What I Learned at ConGregate

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being a guest at ConGregate, one of the nicest small science fiction and fantasy conventions I’ve ever attended. I had a great time, as usual — testament to the great folks who put it all together!


I should be singing, not just sitting around in the cantina! (Photo by Donna Smith Parker.)

And, just like at LibertyCon earlier, I learned a few things at ConGregate:

  • It feels great to hear people report that they enjoy Stephanie Minervino’s performance narrating the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook — and even better when I can watch their eyes light up as I tell them that she’s my daughter, performing under her married name!
  • It feels pretty good to find out people are saying good things about your work even when you’re not around to hear them. (In this case, a friend was recommending the aforementioned lunar colony novel on the strength of its portrayal of a wheelchair-bound character.)
  • I may be on to something with respect to the novel I’m writing now. I read the first chapter of it, to generally complimentary reactions (though I don’t recall anyone at a reading ever being critical), but when I explained the general idea behind the story about half the room gasped and said, “Ooohhh.” I’ll take that as a good sign.
  • Recent research shows that centripetally induced gravity as low as 0.3g may be high enough to overcome some of the difficulties that people encounter in space (e.g., calcium loss, inner ear problems). Some earlier research took 0.8g as the minimum required, but when it comes to building any future rotating habitats 0.3g would be more attainable in the short term. (Hey, it shouldn’t be any surprise that I’m interested in learning about space stuff!)
  • I really need to learn to play Jonah Knight’s song, “King of Nebraska.” Someone asked if I could play it during my set in the “ConGregate Cantina,” and I had to disappoint them. So, that’s one thing added to the “to do” list.
  • Loaning my guitar out to friends is one thing. Getting it back from them the next day is sometimes harder than anticipated.
  • Finally, just as at LibertyCon: Even though I criticize my own music and writing quite a bit, and generally find them lacking compared to my friends, folks genuinely seem to appreciate what I do. That feels pretty good.

The convention was not without its hiccups, but the ConGregate staff handled everything with good humor and general excellence! I’m very pleased that they let me participate, and I hope they’ll let me come back again!

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We Will Congregate at ConGregate

Here we go, NC folks! The ConGregate science fiction and fantasy convention runs Friday through Sunday in High Point, with all the usual festivities! It’s a small but extremely well-run convention, full of fun and friendly people — plus me! 😂

Here’s what I have going on:

Friday:

  • 1:00 p.m. — “Science Fiction Writer’s Showcase”
  • 3:00 p.m. — Open Filk
  • 4:00 p.m. — Solo Concert!
  • 8:00 p.m. — Reading

Saturday:

  • 11:00 a.m. — Open Filk
  • 1:30 p.m. — Baen Books Traveling Slide Show & Prize Patrol
  • 4:00 p.m. — More Music (in the “Cantina”)
  • 6:00 p.m. — Open Filk
  • 9:00 p.m. — Panel, “How Much Science Should a Science Fiction Writer Know?”

Sunday:

  • 9:00 a.m. — Prayer & Praise Service
  • Noon — Open Filk
  • 1:00 p.m. — Round Robin Music Fest

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it to the Research Triangle Writers Coffeehouse on Sunday, but a friend volunteered to moderate that session so it will go on as scheduled!

Here’s looking forward to a lot of fun with my fannish friends!

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Ground Control to LibertyCon …

Ground Control to LibertyCon …
Take your bourbon shots
And put your Jayne hats on …

It’s that time of year again! The fannish family reunion known as LibertyCon starts today!

LibertyCon Illustration by Todd Lockwood
(Illustration by Todd Lockwood, from the year I was the LibertyCon MC.)

I’ll be busy right out of the gate, and tonight is packed:

Friday:

  • 1 p.m. — Author’s & Artist’s Alley — come by and chat!
  • 4 p.m. — Autograph Session — again, come by and chat!
  • 5 p.m. — Opening Ceremonies — at which I will sing, so beware
  • 6 p.m. — CONCERT (or, “LibertyConcert”) — at which I will sing more, almost certainly including “LibertyCon Oddity” (quoted above)
  • 8 p.m. (until 10:30) — Terraforming Mars — playing the game in front of an audience
  • 11 p.m. — Open Filk — at which I will sing even more, and hopefully other folks will, too!

Saturday:

  • Noon — Banquet — always a fun time!
  • 2 p.m. — Baen Books Traveling Road Show
  • 4 p.m. — Panel, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Writing Advice” — and remember what free advice is worth …
  • 11 p.m. — Nerd Music Free-for-all — like Open Filking, but nerdier? (is that even possible?)

Sunday:

  • 10 a.m. — Kaffeeklatsch — which for me involves something other than coffee
  • 1 p.m. — Reading — with my friend David B. Coe!

I played my first game of Terraforming Mars last night, and had a lot of fun, so the convention’s already started well for me! If the rest of the weekend goes as well, it’ll be a fine time. Let’s make it so!

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Thus Quoth the Raven: RavenCon!

This weekend I’ll be at the RavenCon science fiction and fantasy convention in Williamsburg, Virginia. RavenCon is a terrific convention, run by a great group of people, and I’ve enjoyed attending and serving as a guest at it for many years.

This year, in addition to a number of panels, I get to play two concerts! Here’s what I have going on, if you’re curious:

Friday:

  • 5 pm — Guests Meet and Greet
  • 7 pm — Opening Ceremony
  • 8 pm — Panel, “Music and Art Influences in SFF Stories & Novels” (Moderator)
  • 10 pm — Open Filk

Saturday:

  • 10 am — Concert: Gray Sings Silly Songs! (one of which might be “Tauntauns to Glory”)
  • 11 am — Reading
  • 1 pm — Panel, “Purple Prose” (Moderator)
  • 4:30 pm — Baen Books Traveling Slide Show & Prize Patrol
  • 10 pm — Open Filk

Sunday:

I hope to debut a new serious song (that I just finished last week!) in my Sunday morning concert, and I may also debut a work-in-progress silly song during one of the open filking sessions. Should be fun, all around!

Safe travels to everyone who’s headed anywhere, and especially to all my fannish friends coming to the con!

___
Related Items of Interest:
Enter to win one of several free downloads of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook by signing up for my newsletter at this link — and check out the audio sample on the Audible site or at Amazon
– Listen to both of my albums for free at Bandcamp — Distorted Vision, and Truths and Lies and Make-Believe — or, if you prefer, buy them there or at Gray’s Online Store

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I Thought I Was Signing Up for Elon Musk’s Mars Venture

Alas, it turns out I signed up for an entirely different thing! This weekend, I’ll be at the MarsCon science fiction and fantasy convention in Williamsburg, VA.

All kidding aside, I went to MarsCon once before, many years ago — in fact, at a science panel at that MarsCon I was inspired to write my first “official” filk song! It’s a fine convention, with a nice mix of tracks and entertainment, and I’m pleased that they’re letting me take part in it.

And they’re keeping me busy, as you can tell:

Friday:

  • 5 p.m. — Panel, “Future Laws”
  • 6 p.m. — Opening Ceremonies
  • 9 p.m. — Panel, “Adventures and Disasters in Space”

Saturday:

  • 1 p.m. — Baen Books Traveling Slide Show & Prize Patrol
  • 5 p.m. — Panel, “Was the Planet Killer a Keynesian Stimulus?”
  • 7 p.m. — Panel, “Tech in the Classrooms”
  • 8 p.m. — Panel, “The Delphic Oracle”
  • 10 p.m. — Open Filking

Sunday:

  • 9 a.m. — Worship Concert — songs at the intersection of faith and fandom
  • 11 a.m. — Panel, “Parody Song Writing Techniques”
  • 2 p.m. — Panel, “The Words, They Are a-Changing”


The MarsCon theme this year is “The Land of Faerie.”

I look forward to having a good time with a bunch of great people!

___

P.S. In case you’re wondering … I might just have with me a copy or two of Distorted Vision, Truths and Lies and Make-Believe, and even Walking on the Sea of Clouds….

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It’s Only Logical that I’ll Be at illogiCon

It’s time again for illogiCon, our local Research Triangle, North Carolina, science fiction and fantasy convention, happening this weekend at the RDU Embassy Suites (with some events in the nearby Hampton Inn).


(Professor Schrodington, the illogiCon mascot.)

Here’s what I’ve got going on:

Friday:

  • 7:00 p.m. — Opening Ceremonies — wherein I will play my “Convention Oddity” cover song
  • 8:00 p.m. — Panel, “That’s Just Wrong”
  • 10:00 p.m. — Panel, “I Spy with My Little Eyes”

Saturday:

  • 11:00 a.m. — Panel, “Ground Control to Major Tom” — oddly appropriate
  • 1:00 p.m. — Panel, “Networking for Introverts”
  • 2:00 p.m. — Filk Music Hour
  • 3:00 p.m. — Panel, “What Should We be Reading?”
  • 4:00 p.m. — Panel, “Star Trek: Worst. Episode. Ever.”
  • 8:00 p.m. and after — More Filking

Sunday:

  • 10:00 a.m. — Reading (Time Changed from 2 p.m.)

There’s no “Baen Books Traveling Road Show” this year, because I didn’t realize until too late that I was the only Baen representative and didn’t ask for a time slot.

On Sunday, I’ll be skating out after lunch to head to north Raleigh to host the monthly Writers Coffeehouse at Quail Ridge Books from 2-4 p.m. All writers are welcome!

Let’s have some fun!

___
Related Items:
– Speaking of filk, listen free to both of my albums: Distorted Vision and Truths and Lies and Make-Believe
– Speaking of reading aloud, watch my Public Speaking Tip: The Value of Inflection
– Speaking of nothing in particular, visit my Online Store

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Coming this Weekend: the ‘All Types of Media Arts Convention’

Otherwise known as ATOMACON!

If you’re looking for something to do in the Charleston, South Carolina, area this weekend, why not swing by the AtomaCon science fiction and fantasy convention in North Charleston? It runs Friday through Sunday at the Hilton Garden Inn near the airport. You’ll find a friendly atmosphere, activities and panels to please fans of many different fandoms and genres, and a Musical Guest of Honor who could use some encouragement and support. (By which I mean, me!)

In addition to just hanging out with interesting people, I’ll be performing a couple of solo concerts (plus another concert with friends), showing off the newest and upcoming releases from Baen Books, and I’ll also be the auctioneer at the charity auction! They’re raising money for the South Carolina Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Care Center, which is pretty cool.

Let me know if you can come by, or if you want to donate to help the sea turtles!

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Ten Days Until AtomaCon!

Starting just ten days from now, I’ll be the Musical Guest of Honor at the AtomaCon science fiction and fantasy convention in North Charleston, South Carolina.

AtomaCon is sometimes rendered as ATOMACON, an acronym for “All Types of Media Arts Convention.” It’s a family-friendly show, run by some terrific people, that encompasses many different fandoms and genres. It’s still a youngish convention, now in its fifth year of operation and still growing.

I’ll post more about it as we get closer to the event, but one thing I know is that I’ll be serving as the auctioneer at the charity auction to benefit the Sea Turtle Care Center at the South Carolina Aquarium. If you want to donate something to the auction, let me know!

And better yet, if you’re going to be in the area then make plans to come to the show!

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Another Atlanta Labor Day Weekend

Once again I’m in Atlanta, Georgia, where I will spend the weekend with thousands of my closest friends — at least 80 thousand, I believe — at Dragon Con, one of the largest science fiction and fantasy conventions in the world. This year I get to kick off the Filk Music Track’s concert series; I’m playing music twice for Art Show patrons; and I’m part of several other shows as well!

Here’s my schedule, at least as it exists right now:

Friday

  • 10:00 am: What is Filk? / Meet, Greet, Filk (Hyatt Hanover F/G)
  • 11:30 am: Gray Rinehart in Concert (Hyatt Hanover F/G) — mixing a few favorites from Distorted Vision and Truths and Lies and Make-Believe with some Dragon Con debuts!
  • 2:30 pm: Art Show music (Hyatt Grand Hall East)
  • 7:00 pm: Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow, with Alethea Kontis, Leanna Renee Hieber, Mari Mancusi, Diana Peterfreund, and Mikey Mason (Marriott A707)

Saturday

  • 10:00 am: Art Show music (Hyatt Grand Hall East)
  • 2:30 pm: Baen BooksTraveling Slide Show & Prize Patrol, with Toni Weisskopf, James Minz, Christopher Ruocchio, and many more (Hyatt Regency V)
  • 5:30 pm: Panel, “Tooting Your Own Horn: Marketing Yourself,” with John Hartness, Cecilia Dominic, Courtland D Lewis, Quincy J Allen, and Matthew Kressel (Hyatt Embassy A/B)
  • 7:00 pm: Peter S. Beagle & Authors Perform (Hyatt International North) … I’ll open this show, then head over to
  • 7:00 pm: World of Harry Potter Tribute Show, with Brobdingnagian Bards, Hawthorn & Holly, Nick Edelstein, Toucan Dubh, Foot Pound Force, Mikey Mason, and Misbehavin’ Maidens (Hyatt Hanover C/D/E)

On Sunday, my only official event is at 5:30 pm, when I’ll be giving a reading and special guest Nick Edelstein will play some music. If I can arrange it, I may have some other guests, too! That will be in the Hyatt’s Marietta Room.

As usual, when I’m not performing or working I’ll probably be attending concerts by my musical friends, or hanging out with my writerly friends or Baen Barflies. Or trying to catch a little bit of sleep!

If you’re in the area, I hope I get to say hello — but whatever you’ve got going on this weekend, I hope it goes well!

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Writing that Crosses the Spiritual Divide

(Cross-posted, with some light edits, from my 12 June 2018 guest post on the Speculative Faith blog.)

The conventional wisdom is that authors shouldn’t read reviews of our own work.

If the reviews are good, they can inflate already outsized egos, and if the reviews are bad, well — egos don’t always just deflate. A hot-air-balloon-sized ego, pierced by a bad review, might slowly settle into a mass of hard-to-wrangle canvas, but a smaller, more fragile ego might burst into shreds that are impossible to reassemble.

Nevertheless, some of us are drawn to reviews like moths to flame. If we’re lucky, the flame is a gentle candle and we just get singed if we get too close. If we’re unlucky, it’s a napalm-spewing flamethrower and we get terribly burned.

Sometimes we just get confused, as I was at two contrasting reviews of my novel, Walking on the Sea of Clouds. First, an Amazon reviewer gave the novel three stars and noted that it was a “good story” with strong character development but was “a bit bible-preachy [sic] for [their] tastes in hard science fiction.” Then the first issue of the Lorehaven online magazine included a brief, positive review that warned those seeking discernment that the story “only briefly referenced Christianity.”

Same story. Bible-preachy. Only briefly referenced Christianity.

I think this illustrates the fact that every reader brings their own experiences, attitudes, and expectations to the stories they read. Orson Scott Card told us in his writing workshop that whatever we’ve written is not the story, because the real story is in the reader’s head — and what’s in your head when you read a story is different from what’s in another person’s head when they read the same story. You might agree on some points, but you’ll disagree on others, and that’s okay.

In the case of my novel, someone who was not used to reading about believers and faith in the context of hard science fiction was put off by it. I have no way to know whether that person is a believer who was just surprised or a nonbeliever who was repulsed, and that really doesn’t matter. Their reading of the text is just as valid as anyone else’s — including the Lorehaven reviewer who might have been looking for more overt Christian themes. Was that person disappointed not to find them, or just surprised? I have no way of knowing, and again it hardly matters because however they read the story was the right way, for them.

Same story. Different readers. Different results.

It reminds me of what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, about the message of the cross seeming foolish to the lost, but representing the very power of God to those of us who believe (1 Corinthians 1:18). Same message. Different audience. Vastly different results.

Even within the body of believers, though, we can differ in our interpretations of Scripture. How much more should we expect to differ in reading science fiction and fantasy stories?


My friend Keith Phillips (Colonel, USAF, Retired), with whom I served in the 4th Space Operations Squadron, showing off his copy of Walking on the Sea of Clouds.

What does it take to cross the spiritual divide effectively in a literary or artistic work? Is it foolish even to try? I hope not, because in this age of growing doubt and disbelief I believe that Christian ideals, values, and themes still have a place in literature and art, whether science fiction, fantasy, or more mundane creations. And not just Christian principles, but Christian characters belong in fantastical stories — even in technology-heavy hard science fiction — just as surely as Christian people belong in every profession.

Unfortunately, sometimes the Christian characters in these stories end up being caricatures more than characters, reflecting the authors’ preconceptions rather than being portrayed as individuals, as people. I’ve found this to be true in stories by believers and nonbelievers alike, and it was something I tried to avoid.

That is, I tried to cross the spiritual divide by including Christian characters where they’re not always found — and by representing them as individual people with their own virtues and flaws, and even with different attitudes toward and expressions of faith. Some talk about it, some hide it, some deny it. Some ignore it, some sneer at it, some question it. That seemed realistic to me, and above all I tried to make the story seem realistic.

And maybe those two contrasting reviews — too much Bible to some people, not that much to others — show that I struck the right balance after all.

If you’ve read the story, I’d love to know what you think! And if you haven’t read the story, then now you know a little more of what you might find in it.

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