Not Worldcon, but festive. From Poŝtmarkoj el Esperantujo.

I (virtually) attended Worldcon this year. Having recently published my first story, The Third Time’s the Charm, it was interesting to attend the biggest scifi/fantasy convention and see what writers, editors, and fans are talking about. It was a lot of fun, plus I got to hang out with my virtual writing community that were all also attending virtually.

The virtual conference experience was only mediocre. They used Discord, but it was not used nearly as well as at Readercon. In particular, they had a chat tool that appeared in the browser window next to the videos of presentations, but it was clunky, didn’t scroll back very far (100 entries) and was lost once the window closed. It would have been a lot better if they used Discord for all of the chats, to provide more scrollback and to keep all of the conversations in the same place. And don’t get me started on the Virtual Dealer Room: it was just a webpage with unrequested motion all over it (which makes it unusable for people with vestibular disorders, like myself.) But to participate at all during a global pandemic is kind of a miracle, so I don’t want to make it seem like I’m actually complaining.

The first panel I attended, How Magazines are Changing, had a diverse, international group of magazine editors. I was curious to understand the economic pressures magazines are under, how they’re responding, and how that is creating change in their business and practices. In particular, I’m particularly interested in understanding how if magazines are using some external source of funding (e.g. kickstarter), does it really make sense to talk about magazines as being “markets” for fiction? Instead the discussion was almost entirely focused on the cultural changes associated with decentering publishing from whiteness, cisness, heterosexualness, and maleness. As a white, cis-het man, it was slightly uncomfortable to be in the room while my characteristics were identified as everything that’s seemingly wrong with publishing. The two, white, male panelists, spoke little and both made statements disclaiming their views as white, cis-het men.

The second panel, Publishing in Africa, had a diverse pool of native and diaspora African authors and editors who had a far ranging conversation about the challenges of supporting a native publishing industry in Africa. Hearing about the huge differences among the different countries reminded me of something: In Ugly Delicious, David Chang’s television program about food and diaspora, he refused to identify ethnic food by nationality. That is, he talked about food from India and China without using the terms “Indian food” and “Chinese food”. I eventually realized this was an intentional decision to reject reductivist labels that ignore regional diversity. This conversation made me wonder: Is Africa monolithic enough to have “African” be meaningful as a label? Or are there essential regional differences that require being approached separately?

I also attended a panel about Gender and African SF with mostly African women. Many countries in Africa have draconian laws and cultural practices policing gender and sexual identity. I was kind of distracted during this panel and didn’t take many notes. My take away quote from this presentation was by Tlotlo Tsamaase: “Stories about us can be damaging, but stories BY us can be so much more damaging.”

The panel Beyond the Hero’s Journey was a lot of fun. Since I’ve basically never really studied literature, I have much less familiarity with story structure than most authors or editors. The result was that I felt kind of lost through a lot of the panel as people put up and then shot down various straw men about the hero’s journey as an archetypal organizing myth. This was perhaps the most passionate panel of the entire convention for me, but a lot of it went over my head. I did relate when someone mentioned how anime and manga were exposing readers in the west to alternative models, like slice-of-life stories. One panelist reminded participants that “the structure serves the story.” OK. If you say so.

An international panel discussed Decolonising Secondary World Fantasy. I didn’t take a lot of notes during this presentation either. There was a fair amount of discussion of why secondary worlds end up looking so much like our history and whether it’s just lazy worldbuilding to not imagine structures that are more different.

The Prejudices of Urban Fantasy panel seemed to spend a lot of time just arguing about labels. Is it Urban Fantasy if it’s set in the past? How big does the city the story is set in for it to qualify as “urban”? It made me wonder if I was writing “rural fantasy.” I kind of lost interest in arguing about the semantic differences among labels, which didn’t really delve into story structure all that much, as far as I could tell.

Our own Steven Radecki presented Preparing Your Manuscript for Submission. As I had been able to preview this presentation, I knew what to expect. But I learned several things. Steven prefers a more formal and lengthy “cover letter” than I had been lead to expect from other resources I had read, which recommended a truly minimal cover letter. He also requests a synopsis or story summary that is longer than I was expecting to write. I’ve generally written something more like a logline for these. I asked a couple of questions: (1) What are ways authors can get involved to learn more about the editorial/publication process? (Attend conventions, remember that writing/publishing is a business, and an agent can help with the business side of things) and (2) Is becoming a slush reader useful? How can you find these opportunities? (Maybe, if you want to read a bunch of bad writing, just ask.)

The last panel I attended was Manifestations of Gender that had three short presentations: Jennifer Zwahr-Castro: Author and Character gender in the Hugos, Nick Hubble: Where Will it All Lead?: Gwyneth Jones’s Life, and Marcia D. Nichols: Gynoids, Fembots, and other Mechanized Women. The first was mostly a presentation about the gender (male or female) of both the authors and characters of Hugo award nominees and winners by decade. It showed that that in earlier decades, they were almost all male, and there has been a trend toward equity. OK. The second presentation was about comparing literature stuff I don’t know anything about. OK. The final presentation was about very early sci-fi or pre-sci-fi stories about men building female robots as sex objects and the madness, mayhem, and death that universally followed. I asked a question about how this story compared with the early history of android stories. The presenter responded that the main difference was that people didn’t view androids as sex objects, which seems fair. One participant made several statements about how old white men should be thrown off Worldcon panels. I felt a bit sorry for the older white male panelist. And a panelist reported that RBG had a made a statement that the SCOTUS should have 12 (sic) female jurists that several commenters enthusiastically endorsed — as if the injustice that prevented women from serving on the supreme court for generations was a model that should be replicated. Sigh…

I’ve already signed up for Worldcon for next year in Chicago. Sign up soon! The rates go up after Dec 20, 2021.

Photographic Timer. From senokulvitre.

When I was very young, I submitted something for publication and then wrote a letter pressing the editor for a response. I blush to think of it now, how impatient I was for success. It takes a long time to become successful in writing (unless you’re some kind of a savant, I suppose). But now that I’m older, I’m reflecting on how important patience is for writing in ways I had never recognized before.

To begin with, you can’t just write something and submit it. You need to write something and then have some patience and wait for a bit, before you go back and edit it. But it takes more that that.

It takes a lot of time and effort over years to hone your craft in order to produce writing worthy of submission in the first place. You need patience while you write and get feedback and then write some more. But it takes more that that.

After you’ve submitted your manuscript, you need to get ready and wait again. Some publications will get back to you in hours or days, but some will take months to get back to you. You need patience to submit something and then wait and wait and wait. But it takes more than that.

After your story has been accepted, get ready to wait yet again. Oh, you’ll need to deal with revisions and submit a bio and a photo and other stuff. But at best, it will be a month or two — and perhaps much longer — before your piece actually appears in print.

And then you’ll still be waiting on reviews and award nominations and those accolades you, no doubt, fully merit. For those, you might need to keep waiting your whole life.

When I was younger, it was hard to stay focused across such long time scales. A month seemed like an eternity when I was a teenager. Now the months evaporate like fog in the sunshine and bring one’s impending death into crystal-sharp focus. But that will require a little patience too.

Money. Image from Senokulvitre.

This evening, I crossed a huge milestone in my writing career: I got paid. It wasn’t a huge sum. It was not some gigantic Scalzian advance. It was just for a short story — novelette — The Third Time’s the Charm. And Water Dragon Publishing does not pay SFWA “pro” rates. But it was meaningful to me, having spent the better part of a year writing and submitting stories, to finally have one earning returns.

And who knows? Since I also get royalties, if like three or four million people buy my story, I’ll be a millionaire! It could happen, right?

I’m planning to use my proceeds to advance my writing career. First, I’m planning to buy some books (surprise, surprise). I’m also thinking I can pay for my conference registrations for upcoming writing conferences.

To be honest, earning money was never high on my priority list for writing. For me, it’s been more about the fun and adventure of trying something new. But getting paid is definitely part of the fun. And who knows? In the topsy-turvy world we live in having an alternative revenue stream might become important (although if things got that bad, I suspect my writing revenue would dry up too.)

In any event, here’s to the first of what I hope will be many happy (tax) returns.

Doomscrolling enabler. Image from Senokulvitre.

I mentioned elsewhere that for several years, I had difficulty doing creative work. But last fall, in the depth of the pandemic, I started being able to write again. But why? I think I finally have an answer.

During the pandemic, I found myself suffering from crippling anxiety. Trying to fall asleep at night, I would find myself on the hamster wheel of doom, where thinking about one stressful thing would lead to another. And another. And another. And eventually back to the first one. When this happened, I would become so disturbed, I would look at my phone for manga (but too frequently doomscrolling) and then, after a bit, try again. But it didn’t really help. Eventually, I started plotting a fantasy story in my head. And this, I found, was safe.

Thinking about a fantasy let me escape from my otherwise dark and panicked thoughts. And that’s still how I’m using it today. Charm was just published. But now I’ve written the sequel Favor. And I’m starting to plot out Charm 3 (which does not yet have a working title). Safe. Saaaaaafe.

When The Third Time’s the Charm was selected by Water Dragon Publishing, I was invited to suggest ideas for cover art. My initial response was to suggest some of the most iconic scenes in the story. But when I saw the first draft of the cover art, I came to understand better how the covers were put together by compositing stock photo artwork.

We had several rounds of revisions. I saw the first draft and made some comments. Another draft was much closer but had a few elements I thought could be improved upon. But the artist had also come up with a second conception for a cover.

It’s got similar elements, but a completely different kind of feel. It has less dynamic range — it’s almost monochromatic — with a more “modern” font. After some back-and-forth, we agreed that, although it was interesting and had its own merits, it probably wasn’t as eye-catching as the original. So we went with the original.

One thing I realize, as I look at both covers, is how little world building I’ve done as yet. I’ve just finished the rough draft of the sequel and I keep realizing decisions I’ve made (or haven’t made) about the structure of the world. In the cover we selected, for example, is a very long single span bridge. Would such a bridge exist in the world? Mmmmaybe. Maybe not. Each new discovery I make through my writing gives me a tiny burst of pleasure and excitement.

In the alternate, I don’t know what that curved thing is on the back cover. It’s pretty cool, I guess. But what is it doing up there in the clouds? I guess now we’ll never know.

One of my reviewers wrote me to say, “I do really hope you write more stories in your world, because I look forward to finding more out about it.” I look forward to finding out more too.

The Third Time’s the Charm Support Graphic

In my previous post about publishing with Water Dragon I mentioned the “support, encouragement, and advice” that authors get with publicity. About a week before the release of the story, I got a link to download some graphics. The folder included the electronic, print, and trade covers plus versions of the cover art carefully composed and resized for my desktop (as “wallpaper”); for my website; and for header graphics for Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Creating these kinds of graphics are not necessarily difficult for me. I created my own covers for my self-published books. (And I’m rather proud of the covers I created.) But that stuff all takes time and, without access to the the original files, it wouldn’t be feasible to create re-composed versions at all. But, in the end, it’s just one fewer thing I need to do myself: I can just use them and spend more time publicizing. (Or writing!)

In point of fact, authors frequently don’t get consulted about their cover art at all. Nancy Wood wrote about how discouraging it was to get a horrible cover when working with a different publisher and how the magic of a compelling cover can make all the difference. Look at that cover! I mean… just look at it.

For my cover, with Water Dragon and the amazing artist Niki Lenhart, we went through about three iterations. The first design was similar to the final design, but I had some suggestions about the nature of the ship that was presented. In the second, I noticed a few additional details to correct. But I was also presented with an alternative design to consider. I liked it — and it was compelling in a certain way — but jointly, with the editor, we decided that the original design was more eye-catching. Then I got one last chance to see it before we pulled the trigger and approved it.

In addition, authors also receive postcards and business cards to support their publicity efforts. The postcards can be used to provide a “signed” version of the digital edition. But, for a story that only sells for $0.99, sending a postcard for $0.40 postage doesn’t make much economic sense. And business cards are more useful during times when people are actually meeting face to face. (I guess I could hold one up to my Zoom camera…)

In addition to material support, Water Dragon and the supportive community of writers working with them have had a wealth of ideas and advice for how to get the word out about one’s writing. It’s provided almost a template for how to get set up to publicize effectively — and to share information about events that might provide opportunities to offer a reading or get books in front of people.

I don’t have (m)any illusions that my first short story will catch fire and take over the internet. But I have to admit that as a debut, this experience has been amazing: My story has been published on its own, with its own cover and identity, rather than part of a collection. It’s been a great trial run for writing a longer piece of fiction (and I have several in the pipeline). And Ive learned a huge amount about the process and established a foundation (blog, twitter feed, website, etc.) to support my writing going forward. Thanks, Water Dragon!

(PS: You too can submit to Dragon Gems!)

Water Dragon Publishing
Water Dragon Publishing: an imprint of Paper Angel Press

In the summer of 2021, I began making a dedicated effort to get speculative fiction stories published. As part of this effort, in August I attended Readercon 31. It was entirely virtual this year, due to the pandemic. I had only attended a face-to-face Readercon once in the Before Times. But I remembered it as a very chill and high quality event. Oh, there was the old white guy who kept railing about furries, but that just added to the character of the event. Still, I was quite excited.

It was fantastically well organized. The tech support team had put together an amazing system — slightly byzantine — that combined Discord, Zoom, and Youtube which was extremely effective at providing a seamless conference experience. I enjoyed the panel discussions and other scheduled events. But spent a lot of time just exploring who was there.

There was a “bookshop” section that had a few resellers (book stores), but also several publishers. A few, I’d heard of. But most were new to me. I anticipated meeting them and hearing more about how their publishing businesses worked. But I ended up being bit disappointed. Several of them seemed to have pre-stocked their Discord “channel” with a generic message or two. But most seemed unstaffed much of the time. I stopped by all of them several times, but didn’t have much success in connecting with any of them. Except one: Water Dragon Publishing.

I had never heard of Water Dragon Publishing before, but when I stopped in their channel, it was not only staffed, there were often two or three people there engaging in friendly banter. And they also had a series of scheduled events, with author Q&A sessions and also the possibility to pitch stories to their editorial team. I tried hanging out in several of the other Readercon “hang out” spaces — the “con-suite” or “hallway” or “the bar” and although they were OK, I pretty quickly started spending most of my time just lurking in the Water Dragon channel. By the end of Readercon, I had submitted a piece of short fiction to their “Dragon Gems” program and pitched my novella and was invited to submit it as well.

About a month later, I got a follow up email: my short story was accepted! Yay! Then the real work started. I got a list of comments from the reviewers, helpfully annotated with suggestions for addressing them. Plus a contract; social media policy; a project in a project management system with tasks, and subtasks, and deadlines; invitations to a Discord server and an instance of Slack, etc.

It’s been an adventure! This is my first publication of speculative fiction in English, so all of this is new to me. I’ve been learning a huge amount about the process and publication in general. I had this naive idea that you write a story, it gets accepted, and then you write another story. Instead, I’m approving cover art, identifying potential reviewers, writing biographies, and summaries. It’s been eye-opening to see what goes into publishing.

I have also been doing my due diligence with respect to Water Dragon Publishing. They’re an “imprint” of Paper Angel Press (as of Spring 2021). Paper Angel Press has been around for about 6 years. It’s a “small publisher” overseen by the managing editor, Steven Radecki. With this company, they’ve staked out a position bridging the divide between self-publishing and traditional publishing. If you’re self-publishing (Disclaimer: I have self-published four books.) then you’re doing everything, baby: cover design, page layout, editing, etc. Paper Angel does all of that, but doesn’t have the marketing power of a traditional publisher and so more of the burden of promoting books falls to the author — with lots of support, encouragement, and advice. Of course, traditional publishers have been pushing more and more of the promotion onto authors anyway. So the boundaries are a lot more diffuse than they used to be.

Finally, there is a lively community of folks involved in Water Dragon and Paper Angel. I’ve been invited to attend a virtual writing group with other authors and other events, including book launches, being interviewed for podcasts, virtual writing events, etc. The community has been incredibly supportive. But I must admit that we’re an odd assemblage of people of different ages with different backgrounds and from different walks of life. So I started joking with my family that, when I attend, I’m traveling to the Island of Misfit Toys. But, in this regard, I feel like I fit right in.

My first story, The Third Time’s the Charm, is being released on November 22, 2021 and is now available for pre-order! Just $0.99! It makes a great stocking stuffer, because who doesn’t like pirates and dirigibles and mayhem! Order it today!

Charm Front Cover

When an airship is hijacked by pirates, a young man with a secret loses his mentor … and his future.

After twice thwarting the pirates’ plans, he must finally come to terms with the pirate captain and decide whether to ally himself with him … or to confront a hostile future alone.

My first piece of speculative fiction, The Third Time’s the Charm, will be released by Water Dragon Publishing on Nov 22 and is now available for preorder!