Final Update Sunday, 12 July 2:00 PM
***A note on reading the full post. The RED timestamps indicate separate sections. Start at the timestamp at the bottom of the post and work your way up ***
Sunday is both a thrilling and depressing day at ReaderCON. The parties have ended, friends line up in the lobby to check out. Taxis and ride shares begin to leave with ever increasing rapidity.
Let's walk through the abbreviated program day first, and then i'll share my final thoughts.
And interesting discussion on how speculative fiction can capture older audiences. What defines happy for older readers is somewhat different than the younger generations. Mystery stories have that "sense of justice" at the end (for the most part). Romance formulae dictates that the lovers end up together in the end. How can SciFi, Fantasy and other such genres satisfy the happiness gene for adult readers?
Personally, I'm satisfied when the demons are blasted to ash by the protagonist. But I'm simple like that...
From the program:
Wish fulfillment for teenagers and wish fulfillment for adults with happy stable lives are necessarily going to be different. Speculative stories are great for navigating the trickiness of coming-of-age, but there's precious little for those who are already of age and have started to prioritize comfort over adventure. Female readers in particular often turn to romance novels for stories about families and love and kindness, and to mysteries for stories about grown women with agency and purpose. Can speculative fiction draw in those readers by fulfilling different sorts of wishes?
What does "dogs and cats living together" have in common with Cthulhu? More than you think--as the panelists compare Gozer, the Gatekeeper and the Key Master to Lovercraftian ideals.
Who ya gonna call? Lovercrafters!
In Max Gladstone's blog post "Ghostbusting Lovecraft," he writes: "Ghostbusters is obviously taking the piss out of horror in general. But while the busters’ typical enemies are ghosts of the Poltergeist persuasion, the Big Bad of the movie, a formless alien god from Before Time summoned by a mad cultist–cum–art deco architect, is basically Lovecraftian." Unlike typical Lovecraftian protagonists, however, the Ghostbusters prevail over the eldritch horrors by exploiting the power structures and emotional connections that exist between people. Is the Ghostbusters story arc an alternative to the standard horror tropes, one that replaces fear with humor, defiance, and camaraderie? How else does it subvert our expectations of the conflict between humans and horrors?
11:00 AM The Shirley Jackson Awards. Mike Allen, John Chu, Ellen Datlow, Daryl Gregory, Nicola Griffith, Gary K. Wolfe
In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson's writing, and with permission of the author's estate, the Shirley Jackson Awards have been established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. Jackson (1916–1965) wrote classic novels such as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as one of the most famous short stories in the English language, The Lottery. Her work continues to be a major influence on writers of every kind of fiction, from the most traditional genre offerings to the most innovative literary work. The awards given in her name have been voted upon by a jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics, with input from a Board of Advisors, for the best work published in the calendar year of 2014 in the following categories: Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Single-Author Collection, and Edited Anthology.
Winner: Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer (FSG Originals)
- Bird Box, Josh Malerman (Ecco)
- Broken Monsters, Lauren Beukes (Mulholland)
- Confessions, Kanae Minato (Mulholland)
- The Lesser Dead, Christopher Buehlman (Berkley)
- The Unquiet House, Alison Littlewood (Jo Fletcher Books)
Winner: We Are All Completely Fine, Daryl Gregory (Tachyon)
- The Beauty, Aliya Whiteley (Unsung Stories)
- Ceremony of Flies, Kate Jonez (DarkFuse)
- The Good Shabti, Robert Sharp (Jurassic London)
- The Mothers of Voorhisville, Mary Rickert (Tor.com, April 2014)
Winner: “The End of the End of Everything,” Dale Bailey (Tor.com, April 2014)
- “The Devil in America,” Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com, April 2014)
- “The Husband Stitch,” Carmen Maria Machado (Granta)
- “Newspaper Heart,” Stephen Volk (The Spectral Book of Horror Stories, Spectral Press)
- “Office at Night,” Kate Bernheimer and Laird Hunt (Walker Art Center/ Coffee House Press)
- “The Quiet Room,” V H Leslie (Shadows & Tall Trees 2014, Undertow Publications/ChiZine Publications)
Winner: “The Dogs Home,” Alison Littlewood (The Spectral Book of Horror Stories, Spectral Press)
- “Candy Girl,” Chikodili Emelumadu (Apex Magazine, November 2014)
- “The Fisher Queen,” Alyssa Wong (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May/June 2014)
- “Shay Corsham Worsted,” Garth Nix (Fearful Symmetries, ChiZine Publications)
- “Wendigo Nights,” Siobhan Carroll (Fearful Symmetries, ChiZine Publications)
Winners: Gifts for the One who Comes After, Helen Marshall (ChiZine Publications)
- After the People Lights Have Gone Off, Stephen Graham Jones (Dark House)
- Burnt Black Suns: A Collection of Weird Tales, Simon Strantzas (Hippocampus)
- They Do The Same Things Different There, Robert Shearman (ChiZine Publications)
- Unseaming, Mike Allen (Antimatter Press)
Winner: Fearful Symmetries, edited by Ellen Datlow (ChiZine Publications)
- Letters to Lovecraft, edited by Jesse Bullington (Stone Skin Press)
- The Spectral Book of Horror Stories, edited by Mark Morris (Spectral Press)
- Shadows & Tall Trees 2014, edited by Michael Kelly (Undertow Publications/ChiZine Publications)
- The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron, edited by Ross E. Lockhart and Justin Steele (Word Horde)
I have a great deal of time and respect for Mike. I could wax on about is editing for Mythic Delirium and the Clockwork Phoenix anthologies, his poetry collections or his novel The Black Fire Concerto. But I enjoy Mike's readings not only for the content (the short Monster he read from Unseaming was especially creepy), but his presence and deliver is outstanding--the most theater-esque reading I attended and a great way to end ReaderCON.
I'm in the middle of putting my ReaderCON 26 badge in the hidey-hole that contains similar mementos from five previous conventions (along with a Glory Hand--but that's a whole other story). I've already finished putting the dozen or so book purchases on the "to be read" pile and sealed up the few books I was lucky enough to get signed. As Monday, and the return to the "day job" looms, I find myself wistfully fantasizing about what it would be like to really make a living as a writer.
I know I have a long way to go to get to the point where my work will be seen as anything more than pulpish fun. But it's fun to think about. Hard to do.
But anything worthwhile takes effort. So the next steps are truly up to me.
ReaderCON 27 can't come soon enough.
Sunday, 12 July 6:58 AM
The social aspect of ReaderCON is one of the cornerstones of the weekend. I know I alluded to seeing friends in an earlier part of this post, but I never do it justice when writing about ReaderCON. Every year I decide to commute to the Marriott--and every year I regret not staying. Yes, it's an opportunity to network--but it's way more than that for me. I see people who I've come to know, working in a field that excites me more than any job I've ever had. There are cliques, of course--just like any gathering of a large number of people. But everyone is approachable--no matter if they are a multi-award winning internationally recognized author, or a fan. I have coffee with Hugo award winning SciFi writers, drinks with NY Times best selling authors, break bread with poets, and debate with editors.
I enjoy spending time with these people. I learn something every time.
And I have a lot of fun.
Saturday shaped up to be the busiest day of the weekend.
9:00 AM The Author's Voice. Barbara Krasnoff (leader), Kate Marayuma, Tom Purdom, Paul Tremblay, Gregory Wilson.
I admit, I will read what I write out loud. I'm sure I look like a homeless dude discussing conspiracy theories while pushing a cart of tin cans when I do this. The panel discussed ways to find the author's voice, techniques used and advise for "newbies." From the program:
An old writing advice chestnut is that you should read your work aloud; supposedly this will help you notice awkward phrasing. Let's dig a little further: when, how, and why do writers do this, if at all? How has it helped—and has it ever hindered? Do authors who are performers have the opposite problem, where their ability to make something come alive in a reading obscures the fact that it's a bit dead on the page? How does reading aloud square with things like footnotes, parentheticals, illustrations, digressions, or visual representations of dialects? Is anyone emphatically against the practice of reading aloud as an element of process?
There things in life that happen--horrible things. Writers often have to add these elements to their work. The key point was simple--if it's necessary for the story--if whatever horrible thing you are writing furthers the plot or changes your characters, then it must be done. The program states:
If you're not writing horror but your plot calls for something horrific to happen to a character, how do you handle it? You might go overboard and be detailed to the point of undermining or derailing the narrative, or might be so vague that the horrific event has little effect on the reader or the story. A reader who's been through a similar experience might be offended or distressed by a description of awfulness that's lurid, gratuitous, clichéd, or bland. What strategies can writers use to help readers empathize with the characters' suffering and build stories that respectfully handle the consequences of terrible events, without falling into these traps?
Moving from the deep and disturbing discussion of horrible things, I switched gears to a SciFi oriented panel discussing aliens. Many times in writing, TV and the Movies, aliens are portrayed as basically human. Whether it's the limitations of special effects (like in the old Star Trek series from the 60's) or a desire to have an audience relate to the aliens on a human level--the panel discussed ways to introduce aliens to the story without making them look like or have motivations similar to us human meat-sacks. The program:
How do authors create aliens that are drastically different from humans, and how do readers respond to them? Many non-humanoid aliens are insectoid, such as the Buggers of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game and the parasites in Octavia Butler's Bloodchild; to what extent does this allow for aliens who are clearly nonhuman but still recognizable? How do aliens like Octavia Butler's Oankali, who evolve to become more humanoid, or China Miéville's sexually dimorphic species, which have one humanoid sex and one nonhumanoid sex, play into or subvert this dichotomy? And how might portrayals of truly alien aliens continue to evolve?
12:00 PM The Animate Universe. Judith Berman, Max Gladstone, Mikki Kendall (leader), James Morrow.
Every ReaderCON has that one panel that just doesn't work. Unfortunately, this was it. Each of the participants had a different take on what the panel should be about and it really became a bit of a disaster. As you know, I have all the respect in the wold for Jim Morrow. And I adore Mikki Kendall. Judith and Max are fabulous too--but I don't know them as well. See if the program description makes sense to you:
In Western post-Enlightenment thought, the universe is seen as inanimate, acted upon by other forces. In some cultures, however, the universe is an actor with agency. What is the role of the universe in our stories, and in the worlds we create to house them? How does an animate universe inform or subvert the author's and reader's understanding of meddling gods, dead gods, prophesies, fate, Chosen Ones, and quests?
All well developed characters have flaws and quirks--just like we all do. The concept of the perfect Superman type character doesn't work anymore (if I continue the metaphor, the Man of Steel flick optimizes this deeper character development). A discussion of heroes who do truly horrible things during their journey toward the "right thing."
From the program:
The more well-rounded and realistic a character is, the less they seem like a traditional hero. Is it possible to have both heroism and realism, or does the introduction of multiple character flaws automatically make that character an antihero? How do shifting and competing definitions of heroism influence this discussion?
I'm an Elizabeth Hand fan-boy. There. I said it. The Cass Neary series is a favorite--After all, who doesn't like a main character who is a photographer (briefly famous for her work in the 70's during the Punk Rock craze), who is a drug addict, alcoholic and kleptomaniac?
Hard Light continues Cass' journey and the scene Liz read takes place at a London party. The wit, cynicism and sheer brilliance of the deeply troubled Cass was a delight to listen to...
She also had a book launch the same evening which I couldn't attend due to a wonderful opportunity that I'll write about in a moment.
After going back to back from morning until 2:30 PM...I found myself looking forward to lunch with Glenn Skinner and a potential cocktail.
Mikki is one of my favorite genre writers. She asks questions that most people do not and approaches her writing from an oblique angle--always interesting and thought provoking. With a healthy does of snark.
She decided on changing what she would read for ReaderCON, and I'm glad she did. I wonderful interview with a dragon--outlining the dragon's perspective on humanity. Look forward to seeing this one in print.
During the con, I met a man I've know from the 80's - Walt Williams. We both grew up on Long Island and now live in the Boston area. I had the pleasure of meeting his wife Margo as well.
During his reading Thursday night, we ran into someone who went to High School with Walt-Phil Merkel. He does a radio show on Long Island--and after he and Walt caught up on old time, he invited the very talented Mr. Williams to appear in an interview for his radio show.
Then I was gobsmacked when Walt suggested--and Phil agreed-- to interview me as well.
I closed out the Saturday program talking about writing, my series, my podcast, Ragnarok Publications (who want to pick up my series), the latest short story just published in Tales of Magic and Misery and the work I'm doing to submit to Clockwork Phoenix 5 (Edited by Mike Allen of Mythic Delirium). It was an experience I'll never forget and I'm humbled by the "ask."
With Friday behind me, and a great night's sleep under my belt (aided and abetted by a Jack Daniel's or two) I wanted to update you all on activities for the day before diving into the Saturday program. Bumped into quite a few friends as I made my way to Salon F (The biggest panel room) first thing Friday morning. Shira and Adam Lipkin, Mike Allen, John Clute, among many others. Of course, I also eventually found partner-in-crime, scotch drinker and fellow IT nerd Glenn Skinner, and he and I attended the late morning panel.
11:00 AM Mystery and Speculative Crossovers. Meriah Crawford, Chris Gerwel, Greer Gilman, Nicholas Kaufmann, Adam Lipkin (leader)
As my Arcana Chronicles series is a noir type of mystery stories wrapped in the supernatural, I was very interested in this panel--how have speculative fiction writers handled this previously? Am I missing an opportunity--or am I heading down a bad path? The Prodigal's Foole has been pretty well received since it was published in 2012--and the prequel short in Tim Marquitz's Tales of Magic and Misery is receiving similar kudos. But a writer can always be better--and this panel really showed me how long I have to go to button up this sort of story-telling. From the con program:
There are many books that draw from both the speculative fiction and mystery toolboxes, in both macro ways (China Miéville's The City & the Cityand Peter F. Hamilton's Great North Road are catalyzed by hard-boiled murder investigations) and micro ways (urban fantasy was initially defined by its relationship to noir, now often more evident in tone than in plot). Where is this crossover most satisfying? How do magic and advanced technology open up new avenues of investigation or methods of befuddling the detectives? How have trends, tropes, and developments in each genre influenced crossover works?
Afterwards, I caught up with Adam pipkin and we spent a few minutes discussing Effinger's When Gravity Fails--my first introduction the a Mystery within SciFi.
Realizing it was well after 12:00, I decided not to be "that guy" showing up incredibly late for a panel. So Glenn and I grabbed lunch and caught up. Discussing the trials and tribulations of trying to write while working a full-time (plus) IT job, Electric Smart cars, story plot points and a general catch up was on the menu.
It was nearing 1:30 when I realized I needed to go hear a reading from a friend of mine.
1:30 PM Reading: Shira Lipkin. Shira Lipkin read from her upcoming novel --the title of which was finally revealed, but (as of this writing) Shira hasn't posted it. So I'm not going to spoil the surprise! Needless to say, the title is very different then I expected--but based on the thirty minute reading and what I felt building, it's amazingly appropriate.
Shira is the type of writer who puts multiple layers within the words typed on a page. Last year, I realized dialog for a different story changed to unconsciously imitate the back-beat "thump thump" of a dance club. Bloody brilliant. This year I was amazed how seamlessly she changed the Point of view of the various characters (each chapter is a different POV--and in some cases a different time). The seven year olds SOUNDED like seven year olds, the tension in the adults were palatable and there was one scene that was so fucking creepy, that I'm getting goosebumps while typing this nearly 18 hours later.
For such a dark topic, this panel was one of the most delightfully bubbly and evil panel I attended Friday. Greer Gilman had my favorite quote of the day: "Dante is kind of the interior decorator of hell." #snort.
The discussion revealed around the various depictions of the underworld from different writers and cultures. From the program:
Many types of underworlds feature prominently in religion, folklore, horror, and fantasy. We will discuss the varied roles of hells and netherworlds in world mythology and how authors from Dante to Valente have explored (and exploited) these concepts in fiction.
I was about half-way through the panel when I realized another friend and writer had a reading at the same time. I snuck out of salon G and nipped across the hall to listen to Allen Steele.
2:30 PM Reading: Allen Steele. Allen Steele read an excerpt from the forthcoming novel ARKWRIGHT. This is an expansion scene for background on the fictitious writer Nathan Arkwright--from what was a short published last year. The story has now been expanded into a soon-to-be-released novel. SF Signal says:
Written by a highly regarded expert on space travel and exploration, Arkwright features the precision of hard SF with a compelling cast of characters.
In the vein of classic authors such as Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke, Nathan Arkwright is a seminal author of the twentieth century. At the end of his life he becomes reclusive and cantankerous, refusing to appear before or interact with his legion of fans. Little did anyone know, Nathan was putting into motion his true, timeless legacy.
Convinced that humanity cannot survive on Earth, his Arkwright Foundation dedicates itself to creating a colony on an Earth-like planet several light years distant. Fueled by Nathan’s legacy, generations of Arkwrights are drawn together, and pulled apart, by the enormity of the task and weight of their name.
This is classic, epic science fiction and engaging character-driven storytelling, which will appeal to devotees of the genre as well as fans of current major motion pictures such as Gravity and Interstellar.
The scene he read had to do with the first Science Fiction convention in 1939 and the baseball game held at the end. Wonderful background scene. Ray Bradbury was score-keeper (a historical fact). 🙂
I stayed in the same room, as the next reading was by a man I've respected for many years.
I met Jim as a fan-boy over a decade ago at a wedding of my friend Sean Develin (who is distantly related to one of my favorite authors). Sean--knowing how much I enjoyed Jim's work, sat me at the same reception table and we struck a friendship which has delighted me over the years. The work he read from will be published this fall and it was a brilliant satire of Hollywood in the 1950's. In thirty minutes, Jim entertained the audience with his biting wit, charm and brilliant flowing style.
Following a down-on-his luck author whose brothers run a shady studio called PARC (yeah--it reads backwards in a most appropriate way for the shlock movie production company), our man character finds himself in Mexico reviewing Black and white horror movies that can be exported to the study, re cut and dubbed for quick release and sale.
Tongue-in-cheek and reminisce of the type of TV movies the SYFY channel puts out today, our poor author friend finds himself ghostwriting stories for a fabricated Mexican screen writer.
Jim's SciFi work is always thought inducing--but is satire is deliciously evil and I always adore his word play.
Another reading followed. This one by a man who made me cry last year.
4:00 PM Reading: Scott Edelman. Scott Edelman reads "The Pillow of Disappointment and What Was Found Beneath It"
Scott has been busy in the year since he left as editor for the SyFy channel's web articles. And I'm happy to hear that as his writing always makes me feels though I'm running in his dreams. Last year, he read an extremely emotional tale. This year he wrote about the tooth fairy.
And it worked brilliantly.
I won't say to much about it, when he's posted the video of his reading on his YouTube channel. Take a listen for yourself:
After this, I spent a bit of time in the book story, grabbed dinner with Glenn and ran out to grab the rum from the car because it was time for my first Kaffeeklatsch--or as we have now redubbed it---the rumklatsch.
7:00 PM Kaffeeklatsch. Shira Lipkin.
I've mentioned before the amazing work of Shira Lipkin. Joining this intimate group discussion, were a few writers I hadn't met before along with Mike and Anita Allen.
The rum flowed as did the "iced tea" a concoction that included Makers Mark bourbon. We spoke about Shira's novel, her poetry. Life in general and the fact that she is submitting the the upcoming anthology Clockwork Phoenix 5 edited by Mike.
To which I found out submissions close on the 26th of July. And THEN I was told by Shira that I better be sending in a story.
Crap. More work to do!
There were other activities that ran until the wee hours of the morning, inclusive of the "Meet the Pro(se)" party and an 80's dance. But it had been a long day, and between the battery of tests and the non-stop activities of ReaderCON Friday, I was exhausted. So I drove home and fell into a deep sleep, dreaming of story ideas for Clockwork Phoenix 5.
* * *
Friday, 10 July 7:00 AM
The first evening of readings and panels for ReaderCON are open to the public. Many of the regular guests and attendees are there as well--certainly for the free program, but more importantly (IMHO) to see and reconnect with friends.
Within moments of walking into the Burlington, I'd bumped into Yves Meynard (who supplied me with raspberries), Jim Morrow, Leah Bobbitt, Greer Gilman and Walter Williams. I saw Liz Hand and Scott Edelman briefly and hope to catch up with them later today (after a few hours undergoing some testing--not for the raspberries, I swear).
I also had the opportunity to have a glass of wine and a chat with Peter Dubé.
Brilliant start to my favorite con! What I attended:
8:00 PM (Thursday) A Reading with Walt Williams. Walt Williams (who writes under W. B. J. Williams) reads his work in progress, the nearly complete novel the Hacker of Guantanamo Bay. This was a pretty special reading. Both Walter and I grew up on Long Island and met in the mid 80's. The funny thing is that we were both writers at the time (unpublished back then of course) and never knew about each other's work. So it was wonderful to hear him read from HoGB which will be coming out soon.
Walt applies his skills to what will be a futuristic thriller--and from the chapter or so I heard, I suspect it will be a marvelous read. I own both his printed works--one is work related. The other--The Garden at the Roof of the World is on my to-read list.
This panel intrigued me--so many fantasy authors who write in the Urban or Dark fantasy genres have a magic system where by the "art" is hidden from the real world, how does one address if magic really exists? It's the idea I'm playing with longer term as an over-all arc in The Arcana Chronicles but it was a fascinating and lively panel. From the 'Con program:
"Regarding the challenges of "the world we know, but with magic!", Monique Poirier wrote, "If magic has always been real, why did colonialism and genocide roll the way it did?... It couldn't possibly be the world we know without all the painful, fucked up history. And what good is magic if it can't have altered that?" Naomi Novik's Temeraire books address this by keeping many elements of history familiar but dramatically changing others. In Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries, paranormal entities have always been there, but they hid from ordinary humans for safety and therefore lacked the ability to influence the course of history. How do other authors of historical fantasy and urban fantasy balance the inherently world-changing nature of magic with the desire to layer it on top of the world we have?
Magic. Techno-thriller. Authors and friends. ReaderCON 26 has begun!