Worldcon is over, I am home, weary and pumped and amazed and frazzled. So much happened, it is difficult to sort it out and deal with it cogently.
This may have been the best worldcon experience I have ever had. Barring the first one, way back in 1984, in L.A., when Donna and I roamed around gawking at all the startling stuff and sitting in panels listening to the writers we were reading and finding books in the dealers’ room Walden and Dalton just didn’t stock, the worldcons in between have been mixed bags for us, often fraught with my anxieties of trying to become a pro writer and feeling alternately despairing and enthusiastic. Whipsawed.
Not so this time. Almost from the minute I set foot in the convention center I found myself treated with a collegiality I’ve experienced before but never so thoroughly and consistently.
Over the course of five days, I interacted with peers and pros and fans at nothing but high levels of sometimes ego-boosting wonderfulness.
The best part was finding old friends I didn’t expect to be there. One in particular, a man I met way back at the very first convention I attended, Archon 6, and with whom I’ve had almost no contact for several years, was standing in the dealers’ area. Like a mirage or a ghost, I stared at him a few moments before realizing that, yes, Ed Bryant really was there.
Ed is a short story master. He has several collections to his name and the stories are wonders. He was kind and patient to a young wannabe who often did not know how to take advice. He’s been suffering poor health for some time and I never expected him to show up at a worldcon, but we spent several hours together in conversation, a now cherished experience.
The other face I did not expect to see was that of Daryl Gregory. Daryl has over the last few years become something of a Big Deal, though he would probably dispute that. It wouldn’t matter to me in any case, as we are Clarion classmates and I know whence the droids are buried.
He was in company with his new companion, Liza Groen Trombi, who is top person at Locus Magazine these days. It was a pleasure to make her acquaintance. We all went out one evening for dinner, ending up in typically dramatic fashion almost caught in a thunderstorm. One of those evenings when I glance about for the camera crews and wonder who is in charge of special effects.
The principle motivation for my attending turned out to be one of the best parts. As I said in an earlier post, I had not intended going. But then my agent, Jen Udden, told me she would be there and wanted to meet, so plans changed again.
I am especially glad about this. You can work with someone long distance a lot and work perfectly well, but a face-to-face makes a difference. It adds a layer and validates opinions. I have no idea what she came away with, but I am even more confident that I’m in excellent hands.
We met for lunch at a Kansas City great, Jack Stacks BBQ. I’d never been before. It’s in the freight yard area adjacent to Union Station. I had a bit of a scramble getting there, but made it almost exactly on time (I hate not being punctual). They seated us on the patio and we proceeded to overeat on some of the best barbeque around.
We cabbed back to the hotel and she introduced me to some of her other clients. I reconnected with Maurice Broaddus, whom I’d met several years ago in Ohio.
My panels were all well-attended and produced the kind of discussion I look forward to. The Generation Starship one in particular, in company with Gregory Benford and Pat Cadigan, was a learning experience as well.
I am, as it has turned out, getting too old for the party scene. For one thing, my hearing is not what it once was. If the crowd is too large, I have difficulty sorting out individuals. This was especially hard at the TOR party, which was thunderous. (Someone had a decibel meter app and said it was about 110 db.) But I had to go to Roomcon and hear Bradley Denton in his role as Bland Lemon Denton, play along with Caroline Spector, with extra vocals by Sherri Dean.
The Marriott bar was watering hole central. Meet-ups for dinner and other excursions most often took place there. The SFWA suite was also in the Marriott and it was trhere that I saw the live feed to the Hugo Award ceremony. Though not all, I came in late. But I saw enough to feel very positive about our field. The rockets went to deserving writers for exemplary work. Despite the bellyaching of certain factions in the genre, this year’s winners show how much the work has grown and developed and, if I may say so, matured.
However, George R.R. Martin’s Hugo Losers Party was still the place to be afterward. George had rented a restored movie palace, The Midland, nearby. Attendance was invitation only. I managed to get in (thank you, Paul Burns) and stayed through George’s handing-out of the “Alfies”—Hugo substitutes for those works which had, by some lights, been unfairly pushed off the final ballot this year by the manipulations of a disaffected element.
The Midland is incredible. George spared no expense. The bar was open (courtesy of Random House) and the attendance was…well, let’s just say that no one was sorry to see that element mentioned above be offered a rising finger of salute.
All in all, it was a great party.
The band provided for the night’s festivities was new to me but apparently a K.C. fixture, the Black Crack Review. I asked someone what kind of music they played and was told it would be a blend of George Clinton and Sun Ra. They did not disappoint.
Sunday, like every other last day of a worldcon, was both pleasant and melancholy. I did a podcast interview for SciFi4Me, ran around saying bye to too many people to name, did my autographing session—which was another egoboost, as I had a queue waiting when I arrived—and my last panel, on interstellar colonies (which complemented the earlier one on starships, though the consensus this time was generation ships simply will never happen). I did not stay for closing ceremonies, but instead return with my hosts for a wind-down dinner at their house.
Monday morning I hit the road for St. Louis and made good time.
There are several takeaways from MidAmeriCon II, which was not without its controversies. I will discuss one of those later. But one of the biggies for me was a renewed sense of welcome and excitement. The possibilities of doing new work and being part of what I’ve always considered the best kind of fiction. I’m pumped. Just wait for this new novel.
I am now a contributor to Lightspeed Magazine. They bought my novella, Miller’s Wife, for one of their ebook reissues. Here is the cover of the issue:
Oh, and Miller’s Wife now has its third appearance. Originally, the story appeared in Black Gate Magazine. Currently it is also the lead story in my short story collection, Gravity Box and Other Spaces. Now this.
He was a presence in my growing understanding of the professional side of science fiction for almost 40 years. He was the first book editor whose name I knew. I collected a slew of his Timescape imprints from Pocket Books, regarding the label as a mark of excellence in a volatile field that was often untrackable in terms of what was good and what was not. Because of David G. Hartwell, a number of authors came to my attention whose work I have continued to follow to this day.
I was fortunate to know him. A little. Somehow. We crossed paths enough times to be acquaintances and he was always—always—-gracious and, more importantly, interested.
The first time I saw him was in L.A. in 1984, at L.A.Con II, in a party shortly after the news had broken that Pocket Books had pulled the plug on Timescape. Among the other problems, apparently, was the fact that David kept buying books that wouldn’t sell. By sell, I mean they would not make bestseller lists. Her had this arcane idea, apparently, that a good book ought to be published, regardless of the numbers it might (or might not) generate. Odd notion, that, in an era dominated by the quest for the next blockbuster. But David kept acquiring and championing books that did not have that kind of potential. Anyway, I saw him in a hotel corridor, his hair sprayed with red and pink highlights. (In contrast, I recall his tie was relatively tame.) We spoke briefly. I was just a fan and a wannabe writer at that time. We talked a bit about the books and publishing. A few minutes. He said, finally, “Yes, well, the books are out there now.” He had won one over the corporates. The books had been published, despite the disapproval of the suits.
We said hi to each other in Atlanta in ’86 and by then I was, with some temerity, trying to write novels. We connected again in 2000, in Chicago, where we spent a couple of hours talking at the Japanese party at worldcon. I remember that especially because it was the quietest party I’d ever attended at a worldcon—-or any con, for that matter—and David spoke knowledgeably about Japan and fandom there. In the midst of our conversation, a number of our hosts,in kimonos, stopped at the same time, producing a variety of small cameras, and snapped pictures of us, as if by pre-arrangement. By then Allen Steele had joined us, so they were getting pictures of two famous SF personalities and one semi-obscure one.
A few years later I was involved with the Missouri Center for the Book. I’d just become its president and we were trying some new events, and one idea I came up with was what I called the Genre Forums. We would do a public panel with a number of writers in a given genre, with a Q & A afterward. The first one we did was science fiction, of course, and I had Robin Bailey come in from Kansas City, Carolyn Gilman, who lived in St. Louis then, Nisi Shawl from Seattle, and myself. At the last minute, David called Robin. He had seen a notice for the event. He was coincidentally going to be in St.Louis for a family wedding that weekend and wondered if this was something he should attend. Robin called me to see if I wanted David on the panel. Rhetorical question. We had a small audience, unfortunately, because it was a first-rate panel. My partner, Donna, said it was the best panel she had ever seen, and by then we had both seen enough to judge. His presence, his knowledge, his erudition graced our discourse with a sensibility difficult to describe, but it was wonderful.
After that he began soliciting work from me. We never connected on a project, but we had several fine conversations afterward. He was, I learned, a wine lover and I was able to introduce him to one.
Of course, he’s famous for the outré ties. He possessed an antic quality that leavened his profound seriousness. He had been instrumental in many careers.
He bridged the tail end of the Golden Age and the present. Elder statesman of the field seems a bit pompous, but in many ways it was true. For a long time he ran the New York Review of Science Fiction—where I finally sold him a few things—and through that facilitated a high-minded, ongoing discussion of the workings, the objectives, the ongoing assessment of science fiction and, indeed, literature.
Here is the Locus obituary for more detail.
David took me seriously. I am glad I knew him, sorry I didn’t know him better, and feel the world has lost a gentle, intelligent, wise light.
This coming weekend is Archon 39, our local SF convention. For the last two months I’ve been rushing about, often only in my own head, to prepare. This year is special in a number of ways. Harlan Ellison is attending. Now, unless one keeps abreast of such things, that alone is no explanation for the level of anxiety I’ve been feeling about this. For one, I instigated this event, largely without intending to. For another, I’ve been involved in arranging things for him and his wife, Susan. I’ve consequently been more involved in Archon than in previous years. But today, Monday, I can honestly say I have covered as many bases as it is possible. The unforeseen is…e=unforeseeable.
That’s not the only thing going. Those of you who have been following me on Twitter will know that I have been updating my computers. That has been both less bothersome and more annoying than it ought to be, but is now largely done. (I have one more thing to get, but it will keep till later.) I’m now well into the 21st Century on that front and not a moment too soon. This morning I took care of the last bit of bother for Archon that is in my power to take care of, so I spent the last twenty minutes playing with the theme on my blog. I think I’m sticking with this one for a time. How do you like it? I feel it is a theme of great nift.
Recently, Left Bank Books hosted an event with Sammy Hagar. He has a new cookbook out (yes, that Sammy Hagar, and, yes, I said a cookbook) and we ushered through a myriad of his ecstatic fans and sold a ton of them. So for no other reason than I have it on hand, here’s a photo of Mr. Hagar.
We have all more or less recovered from the chaos and excitement of that day, which was one day in a week filled with notable events. Jonathan Franzen was also in town and we (not I) worked that event. And earlier we hosted Mr. Jeff Smith, former Missouri state senator who went to prison and has, since release, dedicated himself to prison reform. He has a new book out about it. I did work that event and must report that some of what he said, while not surprising, was nevertheless disturbing. The whole fiction of “rehabilitation” in regards to incarceration…
Well, I may have more to say on that later.
I’m unwinding as I write this, so forgive me if I wander about from topic to topic. Last night we had friends over to dinner and it was terrific. Good food, great conversation, laughing…we don’t do nearly enough of that. Partly it’s the time thing, but you know, you can lose the habit of being social, and over the last several years we’ve seen our skills erode. We may be coming out of a long hibernation, but then there is still the time thing, and I have a book to write over the next several months. (Hence the new computers.)
On that front, this Saturday past I was one of eight local authors invited to attend the Carondolet Authors’ Brunch. Strange thing that it was, it was nevertheless fun. They arranged tables and set it up like speed dating. The authors would visit each table for 15 minutes, then move to the next, and so on. I was delighted that no two tables produced the same conversation, although some variation of “where do you get your ideas” came up each time, but that was only one of two questions that I found repeated. The other was “Do you teach?”
There were a couple of household repairs I tended to this morning and now I’m procrastinating here. I should be writing something serious, profound, or at least with the potential to earn income, but I’m fooling around with my blog theme and gossiping.
…And I just realized I have one more thing to take care of for Archon.
That said, this Thursday we’re trying something at Left Bank Books that I hope will establish a tradition. We’re having three of the major guests in the store for a kind of pre-con event. Jacqueline Carey, of Kushiel’s Dart fame; Esther Friesner, of multiple fames; and Vic Milan, who has been the toastmaster at Archon’s masquerade since forever, and if you like costuming and haven’t been to an Archon masquerade, you’re missing a real treat, of which Vic is a major part. So, seven o’clock Thursday night, October 1st, be there or be a tessaract.
After Archon I intend to find a corner and melt down into it.
Until then, thanks for stopping by.
A friend of mine called while I was out. He left a message (which I thought had to be a mistake) to the effect that apparently my new book, Gravity Box and Other Spaces, made the local (St. Louis) independent bookstore bestseller list of the week ending June 29. Post-Dispatch page here.
Well, not one to be fooled, I looked it up. And there it is. (See link above)
I mean, the last thing I expected was for something like this to occur with this book.
Not that I had a list of expectations, mind you. I was just very pleased with the finished product and that it arrived on the shelves. I was gratified right down to my socks that people showed up at the release party. (No, that’s an understatement, I was beyond gratified. I never expect people to pay any attention. I’m always surprised and pleased and blown away.) If I got a couple of positive reviews and the book sold well enough to justify my publisher’s commitment, well, that would be great. Beyond that, no expectations.
Hopes, on the other, I got plenty.
But to be real, it’s a short story collection. Best seller? Granted, it is a local list, but even so, I’m in the top three with Gone Girl and Orange Is The New Black. What?
So right now I am about as happy as a writer as I have been since…
Well, since I sold my first story. Then sold my first professional story. Then sold my first novel. I was elated when I was informed that I’d made the short list for the Philip K. Dick Award. And again when I made the short list for the Tiptree a few years later. Yeah, I’ve had some moments in this insane business.
But this! Wow.
So, what would be very cool would be to see this happen elsewhere. I doubt this will be anything other than a word-of-mouth success. That being the case, please—say something. Push your local independent bookstore into getting it. Talk to people. With a little help from my friends (well, maybe a lot of help) I may yet have a decent career. It would be really strange if this were the book that made the comeback for me. But I wouldn’t be the least bit unhappy about that.
For those of you who have already bought the book, thank you very, very much. Picking up a book and laying out cash for it is an act of faith. One that, I hope, will be justified in this case.
By all appearances, I seem to be having a good year. After my new collection came out last month from Walrus Publishing, a second book has now been released by Yard Dog Press. The link to this “new” title is here.
Logic of Departure is a neat thing. Last year, the marvelous Selina Rosen, chief cook and bottle washer of Yard Dog, called me to ask permission to reissue the two chapbooks of mine they had published. Extensions and Diva are novellas which, being novellas (and notoriously difficult to place), made their debut as nifty chapbooks. Yard Dog has consistently sold them for years. The strangeness of publishing being what it is, it is now more economical for them to issue them together, in a perfect-bound edition, than to continue pushing the chapbooks—which are, of course, both still available singly as ebooks. Of course I said yes, and then suggested they hold off a bit, as I was then working on a new story that might fit in very well with those two.
Without intending it, Extensions and Diva both fit a loose background universe. So I wrote a third novella set in that milieu, called Raitch, Later. I was inspired to write it by a wonderful short story by Adam-Troy Castro called Arvies, which I urge you all to look up. It’s one of those logical projections of a current thing that blows the mind. A few days after reading it I had what I considered a suitably nasty idea and started work.
It took the better part of the last six months. This past year has not been the most conducive to writing I’ve ever had (though not by any means the worst), but the end result is something I’m good with. Lynn and Selena took the piece and now the completed book is available, with cover art by David Lee Anderson.
I don’t write very many novellas. Mainly because they’re damnably difficult to sell, but also because most of them end up becoming novels. That happened with the last Secantis novel I wrote—in fact, the last two, because Peace & Memory began life as a novella as well—an unpublished novel called Ghost Transit which is lying fallow, awaiting the day when.
But these three I doubt could be expanded, at least not as conceived. So this is a neat thing, having them between covers, all together. I think they work well together.
So I can now officially claim 12 books to my credit. Published books, that is.
The link above is directly to Yard Dog. Please, if you intend to order it online, do so directly from them. They are a very small house and buying their product through Hamazon, ahem, while not profitless for them certainly takes a bigger bite out of their bottomline than is comfortable. And while you’re there, check out some of their other titles. A lot of fun work gets put out by these smaller publishers, work that one occasionally scratches one’s head and wonders, “how come Simon & Schuster didn’t take this…?”
I’m hoping this bodes well for the near future. Maybe the freeze is beginning to thaw and I can get some of my other books in the pipeline to print. I have learned in this business than 95% of it happens at a glacial pace, balanced in the end by 5% that requires time travel to complete.
(I just finished reading a time travel novel for my reading group. What if…?)
A word about the stories included here. This is a near future world, just on the brink of breaking out of the solar system. You could easily read them as (loosely, very loosely) part of the Secantis universe. They’re about class divisions, underdogs struggling to overcome, and the byzantine workings of social systems are laid bare for the reader’s scrupulous examination. They are all about knowing when it’s time to leave. Beyond that, I wish to leave everything else for you to discover. Enjoy.
I have another book out, from Yard Dog Press, The Logic of Departure. More on that later.
I’m having something of a productive year, career-wise. To recap, the official release party for my first short story collection, Gravity Box and Other Spaces, if this coming Wednesday at Left Bank Books, 399 N. Euclid, St. Louis, MO, at 7:00 PM.
Also, I’ll be doing another program with the St. Louis Science Center at the end of July. More on that when things are firmed up.
But on July 11th, we’ll be celebrating the 45th birthday of Left Bank Books and for that we’ll be doing something wild and crazy and insane—you know, normal fare for Left Bank—called Writers Under Glass. I have roped, er, enlisted the participation of three very talented local writers for this. We’ll be writing a story in the window of the store. Scott Phillips, Ann Leckie, and Kevin Killeen will be tag-teaming along with me in this endeavor and who knows what we’ll produce, but it will be fun and there will be refreshments and it will be for a good cause and, well, it’s a party and a show, so not to be missed.
I’m writing two books more or less simultaneously, did I mention that? More crazy, but it needs doing, for many reasons.
But right now I want to talk a bit about the books.
I always considered short story collections to be a kind of marker that a writer had “arrived.” There was a time when they constituted a substantial part of an author’s published œuvre, equal to the novels, but that changed while I was growing up and beginning my career. Received wisdom in the industry is that anthologies and collections “don’t sell” and hence I came to see such things as the equivalent of “best of” or “greatest hits” album, something not likely to sell as well (if at all) but an indicator along the road that one’s work is worthy of attention. I saw them as a bone thrown to the writer by a publisher if the sales of the novels seemed to merit it.
Which would mean that I was unlikely to have one. For many reasons, some of which I’ve discussed here, my sales are…not what I’d prefer them to be.
So it is with considerable pleasure (and pleasurable surprise) that an opportunity more or less fell into my lap when Lisa Miller of Walrus Publishing approached me about a project several years ago. She was starting up her publishing company, looking for projects, and she asked me what I wanted to do. I confessed that I would really like to put out a collection. After looking over some stories, she enthusiastically agreed, and here we are.
Gauging one’s impact in this business is difficult at best. I’ve published just north of 50 short stories and to the best of my knowledge none of them garnered much notice. I’ve consistently failed to be nominated for awards in short fiction and I’ve had to date only three stories anthologized (one in a best of the year!) and my production of short fiction fell off after I began selling novels. For all I know, few people thought much of my short fiction.
Initial reaction to the release of Gravity Box has been surprisingly positive, though. The echo chamber in which many of us work may be returning some of our early shouts finally. I choose to be hopeful.
I am very proud of my short fiction. I never worked so hard at anything. My inclination was always to be a novelist. Short stories were not my preferred form, but in order to be a professional I thought I needed to learn how to do them and in fact they taught me a tremendous amount about craft and character and all the small indefinable yet indispensable things that comprise “story.” Time permitting, I desire to write more of them. I came to genuinely enjoy the form.
What people will find in Gravity Box and Other Spaces is a collection of stories orbiting around themes involving family and relationships tied to family. The theme emerged during the process of assembling the pieces. A third of them have been previously published, the rest are making their debut here. I ignored subgenres—there are science fiction stories, full-blown fantasies, borderline horror, a lot of “slipstream” and a couple of quasi-historical magic realism types. I feel they all fit comfortably within my definitions of speculative fiction. Without wishing to seem presumptuous, I hope they appeal to an even wider audience looking for literary merit.
The second book now out is a happy accident. Yard Dog Press has published a few of my longer short pieces. They did two chapbooks for me, Extensions and Diva, both novellas. Anyone in the business will tell you that novellas are damnably difficult to market. Not long enough to be a book, not short enough to leave room in a magazine for everyone else. I’ve written few of them in consequence. Last year, Lynn and Selena, who run Yard Dog, contacted me to let me know they intended combining the two chapbooks into a single, perfect-bound edition. At the time I was wrestling with a new story that seemed determined to sprawl into a novella, but which also seemed workable as part of the background world in which these two chapbooks shared. I asked their indulgence to wait till I finished and perhaps they could publish the three of them together. It still took me an inordinate amount of time to finish the third novella, now entitled Raitch, Later. But they were happy with it and now the three pieces, under the title The Logic of Departure, are out. Serendipity.
Now I’m back at work on the novels, hoping for further good news this year. We could use some, given certain other things that are going on (and not for public consumption). Be that as it may, I am thrilled right now and of course I look forward to seeing throngs at the release party this Wednesday.
I will be updating everyone on the other events as details come in.
In the meantime, my thanks to Lisa Miller and John Kaufmann and the terrific people at Left Bank Books. See you all Wednesday.
One of the things I have been notably bad at over the years is promoting myself. I’ve published ten novels and still have a hard time sounding my own trumpet. So this is a departure for me.
Announcing the official release party for my new book, Gravity Box and Other Spaces, published by Walrus Publishing.
June 25th, 2014, at Left Bank Books— here —we’re having a book release party. There will be refreshments, there will be fascinating people, there will be copies of my new book (plus copies of some of my other titles). Seven PM, in the Central West End, St. Louis, MO. Did I mention to go here for more information?
This is my first book-length short story collection and I am very proud of these stories. As a bit of a departure from the normal collection, most of these stories are new and previously unpublished. A number have seen print elsewhere. I have been graced with a wonderful cover by the brilliant John Kaufmann.
I’ll be posting updates when I have updates to post. But for now, be aware, this is a happening thing. I’m sending out direct invitations via email to various people, but consider this notice as well that, if possible, you should come to this event. It would make my heart glad.
So now it can be told…
I have a new book coming out this May. It is my first short story collection* and will be published by
Walrus Publishing, a small press right here in St. Louis.
Here’s the cover, done by the remarkable John Kaufmann, also local to the area.
There are eleven stories, a mix of previously published and new, a mix of science fiction, fantasy, “slipstream,” and a mix of short story and novelette. I am, needless to say, very excited about this, and I throw myself on the mercy of anyone reading this to spread the word.
The first publicity post is up at the Walrus site, here, which is an interview. So rather than ramble on about the book here I urge you to click through and read the interview…and while you’re there check out some of Walrus’s other titles.
*Hmm. Not strictly true. I should say this is my first BOOK LENGTH short story collection. The estimable Steve Miller and Sharon Lee published a chapbook of three stories some years ago called Other Ways: Three Tales From The Secant. As of this writing, I do not know if these are still in print.