Con Report: CONduit 20

ADMIN EDIT: Apologies to everyone who got the worksheet for Friday’s 1:00 PM panel. There is a line on there in the ‘never’ category that says, “NEVER say ‘thank you’ to an editor!” It should actually read, “Never say anything but ‘thank you!’ to an editor!” A small — but potentially big — error. Because I know aspirant writers and how slavishly aspirant writers follow advice. I was an aspirant, don’t try and tell me we aren’t like that. So please, be sure to ALWAYS THANK AN EDITOR any time they take time to look at your work! Got it? ALWAYS THANK AN EDITOR! (click here for a corrected version of the two-page worksheet)

I had a good time at the 20th iteration of Salt Lake City’s largest yearly Science Fiction & Fantasy convention, CONduit. This was only my third time attending, and my second time attending as a panelist. Last time I sat on a panel at CONduit was for CONduit 3 in 1993, and there were more panelists than guests in the audience.

This time, the two panels I did were VERY well attended.

First panel was on Friday at 1 PM and covered how to submit for publication. Most con panels hit the usual topics of world creation and character development, but I’d wanted to do something covering the pragmatics of submission — a topic about which there can be no end of confusion for new writers. Thankfully the con committee agreed, and by my count we got something like 70 people in the audience. So obviously there were a lot of writers wanting to get information — makes me glad I made as many copies as I did of the two-page “tips and links” worksheet I handed out to all the attendees.

My co-panelists (I was moderator) were: Larry Correia of Monster Hunter International fame; Bob Defendi of Writers of the Future and role-playing writing fame; Dan Willis of Dungeons & Dragons novel writing fame; and Eric James Stone of Writers of the Future, Analog Science Fiction, and IGMS fame. Speaking as the junior-most author on the panel, I was hugely gratified to be sitting alongside such folk, and I hope I acquitted myself well in my role as forum “driver” for the hour. Won’t bore you with a play-by-play, but we ran the table on short fiction and novel submission methods, modes, practices, as well as a healthy dose of how-to advice on agents, editors, and numerous cautionary tales. Much obliged to Dan, Eric, Larry and Bob for providing the crowd with a ton of good advice.

Second panel was Friday at 5 PM, and like the first, covered aspects important to aspirants. The panel was called, “A Writer’s Life,” and we spieled about topics related to what it’s like to be a writer, or perhaps more importantly, what it takes to be a writer. Panelists were myself, Julie Wright of YA lit fame, again Dan Willis, John Brown of Servant of a Dark God fame, and Nathan Shumate who has sold short fiction and is currently doing work as a reviewer.

Nobody seemed to know who was moderating, and we didn’t have a list of topics to cover, but it didn’t really matter because a panel like that had plenty to talk about. Pretty much all of us agreed that if you can walk away from writing and be fine with it, then that’s your signal probably that writing isn’t your passion. But if you can’t walk away from writing — no matter how much it drives you nuts, no matter how many rejections you get — then probably there is more going on that meets the eye, and maybe you owe it to yourself to spend the time necessary to get a little — or a lot — serious about it.

Most of my comments were along the lines of, “Don’t goof off for the better part of two decades like I did!” I hammered on people not letting rejection slow down or stop their production, as well as the need to treat all rejection as just part of the business. We as a whole panel hammered the idea that all writing is practice and you can’t avoid it, and you damned well better not send your “practice” to market because sooner or later, it will find a home. Other items I think we agreed on as a whole: send to the top markets first, then work down; give yourself goals and don’t flake out on doing the daily or weekly wordcount; and absolutely don’t take anything in a rejection letter personally. The last part was especially important for me, because I’ve let rejections get to me before, and if I only knew ten years ago what I know now… Well, you get the idea.

As with the first panel, I felt very gratified to be sitting at the same table as these authors, all of whom have been publishing longer than I have and who told the audience a tremendous amount of good advice — the kind of “trenches” wisdom I am not sure you can get anywhere else, besides a good panel at a good conference or convention.

Beyond Friday and the two panels I did, I sat in the audience for a number of good panels, with some of the people named above, but also many people I did not name.

L.E. Modesitt, Jr., is arguably one of the most astute, experienced, and worthwhile authors in the substantial Utah SF & F author pool. I always try to see as many of his panels I can, regardless of topic, because I have found his brand of wisdom to be articulate, insightful, incisive, and worthy of further contemplation. Lee sports an impressive resume above and beyond his writing career — which is arguably the most lettered and impressive of anyone attending this year’s CONduit — and it was a pleasure to hear him speak.

Barbara Hambly was author Guest of Honor and had some pithy commentary of her own. Like L.E. she’s got an impressive resume both in and out of writing, though some of her prognostication about the future of the industry was a little on the cloudy site — especially for Fantasy writers. Her opinion that games such as World of Warcraft had obliterated the Fantasy consumer market — because everyone is out playing their own fantasy adventures instead of reading about them in someone’s book — was disturbingly plausible. Still, I have to hope that not everyone doing MMORPG these days is so “lifeless” (hat tip: South Park) as to be utterly out of the book-buying pool.

Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells were on hand for their Writing Excuses podcast, which featured Dan’s brother Rob Wells — also an author, and also with books on the way — as well as James Dashner of The Maze Runner fame. Howard Tayler (who does the Schlock Mercenary web comic) was out of town, attending BaltiCon, so guests like James and Julie (above) and L.E. (also above) were on hand to fill two hours and many ‘casts worth of time. If you’re one of the three aspiring authors on the planet who still haven’t gone to the Writing Excuses web site and listened to a podcast, go now — run, do not walk — to the web site and give it a listen. Brandon, Dan, Howard, and their guests always do a good job of providing insightful and valuable info — while also being entertaining in the process.

I stole a tidbit of Brandon’s time at the end to ask him about his editor and agent. Brandon was a little cagey about his answers — understandable, given his very rapid rise up the writing food chain, since taking over the Wheel of Time series from Robert Jordan — but he still gave good information. If ever I do decided to approach an agent, Joshua Bilmes’s agency is probably one of the few I will look at, mostly because the word-of-mouth is generally positive, and with the world run over with crap agents, word-of-mouth seems like the best kind of vetting. Especially from someone like Brandon.

I also chatted with Rob Wells, for whom I am very happy that he’s got his own series coming out in the not too distant future. Rob is also proof again that there is a very substantial amount of authorial oomph in the Beehive State. Some of us Mormons, some of us not. Everybody writing away like mad, and some of us having a very good go of it. For myself, I look at Rob, and his brother, and Brandon, and Larry Correia, and everybody else who is further up the ladder from me, as inspiration to work just that much harder, produce just that much more new material, and — as Dean Wesley Smith advises — “make” my own good luck through persistent effort.

Saturday early evening was spent having dinner with Larry Correia, Paul Genesse, Eric Swedin, Julie Frost, and several other friends of same. I’d say Larry dominated the conversation in the humorous stories department, but I was especially touched to learn that Eric Swedin is a very recent survivor of a very dreadful and dangerous brain aneurism. Had he not showed us the scarring, I’d have never noticed, but the fact that he survived a) mentally intact and b) with such a swift recovery, is nothing if not miraculous. Which of course took the entire dinner conversation down some very serious roads, which is OK by me because as one of my compatriots at WOBC once said, I am a “two mile deep” kind of guy, and small talk — while comfortable for the first minute or two — is just the aperture to the REAL conversation, where you find out who people really are and what they’re about. Sobering, and heartwarming, I am glad I went and I am glad for the experience and the good company.

Saturday late evening I stuck around long enough to offer AM 630 radio’s Sector 5 talk show a few minutes of verbal gesticulation on the matter of breaking into publication, and not quitting or letting rejection tell you to quit. Having done quite a bit of community radio — my writing really began with the community radio serial Searcher & Stallion in its first iteration — it was nice to be back in front of a mic. Hopefully what I said proved valuable to listeners, as I tried not to speak on anything about which I didn’t feel authorized to speak. As the newbiest newb author at the con, I stuck with what I know: stubborn persistence in spite of the odds, and a penchant for total slackertivity.

Sunday was an enlarged version of Saturday’s dinner conversation, with almost 20 of us(??) crammed into the Radisson’s main floor restaurant. Got to gab with Eric James Stone and Utah paranormal hunter Tom Carr. Eric is always good company, and Tom was a very funny fellow in his own right. I think we had the best time discussing what it had been like growing up as role-playing gamer Mormon kids in the 80’s, when religious parents of all stripes tended to equate role gaming of any description with “devil worship” and worse. We all agreed: the joke is full circle, and many a role-playing gamer is now sitting in some type of authority position in Wards and Stakes across Utah, to the point that Tom has been asked to fireside about his paranormal investigatory antics.

What was it the Muhatma said? “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” Hah! 80’s parents, your spawn have risen! I’ll take a d20 roll for double damage, Alex!

Sunday afternoon I hit panels featuring Barbara Hambly, Eric Swedin, Amy Chopine, and Lesli Muir Lytle. Lesli’s panel on romance — beyond bodice-rippers and heaving bosoms — was interesting for me because I am eyeing out a romance project — yes, I am serious — for the end of the summer when I get back from Writers of the Future. Lesli had a ton of after-panel advice for me in the hallway, and I was grateful to have her insight, as well as Barbara’s. (Though why heaving bosoms could be a problem in any way, shape, or form is beyond me — something I’ve discussed before on this blog; hah!)

Somewhere in the three days — I can’t recall when — I also got to talk to Carolyn Nicita and Darren Eggett. Carolyn has been known to me since Conduit 3 when she and her audio troupe were on the same audio SF panel as myself and the Searcher & Stallion guys. Carolyn and Co. did a wonderful half-hour audio story called, “The Saboteur,” which got a lot of air-play by myself and the S&S guys, so much so that my cassette of “Saboteur” eventually croaked. Darren was interesting to talk to because he’d done the Masters Class that Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch run out in Oregon. I’ve done three of their workshops — though not the dreaded Masters marathon — and was curious to find out what Darren thought of it. I must make sure to nab him for a better conversation next time.

I went home from the con feeling both energized — my badge is ORANGE and it says SPECIAL GUEST and I got to BE ON PANELS — and daunted. I still have so much work to do. Having climbed from the top of the aspirant mountain onto the bottom rung of the professional ladder, I am suddenly looking up at everyone else above me and going, oh wow, there is so much I haven’t done yet, so much I still have to do, and so many ways it can all go so wrong even if I am trying my best. Sobering. But also invigorating. Those people on that ladder, they are some Good People! They inspire me. And I like a good challenge too.

Dramatis Personae (click to open new pages)
Barbara Hambly
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
Brandon Sanderson
John D. Brown
Tom Carr
Larry Correia
James Dashner
Bob Defendi
Darren Eggett
Julie Frost
Paul Genesse
Lesli Muir Lytle
Carolyn Nicita
Nathan Shumate
Eric James Stone
Eric Swedin
Sandra Tayler
Dan Wells
Dan Willis
Julie Wright

Many thanks to one and all, who helped me feel like part of the ‘scene!’ It was a lot of fun, it was a reminder of how much work I have ahead of me, and it was the kind of experience I don’t think I will ever forget.