Fountaindale Library’s Indie Author Day 2017

There’s nothing particularly unique in an author talking about her love of libraries. It makes sense. Why wouldn’t someone who loves books enough to go to the trouble of making them love a place full of free books? In my case, I love libraries for all the usual reasons, plus one: it was where I met some of my best friends.

Whether it was a one-off tabletop RPG gathering or a regular writing workshop, I met and bonded with a lot of people over the years through attending library programs. That’s why giving back to my childhood library’s program providers by appearing at the Fountaindale Public Library’s Indie Author Day on October 14 is a huge personal achievement.

If you live in the Chicago suburbs and are interested in learning more about the publishing process, whether self-pub, small press, or larger traditional publishing, the Indie Author Day will have something for you. With authors writing everything from children’s books to erotica, you can get advice about taking a project in its infancy to completion, about promoting and publishing your work independently, about building outreach through social media, and about revising your work in the traditional publishing pipeline. If that’s not enough, there will be giveaways for all attendees.

In my case, in addition to giveaways for all attendees, I’ll be raffling off two Thieves of Fate Fan Packs, which include:

  • a snazzy tote bag with original The Nine-themed art designed by my colleague, teacher and comics artist Mike Dean
  • a complete set of The Nine character-themed teas, with six blends designed to capture the essence of Rowena, the Alchemist, Anselm, the Reverend Doctor Phillip Chalmers, Rare, and Inspector Gammon
  • your own “little black notebook” and pen set, with the cover of The Nine decorating it (art by the amazing Adam S. Doyle)
  • and, of course, a copy of The Nine in ARC (advance reader copy) form

Indie Author Day is set to be a big program with a lot of information and opportunities for the attendees, running from 1-5:30 PM, and entirely open to the public — no fees or pre-registration required.

I hope to see you there!

 

On Mercy For Your Darlings & Arranging Matches

I’ve been a teacher for fourteen years, which means many things: a lot of time spent at desks, grading papers; a lot of the same conversations about the same concerns, applied to various students; a lot of chocolate and mugs given as gifts at the end of term. It also means a lot of time assembling, through both careful curation and careless inspiration, an arsenal of bromides to help students navigate recurring issues in their writing. There are few writing adages more frequently repeated than “Kill your darlings” (variously attributed to Chekhov, Wilde, Faulkner, and Stephen King, but ultimately the work of Arthur Quiller-Couch). Maybe “Write what you know” or “You can’t edit a blank page” are contenders, but lacking the murderous flair of “Kill your darlings,” I think they might only rate a close second.

But maybe, just maybe, the conspiracy against darlings is finally on notice. In her role as guest instructor at Alpha Workshop, Alyssa Wong shared this message with her awesome sfnal pupils:

I love Alpha Workshop. They’ve nurtured the growth of my former students, Ana Curtis and Surya Cannon, and introduced me to other fabulous young Alphans like Kyra Boisseree and Alina Sichevaya. Combine an Alpha tweet with an @crashwong authorship and you’ve got a favorite guaranteed, as far as my feed is concerned. But I retweeted Alyssa’s message because of how deeply, utterly true it felt to me, as a writer.

I’ve been guilty of telling students to cut one thing or another from their work for practical reasons — something is long, confusing, contradictory, distracting, breaks tone, shifts tone without cause, whatever. But I’ve tried not to do this too often because ultimately, what we love in our own writing is the very thing that brings us back to do the work day in and out. Those little pieces of ego spur us to confront the blankness of the not-yet-written. It’s not easy work. You have to love something about it to keep showing up.

I’m grateful to Alyssa and Alpha for sharing this message, because it validates the author over the reader. We know already that the reader matters. So much of writing workshop culture is built up around the authority of readers, it can be difficult to balance that power against an author’s desires, and that balance is crucial. After all, the reader is as imperfect as the writer, and elusive, to boot. Each is unique, and for every confluence of opinions and tastes that helps create “a market” for a story (“Hey! A f/f historical mystery set in occupied Japan! We’ve been looking for that!” – sidebar, if there is such a thing out there, please shove it in my face) there are divergences that diffuse a monolithic “market” into individual readers with their own reasons for ultimately not enjoying something that seemed tailor-made to their tastes (“Oh, no, did you hear that it’s totally a Bury Your Gays thing, though?”). Just as writing a story intended to charm all readers in a workshop – boring none, offending none, surprising none – results in pablum no one wants to consume, writing a story and then culling out of it the things that gave you joy, the parts of your style that make you love what you can do with the space between your ears, is counter-productive.

There’s a joke in Chez Townsend that if there was nobody around to stop me, all my fiction would run a bit like this bit Eddie Izzard does on tension and conflict in British cinema. Go ahead and watch it. I’ll wait.

I don’t get mad when my husband, always a first-flight reader of my work, looks up from the screen to tell me the characters are arranging matches again. If anything, I find ways to help them do it more often (though maybe I break it up and sprinkle it around differently, after a good beta read). My ideal book would be about 50% action/adventure with 50% Matchstick Interludes. Arguably, that’s about what the Thieves of Fate series is shaping up to be, and I like it that way. I love my characters to have deep-seated issues, to live surrounded with unspoken things and tension that could whet a blade to blurred blue edge. I love that crackling chemistry. I love questions half-answered, and wordless understandings, and all of that stuff. I want my reader to do a bit of work, because that’s the work I want to do when I read. I want that emotional gymnastics routine as a counterpoint to the espionage, the heists, the Machiavellian scheming, the running-for-your-life pursuits and back-alley ambushes. And I think, for the most part, my ideal reader wants that, too. So you’re welcome.

Or maybe that’s not what you want in a book. And that’s okay. But I know I’m at my best when characters are tangled and thorny, both within themselves and within the conflict of the plot. Anyone who tells me to take that out of my work, well. That’s one darling I’ll never kill.

I hope every Alphan takes Alyssa’s words to heart and plunges deep into some writerly self-love. I hope the rest of us can indulge in that too. We spend so much time worrying over approval of others; spending a little more approving of ourselves is long overdue.

 

Post-script: 

Hey, if you’re a Goodreads user and are keen to get an ARC of The Nine, enter this giveaway between August 1-9th, 2017!

Also, if you’re getting interested in The Nine and can’t wait until November (and really, it’s coming up fast!), consider up-voting it in the Goodreads Most Anticipated Adult Fantasy Debuts of 2017. We’ve made it all the way up to (you guessed it) Number Nine as of the writing of this post. Thank you!

And if you’re looking for a way to help more writers (particularly young ones) find the thing about their work they love, consider donating to Alpha here.

When Books Are Your People: A Belated Readercon 28 Reflection

At the end of June, a little before the official okay was given to release Readercon programming schedules, I jumped the gun and posted the reading and panels I’d be part of this year. To my relief, didn’t have to issue a correct as my schedule stayed put. But I have better reasons than disliking updating posts to be happy about that.

I’m happy about my Readercon schedule because giving a public reading from my debut novel, The Nine, speaking about problematic characters, about characters with disabilities, and about “soul” in stories reinforced so much of what makes me love writing, reading, and talking about both.

In the “The Souls of Stories” panel proposed by Rose Fox and moderated by Cecilia Tan, I found myself in the awkward position of pushing back against an idea Rose had proposed in their description of the panel: “What does it mean to relate to a story the way one relates to people? How does this intersect with the stereotype of the introverted reader who chooses stories over human interaction?”

My answer to this provocative question was, “We can relate to books much the same way we relate to people because reading a book IS a human interaction. A human wrote the damn book!” That got a laugh from the audience — and not, I’m relieved to report, an unkind one — but it also set the tenor of my weekend.

There I was in a hotel outside Boston, its halls literally overrun with authors and editors and readers and critics and bibliophiles of every shape and size, assured in the knowledge that what had brought us together was a fundamental love of books.

Daily conversation lends itself to slightly hyperbolic statements like “I love coffee,” or “I love sunny days.” But however bowled over we might be by clement weather or our morning’s first cuppa, we don’t mean “love” in the same way we do when we say “I love you,” or even when we say we love something much less intimate about someone — “I love your hair,” for instance. There is no real recipient of those earlier statements. Coffee doesn’t care. The sun will shine, or not, without any particular pride-in-performance.

Books are different, though. When we say we love a book, of even just part of a book (its characters, premise, prose, and so on), we speak something that’s not just a compliment to the creator. If that’s all it was, it wouldn’t be much different from loving someone’s hairdo. Instead, we’re realizing the creator’s effort to reach us, and feeling it succeed. The text is the hand that stretches back through time and space, through culture and bias and hope and despair, and tries to give us something. An open door. A moment of solace. A problem to chew on. An image that will haunt us. A promise that, really, things can turn out all right, in the end.

Books may be the most human of all interactions, because they embrace our species’ unique capacity to escape time-binding, to record both the real and the unreal, and to deploy them in perpetual records, offering new (un)realities to others. If you’re the sort of person who would click the link to this blog, I know I’m already preaching to the proverbial choir. But that’s also the point. You go to something called “Readercon” not so it can change your mind about books, but so it can double down on everything that brought you there, absorbing you into the discourse of the written word (and into the Saturday night Miscellany, too).

Of course books are human interaction. Books are our avatars, little pieces of our humanity we package for the delight and edification of others. Sharing those avatars, processing them together, enlarges the semi-private space of the written word.

That’s why giving my first public reading to a room eager to hear more was so important.

That’s why telling Samuel R. Delany that I couldn’t teach my speculative fiction studies class without his scholarship is important.

That’s why putting an ARC in a reader’s hands and then having them return later asking for an autograph is important.

That’s why shaking hands with authors I’ve taught in classes, and authors I love too much to teach, is important.

That’s why meeting critique partners from half a continent away and finding every possible way to tell them how wonderful they are is important.

I was honored, elated, and ultimately exhausted by my time at Readercon. It was a weekend about sharing pieces of soul. In that same panel on the Souls of Stories, Lorrie Kim explained the “soul” of the Harry Potter series is oxytocin, the hormone that most strongly influences social bonding. Maybe the best stories are all oxytocin for the brain,  triggering a bonding between reader and text.And really, that’s all I ever hoped to do, as an author. I hope that (to borrow Erik Amundsen’s term) I’ve “ensoulled” The Nine in such a way that it is the right kind of friend to the right person at the right time.

For now, I need to get back to the draft of its sequel. That new, still-growing soul is calling me, too, and its characters are in serious need of dopamine, if I don’t misjudge the peril I’ve left them in.

 

 

 

Where to Find Me at Readercon 28!

I’ve been looking forward to Readercon for months, especially (though not only!) because my application to be on programming was accepted. Getting the program ratings packet to help drill down into where I could best be scheduled only amplified my anticipation. One hundred thirteen pages of sessions, panels, readings, and get-togethers later, I found I had requested to take part in seventeen different sessions. Take that kind of overexcited squee and multiply it by the dozens of other people ranking their programming desires and I can hardly imagine how the scheduling team tackled making anything coherent.

Fortunately for me and everyone else planning to spend July 13-16 in Quincy, Massachusetts, they did, and it’s brilliant.

If you’ll be at Readercon, or just considering stopping by (remember that Thursday the 13th is open to the public, free of charge, and I’m on the bill that night!), here’s where you can find me on panels and programming. Come say hello!

 

  • 8 PM Thursday, July 13: Broad Universe Rapid-Fire Reading – Come hear me read from The Nine and meet two other authors, Randee Dawn Kestenbaum and Susan Matthews, at this group reading sponsored by Broad Universe, an international organization supporting women writing sf/f/h.

 

  • 11 AM Friday, July 14: Writing Characters With Flawed Beliefs – I’m honored to be the panel leader for this discussion of how to manage writing characters whose beliefs, because of historical context or other factors, are problematic or even repulsive to modern readers. Is there a way to write a hero whose beliefs are likely to offend readers, and still have them be a hero? How will our own beliefs as writers stand the test of time in generations to come?

 

  • 2 PM Friday, July 14: Writing Disability in the Future – I’m very excited to take part in this panel where I’ll be discussing accurate, thoughtful portrayal of disability in sff, particularly when technology and magic make “cure solutions” so tempting. There’s much to be said about how we examine our assumptions about “ability” as both writers and readers, and how those assumptions are acted out or dismantled in the text. This is an important subject for me because of the people in my family and working life with disabilities and my ongoing experiences with them. I hope to do it justice.

 

  • 4 PM Friday, July 14: The Souls of Stories – I deserve no credit for this panel idea, but it’s one that could have been lifted from my thinking about my job as a teacher. To quote the panel description, “What does it mean to relate to a story the way one relates to people? How does this intersect with the stereotype of the introverted reader who chooses stories over human interaction? What are the advantages and limitations of this way of looking at the reading experience?” My whole function as a teacher is helping students connect to the soul of a story, giving them the language they need to speak about how they relate to it, and how it relates to them. If stories have souls – an essence that’s meant to grab on to readers in a very particular way – what responsibility do we have as authors to take care of our readers’ souls, in return? 

 

 

On Picking Reader Brains for Fun & Profit

We’re now in finals week at IMSA, where I have the pleasure of teaching sf and creative writing courses and working with some of the most interesting students you’re likely to find. Finals week means a retreat to a predictable pattern: long hours of grading, calculating revisions, writing final term comments. Cleaning my office. Drinking tea. Eating at my desk. Wandering in circles gnashing my teeth. More tea.

One of the best things in that predictable end-of-term pattern is my students’ joint blog in Speculative Fiction Studies. For several years, I’ve tapped into the lifeblood of sf publishing — through Twitter, #MSWL, and a growing collaboration of sf publishing professionals — to get my students talking to the creators of the work they’ve been reading, interacting with and contributing back to the sf ecosystem.

This year, I was fortunate to have the cooperation of my agent, Bridget Smith; my editor at Pyr, Rene Sears; and writers Max Gladstone, Carmen Maria Machado, and Naomi Kritzer in furnishing questions for my students to ask. The general theme was, “If you could pick smart, teen readers’ brains, what would you want to know from them that would help you do your job better?” The students’ final assignment was a short essay in blog post form, responding to any of the five pros they chose. The posts went live this weekend, and are up for anyone to read and respond to here: SFS @ IMSA.

You should stop by, whether you are a reader of sf, a writer, an editor, or an agent. These students have a lot to share about what they hunger for in their fiction, from greater diversity in representation of body size and nonbinary identities to more thoughtful pairing of linguistic and narrative style with plot content. They’re picky. They’re insightful. They’re the rising generation of readers who will shape what flies off the shelves in the years to come — and what’s likely to sit there and languish, instead.

Enjoy!

 

Almost Run Out of Town by Penguins: A Post-Nebula Awards Roundup

Late Sunday afternoon, my husband and I returned from a long and very busy weekend at the SFWA Nebula Awards conference in Pittsburgh, and now that I’ve scraped myself together well enough to share some of my impressions, I find a lot of very good writers and writerly-folk have beaten me to the punch. Days behind others in offering insights into writing, being a publishing professional, networking, and otherwise growing in one’s life and career, I see no reason to compete with my betters. So instead, here’s a listing of what the Nebulas leaves me unpacking (and yes, that’s a hat tip to my pre-Nebulas packing post here, in my utter shamelessness).

More in the order of experience than importance, I have learned:

  • Pittsburgh has hills. Great and mighty hills. Hills that would likely make a proper San Franciscan snort derisively, sure, but I’m native to Chicago, city of Political Wind and No Topography of Any Kind. Our hills are a Pittsburgher’s speed-tables. A proper mountain range would likely make my capillaries burst on sight. I am  jealous of the amazing churches dotting Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods, and yet endlessly grateful I won’t have to drive their hills iced-over in winter.
  • So, the title of this blog post is actually quite serious business. The Pittsburgh Penguins were playing in the NHL conference finals over the Nebula weekend, which meant that a loyal march of Penguin fans swept up every last hotel room, air BnB, motel room, and room-to-let in the surrounding zip codes. I had a booking with the Nebula con hotel which apparently dematerialized just in time for our arrival, leading to a mad scramble to snatch up two rooms for Thursday and Friday night, and no room in the proverbial inn at all on Saturday. Cue my pale, staring silence. Cue Mr. Townsend sliding into action with the calm only a certified scrum master can affect, ushering me upstairs as I muttered imprecations against myself, hotel, and fate. Behold, the power of penguins, which sent me fleeing to a (mercifully) much higher power…
  • The resourcefulness of Steve Silver and Nebula Con Ops. Remembering that I’d been told if anything goes wrong at a con “Find the Ops people” are words to live by, I went down to the conference floor to ask if anybody knew if there were cancellations for the weekend, maybe a room to let on Saturday? Enter Steve Silver, the Nebula con manager, and his immediate love of my Cubs world series t-shirt (*fist-bumps her fellow Chicagoan*) and desire to help sort out our room issues. He rattled off a half-dozen hotels to call and said he’d be in touch with management at the Marriott. The greatness of Steve under pressure is truly something to behold, in that it doesn’t look like a darn thing. One gets the impression he could match Ginger Rogers step for step at doing things backwards and in heels, if the spirit moved him. I don’t know how he did it, but by the next morning, there was a message on my room phone asking me to come downstairs with my key cards so they could be upgraded with a Saturday night stay. Remember this wisdom, friends: If you have a con problem, GO TO OPS, especially if ops = Steve Silver. He literally saved my Nebula weekend.
  • Sarah Pinsker can pick you a mighty fine con mentor. She matched me with Curtis Chen, author of Waypoint Kangaroo and its forthcoming sequel, Kangaroo Too (bonus points for excellent sequel naming there). This was an amazingly prescient fit, for about a dozen reasons. I’ll spare you and stick to the big three, though. First, Curtis is about a year out from being a debut author, and had to climb the same hill I am now — going from writing at your own pace to writing a sequel under a deadline. Second, I’d had Waypoint Kangaroo on my TBR list for some time, especially since first seeing its query on Janet Reid’s infamous Query Shark blog a few years ago. And third, Waypoint Kangaroo is a comic sf take on the spy thriller genre, and I grew up reading Ian Fleming and John Gardner’s James Bond novels, mixed with a steady diet of Monty Python. Needless to say, Curtis proved to be exactly my kind of people.
  • The Cajun food at Market Square’s NOLA is pretty great, and so is a conversation walking back from dinner with Michael R. Underwood, but be careful exactly how long you go on about the tension between genre romp and genre lit stylings, or you’ll miss two turns and get your whole dinner party back to the hotel late, lost in downtown Pittsburgh. Among the hills. So. Many. Hills.
  • When Sam J. Miller says he wants to help get you exposure, he means it. He’ll mention three times, while introducing you to an sf podcaster, that you’ve got a book coming out and are looking to do promo. He’ll turn that phrase into a form of punctuation. It will be the clause he suborns to half his comments, nudging you physically closer to the interviewer, angling for a bite. The podcaster (clearly very tired from a long Thursday of traveling) won’t get the hint, but you will emerge very impressed by Sam’s persistence, and share little “what can you do?” smiles and shrugs with each other the rest of the weekend when you pass in the halls. And that will feel special enough, you won’t worry about all those hints that buzzed the tower.
  • Sarah Gailey’s much-anticipated River of Teeth released yesterday and I got my pre-order copy on my doorstep, sure. BUT I SAW SWAG BAGS WITH THE HIPPO BOOK AT THE NEBS. Days early! I thoughtmight not have to wait! Why SHOULD I wait? I texted up to our room, where Mr. Townsend was napping to recover from our red-eye flight, and commanded that he COME DOWN RIGHT AWAY WITH SOME BOOKS TO TRADE FROM OUR BAGS. And, patient, good man that he is, he came, armed with a few titles less to our usual tastes, and I dove into the book bayou to search for my very own copy, ready to clean-and-jerk it up and drop something else in its place. To the credit of the seasoned, veteran ops team member who kept side-eyeing me as I crawled over the open swag bags like a Rhesus monkey, she didn’t try to stop me. Equally to her credit, she didn’t grin too much with the schadenfreude of seeing me come up empty-handed, either.
  • If you are down in the bar, and make eye contact with Amal El-Mohtar, having had occasion to meet her digitally and under pleasant circumstances, plant your feet. Go for a wide stance. She has a helluva tackle hug, and we ended up holding it for a breathless time (breathless both for joy and for having slightly winded each other, I think). “It’s really you!” she whispered in my ear. “You’re really real!” I countered. And other somewhat blithery things. Someday, there will be an Inspiring Teacher Movie based on us, starring an actress much lovelier than me taking my role, but actually starring Amal as herself, because one cannot truly be lovelier than Amal. (Sidebar: Amal ultimately won the Nebula for Best Short Story for “Seasons of Glass and Iron,” reprinted here in Uncanny Magazine. So she’s also my first hug from a Nebula winner, too, which makes the whole not breathing thing even more forgivable.)
  • My Office Hours sessions turned out to be very popular, with about half my visitors interested in working fight scenes and writing violence realistically. I’m sure at least a few people signed up just because they spotted me miming all the different ways you could deliver a knee to the solar plexus as a coup de grace and wanted to know what all the fuss was. If the Nebulas will have me again and cares to put Office Hours “on offer,” so to speak, I’ll be happy to oblige!
  • As much as I love my agent, Bridget Smith, and my agency siblings Julie Salmon Kelleher, Alex Yuschik, and Savina Rendina, AND a good hamburger. . . I discovered I don’t actually like spiked shakes. I’m sorry. I suppose I should turn in my author card now, since I can’t quite make myself believe that a stiff shot makes everything better. Fortunately, these lovely ladies DO make everything better. I’m lucky to have them in my life, and especially lucky to have met them all at once, for the very first time.

But of course, the most important thing I learned at the Nebulas was more a matter of relearning. Or maybe, just a reminder, a chance to sit in the knowledge in real time:  the knowledge that sf is my home and always has been. That it’s people are (with few exceptions) smart, caring, interesting, funny, and above all, kind. That they are always looking for new people to gather in among themselves, new branches to graft to the family tree. I’m proud to be one of them, and looking forward to seeing these fine people again soon — some of them, perhaps, at Readercon!

Before I go, though, I should mention (Art of Starving) that Sam J. Miller has a book coming out very soon (Art of Starving) and that you should really pre-order it (Art of Starving).

 

Things to ‘Pack’ When You’re Prepping for a Con

This Thursday at dark o’clock in the morning, I’ll be lugging myself and two (hopefully not badly over-packed) bags to the SFWA Nebula Awards Conference in Pittsburgh, PA. Of course, I’ve yet to actually pack those bags, or arrange my house in a state where my children can be left with a sitter who won’t tear the place apart in a perfectly reasonable search for something innocent — say, their clothing — which will end empty-handed, with a side of wailing and gnashing of teeth.

But I have been thinking about packing a lot, and not just because it’s Tuesday.

I’ve been thinking about the things I’ll be bringing to the Nebulas that don’t exactly fit in bags. The things in bags are on the whole pretty easy. Clothes, toiletries, ibuprofen, and Pepto Bismol, and I’m basically good to go. But you pack your self – your actual Self – differently with every professional con you attend, I’m learning. Here’s what I’m having to make space for this year:

  • Complicated anticipation. Not just the anticipation of attending the conference, or attending as someone with a book on contract (my super-sekrit status last spring), but attending as someone with a debut book to talk up, a project to publicize, a face to put forward. And yet, without ARCs to thrust into anyone’s hands (…yet) or other projects to sign at the mass autographing, I know I have to be ready to balance coming onto the scene with absorbing the scene. Balancing authenticity with networking is hard, but easier when you remember that if you’re doing the first thing well, the second naturally follows.
  • Amusing anecdotes! [insert audio of bustling, chatter-y cocktail bar] “Oh, yes, I read that! In fact, when I was on a train going into Chicago, there was this guy sitting next to me, and he kept trying read over my shoulder, but my Kindle screen was too glare-y, and so–  Wait, where are you going?” Okay. Probably a good idea to have a better one than that. Fortunately, I have both small children and students, so I have a ready supply of ways to share my daily embarrassments, for the good of the order.
  • Some gorram good ideas. Did I mention I am doing Office Hours at the Nebulas? Did I mention that I’m signed up for three time slots on Thursday and Friday, and I’m available for both walk-ins and appointments? And that I’m a pretty fast draw with a story concept brainstorm, flash critique, workshopping advice, and all other kinds of shinies? Of course I did. And trust me, I’ll have a handy haversack full of things to talk about, if you’re coming and keen for a chat.
  • Confidence. Not to turn into a motivational poster on you (to my students’ chagrin, the hall leading up to office is papered with these guys, so that should tell you my general opinion of potable affirmations), but confidence matters. I am, by nature, a deep introvert with performative extrovert skills. Most people I know through various social engagements don’t believe me when I say I’m an introvert. They’re too used to seeing me tell jokes, take bizarre risks in my classrooms, talk freely to strangers, and gather people into social circles to understand that these are actions I value and are pretty good at which run fundamentally counter to how I’m wired. I have to militate against the urge to seep into the wainscoting. One way I do that is by channeling false confidence, projecting exactly what I don’t feel in the presence of others. But just like I tell my students, both as advice and as a warning, if you tell yourself the lie enough times, you can make it become real. You just have to choose the lies that improve you.
  • Curiosity. Nobody wants to hang around with the person who can talk about themselves and their work endlessly but can’t be bothered to take an interest in others. That’s a cynical reason to cultivate curiosity, certainly, but the case for curiosity improves when you consider there’s no reason to show up to anything — a conference, a museum, a new job, a first date — that doesn’t in some way boil down to curiosity, the desire to explore an unknown and see what it holds for you.

Perhaps I’ll see you at the Nebulas in a few days — or at Readercon this July. I’ll be sure to pack a little extra of all of the above for you; we wouldn’t want to run out.

Oh, and I’ll be packing my banquet dress. If anyone has any advice about packing a satin, chiffon, and lace mermaid ball gown so it’s not a wrinkled mess, I’m all ears.

 

The Hive Mind of Book Recommendations

We’re in the final three weeks of the semester now, which means my mind has turned toward final assignments, and of course, final grades. Like a lot of schools, mine encourages teachers to write mid- and end-of-term comments, but let’s be honest: those end-of-term comments are hard, especially for graduating seniors. There’s typically little more to say than an Edward R. Murrow-style “Good night, and good luck.” Such gestures always strike me as pat and hollow.

I hate that, because if there’s one thing I’m good at in my teaching, it’s developing a rapport with my students. By the end of a semester, I want them to know I’ve been actively thinking about who they are and what makes them stand out in my mind. I want them to know they matter to me as an individual, enough to warrant some words meant just and only for them.

But still. End of semester, man. My drawer’s out of spoons.

So, to avoid mouthing platitudes at kids who deserve better, I’ve turned to ending Speculative Fiction Studies with a comment in the form of a science fiction or fantasy book recommendation. The rules are simple: I have to be able to articulate why I believe this particular student would like this book, and I’m not allowed to give any repeat recommendations.

One year, I had to write ninety of these.

This year will be easier, with just forty-five in total. And yes, I read a lot of sf, but I’m a big believer in the power of the sf fandom hive mind.

That’s where you come in.

In the comments section below, pitch me a science fiction, fantasy, or other speculative book you’ve read and loved and would happily recommend to another reader (particularly, perhaps, a precocious teenager). What jumped out to you about this book? Is there a particular type of reader it would appeal to?  Does it remind you of anything else you’ve read, fit into any genre sweet spots of yours?

Who knows — you may help me find, or remember, just the right fit for a student who’s a little hard to peg, or whose reading interests are very different from my own. And even if you don’t, we’ll get into a good discussion here.

 

The Author Is In: ‘Office Hours’ at the SFWA Nebulas Conference!

This May will mark my second trip to the SFWA Nebula awards conference, this year in Pittsburgh, PA, and my first experience being part of the programming.

So, what will I be doing? The answer is, maybe more than this, as the schedule is finalized, but for now, I’ll be part of their “Office Hours” programming. If you’re coming to Pittsburgh and looking for someone with a knack for the following, I’m your Huckleberry:

  • Insights into teaching sf/f & running successful workshop groups
  • Blowing up story concepts
  • World-building from a random theoretical premise (scientific or others; try me – you’ll be surprised)
  • Flash fiction critiques
  • Fight scenes & hand-to-hand combat
  • Refining dialogue
  • Tea (yes, tea is a skill set, and I have the receipts, my friends)

I hope to see lots of you there.

Look for a follow-up post from me in the coming weeks about programming I’ll be part of at Readercon this July in Quincy, MA. It’s going to be a very busy spring and summer!