Saturday, January 31, 2015

Con Report: IllogiCon, Sunday

Religion and Mythology in Science Fiction and Fantasy
  • Debra Killeen
  • Ada Milenkovic Brown
  • Natania Barron
  • Misty Massey
  • Jacqueline Carey
  • Betty Cross
Don't proselytize!

Why do we see so many various religions in fantasy?
  • There’s a lot of appeal to a writer…you can create your own gods
  • A lot of wish fulfillment in fantasy - have your gods walk among your characters - more exciting
  • Game of thrones - lots of different religions  - 7 gods living in harmony w/nature - dualistic God/s
  • Richard Adams, Shardick - numinous book - a living faith 
  • Jacqueline wanted an actual live faith in her story
  • Natania sees a D&D aspect - gods as characters vs more of a concept
  • Go back to classical mythology - In the Iliad we look at stories as metaphor, but Homer wrote as literal truth – he believed that gods walk among us
  • H Hudson Blunt, the Eldrich age, short story - gods show up in Victorian England [if anyone has more detail about this, please share in comments! I was unable to find a reference based on these sketchy notes! :( ]
  • Scary when they do! If a God shows up in front of you – you might not really want that!
  • Christian Angels are described as scary looking! Not pretty with fluffy white wings
How do you feel about authors writing outside of their own experience? Cultural appropriation, or fair game?
  • Have to walk a fine line - it's easy to trip up when you think you know and are wrong
  • Belief systems are very emotional and deeply held
  • The presence of religion informs the whole culture/world
  • Want to be respectful of others’ culture, beliefs
  • Important for authors to stretch their own viewpoints, do research, get opinions
  • Research, research, research! You don't have to use it all, but it will inform your writing
  • Easier when you're doing historical - no one as readily available to call you out on mistakes
  • Jacqueline says we had a good Sat night Diversity panel - need for representation, more "outside our own" 
What are some seminal books featuring religion in spec fic?
  • Terry Pratchett, Small Gods - God comes back to the world thinking there are no believers, incarnated as a turtle...and finds a believer 
  • NK Jemison, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - new but recognizable - interaction between gods and people 
  • Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the crescent moon – wonderful story - Islam but alien world 
  • Madeleine l’Engle - lots of religion and science, but not preaching
  • Neil Gaiman American Gods - dark scary truths - arc of covenant so terrifying no one should ever see it 
  • Greg Keys, Kingdom of Thorn and Bone - Magic - holy spots like ley lines 
  • James Morrow, Towing Jehovah -discover the body of God floating in the Arctic - what to do? Tell people God is dead? Or keep it a secret? 
Are there any existing religions that have untapped potential to be mined for storytelling?
  • Anything but Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian
  • Indian, Celtic, Pacific American, Islam, Thailand, Vietnam (crossroads of Buddhism & Hinduism plus older religions ), Eastern Europe, aboriginal Australian, Egyptian pantheon, mystic edges of more mainstream religions (Sufi)
  • Crossover between different faiths, pantheons of different faiths, can see patterns
  • Aliette de Bodard, Aztec trilogy, starting with Servant of the Underworld 
  • Sandra McDonald, Outback Stars 
  • Real world religions in fantastic settings – great Babylon 5 episode where a visiting rabbi ponders whether an alien dish is kosher
  • Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow 
What role does geography play?
  • What if we had two moons?
  • Cold/hot weather, drought, desert
  • Norse mythology would have been a whole lot less depressing if it had been warmer!
  • Religion is often an attempt to explain the natural world
  • Polynesian peoples don't have a flood myth!
  • In the Norse end-of-the-world myth, the good guys die at the end - is there any other where the good guys die?
  • Well, discussion about that claim to Norse myth: Earth is (or will be) reborn, Thor’s sons survive, the cycle will begin again…
Any good treatments of Gods as aliens, or superbeings?
Is there a line you shouldn't cross?
  • There's always going to be someone! Depends on how it's done and your tolerance for pushback
  • Be respectful, but don't be so afraid of offending that you write milquetoast
  • Blasphemy - if you're doing it in the service of art, not just poking at sacred cows
  • Taboos and blasphemy - if your book becomes subject of controversy how would you handle it? These days there's a real concern to protect privacy online and even in the real world
Marc Blake has an upcoming STRAEON issue focusing on religion


World Building
  • Jacqueline Carey
  • Clay Griffith
  • Gail Z. Martin
  • Thomas Mays
  • Chris Kennedy
  • Stephen King often starts his stories in the middle of "boring" and mundane-middle of the country, small unknown town-then brings in the “different”
  • You have to use terminology that your readers recognize. Even off-world, your aliens are already speaking English (or whatever you're publishing in) (this doesn't mean you can't use alien terminology, you just have to incorporate it in a way that will be clear to your readers)
  • Nature of good and evil - Limits of what you're willing to do
  • Logistics, economics, religion 
How do you learn about logistics, economics, geology, space (orbits, moons, etc).
  • Jacqueline struggled with learning about Aztec culture including human sacrifice, struggled w/how not to demonize, found some Aztec poetry. Beautiful language, including some poetry that included their views on death – something clicked and gave her a POV
  • Clay has background as a historian - if you're dealing with war, for instance, you need to be *aware* of all the spectrum of war, battle, logistics, food, health, etc...even if you don't actually talk about it
  • First rule of war: pay your army!
  • We don't think about how things work until they don't - part of the author's thinking about "then what happens" should include "what goes wrong?"
  • Layers levels of difficulties on the characters... There should be problems!
  • How do people react to the situations they're in?
  • Sometimes serendipity in the bad – traveling during a train strike in Italy leads to a story (I once missed a flight from LA to Sydney and discovered the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera at the LA County Museum of Art)
  • Small details - giant war armadillos must be scrubbed down, or they'll get a fungus
When you're reading or watching, what throws you out of your suspension of disbelief?
  • Glaring plot inconsistencies, when writer attempts to nail a detail they clearly have no experience (horses) – or haven't made much effort to learn
  • Write what you know...know more! Learn, ask someone who knows about your topic to read and check your “facts”
  • Consistency of language - modernisms or anachronisms...often (annoyingly) too overly cute
  • Too contrived - if I can think of three ways around instead of the most dangerous path, then give some good reasons why they can't do the easier thing
  • Explain why the action is unavoidable, so it doesn't feel too contrived
  • If magic exists, it would trump everything! Why wouldn't someone be king of the world
  • Problem with Star Trek reboot -guy in school suddenly jumps 6 ranks and is put In charge of a starship, then keeps it after the crisis?!
How do you manage pacing?
  • Jacqueline likes to give just enough detail to let imagination take hold...don't want to get too travelogue-y, keep the story moving, too!
  • Gail calls this dribbling the details in as reader needs them
  • Tom tries to make details organic to your character's POV - s/he won't be thinking about all the big picture (avoid the “as you know, Bob” in dialogue or internal monologue)
  • Chris thinks of Ben Franklin’s saying, “All good things in moderation”!
Is fan fiction an indicator of successful world building?
  • Jacqueline says she doesn't read Kushiel fanfic… Could be? Maybe more wish fulfillment from fan writers?
  • Gail says, “As an author, ask yourself if I were reading, what would interest me? At the end of the bus tour, where would you like to see more? How about that little alley down there?”
How do you choose when to include the tidbits of detail? Strictly as plot demands?
  • Jacqueline says for her it's very much as characters need to know ... Also have to bring the world they’re in to life
  • Clay agrees it's largely based on characters’ need to know
  • Gail adds that some cool things add spice for the reader, the  "cinnamon" of the book
Recommendations of good world building?

And so, with a loving heart, I offer you
I’ve heard many translations. Here’s my favorite:
The light of the universe that shines within me recognizes
the light of the universe that shines within you.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Con Report: IllogiCon 4, Saturday, Part 3

Branding & Marketing
Chris Kennedy, Lynn McNamara , Gail Z Martin, Clay & Susan Griffith

How can we reach more people? How do we distinguish ourselves  in a busy marketplace? How do we reach the *right* people?

Branding - what does it mean?
  • Get your book above the noise level, get into the Amazon algorithm, get enough people to buy and comment to get Amazon promotion to be seen
  • Sell *yourself* as much as one book – you want your audience to know your name, preorder your next books!
  • Covers –consistent looks or themes help establish your identity – easy visual cue to reader
  • Engage fans: blog, cons - get fans to remember you
  • Publishers don't do enough any more - only about 5-15% Big fame is one in a million - grow your little fish
  • Common elements through your work – how your fans recognize you
What's your hook? Your Human story?
  • Married couple writing together? Overweight? Pets?
  • Engage your fans with your story on a personal level (which isn't the same as an all access pass to your life)
  • Keep the relationship warm, maintain a dialogue, presence, so they keep coming back
  • Readers build expectations (they’ll give a lot of latitude to the superstars like JK Rowling or Stephen King)...
  • Bean traveling roadshow - branding extraordinaire – a rare example of a *publisher* with a loyal fan base
Can an author cross genres?
  • Know you'll leave some fans behind, but some will come with you
  • Hopefully you'll build more fan base in the new genre who will flow back to check out what you've done previously!
Top tips from the panel
  • Style guides - build consistency in all you put out, whether email, web, social media, print, etc.
  • Blog tours are a great way to spread your message
  • Bookstore staff – ask them, “How can I help you?”
  • Always be nice - you never know who will have an impact – build relationships wherever you are
  • Retirement homes! Gaming stores (buy something!)
  • Watch what you say on social media! Don't sink your ship!
  • Never respond to bad reviews! Yes it stinks- and of course they're dead wrong and idiots to boot! Just accept negative comment and move on!
  • Boost a post on FB every month – get new people on board, gets a little wave for a few days after
  • Goodreads is a good community
  • Build a blog
  • Don't stretch yourself too thin - if you're only on to sell, no one will pay attention - participate?
  • Reddit fantasy - don't connect to your own links (it's not considered okay)
  • Pick a few platforms and stick with them – build your presence
  • John Hartness “Literate Liquors” on YouTube
  • Alethea Kontiss “Fairy Tale Rants” on YouTube
  • Writers have to write - 30% of time can go to marketing/social media, but you can't let it suck you in to the detriment of your writing!
  • Have a website, even if it's simple, Have a signup for notifications
  • Newsletters, blogs, email - don't send fluff, don't send too much
  • Mail chimp is easy to use!

Live Action Slush

Misty Massey, James Maxey, Ed Schubert, Gray Rinehart

Okay, I have to set the stage here a little bit. The folks debuted the Live Action Slush at ConCarolinas last summer, with no idea of what kind of reception it would get.  It was standing-room-only for two one-hour session, and the ConGregate folks spontaneously invited them to bring it to their con the following month. I was in all of these sessions, and this is one of my new con favorites.  Seriously, if you are a writer, check it out when you have the opportunity!

So here's the deal. Editors are not sitting at their desk waiting for bated breath for your diamond-in-the-rough manuscript to appear. They are wading through slush piles, sometimes dozens of manuscripts in a day, looking for any excuse to cull the pile. Don't give them an easy excuse to cull yours!

So here’s the setup: three panelists act as editors, and the fourth reads anonymous first pages of manuscripts handed in by audience members at the beginning of the panel. One page is about 300 words. Can you hook the editors to turn the page and keep reading? Or will something turn them off before the reader gets to the end? If an editor hears a “turnoff”, s/he raises a hand. If all three raise hands, the reader stops, and they describe what turned them off.

I know, it sounds negative, and at its heart, it is.  But the editors do a magnificent job of providing positive feedback, which a slush editor will rarely do.

And so, with background explanations complete, we begin!
As it turns out, I didn't capture many notes, because they were usually very specific to each story. Here are a few general comments:
  • Standard manuscript form - check your target market’s submission guidelines! If there aren't any, use William Shunn’s guidelines. Some debate among publishers if they prefer Courier and underline or Times Roman and bold/italics. But in general, 1-inch margins, double spaced, 11 or 12 point font size, page numbers…
  • Volume of submissions is overwhelming - editors aren't looking for your great manuscript - they're looking for a reason to reject you and move on
  • Hemingway famously said, "All first drafts are shit" – but you've got to start in order to finish!
  • One of the panelists said (and I think had herd and liked), “My first draft is just me shoveling sand into the box. I'll go back later and sculpt it…”
  • A sure sign of info dump: "As you know, Bob" is a common reference to when the author uses two characters talking to splain to the audience - don't have characters say what they already know. You'll have to find a better way to reveal it to the reader.

Diversity in SF and Fantasy

Michael Williams 

Natania Barron fantasy author, steampunk, outer alliance support network,
Jacqueline Carey GOH, Fantasy epic series Kushiel’s Legacy features a bisexual, divinely ordained courtesan-spy-heroine
Allegriana, costumer and model, voice of readers

Diversity can mean many different things: sexual orientation, gender, race, ethnicity

What character 1st moved you as a reader?
  • Allegriana's mother is Chinese Jamaican - she sought out books & stories w/women of color - Allegriana grew up thinking this was the norm!
  • Jacqueline Carey - Wizard of Earthsea - grew up thinking of them as Polynesian – the movie whitewashed them! It was disappointing, but did help to bring this controversy to light
  • Michael Williams - horror? African … ? (Darn – I missed his answer)
  • Natania Barron – Stephen King’s The Stand – among the survivors on the “good” side is a lesbian couple the fact that they were lesbians was no big deal in the story, it just *was* - it was first time Natania felt like there was permission for this to simply exist
Why do you portray different characters in diverse ways?
  • Michael Williams - when people reach for a book, they want it to reach back. They want people like them, but different from them too, otherwise they'd just look in the mirror
  • Michael creates a conscious cast of characters – he wants to challenge himself and his readers
  • Done a lot of research on ethnic groups represented in NC, because all his stories are based here
  • There is a large Vietnamese group that immigrated and settled here after the Vietnam War
  • Jacqueline Carey - so many fascinating facets of life and humanity – she wants to weave that into her stories
  • Historical fantasy – so many paths open - one of the hardest to write in an authentic voice (without negative judgement) was Aztec human sacrifice
  • She’s always been frustrated by the phrase “Write what you know” and thought the response is "know more"
  • Allegriana – Phèdre is one of the first characters she's cosplayed who is fair skinned – she was intimidated by fan comments on a recent tanned actress’s proposal to play Phèdre online
  • Cosplay can be a challenge to go outside the accepted norms of what that character looks like
What's one good and one bad example of diversity in literature or media?
  • Lt Dax in DS9 - she's been male, female, had lovers on both sides, wrestled Klingons for fun
  • Michael couldn't remember the name of a *Bad* novel about a gay spy, supposedly BDSM – the spy basically assaulted straight enemy agents until he "switched" them!
  • Jacqueline Carey recently discovered NK Jennison
  • Bad would be any example of tokenism
  • Allegriana - Airbender and Legend of Korra - 2 female characters confirmed as a couple on a *Nickelodeon* show!
  • Bad novel Save the Pearls - black and white, blacks were doms
  • Some romances where the male homosexual is the villain, unseduceable and unsaveable by the woman because they are immune to her sexual charms
Let’s talk about the ugly… Rape issues, GamerGate, Paris shootings - has it gotten easier or harder to be diverse/non-mainstream in the world?
  • Michael William says, “Me, I'd like to think the world I live in today is a little better than yesterday, every day”
  • Part of growth is growing awareness of the things that are wrong in the world - we have to keep talking about the bad, shine a light on it, keep raising awareness
  • Jacqueline Carey definitely turmoil, but on balance easier because there are audiences clamoring for voice, for characters, for stories
  • There aren't as many gatekeepers as there used to be
  • Korra on Nickelodeon - Faking iI on MTV is  humorous and sensitive
  • From a creative standpoint it's easier - but a la Paris shootings, there's inherent risk
  • Allegriana –If you look at tumblr, we need diverse books – she recommends books and authors on there
  • Social media has been a huge boon for the community, supporting authors, giving voice to the industry
  • On the Flip side of social media, you see the truly ugly side, the worst of humanity, with things like gamergate and the Paris attack - people are afraid of change -there's still the potential for a bonfire
  • Natania Barron - What happened in Paris is especially horrible because it's supposed to be such a beautiful and inclusive place
  • Good story - Miss marble 17yo Indian girl (?)
  • Michael Williams wants to promote diversity and make it "more ok", but sees a difference in pandering - you know it when you see it
  • Does the way the work is presented make you feel commoditized?
How do you market your work and still maintain diversity in your work?
  • Jacqueline Carey says she never took that into consideration - just tried to write a really great story
  • You're writing fantasy! You make the world and the rules!
  • Increased diverse representation is good, even if it's not perfect
  • We empathize w/well-written characters because we can identify with them - even when they're not like us!
  • We are still amazingly insular – a recent Facebook study showed 90% of Caucasian users had no more than 1 other ethnicity (or 1 person of another ethnicity?) in their friends lists
  • The thing that defines someone as a minority is usually a huge part of their very existence!

And so, with a loving heart, I offer you
I’ve heard many translations. Here’s my favorite:
The light of the universe that shines within me recognizes
the light of the universe that shines within you.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Celebrating! Our Weird Wild West Kickstarter is Funded … but we’re not done yet!

I am so excited I can hardly sit still. Tonight our Kickstarter fundraising crossed over $5,500 – and that means our Weird Wild West anthology is now a reality. I’m so grateful to my co-editors, Misty Massey and Emily Leverett; our publisher, Danielle Ackley-McPhail; and our terrific, enthusiastic authors: R.S. Belcher, Tonia Brown, Diana Pharaoh Francis, John Hartness, Jonathan Maberry, Gail Z. Martin, and James R. Tuck.

So, we’re funded…what’s left to do? Oh, there’s so much more still to fund! Stretch goals include extra stories in the book, extra art, and more open submission spaces.

It’s funny, my sense about this “conversation” has shifted from “Will you, can you, maybe, please help us out…and get all this great stuff?” to “Hey! Come on and get in on this great deal while there’s still time!”

Backers can get Tuckerizations (be written into a story), thousands of pages of extra stories—many even before the end of the Kickstarter, original artwork, and more.

Gail Martin is headed to Arisia this weekend, and I’m a guest at Marscon. We’re challenging each other to a Twitter Smackdown – and hope to see a lot of new support at these convention “homes”!

Meanwhile, now that this is *really happening*, it’s time to get those stories ready to submit for inclusion in the anthology! Get your #WeirdWildWest on, and get to writin’!

Submission Guidelines

All submissions should be in Times New Roman, 12 point, in .doc or .docx format. Stories should be between 3,000 and 9,000 words. No multiple submissions (this means you can’t submit more than one story to us). No simultaneous submissions (this means you can’t submit the same story story to us and to anyone else at the same time).

We seek stories of the Wild West in all its glory but with that delicious left turn into weirdness. The stories must be related to, inspired by, or set in a Western setting, whether on Earth, in a fantasy world, or on another planet. Let your imagination run free figuring out what dangers the frontier folk might face from magic or science (or both!). 

Authors receive a 1% royalty share of the profits from both the Kickstarter and on-going sales, plus 2 comp copies and a 50% discount on purchased copies. Stories can be submitted until midnight (East Coast time), March 31, 2015.

Email submissions to


And so, with a loving heart, I offer you
I’ve heard many translations. Here’s my favorite:
The light of the universe that shines within me recognizes
the light of the universe that shines within you.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Con Report: IllogiCon 4, Saturday, Part 2

I'm not trying to drag these con reports out, but dayum! This panel on cyberpunk and steampunk was chock-full of recommendations, and I tried to provide links for just about every one I could. Hope you enjoy!

Steampunk to Cyberpunk: A History
GOH Chris Garcia & Garth Graham

Can you give us some basic definitions?
  • Cyberpunk is dark, "You're screwed dude"
  • Steampunk is optimistic, "You're awesome! And, adventures w/science!"
What are some of the genre-defining works?
Steampunk was very underground till about 2008, when three series of events conspired:
  1. Jay Lake, Cherie Priest, Gail Carriger all published steampunk stories
  2. Steampunk fandom reached critical mass and energy to produce cons in LA, San Francisco, and Seattle
  3. Wired Magazine – mainstream visibility reporting on the San Fran con, and a weekly dance thing called "the Victorian future" at LA’s Edison dance club
In 2009
  • Phil Foglio won the first “Graphic Story” Hugo for his comic Girl Genius
    • They created a new category to give him this award!
  • 1st Steamcon in Seattle
    • Huge local and national coverage - Slate picked it up! - Online media coverage
2009-10 – popular enough for exploitation
  • Katie MacAlister: Steamed
    • Terrible novel, but hugely sold in grocery stores as steampunk romance novel - bestselling steampunk novel ever
  • And then the purists came out in force - part of the subculture – “This isn’t steampunk!”
How did so many goths come to steampunk?
  • Goth & steampunk - there was historical merger/tension
  • The Manray club in Boston - goth movement powerhouse - book launch for William Gibson’s Neuromancer held there - cyberpunk became part of goth culture
    • The club closed, and a new opened - western dive - goth, cyber kids still hung out there, culture mashup
  • Romantic-Goth movement was begging for steampunk
    • Started in London, crossed to Manray
What about Steampunk tech?
  • They had two Babbage engines at a museum where Chris used to work
    • Chris wanted to network the original and new engines with a long cam shaft and see what they could do together!
  • After The Difference Engine, you get Neil Stevenson’s Diamond Age
  • Were you trying to say that the complexity of a network depends on the complexity of the culture where it lives? Only the complexity of Victorian England could support it!
Fave cyberpunk author?
  • Garth likes Phillip K Dick
    • BladeRunner was better than Do AndroidsDream Of Electric Sheep - rare time movie is better than the book
    • Chris told a great story about a 3-pg letter that Dick wrote ranting about….*sigh* My note-taking has failed me. Perhaps I’ll get that story from Chris again someday!
  • Rudy Rucker: Wetware, Software
    • Best of Dick & less-philosophical Gibson
Fave steampunk author?
Weird Wild West is an offshoot of Steampunk….origins?
Some other media “bests”?
Cyberpunk often depicts a dark future, or questions what is it to be human ("the net", AI)
American storytelling tends to be the antiestablishment former
Japanese tends to be latter

There’s still more to come! Next up, continuing Saturday panel notes, and the Weird Wild West party!


And so, with a loving heart, I offer you
I’ve heard many translations. Here’s my favorite:
The light of the universe that shines within me recognizes
the light of the universe that shines within you.