03 Feb

Travel report: St. Mary’s College and Chattacon!

I did a poor job reminding everyone on the blog and online that I was about to do some public speaking and signing in the Bay Area. Please keep in mind, I’d been dealing with sick kids on vacation, then was sick for a couple weeks, and recovering, then catching up on a month of lost work. Then I hopped on a plane to head West!

Fortunately, thanks to the magic of Seat Guru, I scored awesome seats on the way out:

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I was invited to St. Mary’s College California, at the invitation of professors Dana R. Herrera of the Department of Anthropology and András Margitay-Becht of the Economics Department.

It was weird to walk around campus and see posters up with my own goofy face.


We had a great turn out for the lecture, and a spirited Q&A session (including a gentleman who asserted that the Caribbean was the most racist place he’d ever visited because everyone there noticed the color of your skin. It was hard to unpack the assertion that seeing skin color is not the same as being racist and talk about colonial attitudes that *do* leave vestiges of power to lighter skin at the same time while also rejecting the assertion that the Caribbean is more or less racist when that’s such a simplistic framing of the question as well, but I tried to push back in the small amount of time I had [the gentleman’s experience was also 30+ years old]. One could do an entire semester on that, really).

I also got to sneak out to the fancy fancy mall near the hotel I was staying at and visit a Tesla dealership for the first time.

Oh yeah. I’d say this would be my next car, but I’d have to sell way more books than I am these days to snag one of these. I did, however, touch it:

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In addition to the big lecture, I chatted with the class on SF and sociology that Dana and András have been teaching, and also chatted about the business of writing at another session. Dana and András were a lot of fun to chat with as well, as they’re both very familiar with all my work.

After that, it was back on a plane for Chattanooga. A year ago I was to be Guest of Honor at Chattacon, but I slipped on ice and hurt myself badly enough to end up unable to travel. The organizers were amazing enough to invite me down again for Chattacon 40, along with many other Guests of Honor.

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The event was held in the historic Chattanooga Choo Choo, an old rail terminal turned into a large hotel complex. About a thousand fans packed into this place and took it over.

I got to chat with Julie Czerneda, Kathleen Ann Goonan and Adam-Troy Castro. I also did a reading very early on morning. Not many people showed up, but that wasn’t a surprise because Chattacon is known for their con suite, which has beer on tap (delivered, I saw, because I got there a day early, by a giant beer truck).

This is the con suite, it used to be an ice rink and is now a place for traveling bands to perform in:

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I was well-treated by Chattacon and enjoyed getting to explore the city a little thanks to Cherie Priest, who took me on a brief tour. Here’s a view of the entire metro area from up on Lookout Mountain:

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While in transit, I revised an entire novella and worked on freelance work, so it was rather a hectic one. I’m a bit zonked, more than I realized, so I’m mostly catching up on paperwork that was waiting for me when I returned home and emails I ignored while bouncing around.

22 Aug

Paneling while light, but not white

I just got back from London, and would love to be uploading pictures and talking about two weeks spent in Europe, but I’m catching up on bills and getting into the swing of work. And my kids start Kindergarten. And the dogs need picked up. So I’ll be a little late.

However, a few people have pinged me about a couple of blog posts that reacted to the panel “Imagining Fantasy Lands: The Status Quo Does Not Need Worldbuilding.”

London Worldcon had a fascinating vein of programming with an openness to discussion about diversity, challenging status quo, and world viewpoints. Noticeably more so than past Worldcons. It’s a far cry from the first time I attended a worldcon, and there was just a sole obligatory ‘race in SF’ panel and that was the one (maybe only, outside corridor meet ups) place to find this discussion.

This panel was another one of London Worldcon’s varied pieces of interesting programming. It featured Mary Anne Mohanraj, me, Kate Elliott, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Victoria Donnelly, and Ellen Kushner. The panel description goes thusly:

Fantasy world-building sometimes comes under fire for its pedantic attention to detail at the expense of pacing or prose style. Do descriptive passages clog up the narrative needlessly, when reader imagination should be filling in the gaps? Where does that leave the landscapes and cultures that are less well represented in the Western genre: can world-building be a tool in subverting reader expectations that would otherwise default to pseudo-medieval Euro-esque? If fantasy is about defamiliarising the familiar, how important is material culture – buildings, furnishings, tools, the organisation of social and commercial space – in creating a fantasy world?

Two people in the audience were a bit taken aback. Blogger Not By Its Cover (I’m not sure of their name) was upset when I demurred talking about being ‘light but not white’ for the panel and was pressed by panelists to keep on the subject:

He repeatedly said in his response that he doesn’t usually like to talk about his experiences of race, that people outside the Caribbean find his presence in discussions of race disturbing and confusing, that he doesn’t have the energy to deal with that, and that he does not want to be an educator. What enraged me was that, in response to his saying this, a couple of his fellow panelists exclaimed that he absolutely should participate in discussions of race precisely because people found it so problematic and that even if he didn’t wish to participate…

Kate Nepveu also noticed this and commented on it in her panel notes.

So on this panel, I talked about the fact that looking white but not identifying as such due to my bi-racial background complicated discussions. I’m happy to engage in this in some situations and in certain contexts where I known I don’t have an audience that’s still struggling with race 101 level stuff, but for the panel itself I didn’t come prepared and wasn’t expecting to become a focus of the panel. Partly because I came a bit more prepared to talk about what went into creating a fantasy world and how it’s done more deeply, and because I wanted to interrogate and poke at pseudo-medieval constructs.

So, the panel swerved to a bit more of ‘how we authors’ try to deepen work and use our backgrounds to do it. Panels swerve quite often, but I was unprepared for this and tried to demur. I was tired, as I’d just come out of three weeks of travel (promoting Hurricane Fever, teaching a workshop, then a week in Spain, and finally London Worldcon). My ability to switch tracks wasn’t there, I was very exhausted. I was also trying to monitor the panel’s conversational flow and make sure the sole non-writer on the panel, our archeologist Victoria Donnelly, who was making her first appearance at a science fiction panel, was not overrun by us authors and our opinions (even though I was sure Mary Anne wouldn’t do that, I wanted to make sure, as I thought Victoria had a very interesting background we could gain a lot from).

So I demurred, and the panel thought that I might have interested things to say and they…

…keep in mind Mary Anne and Kate and have known me a while…

…pulled a bit at me.

On the panel itself the fact that the audience felt my reticence and responded was not surprising. I didn’t want to talk about the complications of being light not white as a working writer right there because sometimes I have to carefully consider the impacts of my words. And I was tired. So I was worried about making mistakes.

But we muddle our way through. I wasn’t upset with Mary Anne or any of my panelists at the time, just momentarily trying to change the entire set of ‘stories’ and conversations I had arrived with loaded into my mental ready-state.

So why was I reticent?

It’s that if I get up and talk about my struggles, in some cases I can easily negate the even harder struggles others have. Look, I look and ‘read’ white to most people (including non-whites). I therefore complicate discussions about diversity due to living in a culture that takes race as binary. Look, I see the president of the US and see a bi-racial dude from a mixed family background. Most Americans are all like ‘dude’s black.’ And so are a lot of non-white Americans.

So I roll up and talk about how it’s personally annoying when people of all kinds don’t want to recognize me as bi-racial and that’s sometimes problematic. Here are writers struggling far more than I have who come from a legacy and background of far more vicious racism than can be even sometimes explained. So what if I’m left off most lists of diverse SF writers. Boo hoo, right? (And this has mostly been on my mind because I’ve been told by some that I’ve been taken out of articles or such for not being ‘properly diverse’ and just as someone who wants to be part of the tribe of diverse SF/F authors doing amazing things it pains to be excluded on a personal level, but on a larger societal level, shit, injustices against the people of diversity is vastly larger) People read me different than I read myself, I’ve been dealing with that for 35 years. It’s cool. But trying to talk about the complexities of it mean I can inadvertently suppress other narratives, right? I don’t get the *right* to say who gets on a list of diverse writers or how I’m considered at large, I can only keep conversing and trying to add to diversity and talk up good things. So when someone suddenly asks about the complicated nature of how I’m perceived or received in genre, or what my struggle has been, I freeze.

But even as that happens, I also get annoyed with narratives that try to require me to fit into a certain ‘type’ of diversity. It seems the white power structures like immigrant narratives and magical realism from brown-identifying folk. Man, is that ever true, and even allies can fit into this. There’s been a heavy pressure on me to drop doing the action and to write about magical immigrants. I’ve been offered book deals and better money, and it’s funny, I’ve had three editors in the last ten years point blank sketch out the outline of the same novel: immigrant from the Caribbean arrives in the US and does something magically realist.

So, you know, it’s complicated. I’m writing Caribbean Space Opera and have had historically black media *and* white editors tell me they’ll pay attention when I do a magical realist book and I want to keep doing what I’m doing and I’m slowly building this wide audience of people who are digging diverse characters in high octane adventures. Do I want to appear not grateful to make a living doing what I’m doing in public? No. I’m building something, and I’m trying to make sure I spend less time annoyed with people who don’t get what I’m up to and more time sharing excitement with those who totally get it!

So let’s end this positively. I’m all good. The panel was fascinating and was a sign of a fantastic convention (for me at least, I didn’t get to a ton of panels). I was delighted to be up there with amazing minds. And I’m impressed that the audience felt defensive on my part and thank them, but I bear no ill-will or negative feelings towards any of the panelists.

02 Jul

How I screwed up

So Tor very generously asked if I would agreed to do a panel at San Diego Comic Con.

Over the last year I’ve been doing my best to reach out to places that invite me to come to them and indicate I can’t unless there is an anti-harassment policy in place, as per Scalzi’s convention anti-harassment policy. I’m not a star headliner or rock star, but I know it’s helped at least once create a formal policy where there was none before, so I’m now aware that doing this does have power.

As the details quickly came together for this West Coast tour, I didn’t read San Diego Comic Con’s harassment policy too closely. I found one, and was excited there was one. Yay, I could go! I said yes! I went back to writing my novel that was due RIGHT AWAY.

After I posted my schedule, a couple of people pointed out this, that the rules aren’t really clear cut (and I may have even retweeted/pointed out that link as well, doubly damning on my part):

This isn’t exactly a clear or easy to find set of rules. Beyond this small paragraph on the website, comic-con’s director of marketing and public relations David Glanzer told The Mary Sue last year that their policy is also printed in the Events Guide made available to attendees and that “each incident is handled on a case by case basis, as are the decisions on how best to prevent the issue from occurring again.” Considering the length of the Events Guide and the possibility of not every guest receiving it, the convention should create a formal policy displayed more prominently on their website and convention materials. As for dealing with issues case-by-case, each incident will certainly be different but that should in no way prevent them from listing common, specific anti-harassment rules that would still be good to make clear for attendees instead of assuming everyone has the common sense to already know how to behave.

So I didn’t read as closely as I should have. Which meant I messed up.

Since I agreed to go I’m going to go. And not go again now that I understand it’s a weak ass policy that’s not really a policy.

I’m sorry for not catching why it wasn’t much of a policy.

I also donated a sum of money to the National Museum of Women in the Arts:

NMWA addresses the issue of the lack of recognition and representation that women receive in museum collections and major exhibitions. NMWA maintains the reference library, and classifies, catalogues, and transfers artwork to exhibitions

So this was a learning experience for me about rushing through and not reading closely enough.

10 Dec

Confusion is an awesome con in Detroit. I’m going, you should too: here’s my schedule

Hey, this January I’ll be at Confusion, a science fiction convention just up the road from me in Detroit, MI (as duly noted on my appearances schedule). Hey, January in Detroit, you’re thinking? Yeah. But you know what, Confusion is such a cool gathering of the science fiction tribe, including so many writer friends near and dear to me, I can’t imagine being anywhere else. True facts.

I just got my schedule, as I’ve agreed to do some panels, my comments in brackets:

The worst thing I ever tried to write
Cindy Spencer Pape, Cherie Priest, Seleste deLaney, Tobias Buckell, Patrick Tomlinson
6pm Friday – Erie
The trunk novel is basically something an author wrote as practice. These are generally things that are so bad that they should never see the light of day. Our honest and humble panel will discuss some of their versions on this theme to amuse and delight. Did someone try to write a zombie-dinosaur-golem love triangle? Come by and find out.

(if I dig around, I might be able to find some snippets)

If I Knew Then What I Know Now (Session One)
Lucy A. Snyder, Ron Collins, Jacqueline Carey, Tobias Buckell, C. C. Finlay, Ian Tregillis
10am Saturday – Michigan Room
Many of us would do things differently if we had the opportunity to go back and try again with what was learned later. We can’t do that for everything, but in this hour several publishing veterans will shed some light on some aspects of the writing life that they learned the hard way.

(if there’s one thing I’ve done, it’s learning most of what I know the hard way…)

Reading with Stina Leicht and Tobias Buckell
11am Saturday – Southfield

(Stina’s good people, hopefully we can get a good turn out)

Hybrid Publishing
Lucy A. Snyder, John Klima, Sandra Tayler, Howard Tayler, Tobias Buckell
1pm Saturday – Southfield
Self-publishing is here to stay. Traditional publishing is still going strong. What do the people who who do both have to share about their experiences?

(Hybrid creators, we’re like the swamp thing; humanoid, but still capable of love)

Don’t write what you know
Brian McClellan, Elizabeth Shack, Stina Leicht, Tobias Buckell, Catherine Shaffer, Mike Carey
11am Sunday – Erie
An axiom of writing has long been “write what you know”. In SFF circles this is somewhat amended, but the sense that one should constrain writing to subjects of passionate interest and deep understanding still seems to be quite popular. But what about the other side of the coin? What value can be found in writing what one does not know about? Research, learning, and then spreading that joy can yield fantastic results, if done right. We discuss how to do it right.

(steer into the turn!)

Becoming a working writer with Tobias Buckell
12pm Sunday – Rotunda
In this intimate Q&A Tobias talks openly about strategies, tips, and what it took to make it out of hobby and into career, as well as answers questions readers might have about his work)

(By the way, that last one, if you’ve ever just wanted to rap with me about writing, ask any open questions, and so forth, that’s the place to be)

09 Sep

I’m to be Guest of Honor at Chattacon (Chattanooga, TN) this January

I’m totally honored and delighted to report that I’ve been asked to be the Guest of Honor this January for Chattacon, the Chattanooga Tennessee convention held at the historic Chatanooga Choo Choo hotel.

If you’re a reader in the Tennessee area, I hope to get to meet you this January 24-26!

My thanks to the organizers of Chattacon for inviting me down. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone!

I’ve updated my appearances page accordingly.

05 Sep

Conventions and authors

If you read my summary of the last Worldcon you’ll notice that most of my pictures and summaries recount tales of me hanging out with other authors. There are a lot of Worldcon summaries worrying about the aging of Worldcon, or how accepting it is, and to be honest, I can’t speak to those things very well. Madeline Ashby, I think, does an exceptional post about market demographics here when she says:

“YA is what Clayton Christensen would call a ‘disruptive innovation,’ a product that addresses the needs of a neglected customer segment not being served by the dominant incumbents in power. That some of the fiction isn’t terribly innovative doesn’t matter. What was innovative was treating teens like the serious market demographic that they are…”

(Via Memento mori. (Or, how Worldcon’s youth problem will resolve.) | Dangerous to those who profit from the way things are.)

Ashby goes on to say:

They don’t care about you. But you know who cares about them? Marvel. Warner. FOX. CW. EA. Microsoft. Sony. Blizzard. FUNImation. Kodansha. The list goes on. They’re better served by corporate interest than they are by the people who made the geek economy possible. Sit with that. You may feel a slight sting. That’s not pride, fucking with you. It’s failure.

Sure, you have a nice big con now, and a nice big awards ceremony whose online streaming never seems to work. You have internecine debates about why the big fish didn’t get enough panels (please, somebody, get these folks a waahmbulance and World Fantasy registration). But you don’t have major comics creators as GOH. You don’t have voice actors. You don’t have manga-ka. You don’t have game companies. You don’t have play-testing, or LARPS, or teahouses, or fashion shows. You are offering a room full of vintage first-edition hardbacks to a group of people who read books on their phones.

I’ve never approached science fiction conventions of any kind as a fan, I’ve always been a writer. I have no experience on that end. I don’t know if getting these things would fix a Worldcon, but it certainly seems to speak to a difference that is organically shaping a very big divide that is now growing between places like DragonCon, Comic Cons of various sorts (that are popping up across the country and growing), and some of the larger conventions that I’m hearing buzz about.

When I broke into print, I was then invited to attend my first convention. This colors all my interactions with a sort of selfish ‘what is my relationship’ lens that many writers can have. I did not initially attend as a fan, nor have I volunteered. And, rightfully so, many fannish organizers do not want to hear yet another damned writer or outsider whining, impugning something the volunteers have invested long hours, organizing an event for thousands, created solely out of volunteers’ spare time…

…and yet…

…I can feel some wincing…

…and yet…

I like Worldcon and would like to see it continue and I think it’s worth considering Ashby’s words.

Every few years there is a big soul-searching about what Worldcon *is* and *means* from attendees after a major Worldcon. Newer writers, newer participants, who have strong feelings about what is missing, pipe up.

Since I’ve been blogging about this stuff since 1998, there are usually a few reactions. Either their comments get folded in (remember the great wars to get electronically published material eligible for awards? I do.). Or people demand that those challenging issues join (though from many accounts if you’re an outsider to the culture it can be hard to figure out *how*). Or… the improvements show up in some other convention and the benefits accrue to it.

I’ve seen Confusion in Detroit grow from a very aged and greying regional convention to a growing, younger, more vital convention. I’ve seen conventions that were at the same state it was in ten years ago continue their slow slide. Often they’re happy to continue the slide. This is who we are, dammit, we’re happy about it.

I’d like to change that, but since I’m not volunteering, it’s not my place. Maybe it’s okay to watch some things wither away from the point of view of the bar with a scotch in my hand, and look forward to the more vital, crowded place full of a more diverse crew…

…but it’s not the fate I wish on any given event. So I sometimes rue in public. And I hope Worldcon doesn’t follow that fate.

I worry aloud because I care. And because I’m a writer and I like to see venues thrive and readers thrive and I would hate to see the Hugo Awards dragged down. Because seeing those happy writers win an award voted on by the readers was amazing. I love that.

* * *

Are Worldcon numbers dropping? This has actually been hashed out before by Cheryl Morgan. In 2010 she wrote an article, reposted at SFWA.org now as a response to something written by authors who had discovered DragonCon was more happening (see, three years later we’re all hashing over an already argued online argument!).

Here’s the basic chart:


Worldcons have grown from inception until the early 80s, at which point they settled into a rough size of 3-5,000 (depending on location, but the range holds fairly true).

“If you take into account different attendance levels in different parts of the world then attendance has been pretty much steady from 1980 onwards. Canadian Worldcons have  never exceeded 4,000 members, so Montréal was not unusually small.  British Worldcons just exceed 4,000. The numbers in the USA are more varied. The largest Worldcon ever was L.A.Con II in 1984 which drew 8,365 people. It did that, at least in part, on the back of being the first venue ever to show the original three Star Wars movies back-to-back. Of course that would not be a draw these days. No other Worldcon has exceeded 7,000 members. Of the 20 US Worldcons from 1980 onwards, 13 of them have had fewer than 6,000 members. Two have had fewer than 4,000. Both of those have been in Denver.”

(Via A Future for Worldcon? | SFWA.)

Judging by that plot, baby boomer SF/F fans have pretty much settled into a pattern that looks like it will probably hold true for at least another 15-20 years, depending, of 3-5,000 person Worldcons.

Some have claimed interest in Worldcons and Hugos are up, due to higher votes and nominations in the Hugo voting process. I would believe that probably has more to do with the fact that voting is *easier* now than before thanks to a) electronic ballots and b) packets with nominees in them and c) pin numbers automatically sent to you from last year’s con that allow nominations for the next. That has gotten hella easier than when I first entered the field.

By the way, if you want to understand a lot of just how much we’re rehashing arguments, current writers should read the above article I linked by Cheryl, that does an amazing job of explaining some of the… ins and outs and what have you’s…

* * *

Before my heart defect took me out of the game for a while in 2008, I did a great deal of travel (some of it on my own dollar, other trips as a guest). I got a chance to participate at DragonCon and San Diego Comic Con, in addition to regional conventions like Boskone, and smaller local conventions. I spent a lot of money in 2007 and 2008 going where I could.

Since 2008, I’ve also tested the waters of GenCon (the 40,000 person plus gaming oriented convention), been invited to the 2-3,000 person AnimeKon Expo in Barbados, been a Guest of Honor at local conventions in the midwest, and attended as a guest lecturer to various events around the country.

In the beginning common wisdom was that we should attend conventions to build our readership. I used to attend everything I could afford, and put out brochures with story snippets (CDs with free stories, etc) and more on them. The higher access to professionals ratio at the smaller fan cons meant I got to meet some writers, some who were very friendly to an up-and-coming newbie like myself.

When I started getting out to the big SF cons it was a heady experience. Authors I loved at the bar, or hanging out at parties (who sometimes talked to me!). Going on panels in front of 30-100 people (depending on the lineup). Signing at the autographing line. Seeing people wait for me to arrive at the KaffeeKlatsch (how cool!). Meeting readers in the hall, at parties, waiting for me at the end of a panel.

But there were issues. The greying of fandom. Lack of diversity. Those stood out at me. Often they could be depressing, weathering casual prejudice by sometimes other panelists or audience members when I was asked to talk about race.

This seriously dampened my desire to want to participate or engage.

But I forged on out of a desire to interact with my readers and grow my readership. It was gratifying to see my work come out in the long list of books nominated for Hugos… on the long list, if you will.

* * *

I had to make some tough decisions in 2009. Faced with medical bills and debt from not being able to make as much, twins arrived, and education debt, I couldn’t justify convention attendance as an investment in growing my readership.

Some very incredible con-runners keep asking me when I’ll be able to attend XYZ con, and I have to be honest and explain that I cannot, in good conscience, attend a convention on my own dime these days. Not until I’m completely debt free.

I will occasionally go to a major Worldcon, or a WFC. Usually if it’s close by, or if it’s subsidized by another business trip or concurrent travel (this year I altered the ticket back from Barbados to swing me through San Antonio). But it’s rare.

More often than not I show up without trying to get on panels or anything like that. I’ll explain why shortly.

* * *

Mike Underwood on a Reddit post related to our twitter conversation has the summary that best summarizes the various categories of conventions:

Small fan-cons (Balticon, ReaderCon, etc.) – These regional cons are very focused on the SF/F literary world, and tend to provide a very intimate experience – access to professionals is high, due to a lower fan:pro ratio.

Big SF cons (WorldCon, EasterCon) – Explicitly SF/F lit focused, with notable, if often greying, fan presence. This is based almost entirely on experience at WorldCon (2012 and 2013).

Big Multi-Media Cons (Convergence) – Explicitly multi-fandom, but SF/F lit has a place at the table. In 2013, Convergence had a full age spread, with a strong youth presence (esp. in Steampunk and anime).

Huge Multi-media cons (GenCon, Dragon Con) – notable SF/F lit element, but SF/F lit is not the focus. These cons shew young, with notable numbers of teens, 20-somethings, etc.

Huge Media Cons (Comic Cons) – More than 50K up to 100K+ attendees. Some literary presence, but it’s definitely an also-ran compared to the central theme.

I would probably lump the last two into one category for myself.

Having attended the full range of those categories, the one thing I began to realize was that plugging myself into them meant differing results.

At GenCon the Author Alley moved hundreds of dollars of books, covering my gas and the motel room, thus paying for itself. I also was exposed to a lot of new readers who introduced themselves, took bookmarks with directions to download free samplers. I saw a bump in sales afterward.

Comic Con saw me paired up with Mysterious Galaxy, a long time supporter and fantastic crew of booksellers who moved a good number of books and put my face in front of a larger crew than normal. I was also able to make contacts outside the usual suspects of fellow SF/F authors. Broadening my horizons.

DragonCon, again, paired me up with a bookseller and allowed me to stand at a table for the better part of a day.

At the core regional and Worldcon conventions, usually the routine is a couple of panels a day where I am co-panelist with a wide variety of people, and a varying audience, with a rendering or one hour autographing session at some point if I’m lucky. A check of the dealer room usually indicates a few copies of my books sold.

I’ve also done a city book fair where I sat at a table and shook hands and met people and sold a couple hundred dollars worth of books.

At the first AnimeKon Expo in Barbados I sold hundreds of dollars worth of books standing at a booth, and hundreds of dollars more again this year (the most books sold record holds for both AnimeKons). To be fair, I was a Caribbean SF author in the Caribbean *at an SF oriented convention*. I have however been at an academic conference in the Caribbean, invited as a guest, where I did… a reading, and a quick autograph session, with much lower sales (a few books). So I do suspect layout and approach actually do have a huge impact.

* * *

So the question is, what am I doing at a convention. And there are many variables that plug into this.

First, what stage am I in as a writer?

I make a living (or a good chunk of it) as a writer (and freelancer). I’m in a different stage than when I was just a writer trying to sell some short stories, or even when I’d just sold some, or even than when I’d just sold my first novel and was first trying to find readers.

Secondly, what is the purpose of the event I’m at for myself, in my current role? What’s my job, per se, at different events?

In my own sphere I’ve come to regard Worldcon as a ‘water cooler’ event. A place I spend money to attend, that then allows me to catch up in real life to all manner of friends. I’m starting to prefer to attend those without panels and obligations so I can just lightly float through the social circles I wish, retreat to my room when I need to nap, and so on. The thinking is, as very few books will sell, why not focus on the thing that seems locked in more to what I’m there for.

At events where I shake hands and am at a booth to sell books, my focus is to gear up and do that. Let’s move some books.

If I’m invited as a Guest or Guest of Honor, my way paid, then it doesn’t matter how many books I’ve sold. I’ve been flown somewhere to meet people and be available. That then, is my focus. I will do my best to go out of my way to attend all the room parties, go to as many panels as I can, and walk around the hallways so people can meet the guest.

Last year, I went to a Worldcon that was nearby and didn’t attend programming. I had a marvelous time networking and chatting with friends and not having obligations outside of that. The focus worked.

This year I tested out attending panels. It was fun, but again, very few books sold via the dealer room system and a remarkable lack of youth and diversity. Again, that isn’t Worldcon’s focus, they’re oriented at a different demographic. That makes me think it works best for me as a water cooler convention. I have to hope the demographic collapse 10-20 years off is navigated for the sake of the Hugos, which I love. If I really want that diversity, I can, as a consumer, simply opt for another event (there are many).

However, that isn’t fair of me. If I write this off completely as a way to interact with readers, I write off all the readers that *were* at Worldcon. Graying readers don’t mean they aren’t reading new fiction. Lack of diversity doesn’t mean there aren’t white, older readers digging what I’m doing. It would be short-sighted of me to do this. At my one hour signing I spent about 35 minutes signing for people who showed up (not just collectors), and I was grateful to have their support and attention. It was awesome.

And I know readers wanted to interact more, because while I was skulking around outside the bar I heard readers express how intimidated they were by the writers’ takeover of the bar, creating a space that while seemed to some like a ‘no readers’ zone. From the inside perspective, it was just friends who all have something in common (reading/reviewing/art/long friendships/industry attachments) catching up and meeting friends of friends. From the outside?

So there is a desire to connect. The Drinks with Writers was a successful event for mingling a bit more. Room parties as well, though it’s always tough when they’re spread out a bit, and the quality depends on where and how they’re hosted.

As for moving books, I was impressed by Angry Robot, who used a booth and customized business cards per writer to really promote and sell a lot of their authors’ books. I understand that at 3-5,000 people, investing a lot of time and energy into something like that may be a tough calculation, but it certainly impressed me.

The post-Worldcon examination often has people offering up all manner of suggestions. I don’t have pronouncements, but I think if we want Worldcon to survive well past the demographic drop off, it needs more youth and diversity. I do think other cons will be happy to pick up to serve that need if it doesn’t. I hope it does.

As for how I’ll interact, I’m not sure. I like the idea of attending when I can afford to as mostly a networking event unless something changes. I was tired enough this year I think in the future I’ll do what I saw one author do: limit the events to just a single day so that I have energy and time to nap and be social on my own schedule. I certainly don’t want to blow off fans, so maybe an autographing and reading if I’m allowed? I’m very aware I’m there only if the volunteers arranging it want me to be, so I would understand if they found that to not be enough of a commitment… on the other hand, I’m volunteering my time and effort as well on panels. Some people see panels as a reward, or a geek promotion, but I invest time, energy, and thought ahead of time on them and am often tired afterwards. It’s not free, there is a cost for me.

My publisher in the UK will have a presence at the next Worldcon, and I might be called upon to do a lot more, which would be fine as well. I’d act as if it were a shake hands and stand a booth sort of con, meet new readers. That’ll be fantastic too. Worldcon, by virtue of being in a different place every year, also has the additional frustration of changing in tone each year, and changing what the author might need to view it as. A chance to meet overseas readers and editors might be a good networking opportunity. Worldcon is not a monolith.

At my next US Worldcon, I certainly also would consider buying a table, possibly with another author. I still want to test out a stand-and-shake approach to Worldcon would be like while selling my own wares.

The danger in this, I’m told, is that I will upset dealer-room booksellers. And I don’t want to do that. Some of them are excellent ambassadors out representing one’s books to a myriad of other, smaller, regional conventions.

I’d hate to get blacklisted, or something like that.

On the other hand, there were only a couple book dealers at Worldcon this year, and nothing at all like the larger rows of booksellers I first saw at my first Worldcon in 2001. Are they fading away as well? When do you begin to try and compensate? And is this really a zero sum game we’re playing where we jealously guard these little kingdoms? I was able to figure out how to sell both my books and a booksellers at a recent event with everyone making money.

* * *

I think, mainly, we’re possibly not experimenting enough. All of us. It’s easy to do what worked before and stick with a rut. I fell into the three panels, a reading, a quick autograph session myself. But having done some other things, it can be electrifying to shake it all up (and then also find more readers, sell more books, inject more excitement in).

I would like to buy a table and write something live, like Howard Taylor does live sketches.

I would like to participate in Ignite type events. 5 minutes, don’t talk about your book (or whatever you’re hawking). Maybe we authors could do it guerrilla style. We have a reputation for being boring at readings, so few attend. How can we shake things up, and train ourselves to be better presenters?

I want a panel of all minorities… who talk about anything but ‘minorities in SF.’ Make the topic ‘near future space access’ or something. It’s something we can propose?

I’d like to participate in more mixers. We can do these.

How about some Skype sessions with people across the world for more diversity?

These are all things that aren’t demands for Worldcons to change, these are things we can sneak doing ourselves.

I have very limited energy (damn heart issues), or I swear I’d try to move more of these forward. Mostly, after this very long entry, I hope I just gave you some interesting links and things to think about for the next round.

I think we can do interesting. I’ve seen it happen.

PS, it’s interesting to compare the website of a Phoenix Comic Con and a Worldcon. And I’ll note, that I’ve never been made to feel unwelcome at an event like this, even though I wasn’t a headliner. Sure I’m not in the main guest room with famous actors, but it’s been very fun to attend as an author. The main issue is that so many people show up it’s hard to navigate!

PPS: I don’t demand that a con should return on investment. Obviously if I’m designating it as a water cooler event, I look it as just that. But I have to say, it really helps if selling books can create ROI. Why? I’m asked to do a LOT of events. Right now, due to my medical debt, I simply turn most of them down unless it will be a fantastic water cooler event, or my way is being paid. But if I were able to get more of an ROI (like GenCons), cons might find more people showing up because they’re at least not costing themselves lots and lots of money to attend lots of these events.

03 Sep

Worldcon 2013 is over… I walked into a wall of exhaustion. Literally.

I’m so exhausted.

I don’t even.

First I spent a week in Barbados meeting fans, signing books, seeing some cool things that’ll be folded into Hurricane Fever (the book that will be out in summer 2014). I was tired, exhausted, and happy after that.

Then I flew to San Antonio and tried to rest up for Worldcon 2013, a major gathering of readers, authors, fans of all various types. This year I got to experience San Antonio’s amazing Riverwalk, glimpse The Alamo, and do my best to stay out of the heat and my best not to walk too much and thus collapse like I did in Montreal in 2009.


I found that Lee Harris of the ever interesting publisher Angry Robot was already there, along with authors Emma Newman and Adam Christopher. We had drinks with Justin Landon from Staffer’s Book Review at Ernie’s Bar (where Drinks with Writers would be held just a few days later)…

Like most conventions, I usually plan to note everything that happened in that day at the end of the day, but instead I collapse into bed and pass out at some obscene late night/early morning hour and then wake up without notes.

I have flickers of encounters, funny jokes, and more. So many people I wanted to spend more time talking to, but that is the nature of Worldcon. Glad to have met some new people and not just stayed within friend circles exclusively, though.

Highlights (i.e.: things I actually remember):

-Getting to know Ramez Naam better while at Drinks with Writers. I should have circulated more, but I was already exhausted and sitting down with Molly and Kristine Scalzi and happy to be ensconced.

-Sitting on a panel with Ramez and Paolo Bacigalupi. I should not slight the amazingly whip smart Vincent Docherty and Rick Lynch, the other panelists, but I’ve been looking forward to being on a panel with Mez and Paolo for *ages.* One day I’d pay to get on one with Karl Schroeder, Paolo, and Mez. That shit would be off. the. chain.

Our panel was on Near Future Energy. I’ll admit it felt like we’d each sat on a table with a space between us all on different approaches, as the other two panelists could have been seen to represent the interests of status quo. But once the panel got going ideas flew and it was one of the better panels I was on. We had the room pretty packed, here’s a pic I took just before it pretty much got to standing room only:


The downside of that panel were two SpaceX-obessed gentlemen who got riled up because no one on the panel thought the economics of space-based solar made much sense for the near future (i.e.: the topic of the panel); shooting mass into space to beam back energy still isn’t cheaper than using up deserts with cheap solar panels (I think Ramez made that point), and, as I pointed out, large mirrors in space (kind of like, ahem, one in a book I may have just written) allow the weaponizing of space, which means your legal costs for breaking the weaponization of space treaty will likely be greater than just the infrastructure costs and also create political side effects.

Yeah, they hissed at that. Afterwards they tried to shove flyers about SpaceX in our hands, and I was cornered and literally yelled at for saying it weaponizing space and was prevented from walking out of the door until Paolo grabbed my arm and swept me through (thank you). Somewhat uncomfortable. I’m a Space X booster, but this was that sort of fundamentalist anger that comes from true believers. Very interesting.

-Talking about Korean revenge cinema with Jason Hough. Talking to Jason Hough in general, who’s a cool dude. I’d just heard about his novel from a friend just days before the con, and then read a review of it that led me to mark the book in my to-read pile. Now I can’t wait to read it, Jason’s awesome-sauce. We shared a panel where we talked about AI, and it just added to my fond feelings toward the guy. Smart, quick, and I can’t wait to read his book Darwin’s Elevator.

-Getting into the Hugo reception. The last two times I’ve gone I’ve had a stake in the awards. You carry that, even if a little. This time I was Paolo Bacigalupi’s plus one (thanks man) due to his winning a Seiun Award, so I got to enjoy watching friends all dressed up for the Hugo Awards Ceremony, like Cat Valente and (newly met) Heath Miller:


-Watching John Scalzi win the Hugo for best novel was cool, as I was just a few seats away. I’ve known John forever, cool to see a good friend experience something that cool.

-Since I’m a Del Rey UK author now I got an invite to the Del Rey party at the top of a space needle thing. I got to chat with many people there, and met Kevin Hearne:

Keith hearn

Also was excited to see Scott Lynch. I’m listening to The Lies of Locke Lamora on audiobook right now in preparation for when his next comes out:


-I split my room with Karl Schroeder, on the left (he’s chatting with John Scalzi). We had a lot of fun briefly catching up, and also sharing some of the very expensive rum I snagged while in Barbados:


-I finally got to eat a Brazilian steak house thanks to Yanni Kuznia of Subterranean and Paolo Bacigalupi, who laughed madly when I flipped the card and was mobbed by people cutting off slices of meat for me. As I’ve been avoiding carbs as much as I could it was awesome.

-This is the first long trip I’ve ever made where I came back having been good about food and weighing two pounds less. For the win.

-Chuck Wendig shows off those ninja fingers that type so madly and put me to great shame:


-Wes Chu is a Chicago-based author I first met this January. On his side is Rob Zeigler, a friend of Paolo’s and cool author that I’ve been hoping to meet for a while!


-I also enjoyed getting to catch up with Derek Silver, a YA author I’ve been buddies with since we first met back in Montreal in 2009 through mutual friends.


-Thanks to everyone who came to my Kaffeeklatsch, it was great to meet you and and answer questions! Thanks also to the long line at my autographing. I got to see some copies of books that even I don’t have! You collectors are awesome.

-There are more memories and more people I met who I’ve only known on twitter, but these are all the pictures I have on my iPhone. I tried to post hellos and thank yous on twitter as I went along, I know there are people I’ve left out, people I adored meeting but due to the fact I have shit memory have basically spaced on but will go ‘oh, yeah! I remember’ later on this week as my brain begins sorting it all out. Fair cop, I was so tired that halfway through my 11am panel Sunday I had to ask for a question to be repeated because I felt I was having trouble holding on to what was going on around me.

-My thanks to all the volunteers who ran things. I was bummed my schedule shifted in such a way I couldn’t do the 11am Monday reading, but that was the fault of circumstances, not the con. I do wish I’d found a way to guerilla-show my movie and do a reading, but as time approached I had little organization time on my hands.

-Thank you to everyone who said hi, introduced themselves, chatted with me, and so on.

-When I got home I fell asleep with my kids playing on iPhones sprawled on me. Today, after twelve hours of sleep, I got up and walked into a wall. Looks like I got home just in time to prevent punching past my own personal envelope, because I don’t have any more oomph in me.

Not even an o’s worth of it.

26 Aug

AnimeKon 2013 is over! Shout outs! Happiness!

Exhausted. But happy. Lightning has struck twice. AnimeKon Expo was the most amazing experience of support and the most I’ve ever been embraced by readers at a single event before, and now it has happened again. I think we sold 50% more books this year than 2011. But that isn’t the only measure of success. It was fulfilling to meet so many readers coming up for more books who were first time buyers last time. Fantastic to meet so many Bajan creators (comic book artists, writers, dreamers, poets, etc etc) and share experiences. Late night conversations about the nature of art. Arguments over comic book characters. Delving into the nature of our feelings about shows. Sharing our favorite SF novels.

When I opted out of parties to stay back and write, when I sacrificed so much to throw myself down on the page every night, night after night, it was for the hope that I would have moments like the ones I had the last few days. Getting a firehose of it over three days is stunningly overwhelming.

I’ve had only one hour of down time in the last 3 days, I think, where I snuck onto the beach. Now I’m packing tamarind balls and sugar cakes and Mt. Gay rum into my suitcases and girding myself for my 4am taxi ride to the airport to head for San Antonio…

Here, have a photo montage:








Shout outs:

Thanks to Omar Kennedy and Mel Young for making AnimeKon happen, and inviting me back down as a guest for a second time. Thanks for everything, guys, and for taking such amazing care of us.

Thanks to my fellow guests, YaYa Han and Brian Boling, JayEm, Yale Stewart, Brandon Easton and Shawn Alleyne, it was great to make a batch of new friends and share the experience.

My thanks to Christine for helping guide me where I needed to be when I needed to be there at the LESC, and Erika Hinkson at Book Source Barbados for being my book selling frontline soldier and liaison, as well as Beverly, the owner of Book Source.

My thanks to Book Source for helping sponsor and feature me, this wouldn’t have happened without them. Thanks to the staff for handling the book sales; it was complicated and we sold a lot of books (two suitcases yo!), it all went smoothly!

As always, much love to Karen Lord and Robert Sandiford, two close friends and amazing writers down here. They’ve been an amazing help on this trip, helping me research some aspects of Barbados for Hurricane Fever. I hope I get this all right, if I don’t, it’s my fault, because they went above and beyond in setting up an excursion (that I’ll talk about later) to help me research the end of Hurricane Fever up close and personal!

Also, shout outs to the other writers in the Book Source area: Omar Gill (who I remember from back two years ago when he introduced himself and told me about the ideas he was working on), Jerry and Roger Reece, Matthew Clark and Nigel Lynch, Corey Springer, Rivenis, Russell Brooks.

Extra huge shout out to our interviewer, Justin Taylor (aka Sunrokk), who had a lot of interesting questions. I later got to see him as Sunrokk performing at D Arts Lime and was blown away.

If you’re going to Worldcon… see you in San Antonio soon:


23 Aug

My Worldcon Schedule (mostly) plus a request for help in screening a short film

As noted in ‘Appearances’ I’ll be at Worldcon this year in San Antonio, starting this Wednesday. Here’s my schedule (it’s also here with more details at Worldcon’s very slick online programming search query interface)


13:00: Autographing: Tobias Buckell, David Kyle, Kay Kenyon, Django WexlerAutographing (Convention Center)

15:00: Colossus, Skynet, or the Culture?006A (Convention Center)

19:00: Near-Future Energy007B (Convention Center)

Saturday, 31 August

13:00: Kaffeeklatsch: Tobia Buckell, David NickleRiverview (Riverwalk)
Tobias Buckell, David Nickle

17:00: The Relationship Between Reader and Writer007B (Convention Center)

19:00: Writers with drinks (off site event)

Sunday, 1 September
11:00: Should SF Consider the Aspects of the Future rather than Predicting the Future?006B (Convention Center)

13:00: Crowdfunding: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I’m hoping for a reading. My flight info changed from when I first talked to Worldcon about my availability. Right now they have me scheduled at Monday morning, but I’ll actually be on my way home then. The very nice volunteers said they would do their best about trying to schedule a reading, so… crossed fingers. I know this is the first large convention in a long time I’ve done readings/signings/appearances at, so I know some of you are looking forward to and hoping for chances to say hello.

Also, I have a really cool independent film made out of one of my short stories. Would anyone be interested in helping me figure out how to show it somewhere, even if in guerrilla fashion, or during my reading, or instead? It’s 15 minutes long. If you can help me with that, please, my email is tobias@tobiasbuckell.com and I’ll owe you big time, but this film is pretty cool, and I have gotten permission to show it.

22 Aug

Having arrived at AnimeKon Expo in Barbados

Have arrived in Barbados for AnimeKon Expo and am being treated so amazingly by everyone. A thoughtful gift basket includes tamarind balls (a favorite), some real hot sauce, plantain chips… etc. Right off the plane and whisked to get rhoti (happy) and sorrel. Ready to die happy. Already spoken to some of my readers who are looking forward to the weekend and the panel I’ll be giving.

The last time I came I was blown away to find how many readers I had in Barbados who’d been following my career, and blown away by how many snagged my books. Finding passionate SF/F fans who are also from the Caribbean means connecting with my perfect audience. It’s at times humbling, scary, exciting, and feels like coming home in a way that leaves me full of all the feels at the end of each day.

To be having an intense discussion about the impact of SF/F comic books, novels, movies, just a short throw from where I grew up… it feels like everything has come full circle every time I’m lucky enough to be invited back to do this.