Con Report: World Fantasy Convention 2015

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I have to admit I was afraid at first of going to this convention alone. Sure, I can be social when I need to, but I’m not great at breaking in to groups of strangers.

Fortunately, I was only a stranger for about 24 hours. After that, the warm, wonderful family of writers and fans drew me in and it kept getting better from there.

Every convention has its own personality, shaped by the committee that puts the event together, the people who go, even the venue where it takes place. I found WFC to be, in some ways, the most welcoming and accessible (socially) con I’ve ever attended.

First of all, Saratoga Springs is off-the-hook adorable, a quaint little postcard of a town. That image was accentuated by the season: gorgeous, sunny weather that highlighted the gold, red and orange of the autumn trees. Cute shops everywhere, fun restaurants, everything within walking distance of everything else.

Because this is a fantasy-focused con, and I write mostly fantasy, I found a panel to address every story issue I’m currently facing. The fey? Check. Power, politics and economics in a fantasy world? Check. Magic in epic fantasy? Check. Ghosts? Check. Each panel had a diverse range of folks to bring expert perspectives to every topic. I couldn’t get enough.

And then there were the parties. To many, this con is a social event, a chance to reconnect with friends that only cons bring together. The writers I met in the bar – even writers who had not purchased passes – almost made me squee, fanboy style, at levels only dogs can hear. Seriously. I mean, Gail Carriger. Take that in for a moment. She’s just as sweet and stylish as you’d ever want her to be. I met so many amazing people at the bar or at parties sponsored by Asimov’s, ChiZine Publications, Tremontaine (a new web-serial from SerialBox.com – check it out!) and Altered Fluid (a professional writing group based in NYC) that was worth the price of admission alone.

Best of all, the icing on the cake, if not the cake itself, were the friendships and connections I made. I had conversations ranging from fun to deep, and left the convention feeling both personally and creatively revitalized. I’m already furiously typing away at new stories, and looking forward to seeing new friends at WFC2016 in Columbus, OH.

I Am An Old Nobody And I Love What I Do

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I’m just going to leave this here.

“Ask Polly: Should I just give up on my writing?”

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the rejections. It’s easy to look at the success of others and compare it to your own position on the imagined ladder of success. It’s easy to find your own work inferior to the work that others have created.

You know what’s hard? The work itself. But if you love it, if you burn with it, if it wakes you up in the middle of night, if it goes on in your head even when you’re not actively doing it, just keep going.

Most other people quit before they can even achieve nobody status. So among nobodies, consider yourself king (or queen, or monarch, or fill in your preferred royalty here) if all you do is continue to create.

You care about the environment, but are you ready to punk it? Solarpunk!

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One of the many magical things that happened at Readercon this year, and which subsequently popped my poor brain like an overripe grape, resulted from being exposed to a new type of “punk”… solarpunk!

For those of you who don’t know, all the sub-genres bearing the -punk suffix share a set of characteristics. Steampunk, cyberpunk, afropunk, clockpunk, atompunk…you get the idea. They all harken to a certain maker mentality, an edgier vibe of ingenuity and do-it-yourself-ness. 

Here’s what Wikipedia says:

“…a world built on one particular technology that is extrapolated to a highly sophisticated level (this may even be a fantastical or anachronistic technology, akin to retro-futurism), a gritty transreal urban style, or a particular approach to social themes.”

Also referred to as eco-futurism, solarpunk is a literary and visual movement that addresses the problems I frequently face when attempting to write science fiction. It’s hard to project our current course as a species forward without arriving inevitably in a world of scarcity and decay. In otherwords, dystopian. Yawn. 

Not to say that compelling dystopian stories can’t be told. I’ve read The Hunger Games. I’m not so much bored with the premise as I am worn out by it. I read for enjoyment, to escape into a fantastical world, not a dark, depressing place where I can’t get enough to eat. 

It’s why I can only tolerate so much horror, and why I avoid grimdark like the plague. A number of sub-genres have sprung up to embrace entropy and the worst aspects of our baser natures. Or is that the best of the worst in us? Either way, not for me.

I see, or at least I want to see, a more positive future. Just as I turned to science fiction in my teens for its sense of adventure and discovery, I’m unwilling to turn to it now when that spirit is absent. Solarpunk subverts the cyberpunk future of technology that overwhelms our humanity, and puts human beings back into the equation, as makers of a brighter world.

Not a perfect world, mind you. Solarpunk has the potential to nestle within dystopian settings as well as supplant them. The stories solarpunk tells will still be human stories, perhaps all the more human for the acknowledgement of how connected to the environment we are, how dependent on it for our survival. 

Consider this example of solar punk micro fiction from Romie Stott, who led the solarpunk discussion at Readercon:

“California’s property-tax-funded electrical collectives worked like fire departments, ready to rush batteries and generators onto the grid when weather events took buildings’ self-powering systems offline. It was a skittery, nerve-wracking job, and Elena loved the adrenaline.”

From her blog, Postorbital: very short science fiction by Romie Stott (and worth a visit! Very inspiring).

I intend to give this a try. I have a deep fondness for all the “punk” subgenres, and this one hacks more than just the sun. It hacks hope. It hacks optimism. It hacks a brighter tomorrow. 

Won’t you join me?

Get inspired with these articles:

Solarpunk: a new movement sees the future in a positive light

Solarpunk, the LGBT Community, and the Importance of Imagining Positive Futures

The Solarpunks Tumblr Blog

Interview with Adam Flynn on Solarpunk

Innovation Starvation by Neal Stephenson 

A Solarpunk Reading List on Goodreads

Solarpunk: Notes toward a manifesto

Renewable energy from living plants!

A New Length for Fiction: The Commuter Novel

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If you look up how many words you have to write before you have a novel, the lower threshold goes down to around 50,000 words. That’s sort of an average, genre notwithstanding. But there it is. Write 50,000 words and, poof!, you’ve got a novel.

That may be why NaNoWriMo sets that lofty goal for the month of November, but it’s roughly half the length of what you’ll find on your bookstore shelves.

Introducing: the commuter-length novel.

In this brave new world of e-publishing, novels of this length are very marketable. Look at it this way; you can write one 150,000-word behemoth, or three commuters. Which will yield higher dividends in your virtual book store?

As a writer who struggles with the short story, I find this category intriguing. I sit down to write a nice, marketable 7,500-word short story, and end up with 12,000 words.

Another way to think about it is this: how quickly does the average reader read? How long is the average trip to work, or the average trip on a plane? Try selling your fiction, at whatever length, not by actual length, but by the approximate length of time it would take to read.

It’s just another approach to marketing, catering your message and the way that you present your work to the specific habits of your readership. Talk about customized content!

So whether you self-publish or are considering the professional route, this is a trend to keep an eye on. Here are a few interesting perspectives I found in a quick search. They may lead you in new directions of your own.

Commuter Fiction—Making a Case for Short Kindle e-books?

My Convention Schedule for 2015

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Ah, conventions. Where writers let their hair down, and occasionally get their nails painted.

Got mah nails done at Readercon 2014! Swell party, swell folks.

Got mah nails done at Readercon 2014! Swell party, swell folks.

They also meet other writers, and readers, and fans. And agents and editors and publishers. And generally really cool people. It’s like a vacation, where you go to school with like-minded people. For a social person with a solitary hobby, it’s like heaven. The two places I get that are my writing group, the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers, and conventions. Of the two, conventions are where you network, and actually meet some of those people whose blogs you’ve been following, podcasts you’ve been listening to and books you’ve been writing.

As I further my presence as a writer, I find conventions more and more essential. I just added a page to my website with a calendar of conventions. So if you want to know where I’ll be, perchance to meet, this is the place to find out.

But in short, I’ll be doing the following cons for sure:

Flame Con, New York’s first LGBTQ comics expo, Saturday, June 13

Readercon, in Burlington, MA, July 9-12

World Fantasy Convention, Sarasota Springs, NY, November 5-8

Plus, I was thinking about adding one of two workshops: either Gen Con Writer’s Symposium or Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Anyone out there have experience with either of these workshops that they’d like to share with me? The only advantage Pikes Peak has is that my family lives there and I wouldn’t have to pay for a hotel room. Other than that, I’m open.

Bored and Brilliant

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Under what conditions does creativity thrive?

That’s a question that has been asked by most people engaged in a creative activity, particularly if they’ve gone through a slump.

There’s a theory that creativity happens in the blank spaces, when your mind has nothing else to do. When you mind “wanders,” it’s really keeping itself occupied, thinking things over, making things up.

It’s that whole “I get my best ideas in the shower / on the toilet / while I’m doing dishes / while I’m folding the laundry / on my commute” notion.

While I’M doing those things, I’m listening to music or podcasts, or playing mindless games on my phone. Recent research says I should have been doing nothing at all. I should have been allowing myself to be bored.

I’ve had a sneaking suspicion this was the case. Where do ideas fit in to a life crammed to the breaking point with stimulus, with things to occupy every waking second?

So when NPR’s New Tech City program reported that they were starting a series called “Bored and Brilliant,” my ears perked up.

The first step is to download an iPhone app called Moment, which tells you how often and for how long you access your iPhone (35 minutes so far today). If you sign up on the app, you can participate in New Tech City’s experiment, and they’ll see your phone data.

The series officially begins February 2. I’ll report on my progress here, but I’d love if any of my readers would join me. Who’s in? Check out the promo and comment if you’re interested. Heck, comment anyway!

Creativity and Physical Health

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I dislike the term “writers block.” I think it’s an overused generalization that can cover up a lot of underlying causes. It can be a fear-based procrastination attempt, a hint at a fear of failure (or even success) lurking beneath the surface. It can be a clue that someone isn’t cut out to be a writer, that they lack the fundamental urge to tell stories. But more often than not, I believe it’s a sign that you’re not taking proper care of yourself.

The times I don’t feel like writing or feel as though the idea well has gone dry can be traced back to a number of physical causes:

  • I haven’t gotten enough sleep. This one probably accounts for 80% of the time I struggle to be creative.
  • I’m feeling emotionally run down. Usually this is because I haven’t gotten enough sleep.
  • The well isn’t dry, it’s just low. I’ve been pushing myself too hard, and I need to recharge, whether that means visiting a museum or read non-fiction to soak up ideas, or…

I need to exercise. That’s a big one. When life derails all my attempts at fitness, as it did in the last quarter of last year, my creative output falters, and with it the confidence I have in my creativity. It can take a while to get back on track. Time, and a few runs, and a few sessions of yoga, and several trips to the gym.

I’ll still be going to museums, and sampling new experiences, reading outside my usual genres (check out the excellent Selected Shorts episode celebrating Hunter S. Thompson), journaling, and other activities that feed my creative side, but mostly, I’ll be taking care of the body that fuels the brain that tells the stories. It’s not just good for you, it’s good for creativity, too.

Here’s a sampling of a few articles that make the same point:

How Physical Health Supercharges Creativity

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind: How Physical Health Impacts Creativity

A Creative Life is a Healthy Life