Attending conferences and conventions is nothing new to me, but when I signed up as a participant of Chicon8, my self-described “semi-benevolent” editor, Steven Radecki rubbed his hands saying, “I can’t wait to read the blog post you’re going to write after your first Worldcon.” Here ya go.
I’m a new author. At least, with respect to speculative fiction in English. I’ve written scientific publications, self-published books of haiku in Esperanto, and even won awards for haibun and speculative fiction in Esperanto. But getting my work published for the English market in speculative fiction is new. My first work, Revin’s Heart, a steampunky fantasy adventure with airships and pirates and a trans protagonist, was serialized by Water Dragon Publishing as seven novelettes and the fourth, Crossing the Streams, will be coming out soon. But I digress.
I signed up to participate in Worldcon and filled out an interest survey in Planorama—the online tool they used to identify panelists and moderators. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but when I looked at my proposed schedule, they had put me in eight (8) separate program elements: I was the moderator of three panels, a participant in two, I had a “table talk” and a “reading”, plus I volunteered to help a fellow Water Dragon author run a workshop in manuscript formatting. I was floored. My first Worldcon? Eight things? What a debut!
As the convention approached, the attending authors lamented that our publisher wasn’t planning to have a dealer table at the convention to allow us to sell and sign books. So, wily devil that he is, our editor indicated that had a super-secret long-range plan to have the Small Publishing in a Big Universe podcast set up a “Marketplace” table where small-press and indie authors could, for a nominal fee, get space to display two or three books, and, for agreeing to help staff the table, arrange times to meet with readers and sign books. He had been planning to do this next year. But faced with multiple authors jumping up and down with excitement, did the eight months of work in three weeks to pull it off for us to do it this year.
Being unsure about expectations, I contacted the panels for which I was moderator very early to introduce myself and to ask for names (and pronunciations), brief biographies to use to introduce people, and ideas for questions or topics that they would like the opportunity to discuss. This was perhaps atypical (neither of the moderators of the panels I was in contacted me much before Worldcon and one only shortly before the panel.) But I was happy to be over-prepared, rather than trying to do it cold.
One thing that can’t be exaggerated is how terrifying it was to head to my first public event after the pandemic. I had not flown since the pandemic. So literally every step felt like a new and dangerous thing. I had decided to purchase first class tickets (which was not as much more expensive than I had feared), but it made flying almost like flying used to be: instead of having to deal with robots to check in, I got to talk to a person! They accepted my baggage (at least in O’Hare) without my having to drag it to some distant location to leave with the airport security-theatre fascists. My trip through security had a much shorter line than typical. My seat was wide enough for my seat. And right at the front, where I thought I was less likely to be exposed to plague-rats. They brought me beer for free — even before flight! And I got to get off the airplane first. And, finally, since I was carrying the majority of the books for the marketplace table, I could carry a whole suitcase with 45lbs of books for free (since you don’t have to pay extra for the first two checked bags).
Arriving at the hotel, I hooked up with Philip Brewer and we went down immediately to the registration table and got credentialed. Then we began exploring the vast space where events were scheduled. Since I was on the program for eight different things (plus the vendor table) my head was swimming trying to figure out where stuff was and how to get there. It was like one of those mechanical aptitude tests where you have to rotate things to figure out how they fit together. There were escalators going this way and that way, two different buildings on different sides of the street with both a tunnel and a skywalk connecting them.
We went to the Dealer Room and met the awesome and amazing Angela Jones-Parker who accepted the profuse thanks my publisher had asked me to express and promptly handed over Dealer ribbons to us to place immediately below my Airship Pirate ribbon. We found our table and coordinated with the legendary Vanessa MacLaren-Wray regarding the following morning: I said I would bring down the books and then rush back upstairs to meet my first panel.
The first full day of the convention, I moderated a virtual panel, a face-to-face panel, and then helped run a workshop. I’m not new to running meetings, but I wasn’t certain about expectations and norms for the Worldcon community. As soon as I had known who my panelists were, I reached out to them via email to coordinate and learn how to pronounce their names, to get a brief bio to introduce them, and to ask whether there were particular questions or topics they wanted to be sure to include. (The moderators of the panels I was on did not do that, but those panels turned out fine, as I’ll describe later.) The panelists were all very gentle with me and made the experience a genuine pleasure. The topic were all of intense interest to me and I learned a lot — but also felt like I had useful things to contribute.
The second day, I only had one face-to-face panel to moderate, but it was one I was most concerned about due to the topic area: “LGBTQIA+ Characters Done Right”. As someone who only recently came out as bisexual — and is aware that some parts of “the community” view bisexuals with suspicion — I was a bit worried. I’m relatively confident about the work I’m writing, but I’m still experiencing some imposter syndrome about it. And I was concerned, given the current tenor in the country, that we might even end up with hecklers. Finally, one of our panelists was a no-show and so there were only three of us trying to carry the whole panel. Happily, our other Water Dragon author in attendance, Jay Hartlove sat in the front row, maintained eye-contact with me, and would smile broadly, which helped sustain me while I struggled with the difficult subject. Once again, I felt like I learned a vast amount from my panelists who were very supportive and helpful.
On Saturday, I also only had a single scheduled event — my “table talk”. But earlier in the day, I attended the one panel discussion I wasn’t scheduled for: We Are Not a Metaphor: LGBTQIA+ Representation.” This overlapped quite a bit with the panel I had moderated, but brought a bunch interesting and different viewpoints. In the afternoon, Phil had wanted to introduce me to two of his Clarion instructors who were in attendance and we went to a biergarten on the Riverwalk. Finally, I attended my table talk but found no-one had signed up for it. I was getting ready to sit alone for 10 or 15 minutes to make sure no-one was planning to come without having signed up, but met Vanessa and her husband coming out of a nearby event and they sat with me to chat and keep me company while I waited.
There were some people doing cosplay the whole time which added greatly to the character of the convention. It was wonderful spending time in the Dealer Room because nearly everyone wandered by our table at some point. As the Masquerade Ball approached, the costumes got more elaborate. I liked the Tom Baker Dr. Who costume. And a guy dressed in a Gandalf costume was particularly convincing. An author wore a spectacular mermaid costume that had iridescent scales and was revealing in all the wrong places. I was so tired by 8pm, that I nearly skipped the Masquerade Ball, but managed to drag myself down there and was glad I did. But I was also glad to get back to my room and sleep because I was exhausted.
On my last full day, I had three events again: I served as a panelist on two panels and then participated in a joint reading for the Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy. One moderator had reached out a couple of days before Worldcon to touch base. The other reached out the morning of, but with good news: there was no need to meet in the dreaded Green Room which was on the other side of the planet from the room. In both cases, I was worried that I would struggle to find things to say or contribute, but I needn’t have worried. I think I was able to offer some useful and amusing bits without making anyone angry or upset. And the reading was a blast: I enjoyed reading from Better Angels and getting to see Vanessa perform reading Coke Machine in character was a joy.
It was amazing to attend the Hugo Award Ceremony. I was particularly pleased to see my former colleague (and neighbor) Suzanne Palmer receive the Hugo for best novelette. Hearing the eloquent acceptance speeches that authors write is always a pleasure.
I had to leave midway through Monday in order to be back in time to teach the following day. It was sad to say goodbye to Jay and Vanessa. Vanessa indicating she was pleased to meet Phil, the imaginary person I had talked about who I “pretended to speak Esperanto to.” She said who she really wanted to meet was my wife, to see this mythical woman who could supposedly put up with me. It’s nice to have friends, though with friends like that…
It was an amazing opportunity to debut for a new author like me and I’m endlessly grateful to the Chicon organizers. I got an opportunity to share my books in the Dealer Room (I made a decent number of sales and got to sign copies for people). I got to meet a lot of people and was introduced to people in a whole variety of contexts. (I even ran into a colleague from Comparative Literature at UMass who had no idea I was published author in speculative fiction — that was fun.) In trying to describe the experience to others, the best analogy I’ve come up with my doctoral defense. It was stressful and terrifying and overwhelming and intense, but an unforgettable experience that I hope augurs well for my ongoing success as an author.
When I drew up plans to attend Chicon8 the 80th World Science Fiction Convention, my editor/publisher Steven Radecki, suggested that I might want to get some badge ribbons to promote Revin’s Heart (my steampunky fantasy adventure story with a trans protagonist that’s been serialized by Water Dragon Publishing). They had done a number of ribbons previously and he sent me a link to a site that would let you submit a design to have them manufactured. He even had a great idea for a ribbon: Airship Pirate.
I’m by no means a professional graphic designer, but I’ve done a fair amount work in this area (for example, self-publishing four books of haiku with artwork, covers, etc). And I teach students to make scientific figures and posters, which is functionally the same. But I was excited to fire up Inkscape and see what I could put together.
My first decision was that I wanted to see if I could use the trans-flag as a background. The site that Water Dragon had used previously couldn’t do that, but I had found a gay gaming company that had figured out how to do it. I asked them and they pointed me to PCNametag. We went back and forth a few times to sort out possibilities (e.g. full color yes, gold foil no.)
I ran a dozen different possible arrangements by Steve : just the words looked stark and not very interesting, so I added a dirigible, but then what should go in the dirigible? We went back and forth trying to come up with an idea. He suggested a rainbow, then I hit on the idea of using the new pride flag. We were getting close.
It was a delight to get the proof back and see that it looked like it was going to be perfect. And then to order them and receive them and they did look wonderful. But then the waiting began, because I didn’t want to reveal them until we were actually here on the ground. It was hard.
When I registered and got my badge, the first thing, I did was to put on my airship pirate ribbon as my very first. After we had successfully registered, Phil and I stopped at the bar and had a beer. While we were there, a drunk guy at the bar introduced himself saying he had a private pilot license, but had never flown in an airship and was curious about how to pilot one.
“It says, ‘airship PIRATE,'” I said. He was bemused to discover I was a writer, not an airship pilot.
When I headed to the Dealer Room, I got Dealer and Program Participant ribbons. And a Cometary Life Form ribbon.
I put a stack of the ribbons near my books and, when people approached the table, I used the ribbon as an essential part of my patter: “Would you like to be an Airship Pirate?” It frequently allowed me to initiate a conversation about my books.
The ribbons were insanely popular. Some people just collect as many ribbons as they can. (Some people end up with ribbons that reach the ground and then come all the way back up. One woman was making a skirt of ribbons.) But a lot of people were just tickled to become an airship pirate. And I think some people recognized the trans flag background and were glad for a visible symbol of their allyship.
Not everyone wants to be an airship pirate, however. Some people just said, “No!” Some quite abruptly. One woman seemed incensed and said, angrily, “I’m in too many groups already!” And she tore off some other ribbon she already had on her badge. It made me want to ask, “Who hurt you?”
But, frequently, it let me break the ice, describe my books, and make a sale. The ribbons were insanely successful from that perspective.
Beyond that, however, there was one thing I had not considered. As I walked around Worldcon, I would see people, here, there, and everywhere, wearing my ribbon. The ribbon that I had designed, gotten printed, and handed out from our dealer table. It was just unbelievably satisfying.
When I attended the SFWA Writing Date with Valerie Valdes, rather than having participants introduce themselves, we played a game of “never ever” where she provided prompts and asked us to respond in chat with whether we had ever done that kind of writing. I played along: short fiction, yes. Horror, no. But then she asked about fan fiction. I said, “No” at first. But then I started thinking. And I realized there *is* a kind of fan fiction I like to write: I like to write fan fiction of my own stories and characters.
My first work, Revin’s Heart, has been serialized by Water Dragon Publishing and is being released as seven novelettes. But while I was writing the second one, I realized there was a story that would be fun to tell, but I couldn’t be part of the series because the protagonist wasn’t there, so the story would need to be told from a different point of view. Then, as I was writing the third one, I had another story emerge.
“It’s Curtains!” Will said.
“What?” Grip said, looking back and forth between the two of them.
“Curtains! That’s what they called him back when…” Will said, then broke off when he caught the Baron’s expression. “I’ll… I’ll tell you sometime later.
—from Storm Clouds Gather
After I finished writing the series, I decided to write these side stories and they were a blast. Especially Curtains Rise which really needed to be told in first person. And after that I *still* didn’t want to quit inhabiting these characters, so I wrote one more that was perhaps the trickiest of all.
I decided to tell the origin story for Revin. In the series, we meet him already trans. But it was clear that there must be a story there and I set out to tell it. It was both challenging and very satisfying and provided me with a variety of new insights about the character. (And a bunch of new characters whom I truly love.)
And after all that, I still didn’t want to stop, so I’ve been telling another story using VSS tweets, one tweet at a time.
Then I did finally switch and I wrote a novel about complete different characters in a complete different setting. But, no sooner had I finished the book, but there was another side story I wanted to write that, once again, couldn’t be told from the point of view of the protagonist.
So it turns out that I love fan faction: I just only write it about my own stories.
I am attending Chicon8, this year’s World Science Fiction Convention where I will be appearing in eight programeroj. I’m extremely grateful to the Worldcon organizers who’ve given me an excellent opportunity to debut as a new author.
I will be moderating three panels: Words Count: To Go Long or Short With Your Book Manuscript?, Relaxing Reads, and LGBTQIA+ Characters Done Right. And I will be a panelist on two more panels: Anime Is Not a Genre and Get More Mileage from Maps. These are all areas where I have deep interest and might actually be able to offer a small contribution.
Finally, along with the legendary Dr. Vanessa MacLaren-Wray I will be helping offer a workshop: Manuscript Boot Camp: Get Ready for Grinder.
In addition, I will be helping run a dealer table for The Small Publishing in a Big Universe Marketplace. When I’m not in a session, I will probably hang out around the table to sell and sign books. But if you’re looking for me, I’ve tentatively signed up for 1pm every day (except Monday).
And if you’ve read this far, I’ll further mention I’ve got a special giveaway I’ll be bringing in limited numbers to pass out. I’ll include them with copies of my books. But if you ask, I could probably be persuaded to part with one separately.
Since then, in consultation with the managing editor, I was able to persuade Water Dragon to serialize 6 following novelettes that extend Charm totaling about 70,000 words that we have called “Revin’s Heart“. So far two of the novelettes, For the Favor of a Lady and Storm Clouds Gather, have been released — and the manuscript for Crossing the Streams has been submitted. The rest are written and will continue to come out over the rest of this year and the first half of next year. Eventually, I anticipate that we’ll collect them together in a fix-up novel. I have also written three “side stories” about characters from the universe that we can include in the novel.
I am fully cognizant that relatively few authors (and vanishingly few new authors) have the opportunity to be serialized. And I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity to tell the story my way. I had a variety of reasons for wanting to do this. Partly, I found the 10,000 word novelette was a comfortable unit for telling these stories. Partly, I think I’ve also been influenced by reading manga and “light novels” that are often serialized in Japanese media that are more episodic in nature than a lot of American storytelling seems to be. But partly, I also saw an opportunity to engage with the public over the course of a whole year rather than publishing a book in a single event. But Revin’s Heart hasn’t been my only work.
On Tuesday, August 16, Better Angels, my first story set on the Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy will be released. It was fascinating to try writing for a common setting developed by a group of authors. In November, Something Else To Do, will be released in Modern Magic, an anthology by Knight Writing Press. And I have another story, Imaginary Friends, appearing in The Future’s So Bright anthology. And several other projects in the works, including a new novel “A Familiar Problem“. It’s been quite a year.
Capping my experience, during the first week in September, I’m appearing as a participant in Chicon8, this year’s WorldCon — the world’s premiere science fiction convention — in 8 separate events. I’m moderating three panels, participating in two more, offering a “table talk”, reading with other Truck Stop authors, and helping to offer a workshop. What was I thinking? It’s going to be super exciting to meet with other authors and engage with readers.
As soon as I return — literally the next day — I will need to hang up my author hat for a while and focus on my “day job” for the fall semester. But I’m excited to see what will happen next.
I wrote this piece of flash fiction during the winter. It didn’t get accepted, but I was pleased with it as I felt like it hit pretty close to what I was aiming for.
I snuck a glance at him, longingly. Michael, my childhood friend, had returned from university for the New Year. He walked beside me, our hands almost brushing. We passed under the torii, the red gate that marked the entrance, and climbed the stone steps to the tiny, countryside shrine. Light snow overnight had given way to clear skies. The sun had melted nearly all of the snow except where it lingered in the shadows.
We passed the komainu, the guardian lion dogs, and approached the offertory box. After we deposited our coins, we bowed, prayed, and clapped twice.
“What did you pray for?” I asked, as we started back down the path toward the stairs.
“I prayed that I could be more honest with myself this year.”
“Ah,” I said, looking down. “I prayed for courage: that I might be brave enough to share my feelings with the one I like.”
“I’m sure you’ll find the courage, William,” he said.
I swallowed hard.
“Michael,” I said, turning, but looking at his shoes, afraid to look at his face. “I… I have feelings for you.”
He reached down and took my hand. I looked up and my heart skipped a beat. His smile was like the sun, shining deep into the darkest places of my spirit and thawing what had long been frozen.
“I know,” he said. “I’ve always known. I just couldn’t admit it to myself.”
I’ve been using the #vss365 and #flexvss hashtags to write fragments of a new Revin story that happens after the events of Revin’s Heart. These parts are set on Devishire.
Revin spent days exploring to draw up a #plan of the sewer. Returning, he was ambushed by the girls armed with sponges & buckets. While Tiny held his arms, they stripped him naked and — over vociferous protests — thoroughly washed him. “No More Stinky Boy!” they chanted.#flexvss
“The closest entrance to the #address is here,” Revin said, indicating the plan he’d painstakingly mapped out. “But it requires traversing this open plaza.” “What about this one?” Tiny asked. “That one,” Revin replied, consulting his notes, “Is inside the guard barracks.”#vss365
Revin stood at the discharge point of the sewer overlooking the sea at sunrise. He #scanned the sky until he spotted the airship standing off-and-on just over the horizon. Using his signaling mirror, he flashed until acknowledged & then he flashed a short message.#flexvss#scan
As Revin returned to the book repository, he saw a small #animal struggling in the effluent. Then he heard it whimper. “You’re not a rat!” he said, springing into the flow. He scooped it up, held it to his chest, and struggled back out. The puppy tried to lick his mouth.#vss365
Revin emerged from the sewer and, after one whiff, a cry went up from the girls. “We #Hate Stinky Boy!” they chanted going back for buckets & sponges. “It’s not my fault!” Revin pleaded, holding up the puppy. “Look!” “Wash first!” they said gagging & holding their noses.#flexvss
“You plan to #arm the girls?” Tiny asked. “As a precaution, yes,” Revin said. “Just in case. They should be prepared. And it will give them something to do.” “But who is going to train them?” she demanded. “Me?” “Bullshit! I was the infantryman. I’ll train them on spear.”#vss365
“Well met, #Master‘s Mate,” Grip said. Revin embraced him & made room for the elite marines that followed. “Just warning,” Revin said. “If you so much as crack a smile when you see the girls drilling, their sergeant will kick your ass.” Smiling did not seem to be a risk.#flexvss
Someone pounded on the door of the book repository. “Throw down your weapons and come out, and no #harm will come to you!” “Quickly!” Revin whispered. “Just like we trained!” The girls ran to the manhole and slid down, then ran along the ledge, deeper into the sewer.#flexvss
Revin couldn’t reliably make strong towlines, but he had found he could just keep trying. After four tries, he made one to the manhole cover so strong that nobody would be able to lift it. But it would only last while he maintained it. He settled down with Stinky to wait.#vss365
“The girls are away. When #do you want to make a run for it?” Grip said emerging from out of the gloom. Revin had noticed a couple of attempts to open the manhole cover and knew that, sooner or later, they’d come down another way to investigate. He stood up. “Let’s go!” #flexvss
After they emerged, Revin tapped on a door while Grip replaced the manhole cover. He then turned & was brought face-to-face with Rachel, his former fiancee. There was silence, but for the buzzing of #flies. “Sorry,” Revin said. “I didn’t get a chance to warn you both.”#vss365
There was a long, awkward silence, then Grip bowed low. “I’m #very pleased see you again, Milady,” he said. “No, Milord,” she replied, with a curtsy. “It is I who am pleased to see you.” “This is all very nice,” Revin said. “But if the guards see us, we’re screwed.”#flexvss
“We need to prepare enough #food for twenty,” Rachel said, rubbing her hands briskly. “I can help,” Grip said. “I’m used to preparing meals for a whole crew.” Rachel looked at Grip with surprise. Tiny nudged Revin. “Are the pyrotechnics cancelled? Or just postponed?”#vss365
Grip found potatoes, onions, carrots, and a big ham in the root cellar. Using these, he prepared a giant pot of potato stew. Emma and Dexy helped out, serving and carrying bowls and cups around. Revin was relegated to a corner to keep Stinky from getting under #foot.#vss365
As dinner was served, Grip brought a bowl for Revin & held Stinky while he ate. “How is #Will?” Revin asked around a mouthful of stew. Grip smiled. “He’s glad to be back aboard the Queen,” he said, scritching Stinky’s ears. “Politics is hard. Dirty. He needed a break.”#flexvss
Rachel approached and offered Revin something. “A collar & #lead? For Stinky? Thank you, Milady!” “Why did you name him that?” she asked, as he fastened the collar. “When I rescued him from the sewer, the girls said someone had to be named Stinky. It was him or me!”#vss365
I’ve been using the #vss365 and #flexvss hashtags to write fragments of a new Revin story that happens after the events of Revin’s Heart. These parts are set on Devishire.
Revin spent hours writing a detailed report for the Baron summarizing what they’d learned from questioning his brother. Then, while munching on a sandwich that Melody brought him, he did the laborious encryption, using the book they’d borrowed from Bess. #vss365#munch
Revin rolled the pages up, tied threads around to hold them shut, and tucked them into his sock.#OK. Now to drop this off,” he told the girls. In the darkness, Revin approached the park where the dead drop was supposed to be. “Wait!” someone said. “Come inside! Quick!”#flexvss
“We weren’t supposed to meet,” said the unfamiliar woman. “But they know about the dead-drop.” “Dead drop?” Revin said, playing dumb. “Oh. #Let me offer my bona fides…” she said. “What does Griphon keep on the mantel in his office?” “Rachel!” Revin said, remembering.#flexvss
“I was given no choice,” Rachel said, acidly. “Married off to a yokel in this backwater. And now I’ve become a virtual prisoner in my home.” “But you’re running a terrible risk. These people are dangerous.” “Things can’t get worse.” “Oh, but they can,” Revin said.#vss365#acid
Revin, well-concealed, watched while the guard grabbed Rachel’s face. He ran his thumb across her lips, while he smirked. She twisted her face angrily out of his grasp, leaving a smear of #powder on his gloves. He backhanded her, knocking her to the floor, stunned. #vss365
After they left, Revin emerged from the hidden room. He found Rachel at her vanity – the one thing not smashed and upended among the devastation – calmly restoring her make-up. “You’ve got to be #more careful,” Revin said. “Never let them see you sweat,” she replied.#flex_vss
Revin took another shift in the sewer. With a sledge hammer, he attacked the iron grate in the passage. After martial law was imposed, they could #no longer move openly & needed another egress. And there was little else to do. He cursed & swung again, kicking up sparks.#flexvss
“You’ve been down here in this stinking rathole for days, Revin,” Tiny said. “Have you made any progress?” “It’s starting to get loose.” “You’ve got a #screw loose,” she growled. “Here, let me.” Three deft swings with her powerful shoulders and the grate screeched free.#vss365
“You got to #speak with the Queen?” Margaret asked Tiny with wonder. “She was with Revin when I tracked him down,” she said. “She asked how many girlfriends he has.” “Well, he has a few,” said Emma and Dexy, holding his arms. Revin’s #mouth worked but no words came out.#flexvss
“But did you know he’s married now?” Tiny asked. “To a girl named Lidja.” Emma and Dexy looked at Revin reproachfully. “And then there’s his #polyandry with the Queen too.” Now Revin looked truly scandalized, but Tiny was unrepentant: “I saw how she looks at you.”#vss365