Sunday, March 31, 2013

Minicon Report - Day One

From facebook:
The first day of Minicon went well. I had two panels. One had a ridiculous topic, the physics of fairy tales, but went pretty well once Jane Yolen got talking about fairy and folk tales, since this is a topic she knows really, really well.

The other panel was on self-promotion for authors. It was me -- the old, tired, war-weary, cynical pro -- and four writers who were starting careers, either with small presses and through self-publishing. The two young women on the panel believed totally in social media, especially twitter. The young man on the panel believed in selling his book face to face. He had managed to sell 1,200-1,500 copies in the course of a year, which impresses me. Adam Stemple and Michael Merriam were in the audience and added their comments. A good, energetic discussion with hand waving and shouting.

I felt afterward, talking to Russell Letson, that the advice I was given decades ago on self-promotion was pretty good. Go to cons and meet people. This may not give you a huge career, but it can help in little ways. You will, at least, meet authors and editors and learn about their experiences. When I'm in a mood to be social, I like cons. I have certainly met a lot of interesting people over the years.

But I continue to think that most efforts at self-promotion don't work.

Minicon Report - Day Two

From facebook:
I was wearing a bright red turtleneck and black pants from J Jill yesterday, and I felt I was too talkative and assertive. I even talked through a guy in the audience, which I never do. So today I am wearing a dark brown turtleneck, jeans and pearls. I feel the pearls will induce decorum, and the dark brown turtleneck with mute my mood down to morose and withdrawn. Unfortunately, I have no panels, so won't find out if this makes me a better panelist.

Along with the pearls I am wearing a 40-year-old Yves St. Laurant silk scarf that is brown, tan, green and bright reddish-pink. So the costume has a certain amount of cheer. The scarf is there to provide color and elegance.
Most of the time, I throw on a pair of jeans and a turtleneck and am dressed. But I pay more attention to what I wear at cons. I am an accessory kind of person, so I especially pay attention to jewelry and scarves. Thus this post.


I realized, bringing these comments over from facebook, that my con report is all about me. What else can I say?

Minicon is 48 years old this year. It exploded in the 1990s, and people split off into three other cons. Many of the younger people went to the new cons, though I did notice a number of young people at Minicon this year. I saw two or three people of color, all African-American, which doesn't seem like enough. A lot of the attending fans are old, in their 50s or 60s or 70s. It's like going to a science fiction convention in a retirement village. The energy level is pretty low. There are a lot of canes.

The interview with the Guest of Honor, Judy Czernada, made her work sound interesting. I will look for it. Her background is in biology, and she appears to know her science; and her books sound fun.

The annual panel on the best SF of the year was good, as usual. It consisted of Russell Letson, who reviews for Locus; Greg Johnson, who reviews for New York Review of Science Fiction and The SF Site; and John Taylor, a really bright and interesting linguist, who teaches science fiction (among other things) at South Dakota State. I took notes.

At one panel, I don't remember which, I learned about reverse shoplifting. This is done by authors, who want to get their books sold and read. First, you order a copy of your book from (say) Barnes and Noble. This puts the book in their system. Later, you begin putting copies of your book in the science fiction/fantasy section of Barnes and Nobles stores. People pick up the book and take it to cashier. Because it's in the system, the cashier can sell it. Voila! You have sold a book.

I don't know about the accounting and record keeping consequences. Do you get royalties? Does the sale show up in compilations of book store sales? I know it is hell for accounting, since the store has sold a book it doesn't, according to its records, have.

I want to know more.

Mostly I spent my time at Minicon talking with friends. I have friends in the Twin Cities Metro Area, people I really like, who I only see at cons.

Minicon Report - Day Three

From facebook:
Overcast day. This being Minnesota, there are no flowers blooming, and the grass is still stubbornly brown. Not that I mind. April is the cruelest month, and we don't even get lilacs here. Just mud and all the debris that the now-gone snow had hidden. Scraps of paper and plastic. Dog poop. Last fall's sodden leaves.

I have a raw throat, which may be a cold or simply too much talking at Minicon. I am going to miss the con's last day and stay home and read and maybe write.

Friday, March 29, 2013


My writing group met last night. Jane Yolen is in town and her son Adam Stemple, who is a member of the group, brought her along. A very nice gathering. Though the staff of the coffee house where we meet had to ask us to be less boisterous, since we were bothering the other customers. The staff said we could crank up the volume after 9:30. The coffee house closes at ten, and they figured we would make sure the place was empty at closing time.

Jane was not the problem. It was the rest of us.

We were cheerful and happy.


I am feeling spring-like and a bit hyper. That happens to me this time of year. It's a reaction to the end of winter, though I like winter and wish we had the long, cold winters we had when I was a kid. Still, spring is pleasant, and I love the increase in light. Flowers will be appearing any moment: crocuses, forsythia, magnolias, and then the wonderful week when the fruit trees and lilacs bloom. That used to be in May, but it's happening earlier now.

I heading off to Minicon at noon. I have a panel on the physics of fairy tales. I was going to say there isn't any. Then I realized my Big Mama stories are folk tales, and they are science fiction, with a lot of biology and some physics. I can talk about them and tell people the collection will be out in May.

I'm not usually into self-promotion. It seems too much like bragging, which is not admired here in Minnesota. But in this case my stories are actually relevant.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


Another sunny spring day. There is still snow on the ground, but the high is projected to be 46 above. I'm off to exercise, then home to write, then off to the Wyrdsmiths writing workshop this evening. Tomorrow is Minicon.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spring (Maybe)

A lovely spring day. The snow on the roofs of the Farmers Market is melting and falling from the eaves like rain. There were treacherous patches of ice on the sidewalks when I went to the coffee shop this morning. Now these are water. The sky is blue. The sun is shining. I expect crocuses at any moment.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


The weather has been coolish, around freezing, and there is still snow on the ground. This will end this weekend, when the temp is supposed to go up to 50. I am planning to spend most of the weekend at Minicon. At some point, though, Patrick and I need to take a drive up to Duluth or down along the Mississippi. We just sank $300 into car repairs and should use the car. There ought to be eagles still around Lake Pepin. We need to see them -- and Lake Superior, which is one heck of a lake.

These are two different directions, in case you aren't from around here. Lake Pepin is a wide place in the Mississippi south of the Twin Cities, edged by wooded bluffs. Bald Eagles winter there, because there are patches of open water, where they can fish. They ride the updrafts above the bluffs and sometime perch in trees by the road.

Lake Superior is three hours north of the Cities. A friend of Patrick's has been up on the North Shore of Superior and posting wonderful photographs. It really is one heck of a lake.

Monday, March 25, 2013

More About Self-Promotion

From another facebook conversation:
Self-promotion works for some people. John Scalzi is famous for building a huge audience with his blog. My understanding is he started the blog because he wanted to blog, not to promote his fiction. It worked out well for him, but he is an example of one. He's clearly a guy with a lot of energy, and he writes a very readable blog.

I attend cons to see friends and meet new people. I do panels because there are things I want to talk about. I think over the years, panels have made me more visible, and I may have gotten a few new readers. But mostly I do them because I enjoy conversations about science fiction, writing, politics...


More from facebook. This is a comment on a post by Charles Stross on why he does not self-publish:
Stross can sell the books he writes to publishers. If you can't, self publishing begins to look more interesting. It also looks interesting if you have a back list of out-of-print novels and an audience that might be interested in buying them. -- I have been thinking of self-publishing, out of curiosity. But it would have to be something I couldn't find a publisher for. A poetry book or a chapbook...

It seems to me the easiest thing is to look for a publisher. There are plenty out there. Even a small publisher is better than self-publishing, unless you really enjoy putting books together and marketing them. I'm not a designer; and I know nothing about marketing.
I have written about this before. I go back and forth about self-publishing. I think it's worth doing, if you are realistic about how much you are likely to make from a self-published book. I see the marketing as the problem. Production has become much easier, and there are people who will do it for comparatively modest amounts of money. But how do you get the word out? And how much time and energy will it take? Would you be better off spending the time and energy on writing?

On another topic, I am amazed that Stross can write two books a year. The fastest I have even written a novel was eighteen months. A Woman of the Iron People took me thirteen years. I took off a lot of time in the middle, and wrote another novel. I haven't done the figuring recently, but I used to average about 36,000 finished, publishable words a year. Some years I wrote a lot more. Some years I barely wrote.

Granted, I was working day jobs most of the time. I am writing more rapidly now, though not a lot more rapidly. It has taken me seven months to write one 12,000 word novelette, though it wasn't the only thing I was working on.

Some stories come easily and quickly. I can write a story in a week, if all goes well. But many are difficult and slow.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Teaching and Fandom

More cross-posting from facebook, a discussion with the author Rebecca Brown about teaching and fandom. I am printing my comments only:
I suspect writers end up teaching because it's something they are likely to qualified for, either because they studied English Lit. in college or because writing creds are considered a qualification for their particular teaching job. (Creative writing, for example.) And because writers almost never are able to make a living from writing.

I find fiction (and poetry) writing nothing like teaching. One is public and didactic. The other is private, masked, ambiguous. For me writing essays is painfully difficult, and teaching is even worse. I enjoy doing panels at cons, because I enjoy talking, and a panelist is not an authority the way a teacher is. I also enjoy writers' workshops, if they are a group of equals, helping each other out. Not if most members are paying one member to be an expert.

As far as fandom goes -- my feelings, as I said, are mixed. Right now I am having trouble with cons. I go and leave early if I can. If I can't, I hide in my hotel room or, in the case of the recent Chicago worldcon, I wander around the city. The Chicago Architectural Foundation shop is awesome. Downtown Chicago is amazing, one architectural monument after another.

When I moved to Minneapolis in the mid 1970s, I discovered the local fandom -- and found it not entirely sympathetic. One old-time fan told me, "You like reading and writing science fiction. MnSTF (the local fan organization) is not the right place for you." At the time, MnSTF was mostly about putting on Minicon, which they did very well, and playing bridge and going out for Chinese. I thought fandom ought to be about inclusiveness and dreams of a better society. Over time I found people more like me, and we built our own local fandom. Actually, many people built their own local fandoms. The result is a lot of local cons and fannish organizations. I'm not really an organization person, so what I mostly did was encourage and admire.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Self-Promotion and How-to Books

This is my share of a facebook discussion with Jeff VanderMeer on self-promotion and how-to writing books. I am omitting Jeff's share, because I don't have his permission. The discussion started with Jeff writing that advice on using blogs and social media for self promotion was out of date. I dislike self promotion, since it seems too damn close to bragging, and because it's hard to do well. So I wrote the following:
Nice to see my prejudices -- based on nothing in particular -- confirmed by someone who thinks about writing. I keep a blog, so people can find me on the Internet. There an email address on the blog, and a few times this has been useful. People did find me, and I was glad. I do facebook mostly because I enjoy it. But I don't expect to build an audience. There are not enough science fiction fans who love marmalade.

Decades ago the late Joel Rosenberg told me I wasn't going to enough cons. I needed to be out there building visibility and and an audience. I said, "But Joel, what if people don't like me?" I don't actually see myself as dislikable, but I am fairly introverted. I have watched introverts put themselves through hell, trying to be charming and lovable at cons. Why not do what you enjoy? You will be better at it.
Jeff has a book on writing coming out titled Wonderbook. It sounds amazing, due to remarkable images and layout. The discussion moved on this, and I wrote this:
I do read how-to writing books, even ones by Natalie Goldberg, because it's interesting to think about the process of writing and it's interesting to think about why people write. And because I keep thinking I need to reinvent myself as a writer. Start from the beginning and do it over. -- There is something really compelling to people about writing. Studs Terkel did a wonderful book titled Working, which is interviews with people about their work. He asked people what they would do, if they could do anything. The most common answers were, "I would do something that helped other people" and "I would write." I figure Patrick and I are pretty lucky. He spent most of his work life in human services, and I have written. I also did accounting. You'd be surprised how few people say, "If I could do anything, I would do accounting."

Monday, March 18, 2013

Less is More

I went through and deleted several recent posts, because they didn't seem especially interesting.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Publishing Update

One of my best stories, "The Garden," is going to be reprinted in the online magazine Lightspeed.

Modern Technology

This is from facebook:

Jeff VenderMeer did a post on communication technology... To wit, the new Google Glass and why it is not a good idea. I decided to not become comment # 110 on his post and instead do my own post. I deeply value the Internet. It has made my life much easier and more interesting. Now, when it's one a.m. and I need some bit of information for a story, I can get it at once, instead of waiting till the library opens. And when an idle question drifts through my mind, I can access Wikipedia. How old is Chow Yun Fat?

I love having facebook friends on the other side of the world.

I love being able to to take my netbook out to a coffee shop and write. Cell phones can be very useful. But there is also something to be said for actually being where one is and noticing what is going on around one. And there is something to be said for limiting information, especially since so much of it is crap.

I have always been a bit slow to adopt new technology, and I plan to continue to be slow. My phone is dumb. My netbook is a netbook. My Netflix movies come on DVDs. There is something to be said for time not filled with electronic input.

When I go on trips, I often carry my netbook. But I don't use it to connect with the Internet. The time away from e-information is very pleasant.

I took my new nook to Minneapolis on Tuesday. Riding the bus on the way back, I pulled it out and played solitaire. It bothered me that I wasn't paying attention to the sky and the passing city. So I put the nook away.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013


It's snowing. We ought to get about ten inches of snow by the time the storm moves on. I think I need to get out into it for a little while, so will most likely go to my favorite coffee shop. The morning commute in the Twin Cities was bad. A semi went off a bridge into the Red Cedar River in Wisconsin. I don't think there's much hope for the driver. I love storms, especially snow storms, but they are dangerous, if one is not snug at home.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Fiction This Year Update

I have a small collection, Big Mama Stories, coming out in May; three stories due out in reprint anthologies, two of which are Best of the Year collections; and two original novelettes sold. I expect one of the novelettes will come out in F&SF this fall. The other novelette will be in a theme anthology, which may be out this year. Finally, I am working on a second collection, Hidden Folk, which might make it out in 2013.

I'm not sure how much I'm repeating. But I'm not going back through old posts to find out if I've already input this. There is a limit to how much of my old writing I want to read.