Dragon Con Approacheth!

Over Labor Day weekend I’ll be in Atlanta, Georgia, with 70 or 80 thousand of my closest friends at the Dragon Con science fiction and fantasy convention. The Author Guest of Honor is Jim Butcher, the Artist GOH is Stephan Martiniere, and many of my friends are also guests, attending professionals and performers at the convention.

I’m giving a solo concert (4:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon — add it to your schedule now) and participating in a number of other events. If you’re there, I hope I get to see you!

Here’s a rundown of all my events:

Friday

  • 4:00 p.m. — Art Show “Concert-that’s-not-a-concert” — playing and singing for the art patrons
  • 7:00 p.m. — Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow — I’ll be narrating a live-action “fairytale rant” version of “The Little Mermaid,” and performing one of my filk songs — hosted by Alethea Kontis, with Leanna Renee Hieber, Mari Mancusi, E.C. Meyers, and special musical guest S.J. Tucker — always a fun time!

Saturday

  • 2:30 p.m. — Baen Books Traveling Road Show and Prize Patrol — with a whole cadre of Baen authors!
  • 4:00 p.m. — Panel, “Short or Long? How Do You Know?” — on short stories versus novels, with Sharon Ahern, Jaym Gates, Mike Resnick, Anne Sowards, Fran Wilde, and Timothy Zahn

Sunday

  • 10:00 a.m. — “Ecumenifilk” — I’m hosting a session of music focused on spiritual themes
  • 11:30 a.m. — Baen Books information and author signing booth, in association with The Missing Volume bookstore — I’ll be stationed there (Booth 1301 in Americas Mart Building 2) until 2:00 p.m.
  • 2:30 p.m. — Decisions, decisions … attend the first-ever Dragon Awards, or the Doubleclicks’ concert? Anyone have a Time Turner I can borrow?
  • 4:00 p.m. — Dragon Con Filk Music Track Solo Concert — come hear songs from my albums Distorted Vision and Truths and Lies and Make-Believe, as well as several new songs

Monday

  • 1:00 p.m. — Another turn at the Baen Books information and author signing booth, this time until 4:00 p.m.

At off hours, you might find me attending concerts by my musical friends, chatting with Baen Barflies in Barfly Central, hanging out in the bar with my writerly friends — or quite probably wandering around looking dazed. Be sure to stop and say hello if you get the chance!

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Monday Morning Insight: Failure and Greatness

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

 

Today is Herman Melville’s birthday (1 August 1819 – 28 September 1891), so let’s unpack a Melville quote:

It is better to fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation. He who has never failed somewhere, that man cannot be great. Failure is the true test of greatness.

Most of us fail at something or other before we find something we do well, and most of us will not achieve “greatness” no matter how often we fail and try again.

And “better” in this case is definitely a value judgment.

Since Melville was a writer let’s examine this quote as it relates to the literary world, where it is plainly possible to “succeed in imitation.” We have plenty of writers who have found great success presenting essentially the same stories as someone else, and no shortage of others who continue to do so in search of their own success. The authors bring something of their own viewpoints and voices to the stories, but the common term is “filing off the serial numbers” to make it a bit less obvious that our fantasy story is essentially a repackaging of Tolkien or Rowling, or our science fiction story is a direct descendent of Heinlein or Bujold or Niven or some other famous author.

It’s not too surprising that this is the case. Authors continue to produce Tolkien-esque fantasy stories because the audience has yet to tire of them. From military science fiction to urban fantasy, space adventure to steampunk, the audience yearns for more — so much that authors who have not been able to break in with publishing companies have found their own fans through self-publishing. And if their fans feel they receive good value for their entertainment dollars, then that’s all that matters; after all, if being original means starving, then succeeding by being imitative isn’t all that bad. (We might even disagree with Melville and say that really is better.)

Yet success is not guaranteed, even when imitating examples of success.

Authors and publishers often do not know what story will resonate with a large audience, but that is especially true when it comes to more original stories — ones that are difficult to categorize into existing genre niches. Some works are so original that they define entire new subgenres, but they still have to be good enough (for whatever the audience considers “good”) beyond just being original in order to attract an audience.

But Melville refers to greatness, and I like to work backward from there. The authors we consider “great,” even if they were not pathfinders of their genres, produced work that hums with originality in some respect: depth of detail that puts us firmly in the setting and the story; emotional power that elicits deep sympathy for the characters; pacing and action that set our hearts to racing; all these and more elevate their work from entertaining to spectacular. Did the authors we consider “great” risk failure, or even endure failure, on the way to creating their monumental stories? I think they did, particularly when those stories were fresh and original compared to other things being produced at the time.

Failure

Are you striving for anything great? (Image: “Failure” by Andrea Small, from Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

It may be, however, that they were not trying for greatness. Indeed, it may not be wise to strive for greatness when striving for success is hard enough. Greatness will be determined by history, by whether our stories continue to resonate down through time — but that doesn’t help us very much in the here and now.

Here and now, every writer risks failure with every story they start. It seems safe to say that writing a story that lasts, that impacts generations, involves taking more risk than writing a story very much like another. And even when taking only moderate risks some writers will fail more often, or more spectacularly, than others — but that’s true of every human endeavor.

What about you? How have you failed, and what have you learned from your failures? Don’t let it hinder you too much; remember, Melville considered failure the true test of greatness.

Keep striving!

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Music and More at ConGregate

This weekend is the ConGregate science fiction and fantasy convention in High Point, North Carolina. The Author Guest of Honor is Steven Barnes, the Artist GOH is Lindsey Look, the Special Writer Guest is my friend A.J. Hartley, and the Special Musical Guests are the incomparable Valentine Wolfe.

Even though I’m not the Master of Ceremonies at this convention, and don’t have any readings or panel discussions on my schedule, I’m going to be fairly busy — and doing a lot of music!

Friday

  • 5:30 p.m. — Concert
  • 10:30 p.m. — “Campfire Songs” — a fannish singalong!

Saturday

  • 2:00 p.m. — “Songs and S’mores” — kid-friendly songs and yes, I understand actual s’mores will be served
  • 4:00 p.m. — Baen Books Traveling Road Show and Prize Patrol — see what new releases Baen has coming out, and possibly score a free book!
  • 8:00 p.m. — “Confronting the Publishing Gatekeeper” Workshop — known at other conventions as “Face-to-Face with the Slushmaster General”
  • 9:30 p.m. — “Camp ConGregate: the Final Jam” — a musical roundtable “from filk to gothic and everything in between”

Sunday

  • 9:00 a.m. — Nondenominational Prayer (and Praise) Service
  • 11:00 a.m. — Filking Workshop

I was pleased to be part of the first ConGregate two years ago, and it’s gotten better every year. I expect the trend to continue, and I’ll do my best to help ConGregate be its best!

Hope to see you there!

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Mastering the Ceremonies at LibertyCon

I’m on the road again today, this time to the 29th annual LibertyCon science fiction and fantasy convention! The Author Guest of Honor is Jonathan Maberry, the Artist GOH is Todd Lockwood, the Science GOH is Dr. Ben Davis, and the Special GOH is artist Melissa Gay.

If it’s not obvious from the title, I’m the Master of Ceremonies for this convention. Here’s what I’ll be doing:

Friday

  • 1:00 p.m. — Face to Face Critiques from the Slushmaster General
  • 4:00 p.m. — Reading
  • 5:00 p.m. — Opening Ceremonies
  • 9:00 p.m. — Concert

Saturday

  • 10:00 a.m. — Autograph Session (with GOH Jonathan Maberry and Chuck Gannon)
  • 12:00 noon — Horror-themed Luncheon Banquet and Guest of Honor Speeches
  • 2:00 p.m. — Baen Books Traveling Road Show and Prize Patrol
  • 10:00 p.m. — Filk Sing!

Sunday

  • 10:00 a.m. — Kaffeeklatsch
  • 2:00 p.m. — Panel, “Changes in the World of Publishing”

My two big ceremonies to master are, of course, the Opening Ceremonies today and the Luncheon tomorrow. I will make the rounds of some other panels and events, though, and expect to make an appearance at the Closing Ceremonies on Sunday as well!

Let’s have some fun!

___
Shameless plug: I brought many copies of Distorted Vision and Truths and Lies and Make-Believe that I’d love to get rid of, plus a few other goodies as well. Flag me down if you want something!

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This Weekend’s Convention: Publishers and Aliens

I’m on the road again today, this time to the ConCarolinas science fiction and fantasy convention. The Author Guest of Honor is Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, the Media GOH is Nana Visitor of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the Artist GOH is Ursula Vernon, and many of my writing and music friends will also be there!


(Love this badge logo from the 2010 ConCarolinas, by Bob Snare.)

My schedule is busy, and heavily weighted toward the literary end of things. The only individual event I have is my “real-time story submission” workshop on Saturday afternoon; I don’t have any readings or signings or concerts or the like. Here’s how the weekend stacks up for me:

Friday

  • 7:00 p.m. — Panel, “Designing the Reasonable Alien” — It’s been said that, because sentient aliens can never be fully “knowable,” they can only be written as metaphors of human characters or conditions. But hard science fiction accepts concepts that are “true to, or reasonably postulated from, science as it is known at the time of writing.” So why not a “reasonable” alien? And how might one go about designing one? — with Paula S. Jordan, Jeanne Adams, Wendy S. Delmater, Stuart Jaffe, and Allen L. Wold — Carolina A/B
  • 9:30 p.m. — Filking the Night Away! — with whoever shows up — Harrisburg A

Saturday

  • 10:00 a.m. — Baen Books Traveling Road Show — See what new releases Baen has coming out, and possibly walk away with a free book. — with Tony Daniel, David B. Coe, and Kelly Lockhart — Concord J
  • 1:00 p.m. — Panel, “What Publishers Do” — What do publishers do? Take a quick tour through the hurricane of activity surrounding each book that gets published – editing, cover art, marketing text, categorization, hype, formatting, and more – and learn what you can do to help sell your book. — with Tony Daniel, Ronald T. Garner, John G. Hartness, Rebecca Ledford, and Edmund Schubert — Carolina A/B
  • 2:00 p.m. — Panel, “What Publishers Look For” — What do publishers look for? Specific types of characters, settings, plot lines? Does length matter? Get a better understanding of what publishers look for, and how to increase your chances of getting published. — with Edmund Schubert, Ronald T. Garner, John G. Hartness, Nicole Givens Kurtz, and Rebecca Ledford — Carolina A/B
  • 4:00 p.m. — Workshop, “Face-to-Face with the Slushmaster General” — Have you been collecting rejection slips on a science fiction or fantasy novel, but haven’t been able to figure out why? Do you have thick enough skin to take direct, honest, face-to-face critique? Bring your cover letter, the first 5 pages of your story, and your 1- or 2-page synopsis and get real-time feedback. First-come, first-served, and volunteers only! If time permits, we may discuss short fiction; however, novels will have first priority. Learn what happens to manuscripts when you send them to a publisher, and how to make yours stand out … in the right way. — Piedmont

Sunday

  • 9:00 a.m. — Nondenominational Praise & Prayer Service — Gazebo
  • 10:00 a.m. — Panel Moderator, “Sharp SF” — Once they called it hard SF – space ships and robots everywhere. Then came soft SF, explorations of alien social systems and cybernetic awareness. Nowadays we have sharp SF, a mixture of both. Let’s talk about the ways hard and soft SF have blended in the new millennium. — with Jim Bernheimer, Alexandra Duncan, Paula S. Jordan, and James Maxey — Carolina C
  • 11:00 a.m. — Panel, “Intersection of Faith and Science” — A less adversarial discussion of how much faith and science have in common. — with D.L. Leonine and James McDonald — Concord C
  • 1:00 p.m. — Panel, “Getting to Know Your Aliens and Other Non-Humans” — A writer’s approach to non-human personality. OK, you’ve designed your own fantasy or alien world, or you’ve selected a real one from NASA’s now-vast catalog, What aspects of that world, or any (likely varied) cultures that develop there, might be useful in providing insights for the design of the typical residents’ personalities? An atypical resident’s personality? — with Paula S. Jordan, Jake Bible, Wendy S. Delmater, Margaret S. McGraw, and Leigh Perry — Carolina A/B

I’m a little surprised that the only open filking appears to be the Friday night session, but maybe some of us will get together at some other time and take over a room — or the hallway! — and play a few tunes. Stop by and sing along!

Hope to see you there!

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This Weekend: RavenCon

I’m heading to Williamsburg, y’all!

I’m going to RavenCon, which is usually held in Richmond but has moved to Williamsburg for 2016. The Literary Guests of Honor are Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, and the Artist Guest of Honor is Vincent Di Fate, who illustrated my Analog Science Fiction and Fact story “SEAGULLs, Jack-o-Lanterns, and Interstitial Spaces” (which, by the way, was recently translated into Chinese).

 

My schedule is a little odd this year — more workshops than panels, including my solo workshop in which intrepid volunteers let me look at the first few pages of their story submissions as if they had landed on my desk. So if you’re coming to the convention please stop in and say howdy! Here’s my schedule:

Friday:

  • 10:00 p.m. — Reading — Room J
  • 11:00 p.m. — Eye of Argon — The worst science fiction story ever written gets a reading by our brave panel as they compete to go the longest without tripping over a misspelled word or laughing uncontrollably. Audience members are also encouraged to take a chance. Can you keep a straight face, especially when the panel begins acting out the story? — with Gail Z. Martin, Peter Prellwitz, and Michael A. Ventrella — Room E

Saturday:

  • 1:00 p.m. — Writer’s Workshop, Part 1 — with Allen Wold, Darcy Wold, and Chris Kennedy –Room H
  • 4:30 p.m. — Baen Books Traveling Road Show (and Podcast) — See what new releases Baen has coming out, and possibly win a free book. — with Jim Minz, Sharon Lee, Steve Miller, Joelle Presby, and Steve White — Room 8
  • 8:00 p.m. — Workshop, “Don’t Cry When You Get Rejected” — Have you been collecting rejection slips on a science fiction or fantasy novel, but haven’t been able to figure out why? Do you have thick enough skin to take direct, honest, face-to-face critique? Bring your cover letter, the first 5 pages of your story, and your 1- or 2-page synopsis and get real-time feedback from the “Slushmaster General.” First-come, first-served, and volunteers only! If time permits, we may discuss short fiction; however, novels will have first priority. Learn what happens to manuscripts when you send them to a publisher, and how to make yours stand out … in the right way. — Room H

Sunday:

  • 11:00 a.m. — Signing

No concert slot for me at RavenCon, but there will be various open filking sessions — Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 11 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. (though I may be on my way home at that point).

Hope to see you there — or, if not, hope you have a great weekend!

___
Shameless plug: I will, as usual, have copies of Distorted Vision and Truths and Lies and Make-Believe, plus other goodies. Flag me down if you want something!

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It’s Brainstorming Time Again

The “brainstorming” phase has begun for the annual Pegasus Awards for Excellence in Filking — i.e., writing and performing music often related to science fiction and fantasy. Anyone who has an interest in filk is considered part of the “filk community” and can contribute to brainstorming possible nominees, as well as nominate and vote for winners.

Pegasus Award Logo

(Pegasus Award Logo.)

 

Pegasus Awards are given out in four permanent categories, as well as two categories which rotate from year-to-year:

  • Best Filk Song — any filk song that has not previously won a Pegasus
  • Best Classic Filk Song — any well-known filk song at least 10 years old that has “entered filk community public consciousness”
  • Best Performer — any filk performer who has not won in the past 5 years
  • Best Writer/Composer — any writer/composer of filk songs who has not won in the past 5 years
  • 2016 Rotating Category: Best Adapted Song — which can include adapting or parodying a mundane song or a filk song, but can also mean adapting a poem or book
  • 2016 Rotating Category: Best Exploration Song — which includes songs about “finding out what’s Out There

If you’re not sure whether you’re really eligible to submit brainstorming ideas, the award by-laws define “exhibiting interest” using examples such as filking at SF&F conventions, attending filk conventions or “house sings,” taking part in related on-line forums, and just “discussing filk and filk related issues with other filkers.” So, if you made it this far in this post, you can probably claim to have exhibited interest and therefore would be qualified to participate in the Pegasus Award process.

If you have some favorites you’d like to suggest (and you can suggest as many as you can think of), fill out the Brainstorming Poll Form. There is space on the form for five suggestions in each category, but you’re allowed to fill out as many brainstorming forms as you like!

The nomination phase will start in the spring, and voting takes place in the late summer. The Pegasus Awards are awarded at (and administered by) the Ohio Valley Filk Fest in October.

So, start brainstorming! (And let me know if you need some suggestions….)

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My MystiCon Schedule

Later today, if all goes as scheduled, I’ll be heading up to Roanoke for MystiCon, a great small convention that features one of science fiction and fantasy’s biggest names in this year’s Literary Guest of Honor, George R.R. Martin.

It’s been several years since I first met Mr. Martin at a small convention here in North Carolina, but unfortunately, unless I run into him at the bar — in which case he’ll be surrounded by a horde of Game of Thrones fans — I probably won’t get within shouting distance of him. Well, maybe shouting distance: my voice carries.

Anyway, I’ll be busy throughout the weekend. If you’re coming (and if you haven’t already registered, I’m sorry to tell you that the convention is sold out so you’ll have to plan on next year’s), here’s a run-down on where you can find me. I feel safe in guaranteeing that you won’t have any trouble finding a seat at my events!

Friday:

  • 3:00 p.m. — Workshop, “Face-to-Face Slushpile” — Have you been collecting rejection slips on a science fiction or fantasy novel, but haven’t been able to figure out why? Do you have thick enough skin to take direct, honest, face-to-face critique? Bring your cover letter, the first 5 pages of your story, and your 1- or 2-page synopsis and get real-time feedback from the “Slushmaster General.” First-come, first-served, and volunteers only! If time permits, we may discuss short fiction; however, novels will have first priority. Learn what happens to manuscripts when you send them to a publisher, and how to make yours stand out … in the right way. — Ballroom C
  • 8:00 p.m. — Panel, “I’m From Iowa, I Only Work in Outer Space” — What is it like to work in outer space? What tools and supplies are required? What kind of specialized training do you need? Our panelists discuss the challenges posed trying to make an honest day’s wage toiling in the dangerous cold and dark of outer space. — with Tedd Roberts, Jim Beall, and Daniel Wallace — Board Room 1
  • 11:30 p.m. — Eye of Argon — The worst science fiction story ever written gets a reading by our brave panel as they compete to go the longest without tripping over a misspelled word or laughing uncontrollably. Audience members are also encouraged to take a chance. Can you keep a straight face, especially when the panel begins acting out the story? — with Michael A. Ventrella, Gail Martin, Peter Prellwitz, and Michael D. Pederson — Ballroom C

Saturday:

  • 11:00 a.m. — Signing
  • Noon — Reading — Room 533
  • 2:00 p.m. — Panel, “The Science & Psychology of Andy Weir’s The Martian” (Moderator) — A lone astronaut is stranded on Mars. How does he survive the harsh Martian climate? How does he maintain his sanity? Our panelists dig into the nuts and bolts of Andy Weir’s excellent science-and-survival tale The Martian. — with Anita Allen, Jim Beall, Tedd Roberts, and Daniel Wallace — Board Room 1
  • 3:00 p.m. — Baen Books Traveling Road Show (and Podcast) — It’s a combo slide show/podcast where Baen will showcase upcoming titles and book covers. Come to learn about Baen’s newest releases and possibly win a free book. — with Tony Daniel — Vista Room

Sunday:

  • 9:00 a.m. — Non-Denominational Worship Service — Ballroom E
  • 10:00 a.m. — Panel, “No More Evil Priests in Red” (Moderator) — Understanding faith in a secular world. It’s easy to depict organized religion as evil, led by greedy rapist scumbags and followed only by the drones and sheeple, but this trope hasn’t been cutting edge for the past forty years. In setting up evil priestly straw men for our postmodern heroes to blow away, authors too often overlook why brilliant people like Boethius could walk smiling to execution, St. Francis could try to protect the animals everyone else wanted to eat, or Hildegard von Bingen could write awe-inspiring music and plays. Let’s talk about books that depict the complexities of religious faith in interesting, insightful ways. — with Tony Daniel, Gail Martin, Peter Prellwitz, Michael A. Ventrella, and Abigail Wallace — Ballroom D

No concert slot for me at MystiCon, and no open filking, so my musical contributions will be limited. I’ll carry my guitar around, though, just to look cool. (I need all the help I can get!)

Hope to see you there — or, if not, hope you have a great weekend!

___
Shameless plug: I will have copies of Distorted Vision and Truths and Lies and Make-Believe, plus other goodies, so flag me down if you want something!

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Does This Book Make My Head Look Big?

A few days ago, I got my contributor’s copies of the new edition of Shattered Shields — my first time in mass market paperback!

I’m in good company in this book. (Click for larger image.)

As you might surmise from the terrific Todd Lockwood cover art, it’s an anthology of military fantasy stories. If you don’t already have a copy, you can order one here.

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Workshop Reminder, Two Weeks Until MystiCon

A friendly reminder that in a couple of weeks I’ll present the “Face-to-Face Slushpile” workshop at the MystiCon science fiction and fantasy convention in Roanoke, Virginia. (I’ll be doing other things at the convention, too, but I’m plugging this again because it takes a little prep in order to participate.)

The convention starts on Friday the 26th, and my workshop is one of the first events. As I explained in an earlier post, the workshop offers a brief, In-Person, Real-Time Manuscript Submission Critique on a first-come, first-served basis.

If you’re coming to the convention and you’ve been receiving rejection slips from publishers, I’ll take a look at your submission and let you know, from my experience evaluating submissions for Baen Books, what impression I get from it. If not you, but you know someone planning to attend who has yet to break through in the publishing world, tell them to bring in their cover letter, the first 5 pages of their story, and their 1- or 2-page synopsis and let me take a look at them.

Writer's Block

(Image: “Writer’s Block,” by Neal Sanche, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Let me know if you have questions or suggestions, and meanwhile … keep writing!

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