Notes from WorldCon 2016: Day Four

Non-anglophone authors you should know

  • dr schaff-stump: japan and russia
  • kastersmidt: born in texas, living in brazil
  • dr lyau: specialty is french sci-fi
  • takacs: hungarian, lots of hungarian sf has not been translated yet
  • schwartzmann: reads russian, ukrainian and polish; has done translation work
  • schwartzmann: russian writers: bulgakhov (magical realism, 1920s and 1930s)
  • takacs: strugatsky brothers; stanislaw lem, especially the cyberiad; rana ras;
  • lyau: france produced second-most varied scifi tradition; planet of the apes; their golden age was the thirty years following jules verne’s heyday; maurice renard; french new wave post-1968; robita; de nizorres
  • kastersmidt: hector hermann oesterheld (argentinian, was killed by junta for publishing comic)
  • schaff-stump: has handout with japanese names; since japanese novels are often turned into manga and anime, can often find those in translation even if the book hasn’t been
  • schwartzmann: for chinese scifi, start with three-body problem, first volume had to adhere to communist standards, second was a little looser, third volume he completely jumps out of the box; tor is releasing “invisible planets” collection of chinese short stories translated by ken liu
  • takacs: yerg dragoman (the white king; bone fire); adam bodor (the sinister district)
  • fantastic planet: was based on french novel called “humans by the dozen”
  • lyau: start with the pulp novels to brush up on your french
  • kastersmidt: if you haven’t read borges, do so; camilla fernandes (brazilian); also check out the apex book of world science fiction, runs to four volumes, collects stories from new authors from around the world
  • schaff-stump: hex (from dutch author) was rewritten for us edition, not available in strict translation
  • tiptree award is going out of its way to bring non-english scifi to anglophone attention (check past award winners)
  • takasc: african sf: afro-sf anthology series; african speculative fiction society website will soon go live
  • first emeriati science fiction publishing house is opening its doors
  • omenana: african sf in english (online)
  • german scifi: andres eschbach, the carpet makers (?)
  • ukrainian literature: vita nostra, available in english, by sergey and marina ____, basically the magicians

Promoting Yourself as an Introvert

  • tamara jones: writing since seven yrs old
  • doesn’t leave the house much
  • lives in small town iowa
  • has four novels, first won compton cook award
  • had to suddenly start speaking to a lot of strangers and big crowds
  • hard to relax
  • introverts are like onions, have awesome core, but many many layers of protection on top of it that prevent people from getting to know your core
  • on panels, need to let hair down, but you can hide behind the table for safety
  • editor liked just first 66 pages of first book she bought, had to rewrite everything else, which completely changed her plans for the second book; so: don’t write the next books in a series until you sell and finish the first one
  • some people don’t want to let you talk on a panel, but don’t get aggressive, that doesn’t come off well
  • readings are the worst
  • but: get your ass out of the chair, gives you better diction, more control; move around, even though there’s no where to hide; it’s performance art: talk about self, talk about book, read short pages (two pages), then talk about it, then two more pages, then talk about it (make it different works or passages for variety)
  • find whatever it is that gives you feeling of safety (small sweater, lucky socks, etc) and wear that to the reading to help you feel safe and able to be yourself
  • has had three stalkers already, so no one knows where she lives (deliberately)
  • tries to avoid the parties; but when you’re starting out you have to go because editors and agents will be there; grab a drink, wander around and listen, take a drink if you get nervous
  • what do you do when drained? Find a capsule of solitude somewhere: a quiet corner, maybe even the restroom stall, close your eyes and be alone for 15 min
  • editors love to talk about their work; her typical question is “what’s the best thing about your job?”
  • need one sentence description of each of your books
  • also need one sentence description of yourself “i slaughter people on paper for money”
  • thinks introverts should not moderate, have to insert self and take control, which introverts are not good at
  • don’t overprepare for panels; whatever you prep for will probably be thrown out the window as soon as the panel starts
  • at end of the day, selling self, if you do that people will want to buy your books

Notes from WorldCon 2016: Day Three

Flash Fiction: Short but not easy

  • betsy dornbusch: writes mostly epic fantasy, used to buy flash
  • anna yeatts: flash fiction online owner/publisher, also writes flash
  • caroline m yoachim: just launched collection with fairwood press
  • flash: definition varies greatly; over 1,500 wordsis definitely not flash; something you could read in five minutes
  • yeatts: want a full complete story in a coffee break; still want a complete story arc, pared down to the essence
  • vonallmen: looking for the pop of “oh, wow” in just a five minute read
  • wowell: couldn’t write GoT in flash
  • yoachim: now i want to write that
  • wowell: customer service call for death ray works really well in flash format; sci-fi comments thread works really well as flash
  • dornbusch: don’t do vignettes about the sun, they don’t get bought
  • yoachim: great focusing on small piece; focused emotion, etc; great for putting hints of the larger world in the story, rest up to reader’s imagination
  • favorite stories?
    • yeatts: grobnak ama
    • running of the robots
    • first story from daily science fiction: story with three substories, and the meta-story, all in 1,000 words
    • strain of sentient corn writing to monsanto
    • if you were a dinosaur, my love
    • six names for the end
  • what skills are important?
    • dornbusch: editing; revision; the shorter the length, the more powerful
    • dornbusch: likes humor in flash, but not the punchline
    • wowell: need to recognize how many plots and subplots you can fit into each story length
    • vonallmen: ability to focus on tone
  • send mothership zeta your cat stories (joke)
  • yoachim: so much needs to happen in the first paragraph: need to tell reader what they’re in for, little about their world, the action, tone, everything
  • dornbusch: try telling story where reader knows the secret, usually it’s better than hiding the secret from the reader
  • wowell: if you like twists, do it at the beginning, not the end; starting with the twist will get me reading
  • yoachim: remember can play with your title, do a lot of setup there
  • current markets?
    • flash fiction online; daily science fiction
    • unsung stories (uk)
    • fantasy and science fiction takes some flash
    • mothership zeta
    • vestal review
  • lots of calls for flash, but don’t give it for free
  • yoachim: targets markets that specialize in flash fiction
  • uncanny magazine does flash
  • fireside fiction does flash and shorts
  • nature runs flash fiction
  • flash one of the few markets where second person won’t overstay its welcome

The Art of Worldbuilding

  • amanda downum: necromancer chronicles
  • luc peterson: runs civic innovation office
  • peter tieryas: fiction where japanese won world war ii?
  • downum: need fresh ideas, sense of wonder, in showing this new world
  • bear: burroughs first to do world-building in science fiction
  • downum: likes to start with character and scene, let world unfold from there; likes characters to pick up and interact with objects in the world, rather than just moving on a sound stage
  • patel: starts with what a society values most, and what they fear most; what do they invest in, what do they build walls and defenses against
  • bear: receives a vision; might take years to stitch visions together into a story
  • what do you need to know? How many doctorates?
    • bear: english major, don’t know anything
    • downum: ditto
    • patel: need to know what touches your characters; need to have lots of prior work done to know what this is before writing
  • downum: has someone ask her questions, to reveal those things she hasn’t thought of, those pieces she hasn’t built out herself; really good if someone that doesn’t read genre, they come at it from a completely different angle
  • tieryas: even things (research) that don’t show up in the book can be valuable
  • bear: history of asia a target-rich environment for mining world-building ideas
  • how do you put limits on the research?
    • downum: hard, but do a little at first to get started; when come across detail to fix later, mark in brackets and keep going; do more research afterward to fill in details, etc
    • patel: timebox your research time so you push yourself back into writing; can be iterative, don’t have to answer all questions at beginning, questions that come up during writing can give you chance to do focused dive into research again
  • patel: shorter work is, less research you’ll have to do, but you may have to do very detailed research into a single focused topic
  • downum: likes first person for short form, but at novel length it’s like being stuck in an elevator for a very long time, so prefers third person multiple perspective
  • patel: look for opportunities for drama and conflict in all worldbuilding; how would your characters tell their history? How would their enemies tell it?

How to Handle Rejection

  • gail carringer
  • wallace: stopped counting at 1,000
  • worst rejections: ones that are really really close to acceptance
  • wallace: never count on money until the check clears
  • carringer: rejection is evidence that you’re trying, that you’re sending stuff out
  • best rejection?
    • carringer: rejection was so nice, went back with later work, has been her agent for ten years
  • carringer: don’t fall in love too much with a particular book, be willing go move on and write more and try something else
  • reader reviews are not for you, they’re for other readers
  • carringer: would tell younger self to try different genres and styles earlier
  • carringer: never ever ever respond to a rejection
  • wallace: btw, anything you post online, anywhere, is a response, and is a bad idea
  • carringer: some agents/editors will be full up with authors in your genre, and so will reject you because they don’t want to take on any more
  • remember that they’re rejecting the product, not you

Notes from WorldCon 2016: Day Two

Enjoying urban fantasy

  • diana rowland: white trash zombie
  • melissa f olson: novellas
  • what do you like about uf?
    • city as character
    • looking at things just a little differently
    • what if your gross terrible neighbor was a real monster?
    • a way to crack open the puzzle of the weird world we’re in and understand it better
    • it’s a way to be sneaky: can talk about deep things in a fun way, with people that don’t notice
    • perception: history has been edited down from multiple conflicting perspectives; urban fantasy lets you deal with these different perspectives for more immediate events
    • no real bad guy: bad guy is someone pursuing their goals in a fanatical sense, still think they’re the good guys
    • people are always writing urban fantasy from their primary experience; in feudal days it was fears from lord of the manor, today it’s shopping malls and steelworks (instead of fairy rings)
    • changeling stories are ufo kidnapping stories, just told in a different time
    • uf is the intersection of contemporary fiction and fantasy fiction
    • danger: to cover over real experience with a fantasy gloss; example: the magical homeless people of the 80s)
    • can use unreliable narrators to try to avoid the problems with covering over messy experience
  • why first person?
    • immediacy
    • tight perspective
    • noir influence: almost all first person, huge influence on urban fantasy and its style
  • adrian mcinty: leicht’s favorite irish noir writer
  • rowland: j d robb’s books

Finance for writers

  • put 40% away for federal govt, 10% for state, pay quarterly income taxes estimate, will usually get something back at the end of the year
  • most first books don’t make back their $5,000 advance
  • don’t quit your day job, even after signing tge first contract
  • some contracts don’t last past 2 or 3 books
  • not a steady income
  • be careful with your money; lots of authors aren’t good with their money
  • get good agent: writers tend to not read contracts, approach it very emotionally; good agent will catch things and get you the best deal possible
  • okay to lose money on your craft at first, but have a budget and be aware of it
  • spend money on your craft (take classes, do workshops) and your network (attending cons, etc)
  • but: if you’re at cons, write down what you want to accomplish before you go
  • if you self-publish, spend money on quality: an editor and a cover designer; everything else you can half-ass, but not those
  • keep all receipts for your craft in a shoebox, use them (plus your spreadsheet) to fill out your schedule c for your taxes
  • if you don’t make a profit every seven years, the irs considers it a hobby, not a business
  • average income for writers is $5,000
  • don’t quit your day job until you have 2 years’ worth of living expenses saved up
  • rule one: write, finish, send it out
  • one benefit of incorporating is the ability to defer income from one year to the next (should you score the $70,000 advance)
  • 78% success rate for publishing projects on kickstarter if they get 25 backers; difference between people that are prepared and know what they’re doing and those who don’t
  • bud: turns profit every 5 years; how? Doesn’t report all his expenses that year
  • lots of ways to use kickstarter: events, book tours, playgrounds inspired by literature, self-pubbing books, magazines; can get really creative
  • margot: think of marketing as sharing these stories you’re passionate about with others and inviting them in, not “selling yourself”

Idiot’s Guide to Publishing

  • all scifi community on genie network at the time
  • doctorow hadn’t written a novel yet, so got karl involved
  • patrick: liked it because it was very practical
  • rejectomancy: shouldn’t read too much into rejections; form rejection could be from someone that loved it but didn’t have time, personal could be from someone that doesn’t like the story but likes you personally
  • schroeder: never sold any short stories to the magazines, has only ever sold stories to anthologies
  • at the time, discussion over ebooks concerned fact that they never go out of print, so publishers argue that they don’t have to revert the rights to the author
  • would not try to write today, because has no idea how to get into the field now

Nifty Narrative Tricks

  • bear: what character is like matters less than how you handle the character
  • kowal: people want the familiar in the strange; familiar makes you feel smart, the strange is compelling; when have character engaged in activity or emotion that readers find familiar, then when i engage them in something weird they already have a hook
  • kelly: characterize people by what they own. before walking them on stage, go into their room, or their car: what’s there? is it messy? neat? what’s hanging on the walls? bonus: gives you things to use later in the plot
  • walton: writers get some things for free, and some things they have to learn; easy to teach the things you learned, but almost impossible to teach the things you got for free; she got interesting characters for free, so…story is contract with reader, try to get what story is right up front so reader doesn’t feel betrayed
  • bear: beginning writers make mistake of writing passive characters
  • bear: give the character something to love; instantly makes them more engaging
  • gould: best way to intro tech is to show it when it breaks down; very engaging to intro character when frustrated
  • kowal: frustration will show what character wants, what they love, and give you a measure of their competence
  • kowal: figure out what character wants, and smartest way for them to get it, and then you block off that way (and keep blocking off ways)
  • walton: __ starts with character really having to go to the bathroom while giving speech on history; is pure exposition but you don’t care because you sympathize with having to use the restroom
  • walton: farmer in the sky (heinlein) has similar trick, with tons of worldbuilding done in describing a father and son making dinner
  • term: incluing
  • kelly: how can you tell beginning from middle from end? beginning -> middle: character goes through one way door, and can’t get back to the start; middle -> end: character goes through another one-way door, and story has to end one way or another
  • kowal: stakes are something particular to the character; we’re all going to die, so death is not great stakes; “you’re going to lose your right foot” is more personal
  • kowal: focus indicates thought; what you’re looking at is what you’re thinking about; rhythm and breath: same action at different speed gives you different emotion; how long you linger on something shows how important it is to the character
  • walton: pacing very different between genres; same story told at different pacing can change the genre of the book
  • kelly: look at the story; if you see a section of solid text or solid dialog, that’s probably a pacing problem
  • common mistakes?
    • bear: starting with bloodbath, before you care about the characters
    • kelly: end of story is not the climax, you need a moment for the character to come to grips with what the climax means for them
    • gould: leave some things for the reader to figure out from context
    • kowal: starting with way too much backstory; solve by getting deeper into point of view
    • walton: too fuzzy, character not in focus; can fix by switching to first person, forces you to focus on personal experience
  • walton: often rushes endings, has to go back in and fix pacing after draft finished
  • kowal: best trick: dumping exposition into a sex scene
  • kelly: world-building will happen almost without trying; less you can do of it, the better

Evolution of Epic Fantasy

  • tessa grafton: the united states of asgard
  • sarah beth durst: queen of blood
  • epic fantasy: need close in shots, and medium shots, and landscape shots, all mixed in
  • leicht: research into irish time of troubles taught her everything involved in world-building: how economics is tied to politics is tied to religion is tied to class is tied to language
  • kate elliott: crown of stars
  • leicht: viking skeletons found in bogs: no one checked if they were male or female; many of them (warriors) are female
  • elliott: archeologists finding statues mostly female, labeled one male statue as priest-king and all female as just “fertility”, then were mystified as to why they kept finding female statues

Notes From WorldCon 2016: Day One

Writing fight scenes

  • perspective of character that has been in a fight versus one that never has is completely different. People who experience regular combat (bouncer) have different frame of mind and see things differently
  • also person not in fight can see things that those in the fight can’t
  • can use training sequence to describe the moves in great detail, and then keep it brief when the actual fight happens
  • daily exercises or training routine can serve a similar purpose
  • fight’s aftermath: talk to emts and paramedics about the kinds and causes of trauma they’ve seen
  • think of fight musically, with rhythm of blows and building to resolution in a limited amount of time
  • don’t forget: characters that have been in a fight are going to carry injuries with them for rest of book
  • remember that fight is happening because of conflict, two or more characters that want different things, and they’ll be thinking about their goals during the fight

50 years of star trek

  • people knock the new movies, but even old movies were often about finding someone to fight instead of exploring; classic series had fights, but central theme was exploration and making friends
  • jar jar abrams
  • star trek at its best when its about discovery and making friends
  • what would you want in new series? snodgrass and gerrold: shut down holodeck (or find out it causes cancer)
  • no media? snodgrass: they tried, wrote episode where they showed wesley’s cabin, with pinups on wall, and they were not allowed to show it
  • snodgrass: in original series, their time in rec room created sense that they liked each other and hung out together; she created the poker game in next generation because she felt that was missing
  • snodgrass: please ditch the bodysuits from TNG, they limited who they could cast in each role because they were not forgiving; much prefer the uniforms from the first few movies
  • star trek: new voyages: fanmade series that gerrold did an episode for
  • star trek: continues: finn fancy necromancy author really loves it
  • could we do non starship star trek? Gerrold: yes, if about star trek academy, or federation council, etc
  • house of picards

As you know, bob

  • hiding the infodump: article in april 2015 analog
  • tamora pierce: works in genre where extra exposition gets cut mercilessly
  • “teenagers pay my bills, i don’t explode them” pierce
  • exposition can get too detailed because in first draft writers are figuring out what’s happening as they write it. It’s fine, so long as they take it out later
  • know as much about your background as possible, tell as little about it as you can get away with
  • know your audience: some them can really get into detailed exposition, while others will skip it
  • don’t load it in as a block, slip it in as part of the action, because it’s fatal
  • tnh: expository chunks can happen because authors with clout can be late, and rather than push book release out, editors will edit book less than they normally would because they ran out of time
  • tnh: don’t tell people things before they want to know it; rowling is a great example of how to do it right: she intros sorting hat as just talking hat, only later introduces other properties when they’re needed
  • conflict can also be a driving force of exposition
  • or: new guy comes in, has to have everything explained to them
  • pierce: usually starts with character at cusp of new phase of life, transition drives exposition, will drip exposition into story as it goes, have characters act it out rather than infodump
  • tnh: technical master of exposition of our time is joss whedon; watch first few minutes of serenity, within ten minutes you know everything you need to know about the universe
  • pierce: early stephen king, elizabeth bear
  • jodi shapiro: new books, well done exposition and context
  • reader can infer a lot from context, can trust them more than you think
  • when chapter has ended, preferably with a hook, it’s clear that something new is coming, you can get away with slipping a little omniscient viewpoint exposition in there
  • tnh: get a 14-yr-old beta reader. Their brains are fully developed but they don’t have any tact
  • tactic: when people are angry, they’ll state obvious things (“look! Water *is* wet!”)
  • tnh: every time you explain something to the audience, you give them a chance to argue with you; great example is time machine: don’t explain how it works, because they don’t, tell me how it smells, how much cargo it can carry, how much time it needs to recharge between trips

How to write a mystery

  • clues can be great, but if characters aren’t three-d, will feel hollow
  • misdirection: all clues have to be there, but distract reader at same time
  • mystery great tool for other genres, can reveal aspects of world for spec fic using mystery tools
  • why is it important that characters solve this?
  • would this mystery have happened in any other world? What does this crime reveal about the greater society and the people that live in it?
  • harris: beat, beat, beat; explication, explication, boom! Follow the rhythm of the book
  • try/fail cycle: characters try something, fail, try something else, fail, etc
  • harris: have to provide false suspects, but not so many that you wonder why the victim didn’t get killed earlier
  • harris: when you have something that you think is too mean to do to your characters, you should do it!
  • small mystery and large mystery: can add texture to the book; small mystery small stakes, answer can be humorous; can also tie the two mysteries together, link the two mysteries
  • thematic echo: guinea pig squealing in the night out of fear; person had murdered another because they thought (wrongly) that they were being threatened
  • turn tropes on their head to try to get something new (no more detectives with tortured pasts)
  • harris: people love to talk about what they do. Undertakers? Don’t nobody ask them what they do.
  • amateur detective: has to have compelling reason to get involved and not leave it to the police
  • randall garreth; darcy series
  • the last policeman
  • nora roberts’ detective novels set in the future
  • do you read mysteries? Yes, all the time; new j d robb; anne bishops’s written in blood series; expanse series by james a corey; mike connolly; steven hunter; stewart mcbride; ben aaronovich rivers of london series

Crafting and Editing the Short Story

  • how involved are you in the process?
  • datlow: will buy imperfect stories, but will dig in and ask for changes, work with author to make it better; harder with new writers that may not take editing well
  • clarke: take everything from slush, always open to submissions, often working with new authors more; will work with author if they believe in the story
  • uncanny: usually buy more fully-cooked stories; there are enough submissions that they just don’t take the story if they don’t think it’s ready
  • swartzmann: often buy ready stories, but will sometimes pluck out a rough diamond and polish it, which makes him very very happy
  • williams: will work more with authors she hasn’t seen before; still rare though
  • what stops you from reading?
  • datlow: bad writing
  • swartzmann: pacing
  • uncanny: has to care about the characters
  • clarke: zombies…really anything that indicates they haven’t read the market guidelines
  • datlow: have to want to spend time with the character; don’t make them boring
  • what about problem endings?
  • datlow: usually means 3/4 of the way through they took a wrong turn
  • clarke: very frustrating for good story to have bad ending
  • uncanny: the sigh of having given up on a story
  • williams: wait to send stories out; your subconscious can come up with things to improve it if you give it a chance
  • uncanny: problem she often sees is the tendency to describe everything instead of only the things relevant to plot and characters
  • datlow: not supposed to do talking head stories, but can use descriptions of events around them to prevent it from being boring
  • clarke: seek out slush reading opportunities; good way to see what’s out there and what mistakes people make
  • williams: buys 6 stories a month; receives around 1,000 submissions a month
  • swartzmann: in humor, don’t try too hard, and make sure reader can enjoy story even if they don’t find it funny
  • uncanny: take chances, don’t reproduce what you see out there
  • datlow: humor a harder sell for her because she usually doesn’t find it funny
  • uncanny: many stories are bittersweet, so will look for whimsy to lighten the mood

Mind of villains

  • psychopaths are born not made
  • reactive attachment disorder comes from environment, inconsistent caregiving before age of 2
  • not good or bad caregiving, just inconsistent
  • passed around from caregiver to caregiver, start to view people as providers of services, not worthwhile as individuals
  • pdf from doj on problems with criminal justice in the united states
  • most psychopaths choose to follow the rules of society for their own benefit
  • if you have a psychopath as your villain, you need something to kick them out of their natural rule-following
  • don’t know what fear is or what love is
  • but can have long-term relationships or get married, just don’t feel love
  • 10% of murders in US are committed by children (under 18)
  • kids released at 21 have no higher incidence of crime as adults than anyone else
  • children kill for different reasons than adults; when take them out of that environment, they stop (take them out of abuse, teach them anger control, etc)
  • in court cases, often someone sitting in the back crying; usually the mother; “why are they picking on my child?”
  • hitler attached to his dog, attached to his cousin; would he have had anyone killed if he’d gotten into art school?
  • there’s a way to raise a psychopath: reward good behavior immediately and punish bad behavior immediately; give them the praise that they crave
  • BTK killer was church leader, good husband, good father
  • tend to see people that do evil as “really” evil: he was a good father but really he was a serial killer. It’s not but really, it’s *and*.
  • most people that do evil are people, with good and bad that they do
  • bones is a great example (in early seasons) of a successful psychopath
  • psychopaths are normal: 1 out of 100 people is one
  • psychopaths can empathize with other people
  • if you call psychopaths on their bs, they’ll try to spin it with them as victims or play it off as an accident
  • psychopathy and high intelligence are not correlated, but intelligence and being in prison is: prison population of us is more intelligent than general pop (though with lower education level)

To WorldCon!

Wife and I are heading off to WorldCon today!

It’s in Kansas City this year, which is only a 4.5 hour drive for us. For once, no plane tickets to buy 🙂

This’ll be our first WorldCon, so I’m both excited and nervous. A lot of our friends will be there, but so will many — ye gods, so many — of the authors I admire. I’m going to try to keep my squee to an acceptable level.

Also, thanks to the efforts of Tanya Washburn and the Accessibility Committee, there’s going to be multiple ASL-interpreted events! The Masquerade, all Business Meetings, the Hugo Awards Ceremony, and the Paul and Storm Concert will all be accessible for the deaf and hard of hearing.

They’ve even arranged for a personal interpreter for my wife for one day of the Con, so she can enjoy that day’s panels as much as anyone else.

It’s going to make a huge difference in my wife’s independence during, and participation in, the Con. The Accessibility Committee has been very responsive and welcoming, and I’m quite thankful for their efforts.


JoCo Cruise Crazy 2016

This was the first cruise my wife and I had ever been on. We weren’t sure what to expect. Would I get seasick enough to ruin the trip? Would we spend the trip as wallflowers, since we didn’t know anyone else that was going? Would our clothes for Formal Night be formal enough, despite our lack of fezzes?

Thankfully, everything turned out better than we could have hoped for.

Our good luck started before we even got on the boat.

While waiting to get into the terminal, we struck up a conversation with another Sea Monkey couple that had been on the cruise before. They were funny, friendly, and more than willing to share advice on how to navigate the new world we were entering. We had lunch together that day, and they introduced us to Redneck Life, a game they thought we’d appreciate since we live in Arkansas (we did, the game’s hilarious).

We ended up spending a lot of the cruise together; they already feel like good friends we’ve known for years. Thanks to them, we never felt lonely or out of place during the cruise. Can’t wait to see them again next year, so we’re already making plans to go visit them before then 🙂

Our second stroke of incredible luck happened when we found an interpreter for my wife. She’s what I refer to as “suburban deaf”: not hard-core inner city deaf, just living on the outskirts of the community. It’s enough so that concerts and stand up performances — in other words, the majority of the nightly entertainment on the cruise — are really hard for her, and she misses most of what’s said or sung.

But not this time. On the second (?) day of the cruise, another Sea Monkey introduced herself after watching my wife sign. She said she was an interpreter, and would be happy to sign for my wife during the shows if she wanted.

My wife accepted, of course, and the two became really good friends over the course of the cruise. She ended up signing for my wife for all the Main Concerts, and most of the side events my wife wanted to go to. At each one, she commandeered two spots near the front, and reversed one of the chairs so she could face my wife and sign.

She’s an amazing interpreter, with a very expressive face, and a great sense of storytelling through sign. She made the performances available to my wife for the first time, and it was amazing seeing her so happy: able to laugh at the same jokes as me, without me whispering to her or using my non-fluent sign to get the meaning across.

These were the two biggest instances of kindness we received during the cruise, but the entire Sea Monkey community was amazingly friendly and welcoming.

In the game room, you could just walk up to any table and ask to play. If you hovered instead, they would invite you to join.

In the dining room, you could share a table with perfect strangers and end up making new friends.

My wife and I decided to try organizing a couple of events ourselves, and not only did they get on the schedule, they were welcomed and successful.

I’m taking a lot of memories away from the cruise — performing stand up for the first time in 2 years, the view from the top of Blackbeard’s Castle in St Thomas, my wife going to dinner with a tiny fez pinned to her hair — but the best memory I have is a feeling, the warm glow of acceptance and support I felt from everyone while we were there.

It’s an incredible community, and I’m honored to have been allowed to join it.

Back to Reality: JoCo Cruise Edition

Made it back home from JoCo Cruise 2016 last night.

I’ll do a more detailed breakdown of the cruise later, but there is too much for now, so let me sum up: it was amazing.

I met some incredible people, who let me play games they had designed, told me about their upcoming writing projects, and just generally accepted my wife and I with open arms. I heard someone say that it’s like going on vacation with 1,000 of the best friends you haven’t met yet, and it’s completely true.

Oh, and the performers were great, too 🙂

If you were on the cruise this year, thank you for helping to create such an amazing community. Huge props to Paul and Storm and JoCo and Scarface and the many others that worked hard to organize it and keep everything running smoothly.

If you weren’t on the cruise, signups are available for 2017. We hope to see you there!


Genre fiction has always been aimed at the Outsider, at the person with enough distance from the dominant culture to think critically about it.

It’s just that our definition of Outsider has expanded.

When I was a kid, I felt like an Outsider because I was clumsy and nerdy and socially awkward. The school’s hierarchy enforced that status: football players were in, science geeks were out. Genre fiction was pitched directly at me, giving me an escape from social rejection and poverty and feeding into the sense of wonder I held about the world around me.

I never thought about the fact that, as a white male, the ladder I felt myself to be on the low rungs of was already placed far over the heads of other groups.

As an adult, I no longer feel like an Outsider. Though I undoubtedly am an Outsider when in certain company — I’m an atheist, which puts me out from most of the American populace, and a programmer, which makes my work boring to most people — I don’t feel like one day in and day out.

I’ve come to realize that there are other people who feel much more like Outsiders than I ever did, and that while my Outsider-status has diminished with adulthood, theirs has likely only been enhanced, as their life experiences diverge from what’s considered acceptable in wider society.

These people — women*, people of color, the LBGT community — deserve genre fiction that speaks to them, that talks about their experiences as Outsiders (and Insiders**), that addresses their issues and their needs. I’m glad to see my favorite section of the bookstore embracing them, proud to see us growing up as a subculture.

I still enjoy this fiction, even though I’m straight, and white, and male. Because I remember being the kid that didn’t fit in, that no one wanted to play with, that adults felt uncomfortable around and kids didn’t want to talk to. Sci-fi and fantasy was there for me, and it can and should be there for others, as long as there are outsiders that need it.

The Imagination is a big place. there’s room for all of us.


* Which, holy shit, that half of the population should be sidelined in pop culture for so long is mind-boggling
** Everyone that belongs to a subculture outside the norm is automatically an Insider for that subculture

5 Signs You’re Living in a Dystopia

1. Everyone you know is happy

Is there anything creepier than a society of happy people?

2. No one is happy

Conversely, if you’re surrounded by miserable sacks wearing gray and shuffling through life, you’re either a zombie in a horror flick or trapped in a dystopia.

3. You can go anywhere, except to __.

We all know why it’s forbidden. The secret undermining the whole society is hidden there.

4. No one wants change

People always want to change things: they want more money, more power, more time to play video games. If no one around you wants anything to change, you’re trapped in a dystopia.

5. No one knows what a dystopia is

People in dystopias don’t read. They don’t have any idea they’re trapped in someone’s nightmare future. If even one person has read 1984, you’re not in a dystopia, just a gritty sci fi novel.