This is my Readercon 28 (2017) Conference update. The latest posts are at the top, so start at the bottom to get the full picture.
No. I don’t know why I do it that way.
Sunday, July 16th 11:05 PM
Final thoughts-Readercon was the first writing conference I ever attended, starting 8 years ago. I have met so many inspirational people, made so many friends. The Con is changing–and that is a good thing. There were many more younger writers in attendance this year than I remember from years past. There were a few more panels on horror this year–a testament to the resurgence of that genre. Multiple writing groups were reciting their art (and I want to join them all), and overall there is a greater sense of inclusiveness. It’s not perfect, but it is better.
I think the management team has done wonders with their code of conduct and safety regs. in the years since the “troubles” and I hope Readercon will continue to enforce its stated safety policies.
Above all, continuing the thought-provoking conversations and ideas brought up in literature is the fundamental joy of this conference for me. In the nearly ten years I’ve been attending, I feel personally that I’ve grown and learned…and continue to ask questions.
My late father used to say “every day you learn something is a good day.”
Before I close the post for 2017, I wanted to say a special thanks to a couple people who make Readercon amazing for me every year. My Guinness pal, Glenn Skinner, along with Melissa Burkart and Deanna Rice. The most wonderful James & Kathy Morrow, who have been mentors and an inspiration for some time, and Scott Edelman who is charming, funny and full of energy.
This year especially I loved chatting with Liz Hand, Paul Tremblay, Peter Straub, John Langan, Eric Mulder, Cam Roberson, The Boston Speculative Fiction Writers and the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers…
So many others.
I missed a few people who couldn’t make it this year–namely Peter Dube, Yves Meynard and Allen Steele specifically.
I know I’m waxing on ad infinitum, but when I finally hit “post,” it means the end of ReaderCon 28.
“All Good Things,” I guess…
Bring on Readercon 29. See you at Boskone 55 and StokerCon2018…
Sunday, July 16th 11:05 PM
7:35 PM Munching on the traditional post-ReaderCON Chinese takeaway, my lovely wife by my side, it’s time for the final notes for The last day of Readercon…
Grimlight: Life after Grimdark Martin Cahill (leader), John Kessel, Alena McNamara, Nnedi Okorafor, Wes RistGrimdark stories in fantasy and science fiction openly deal with themes of abuse, war, pain, and death. These themes can be used to revitalize one-dimensional genres in which heroes have unrealistically easy adventures, but over time, readers may nd that all the destruction and misery becomes debilitating or boring. Grimlight fiction, a term coined by Emily Wagner in late 2016, strikes a balance between acknowledging life’s sorrows and finding sources of optimism. Guest of Honor Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death and Max Gladstone’s Craft sequence certainly don’t shy away from the bleakness and tragedy of life, but the characters and readers can stare into the heart of the bleakness and still come out with hope. This panel will examine stories that balance pain with cheer and perhaps take a stab at constructing a first draft of a grimlight canon.
An interesting panel discussion that–instead of drafting a definition of “Grimlight”–came up with a total of five nuanced genre’s within the Grimdark umbrella. I still feel that these genre definitions are applied “after the fact” by some marketing dude somewhere…I think writing is a product of the times. Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, for example, was a direct result of the fear felt during the “Great Recession” of the last decade.
(From the SJA Website): In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson’s writing, and with permission of the author’s estate, The Shirley Jackson Awards, Inc. has been established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic.
The Shirley Jackson Awards are voted upon by a jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics, with input from a Board of Advisors. The awards are given for the best work published in the preceding calendar year in the following categories: Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Single-Author Collection, and Edited Anthology.
Winner: The Girls, Emma Cline (Random House)
- Foxlowe, Eleanor Wasserberg (Fourth Estate-UK/Penguin Books-US)
- I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Iain Reid (Gallery/Scout)
- Lily, Michael Thomas Ford (Lethe)
- Mongrels, Stephen Graham Jones (William Morrow)
- The Wonder, Emma Donoghue (Little, Brown)
Winner: The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle (Tor.com)
- The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson (Tor.com)
- “Maggots,” Nina Allan (Five Stories High)
- Muscadines, S.P. Miskowski (Dunhams Manor)
- The Sadist’s Bible, Nicole Cushing (01 Publishing)
- The Warren, Brian Evenson (Tor.com)
Winner: “Waxy,” Camilla Grudova (Granta))
- “Andy Kaufman Creeping Through the Trees,” Laird Barron (Autumn Cthulhu)
- “Angel, Monster, Man,” Sam J. Miller (Nightmare Magazine)
- “Breaking Water,” Indrapramit Das (Tor.com)
- “The Night Cyclist,” Stephen Graham Jones (Tor.com)
- “Presence,” Helen Oyeyemi (What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours)
Winner: “Postcards from Natalie,” Carrie Laben (The Dark)
- “Animal Parts,” Irenosen Okojie (Speak, Gigantular)
- “The Apartments,” Karen Heuler (Other Places)
- “Postcards from Natalie,” Carrie Laben (The Dark)
- “Red,” Katie Knoll (Masters Review)
- “Things With Beards,” Sam J. Miller (Clarkesworld)
Winner: A Natural History of Hell, Jeffrey Ford (Small Beer Press)
- Almost Insentient, Almost Divine, D.P. Watt (Undertow)
- Furnace, Livia Llewellyn (Word Horde)
- Greener Pastures, Michael Wehunt (Shock Totem)
- We Show What We Have Learned, Clare Beams (Lookout)
Winner: The Starlit Wood, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Saga Press)
- Autumn Cthulhu, edited by Mike Davis (Lovecraft eZine Press)
- The Madness of Dr. Caligari, edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. (Fedogan and Bremer )
- Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories, edited by Kelsi Morris and Kaitlin Tremblay (Exile Editions)
- An Unreliable Guide to London, edited by Kit Caless and Gary Budden (Influx Press)
BOARD OF DIRECTORS AWARD to Ruth Franklin in recognition of the biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life.
Congrats to all the winners & finalists!
Sororal Friendships in Fantasy Greer Gilman, Naomi Novik, Julia Rios (leader), Tui Sutherland, Fran Wilde.
One of the central relationships in Guest of Honor Naomi Novik’s novel Uprooted is between the heroine and her best friend. Agnieszka and Kasia were raised together and have a deep bond that is explored throughout the novel. This depiction of female friendship is unusual in fantasy fiction and gave rise to much discussion (and no small amount of fan c from fans who either wanted to see more of the friendship or felt it ought to have been a romance). This panel explores sororal friendships in fantasy and the ways they can alter or comment on familiar tropes such as the maiden in the tower and the questing band of brothers.
Kaffeeklatsch – James Morrow & Steve Berman
It’s always good to see Jim and to hear about his latest and greatest works in progress (he had read from Lazarus is Waiting just the other day). However, the ‘klatsch became a serious discussion of gender tropes and marginalized people (with via skin color, sexual orientation, what have you)in the industry. This stemmed from the announcement of the “13th Doctor” to be played by Jodie Whittaker and the subtle inference of lesbianism in the recent “Wonder Woman” movie. Passions blossomed in this discussion. As a Heterosexual white middle-aged male, it was inferred that I could not understand nor celebrate the diversity in both the BBC choice of Doctor nor the lake of a sexualized Wonder Woman. However, as neurologically challenged, handicapped person, I certainly have experienced significant bias and marginalization first hand in the past two years. No, I’ll never know what it’s like to be a gay man nor a woman in a society that seems to negate both, but as a writer, I feel I have to at least try and understand these feelings and my friend’s perspectives.
Needless to say…it was a lively discussion. And I never got my Jim Morrow books signed.
Saturday, July 15th 10:40 PM (Saturday Part 2)
10:40ish PM The evening is done as is day 3. I can not believe the con is almost over at this point. A couple panels and a marvelous group reading to report on, so let’s get to it!
Alternate history and historical fantasy often engage with technologies that once seemed like the way of the future: airships, clockwork, mechanical computing. There’s a certain dreamy wonder around many modern depictions of early industrial inventions. Why are we fascinated with what became technological dead ends? There are many magical fantasies where wizards can’t use computers; is this a different expression of the same anxieties about modern gadgets? Is there really a possible timeline where clockwork became ascendant while electronics never took off, or is it all just an excuse for some gorgeous cosplay?
Deep Time Glenn Grant, Jeff Hecht, Sioban Krzywicki (leader), Tom Purdom, Vandana Singh, Ian Strock
With so many planets discovered in “habitable zones” around other stars, why haven’t we encountered evidence of other civilizations? Could it just be a matter of scale? Civilization is short, while space and time are vast, so perhaps we simply haven’t overlapped with alien civilizations yet? The universe is vastly old and we’ve only been able to detect some possible forms of transmissions from other civilizations for less than a century? Alistair Reynolds has explored the idea that the slowing of time at relativistic speeds could enable civilizations to meet one another. Panelists will discuss this enticing possibility and what we might find in the far, far future.
REALLY interesting discussions around time travel, relativistic speeds, impact on societies and the definition of ‘civilization.’
Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers Group Reading
Marcy Arlin, Adanze Asante, S.A. Chakraborty, Teri Clarke, Randee Dawn, Elliotte Harold, Puloma Mukherjee, Bradley Robert Parks, J.M. Plumbley, Cameron Roberson, Sam Schreiber, Essowe Tchalim, Marcus Tsong
12 snippets in an hour. An incredibly wide range of story beginnings, and I wanted to hear how they all ended! A very active group that makes me miss New York. They are also the producers of the most marvelous Kaleidocast which they are running a kickstarter for their second season
Saturday, July 15th 1:55 PM (Saturday Part 1)
1:55 PM Going to try and breakup the notes for day into a couple of parts so it makes it a bit easier and (quite frankly) I’ve been invited to have a few adult bevies with a couple horror writers whose work I enjoy. It’s always nice to find folks with the same irreverent sense of humor you employ on a daily basis!
But that’s pretty much true of all the people I hang out with at ReaderCON…and my wife’s wit and jokes fit right into that mold as well.
But I digress. Here’s a bit about the morning:
The Life-Changing Magic of Outlining Your Novel. Daryl Gregory, Elaine Isaak (leader), Yoon Lee, Mark Oshiro, Terence Taylor
Developing a novel outline can be nearly as complex a process as writing the novel itself. Our panel of plotters will discuss the many techniques they’ve used for developing the skeletons of books, and consider which outline creation skills and tools lend themselves to particular genres and styles of writing. Hybrid methods of outlining and making decisions on the y will also be discussed.
This was an amazingly fun panel, for a) a dry subject and b) 10:00 AM. And it wasn’t all “Scrivener is great go buy it!”
One of my difficulties post-strokes has been the organization and mapping out of complex plotting. Short stories up to 6 or 7k words is one thing. Whereas I used to be able to keep all the elements of a 100k novel in my head, my brain just doesn’t work that way anymore. So I’m finding whatever workarounds I can to makeup for the damaged noggin.
I wasn’t disappointed. Yes, Scrivener was discussed. So was the use of MS Word (with macros) and MS Excel. But Mind-mapping, the “Snowflake method” and even the old fashioned use of index cards to create pert diagrams were discussed. I have a lot of notes and things to try once I’m back home.
I’ve enjoyed Scott’s work since I was old enough to really pay attention to the writing credits on Marvel comics. His writing is descriptive and fun, and his storylines are very interesting and many times surprising. He read (and then signed a copy for me) from his latest zombie collection of novellas called Liars, Fakers, and the Dead Who Eat Them. He read from the first story in the collection (Only Humans can Lie) which is the story of Tim, owner of a vegan restaurant in a small southern town during the beginnings of the zombie apocalypse.
It’s always good to see Scott, and I know he recorded a few episodes of his podcast Eating the Fantastic (no, it’s not a zombie podcast) while at ReaderCON. He interviews various writer’s during lunch, breakfast or other meal. I know he was chatting with James Patrick Kelly…and another show with George RR Martin is around the corner as well.
Kaffeeklatsch – Paul Tremblay
This was the closet I’ve ever been to a hangout-klatsch. Paul was relaxed, despite and evening of hoops and chats that ended around 3:00 AM. We discussed his upcoming book The Four which he read from yesterday, some of the thoughts and insight from bothHead Full of Ghosts and Devil’s Rock and Vampires with fangs coming out of their eyes (in fairness to Paul, that last bit was John Langan’s fault).
Friday, July 14th 11:50 PM
Wow. It’ll be past midnight when I finally get to bed. Eighteen hours of personal ReaderCON goodness to report on so let’s get to it:
6:00 AM Dear Alarm Clock: Suck it.
5:50 AM The Caffeine is racing through the system. Showered. checked into social media and will write for a couple hours. Finalizing my selectionsfor the panels, readings and kaffeeklatsches I will be attending. Thinking about a few people I won’t see at the con this year for various reasons–miss them (Peter Due, Yves Maynard, Allen Steele, Mike & Anita Allen, Shira & Adam Lipkin).
But there will be others to see…and new friendships to make. The Thursday night program is the free portion of the convention. Friday morning is when things really get moving in earnest.
One more sip of coffee, double-check to see if I’m wearing pants…ready!
1:55 PM Holy time warp Batman! That went fast. A bit of what the morning events were:
The Politics of Villains. Maria Dahvana Headley (leader), Darcie Little Badger, Hillary Monahan, Naomi Novik, Cameron Roberson, Gregory Wilson.The villains of speculative fiction (and fiction in general) often reflect the biases of their times. Race, sexuality, disability, and gender have all been and continue to be used as shorthand for evil; some supposedly villainous physical traits, such as hooked noses on witches, have been around for so long that many modern authors don’t even realize they’re rooted in bigoted stereotypes. In response, some authors have deliberately created villains who stand in for oppressive power structures. This panel will dig into the concept of a villain, a person who embodies evil or wrongness, and discuss whether it can ever really be separated from the writer’s culture-infuenced understanding of which categories of people are most likely to be villainous.
As you can imagine, the talk of this panel (and of the con so far) surrounded our current political environment. Really interesting discussions of “Rich White Guys” (who are the current favorite villains) verses the signifiers and stereotypes of the past.
I like Paul very much. He’s a native to the Boston area, an educator and a connoisseur of fine beers. And he writes scary shit. What more could one ask? He read from his upcoming book The Four. I finished Devil’s Rock about a month ago…He has a way to build a “subsonic” type of tension into his books that grows into terror slowly…inevitably. From the snippet we heard, sounds like The Four will be a wonderful read!
Was really excited to see Greg. He has the second book of his Gray Assassin Trilogy coming out (The first of which was Grayshade), and I was hoping he would read a bit of book two. I was delighted when he read from the first bit of Renegade! He and I chatted a bit about academia and he wished me well with the MFA starting in the fall. He–like many others I met through out the day–had asked hoe my health was doing. It’s always amazing to me how writers of any level and notoriety seem to be genuinely good people. Greg also has a podcast called Speculate! The Podcast for Writers, Readers and Fans, which I highly recommend you check out.
Our Dystopia. Susan Bigelow (leader), Cameron Roberson, Tui Sutherland, Gordan Van Gelder, Sabrina Vourvoulias.
Since the election, many on the left have been calling attention to George Orwell’s 1984 as a missed warning. Guest of Honor Nnedi Okorafor said in a radio interview that she believes Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower is a more appropriate dystopia for our current climate. Orwell’s Animal Farm, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and other books have also warned of surreal authoritarianism. Do they map to our current world or are we projecting? What other books have warnings for us that we might heed?
I’ll be that many of you can guess the main topic here…but I wanted to attend specifically because I’m taking a course this fall in Dystopian literature and i wanted to hear the recommended works that the panelists would have. I wasn’t disappointed as I’m now armed with a few more gems to add to my studies beyond what’s mentioned in the course description. The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Uglies by Scott Westerfield and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We were discussed as well.
7:05 PM Writing this at the start of my 7:00 panel…so I’ll be quick. A Kaffeeklatsche, more readings and a meeting with a few of the Boston Speculative fiction writers is next…
It’s no secret that adore the writings and the humor of Elizabeth Hand. Liz is one of the reasons I chose to go for my MFA, as she works with the MFA program for Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. We and a few others sat down for a chat and discussed, among other popular concerns, the environmental impacts and her with with the US Government on the story and planing for megafires of the future. Google it. It’s terrifying.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, this would lead to the piece Liz would use for her reading later. We discussed the “hinted at supernatural” in her Case Neary series and upcoming works.
Like Liz, Jim has been a major influence for me over the years. He agreed to be one of my references for my MFA application (something I found out just this weekend from his wife Kathy that he almost never does) and has kicked me in the backside when I needed it. He is one of my favorite literary writers and Shambling Towards Hiroshima is still one of my books I love to reread every few years. I thought he might read from The Asylum of Dr. Caligari this year as it was just released, but I was in for a different treat when he pulled a few pages from his upcoming Timetraveling story Lazurus is Waiting. Filled with his normal wit and satire, for 30 minutes Jim delivered his patently dry, sophisticated wit to the audience.
One note…I went up and spoke to him afterwards, thanking him again for his reference, when he asked me to sign a copy of Offbeat: Nine Spins on Song. He new it was the first story I had published after my strokes.
Having one of your heroes ask you for an autograph is kind of amazing…and incredibly humbling.
Liz read to us a captivating short story called “Fire,” from a recent collection of short stories and essays of the same name. Based on Liz’s real-life experience as a participant in a governmental climate change think tank, it follows a ragtag cadre of scientists and artists racing to save both civilization and themselves from fast-moving global fires.
Reading – Boston Speculative Fiction Writing Group Andrea Corbin, Gillian Daniels, Eric Mulder, Emily Strong, Rachel Zakuta
Five members of this local writing group read stories in progress (or about to be published). An eclectic range of tales entertained the audience–from a necromancer trying to us her magic to get the NYC subway system up and running in a post Cthulhu world, to an alien world birthday trip and a purple “muppet-like” alien. Good, crazy group and I was delighted to speak with a few of them, including the president of BSFWG Lyndsay Ely. The seem funny, smart and very nice and I might have the opportunity to join this group in the future, so stay tuned.
Also, they provided snacks.
The Commonalities of Magic and Science. Erik Amundsen, David Bowles, Rosemary Kirstein, Naomi Novik (leader), Nnedi Okorafor
Specialized and secret fields of knowledge create barriers to understanding and can become mechanisms of cultural control. They can also be foundations for resistance. They can support or destroy communities and instill gratitude or resentment. All these things could be said of both magic and science, and the wielders thereof. The tradition of pitting magic and science against each other goes back to Tolkien’s anxieties about industrialization, but today’s speculative works have moved beyond it to recognize that the two can coexist and are often used similarly as metaphors. We’ll examine Guest of Honor Naomi Novik’s mix of historical technology and dragons, Guest of Honor Nnedi Okorafor’s mix of futuristic technology and sorcery, and other successful amalgamations and integrations.
It was wonderful to finally have the opportunity to see and hear this year’s GoH Need Okorafor speak! I lively discussion of fantastical magic and sciences and how they could be used in various societal situations for good or ill.
11:55 PM That’s it..I’m done for the day. Haven’t checked this portion of the post for typos etc., but maybe tomorrow. It’s been amazing so far…tomorrow should be even better!
Thursday, July 13th 10:30 PM
This is the second year I’m actually staying at the conference. I spent two days packing and unpack then repacking. See, this year I brought some books I want to get signed.
Along with a dozen copies of Off Beat: Nine Spins on Song to dole out. If you want one, give a shout out in the comments or find me during the Con.
The ex-Marine Uber driver with the semi-automatic strapped to his waist very kindly helped me load and unload his Infinity. And he didn’t shoot me, so the day started pretty well.
Got settled in, had dinner with Glenn Skinner, and am typing up some notes from the two free panels I attended this evening before bed.
No, I do not believe any of the panelists were armed.
Footsteps in the Dark: The Sensory Range of Horror. F. Brett Cox (leader), John Langan, Darcie Little Badger, Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, Paul Tremblay.
Horror is frequently thought of as a visual medium, and is often adapted for film and television. However, other senses are vitally important to the development of horror stories, and the experience of fear for the reader. Consider Josh Malerman’s Bird Box, which erased sight for the main characters, or the pounding in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Consider also the recent uptick in films with disabled characters, such as the Deaf writer in Hush and the blind antagonist in Don’t Breathe. This panel will explore these and other works of multisensory horror, and address how writers can create vivid horror experiences for readers.
This was a lively panel discussion about sensory range in horror–Josh Malerman’s Birdbox (the story of supernatural entities driving people mad and to suicide if they see them–the reader follows survivors who wear blindfolds) was discussed briefly with more emphasis on Shirley Jackson’s most marvelous The Haunting of Hill House. The point was made that only two senses can bee utilized in movies (sight and sound) while all five can be used in the written narrative. Patrick Susskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murder and The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (Up for a 2017 Shirley Jackson award for best novella) were also referenced.
Highway to the Weirder Zone. Samuel R. Delany, Max Gladstone, Maria Dahvana Headley (leader), Chandler Klang Smith, Marissa Lingen.
Surrealism, magical realism, paranormal romance, and other genres of the weird have different methods for getting the reader to suspend disbelief and acclimate as the roses rain down and the protagonist turns into a cockroach. Can authors of less-weird science fiction and fantasy borrow those tricks to ease reader’s dislocation, or is dislocated exactly what a reader should be? Are there different approaches that work for a phantasmagoria of ideas or a phantasmagoria of sensory impressions? And what problems arise from applying the assumptions and techniques of one genre or subgenre to another?
This intro evening to ReaderCON was a marvelous starter and tiny taste of what is to come. Back up in the room now after saying hello to some old acquaintances, eating a meal, and enjoying time at the bar with an old friend…Let’s see what tomorrow brings!