Boskone 54

2017-02-19-15-10-50.jpg

Last weekend I made what has become my yearly pilgrimage to Boskone. For those who have never heard of it (and if you live in New England, you’ve definitely been missing out!), Boskone is a great science fiction and fantasy convention that leans heavily toward SF/F writers and readers. The con always has a fabulous line-up of guest speakers, and the panels are varied and interesting. The overall vibe is relaxed and friendly.

This year, I didn’t manage to go to any of the kaffeeklatsches*, one of my absolute favorite things to do at Boskone. I also went to fewer panels than I usually attend, for one simple reason: this time, I was one of the panelists myself.

So, what was the view like from the other side?

Terrifying, on the first day! By the second day, however, I’d got the hang of it. I relaxed, and really enjoyed the discussion. It helps that I had fantastic co-panelists and moderators, of course. Thanks to Boskone for inviting me! I had a great time. (Check out a list of the panels I was on here.)

Some of my Boskone 54 highlights include the panel on Skullduggery and Dastardly Deeds, hilariously moderated by Scott Lynch, and the panel on Guest of Honor Brandon Sanderson’s career. It’s always encouraging to hear great writers like Sanderson talk about the beginning of their careers…

Every year I try to catch a reading, and this time I went to a great one by Lynch – a short story that will appear in the Book of Swords anthology, out in October.

However, one of the best things to do at Boskone can’t be found on the official schedule. And that’s – quite simply – conversation. I love getting a chance to chat to SF/F fans, writers, and other industry folks. It ends up being one of the high points of the con, every single time.

So here I am, two days after returning home, sitting in the middle of a pile of notes, papers, and bookmarks from this year’s Boskone, and all I can think of is: Boskone 55? Bring it on.

20170218_171756
Worldbuilding in Urban Fantasy

L to R: (not shown: Margaret Ronald), Robert B. Finegold M.D., myself, Adam Stemple, Leigh Perry (Moderator) – photo courtesy of Robert.

*For those who have never been to one, a kaffeeklatsch is an informal round table with someone like an author. I’ve been to several memorable ones, like the one with Myke Cole at my very first Boskone, or the one with Ginjer Buchanan that ended up being a friendly tête-à-tête after a blizzard chased most of the con goers away.

Boskone 54 Schedule

screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-11-14-11-am

From February 17-19 I’ll be at Boskone, in Boston, MA, for New England’s longest running science fiction and fantasy convention. This will be my third year at Boskone, but my first as a panel participant. Boskone is a friendly con with great panel themes – I’ve been to panels on everything from writing fight scenes to pirates in fiction!

Check out the Boskone website for 2017 speakers and a list of panels, readings, kaffeeklatsches, and other activities. There’s still time to register.

My own schedule:

When Villains Defy Expectation in Young Adult Literature

Friday 16:00 – 17:00, Harbor II (Westin)

In YA fiction, the bad guys used to be easy to spot. However, in a world with many shades of gray, villains just aren’t as easy to identify. The handlebar mustaches — gone; the dark trench coats — left on their hangers; the goon squads — seem like bunches of ordinary guys. What does the revamped “villain” archetype mean for our young heroes? How does it affect the story and the other characters? How might this more nuanced sense of good/bad play out as young adult fiction continues to evolve?

Tui Sutherland (M), Ken Altabef, Christine Taylor-Butler, Juliana Spink Mills, Michael Stearns

 

The Year in Young Adult and Children’s Fiction

Friday 17:00 – 18:00, Harbor II (Westin)

Last year was another great one for young adult and children’s fiction. While the explosion of new authors in these genres may be stabilizing, the number of well-written, top-shelf stories continues to soar! Join our panelists for a lively discussion about what you absolutely must read from 2016 — and what we’re looking forward to as 2017 continues.

Maryelizabeth Yturralde (M), Christine Taylor-Butler, Emma Caywood, Juliana Spink Mills, Bruce Coville

 

Indie Pub Your Backlist

Saturday 10:00 – 11:00, Marina 2 (Westin)

Do you have old stories that were published ages ago, now lingering in drawers, gathering dust — not getting read? Independent publishers can be a great resource for letting your stories see the light of day again, and drumming up interest from new readers. We’ll discuss ideas on revitalizing your backlist and finding indie publishers for your unpublished early gems.

Joshua Bilmes (M), Walter Jon Williams, Richard Shealy, Juliana Spink Mills, Craig Shaw Gardner

 

Worldbuilding in Urban Fantasy

Saturday 17:00 – 18:00, Marina 2 (Westin)

An inconsistent or poorly described worldscape can furnish a confusing story, or challenge a reader’s ability to suspend disbelief, even when you’re dealing with a world that is “just like ours.” Is creating an urban fantasy world as simple as adding magic to a place like Chicago or New York City? Or is there more to it? Hear from writers who have created fully realized urban fantasy worlds that their readers can almost see, touch, and smell.

Leigh Perry (M), Margaret Ronald, Adam Stemple, Juliana Spink Mills, Robert B. Finegold M.D.

AvonCon 2016

It seems like everywhere you turn these days there’s a new comic, literary, or gaming convention. Many of these are fan-driven events, seeking to bring together a community of genre lovers from places near and far. AvonCon, however, puts a capital C in the word community.

Organized by the public library of the town of Avon, Connecticut, AvonCon holds its second yearly event on Saturday, April 16th. The brainchild of Reference and Adult Services Manager Tina Panik and Teen Librarian Marisa Hicking, the one-day convention is free and open to all ages. There is something for everyone, from the youngest child to the seasoned con-lover, with events ranging from illustration workshops to cosplay competitions.

What makes AvonCon so special? To answer that, we first have to take a good look at the library itself. The Avon Public Library hosts a wide variety of community events. These include preschool Mother Goose sessions, book clubs and a writing group. And of course, the hugely popular teen room which the town’s middle school and high school students can frequent after class for homework, board-and-video gaming, computer use, and even karaoke. The library’s community room is used by everyone, from the Girl Scouts to Little League Baseball coaches. It truly is a cornerstone for the town.

An event like AvonCon is a wonderful opportunity to cement the library’s involvement with the local community. But don’t just take it from me: I’ve invited the Con’s two main organizers to share their thoughts on conventions, comics and, of course, AvonCon itself.

Juliana: Tina and Marisa, thank you so much for joining me. Tell me, where did the idea for AvonCon come from? Why adopt the convention format?

Two years ago, 3 of our staff attended NYCC (New York Comic Con). On the train ride home we realized we could create a mini-convention at our library. Mirroring the convention format allows us to offer multiple programs simultaneously. Our event is free, which makes it unique amongst comic conventions. 

Juliana: What were the results from last year’s first ever AvonCon? What feedback did you receive from attendees? 

In addition to our regulars, AvonCon has attracted a completely new audience for the library. Our biggest request from last year to this year was to offer food for a longer period. This year we will have a local food truck, Toasted, on site all day. For those with a sweet tooth, we will have Dolce Vita Gelato on site as well.

Juliana: I know Marisa has a very enthusiastic teen group that frequents the library. Has the local community been involved in helping set up the convention?

Most of the preparation has been done by our awesome team of librarians. Our library Teen Advisory Board (TAB) helped paint and create a Tardis out of a large refrigerator box, as well as assemble the Iron Cosplay boxes. They were sad when they couldn’t create the costumes out of pillowcases on the spot!

Tina has also created F.A.N. (Family of Avon Nerds) a multigenerational group of science fiction, comic, and Pop Culture fans. They suggested creating a schedule by tracks-and we’ve done it. A couple of the teens from F.A.N. were part of the TAB Tardis group. 

Juliana: You have a treat for comic lovers this year – your special guest is cartoonist and comics theorist Scott McCloud. Why Scott? What do you hope Scott’s keynote lecture will bring to local graphic novel and cartoon fans?

Our focus this year is deconstructing the graphic novel. When Tina and I were brainstorming what to do and who to get, we knew we wanted an expert in the industry. Scott was our first choice. He literally wrote the book on understanding comics, called UNDERSTANDING COMICS; it was written in a graphic novel format. His visit is made possible by a grant from CT Humanities.

We want Scott McCloud to blend art, story, and technology together in his presentation. Scott McCloud has given this presentation throughout the country and he keeps adding new materials. It is a fast paced and visually engaging presentation. We hope to appeal to longtime fans of his work, those interested in graphic novels, and attract new fans. Scott McCloud has graciously agreed to answer any and all audience questions for as long as they keep asking.

Juliana: What was your favorite part of AvonCon 2015? 

Tina: I enjoyed watching people interact away from their phones. Strangers were starting conversations with each other about costumes, Pop Culture, and their favorite superheroes.

Marisa: I enjoyed the Draw Off on the center floor of the Children’s Department, hosted by Matt Ryan of Free Lunch Comics. The energy was fantastic! Mostly children and teens competed, though all ages looked on. It was friendly and competitive. I lost to Tim the Children’s Specialist attempting to draw Pikachu surfboarding. I also enjoyed hosting the Iron Cosplay event: teens got a mystery box full of pillowcases, Duct tape, paint samples and an inspiration superhero costume to recreate. Some were more successful than others, but everyone had fun.

Juliana: I know you already have a list of ideas for next year. Are there any you can share with us?

We are considering adding live music and the inclusion of other fandoms, like Downton Abbey. We’d also like to add a program centered around books.

Juliana: Thank you both for taking time to tell us a little about AvonCon 2016. Good luck with the event! I’m looking forward to it.

AvonCon takes place in Avon, Connecticut on April 16th, 2016. For more information and the full schedule of events, go to www.avonctlibrary.info.

You can find information on Scott McCloud and his work at his website, www.scottmccloud.com.

AvonCon.jpg

Boskone 53 Round-up

Boskone 53, February 19-21 2016

2016-02-28 14.09.17

Boskone is a long-running New England Science Fiction and Fantasy convention that skews more to the literary side, even though it also has events centered on movies, board gaming, etc. Last year was my first time at Boskone, and I was so smitten I’d bought this year’s membership before the con even ended. Boskone is big enough to bring in great authors, and small enough to be a friendly sort of place. To me, newbie convention-goer that I am, it’s perfect.

Here’s a very brief overview of some of the panels I attended, just in case you were wondering about what goes on at event like this. I’m not including all panels or kaffeklatsches, or even mentioning readings; this is more of a taster. And by the way, sometimes the best things are the ones you least expect. The pirate panel was a personal favorite! So find a convention near you, and maybe take a chance on something unexpected. It’s worth it.

(Also, next year’s Guest of Honor is Brandon Sanderson, so if my rambling notes don’t entice you to take a look at Boskone, maybe that will!)

*The following information is a summary of notes I took during panels. They represent only a portion of what was shared by panelists, and are subject to my own interpretation while writing them down at the event.*

Friday:

Things I wish a pro had told me

Peader Ó Guillin, Walter Jon Williams, Christopher Golden, Charles Stross

Writing a first draft is like walking a tightrope. If you stop halfway to look back, you’ll get frozen with fear.

Writing a full-length novel is like marriage or a relationship – initially there’s that first flush of love, but then eventually you have to settle into the relationship to figure out where it is going. Also, you have to find a way to make the non-exciting bits exciting to write; if you’re not excited to write them, no one will be excited to read them.

After the 1st book, books often sell on outline and first chapters. Sometimes the sale takes so long you’ve cooled on the idea and have to recover the spark.

Kaffeeklatsche with Neil Clarke

Clarkesworld believes very firmly in open slush submission. They have only commissioned stories on rare occasions, for anniversary editions, and even then from regular contributors. The magazine does have ‘regulars’, but they submit through the slush pile like everyone else.

The magazine has gained an industry rep for publishing things that push the boundaries in style and subject matter. Magazines tend to be more cutting edge; they can afford to take a risk on a story. A novel can’t. If one story gets bad feedback, it quickly gets buried/forgotten by the next issue. A novel that tanks can seriously hurt the publisher.

Both magazines and writers need to treat writing as business. They need to be able to thrive, not survive.

Saturday:

Young Love and First Kiss Fiction

Darlene Marshall, Esther Friesner, Django Wexler, James Patrick Kelly, Michael Stearns

Why does first love endure so much in fiction?

A lot of these books are a roadmap. When you’re a preteen or teen, the grown-up world is all around you but you don’t necessarily understand it, or how to get from point A to point B.

First love/kiss is a naturally dramatic device you can include in a plot. Having that first love/kiss brings an intensity that adult fiction doesn’t allow. Part of the attraction for adults reading YA is recapturing the feeling that anything is possible. That life is a fresh page. These novels bring this freshness; romance without the emotional baggage of failed relationships and a divorce.

But there are differences between young protagonists written for adults (Ender’s Game) and for teens: intensity of feeling. And YA doesn’t need a happy ending, but it does need a dramatic ending.

Branding and Social Media

Jeanne Cavelos, Melanie Meadors, Jordan Hamessley, Laurie Mann, Wesley Chu

The main thing about social media is it can’t just be about you. Social media is there to build community. Fans want to know they have something in common with you.

What are you offering that’s distinct and unique? That’s your brand. As an author, you want to prove yourself an expert: on yourself, on your field… Focus on yourself as a piece of a bigger picture and where you fit in. Create a professional persona for yourself. What you tweet or share on social media is only a fraction of who you are, but it’s your persona. What makes you distinct will attract people.

Sell yourself, don’t sell your books. Nothing turns off readers and buyers more than ‘buy my book’. If someone likes what you have to say, they’ll gravitate toward your book.

Talking about writing is interesting, and other writers will follow you for that, but you want readers to follow you, too. Find other things to talk about to build connections.

Tailor your social media accounts. You don’t have to feel that every platform needs you in every way. Pick the one(s) that feels best for you. Don’t do what you don’t want to do. For instance, don’t blog if it’s not your thing. Do what you’re good at. Only have accounts where you’re active. And it’s also important to know where your target audience hangs out.

Part of branding is creating a consistent look and feel across all your platforms. Publishers will give you your font, your art, etc. to use across your platforms, and you can use that to make postcards, bookmarks etc.

Be careful with negativity. Have the discourse – it’s important – but be aware. And really own it, if you’re going to be mad about something or someone. Anything that happens on the internet lasts a long time. You don’t know who you’re going to be working with down the line. Be careful with your opinions. You never know what’s going to go viral. Something you think everyone will like gets ignored, and then a throwaway statement you don’t necessarily want repeated goes viral.

It’s a Pirate’s Life for Me

Edie Stern, Leigh Perry, Darlene Marshall

People have always been fascinated by pirates. Transgression. Also, people who left merchant ships for pirate ships were stepping up in life. Pirates ate better, were paid better, and got disability pay. Also, they had a democracy of sorts. They often voted on who would be captain. Crews were integrated.

Life expectancy on merchant ships was horrible. To free room for cargo, living quarters were cramped, and food and supplies (for bad weather, for instance) were cut back on. There were rarely doctors aboard. A sailor who became disabled was simply abandoned on shore. So pirate life was much better.

People more likely to be taken captive by pirates: carpenters and surgeons.

The difference between pirate and privateer was a piece of paper*. Privateers were legitimate, pirates were not. Privateers had been given permission by a government to operate, often functioning as a navy of sorts. There are two sides to the coin: pirate/patriot. It all depends on who’s doing the name-calling.

* The ‘Issuance of Letters of Marque and Reprisal’ was something a legitimate government could do at the time.

Robert Louis Stevenson invented a lot of the pirate myths and tropes that still endure. In real life, there was no walking the plank, and one-handed pirates didn’t have hooks, just wooden replacements. The tattoos, however, were real and used for identification. The gold jewelry was real too, a way of carrying your wealth with you so that if you died you had enough on you for a decent burial.

The worst insult in the Royal and early American navy was to call someone a marine. The original marines were in charge of onboard discipline so sailors hated them. They were the officers’ line of defense, so this antipathy was encouraged by the officers to keep the marines from siding with the sailors against them.

Why the parrot? A good-sized parrot on your shoulder gave you height leverage. A well-trained parrot could see above a crowd and give you advance warning of enemies.

Fight vs. Flight

Wesley Chu, Flourish Klink, Errick Nunnally, Tom Easton.

“An action scene is a conversation with fists” (Wesley Chu). At the end of the day, the scene should have a result, a character placement, an impact on the characters. In movies, fights are often fillers. Fillers don’t work in writing. So when writing a scene you want to think about what it leads to – the result, where the characters are, what they’re feeling.

Writing: you’re either looking at the scene broadly or going for the close look and details. Only get into the specifics if you know what you’re talking about. Long, detailed fight scenes are extraordinarily boring. Unless you’re using it to show damage, mental fatigue, etc. it’s just filler.

Things happen a lot faster in fight than you think, and are over a lot faster too. And then you have to think about cost of combat: when there is contact between two things there is damage.

Don’t underestimate flight. Indiana Jones, for instant, is a character who doesn’t mind turning and running. A lot of great characters aren’t fighters. Dick Francis’ characters are often on the receiving end, not the dealing out end.

However, the flight option can be tricky when writing female protagonists. Because even though it’s the logical option, even for a trained fighter, since women are often outside their weight class, it can send the wrong message in fiction. But the truth is, even for the trained fighter, aggression and size will win over skill anytime. In real life, any woman knows that the first thing is to run the heck away.

Knife fights: The thing about knife fights/disarms is that you’re going to get cut. In real life, when you look at emergency rooms, you’re going to see that people with knife injuries die a lot. “A knife fight is not a casual thing under any circumstance” (Flourish Klink). People underestimate knives in fantasy.

Likewise, sword fights are short, unless you’re well-armored. But is realism the best thing for entertainment? Probably not. No one is going to complain about embellishment. However, fear of death should be a key motivator. Think about tunnel vision in combat. There’s a huge difference between a controlled environment like a lesson, and something that’s actually happening.

You also have to consider your setting. How does the cold affect your weapons? Or being punched? How does having wet clothes affect your movement?

If there’s no tension, it’s not action, it’s just movement. A definition of an action scene is that there must be tension.

Sunday:

Dealing with Rejection

James Patrick Kelly, Barry Goldblatt, Bob Kuhn, Kenneth Schneyer, Darlene Marshall.

The rejection is not you, personally. If the same kind of rejection is coming over and over again, it might be time to have a good hard look at your submission. But don’t hate yourself, or the rejection.

Make a submission list. If you get a rejection, send it right back out to the next on the list. Don’t let a story sit and gather self-doubt.

“Do your due diligence before you start sending things out” (Darlene Marshall). Research what people want before submitting. Sometimes what you’ve got is really good. It’s fine the way it is. But it may not fit the current market. So you have to understand yourself AND you have to understand the market.

“When you swim in the sea of rejection, just let it roll off your back” (Jim Kelly)

Why Anthologies?

Bob Devney, Tom Easton, Esther Friesner, Leigh Perry, Erin Underwood. 

Anthology comes from the Greek for a collection of flowers, a garland. For a long time it meant a poetry collection.

Anthologies all pay in different ways. Sometimes it’s a flat fee. Sometimes it’s an advance and royalties.

Anthologies keep short fiction alive. Short stories do a job of invigorating fiction as a whole.

Story placement: the importance of a strong leading story, a strong finale, and a strong middle. If the last story can be a wrap-up one that embodies what the anthology was about, even better. Also, don’t follow a banjo act with another banjo act. Space out similar style or genre stories. There has to be a flow between stories, or else readers who read in order will complain it feels choppy.

2016-02-19 12.00.01

Spotlight on SFF Gatherings with Alex Davis, Joanne Hall, and Steven Poore

2016-01-19 09.36.01

Reading is a solitary pastime, yet social gatherings lie at the heart of many reading and writing communities. From small get-togethers, such as book clubs and writer’s groups, to large conventions with thousands of attendees, there is something for everyone. These gatherings serve as meeting places for like-minded enthusiasts to discuss everything from the newest book releases to the trials and tribulations of the publishing world.

Susan Boulton, author of the Gaslight fantasy Oracle, went to her first SFF convention back in 2006. “I went (to Eastercon UK) because a fellow writer had persuaded me to go, saying it would give me a feel for the genre and the publishing business as a whole. I went, enjoyed it in some ways, but in others I found it very overwhelming and intimidating. I decided not to go to another. I then received an email from someone I had met there, saying they had enjoyed meeting me and looked forward to seeing me again at another convention. So I thought I would book to go just for the day to the British FantasyCon.

“I was surprised at how many people, who I had met at Eastercon, remembered me, and introduced me to others. I came to realise that, yes, the business side of conventions is interesting, helping you understand publishing and make contacts, but far more important is the friendships that you make. You share the pleasure of seeing the various guests of Honour, panels and events, but you also enjoy the days and nights spent talking not only about the genre, but everything and anything.”

Sometimes genre gatherings can serve as work inspiration. Librarian Tina Panik, who organizes a yearly local convention besides fandom meet-ups, regularly attends the New York Comic Con fishing for ideas she can use in her job. Tina, the reference and adult services manager for her library, believes that, “The best way to bring the stories, characters, and images from the comic and graphic novel world to life is to attend a con. Between the people, the cosplay, and the guest speakers, your imagination will ignite with ideas. The crowds are friendly, the experts are willing to share, and the merchandise is fantastic.”

There are certainly plenty of reasons to attend genre get-togethers. But what happens on the other side, the backstage, so to speak? What’s it like organizing an event, bringing together readers and authors, fans and trade professionals? I’ve invited three guests to tell us a little about what goes into running SFF meet-ups and conventions.

Writer and editor Alex Davis is the author of The Last War (Tickety Boo Press, 2015), the first novel in his science fiction Noukari Trilogy, besides several short stories. Alex also runs a local press, Boo Books, and organizes a twice-yearly convention in Derby. Edge-Lit – and it’s brand new winter offshoot Sledge-Lit – includes ‘panels, readings, workshops, book launches and plenty more besides’ in a one day event that aims to be friendly and welcoming. Alex is also chairing the 2016 edition of the UK national FantasyCon, organized by the British Fantasy Society.

Joanne Hall, Acquisitions Editor for Kristell Ink, is the author of numerous short stories and novels, including The Art of Forgetting duology (Kristell Ink, 2013-2014) and Spark and Carousel (Kristell Ink, 2015). Joanne has chaired Bristol’s only science fiction and fantasy convention – BristolCon – for the past six years, and also runs the Bristol Fantasy and SF Society Facebook page. The one-day BristolCon has panels, workshops, kaffeklatsches, an art show and a dealer’s section, and aims to be a ‘fun, friendly and informative addition to the UK’s convention calendar’.

Steven Poore is the author of The Heir to the North (Kristell Ink, 2015), the first in his Malessar’s Curse duology (the sequel, The High King’s Vengeance, is due in late 2016), besides the ongoing science fiction series The Empire Dance and several short stories. Steven organizes the Sheffield Fantasy and Science Fiction Social Club (SFSF Social), a semi-regular gathering in an informal setting that brings genre enthusiasts together for author readings and Q&A’s, giveaways, and plenty of good conversation.

Juliana: What were some of the first SFF events you attended, that sparked off your interest for this sort of gathering?

Alex: Most of my initial engagement in writing events was with book festivals and writing groups, so that was all kinds of different genres. But I was always hugely interested and a big fan of genre fiction, so that was always an area I wanted to explore – and I think it’s fair to say genre fiction doesn’t always get a fair crack of the whip where it comes to literature festivals. So when all my volunteering work led me to a paid role as Literature Development Officer, I was really keen to get something going with a real literary feel but looking at genre fiction, which is where Alt.Fiction came from back in 2005. My first convention-going experience was EasterCon in Glasgow, which helped to crystallise a lot of what I really wanted from my event – a focus on writing, pure and simple, without any of the added elements that come at a multimedia convention.

Steven: Before Alex Bardy started up the York Pubmeets, there wasn’t anything happening up here apart from EdgeLit and the usual annual conventions. Angry Robot had brought five of their authors to Sheffield once, for an afternoon, but that really was it. Alex told me about his idea and convinced me to come up to York, with a couple of friends, to attend the first Pubmeet, where David Tallerman and Janine Ashbless were reading. Actually, I didn’t need all that much convincing.

Joanne: The first big SFF event I remember attending was FantasyCon in Nottingham. I’m not sure what year it was but Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker were there. I don’t think I got as much out of it as I could – I hadn’t been to a convention before and I didn’t really know anyone and I was very shy. After that I went to a few commercial events, and for a few years I attended MicroCon, which is the long running convention organised by Exeter University’s SF society, which helped me get over some of my shyness and made me want to attend bigger conventions again!

Juliana: How did you move from simply attending to helping organize SFF gatherings? 

Alex: My role at Derby City Council gave me the freedom to run a host of different events, and I was a bit nervous to pitch Alt.Fiction as an event to my boss at the time. But luckily enough they went for it and I even managed to get some Arts Council funding, which was a huge help. Immediately I had a feel there was a hugely welcoming community there, and people were amazingly willing to help and support me in getting something new off the ground. Having run the one event I found myself getting a lot more active, becoming much more aware of the many conventions going on and attending things like FantasyCon and NewCon.

Joanne: It was a combination of beer and being broke…

I was in the pub with my friend Colin, and we were chatting about what a shame it was a city like Bristol, which has a thriving SFF scene, didn’t have its own convention, and what a financial burden it was to have to travel to London or Nottingham or Brighton for the big three-day cons. We decided what we wanted was a local, affordable convention, and as the conversation became more… lubricated… it sounded like a better and better idea to organise one ourselves. So we did. The first BristolCon ran for an afternoon and had around sixty attendees, but everyone had such a great time that we immediately decided that we were going to do another one.

Steven: I blame Alex. It’s all his fault. 🙂 After the first Pubmeet I talked to him at Fantasycon and said “If only there was something like this in Sheffield.” He vanished, then came back and said, “Adrian Tchaikovsky will do a reading for you.” And suddenly I was an event organiser.

Juliana: Could you tell us a little about the events you’re currently involved in?

Joanne: I’m currently the chair of BristolCon – we have a committee of about 10-12 people who organise it and my job is to keep them on track and to occasionally keep the peace between them! BristolCon is a one-day convention that takes place in Bristol every October; this years’ event takes place on October 29th and our Guests of Honour are Ken Macleod and Sarah Pinborough, while our Artist GOH is Fangorn. You can find all kinds of information about it at www.bristolcon.org. It’s great fun, it’s a really friendly event, and very relaxed.

Steven: Mainly it’s the Sheffield Fantasy & Science Fiction Social, which we abbreviate to SFSF (“We” being myself and fellow fans Kathryn, Darren and Sara). We’ve hosted authors from as far afield as Chesterfield and San Francisco! We’ve found that the structure of readings & Q&A sessions, followed by giveaways, is one that really does work and doesn’t need much fiddling with. SRFC [Super Relaxed Fantasy Club] have really set the bar for us in that respect. We have started to change it up a little as we’ve become more confident – last time we hosted an Ask The Agent session with Amanda Rutter, and our next Social will feature Adele Wearing talking about the award-winning Fox Spirit Books.

Alex: I’ve got two main events on the go at the moment – in July I’m running the fifth Edge-Lit event, which takes place at QUAD in Derby on the 16th July. We had a really big year last year with about 250 people attending, so we’re looking forward to expanding on that while keeping the friendly and welcoming vibe which has made the event so popular over the years.

This year I’m also chairing the British Fantasy Convention, FantasyCon, which will be taking place in Scarborough from the 23rd-25th September – the hotel is right by the beach, so we’ve dubbed it FantasyCon By The Sea! We’re expecting around 500 people for that, potentially more, so it’s definitely a big undertaking but hugely exciting. We’ve already announced a couple of great Guests of Honour, and have plenty more goodies up our sleeves yet!

You can check out those gigs at www.derbyquad.co.uk and Fantasyconbythesea.com respectively. 

Juliana: What are the biggest challenges in putting together an event of this sort?

Joanne: I think the first big challenge is finding a suitable venue – one that’s accessible and affordable, with good transport links and the right sort of layout to run panels and workshops and provide social space. Then you need a good team of people – no one can run a convention without help, but organising a team of unpaid volunteers brings its own challenges. Everyone who is involved in BristolCon is there because they want to support the con, but they don’t always agree on the best way to go about it!

Alex: For me any event is made up of a certain number of processes – there’s a lot of logistics and a lot of ins and outs, and things can live and die on what look like small details. The one thing that’s always difficult is programming, connecting with the right authors and speakers and getting the right kind of balance in terms of panels, workshops and other activities. You need to have things that are insightful but also enjoyable. Guests of Honour are also a unique challenge, as high-profile and bestselling authors tend to get booked up early. 

Steven: Getting the word out to people. This is the frustrating part, and the nerve-wracking part, for me. There must be so many people in South Yorkshire who read SFF, but they don’t know the Socials are there. That means you get folks on the city council who think there isn’t a demand, so they don’t want to know when you’ve got something to offer them and so on… I always worry that nobody’s going to turn up. For someone who has an on-off relationship with crowds, that’s a weird feeling.

Juliana: And what do you find are the biggest rewards? What is it that keeps you going? 

Steven: Meeting new people who are just as enthusiastic as I am about the genre – that’s the big one. And when you hear feedback about the events, that makes it all worthwhile.

Alex: Basically it’s being there on the day, seeing it happen and seeing people enjoying themselves and hopefully being inspired by the event! The whole thing has no life other than on paper for the better part of a year, and to see all of that come together over the matter of a few days is just phenomenal. It’s exciting also to see an event grow and expand – seeing the comments on social media post-event gives you a nice warm glow!

Joanne: The cake (anyone who has been to BristolCon knows about the cake…)

Seriously, the biggest reward is seeing everyone have a good time, seeing people really fired up with enthusiasm for this thing you’ve organised. For me one of the most brilliant things has been watching people who came to BristolCon as novice or unpublished writers go on to write books, sign deals, have great success and come back as panellists. I like to think that the things they gained from attending BristolCon helped them on that path. A big part of our remit is to encourage emerging local talent, with both BristolCon and our Fringe events, and when we achieve that it’s a great feeling.

Juliana: The baby steps question! For anyone interested in starting up some sort of SFF meet-up or event in their area, what tips can you share?

Joanne: I wouldn’t suggest they throw themselves straight into con-running – BristolCon grew from an existing SFF group in the city. But if anyone out there wants to start an SFF group, pub meets or reading nights, I’d say go for it. It doesn’t take as much organisation as you might think. You just need a room or space in a friendly local pub or community centre (and I’d like to give a shout out to The Shakespeare Tavern on Prince Street which is the SFF pub-hub where we have all our pub nights, Fringe Readings and BristolCon committee meetings), and some like-minded people. If you’re doing readings you will also need some kind of portable PA system if your pub doesn’t have one.

We do all our shout-outs and interaction via social media, either on Facebook (The Bristol Fantasy and SF Society) or Twitter (@hierath77).

Steven: Don’t be afraid to ask. Authors want an audience. Even if they have to decline first time around, if you’re polite and professional (hopefully I’m getting there!) they’ll remember you’re there. And be realistic about what you can achieve – don’t try to run a whole con on your first date! And remember that everybody wants an event to succeed and be fun.

Alex: For me there are two things you need to do before starting – find a venue and have a budget that works. If you don’t have those two, then you don’t have any event. Look around for the right place, somewhere you want to work with, somewhere that gets what you’re about. Then make sure you have a few quid to get things rolling – you can often sell tickets, depending what kind of event it is – but you’ll probably need some cash for authors, venue costs, marketing… also don’t be shy to have a word with some other event organisers, most are very happy to help and offer advice! 

Juliana: If you were given an unlimited event-going budget, what would be on your wish list of cons and gatherings? 

Alex: Being as I live in the UK, I’d love to get over to the US and go to some of the big conventions over there! Something like a World Fantasy Convention or World Horror Convention would be fantastic. 

Joanne: I’d like to go to some of the big American conventions – I’ve heard very good things about WisCon and Convergence, so they would both be on my wish list. And I’d like to go to WorldCon in Helsinki in 2017 – that looks like it’s going to be amazing!

Steven: I keep looking at Nine Worlds and thinking if only my budget would stretch… and WorldCon in Helsinki. And the BristolCon Fringe. All of them, to be honest!

Juliana: If you could invite any three authors, living or dead, to attend your next SFF event, who would you pick? 

Alex: Blimey, there’s a question! For living authors I’d absolutely love to have Michael Moorcock, who was such a formative part of my teenage years and a huge influence on me. Unfortunately my other two favourite authors of all time are no longer with us – Ray Bradbury and JG Ballard. That would have been some line-up!

Steven: Tad Williams. Mary Shelley. Iain M Banks. There would be many more, but heck, one event at a time! 🙂

Joanne: I’d like to pick three authors we would have liked to have had at any BristolCon if the circumstances had been different. So, Diana Wynne Jones, Iain M Banks and the late great Colin Harvey, because it was all his drunken idea in the first place….

Juliana: Thank you very much to Alex, Joanne, and Steven for sharing a little of what goes into organizing genre events. Here’s to many more years of successful gatherings! And cake.

Steven Poore blogs at http://stevenpoore.wordpress.com, and you can also find him on Facebook: facebook.com/thestevenpoore. On Twitter, he tweets both as @stevenjpoore and as @SFSFSocial, the Sheffield Fantasy and Science Fiction Social’s account.

For more information on her work, as well as blog posts and reviews, check out Joanne Hall’s website at https://hierath.wordpress.com. You can find Joanne on Twitter @hierath77, and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Hierath77/?ref=br_rs.

Alex Davis shares interviews, writing advice, and information on his work at  http://alexblogsabout.com, as well as on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/alex.davis.161446. Alex tweets as @AlexDavis1981.

 

Find further information on the events mentioned at:

http://sfsfsocial.wordpress.com (First social of the year: February 20th, 2016)

http://www.derbyquad.co.uk/special-event/edge-lit-5 (July 16th, 2016)

http://fantasyconbythesea.com/ (September 23rd-25th, 2016)

www.bristolcon.org (October 29th, 2016)

 

 

Spotlight is a monthly blog feature. Check out December’s Spotlight on Mythology in Fantasy with Snorri Kristjansson and Kerry Buchanan. Next up in February: Spotlight on Making Time to Write.

 

NESCBWI 15 – Think Outside The Crayon Box

A week ago I was rushing around madly, checking I hadn’t forgotten anything, and preparing to drive up to Springfield, MA for the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ annual spring conference.

I’d heard great things about this conference; that it was a little smaller than the New York one I attended last year, and a little friendlier, simply because everyone stays on at the hotel and doesn’t scatter around the city. I’d signed up for my first ever agent critique sessions. I had an amazing line-up of workshops to go to. That I was excited was probably the understatement of the year.

And the best part? The best part was that I wasn’t a ‘newbie’ travelling there on my own anymore. I actually knew a few people, either from twitter or from the New York conference. Bestest of all? Almost my entire critique group was going. I had backup. This was huge. I’m not a naturally outgoing person; I can fake it pretty well (I think!), but it’s hard. So having conference buddies was a big relief.

Now the conference has come and gone I can definitely say this was a very pleasant experience. The atmosphere was relaxed, great conversations were had in between and after the panels and workshops, and I didn’t spontaneously combust out of fear at my critique sessions.

Some of my personal programming highlights:

  • Keynote speeches – excellent, all of them, but we’re talking about personal favorites and my own was Jo Knowles, who made everyone cry – happy tears, though;
  • Great editing workshops by Katie Carroll (Post its! Pretty colors! Fun!) and Lea Wait, who gave us a fabulous checklist which I can’t wait to use;
  • Pitchapalooza run by the Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry (dare to get up on the stage and pitch your story in only one minute? No, but I did clap enthusiastically…);
  • The Saturday night diversity panel, featuring among other great writers my critique partner Cindy Rodriguez – great discussion on the subject;
  • Mining Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales to Write Fantasy, with Katie Carroll – very inspiring;
  • Fun workshops on worldbuilding with the best titles of the whole lot: Habitat for Superhumanity with Mike Jung and Killer Robots, Time Portals and Wizards with Carter Hasegawa;
  • And a workshop on writing LGBTQ characters by Ellen Wittlinger, which turned out to be full of great advice for writing any type of character.

But as I’d been warned, the best moments were the in-between ones, the impromptu conversations and the hanging out at night. It was truly a fantastic experience, one I hope to repeat next year. I’ll finish up with a few choice snippets of wisdom from some of the weekend’s workshops, and a reminder: getting out of your shell and facing an event like this hurts less than you would imagine. And guess what? It might even be a ton of fun.

Katie Carroll: Go beyond the Cinderella story when searching for inspiration. Think and read outside your comfort zone, and find what resonates with you by mining your own mind and heart. (on mining myths and fairy tales to write fantasy)

Ellen Wittlinger: ‘Otherness is transferable’, Lee Wind. Once you get to know someone, your prejudices fall away. You can ‘know’ someone through a book, face your prejudices by getting to know a character. (on why you should write LGBTQ characters)

Mike Jung: Once you’ve established the rules for your world, follow them consistently. (on worldbuilding)

Carter Hasegawa: Question everything in your world, push all the limits and take it further. (on strong worldbuilding without holes)

Katie Carroll: With the exception of opening, escalation, climax, and closing, the purpose of a scene is to move the plot forward and/or to develop a character. If it’s not doing either, consider if it needs to be there. (on revision and editing)

Setting up the bookstore
Setting up the bookstore
Critique group R&R
Critique group R&R
View from my hotel room
View from my hotel room

Off To NESCBWI 15!

Tomorrow I’m off to Springfield, MA for the New England SCBWI conference. An entire weekend of workshops, panels, and critique sessions!

This will be my first time at the Springfield conference, but I’ve heard such great things I can’t help but be excited. I’ll report back next week, but in case you’ve never been to a writing conference or convention before, here’s a little piece I wrote a while back on Jo Zebedee’s blog.

In the meantime, since yesterday was Earth Day, please enjoy a photo of the Nepaug Reservoir, not far from home.

2015-04-22 10.55.30

Uncle Bob

Tomorrow I’m off for a week’s skiing in Colorado. Because apparently we don’t have enough snow here in Connecticut. But that’s okay, because it’s ski snow and not lying-in-heaps-all-around-my-house snow. And we all know that ski snow is fun stuff, not help-my-back-is-broken-from-shoveling stuff. So all is good.

In the meantime, please to enjoy this bloggy thing I wrote for the very lovely Jo Zebedee. Jo, author of the upcoming Abendau’s Heir, was kind enough to invite me to guest on her blog. By which I really mean she mentioned she didn’t have a blog post for the weekend yet and I said “Oh please, Miss, choose me, pick me, me, me!” And eventually she took pity on my conspicuously raised hand and Bob, as they say, is your uncle. Yours, not mine, although I do have an honorary ‘Uncle’ Bob. Does that count?

It totally counts.