Keyan’s Blog

“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

Silkworms near Bangalore

One of the things I love about India is how much life is lived in the open. It’s as though you can see under a skin of the world that in other places covers up the processes of living.

I was recently on a road trip outside Bangalore with friends. On the way back, I saw some woven rush mats with interesting spiral patterns standing in roadside villages. They looked elegant, in a minimalist sort of way. “Those are for silkworms,” said Pratima, noticing my interest.

Really? So we stopped at one of the villages to look. Pratima speaks Kannada, and the villagers were happy to respond to her interest.

For people unfamiliar with how silk is made: It’s unwound from the pupae of the silkworm moth, which is killed in the pupal stage (usually by immersing it in boiling water). Breeders keep a stock of moths, and collect the eggs they lay. The larvae go through five instars (stages of growth) before they form their cocoons. They eat mainly mulberry leaves, and so South India has mulberry plantations for sericulture.

pix7 094 silkworm larvae before pupating
Late stage silkworms getting ready to pupate

Sericulture in the state of Karnataka is a cottage industry, providing flexible employment without need for serious capital investment. What we saw in the village were the late-stage silkworms, and the cocoons. I’m not sure whether they sourced the silkworms as larvae from a breeder, or whether they purchased the eggs and hatched them. We did see sheaves of mulberry leaves being brought in, but since it’s the late-stage larvae that are the most voracious, that didn’t indicate very much. I think they harvest the cocoons and sell them to other processors who actually unwind the silk.

pix7 103 silkworm mats stacked horizontally
The silkworm mats are stored horizontally with spaces between.
pix7 105 silkworm mat lowered to show cocoons
They lowered one mat to show us the cocoons
pix7 090 silk worm cocoons in mats propped up
During the day, they may be taken out and propped up in the air and sunlight
pix7 093 silk worm mats
Silkworm frames with cocoons
pix7 096 cocoons
Closer view of cocoons

The village itself was a delight. The houses were painted in bright colors, and vegetables grew randomly here and there, probably volunteers escaped from kitchen gardens. A hen with half-grown chicks wandered around, with no apparent attempt to contain them. A bunch of curious kids gathered around us, listening to their elders explain how they cultivated silkworms. Pratima asked why they weren’t in school. They were still on holiday, they explained. They had another 2 days off. We smiled our goodbyes, thanked them, and left.

pix7 104 village doorwaypix7 097 bicycle and chickenspix7 102 village near Bangalore

(Edited to Add: Incidentally, the swastika symbol in the picture above? It’s the auspicious symbol, not the Nazi one that Hitler stole. Talk about cultural misappropriation.)

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




Read my Story – in Polish!

Some months ago, Dawid Wiktorski contacted me on Facebook to ask if they could translate one of my stories into Polish for their Speculative Fiction site, Szortal. They’d found Chick Lit  on Daily Science Fiction, and liked it.

Not knowing Polish, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. But he’d sent me a link to the site, and I asked the writing community on Codex if anyone could check it out. Several did, and they said it looked entirely legitimate. So I gave the go-ahead, after some clarifying exchanges about the terms. (They’re an entirely free site, there’s no payment involved.)

Chick Lit is a very short Flash, written in class at Clarion and still one of my favorites. But I have to say I was a bit surprised at the choice. The “voice” of this story (which is mostly dialogue) is to my ear very American. How would they make it work in another language? I guess they did, because Dawid Wiktorski was complimentary about the story.

The story in English is here: Chick Lit by Keyan Bowes (Daily Science Fiction)
To see Chick Lit in its Polish translation (Koleżanki po piórze), see the picture below. 


Edited to Add (July 2020): Sadly, the website seems to be gone. I assume the magazine closed down. The site Issuu has the whole magazine (which I can’t read, but it’s gorgeous) at this link:

The Third Pig by Kater Cheek

3rd pig - kater cheek
Cover by Kater Cheek

Kater Cheek, my friend and Clarion-mate, has several novels and stories for sale on Amazon.

She’s put her short stories out out as ‘doubles’ – two short stories per download. Recently I bought “The Third Pig” & “Sleeps with the Fishes” for my Kindle. I always enjoy Kater’s work, but these two might just be my favorites among her short stories. They’re both clever, funny, and wonderfully satirical.

The Third Pig” retells the story of the three little pigs. Johannes, the 3rd pig, is hanging out with his two brothers Aloysius  (the aesthete who is going to make his house of sticks – wattle and daub, that is – but is delayed because the bathroom tiles didn’t match and ad to be sent back) and Fritz, who’s planning an environmentally-friendly straw-bale house with solar panels. Hans is building his house of bricks of onsite river mud. They’re all behind schedule on construction and living in a flimsy tent, but fortunately Conn the wolf is vegan…

…and then Al and Fritz disappear. Now it’s up to Hans to unravel the mystery and decide just how far he can trust Conn.

If you like fairytales retold and updated as light-hearted satires – check this out.

I can’t decide which the best bits are, there are too many good ones. (It would be perfect for a drinking game, catching allusions to fairy tales and nursery rhymes.) The reference to “Sty” magazine (Al’s inspiration); the bar scene with Elsie the sheep and a couple of others, where the party gets a little wooly and she gets three sheep to the wind and they’re all talking about a touring band from Bremen; or Rosie, who has the misfortune to help a witch and now gold coins fall from her mouth when she talks, so she has to use a chalkboard to communicate; or when Hans describes the filthy conditions at the Seven Dwarves’ cottage and adds, “bear in mind it’s a pig that’s telling you this”.  It’s a hoot with heart.

So is “Sleeps with the Fishes,”  which is set in a college dorm. “It’s one thing to read about spontaneous therianthropy, and quite another to suddenly find yourself dick-deep in a mermaid’s cloaca.

And when the said mermaid – who is your college classmate Ashlee, transformed just at the most inappropriate moment – starts to drown on dry land, you have to do something. You can get her head into a trashcan full of water – but now the water’s getting stale. She needs to be in the ocean.

How are you going to get a slippery, 8-foot mermaid to the ocean before she suffocates? Well, with the help of Luo, Karl (who’s supposed to bring a truck but his sister borrowed it and all he has is her Honda), the RA who keeps flapping on about 911, the Chinese guy from down the Hall who doesn’t speak English but quickly figures out the situation, a four-woman Taiwanese flag corp, and Karl’s girlfriend’s Dad…

If you’re in the mood for something light-hearted, try these two stories.

Troubled Bridge of Beauty

It’s been five years now since I blogged about the Bay Bridge, which was being rebuilt in the wake of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. (I was in San Francisco when that happened. A slab of the roadway collapsed. Lives were lost.  The bridge was patched together and re-opened, but everyone wanted a new one.)

The new span is beautiful. Here’s a picture I took on a seaplane ride: the new bridge with its single sail-like mast, and the old bridge in the process of being dismantled. People wanted it left as a trail and a garden, sort of like New York’s High Line, but apparently it would be too expensive to maintain.

New Bay Bridge and Old

They kept the old Bridge open while they worked on the new one. This introduced an unaccustomed S-bend into the road, and that took a life too, before they added rumble-strips and warnings and forced a slowing of traffic.

The Bridge was completed without, thankfully, any further accidents. But not without problems.

  • Allegations of poor welds. Some welders claimed they’d been rushed and encouraged to cover over poor work. Caltrans investigated and found the welds at or above specs.
  • Foundation problems. The Sacramento Bee alleged that some of the foundation work was defective. Caltrans made a one-hour video rebuttal, and tried for a retraction of the article.  It didn’t happen. Instead, the newspaper came out with another article, again talking of defective welds.
  • Bolt failures. Some of the bolts connecting the road bed to the bridge have cracked, and many more appear vulnerable.

Now someone is talking about a criminal investigation.

Bay Bridge 2009
New Bay Bridge under construction, 2009

I Haz a Poltergeist?

I was sitting at the computer pulling an all-nighter, and it was past dawn. I was thinking of calling it a day (or night), when I heard a crash of glass from my bathroom. Damn. Expecting a picture off the hook or a shattered toothmug, I went to investigate.

The upper panel of the bathroom window had smashed. Pieces of glass lay all over the floor.

What happened? At first I thought something had broken it from outside – a confused bird, a thrown rock, a blown branch.  But:

  • There was nothing out there
  • The screen outside the window was untouched and
  • It’s a double-paned window, and the external pane was whole.

So the damage had occurred from inside. But:

  • I was the only one awake at the time, and wasn’t in the bathroom
  • Nothing in the bathroom can accidentally bang into the glass
  • The gap under the bathroom door is large enough to prevent a serious pressure differential in the bathroom

So – maybe I have a poltergeist? Or is it a  message from my long-neglected Muse, because the broken window? It looks like a phoenix on its nest.

phoenix 1

Then again, it could be thermal shock (though I didn’t notice any serious temperature change) and pareidolia.

I’d be interested in other explanations (preferably scientific, but open to anything).


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.

The 5th Annual Clarion Write-a-thon

Clarion Blog

Writers, it’s time to sharpen your pencils, refill your fountain pens, or warm up those keyboards. Join with fellow writers around the world for our fifth annual write-a-thon, now open for registration.

What is a write-a-thon?

It’s like a walk-a-thon, except for writing! Participants can be pledged by the word, chapter, or story. Finish that novel you’ve been working on. Write and submit new short stories. Try your hand at writing speculative poetry. The goal is up to you.

The six-week event mirrors the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, running from June 22nd to August 2nd. Write and/or pledge to show your support for the latest batch of students, chosen from among hundreds of applicants, as they learn from some of the best writers and editors in our field.

Who can join?

The write-a-thon is open to everyone, whether you’re just getting started or you’re a seasoned…

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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.

Reaching your Readers, Selling Yourself – Wiscon 2014 Notes

Two panels I attended at Wiscon 38 were so closely related and important that I decided to merge my notes and put them all in a separate post. This is that post. First, the panel descriptions.

Reaching Readers: Best Practices for Writers. The panel description said: “Whether a writer is self-publishing ebooks, serializing fiction online, or promoting traditionally published books, modern technology is rife with opportunities (and pitfalls) for connecting with readers. The old advice about writers remaining aloof is outdated – especially in marginalized communities. Aloofness is a privilege that writers can’t afford. But should writers participate in “readers only” spaces like Goodreads? What should writers do to foment their own fandom, if anything? Facebook has throttled pro pages – has anything replaced them? What are the do’s and don’ts of serializing as part of a web presence? Do mailing lists work? What do readers want from authors online and how can authors benefit from that relationship?” [Panelists: Sally Wiener Gotta, Wesley Chu, Liz Gorinsky, Melissa F. Olson, Trisha J. Wooldridge]

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. You need to sell yourself to agents, to publishers, and then to booksellers and readers, and beyond. Signed and aspiring writers can both struggle to find a balance. Is social media all there is? How can you stay professional while engaging in ways that sell your work? Can you keep a private social presence separate from your professional persona? [Panelists: Jim Leinweber, Ellen Kushner, Katya Pendil, Jesse Stommel. Mary Robinette Kowal was supposed to be there, but she had to miss Wiscon this year.]

So, to my notes.

1. Is social media all there is? What about book-tours or signings or Conventions? Ideally, you want to do everything but you can’t do all that and write as well.  In terms of return for the effort, social media give much more exposure. According to one panelist, when you’re writing Middle Grade (MG) books it’s different. This is because MG books are bought by gate-keepers – parents, teachers, librarians – rather than by the kids themselves. This means that to connect with your audience, you have to go through them, and that may mean a physical presence instead of an internet one.

2. Which social media? Ideally, be on every platform you can. If you’re a newbie at this, just get onto all of them and see which works best for you. One of them can be your primary platform, and others feed off that one. Facebook is possibly mature. Twitter and Tumblr are currently active; and Youtube is a good option; it’s “sticky” which means people come there and stay for a while.  Reddit is a possibility. And if someone wants to “friend” you – do it. What have you got to lose? If they turn out to be terrible in some way, you can ‘unfollow’ or drop them.

3. Are blogs dead? A few years ago, authors were encouraged to have blogs. Now, it seems no one’s reading them any more. Individual blogs – unless you are John Scalzi – may be more trouble than they’re worth. (Hmmm!)  Multi-author blogs that are magazine-substitutes (with multiple contributors, and significant following) are useful, and blog-tours with the writer contributing to, or interviewed by, such blogs are a good way to gain exposure. But every author does needs a website or blog as a sort of landing site, so they can be found on the internet and provide up-to-date information. It’s important to be easy to find. But you need to use other social media to connect people to your blog.

4. What about multiple pseudonyms and multiple accounts? Many do it. It’s definitely more work, but may be needed for “branding” if you have different audiences.  The question is, who are you trying to reach with each separate account? But if you are present as more than one “person” – reblog yourself. If you’ve written something as John Smith, reblog it on your Joanna Jones site as well – if it’s relevant to John’s following as well as Joanna’s. You can save some work that way.

5. You need to be visible. “Presence is promotion” – Jesse Stommel, one of the panel. Do you have an interest people would like to hear about? He recommends finding your enthusiasm and sharing it, using it to build a persona. Ellen Kushner mentioned a radio show, Sound and Spirit that she did for a number of years that brought her a following even though it had nothing to do with her writing. You need to create an illusion of intimacy with your audience, so they’re interested in you and by extension your work. It’s a constructed relationship. It’s important that an internet presence should not be all about selling your book; people get turned off by obvious sales pitches.

6. It’s a long game. Constructing the relationship takes time, and you may not see an immediate impact on book sales. Google analytics does help to see what impact your site is having, but how it translates to purchases is not easy to estimate. One panelist said it takes 3 exposures before people decide to buy a book. They may see a review and file it away in their mind, then hear a friend talk about it and still not respond. But if they then see the book somewhere online or in a store, they might decide to buy.

7. Effective reviews. Someone mentioned research that showed that reviews influenced book purchases only if they included a picture of the book.  Author pictures also had an influence. The recommendation was – always try to get a picture of the book into a review; and always have an author picture.

8.  Have a press kit. If you’re trying to get reviews, or visit bookstores, or practically anything – you should have a press kit. It should include a photograph (head shot) with high enough resolution to print.  It should include a list of publications, and something interesting about the writer. It should have a press release about the latest book.

But do NOT have a database of questions with every possible answer somewhere out on the web. It makes interviews less interesting.

9.  Book tours and personal exposure shouldn’t be written off, even if you focus on social media. Local bookstores, especially indy stores, are a good place to start and to build a relationship. Traditional book tours solely for promotion may be too expensive for individual authors. But – if you are thinking of travel for some other reason (say visiting family) – see if you can layer on book-signings and similar appearances. It’s fun, it’s exposure, and it makes your trip tax deductible.  Ask someone else to make the call on your behalf,  don’t make it yourself. (They should sound professional.)

10. Book panels and book clubs can be good ways to get exposure. If they like you and your book, they can become fanatics and your best supporters. “Sell your book by not selling your book” – people are more interested in hearing about the author than “Buy My Book!”  Hiring a publicist doesn’t necessarily work, for that reason. Consider having questions and study lists with your book, if appropriate.

11. If you’re self-publishing:

  • Get your own ISBN number for your book. Don’t rely on Createspace or Amazon’s ISBN. (Not sure why the panelist gave this advice.)
  • Make sure your cover is professional, attractive, works as a thumbnail as well as full-size. And that it signals the right genre.
  • Hire an editor, especially for the back-cover material. Typos there can kill the book.

12. Some panelists recommended BookBub. It’s a site that charges for promoting a book that is on sale to its genre readers lists. It doesn’t accept all writers, though.

13. Make friends with other writers and show up for them. If they have a new book, help them get the word out. This helps when you want their help in getting the word out about yours.

14. Consider having a monthly newsletter. Develop an email list of supporters and fans. If you’re keeping a blog, it can be a round-up. One panelist includes things like Deleted Scenes from her book, photos of locations where her book is set, and other interesting material. Make sure it’s entertaining.

15. How do you stop outreach from eating your writing time? Use time-fragments. One panelist needs uninterrupted time for writing, but in five minutes while waiting for a bus or 30 minutes during a kid’s activity – she can write a Tweet on Twitter, or a note on Facebook.

16. Do get on Goodreads and on Amazon. Every writer is a reader. Write reviews of books you enjoyed. Avoid reviewing books you dislike; it’s not worth the effort, and can just make you enemies. Also, try to get people to review your books on these sites. It’s a necessary evil. Many reviews may not boost your sales much, but a lack of reviews can kill them.

17. Serialising – mixed reviews. Some people serialize the first part of their book – as a teaser, or a sample – and charge for the remainder. Someone mentioned a site called Patreon to do this. One author puts out her chapters as she writes them to her list, with a warning that it’s a draft and could change in the final book. This engages readers, and also encourages them to buy the book later. Some serialize their books publicly in the hope that readers will want the whole book in once piece later, or that they’ll buy subsequent books in the series or by that author. But some panelists didn’t care for the idea; it provides too many opportunities to lose the reader.

18. Back list matters. If readers discover a book by you, they want to buy more. If there’s a body of related work, it provides that many more entry points for potential readers.




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.

Wiscon 38, Day Two – Friday May 23rd, 2014

This year, the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA – “Siff-ra”) also had its annual convention in Madison, at the Inn on the Park. This is Wiscon’s alternate hotel, a short walk away from the Concourse (which is the main hotel). Wiscon and SFRA co-ordinated, so those attending either event could also go to the other one. This worked really well; the academic offerings deepened the whole experience.

Unusually, I found myself awake early Friday morning, eager to get started on the Con. After a decadent breakfast at the Dayton Street Grille, I attended a couple of SFRA sessions – presentations of academic papers. Walking up to Inn on the Park, I noted with sadness that a wonderful antiquarian bookstore (“J Taylors Antiquities, Notable Books & Rare Maps“) had closed down and the space was for rent.

antiquarian bookstore closed

One SFRA paper I found particularly interesting was an analysis of the economic system within some questing-type videogames (“Bind on Pickup: The Virtual Economics of Digital Science Fiction” – David M Higgins). Though I’m not a gamer myself, I thought the design of these alternate universes – and their parallels with capitalist ideals – quite interesting. “Bind on Pickup” refers to the way in which treasures/ weapons/ etc that players achieve in the course of the game “bind” to the player, so they cannot be sold or given away within the game and thus prevent a secondary market from arising or stronger players unfairly helping weaker ones. Within the real-world capitalist system this would be ideal for profit-maximizing. It in fact applies to some kinds of electronic products that cannot be sold or given away.

I got back to the Concourse in time for lunch and The Gathering, which is like a fair in a large meeting room. There’s free coffee and cookies, a clothing swap, tarot readings, fabric arts, paper arts, hair-braiding (and we saw the pretty and complex results on people for the next several days!), and Galley Ho! offering pre-publication book galley for a one-dollar donation. I tried to avoid this table, which is overly tempting, but when I met up with Julie, she had an armful of  books and I couldn’t resist going over to check it out. In about five minutes, I had acquired more books than would fit in my suitcase.

Dropping the books off in my room, I decided to attend a panel before I was tempted to return to Galley Ho: Class in the works of Hiromi Goto.” In some ways, it focused more on the immigrant experience and cultural issues than just class.  Hiromi Goto attended, sitting quietly in the back of the room. Though it was interesting, I think I’d have got more out of it if I had read her books first.

Friday evening’s ‘People of Color’ dinner, organized by LaShawn Wanak and Tempest Bradford, was awesome. There’s just so much cameraderie and enthusiasm and general noise!  I found some people I already knew, including Nisi Shawl’s mother, a gentle and engaging lady who I met at Wiscon 37, as well as some new and interesting people. Then I went on to the Opening Ceremonies. It’s always nice to see and cheer for the people who make Wiscon happen. Especially after I got involved with the FoGcon committee, I’ve developed a sharper appreciation for what it takes to make a Con.

opening ceremonies - wiscon 38

I picked panels over parties. “The Politics of Being Poor” was excellent. A couple of panelists spoke from direct experience about the difficulties of poverty. It’s worse when it happens suddenly, in one case owing to a disability that not only cost medical bills, but prevented them from working. Very quickly, the family went from solidly middle-class to impoverished. They didn’t even know what services were available or how to get them. Panelists spoke of the patchwork of services available, but the paperwork – and effort – required to access them is daunting for someone without a car and maybe with some mobility issues.  Being poor, one said, is a full-time job. This whole system needs to improve, but the poor are so busy with survival that they cannot always agitate for change. They discussed the embarrassment of depending on Christian charities if you’re not Christian. They also spoke of the problems with food pantries. One suggestion:  If you’re donating to a food pantry, donate some cake-mixes that don’t need any additional ingredients except water (none needing eggs, for instance) and birthday candles. Poor moms also want to celebrate their children’s birthdays, and baking a cake is a good way – if it’s available.

Can You Be Transphobic and Still be a Feminist?” was a wholly new topic for me; I had no idea that some people who consider themselves feminist object to trans women being considered women – or that this had started in the 1970s. Everyone on the panel was trans, and so they could speak to the direct effects of this kind of exclusion. Bottom line: a person’s gender depends on their own definition and what they identify as. No one else has the right to tell a trans woman what gender she is.

After that, I did swing by the parties. They seemed very quiet, perhaps because it was nearly midnight.  Also, this year,  some of the 6th floor party rooms were converted to regular guest rooms. The parties were split between the 6th and 2nd floors, making it difficult for people to drift back and forth.


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.

Wiscon 38 Day One – Thursday May 22, 2014

booksI like to blog about Wiscon while I’m there, one day at a time, and that’s what I did last year at Wiscon 37. That plan was defeated this year by the really bad internet at the Concourse Hotel. I could barely get on enough to look at my email before the signal collapsed. So instead of the immediacy of same-day reporting, I get the pleasures of reminiscence about Wiscon 38.


The Concourse hotel’s shuttle arrived 15 minutes after I called for it. Three of us boarded, all Wiscon-bound. We had each taken a red-eye to get there and we were all sleepy, but we still chatted a bit. It felt like the Con had already started.

Usually, my Clarion friends Julie and Kater attend Wiscon. Kater wasn’t coming this year (and we missed you, Kater!) Julie had gone Facebook-silent, so I had no idea if she was coming or not. But after I checked in and called, I was pleased to find she was, and in fact had already arrived. We decided to meet at the A Room of  One’s Own bookstore for the Guest of Honor readings.

One of the things I appreciate about Wiscon is the familiar rhythms: the predictable time and place, the kick-off GoH readings at A Room of One’s Own, the Gathering.

Jemisin_FifthSeason-TPMy laptop computer’s mouse had somehow died in transit, and I needed a new one. I had no idea where to go, since I didn’t recall any electronics or stationery stores around the hotel. But all the way down State Street, near the University, I came upon a Walgreens. Chain stores are under-rated. I love quirky neighborhood stores and mom-and-pop shops, but when you need something in a hurry and you’re far from home turf, a predictable Walgreens or Target or Safeway is excellent. The Case Logic mouse I got isn’t as ergonomic as my old Microsoft one, but it’s better than a touchpad.

After a quick satay snack at a Thai cafe, I headed to the bookshop. Julie had saved me a seat, and we had a few minutes to catch up before the readings. Hiromi Goto read from her 1994 book, Chorus of Mushrooms. It was an affecting and funny account of the old Japanese grandmother, living in the US and displaced from her familiar world; and her grand-daughter coping with the old lady’s disappearance. N.K. Jemisin read from the first chapter of her new book, The Fifth Season. It was lyrical and harsh and surreal. Later, Julie and I registered, had some dinner at the hotel bar, then called it a day.

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.

Detroit (DTW) en-route to Wiscon

This year, instead of going through Chicago or Denver or Minneapolis to attend Wiscon in Madison WI, I flew a Delta red-eye via Detroit (DTW).  It got me into Madison around 10.30 a.m, a pretty convenient time that allowed for a nap before the Guests of Honor readings at “Room of One’s Own.”

approaching Detroit at dawn

I hadn’t expected much of Detroit airport, given the image of the city. But I was pleasantly surprised.

Dawn was breaking as we descended.The land below was so green and lush that, half-asleep, I  mind-slipped into thinking we were landing somewhere in Southeast Asia.  As we deplaned, the gate agent was waiting to provide directions. Walking toward my gate,  I found neatly folded blankets and airline pillows scattered in the seating areas.

Express Tram Detroit airport

I was delighted by a shiny red train, inside the terminal. It looked like a life-size toy zooming back and forth overhead. The Express Tram is apparently enough of a thing to have its own wikipedia article.

Then I saw this dancing fountain.

dancing fountain - detroit airport

The air was filled with the chirping of birds. At first, I thought it was recorded bird-song to go with the faux trees decorating the concourse. But no – there was an actual flock of free-flying sparrows. They were tough to photograph, tiny against the immensity of the concourse, but I got this blurry shot of one poking his head out of a ceiling vent.

sparrow in ceiling vent

All in all, quite a charming airport.

On the return journey, however, there were no blankets and no sparrows. I hope it was only the time of the day – late in the afternoon – that accounted for the absence, and not administrators and exterminators.


African-American Shakespeare Company’s ‘Much Ado’

Beatrice smSan Francisco is lucky to have the African-American Shakespeare Company. It’s  pretty much what it sounds like: African-American actors, doing Shakespearean and other plays. (Their motto is “Envisioning the Classics with Color.”) They have their own performance space – an intimate and attractive theater at Fulton and Webster, and they even provide free parking in an adjacent lot.

And they’re good. The artistic director L. Peter Callender stages performances with a lot of energy, vitality and color, and including songs and dance. His stagings are often period pieces, but not Tudor. Today, I went to my third play by this group: Much Ado About Nothing. It was a delightful comedic romp, framed by the music of Ella Fitzgerald, and played in post World War II modern dress.

Hero brideI really liked the casting. Leontyne Mbele-Mbong played Beatrice with confidence, humor, and pride; she’s a tall woman, with a strong stage presence. It was entirely believable that she’d get away with saying anything she wanted. For me, she really carried the play. Benedick (Ryan Vincent Anderson) was her perfect match.

Danielle Doyle had fun with the gentle, wide-eyed Hero, the wronged bride; and Twon Marcel was charming as an emotional Claudio, first desperately in love and then furiously betrayed. I did think he took the discovery that Hero was innocent and he had in effect killed her a little too lightly. (Then again, that may be more in the lines than the acting of them.) Dwight Dean Mahabir was a dignified Leonato.

All the actors in supporting roles gave the impression that they could readily have taken on more (and probably have, in other plays) but were having a good time nonetheless.

If you saw the Joss Whedon 2012 film version and liked it, you’d probably love this play. And if you’re in San Francisco, and are here next weekend – you can. The last two performances are coming up on Saturday May 24th at 8pm, and Sunday May 25th at 3pm.

I’m surprised this group doesn’t get more publicity. I found out about them entirely by accident some years ago. SF Chronicle, where are you?