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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

M's Thoughts on NASFIC

I just finished a four-day weekend at my first major science fiction convention. I'd previously only been to a few smaller cons, for a single day each. (Adventure Con was hosted in Knoxville, TN for eight of ten years, and we lived there at the time, but that was more of a media convention than strictly science fiction.)

An "intimate" con? Surprisingly so, and not in a bad way, from my perspective. Yes, the overall attendance was smaller than anticipated... but as Henry already pointed out, a small, intimate environment means greater opportunities for building connections, and hopefully, even friendships.

Did I spend a lot of time "schmoozing"? Probably, although it didn't really feel like a schmooze-fest. Authors, artists and editors are, for the most part, fairly approachable. There are always notable exceptions, but I didn't run into any of them. I tried to ask intelligent questions, listen well, and learn. When logical opportunities presented themselves later, I would introduce myself, and if it seemed appropriate to whatever discussion ensued, bring up STUPEFYING STORIES. A few interesting names have expressed interest, and some of them may even read the publication with a serious eye toward evaluating potential. (You were all putting your best foot forward, right? Good.)

Here is a quick run-down of the sessions I attended:


GAM001 :: Designing Role-Playing Games

The ins and outs of RPG creation, a.k.a. "M studies the schedule for an hour."

CON001 :: Opening Ceremonies

Henry and I got settled in, then I looked up and noticed that we were seated directly behind the Haldemans. A few days prior to the con, I had sent Joe a note of introduction, and I was very pleasantly surprised later to discover that both he and his wife remembered the note.

DINNER :: Guest of Honor Banquet

I ate vegetarian lasagna, because the catering staff somehow got the wrong count and prepared ~30 more non-meat entrees than requested.


LIT009 :: 50 Years Ago Today

My, how times have changed! Or, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Take your pick.

LIT042 :: YA Fiction is a Good Thing, yes?

Apparently it is. Well, at least if you want to pay your bills and know where your next meal is coming from.

LIT064 :: Religion in SFF

Joe Haldeman and John Hemry (Jack Campbell) tackle opposing viewpoints, which made for an interesting discussion. Joe is an atheist, and John isn't; it was refreshing to see that both were able to not only understand, but also respect the other point of view. (When I asked how each of them perceived stories whose religious stance differed from their own, both indicated that it was more the quality of writing, and not any specific perspective or lack thereof, that determined their enjoyment.)

LIT086 :: Problems with the Process of Writing SFF Biographies

Bill Patterson authored a new biography of Robert A Heinlein, edited by David G. Hartwell. The first volume (of two) will be released in a few days, so the two of them discussed the process of gathering source material. Sounds like it will be an interesting read, whenever I can get a copy.

MIS003g :: Kaffee Klatsch with Stanley Schmidt

Stan is the editor of Analog Science Fiction and Fact, as well as being an accomplished author. He has been nominated for a Hugo every year since 1980.

MIS003+ :: Kaffee Klatsch with Joe Haldeman

A last-minute addition, and even though it was announced Friday morning, few people were aware it had been scheduled. I didn't even know they were doing one, until we spotted Joe and Gay strolling toward the table as Stan's groups was breaking up.

Joe writes all of his first drafts in longhand, with a fountain pen, and he brought along the volume in which he is currently composing a new novel, to conclude his current trilogy. Lots of interesting stories about travel, and writing, and fountain pens. After the Koffee Klatsch, Gay Haldeman snapped a few photos for me, and we chatted a bit longer.

CON012 :: Steampunk Fashion Show

Interesting in that no one who had scheduled this session was present, and so the steampunquerata took matters into their own hands. The first guy Henry photographed (with the leather top hat) served as a voluntary master of ceremonies, and anyone in the ballroom who wore anything that would remotely qualify as "steampunk" (especially if it involved goggles) was drafted as a participant, to tell where/how their costume had been assembled, and explain their character, if they portrayed one.


MIS009+ :: Reading — Joe Haldeman

Another late addition to the schedule. Joe brought along the same volume we had seen the previous day, and read a chapter from the novel-in-progress. After the reading there were a few minutes left, so Joe offered to sign a few books for anyone present. No one else thought to bring any... but I had been planning to wait in line at his afternoon book signing and brought a handful of hardcovers with me, since I wasn't sure when I'd have a chance to get back to the car. Joe happily signed them all, with one of his many fountain pens.

After lunch, Henry and I ventured into the Dealers' Room. Gay Haldeman spotted me, took my arm, and said, "Marc, have you met Jack yet?" (This was my formal introduction to Jack McDevitt.)

LIT049 :: Revise, Revise, Revise!

Everybody does it differently, and every author on the panel took time to explain his or her own approach. The only universal was that every last one of them shared a deep and abiding hatred of any author who would claim to whip out a single draft and successfully publish it without agonizing over a few revisions.

LIT057 :: Turn to the Past in SF

An interesting subject, handled with about as much organization as the Steampunk Fashion Show. Entertaining, to say the least. There was some discussion over fiction being either progressive or retrogressive, and an observation that the nature of the present, with respect to the future, has drastically changed over the past few decades.

LIT021 :: Death of a Character

Death affects more than just the character whose pulse stops beating. If a writer kills a character, it shouldn't simply be for shock value... unless the author is thoroughly prepared to explore the fallout.

LIT043 :: Creating Believable Aliens

How far does an author need to go in presenting an alien ecology? Stanley Schmidt posited that "There is no such thing as the incomprehensible alien," which raised a couple of eyebrows. (Effectively, his point was one of internal consistency, both from an ethical and biological perspective.)

LIT023 :: Using Mythology to Add Depth to Your Writing

The Return of the Son of the Bride of the Epic (and sometimes convoluted) Folk Tales of the Final Frontier! Writers have been borrowing from mythology ever since the first stories were written down. There was a brief discussion of a work by Olaf Stapledon (Star Maker) that I need to track down if I don't already have a copy somewhere (and I might), which effectively presents the raw material for a future mythology of the universe.

LIT025 :: Internet Publishing

Having tried this with "We Don't Plummet Out of the Sky Anymore," I had some interest in seeing what other people had to say about the idea. By and large they seemed to recognize it as an inescapable component of the NPO (New Publishing Order), but there did not yet appear to be any consensus about how best to utilize the process, or whether it could even be described as a "Good Thing," although there weren't any specific accusations that it was a "Bad Thing," in and of itself. Some authors seemed to be doing well with it, while at least one relayed a specific example of documented eBook purchases over a specific period of time that were in excess of the publisher's reported eBook purchases spanning the same period of time.

LIT078 :: How to Write with a Partner

"Whose idea was it, anyway?" a.k.a. "A Saga of the Beast with One Brain and Two Heads." There are about as many ways to approach co-authorship as there are people who have tried it... and that isn't a typo.

ARTSHOW :: Meet and Greet with SFF Artists

This was quite a bit of fun, with lots to look at (and I'm not just talking about the "Itty Bitty Teeny Weenie Stainless Steel Chain-Mail Bikini"!). I spent half the night talking with Brad Foster, whose illustrations are simply fascinating.


MIS003o :: Kaffee Klatsch with Eric Flint

I arrived a few minutes before the session started, and then realized I had left my coffee in the car. No problem, I thought, since no one else had yet arrived and the klatsches had been tending toward under-attendance. A quick dash to the car, and then back to find a packed table, with only one spot left, at the furthest possible distance from Eric. Still a fun and informative session (I learned a lot more about how Baen does things!), and I got a moment to chat with Eric after the fact, about a point he tangentially mentioned in the session. You can't fault an encounter that ends with Eric Flint saying, "Listen, do you already have my address?"

Maybe someday that great science-fictional Western will be written, after all.

LIT063 :: Writing in a Shared Universe

Henry and I both thought this would be a fun session. We were right.

LIT070 :: The Correct Space

Sometimes science fiction gets the science very, very right. Sometimes it gets the science very, very wrong. The panelists touched on a number of common blunders that work from a cinematic standpoint... and each of them also confessed having periodically gotten it wrong, in their own writing. Joe Haldeman admitted a blunder that undermined an entire story. As a writer, you can try to avoid the big, steaming ones... but even if you watch the path, eventually you will step in something. Just scrape it off your shoe and keep going.

TEARDOWN :: Volunteer Assistance in the Trade Show

As we neared the end of the day on Sunday, I looked around the Dealer's Room and realized there were going to be an awful lot of boxes that might need lifting. Editor David G. Hartwell was kind enough to allow me to hang around and help pack a few hundred pounds of boxes. We chatted as we went, and it was during the packing that the editor of Bull Spec approached us. He told me that he "absolutely loved" the story I showed him, but that it would pretty much eat up more word budget than he could spare. Looks like a good potential market if I do a few shorter pieces (2-3k), but what I showed him was over 5100 words.

At that point David turned to me and said, "If you can master four to five thousand words, you will sell everything you can write." Good advice.

Bear in mind, I am an inexperienced convention-goer... so all of this is rather new to me. Good value for the weekend? From my perspective, unquestionably so.

• • • • • • • •

By the time Joe Haldeman was my age, he had already won two Hugos, one Nebula, and a Locus Award. He is thirty-one years older than I am now... and I hope to look that good in another thirty-one years. Many thanks to Joe's lovely wife, Gay, for snapping this photo.
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