually, that’s not really true. I’ve had some wonderful story ideas that I’ve been busily scribbling down. In the last month I have finished, in no particular order, a dark fantasy Christmas story (yes, really), a mermaid story, a secondary world fantasy story, and a steampunk flash fiction story. See, I wasn’t kidding, I’ve been busy! Three out of those four are out on submission right now, and the fourth should go out the door later on this week after a final editing pass.
I’ve also been doing yet another editing pass on Summoner’s Circle, with the intention that I will start agent submissions with that novel no later than April 30th. Finally, I started a science fiction story that I’m really in love with that I like to call “Last of the Mohicans in Space.” I’m not sure how long LotMiS will end up being yet, but I think it has a lot of potential so far.
Since attending Viable Paradise last year, I have received twelve form rejections, one personal rejection, and one acceptance. That’s not a bad ratio, all told! I’m not sure yet if I’m clear to discuss the particulars of my first purchased story, but rest assured as soon as I know, you will too!
Part of the increase in productivity has been my use of GMail’s tasks. I’ve been using it to keep track of my projects and goals since the middle of March and it’s changed everything about my writing life. I can actually see what’s coming! Want a sneak peak? Aside from getting Summoner’s Circle out the door, I’ve got a new novel I’m dying to work on that’s a dystopian. I’m going to revisit a science fiction heist short story called “Optical Occlusion” that has been rejected a couple of times and possibly lengthen it into a novella. I’ve also got a project slated for later on this year with the wonderfully wicked Nikka Michaels that I am SO excited about.
Honestly, I’m so damned proud of the writing I’ve been doing lately that I really want to show you some of it, but I can’t. *sad trombone* Thus is the writer’s burden. Well, one of them, anyway.
That said, I’ve managed to dig up for you something that is not recent, but does feature two of the characters from the dystopian I’m going to start work on soon. Like most of the scenes I write very early in the writing process, this will likely never make it into the actual story, but serves to help me flesh out characters and their relationships.
The boots parked under Andi’s table when she entered her cabin were familiar ones. She held back a relieved sigh and glanced over him before saying anything. He seemed intact and no worse for wear than the last time she’d seen him. His sun-weathered skin and shaggy white-blond hair made him seem older than she thought he was, though he’d never admitted his exact age to her. He had the lean, rangy frame of a man used to demanding physical work and not enough meals. The burn scars on the left half of his face always made her wince, but he insisted they didn’t pain him any longer.
“Been a while, Cole. I thought you were dead in a ditch somewhere.”
He looked up from the map in front of him on the table, his eyes a shade of green that reminded her of sea glass. “Too ornery to die.”
She smiled. Despite how weary she was, seeing him always improved her mood. “Thanks for lighting the fire.”
“I figured you’d come back with dinner. The least I could do is warm the place up.” He eyed the gutted rabbits Andi held. “I can start those while you clean up.”
Andi passed him the pair of rabbits and headed to the alcove that housed her bed. She shucked her outdoor garb, hanging the heavy pants and jacket out of the way in the hope they might shed some of the ever-present grit before she had to wear them again. She knew better. They could make a lot of things about their new lives more pleasant, but getting rid of the grit that scoured the world now wasn’t one of them. It invaded everything, digging into every crevice. Some folks said the dust was the ground-up bones of the billions of people that had once walked the Earth, but she didn’t believe that.
She used a handful of water from the basin beside her bed to wash her face, and her survival instincts complained at even that small extravagance. She wiped away the remaining grit with a soft cloth, and then slipped into her lighter house clothes.
She crossed the main room of the cabin again, pausing at the table to look over the map. The paper was yellowed and looked to be near tearing at the folds. Notes in Cole’s cramped handwriting marked several areas of the paper. “What’s this for?”
He responded without turning from his work at the single counter that served as her kitchen. “Same as always.”
So, in summary, 2014 is my year. I’ve put my flag in it and claimed it as my own. I’m good at sharing though, so if you want it too, I’ll let you have some.
Huge hearts and fuzzy puppies,
As of this writing I have four stories out on submission to various markets. I don’t mind telling you, I feel like a bit of a badass. A year ago I had only submitted two stories ever, and those only to one market each, and promptly locked my form rejections away where no one would ever see them. These days I have a different philosophy about the rejection carousel. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still terrified of rejection and I likely always will be, but each time I send a story out I feel a little less like the entirety of who I am is being judged based on a few words on a page.
Steven Gould had a great piece of advice for us at Viable Paradise that has really stuck with me. As a writer one of the most important things you can do is tie your self-worth to something, anything else besides your writing. I’ve thought about this advice since October, and decided that it’s absolutely true. If every story is an integral part of who I am and I send it out to the world where it is summarily rejected and/or ignored, how can I expect to feel good about myself at the end of that process? It’s a struggle for me to dissociate myself from my work, but hopefully it will get a bit easier with time. I also have to find another hobby to pour myself into to take the place of writing, now that it’s become more of a ‘job’.
On the writing front I’ve been making good progress, but not much that I can share here if I want to send them at some point. I did have a germ of an idea for a new character over the weekend and wrote a little bit of a profile story for her that I thought I’d share.
Mikaela slipped out of the gauzy black dress with her back to the only mirror in her bedroom. She’d envied the women in the orchestra their beautiful gowns once, but not anymore. She couldn’t point to the exact moment when that had changed for her, but part of her wished she still wanted the black tie charity events and their careless elegance. More and more, the gorgeous dresses felt like a yoke holding her to a life she despised.
Despised was perhaps too strong a word. She still loved the music. When the rising and falling notes surrounded her, the charade made sense. The rest of the time, she hardly felt like a person at all. She was a work of art: a damsel in a lovely dress with her knees wrapped around an expensive musical instrument.
As she walked into the bathroom, she let her hair down from the intricate braid atop her head; the gemmed comb just another adornment that made her faceless amid the other captured, beautiful things. She couldn’t look at herself in the mirror until she’d washed off her makeup. Under the decorations, she was the woman she recognized after all.
Mikaela pulled her hair back into a pony tail, leaving the shorter pieces to find their own way about her face. She scrubbed her neck and chest with a washcloth, removing the perfume and powder that helped disguise her. When she felt completely like herself again, she was ready. She padded back into the bedroom and dressed again, this time in her own clothes rather than borrowed finery: black jeans, a white button-down shirt, and her favorite leather boots. She spared a glance for her cello case where it rested on the table, then stepped away from that part of her life, for the weekend at least.
That’s all for me. Hearts and puppies and all that jazz,