Category Archives: Conventions and Events

Criminal Minds – Notes from Orycon 2016


I found my bunch of Orycon 2016 notes the other day, and  thought some were worth writing up. This panel particularly impressed me, since the panelists (Matt Bellet, Bart Kemper, SD Perry) brought some very interesting experience and insights. Matt has worked in rehabilitating young offenders on parole; Bart Kemper, an officer in the Army Reserves who served in Iraq and Afghanistan (and is also an engineer with current Secret Security clearance with the DoD); and SD Perry, who writes horror and dark fiction and therefore researches this stuff constantly.


Is there such a thing as a “Criminal Mind”?

  • SD Perry: Yes, there are brain differences. Psychopaths show reduced frontal lobe activity, no emotional reaction to danger words, and increased amygdala activity. However, ordinary people can also be criminals through anger and self-righteousness. There’s sociopathy.
  • Matt: Yes. Some people have brains that work differently. Others are “typical” but do things that are criminal because of their circumstances.
  • Bart: Not all criminals are psychopaths nor are all psychopaths criminal.
  • SD Perry: Yes – some psychopathic traits can help careers. They’re over-represented among surgeons, CEOs, media journalists for example. Our society values people without empathy. They avoid criminal acts through rational decisions.
  • Bart: Killing people is acceptable depending on the circumstances – if the people are on the other side. It’s the difference between being a soldier, who kills people vs a murderer who needlessly kills people. Killing can be justifiable, but other crimes like rape may not be. The death penalty for rape is rational because there’s no justification for rape.
  • Question: What about women killing their abusers?
  • Bart: Most murders are personal.
  • Matt: I told my guys that I will talk about what’s legal and illegal, but not about right and wrong. It’s not my job to look at the ethics of the situation.
  • SD Perry: Psychopaths don’t think of right and wrong. They consider everything only in relation to themselves. Rehab also has to be different. It’s also true with narcissism – everything is about them. Difficult to treat them. There’s the Dark Triad: Psychopathy, Narcissism, Machiavellianism. Together with Sadism. Goes into the “Criminal Personality,” causes Criminal thinking errors.
  • Someone said something about Death Squads and Torture. “You lose part of your soul.”

Question: What about naked craziness? (I think the reference was to people on the street who act really weird and dangerous, but not sure.)

  • Matt: Drug addiction, rule-breaking, mental illness, drawing attention – these account for some of those behaviors.
  • SD: There’s a thin line between sanity and not-sane.
  • Bart: Criminals aren’t stupid. Smart people can deceive themselves.
  • Matt: Criminals are not only the hero of their own story, they’re also the victim.
  • SD: Psychopaths will lie.
  • Matt: They know what you want to hear.

Question: Is the internet causing psychopaths?

Psychopaths are born, not made. But people can relate to them: for instance, John Wick (violent action movie hero) was a sympathetic person.

Question: There was some study in the 1920s which found there was no psychological difference between police and criminals?

Bart: A manipulative personality can be used to manipulate people in good ways. E.g. a coach, or a criminal rehabilitator.

SD: Any job that offers power will draw psychopaths. E.g. Police. Surgeons. CEOs. Don’t have moustache-twirling bad guys as your villains.

Matt cited the Milgram studies. He noted that people who hadn’t completed high school wouldn’t press the button (to apparently torture the “victim” of the experiment). High School is where you learn to obey authority.

Bart: Countering the stupid authority requires ethics training. “Question every order.” Military reward people who revealed the Abu Ghraib incident, and prosecuted the bad guys.


That’s all I have in my notes. Really liked the session. I think I learned a lot. I was reminded of it recently when I read the Atlantic Monthly article, When Your Child is a Psychopath,   which notes that 80% of psychopaths are not criminal, and also this article: Life as a Nonviolent Psychopath.



My Norwescon 2017 Panel Notes: Advanced Self-Publishing


Advanced Self-Publishing (Tori Centanni (M), Annie Bellet, Mark Teppo, K. M. Alexander, Elliott Kay)

The discussion started with genre silos – writing books that are strictly within a genre, vs cross pollination. Also: If you write in more than one genre, should you consider different pen names?

Annie: It’s important for new writers to stay strictly within a genre, because of the way Amazon algorithms work. The most important element is the Recommendation engine, which will tend to recommend books similar to the ones a reader has already bought. The “also-boughts” are key: If people who bought your book also bought other books within the genre, then the also-boughts will give the correct signal. If you use the same name for two separate genres, you might get some cross-over readership – people who liked your Urban Fantasy may also enjoy your Adventure thriller series. But percentage-wise, most genres are separate readerships, and the result is the also-boughts get confused and give the wrong signals. So if you’re writing in two genres, at least use slightly different pen-names – like adding in an initial – to distinguish them. The Romance readers are more likely to cross into other genres than most other readerships.

Series are good for self-publishers; if readers like one book in the series, they buy all the others. The best thing you can do for your sales is to publish the next book in the series. It gives a boost to all the previous books.

How soon should you publish your next book?

For traditionally published books – about one a year was the conventional wisdom.

For self-published books, the ideal would be every 30 days (!) in the same series. If you can’t do 30, go for 60. If you can’t do 60, go for 90. If you’re a slower writer, then wait until you have at least 3 books in a series ready to go, and then release them once a month. This again comes from an Amazon algorithm. They have a 30-day “Hot New Release” list. If your next book comes out in time to get on the list *again* it will boost your series’ profile. They also have a 60-day list and a 90-day list.

Writing fast is important.  She said that when her pace of writing slowed, her income dropped every month. If you want to write faster, Annie recommends the book: “2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love” by Rachel Aaron.

What’s the difference between paper books and e-books?

For much of the readership – they’re two different things. People who buy paper books don’t always read e-books. But people who read e-books often read paper as well.

For a self-publisher, paper books aren’t worth the trouble. The pricing is hugely different – an e-book can be priced at 99 cents to maybe $7.99, while the paper book will be $15 or more. The margins are tiny. You don’t have the reach to get them into bookstores. That’s where the traditional publishers have a stranglehold on the channels. Annie said she makes more (per book) on a $3.99 e-book than on a $25 hardcover book. On Amazon, at any price above $2.99, you get to keep 60-70%.

Annie sold the paper rights to her “20-sided Sorceress” books to Saga, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. They called her when her series took off on Amazon, and asked if she was interested in a deal. She crunched some numbers, and said it would require an advance of around $2 million. There was complete silence from the other side. Then after a few minutes, they asked about print-only rights.

“That… would be a lot less,” Annie said. So she sold them the print rights (and, she says, immediately turned round and paid it to the Federal Government as tax!), and took down the print version of her books. They were selling only a few copies anyway.





My Norwescon 2017 Panel Notes: Running Your Author Business


Running Your Author Business  (Raven Oak (M), Tori Centanni, Annie Bellet, Jak Koke)

The panel emphasized that unless you were writing as a hobby with marginal expenditures and earnings, you need to run it as a business. Annie recommended watching “Shark Tank” to get the flavor of it.

Publishers are not employers. They can and will drop you and your books. You have to look after your own career.

If you’re self-publishing, you have to find and hire and co-ordinate with editors and cover artists. It’s your book when you write it, but once you publish it, it’s a product. Like hamburger. You want people to love your hamburger. Put on your publisher hat .


You can find a cover artist by looking at the covers you like, and contacting the artist. Or ask the author of the book who the artist is.

Annie: Very important to find an artist branded to your genre, who understands the tropes of your genre. If you’re a romance writer and you hate man-chests… well, that’s the branding for your genre. The cover must convey the flavor of the genre. (She related a story of going through 4 different covers for one of her books to get the right one. The first two weren’t too expensive, but the 3rd one cost $650. And it was a beautiful cover, just not right for the genre.)

Raven Oak does A/B splits to see which cover will work (for books from her micro-press).

Back cover blurb: Keep it short, but long enough to convey the tone. It should capture the character, setting, tone, and stakes.

Best marketing?

Annie: A new book. It boosts the sales of all your books. Besides that, good covers. Third, mailing lists.

Tori: Bookbub!

Jak: Blurbs and reviews. (Annie disagreed. Kirkus reviews had no effect on sales. The only one that mattered was Library Journal and that was hard to get into.)

Raven: Make friends with librarians, other contacts like Seattle Times, independent book sellers.

 Various income streams?

Tori: Amazon is the largest, Kobo if they do a promotion

Annie: Amazon dwarfs the rest. In one month, I made $31,000 on Amazon, $1500 on audio, $700 on Kobo and bits and pieces elsewhere. [I’m not completely sure I noted down the numbers correctly, but the point was that Amazon accounts for at least 80-85% of her income stream.]

Jak writes traditionally published books. Many have earned out. He also does freelance work for hire.

What about audio? When is a good time to do an audio book?

Someone (Raven? Jak?) said, ideal would be right away. Annie pointed out that making an audio book was expensive – it would cost $150 per hour or so just for a voice actor. She suggested waiting for Audible or one of its competitors to approach you. She has a audio contract with royalties.


Definitely get an accountant. Very well worth it.

Keep records meticulously, in real time. Record all your earning at the time in an Excel spreadsheet. The IRS recognizes income when it can reasonably be expected to arrive, not when you actually cash the check. A lot of expenses are deductible, including furnishings for a dedicated home office.

Don’t expect a 1099 will arrive. You may have to track it down. You’re responsible.

Is an LLC worth it?

Probably not. It’s state level, not federal level. It doesn’t make a difference on taxes. It only protects against liability, but not against libel/ slander/ copyright infringement – the things of most interest to authors. If you get sued, you would be better off using the money to hire a lawyer.  It’s only useful if you want to hire employees. If you’re big enough, you may want to form a corporation, but only when you’re really big.

What about Conventions? And what promotional material do you use?

Jak: I go to all affordable Cons within driving distance. For large Cons that are outside driving distance, I try to combine it with other stuff like visits to family. WorldCon is huge. I use business-card size cards of my book covers with contact information.

Annie: I go to Cons to hang out, meet other writers, and help others. I go to local Cons and WorldCon. I don’t sell a lot of books at Cons.

Tori: I go to local Cons, and now I’m the Track Lead at Norwescon. It’s for learning, meeting people. I carry business cards.

Raven: I go to all local cons, and a few outside. I booth. Sell books, make a connection with readers. When I’m at a Con, Con sales outsell online sales. (She also has “drop cards” that enable her to sell her ebooks at conventions to people not interested in buying print editions.)

Other forms of promotion? What about social media?

Annie: Have a mailing list and a monthly newsletter. Doesn’t really promote her books on social media.

Raven: I use Instagram. Pictures of our books photographed in interesting locations. It does boost sales.

General suggestion: Pick the social media you already love. You may or may not get much of a sales boost from it, so don’t do it if you hate it.




My Norwescon 2017 Panel Notes: Writing to Market


Writing to Market  (Tori Centanni (M), Annie Bellet, Marta Murvosh, Brenda Carre, Tegan Moore)

For me, this may have been the most interesting panel of the day. It nicely complemented the New Publishing panel I attended earlier.

  1. What is writing to market?
    • Marta: Understanding the tropes of a genre and making sure you deliver what the readers want. (She writes to anthology calls to challenge herself, and considers that writing to market.)
    • Brenda, who is published in many short-story markets – both spec-fic and literary – writes to her passion, and less to the market. She’s also published several books.
    • Annie (who is a very successful self-publisher): Writing with reader expectations in mind.
    • Writing to market is not writing to trend. Writing to a fan-base is ultimately a more successful strategy than hooking on to the latest trend. Even if you can do it, you may not be able to repeat the performance.
    • Teagan writes mainly short fiction, and writes to anthology calls. Pacing in literary markets is slower than in spec fic markets.
    • Markets may be more liberal than people think.
    • Distinguish between writing to the reader and writing to the editor.
  2. So how do you achieve this “genre methadone”?
    • Marta: As a librarian, I look for “appeal factors.” When someone likes a book, I ask what they liked about it. For e.g.: Hunger Games. Some of the factors: Dystopian; Speaking truth to power; Love triangle; Action adventure; bows and arrows. Then I can recommend another book with the right appeal factor.
    • Annie listed all the things she loved about books she read, focused on the urban fantasy genre, and wrote a series (The Twenty-sided Sorceress) using that analysis.
  3. How do you study the market?
    • Annie: Read! Read extensively in the genre you want to write.
    • Brenda: Read widely, it can spark new ideas.  Markets change over time, especially Young Adult.
    • Teagan: This is even more true (changing markets) of short fiction markets.
  4. Marketing to readers vs marketing to editors
    • Annie: It’s easier to market to readers than to editors. Editors are jaded, and they have to read lots of manuscripts and get fatigued when the same tropes keep appearing. Readers don’t care, they like what they like.
    • Brenda: Also, editors are responsible to a committee. Readers only have to please themselves.
    • Annie: For commercial success, reverse-engineer your tastes to the market. There is no such thing as trash. You have to enjoy popular culture. Find out what will connect you to your market. Susan Kaye Quinn suggests starting out by writing fan fiction of genres you love.
    • Annie: Look at the sales of sequels to your novel. Ideally, it should be >50% of Book 1.
  5. Is there a market for everything? Can I just take what I like, and extrapolate?  Someone spoke about books written from the point of view of the bad guy. Does the protagonist have to be appealing? We go into a discussion about flawed heroes and anti-heroes.
    • Marta: The market may exist, but it may be small. Who in this room has read “The Best American Short Stories 2016”?  [ I look around, and maybe 2-3 people have raised their hands.] “Right? Not many. It’s an important book, edited by Junot Diaz, but it appeals to a small market.”
    • Annie: I think there’s a market for everything, but there may not be a market for everything we write. And your market may be too small to support you as a writer. (She also has trunk novels which will never get published.)
    • Marta: It may appeal to a different audience than intended. I get YA Romance that aren’t really YA. They don’t address the concerns of teenagers,  the characters don’t think like teenagers. They’re just cleaned up romance novels. But there’s a market for clean (i.e. no onscreen sex] romance, and so I direct them to adults who want clean romance.
  1. What are the biggest mistakes?
    • Annie: They want to write something no one has seen before. It’s difficult to do and even harder to market.
    • Brenda: Only getting the low-hanging fruit – duplicating the market.
    • Marta: Not understanding what the reader wants

NorWescon 2017 in Seattle


I’d given up blogging about the Cons I attended, until the recent LiveJournal kerfuffle made me realize that I really valued having those Con notes afterward. So I’m starting again.

I only heard about Norwescon last year, when writer friends rounded up a bunch of people for breakfast. Next year, I decided, I really must attend the Con as well. It’s large – around 3,500 people, and very much a ‘big tent’ Con with books, media and costuming. There are literally thousands of people milling around, many of them in quite fantastic costumes.

The registration lines were long, but once that was done,  I attended panels, made a round of the pretty awesome Dealer Room, visited the art show twice, and also got to the Masquerade (amazing) and the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I’ve wanted to see for years.

It’s also a great Con for meeting people, if you set it up with them. (You *can* run into people, but with such a crowd, it’s easier with planning.) I’m lucky to be a member of Codex, a neo-pro writers group, and so I knew a few people there. I imagine it could be quite daunting for someone altogether new.

Overall, I attended a bunch of writing/ publishing panels, as well as a couple on other media (film, sound) and a few others that were new information/ experience. I am putting some of the panel notes into separate posts for easier access. And, of course, got to hang out with a great bunch of Codexians.  I really hope I can make it again next year.

Links to my Panel Notes from Self-publishing Panels:

  1. Panel: Navigating the New Publishing
  2. Panel: Advanced Self-Publishing
  3. Panel: Writing to Market
  4. Panel: Writing as a Business

Norwescon Film-making Workshop: Introduction (Daniel Kaufman (M), Ryan K. Johnson, Brian D. Oberquell, John Medlong)

Each year at Norwescon, the film team and a bunch of volunteers put together a short film over the weekend. It’s planned on Friday, shot on Saturday, and shown on Sunday. They showed us two films made in previous years They talked of how film-making was now very affordable, since the technology costs were very low and even excellent equipment could be rented at a reasonable price. Anyone could make a film – it was  a matter of learning (and the internet provided lots of information) and then, practice.

  • Three phases to making a film:
    • Pre-production (time to do the planning for the film and pull together all the elements needed);
    • Production, which is very time-sensitive because you’ve assembled the team and rented the equipment etc so it has to be done right then and there or it becomes too expensive.
    • Post-production, which is essentially the editing stage. A lot of things can be accomplished here.
  • People will tolerate poor video, but can’t stand poor sound. Make sure you get professional sound quality. Beware of copyright issues. (That made me remember the whole story of Sita Sings the Blues, where the maker thought the songs she used had aged out of copyright, not realizing that the studios had tied up all the rights for decades more.)
  • Pointers and tips:
    • You can get people to participate by asking for volunteers among your friends.
    • Feed your crew on-set – at least one hot meal, coffee, snacks. Especially when they’re volunteers! (Check if anyone is vegetarian, they may not mention it in advance. Also ask about allergies.)
    • During production – know what your role is and stay within that role even if you can do others. It’s not your job.
    • Especially when you start out, you don’t need to buy very high-end equipment. Also, rent! Glazer’s in Seattle treats a weekend as one day and only charges one day of rent.
    • For camera equipment, lenses are more important than cameras. “Latitude” (sensitivity to light from white to black, measured in “stops”) is as important as resolution. (8 1/2 is good enough, 13 1/2 is excellent).
    • Most times, the audience is more interested in the story than in the cinematography. No use shooting technically perfect shots that don’t advance the story.
    • Practice is more important than equipment quality.
  • Seattle’s grey overcast skies are wonderful for filming. You can brighten it up in post-production so it looks like summer in L.A.
    • (But to make Vancouver look like L.A., we bring in heaters to dry the pavement, and people scraping moss off the benches!)
    • The problem for Seattle is sound – crows and airplanes.
  • Special effects is not just blowing stuff up.

I’ll put panel notes on other panels in separate posts. I don’t want this thing to become 5,000 words long!

My Norwescon 2017 Panel Notes: Navigating the New Publishing


Navigating the New Publishing (Mark Teppo, Raven Oak, Shannon Page, Marc Gascoigne [Angry Robot])

I didn’t take notes, so all this is what I remember from the panel.

  1. Publishing, as we all know, is moving really fast as an industry. There are many options beside the traditional Big Publishing Houses. Small publishing houses like Tor and Angry Robot; micro presses that are even smaller, and often the work of a few individuals, maybe even one person; and, of course, self-publishing
  2. The big publishers have the best reach – they can get books into stores, they can get books reviewed in prestigious venues, they can promote your book in a big way. The question for most authors is, will they? The big publishers are notorious for concentrating their resources on the books they think will sell in millions of copies, and not doing very much for others. If your book is one of the left-behind ones, it may get hardly any promotion.
  3. The small publishers do better for new authors. They still have reach and a name in the market that provides an advantage. And with fewer authors, and especially, fewer big-name authors, they pay more attention to newcomers and new books.
  4. The micro-presses take it a step further in terms of personal attention and support for the author. They don’t have big budgets, but they are in your corner. You have a committed supporter who can take over many of the tasks writers don’t enjoy – the technical and business side of publishing and promotion. They can seldom afford to give advances.
  5. Self-publishing can work really well if you’re willing to make the effort and do the work. You start at a disadvantage without the reach, but the flip side is that you keep a much larger percentage of the sales, and you have complete creative control. You don’t have to hassle with trying to find a publisher willing to take your book. Some self-published authors have been very successful.
  6. Should you get an agent? It depends.  The panel had mixed views on agents as sellers of your book. If the agent has a really good list of contacts, it may be worth it. But it’s usually a lot of work to find an agent, and many writers discover that after all that trouble, it doesn’t work out. (I personally know several people who’ve parted company with their agents.)  If you’re willing to look at contracts really carefully and do your own negotiating, you make not need one. Shannon said she’d had an agent but they parted ways amicably. Mark said he has an agent whom he pays 15% for agented sales and 10% for sales that Mark negotiates, not so much for sales as for being there if something went wrong and needed fixing. Raven doesn’t have an agent, but has a lawyer who looks at the contracts. Tom, speaking for Angry Robot books, says that they don’t accept unagented submissions except for personal invitations (and he invited everyone in the room to send him manuscripts); it’s basically to keep the worst of the slush out.

Eli Bishop Artwork for FOGcon 2016! (And, T-shirts)


If you’re coming to FOGcon 6 in Walnut Creek, March 10-13, 2016 (and you should, it’s an wonderful little con that’s both laid-back and interesting) – the artwork from Eli Bishop has been revealed. It’s awesome, and it’s available as a T-shirt. If you order now, you can pick it up at the Con.

Here’s a part of Eli’s FOGcon 6 art (you can see the whole thing on his website, just click on the pic).

fogcon 6 artwork - by eli bishopI love his art. Here’s what he did for FOGcon 5 last year (again, click on the pic to go to a larger version on Eli’s page):

fogcon-5-artwok by eli bishopI’ve heard rumors that signed posters may be available at FOGcon 6… hope so!

A Dark and Stormy Night for SF in SF


cecelia holland terry bisson and kim stanley robinsonIt was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, and parking spaces were all occupied by immovable objects, some of which were cars. SF in SF had moved to a new location, too far from the Muni for a multi-block walk on a dark and stormy night.

SF in SF is a neat program in San Francisco that hosts speculative fiction author readings. Rina Weissman co-ordinates. Terry Bisson moderates, and often starts the round of questions. There’s a cash bar and a book table, I think from Borderlands. I try to get to it whenever I can.

terry bisson listening to kim stanley robinsonIt used to be held in the Hobart Building on Market Street, easy to reach by train even on a dark and stormy night. But things change, and that venue is no longer available.  With the help of author Madeleine Robins, who works there, the American Bookbinders Museum may be its new home.

I walked in late (because I went round the block several times until a car pulled out), and it was a bit awkward. The door was already locked, and they had to let me in.  enthralled audience for SF in SF Jan 17 2016But it’s a lovely space – kind of concrete and glass, with all these wonderful old book-binding machines most of which are still in working condition. (They give tours. I’m going to take one, one of these days.)

There was a great turnout with standing room only (despite the dark and stormy night).  I was happy to find I knew quite a few people there.  One of the nice things about these events is a chance to see people you don’t ordinarily meet.

Kim Stanley Robinson read a funny short story from the viewpoint of a lawyer who may or may not have been an attorney for people who may or may not have been aliens. Cecelia Holland read from a new work. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to them both.

If you live in the San Francisco area, or even if you’re visiting – this is a nice event to meet with authors and the spec-fic community here. And all the readings I’ve attended have been awesome. But next time, if it’s not dark and stormy, I’ll try walking down from Market and Powell.




What I Loved at Con-volution 2015


Con-volution 2015: Legion of Fandom in Burlingame, CA. A most excellent Con. Definitely one I will return to next year. Unlike the book-focused cons I mostly prefer, Con-volution’s totally inclusive. Books, bronies, babies, battles, beer, it’s all good. The result is a nice mix of ages (strollers to seniors), ethnicities, genders, interests. It was delightfully eclectic (and eccentric).

With its central location at the Hyatt airport hotel in Burlingame, a lot of people came by either for the whole Con or for a visit.  I got to meet writer buddies I hadn’t seen for a while, both Conning and Bar-conning. Many were local or semi-local, others came from Southern California. It’s so lovely hanging out with interesting people who are doing and writing intriguing things. We had the traditional Codex meetup (Codex being an online group of writers), always a pleasure.

your book is why daddy drinksBesides panels, there are some fun events that I don’t see at the literary cons I more usually attend. I have to say a highlight was the podcast, Your book is why Daddy drinks. The panel discussed (or made fun of) “Tarnsman of Gor,” while imbibing much booze, dressed in fur bikinis because they’d met their charity fundraising challenge goal. The Gor stories (for the generation that is blissfully unaware) are a series of 33 misogynist books that started in 1966 based on a fantasy world which was also, the panel told us, a rip-off of Edgar Rice Burroughs. This ran from 12 midnight to 2 a.m., and it was hilarious. Thanks, intrepid panelists!


The panels were unusually good. Last year, I enjoyed the panels too, but in most cases, only a few people went and they ran out of steam early. This Con I didn’t feel that way at all.  A decent number showed up for nearly every panel I attended – enough to keep it interesting, small enough that audience participation was easy.  Here are the ones I went to. (For some panels, my notes got so long I linked them separately.)

How to get started as a voiceover actor.  (Xander Jeanneret, Bonnie Gordon) This was an immensely useful intro panel, presented in an engaging way by Bonnie and Xander. Here are my Detailed Notes.

To be or not to be: Listening to critique. (Jennifer Carson, Marie Brennan, Bradford Lyau and Cliff Winnig) Again, a panel that delivered what it promised – a discussion of how to use critiques, best and worst examples, and what to do with strongly negative criticism. Marie described how someone critiqued one of her stories, and found the exact thing that wasn’t working about it. Jennifer described one incident when a big-name author came in late, interrupted the session in progress because he was in a hurry, critiqued 2 sci-fi stories at considerable length, and used his last few minutes to be utterly dismissive of a fantasy story. Jennifer named no names. But I thought I’d met that author.

Kinky and geeky. (Dario Ciriello, Jaym Gates, Veronica Belmont , Lance Moore) This started out with a funny anecdote about how Dario found himself an inadvertent Dom on Second Life, but quickly got serious. What I came away with was a discussion of how difficult it can be to create safe spaces for kink especially in those parts of the US that are more conservative and not kink-friendly or sex-positive. There’s a need to preserve anonymity, to enforce a very strict policy non-photography policy, and also to maintain physical safety. There were a couple of sad stories out there, including a young woman getting murdered because she wouldn’t believe that she was at risk from someone who thought he was entitled to her because she danced near-naked. The SF Bay Area is, fortunately, relatively accepting.

Actual science in science fiction. (M Christian, Jay Hartlove, C. Sanford Lowe, Edward Pizzini Ph.D., Heidi Stauffer)  Many of the panelists were scientists. The discussion centered on the balance between getting the science right, and changing it in the interests of not boring the audience you’re writing for. Someone gave the example of CSI. In its first season, it was very accurate, but it appealed to a limited audience. In the second season, the producers went with flashiness over accuracy, and it grew in popularity. This popularity even unrealistically skewed expectations regarding the speed and accuracy of forensic science. But it’s also inspired a lot of young people to become scientists by making it cool. This has always been an important role for science fiction. So in the end, it’s a balance between: How much accuracy and research do I need to make me-the-author happy? What does my audience need to know (barring the experts, who’ll probably be thrown out of the story anyway)? What’s my responsibility to the public who will learn science from my stories (example: Michel Crichton’s recent climate-change-is-fake book)? What’s my responsibility to people who will be inspired to learn or to fund science? My only quarrel with this really good panel was that there was no time for questions.

Cover me, which was about book and comic covers. (Jennifer Carson, Maya Bohnhoff,  Anna Warren Cebrian, Cliff Winnig) Again, a very practical panel. The tl:dr version: A cover advertises a book. Color palette and image often determine the genre, and the font must match. It’s got to work as a thumbnail. The author name font should be as large as the book title font. Lots more detail including cost discussions in my panel report.

Mythologies: The world outside Olympus and Asgard. (Bret Sweet · Emily Jiang · Balogun Ojetade · Jason Malcolm Stewart.)  This dealt with non-European mythologies, and to my delight focused mainly on African myth systems. There was a good discussion of the importance of the feminine in traditional myths in Africa (missed which tradition, may be Yoruba). They also talked of how African myths got transformed when slaves brought them to the U.S. – trickster stories became Brer Rabbit stories. They also considered Native American influences. (Someone suggested that Trickster meets Coyote would be a cool theme for a book!) I ended up buying several books recommended by Balogun on the spot. (Thanks, Amazon.) Emily accidentally missed the beginning, but contributed some interesting inputs about East Asian mythos, and written vs oral traditions. Jason talked about how a Western audience is trained to expect the three-act structure: Presentation/ conflict/ resolution. As a result, they may be quite unable to accept other ways of story-telling. For writers, there’s a trade-off, in that if we want to sell our work, we do have to conform to reader expectations. I’m really there. I looked at this issue in “Why I write American” a blog-post later published in the electronic version of the Wiscon Chronicles.

Writing fight scenes that aren’t wack.  (Balogun Ojetade)  This was a great panel for me. I have no martial arts training – unlike just about every writer I know, who all seem to have some exposure to aikido or karate or fencing or something. (The others are all linguists. Some are linguists who do martial arts.) But fight scenes are an essential part of every spec-fic writer’s vocabulary, so off I went. Balogun is an expert in African fighting styles (and there are many of them). An interesting point he made: African “wrestling” (which includes fighting with weapons) incorporates “feminine” moves. “I’m 6′ 3,” he said, “and weigh 200 lbs. In a fight, I’ll use my strength. But if a woman who’s 5′ 2 and weighs maybe 120 lbs has to fight, she’ll develop effective techniques. That’s what you need to know.” He showed us, with actual demos, why staged fight scenes *have* to be choreographed to be completely different from real fights – and why we have to describe real fights. He cautioned against too much actual description of blood and guts except when writing horror, because reality is really very very gory. Weapons and fighting styles have to match, and are often determined not just by the level of technology but by culture. Zulu and Yoruba fight differently, as do medieval swordsmen and Chicago knife-fighters. The Zulu, for instance, fight using stealth tactics. The example he gave: “You’re charging at a Zulu warrior with your broadsword, and he’s only got a short spear. You’ll kill him, easy. But when you run at him, you fall into a trench he’s standing behind – and then he gets you with the spear.” (It was only just now when I looked it up on the schedule that I realized this was a Master Class limited to 6 people and I was supposed to have pre-registered. Oops.)

[The short spear was called an “ikwa.” I’d never heard of it before. And then, two days later, at a consignment store I found this:

pics36 001 ikwaThe note said, “This is an ikwa (e-kwah). Zulu short spear. South Africa.” Neat coincidence!]

The one that got away: Cultural Appreciation or Appropriation? I didn’t go because I’d heard this topic discussed elsewhere, notably Wiscon. But… the reports I got afterwards made me wish I’d attended. It ran for three hours of its allotted 75 minutes!


library bards and dancing robot

Library Bards and dancing robot

Besides the crazy fur-bikini booze-fueled book critique podcast, I attended the Liars’ Panel, which was also hilarious. It was a bunch of people dishonestly answering embarrassing questions.

The Diplomat’s Ball was notable because of the Library Bards (Xander Jeanneret and Bonnie Gordon, who perform great sci-fi parodies of the Top 40 Hits) and a 5-foot-tall dancing robot. My writer friend A.E Marling showed up in his Dr Horrible costume, and joined them onstage for the appropriate section.

The Masquerade was a creative melange of 18 quite different entries. Disney Steampunk was a performance by a family of kids, reprising Aladdin in the steampunk genre (the magic lamp is reinvented as a ray-gun), with Princess Elsa of Frozen visiting too.

Roadside Warrior Shaman wore a costume that included a staff that was covered with interesting stuff, and rebooted the world with Control-Alt-Delete! Of course there were Mad Max: Fury Road tributes. And a huge white furry nine-tailed fox.

some of the prizewinners

This was my second year at Con-volution (here’s my report from 2014). It’s an easy local Con for me.  Staying at the hotel anyway lets me do the late night/ early morning stuff that just wouldn’t happen if I were driving in. Like that “Your book is why Daddy Drinks” podcast!


The organizers got so much right that it seems churlish to mention the few things that didn’t work so well, but I will for completeness.

They ran out of program books – printed way too few of them. I got there before the opening ceremonies, and they were already gone. This was in response to the previous year’s surplus and the high cost of printing. So the only way to know the program was to stay in the hotel (so you had free wifi) and use your smartphone. Or to have printed the program out in advance (which, very luckily, is what I did). The downside to that was you couldn’t print out any details like who the panelists were and what the panel was actually about (“Cover me”?) Again, fortunately, I had an iPad in my room, so I could look up details and then hand-write them on the printout I’d made. I felt like I had The Knowledge. (Except, not quite: see my Oops under the Fight scene panel.)

I suggested an easy fix would be a big bulletin board next to the Reg desk. They could post the Schedule. Honored Guest bios. The map of the hotel (it takes some getting used to, with events happening on two floors or more, on two sides of the quadrilateral of the hotel). The newsletter (they had one, but I never saw it.) Notices/ changes. Maybe even a members bulletin board if you want to contact someone (Wiscon has one of those, and it’s useful.)

Some people mentioned programming clashes. I usually had at least 3 things I wanted to attend in each time-slot, but that’s okay. I’m beginning to realize that’s a sign of a good match between me and the Con I’m attending. And there apparently were a few sparse panels, but not the ones I attended.


The Dealer Room and Art Show were fun. I only got one thing this year: This picture. Daniel Cortopassi does these whimsical cartoons of cats. They were all amusing, but I really couldn’t resist this one.

himalayan hijinx by daniel cortopassi



How to Get Started as a Voice Actor – Panel Notes from Con-Volution 2015


library bards poster smThis was the kind of panel I attend because it’s a subject about which I am Totally Clueless. It was totally worth it. Xander Jeanneret and Bonnie Gordon are voice actors who started in in theater, and now do voicing. As the Library Bards, they sing nerdy parodies of current hit songs.

Main points:

  • Major markets can be split into: Commercial, industrial, games, anime. Usually commercial and industrial pay the best – and may require Union membership.  They may also pay residuals i.e. like royalties every time the sound clip is used. (The relevant Union is SAG-AFTRA.) Anime, games, cartoons tend to pay a one-time fee and that’s it.
  • You need to be able to record and edit your own clips. They recommended Audacity and a good microphone that plugs into your laptop. They use a Snowball mic. (I’ve done Audacity once, and it wasn’t easy – but I could see how it could become so with practice.)
  • You don’t need a home studio, you can improvise. A closet makes a good studio, because the clothes damp the sound and improve the acoustics. In an emergency (like recording in a hotel room), you can throw a blanket or towel over your head, the mic and the laptop. Audacity has a noise reduction option; if you give it a few minutes of silence before you start recording, that defines a background “noise” to get rid of.
  • Sometimes, local studios are available for rental by the hour.
  • You can do a lot of voices by changing speed, level, pitch, or adding a speech impediment. T.C. Helicon  audio equipment can help change pitch.
  • You absolutely need a “reel” – a demonstration MP3. Some voice actors include actual work they’ve done. People who are just starting out can invent their own – read some stuff out loud and show the voices you can do. (Tip: Do not do existing commercials! But you can make up your own commercial for a fictitious product.) Xander recommends putting your reel on Youtube with a headshot so it’s easy to share.
  • You can get projects on the internet. The three sites they mentioned were (free), Voices123 (which charges a fee), and which is an Amazon audio-book site.
  • You can get voiceover agents, but Bonnie didn’t feel it was very valuable for her. This was in part because she took on a lot of very small projects, mostly from
  • Bonnie recommended taking all the gigs you can get initially – even unpaid ones – to build your contacts. Sometimes, you can do voice work for someone as a favor, and they can give you some professional help.
  • Union membership is a double-edged sword. Union jobs pay better, but there aren’t that many of them – and especially people who are starting out need to do non-Union jobs to build their networks. If you’re Union, you can do a non-Union job, though it’s frowned on; but if you’re not in the Union you aren’t eligible for Union gigs.
  • Screen actors are beginning to do voice-acting work and are in demand because of the name recognition. Not all of them are good voice actors, though!
  • Voice acting usually requires exaggeration, not perfect realism. One of the best ways to learn is to listen. Watch the commercials, listen to how they do it.
  • They recommended Dee Bradley Baker’s blog, I want to be a Voice Actor as a good place for beginners.

Cover Me – Panel Notes on Book Covers from Con-volution 2015


Jennifer Carson, Maya BohnhoffAnna Warren Cebrian, and Cliff Winnig put on a very practical panel at Convolution 2015 (Oct 2-4, Burlingame, CA) about book covers. These are more important than ever with so many books coming out of small presses or being self-published.

thumbnail of spirit gate by maya bohnhoffThe most important thing to bear in mind: The job of the cover is to sell the book. It has to attract attention, and give the right signals about its content. It doesn’t have to perfectly reflect any scene in the book, or even be completely true to the book. But it shouldn’t cheat the reader’s expectations – that just ends in bad reviews.

If you’re writing genre fiction, the cover should reflect the right genre. This means the right color palette, the right image, and the right font for that genre. For instance, science fiction uses blues, black, green, red, orange and modern-looking fonts. A space ship on the cover is a clear signifier. Romance uses pinks and reds. Urban fantasy uses darker colors and appropriate images.  The best way to figure this out is to look at a hundred different covers in your genre, and see what they have in common.

  • With online sales being large and growing, the image must work as a thumbnail. It should still tell the genre and the the title and author name should be clear.
  • For print editions, the spines are extremely important – that’s what the reader will see on a bookshop shelf. Plan to wrap the colors and carry the right information.
  • If you’re writing a series, the covers should indicate the series branding. The images and colors should be related, and a blurb should establish that it is a series, and which number book each one is. If it’s a print edition, the spine should say which number book of the series it is.
  • Generally, a cover should have no more than three fonts, preferably in the same font family.
  • It also should have not more than three image elements, and they need to work together. More becomes cluttered and confusing.
  • People on the cover (faces, figures, whatever) draw the eye more than just scenery or objects.
  • The font of the author’s name should be large, ideally as large as the title font. If it doesn’t all fit, make the surname the largest for print editions, since that’s what they’re shelved by.
  • If you’re publishing the book in print, don’t make it an awkward size. It’ll get shelved separately and be harder to find.


There are two parts to a cover – finding the art, and then designing it into a cover. For the art, you can use stock art; commission artwork; use photographs made by you or your friend and family; or bypass the whole thing and use premade covers.

Stock art. If you’re using stock art, it’s important that all the elements work well together. For instance, the scale of the objects should be appropriate, relative to each other. The light falling on the object should be at the same angle, so it seems to come from the same light source. The level of hue and saturation should match. A good way to check saturation and hue is to look at the image in black and white. If an image is just stuck onto a single-color cover, it looks self-published. (A whole bunch of sites offer stock art for sale.)

Photographs taken by you, friends or family can be useful. One panelist found her son’s photos from an Aquarium visit made great space photographs for science fiction covers.

Commissioning a cover. You can either commission a complete cover, or get the artwork made separately and then design it into a cover.  With the internet, prices have plummeted because excellent artists from Asia and Eastern Europe are willing to work for relatively low prices and send a good digital file that can be converted to a cover. (Deviant Art is one source.) However, these artists are not necessarily book designers, and you may need to do that or hire someone to do it. Prices are vary between $250 and $2000, but a good professional cover is typically around $500-800. Artists who will work with existing art and design the cover typically charge around $50/ hour. Online sites (like this one) offer cover design for far less.

Premade covers. An increasing number of sites offer pre-made covers, where you scroll through until you find one that would work for your story. In some cases, they are one-offs and so you have an exclusive; others will offer the same cover for sale multiple times. It’s worth doing an image search to see what else that cover is associated with. Sites mentioned at the panel: Safari Heat Book Tours and Author Services (offers exclusivity, and will tweak the covers for an extra charge); HowardDavidJohnson (not exclusive unless you pay extra); and one other I couldn’t find. These looked a good bit cheaper than the prices discussed, but perhaps there are charges I didn’t look at.


There was discussion of the white-washing of Octavia Butler’s first book covers. The original cover  was pretty good at selling the book, but, as Cliff Winnig pointed out, it will live in infamy.  The picture was of a white woman while the book’s characters were dark-skinned. The marketing department decided that it would sell better than way. It may even have been true, for two reasons. First, readers’ biases. Second, the book might get shelved with ethnic books (bookstores’ biases), and not reach its science-fiction audience. However, this practice contributes to erasure and the impression that the reading audience is all white. Publishers are learning not to do it.

If your book is not self-published but going to a publisher, you may not get a say in the cover. They may make the decisions without any input from you at all.  This too is gradually changing, as self-publishing and small indie presses change authors’ perceptions of how much control they should have. Even the large presses are beginning to listen. If you hate the cover they’ve designed it may be worthwhile telling them; in some cases, they are willing to change it.  Small presses are usually more accommodating than large ones.


“Fantasy and the Reality of Law Enforcement”


The standout panel for me at the World Fantasy Con last November was Fantasy and the Reality of Law Enforcement, moderated by Mark L. Van Name. It was excellent because panelists Griffin Barber and Alistair Kimble actually work in law enforcement. Barber is in the police force, and Kimble, if I understood correctly is (or was) in the FBI.

Here’s the panel description, taken from the World Fantasy Convention 2014 website (and I love that it remains up after the Con is over!):

Fantasy writers who are also law-enforcement workers discuss how fantasy fiction portrays law enforcement, and compare those practices to real-world law enforcement.  They will talk about where fiction differs from reality and discuss what works in stories and what really is fantasy.  In discussing such works as The City and The City (China Mieville), Finch (Jeff VanderMeer), London Falling (Paul Cornell), and Servant of Empire (Raymond Feist), they will contrast the real and fantasy worlds of law enforcement.

I finally got round to compiling my notes on it. (This may contain errors because this area is new to me – please feel free to correct mistakes):

  • Paul Cornell gets it. In response to which authors they knew who got it right, they picked Paul Cornell, a UK writer. It’s authentic and rings true. (When I googled him, I found he’d written some Dr Who episodes.)
  • Use of force. Books often portray police as trigger-happy. Barber said in 13 years in law enforcement, he hadn’t discharged his weapon once – though his finger crept to the trigger a few times. There are many steps of response well before reaching lethal force. And there’s a “force continuum” – starts with the baton, goes to a sleep hold (not a choke-hold), and goes to pepper spray before getting to shooting someone.
  • For the FBI, it’s one-zero. Kimble said the FBI doesn’t use weapons as a threat or a deterrent – it’s one-zero. They also don’t shoot to kill; they shoot to eliminate the threat.
  • When an officer shoots – not what you think. Barber pointed out that if there is a shooting, the standard by which the officer is judged is not what the public perceives. The legal standard is, Would another officer with the same training have done the same thing? (It’s like the standard used to evaluate medical malpractice – would another professional have made the same call?) But he says that officers don’t shoot lightly; it weighs on their minds all the time.
  • Personal video cameras on police officers make a difference. They not only provide evidence when things go wrong, the public were less likely to complain about an officer’s actions where video cameras were used. They don’t necessarily stop an officer from shooting if his life in in danger – according to Barber, “I’d rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6.” The problem is cost. They generate a huge amount of data, which means there are storage and handling costs.
  • The FBI is mandated to record every custodial interview (audio or video).
  • It’s not like CSI. Kimble talked about the TV program CSI creating the false expectations – that a DNA test was routine and could lead one to the criminal in short order. First, DNA is not always tested; tests cost $800 a pop. Even if it is tested for, the time to results is 3-5 weeks. The True Detective TV show is a better model than CSI.
  • Handcuffs aren’t the end, there’s paperwork.  Barber pointed out a case doesn’t end with the criminal taken away in handcuffs. There’s the paperwork. Lots of it. Your supervisor is going to want to see your report. You have to make sure the paperwork is done in case of complaints. Evidence collection requires a chain of custody; if it’s not solid, the case won’t hold up in court.
  • The worst kind of cases are domestic violence and Driving Under the Influence (DUI). They’re frustrating, with a small payoff. You end up doing 4 hours of paperwork, and most domestic violence victims return to their abuser.
  • Writing law enforcement authentically:
    • Don’t dehumanize people wearing uniforms. They’re still people.
    • Writing about loads of boring paperwork without being boring – have the officers complain about it!
    • When in doubt, denigrate upper management!
    • FBI has something called Citizen’s Academy which is an excellent way to learn about the FBI.
    • Black humor is a common way to relieve the stress of dealing with crime and death.

(If anyone has anything to add or correct please leave a comment. Comments are moderated because of spam, but I should get to it within 24 hours.)

FOGcon 2015 Writing Workshop – Interested?


I’ve blogged before about FOGcon, the ‘Friends of Genre Convention’ held in the San Francisco Bay Area. (It’s not to be confused with ‘Fans of Gaming convention’ that goes by the same acronym.) It’s a lovely laid back Con, full of interesting people and conversations – small enough to be comfortable, large enough to be engaging.

FOGcon 5 is to be held March 6-8, 2015, at the Walnut Creek Marriott. It’s the same hotel as last year and the year before. This time, the theme is The Traveler, and the Guests of Honor are Kim Stanley Robinson and Cat Valente. (Warning: We’re still updating the website, so some bits are still talking about the previous Con. You can email us if you have specific questions.)

But what I want to talk about is the FOGcon Writing Workshop (which I’m coordinating again this time) and give a heads up if you’re interested. I blogged about it after FOGcon 2014.  My conclusion is, we’re doing something right. Lots of people come back, both participants and instructors. I was particularly delighted when Kaylia Metcalfe – who’s attended several times – emailed that it was “One of the highlights of the year!”


The workshop consists of small critique groups, led by published authors who volunteer to provide their insights. We get the manuscripts from participating writers about six weeks in advance. The writers are split into groups of three or four, and we put them in touch with each other by email and each group gets all the manuscripts for that group. At the Con, they meet for a roughly one-hour session (which can sometimes go to two hours!) There’s a workshop fee of $20.

The workshops look to be increasingly popular,  so we’ve been experimenting with ways to accommodate them. Instead of having all groups meet over Saturday lunch hour in the programming space like FOGcon 3, last year we had it in a room behind the Consuite and spread it out through Saturday and part of Sunday. We also tried to set it up so if a group wanted to run over the hour and fifteen minutes allocated, they could do so. We got positive feedback on the new format, and that means we can actually add some more participants.


Even though we can accommodate a few more people in 2015, places are still limited. So please email us  if you want to join. We’ll be accepting applicants until we’re full, or January 31 2015, whichever happens first.

So here are the steps:

1) Email us at if you’re interested.

2) Once you know that there’s space, confirm that you’ve registered for FOGcon 2015, and we’ll reserve a place for you.

3) Any time between December 15th, 2014 and January 31, 2015, submit your <7,500-word manuscript and pay the workshop fee ($20 admin charge) using a special Paypal link we’ll send you.

4) In early February, we’ll put you in touch with the others in your Critique group, and send you their manuscripts so you can prepare helpful critiques before the Con.

All the details are on our website, HERE. (And if you have questions that aren’t answered, email us!)

World Fantasy Con 2014 at Washington DC


hyatt lobby World Fantasy and Rolling Thunder

This year’s World Fantasy Convention was in Washington DC, in other words – accessible. (Last year, it was in Brighton, UK, and the year before, in Canada.) The last time I went was San Diego, in 2011. (I blogged about it here.) So I grabbed the chance to attend. I’m so glad I did.

desirina boskovich and ann vandermeerThe highlight of the Con for me was the people. I’m in an online forum of neo-professional writers called Codex. I’ve met some  in person, usually at Cons. This time, around 40 Codexians attended WFC. This gave me a group  of writers to hang out with – smart, friendly, and interested in a broad range of topics. It was such a pleasure meeting people who I’ve mostly “met” only online. I also caught up with people I know from other cons, and of course Clarion peops like Jeff and Ann Vandermeer, Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner, and my Clarion classmate Desirina Boskovich – who I was meeting for the first time since 2007!

WFC had two tracks of programming, and one track of readings. After my recent experience at Convolution, which had so many tracks I lost count, this felt pretty manageable. This meant that they were all pretty well-attended, since they didn’t have ten events simultaneously competing for everyone’s attention.

All the panels delivered very much what they promised in their descriptions. On Thursday, I went to Humor in Fantasy, and Fantasy and the Reality of Law Enforcement. Friday, it was Language and Linguistics in Fantasy; Adoption and Fostering in Fantasy; Beyond Rebellion in Young Adult Fantasy; Historical Influences in Fantasy. On Saturday, I made a hard choice between Animals in Fantasy and International Fantasy and Translation, and opted for the ‘Translation’ panel.

Every one was interesting and I learned something, but the standout was ‘Law Enforcement.’ Two of the panelists were an FBI person and a police officer – and both are writers. So they had interesting insights about law enforcement, how it’s portrayed, how to make it authentic without being boring, and the role of paperwork in law enforcement. One point that was valuable to me: Use of force. Police officers very seldom discharge a firearm. If there are questions about it later, the standard to which they’re held is not “What does the public think?” It’s “what would an experienced and trained police officer have done in that situation?”


desirina readingI attended three readings.

  • The Broad Universe ‘rapid fire’ reading, in which a number of authors each read a short piece.
  • Chris Cevasco reading the powerful and painful opening of his novel Eventide, in which King Harold’s wife and mother are searching for his body after the terrible defeat at the Battle of Hastings.
  • A story by Desirina Boskovich Frew (she got married only days before World Fantasy!), in which a woman is driven to terrible vengeance when a man repeatedly revs up his noisy truck under her window at 3 a.m.

I didn’t go for the Awards banquet; instead, the Codexians had a group lunch at Cinnabar. Excellent company, marvelous conversation. Later, as I was preparing to leave for the airport, I met Ellen Klages carrying a World Fantasy Award – the cartoon head of HP Lovecraft – and congratulated her. I hope we’ll see her at FOG 5 in March 2015.


Of course I had to go to the Steampunk User’s Manual launch party. The book is co-authored by Jeff Vandermeer, one of my Clarion instructors, and by Desirina Boskovich, who was in my Clarion 2007 class. It gave me a chance to meet Desirina again after all these years, and though we didn’t get to hang out a lot, we did get to catch up. I also got to talk with Ann Vandermeer a little, though as the main organizer for the party, she was doing a lot of the behind-the-scenes management.

steampunk manual launch party

I’d meant to get  copy of the book and ask Desirina and Jeff to sign it for me but unfortunately I waited too long and it was sold out.


Hyatt Regency turned out the be a superb con hotel. The meeting rooms were arranged around a core area, most of which we could access both by elevator and escalator. Unlike some hotels, where attending any panel involved a very long trek, here the rooms were clustered and accessible. The staff were friendly and helpful, and I really liked the food – I ate most meals at the two restaurants, Cinnabar and Lobbibar. It was good to excellent, and quite reasonable for hotel restaurant food.

Rolling Thunder had a convention at the same time, and a large number of bikers floated around the lobby in cool leather vests covered in patches. This organization focuses on keeping POWs and MIAs in public memory and before legislators – and many of them are bikers. They hold an annual rally in DC with thousands of bikers.


Not just Rockets and Robots thumbnailOn the freebie/ exchange table, I was surprised and delighted to find an anthology that had one of my stories. It was Daily Science Fiction’s compendium of stories from their first year, called ‘Not Just Rockets and Robots.’ My story, Chick Lit, is the same one that was later republished in Polish.

The Dealers’ Room was mainly books – I lost count of the bookstalls. Some were retailers; others were individuals or groups promoting their own books. I resolutely avoided buying any, though I was tempted; my suitcase was already several pounds heavier than when I came in with just the freebie books.

They also had jewelry, which is easier to buy because it’s lighter and takes less space. I especially liked Janet Kofoed‘s work; she does lost-wax castings in silver and copper, and strings them with beads or pearls or stones into necklaces, rings, and ear-rings. I bought a copper lunar moth pendant on a string of pearls.

luna moth necklace Janet Kofoed

First Time at ‘Convolution’ near SFO


freebie table

Convolution, held last weekend at the Hyatt Airport Hotel near San Francisco Airport, started only 3 years ago. I’d never attended before, and really enjoyed it. I came at it from a literary con experience – Wiscon, World Fantasy, FOGcon.  I’m not giving up those Cons, but this was different.

people in awesome costumesConvolution was a multi-con, a big tent. From steam-punk people in gorgeous gowns or vests and hats to a troop of Vulcans and Darth Vader himself, to singers and authors and gamers, it seemed to have something for every flavor of fan.  It had literary tracks with discussions of genre divisions and publicity for authors. It had science tracks, and a Silicon Valley Science Fiction short film festival (which unfortunately I missed). It had filks and karaoke (going on simultaneously). It had costuming – people making them, people wearing them, and people entering a masquerade contest.  It had a whole children’s track – Playzone. And a Dealers Room and an Art Show. I even got to attend a panel about Babs Con, a convention for the thousands of followers of My Little Pony.

masquerade costumesThe programming was insanely wonderful. For a 700-hundred person Con, it had up to 10 events going on simultaneously! I always found 3 or 4 I wanted to attend at the same time.  The downside was that the audience for each thing was small – sometimes only 3-4 people. With such small groups, they tended to run out of steam before the allotted 90 minutes, though all the panelists were very good. (Well done, Convolution!) The only really well-attended events I went to were the Masquerade, and then the closing ceremony. Convolution hopes to grow into this amount of programming – they would like to see 1000 people there next year.

Costumes. Other Cons I’ve attended don’t encourage costuming. I thought it added atmosphere. This was especially important because owing to the hotel’s layout, Convolution doesn’t have a hub. There’s no place where people can hang out and gather.  The hotel is laid out in a giant square, with a beautiful tree-lined atrium with a restaurant. There’s no place to gravitate to. The sports bar is off to one side. The Con suite was up on the 2nd floor, a long walk from the elevator. (There’s only one set of elevators, so it can be a very long walk indeed.)

Convolution had events going in multiple venues on 3 sides of the square, which diffused the effect and reduced the buzz – except that there were all these people in awesome costumes wandering around.

dragon hunterI wondered how many of the 700 people attending actually stuck around the whole time.  I went in on Friday evening, after the opening ceremonies, and stayed through the closing ceremony  – but I think quite a few people only came for a day or even just a few hours.  That’s the downside of the location being so accessible.

The hotel is ADA-compliant, and quite a few people with mobility issues attended. It didn’t seem easy, exactly, because the hotel had some many different levels with steps up and down, but it was generally feasible.  It was also nice to see gender and race diversity.

The food situation at the hotel wasn’t great. It was not too bad in the morning and until 2 p.m., though their cafe easily gets overloaded. But from 2 p.m., there’s either nothing but the sports bar, or the rather expensive restaurant for dinner. The Con Suite, to my surprise, closed at 8 p.m. (though  parties went later, to maybe 2 in the morning). Some people ordered in food from outside restaurants. Next year, I might bring a care package from home and stick it in the mini-fridge.

Victorian wonder womanThe hotel apparently discouraged signage, and so there wasn’t enough. It took a while to get oriented, especially since the Con had so many venues . The parties (on the 2nd floor) were especially tough to find. I never was quite sure whether I was in the right room for a panel, because the doors didn’t have signs on them saying what was going on. Unlike FOGcon and Wiscon, where the hotel seems to welcome the Con and want to support and be part of it, this hotel seemed to just tolerate it. At the feedback session, some people mentioned maintenance issues, like the mini-fridge not working or not existing.

role reversal leia and slave Han SoloOther than that, the hotel was nice. The atrium was awesome – my room looked out onto trees inside the hotel! The hallway also had windows overlooking SFO’s runway, and planes were always landing or taking off. The staff were friendly. The person who checked me in comped my parking when I said I was at the Con but hadn’t registered early enough to get the block rate. They also comped the internet, which was good enough though not as fast as I would have liked. Apparently, they normally charge for it – even in the 21st century.

hyatt sfo atrium at night




Sign-up Time For Clarion’s 5th Annual Write-a-thon


badge_goforit Clarion writeathonYou don’t have to be a Clarion grad to join Clarion’s 5th writeathon, which runs from June 22nd for 6 weeks (paralleling the Clarion workshop). You only need to write, and get some sponsors. This fund-raiser for Clarion provides moral support and community as you write. Win-win-win! (The third win is for readers, who will get some good stories out of this.)

Here’s the Clarion Foundation blogpost about it:  The 5th Annual Clarion Write-a-thon

Here’s the Clarion Writeathon website where you can sign up to write, or sign up to sponsor writers by making a donation.

I’m a Clarion graduate (2007) and it was honestly life-changing for me. It takes years to unpack everything you learn, and a lot of it isn’t even about the craft – you learn about the whole writing ecosystem, so to speak. The write-a-thon funds help to keep this workshop alive, and to sponsor writers who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend.


My friend and Clarionmate Justin Whitney’s poured hours of work into revamping the Write-a-thon website. Here’s what he says about it:

“The vast bulk of the work I did this year has been to make the site easier to use. Basically, it’s finally begun operating like most other sites out there – lots of highly responsive javascript type of work. I created a bunch of web services so that I can save and retrieve from the database without the user ever leaving the page. I also added a bit of eye candy here and there. I imagine for most dot-coms it’s pretty routine stuff. But then they usually have teams of specialists working on the different areas that have to come together. I’m rather pleased with the work I did but I’m not really sure how to promote that to new and past users. It kind of looks the same, but the plumbing is WAY BETTER!

“The most significant change was to address the chief complaint we’ve gotten over the years – the actual sponsorship process. On the fast end, you can now pledge toward a writer’s goal with no more than 3 clicks (if you’re already logged in) and without ever leaving the writer’s page. On the slow end, a brand new visitor can sponsor a writer in about 5 clicks and a couple of short forms, again without ever leaving the page. And that includes both a one-time registration and a one-time credit card form (contact info only – no credit card information). After that, the credit card contact info will be prefilled and login will be remembered, so it’s even easier. OR, she can skip registration entirely and go straight to payment – I created a way to keep track of visitors who sponsor multiple writers without ever registering, so it doesn’t turn into a big mess on the back-end. Everything is integrated with the admin tools I built so that the entire Thon can be run by 2 part-time volunteers.

“Still, other than revamping the entire sponsorship process, the site looks almost the same as last year, albeit a LOT cleaner.”

CLARION: The Best Broken Heart You’ll Ever Have

Check it out! If you’re a writer, sign up! If you can’t, but can donate money to sponsor and encourage writers, that’s great too. (And if you can do both, so much the better.)

If this post sounds like hard-sell Hurrah Clarion! – it’s because I feel that strongly about the workshop. There’s a great blogpost from Sam Miller on the Clarion Blog, called The Best Broken Heart You’ll Ever Have. Nails it.

Wiscon 38, Day 5 – Monday May 26th, 2014 – The End


Monday. The last day of Wiscon, the time to tie up loose ends and say good bye. Actually, a half-day, as I was scheduled to leave the hotel at 3 p.m.

Unlike Sunday, when I didn’t make it to the 10 a.m. reading, I did get out to Michaelangelo’s for the “Hard Chargers” reading. I came in as my friend Juliette Wade was reading from “Mind Locker,” her new story in Analog – a story I’d been privileged to see as a work-in-process, since we are in a critique group together. The other writers reading their work  – who were also pretty damn awesome – were Kat Beyer, Kimberley Long-Ewing, and Marguerite Reed.

Drifted back to the hotel to make a last pass at the Dealers’ Room and Art Show,  and pack. This is when I actually realized the folly of book acquisition at Wiscon. I could only fit about 3 into my suitcase, and the rest went into my backpack, which then felt as though it were loaded with bricks.

The hotel gave me a late check out this year, many thanks Concourse Hotel! This left me with time to  grab some lunch at the bar and help Julie remove the blue tape indicating disability access areas from meeting rooms that weren’t going to be used later. (Julie’s on the Access committee.) We swung by the end of the Sign-Out, where we said Bye to a few people. A life-size cut-out of Ellen Klages had been turned into a Get-Well card for her, and was waiting for a few more signatures.

The Post-Mortem started at 2.30 p.m., and I joined in for half an hour. Then it was off to the shuttle and off to the airport. There, I discovered the second flight would be two hours late. I called home to let them know, then settled in to wait. It all worked out, and I landed in San Francisco to twinkling lights at 11.30 p.m.

jewel box of lights - landing at SFO

Here’s a set of links to all my Wiscon 38 posts.

  • Day One: GoH Readings at “A Room of One’s Own.”
  • Day Two: Economics in video-games, The Gathering, PoC Dinner, Poverty, Transphobic feminists?
  • Day Three: Non-romantic endings, Time and Memory, Outer Alliance reading, Tiptree Auction without Klages, Telestrations game
  • Day Four: The Capitol, SFWA, readings, GoH speeches and Tiptree winner, parties.
  • Day Five: The End. ‘Hard Chargers’ reading.
  • Note on Reaching your Readers/ Selling Yourself.

Edited to Add: Sophy(gurl) kept excellent notes on some of the panels. I saw them on LiveJournal, and am linking to her round-up post that links to each write-up.

Wiscon 38, Day 4 – Sunday May 25th, 2014


lasercornflier1-1-232x300I’d meant to wake up on Sunday in time to go to the Clockwork Lasercorn reading. Several Codexians were reading, and the poster was awesome.  But the accumulated sleep debt got me, and it didn’t happen. Instead, I  joined two people I’d just met – Nancy, and Eric – for an enjoyable Mexican lunch at Diego’s bistro, just across the street. They’re both from Minneapolis. Eric, aside from his library day-job, puts out a beautiful spec-fic magazine.  It’s had 33 issues in 28 years.

After lunch, I had a little time to play the tourist, and went to the Capitol observation deck. It had great 360-degree views. (More about that, with photographs, in a separate post.)


Then it was back to the hotel and “Is SFWA Relevant?” SFWA is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. It has quite specific membership requirements; I don’t personally qualify, and with my current publications strategy, probably never will. But some writers make it a point to earn SFWA qualification, and I’ve sometimes wondered whether it’s worth doing. Meanwhile, there have been endless kerfuffles of various kinds emanating from the organization, and I’d sort of written it off – except that Mary Robinette Kowal, who I respect as feminist and writer, had been Vice-President and seemed to care a lot about it. So I thought I’d find out more.

The panel were committed SFWA people, and they talked about the Legal Fund, the Writers Beware warnings, the Grief Com to help authors who had problems with editors and publishers, and even a Medical Fund for members. In their view, SFWA was a Union for professional writers. They explained what had gone down with the kerfuffles, most of which was – to me at least – understandable as a clash of old and new value systems.

We discussed member qualifications, comparing SFWA with the Romance Writers’ Association (RWA), which offers membership to anyone who wants it. RWA has a huge base, and thus provides a lot of services. One person in the audience pointed out she has skills and energy and experience that could benefit SFWA, but she doesn’t qualify – and probably won’t, because, self-publishing. (SFWA is looking into a self-publishing standard for qualifying, but hasn’t got there yet.)

My own take on it is that SFWA is shooting itself in the foot with strict membership qualifications. The vast majority of writers don’t make a living from spec-fic, straining the definition of “professional.” It’s not a Union because it’s not in a position to bargain collectively. Its power and influence come from its resources – membership numbers and  funds. Why does it make sense to limit that? If its base grows, it can provide more resources for new writers or hobby writers, and thus make membership even more attractive, setting up a positive feedback loop. It may never have the huge base of RWA, but with a much larger membership and more funds, it could do much more.

The main argument for joining seemed to be that it’s an organization worthy of support. That I agree with; but then if I don’t qualify, all I can do is wish it well. From the outside.

The next panel for me was ‘Selling Yourself: The Journey of Self-Marketing.’ This was very useful and insightful, and I have a separate post with notes from this and the previous day’s ‘Reaching Readers: Best Practices for Writers.’


I just made it to the ‘Questionable Practices’ reading: Karen Joy Fowler, Eileen Gunn, Pat Murphy, and Nisi Shawl. Michelangelo’s, the cafe across from the hotel where they held this event, was packed. I’ve no idea why they didn’t realize that this would draw a large audience and schedule it in the hotel. Anyway, the readings were brilliant. Karen read part of a sharply-observed and creepy story, called Nanny Ann and the Christmas Story (and you can read it all here).  Eileen read a story from her new book, Questionable Practices – ‘Michael Swanwick and Samuel R. Delany at the Joyce Kilmer Service Area, March 2005.’ It’s a very funny recounting of the two authors out for a burger as recounted by a story-telling  robot (and here is Michael Swanwick’s intro to it on his blog). Pat read a bitter-sweet tale set in a future Oakland where nearly all the men have died in a plague.  Nisi read a book-excerpt so strong that the audience protested when she stopped – and were disappointed to learn the book’s not even been sold yet let alone published.

The Guest of Honor speeches this year were eloquent, stirring, and hard-hitting. Hiromi Goto spoke about minority voices, and made a strong statement against Cultural Appropriation. N.K. Jemisin spoke about her horrible experience of being attacked and called a savage after her speech at an Australian convention, and issued a call to action – to fight back, and not tolerate racism and the rape culture.  Both speeches are online.

Then they crowned the Tiptree Award winner: Nike (pronounced “Nicky”) Sulway for Rupetta, about an artificial intelligence constructed of cloth, leather and metal with a clockwork heart.

Congrats to Nike Sulway for Rupetta - Tiptree winner

model dalekLater, at the Aqueduct Press party, there was a cake honoring the book, and Nike kindly posed next to it for a few of us to take snaps. I swung by the other parties, just checking them out. A large Dalek cruised the 6th floor hallway.

Outside the Floomp party where many people were wearing gender-bending costumes, I met Cath Schaff-Stump just as she left, looking tired and happy. Others I knew were hanging out in the corridor, and I stopped to chat.

Then I went to the second floor, found another game of Telestrations in progress, and joined that.


Here’s a set of links to all my Wiscon 38 posts.

  • Day One: GoH Readings at “A Room of One’s Own.”
  • Day Two: Economics in video-games, The Gathering, PoC Dinner, Poverty, Transphobic feminists?
  • Day Three: Non-romantic endings, Time and Memory, Outer Alliance reading, Tiptree Auction without Klages, Telestrations game
  • Day Four: The Capitol, SFWA, readings, GoH speeches and Tiptree winner, parties.
  • Day Five: The End. ‘Hard Chargers’ reading.
  • Note on Reaching your Readers/ Selling Yourself.

Madison Capitol – Visiting the Rotunda and Observation Deck


The local free paper, Isthmus, listed the observation deck of the Capitol as one of Madison’s best sights. During Wiscon 38, I took a little time out to explore.

capitol building madison

I walked up the broad shallow steps to the Capitol building. Inside, the corridor was tall-ceilinged and shady, and opened onto a splendid rotunda, with mosaic pictures and lovely light.

madison capitol rotunda 1

A few tourists wandered around. Two people lay flat on the floor, the better to appreciate the ceiling.

madison capitol rotunda 2

Though I couldn’t quite make out the picture from where I stood, I could record it.

painting on ceiling of madison capitol rotunda

I found the elevator that took me to the 4th floor, and then walked up to the observation deck.

Unfortunately, there are access issues, starting with the broad shallow steps from the street up to the plinth on which the building rests. Then, to get to the observation deck, you would need to take the elevator to the 4th floor, get out and climb two flights of stairs. At the top of this, there’s a narrow spiral staircase (where you’re supposed to check if someone is coming down before you go up). You can’t even take a stroller past the 4th floor landing area, much less a wheelchair.

From the observation deck, I got a closer look at some of the statues below the dome.

statue above observation deck - madison capitolIt provides 360-degree views of Madison.  It’s rather nice on a pretty day.

view 1

view from observation deck - madison capitol

view 3

Trees make so much difference to the city’s beauty. This street has no mature trees yet; the saplings are quite young. It looks strikingly bare and boring compared to the streets all around that have a lovely canopy.

view 4

On the way back, I saw black birds wandering around the lawn. I think they were grackles. I tried to take a photo of one, but the bird moved on. I got its shadow and a black winged smudge leaving the picture on the left.

departing grackle

departing grackle 2




Wiscon 38, Day 3 – Saturday May 24th, 2014


Saturday started with hotel restaurant breakfast with Catherine Schaff Stump and other Codexians who came and went. As usual with Codexians – good company, great conversation. Wiscon’s a terrific place to catch up with people who you don’t usually get to see, or who you’ve only met online. Except that very often, they’re rushing in one direction, and you’re rushing in another, because Wiscon has so much going on that there are three things you want to attend in every time-slot. So it was nice to get to actually sit and chat.

I caught half of the ‘Feminist Endings’ panel, which discussed the romance reader expectations of a Happily Ever After in which the protagonists pair off at the end. “Many speculative fiction novels include a romantic subplot with often a paired coupling at the end… How can feminist writers resist or re-imagine different kinds of endings if a large sector of the reading public has been encouraged to expect romance?” One panelist described her experience of being asked by editors to switch genres – from Romance to SFF and then back to Romance in a multi-book series. It didn’t work, which highlighted the different norms in the genres. The discussion was interesting, but expectedly inconclusive.

Reaching Readers: Best Practices for Writers‘ was really useful, especially in a market that is changing so quickly. More and more authors are self-published; many others are published by small or micro presses. The internet provides readers with the ability to interact with authors. “The old advice about writers remaining aloof is outdated… Aloofness is a privilege that writers can’t afford.”  On Sunday, I went to a related panel, ‘Selling Yourself: The Journey of Self-Marketing.‘ “Today, authors find they must become part of the marketing machinery if they want their work to succeed… Is social media all there is? How do you stay professional while engaging in ways that sell your work?” I have a separate blog post to capture these discussions.

Time, Contingency and Memory centered on the artwork of Laurie Toby Edison, whom most of us know best as a jewelry artist and photographer. But this was different; it was artworks made on the iPad with assemblages of meaningful photographs and objects. She’s starting a project to reflect her life through a series of such images. The discussion centered on memories, retrieving them, sharing them, validating them. Many of us – including the panelists – who are older have lost people with whom we shared memories; in some cases, they may have been the *only* people with whom we shared that memory. It was bittersweet.

The Outer Alliance reading was excellent. (In fact, all the readings I attended at Wiscon were excellent.) My only quarrel with readings is that sometimes people only read fragments, and I’m left hanging… Anyway, my friend Julie read a piece that she’d actually written during Wiscon. It was smart and funny and I wish she’d write more stuff so I could read it.

Then it was time for the Tiptree auction. This is one of the highlights of Wiscon for me, and it really should be called the Ellen Klages Saturday Night Live Tiptree Auction Show. Ellen Klages is always the auctioneer and she’s hilarious and outrageous. Except, this time, she’d injured her back and could not make it… could they even have an auction without her?

Ellen Klages video at the Tiptree Auction 2014

They did. Karen Joy Fowler and Pat Murphy and a team of volunteers dug out their suppressed comedic sides. People like Ellen Kushner, and David Levine, and Nisi Shawl. Who knew? It was very funny, perhaps slightly less crazy and unpredictable than Ellen Klages, but had us roaring nonetheless. They were ably assisted by a couple of young kids, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy the limelight and clearly are Wiscon NextGen. Ellen Klages sent a video with the theme, the Show Must Go On. It did, Ellen, and brilliantly. But we still want you back next year. With a healed back.

I won a galley of Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (which I wrote about in an earlier post).  Of course I have it on Kindle, but this was for her autograph. It was a bit more special than just a bookstore copy.

I made a round of the parties; the Haiku Earring party seemed the best attended but they were all quite quiet. What drew me in, unexpectedly, were the game tables – new this year. Vylar Kaftan, a friend from the Bay Area was at a table of a dozen people playing Telestrations, and when someone retired from the game I replaced them. It’s sort of like the old game of “Telephone” in which each person whispers something to their neighbor, who whispers what they think they heard to their neighbor and so on. Only, this is done with paper and pen (or rather a dry-erase booklet and a marker). Each person writes a word or phrase, and passes it to their neighbor. The next person draws it, and passes it on. The next person writes what they see in the picture, and passes it on to their neighbor, who draws that phrase. This continues until the booklets are back to their originators. Then you have a show-and-tell of the booklets, and it’s just ridiculously funny to see how each sequence went. The game’s best played with at least 6 players, but is better with maybe 10-12. And it’s probably best played with people you don’t know very well, because they become predictable and so the sequences wouldn’t diverge as much.

Another group were playing Slash, but I didn’t join that one.


Here’s a set of links to all my Wiscon 38 posts.

  • Day One: GoH Readings at “A Room of One’s Own.”
  • Day Two: Economics in video-games, The Gathering, PoC Dinner, Poverty, Transphobic feminists?
  • Day Three: Non-romantic endings, Time and Memory, Outer Alliance reading, Tiptree Auction without Klages, Telestrations game
  • Day Four: The Capitol, SFWA, readings, GoH speeches and Tiptree winner, parties.
  • Day Five: The End. ‘Hard Chargers’ reading.
  • Note on Reaching your Readers/ Selling Yourself.