SAD PUPPIES: visual numbers, and who gets to be a ‘real’ fan?

ALERT: Larry Correia is doing a terrific Book Bomb for the SAD PUPPIES 3 novella nominees! Please go check out Larry’s page and support John C. Wright, Arlan Andrews, and Tom Kratman’s work! These are quality writers who deserve to be recognized, but they deserve to be read and enjoyed more.

Now . . .

A friend recently posed an interesting question: how do the attendance numbers for Worldcon compare, year to year? Accurate stats are a little difficult to come by. But thanks to the magic of Wikipedia there are some approximate stats, going all the way back to the inception of the convention. So let’s take a look at them in visual form, starting with a snapshot of totals for all Worldcon conventions, both U.S. and international:

That graph is pretty saw-toothed, mostly because international Worldcons tend to draw fewer attendees than U.S. Worldcons, with the outlier being Loncon 3, which (in 2014) had over 10,000 memberships. That was also the same year (not coincidentally?) that SAD PUPPIES 2 strongly encouraged fans of all stripes (who’d not previously been involved with Hugo award voting) to get involved. Thus there can be something of a disparity between memberships (which anyone can buy) and attendance, which is sometimes lower.

So, let’s look at another graph reflecting only U.S. Worldcon attendance without SAD PUPPIES putting its collective paw on the scale:

Still somewhat saw-toothed, but notice that the left half of the graph still reflects the relatively low numbers typified by Worldcon overall. This was because from the 1950s through the early 1970s, Science Fiction (and Fantasy) were still a fairly “closed” and combined field. The typical trajectory for most writers was to come up through the pages of the magazines, then do books. And the total number of books being printed was fairly small compared to what it was by 1985. Likewise, the total number of teenagers and adults who readily identified as SF/F fans was relatively small, compared to what it was by 1985. So Worldcon attendance was modest.

But look at what happened from about 1985 onward:

The blue portion of the graph is Worldcon. The orange portion is San Diego Comic Con. Note that San Diego Comic Con also began life with relatively low attendance numbers, which roughly matched those of Worldcon, right up until the middle of the 1980s. At which point things began to change drastically.

Now, it’s a truism that correlation does not mean causation. But I want to reiterate some things which I’ve been saying in this blog space since at least 2009, and which I’ve been repeating again since SAD PUPPIES 3 kicked off earlier this year.

1) Star Wars changed everything. Kris Rusch noted this ten years ago. Star Wars was the first mainstream fiction franchise to not only put SF/F on the international movie-making map as a source for blockbusters, it also gave birth to legions of enthusiasts all between the ages of 6 and 30. Suddenly, SF/F wasn’t just that dorky thing a few of the highschool kids and some dippy Star Trek fans did in their garages anymore. Star Wars was everywhere. It was omnipresent. Talked about at the office water tower, as well as in the gym locker rooms. Jocks could now be counted as fans. Businessmen. House wives. Fifth graders. You name it, people were excited about these movies, and they weren’t afraid to show it.

2) Once Star Wars altered the movie-making map, other franchises followed suit. Star Trek was revived on both the large and small screens. Indiana Jones successfully translated the pulp tradition for a contemporary 1980s audience. Close Encounters of the Third Kind gave us a non-B.E.M. iteration of the classic alien visitation tale. And studios began making SF/F an integral part of their yearly production plans. Because these movies were raking in the cash, while also raking in the audience. Terminator and Terminator 2 being two very notable examples. But they weren’t the only ones. The 1980s and 1990s saw hundreds of SF/F films and television shows hit the big and small screens. Spawning hundreds of millions of fans world-wide.

3) But these new fans weren’t “fans” according to the old guard who held court yearly at Worldcon. For “fandom” all of SF/F could still be contained within the literary tradition. There were obligatory nods to the motion picture and television industry, but “fandom” itself still carried on with a conversation largely internal to itself, while the explosively expanding body of total fans became truly enormous. No longer was the enterprise of SF/F contained strictly within a specific tradition, nor a specific mode, more even a specific group of cross-talking individuals. SF/F went “big” and it never looked back. If SF/F was once a garage-time activity, it went to Hollywood, took over the popular imagination, and remade the popular social landscape in its own image. All while “fandom” preferred to keep things small.

4) For fans (general) one of the new, prominent national gatherings, was San Diego Comic Con. If once SDCC had been a smallish affair similar to Worldcon, it eventually rose to become the preeminent popular expose for all things SF/F, with special emphasis on comics, movies, television, and gaming properties. Movie stars eventually began making regular appearances at SDCC, as part of promotional junkets put on by studios. SDCC therefore came to reflect — more than any other con — the successful subsuming of mainstream culture by SF/F culture, such that a runaway synergy occurred. No longer could the two things be said to be separate or distinct: SF/F culture, and mainstream culture. Not with the list of top-grossing films of all time being dominated at length by SF/F franchises. Likewise, not with SF/F books and television enjoying so much lucrative appeal.

So here we are in 2015, and everybody is a fan in some way. They have either a favorite movie or series of movies they like. Perhaps a game, or series of games? Maybe there is a television program they enjoy? And in each instance, the property in question is explicitly SF/F. You literally can’t take SF/F out of mainstream culture. By the same token, you cannot take mainstream culture out of SF/F.

Much to the chagrin of “fandom” which has (unfortunately) preferred to keep itself small. Inclusion comes with a bit of a price: you have to adopt the look, the lingo, the historical knowledge, and the prejudices of “fandom” before someone who is a fan gets to be someone who is a Fan. And there is huge resentment on the part of “fandom” if a group of people who are not properly acculturated to “fandom” come tromping through the Worldcon door; either literally, or digitally (in the form of Hugo nominations and votes.)

It is perhaps inevitable that SF/F “fandom” reacts with confusion or hostility, to people who don’t display the correct social markers, taste, and mindset. But as one fan put it so well recently, the days when “fandom” could be the arbiter of who is and is not a FAN, are gone. Dead. Done. There is no gate any more. There are no walls. The ghetto has been razed and paved over to make way for a Cineplex 16. Some fans enjoy and roll with the change. A bullish SF/F market has also meant the diversification and expansion of “flavors” from which to pick. But other “fans” dislike this open-market phenomenon, preferring to keep the trappings of the “small” era, while selectively choosing which aspects of the “big” era to adopt.

One such aspect being the enormous new push for SF/F that devotes time to pondering racism and ethnicity problems, gender and sexuality problems, and the doctrines of academic complaint, as typified by gender studies, racial studies, and certain strains of socialist economic theory. Likewise, climate change has become a favorite point of focus, to include a fair amount of dystopian and Cautionary Tale fiction.

The only problem with this being that many of the fans (big) who have continued to be enthusiastic about the BIG market, have lost interest in the literary scene. If they came to the table for the spaceships, laser blasters, and photon torpedoes in the 1970s and 1980s, they have gradually walked away from the (often) morally ambiguous, socially-conscious books and stories that began to achieve preeminence at the end of the 1990s. You could still find rousing space opera, as well as plausible “nuts and bolts” hard science fiction. But the number of stories and books devoted to social issues (especially the “subvervise” type which tend to take sidelong swipes at Western cultural traditions, and especially U.S. standards and social conventions) grew dramatically.

Pretty soon, the BIG market began to distrust the very thing it had once found reliable. SF/F in print was missing the mark, with a growing percentage of people.

So, as of 2014, we’ve witnessed yet another contraction of the traditional publishing sales numbers, for SF/F. Some of which can be attributed to e-sales altering the marketing landscape. Some of which can also be attributed to consumers having a much wider array of entertainment options than they did in the 1950s and 1960s, when SF/F movies and television tended to struggle (for matters of production value, scripting, and special effects technology) and video games did not yet exist.

But the evidence is clear. Fans have been disappointed. Both of the articles I previously linked above, talked about this. As well as the wall-building attitudes of those who seem to think that keeping “fandom” a matter of inside-baseball — and expecting outsiders to conform to “inside” attitudes, social mores, knowledge, conventions of thinking, and so forth — is a net positive. So, while “fandom” works overtime to prove its inclusivity (affirmative action for the sake of gender, ethnicity, and sexuality issues) “fandom” is still very much an exclusive operation: because if you’re not the right kind of fan, you don’t really get to be a “fan” you see.

And no, that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me either.

I came of age being a FAN of things like Robotech and the original Battlestar Galactica. For several years, my SF/F reading was almost exlusively Star Trek tie-in novels. Some of which remain among the best SF I think I’ve ever read; thank you, A.C. Crispin and Diane Duane! I fell in love with the original SF/F of people like Stephen R. Donaldson, Orson Scott Card, Chris Bunch & Allan Cole, and W. Michael Gear. I got the writing bug while reading Larry Niven, and typing away at scripts for a little home-spun space opera serial airing on a local community radio station. I am not “of fandom” but I absolutely and without reservation claim the right to be a FAN, dammit. And if you try to tell me (or anyone else) we don’t belong . . . I hate it for you, bro. I’m up there with the orange people, where the genre and the industry lives. The blue people don’t “own” this field, nor are they the sole arbiters of what is quality, or worth noticing.

SPECIAL NOTE: and for that too-big-for-his-britches writer who seemed to be bragging about being out of contracts with TOR, while also telling us he’s too good for BAEN, but BAEN would throw him a contract anyway because he’s just that awesome, but he’d turn it down because BAEN can’t pay him what he thinks he’s worth . . . dude, don’t flatter yourself. Better men than you have gone to Toni Weisskopf (hat in hand) and said (like Ripley from Aliens) “Is there anything I can do?” Toni’s reply will be like Apone’s: well I d’know, is there anything you can do?? BAEN hasn’t been waiting breathlessly for your arrival on the BAEN doorstep. I am not sure anyone else has been waiting breathlessly, either.

Launch week for Racers of the Night

Okay folks, the week has officially arrived! It’s launch week for my second short fiction collection, Racers of the Night. The book contains 12 pieces of short science fiction, the majority of which have appeared in the pages of Analog magazine, Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge, and elsewhere. To include collaborations with Mike Resnick, and two pieces which have never before seen print.

If you will be attending Salt Lake City Comic Con on September 4, 5, and 6, there will be a stack of Racers of the Night available at the WordFire Press super-table, where Kevin J. Anderson, David Farland, Larry Correia, and several other authors will be signing. I personally will be on-hand at the table for the majority of Thursday evening (September 4) so if you want to snag me, chat, have me sign and personalize your book, etc., come on by! I will also have copies of Lights in the Deep available for purchase, and will probably give away a few promo copies of my forthcoming Baen novel The Chaplain’s War.

For those who can’t make it to Salt Lake City Comic Con, there are (of course) direct-order options through major on-line retailers.

Amazon.com: trade paperback, or electronic.

Barnes & Noble: trade paperback, or electronic.

Kobo: e-book

Smashwords: multiple formats

And if you still want a personalized and signed trade paperback delivered to your mail box, you can PayPal me $20.00 and I will ensure that you get your copy!

Need something more to wet your speculative literary whistle? Here are a few snippets from some of the stories contained in the book.

From, “The Curse of Sally Tincakes” . . .

Second to last lap, and Jane was in a familiar spot with the leaders at the front of the pack. Having gamed her way into the elite group—same strategies and tactics as always—she’d almost considered her advancement to the final heat to be a foregone conclusion, when one of the other drivers from the middle of the pack made a particularly dangerous—and gutsy—move. Trying to copy Jane’s technique as they entered a turn, the man began spinning out of control, first pinballing off one bike, then another, then a third, until suddenly the track was alive with wildly spinning bikes, their riders trying desperately to regain control—overcorrecting—and then either smashing down into the safety barriers nearest the domed-over crowds, or pinwheeling up and off the track altogether, arcing out across the sun-blasted regolith, legs and feet come loose, flailing.

From, “Blood and Mirrors” . . .

Suddenly the door to the ICU suite popped open, flooding light into the room. Camarro got a glimpse of a standard blue police uniform, and that was it for her. She’d been prepared since the moment she’d enter the suite. There were no exits anywhere, besides the windows. She hit the largest one going full speed, smashing through the double panes and falling two stories to the roof, where she landed, rolled, then got to her feet and sprinted across the roof, bits of glass flying off her back. She got to the roof’s edge and dropped another story onto the skybridge that connected the hospital’s south wing with the parking garage. She ran the length of the skybridge and jumped down onto the concrete of the garage’s top level, which was open to the sky. She arrived at her bike just as the elevator doors on the other side of the top level opened, spilling uniforms.

From, “Life Flight” . . .

We debated who should cast Janicka into the void. As the only person aboard who’d been intimate with her, I mumbled a few words on her behalf. Then cursed myself for not having anything more eloquent to say. Just as nobody in the planning stages had thought to consider what might happen if the people went haywire, there was nothing in the training nor the library for dealing with death. Janicka was too stark a reminder to me that it would probably be me in that sack some day: a relic of the trip, soon to be disposed of. Which made up my mind for me. I told Chris we aren’t doing any space burials. Janicka is going to stay in cold storage on the outside of the ship until we reach our new home, and then she’s going to be goddamned buried in the goddamned soil like the pioneer woman that she is.

From, “The Nechronomator” . . .

The Nechronomator was hideous. His flesh hung limply on his tallish skeleton, sagging and gray. He sat cross-legged on a marble bench that sat at the top of the cross-shaped mausoleum. Liver spots had darkened to black and his mouth looked dry as he moved it. The woman stood before him, motionless in her Sunday finest. The only breaths either of them took were the ones they used to move air across stale vocal chords. I still couldn’t make out what they were saying. Suddenly the Nechronomator stood—a surprisingly swift movement for someone who’d been dead for three years—and slapped the base of his palm on the woman’s forehead. She spasmed and gave a quick, hoarse cry, then flashed into nothingness—like the bulb of a camera had gone off, erasing her from existence.

From, “Reardon’s Law” . . .

Dead leaves clung to Kal’s skin like wet paper. She peered intently over the lip of the ledge. Half a kilometer distant, the mighty trees had been flattened in a rough halo under the belly of the enemy craft. Which was mammoth. A metal whale on stilts. The heat tiles of the ship were grossly discolored from its many, many in-atmosphere trips. Underneath the vessel—between its massive landing pylons—four personnel hatches lay open with four ramps extending down to the ground, like rusty tongues. There was also a fifth, much larger cargo hatch. Its wide ramp was populated with people moving crates up into the ship. They appeared to be bringing the crates from somewhere deep in the tree line. Where Kal couldn’t see. They must have located the remnants of the Broadbill? Or at least the Broadbill’s cargo?

Amazon.com: trade paperback, or electronic.

Barnes & Noble: trade paperback, or electronic.

Kobo: e-book

Smashwords: multiple formats

Personalized and signed trade paperback: PayPal me $20.00 US.

Fear and loathing at the Awards Table 3

It’s been two years since I was the triple nominee for the Hugo, the Campbell, and the Nebula awards. At the time, I thought it rather unusual that a relative newcomer should find himself on the short list for all three awards simultaneously. Something in which I took a measure of pride. Because I never set out to be an “award worthy” author as much as I set out to be the kind of author who could entertain. My authorial philosophy is pretty simple: give the reader a good time, not a hard time. So when my name popped up for the Nebulas, I was pleasantly shocked. When it popped up again for the Hugo and the Campbell, I was doubly shocked. I never styled myself as a prestige man. I just wanted to tell stories that people would find worthwhile, enjoyable, and (dare I say it?) uplifting.

Come April 2014, and I discover I am back on the Hugo short list again. This time with two pieces of short fiction which previously appeared in Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine:

Best Novelette — “The Exchange Officers” — Analog, Jan/Feb 2013
Best Novella — “The Chaplain’s Legacy” — Analog, Jul/Aug 2013

There’s a bit of exciting additional news I can share about “The Chaplain’s Legacy” in a later installment of this blog series, but I wanted to point out here (as I have on Facebook) that I think a big reason why these two stories made the Hugo ballot is because they were both included in my short fiction “best of” album titled Lights in the Deep. I was initially going to self-publish the collection (before it even had a name) but when Kevin J. Anderson and WordFire Press approached me, their contract and marketing and distribution were simply too good to pass up. And I am glad to be working with WordFire, not just for Lights, but also for a new collection coming out later this year, to be called Racers of the Night. What it would have taken a traditional small press at least 12 to 24 months to accomplish, WordFire did for me in a matter of weeks over a single summer. Thus I was able to get the book into the hands of readers months in advance of the 2014 awards season. Thus when the nomination period came around, a great many people had already read my work in both Analog and also Lights in the Deep.

But there is (obviously, to those paying attention to the Hugos this year) another reason I made the Hugo short list, and I want to write a few thoughts about that, and also about some of the controversy that has arisen as a result.

See, my friend Larry Correia put my stories on one of his blog posts where he listed his own voting preferences for the Hugo. Several of us who know Larry had our books and stories on that list, all of us accomplished authors to one degree or another. And since Larry has a substantial internet footprint, and an extremely loyal and energetic fan base, some of those fans (and I have to say, a goodly number of them had bought Lights in the Deep due to a generous book launch push Larry had given Lights in late 2013) mobilized to support Larry’s slate — because that’s just how the Monster Hunter Nation rolls.

After the 2014 Hugo award nominee short list was releast by Loncon 3 (the World Science Fiction Convention, or “Worldcon”) there was a substantial amount of consternation — social media hue and cry, one might call it.

As has often been the case when I observe these kinds of things, I remain puzzled that the group which dubs itself “fandom” (in the parlance of the original Worldcons of yore) and which is always self-analyzing so as to determine how it can bring in more young fans, more diverse fans, and more energetic fans, could react so poorly to Larry Correia bringing Monster Hunter Nation to the Hugo nominations — as if the state of New York were aghast that the state of Texas showed up for a national party caucus during the run-up to a major election.

Isn’t bringing new people into old-school fandom part of the point of Worldcon?

But it wasn’t just Monster Hunter Nation that had certain people in fandom riled up. Wheel of Time fans managed to get the entire series (Jordan/Sanderson) on the ballot too — for Best Novel Hugo. Which is not precisely against the rules of the nomination process, but Wheel of Time is a massive series that is almost 30 years old. Seeing it in the Best Novel category alongside the other books for 2014 is highly unusual to say the least. So unusual, in fact, that some people in fandom have chosen to get upset about it; to the same degree those individuals in fandom are upset about Monster Hunter Nation getting the third installment in Larry Correia’s Hard Magic series onto the ballot, with Warbound: Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles.

My response to the plaintiffs is: why not?

To paraphrase something Brandon Sanderson eloquently said on his blog, it’s head-scratching to see a group invite people in to join said group, then the group reacts badly to the new people.

In the case of Monster Hunter Nation, I think it’s safe to say the bulk of the unhapiness (from some individuals in fandom) is political in nature. In the case of Wheel of Time fans, the unhapiness (from some individuals in fandom) has been literary in nature. Ergo, works that are considered “too commercial” tend to get looked down upon by parts of fandom that have a particularly academic and literary taste.

But isn’t this the point of being fans? Shouldn’t anything that calls itself WORLDCON actually represent a widely diverse number of fans from many different echelons of the disparate world of genre enthusiasm?

“But, campaigning for awards and stuffing the ballot box is uncouth!”
I understand that for many fans steeped in the history of Worldcon, there is a somewhat old-school and gentlemanly attitude that campaigning for an award is uncouth. Crass. Simply not done. And in those instances where it was very plainly done in the daylight, there has generally been some harsh regard. But honestly, in the era of the internet, this philosophy is pretty much dead in the water. Because almost all authors have web footprints of varying sizes and instant interactivity with their readers, and the minute you even peep about consideration (you, your work, for the ballots) it’s basically a clarion call to your readers to go support you — whether you’re deliberately making the announcement with an intent to motivate your readers, or being discreet and simply mentioning the works you’ve published in the past calendar year, without actually doing a call to action. Plus, authors are clever. A call to action need not be worded baldly. There are 101 ways to deftly and subtly put up neon signs of varying design, encouraging readers and web followers to put you down for the ballots and the awards. Especially when so many of the ballots and awards are voted via web form. It’s easier than ever for an enthusiastic fan or reader or supporter to click, jump, vote, and submit. So, I think it can be reasonably said: nothing any of this year’s short-listed nominees did to announce themselves, can be deemed uncouth or against the spirit of the Hugos. Past winners (up to and including Best Novel) have happily flexed their web footprints in order to be nominated and win. I don’t think we can honestly ding anyone on this year’s ballot for doing the same thing.

“But, Wheel of Time is not even a book!”
True, it’s not a single book. And there is a strong argument for perhaps changing the rules of the award, for future Worldcons, so that a Best Series Hugo might be given. But since the present rules permit Wheel of Time fans to nominate what they love, the series is on the ballot through no fault of its own. It will now compete against the other works just like any other nominee. Perhaps it’s a little disheartening to see a series with such a substantial fan base go up against single books from authors who don’t have as much traction in the marketplace — from a glance, Wheel of Time seems likely to bury its competition. But again, I ask, why not? There’s nothing in the Hugo nomination process that says anything about taste, nor about sales numbers, being a disqualifier. If enough Worldcon members want Wheel of Time (or any other thing) on the ballot, then by golly that thing is going to be on the ballot. That’s not Brandon Sanderson’s fault, nor should Wheel of Time fans be talked down to because somehow their taste isn’t as relevant to the health and recognition of worthy works in the field as, say, fans of John Scalzi’s Red Shirts. Which did walk away with the Best Novel Hugo last year, and largely because of the fact that Scalzi’s fans simply chose to participate in the nomination and voting process.

“But, Monster Hunter Nation and Wheel of Time fans are not our kind of fans!”
Okay, here is where I put my grumpy face on and glower a little bit. Because this is something I’ve talked about before. This is also something Kristine Kathryn Rusch has talked about before, too. You can’t have a healthy fandom unless you run a big tent. And by big tent, I mean a fandom that doesn’t impose litmus tests. Fandom (that very-small piece of the consumer pie that keeps Worldcon alive) represents an increasingly monocultural segment of the overall fan market. The so-called TruFans work to marginalize and exclude the NeoFans. “Show us your cred!” the guards cry at the entry points to the science fiction “ghetto” that fandom jealously occupies — though Larry Niven once famously argued it’s not a ghetto, it’s actually a country club. Those with insufficient or bad cred (“You only like movies and games!” or “Your politics make you stinky!” or “Your favorite author is too commercial!”) are discouraged in both obvious and subtle ways. Go back to what Brandon Sanderson said: if you invite people in, it’s rather strange of you to then try to kick them back out simply because they’re not matching your taste and preferences 1-for-1. So while I am somewhat sympathetic to the notion of, “Well we liked science fiction before science fiction was popular,” I also think this is the slogan of a dying culture. And that makes me sad. Because as someone who came of age reading Larry Niven’s wonderful anecdotes about Worldcon, the picture he painted was not that of a dying culture. Worldcon fandom can’t be healthy if it imposes hard filters and actively shews away “interlopers” who haven’t been properly anointed or baptized into the field, per traditions of old.

“But one of Larry Correia’s friends, that Vox Day guy, is a (insert nasty words here)!!”
Perhaps Larry and Monster Hunter Nation wouldn’t be getting such a ration of grief if the authorial persona known as Vox Day had not had a story on Larry’s slate? But then, Larry didn’t put Vox on the Hugo ballot all by himself. Vox has a blog too. And it gets a ton of traffic. Vox ran his own slate. And the Vox fans came to the Hugos along with Monster Hunter Nation and Wheel of Time fans. Look, for the sake of the Vox Day critics, I get it. Vox (the persona) throws verbal bombs. He is challenging, opinionated, controversial, and makes no apologies. Even to the point of saying things and making statements that occasionally cause me to step back and say, “Whoa, man, that’s probably not called for!” But again, my refrain: why not? If fandom evicted every author or editor who ever shot his or her mouth off about politics or religion or some other thing, we’d be showing many dozens of authors — and more than a few editors — the door. In fact, some of the recent authorial and editorial winners have been very outspoken about their beliefs, up to and including being rude and insulting to those who don’t share the same beliefs, and I am not sure you can pull the ladder up on Vox without admitting (as a fandom culture) that it’s okay to be boorish, crass, insulting, or worse, just as long as said author or said editor is boorish and rude in the correct way. Think Vox is a hideous character? Fine. I get that too. As personas go, Vox Day is a significantly spicy jalapeno! Even I can’t always go where he goes, despite having a degree of ideological overlap on the Venn diagram. I do not agree with Vox on every single thing, nor does Larry Correia for that matter. But if science fiction is truly supposed to be the liberal literary art that it claims to be, then I challenge anyone upset at seeing Vox on the ballot to pry his novelette “Opera Vita Aeterna” away from the ill will Vox the persona has generated, and consider the story on its own merits. As all our parents once told us: how do you know you won’t like it if you don’t try it? Or as one plaintiff lamented, what if Vox’s work actually merits inclusion despite how much we don’t like him as a web personality?

If science fiction truly loves the different, the strange, the alien, or the disturbing, as it always claims to love these things . . . well, here’s science fiction’s big chance to put its money where its mouth is: Vox Day, literary rogue. I, for one, look forward to reading his novelette. To paraphrase a Commander Riker line from Star Trek: The Next Generation, nobody ever said this field was safe. In fact, Harlan Ellison once famously branded the genre as the so-called dangerous genre. Is Worldcon fandom ready to get dangerous, or does worldcon fandom want to be safe?

We’ll see.

Because, really, that’s what the fiction Hugos are supposed to be about: the prose on the page. Technically, when a guy like me gets nominated for “The Chaplain’s Legacy” it’s not me that’s getting nominated, it’s the story. But we all know the nominations aren’t that simple. Many voters don’t even read widely. When nomination time comes around and they are presented with the giant cereal aisle of choices offered at the science fiction grocery store, they will often (through no fault of their own) default to brand names they know and/or like. Thus some familiar name brand patterns tend to set in (and this is true for the Nebula awards too) and that’s perhaps inevitable, without being ideal. But again, according to the labels put on those categories, the author name attached to the story or the book is more or less irrelevant. We’re not giving out Best Novella Writer Hugo or Best Novel Writer Hugo, we’re giving out Best Novella Hugo and Best Novel Hugo. The name attached to the work is somewhat independent of the work proper. And this should be true across the board. And when people exclaim that someone ought to not be on the ballot for purely political or social squabbling reasons, they’re basically admitting that the categories are misleading. Votes are cast for people, not fiction.

Frankly, I think the best way to rectify the situation is not to impose any kind of taste or political test, but to merely read what’s been placed on the ballot, and vote according to enjoyment. No single story or book will please all readers, and it has ever been thus. But if you’re casting your votes because you truly did read what was offered, and you let these works of fiction rest on your literary palate, then I think you’re doing the Hugo process more dignity than if you simply rush down the ballot ranking solely because of the names attached to the products. Him, him, not him, her, not her, not her, not her, him, definitely him, her, not her. Maybe that’s as valid a manner of voting as any other, but it kind of cheats the Hugos out of a degree of their validity.

Which gets me to a point I want to make, about some of these awards overall, but I think I will wait to make it for the next installment in this series.

Thanks to everybody who read my stories over the last few months, and who nominated those stories for the 2014 Hugo!

Click here for the first installment in this series.

Click here for the second installment in this series.

Panel schedule for 2014 SLC Comic Con FanX

Salt Lake City’s inaugural Comic Con in 2013 totally blew the doors off the Utah genre scene. Looks like the con organizers are doubling down on awesome for 2014, and have an amazing roster of celebrities returning for the FanX (Fan Experience) convention happening at the Salt Palace this weekend.

I’ll be doing panels as part of the FanX writer track. And when I am not doing panels, I will be over at Kevin J. Anderson’s Wordfire book table signing copies of Lights in the Deep and being available for chit chat. Do please drop by and say hello. And if you haven’t picked up a copy of the book yet, this weekend is a good time to grab one!

THURSDAY
2:00 pm: Religion in Science Fiction and Fantasy.
7:00 pm: How Not to be a “Red Shirt” Author: Veteran Writers Offer their best Advice for Surviving the Publishing World.

FRIDAY
10:00 am: Character Creation in Science Fiction & Fantasy for Writers.
11:00 am: The Future of Science Fiction and Fantasy in a Post-Twilight, Post-Potter World.

SATURDAY
2:00 pm: Top Things to Do and Not to Do as an Aspiring Writer.
4:00 pm: Self-Publishing, Indie Publishing and Traditional Publishing: Which One is Right for You?
7:00 pm: World Building for Dystopian, Utopian and Apocalyptic Futures: How to Do it Right.

Whence fandom?

My editor at Baen Books, Toni Weisskopf, made some very cogent and interesting observations regarding 21st century English-speaking fandom’s fractured condition. I agree absolutely with Toni that some of these fault lines can be traced directly to the social and political fault lines in the wider English-speaking culture; out of which a good deal of fandom springs. But I also think that much can be explained by examining where people come to fandom from–and through which doors they walk when they enter.

In the old days (meaning, prior to 1960) it was entirely possible for most people who called themselves “fans” to have read many or even most of the same books, seen the same television programs and films, and read much of the same stories in many of the same magazines. Science Fiction (and Fantasy, though it was not quite yet its own distinct thing yet) was a small place with numerous touchstones that fans and editors and writers could all identify readily on their separate maps of the intellectual landscape. There was a commonality of experience as well as consumption, and while not everyone agreed about which course the future would take (the so-called New Wave certainly threw the Campbell era for a loop!) most everyone could at least talk to each other about things the field (et al) deemed worth talking about.

In 2014?

Let me paint you a picture of what I think fandom looks like in 2014.

The above is a Venn diagram, as I imagine all the many separate fandoms might appear if you were to sit down and actually draw them out. One circle represents people who came to fandom through the Harry Potter books. Another circle represents people who came to fandom through the HALO video game franchise. Another circle represents people who came to fandom through Star Trek. Another, for Star Wars. And so on and so forth, across dozens or even hundreds of different games, movies, television series, books, book series, and so forth. In fact, were the diagram above to be rendered in total, it would likely comprise thousands of different circles, and the picture would be so jumbled as to be unintelligible.

The point I want to make (with the diagram) is that, in 21st century fandom, there aren’t any touchstone movies, books, or other properties which every fan, writer, or editor can rely on being known to every other fan, writer, or editor. There is no longer a central nexus for fandom. Oh, to be sure, there are some properties (like Star Trek and Star Wars) which enjoy such overwhelming cultural ubiquity that it’s difficult to find anyone who is not at least aware of them, aware of the characters, the general conceits of the franchises, et cetera. But even here, you can (if you dig beneath the surface) locate veins of fandom which are largely oblivious to these “big circle” properties with their millions upon millions of adherents.

For some fans, the gaming world is where it’s at. They are gamers to the core, not precisely readers per se, nor perhaps even watchers of television and movies. But even among gamers, there are traditionalists (tabletop, pencil-and-paper players, writers, and developers) and there are video gamers. Their two circles can and often do overlap. But among younger players especially, the circle for video games is going to be very large, in comparison to the circle for tabletop.

And we see this pattern again and again: manga and anime fans having overlap to a large degree, while not necessarily having any overlap at all with Cthulu-themed Lovecraft horror fans. Steampunk fans having great overlap with cosplay fans, but perhaps not nearly as much overlap with interstellar Hard Science Fiction fans. And so on and so forth. Depending on where you walked into the “room” you might be on the other side of the floor from someone else who entered opposite you. The things you’re interested in, and the conversations you have with different people, might not share any elements in common. The touchstones simply aren’t there. Different things will matter (or not matter) to different people, and the various circles will often float past one another without there being much rub-off or blending.

The internet accentuates this because you no longer have to go to a convention to meet and greet your like-minded dwellers of your particular circle(s) which interest you. The internet also allows mini-cons and specialty cons to reach out and attract a very fine-tuned sector of the broader consumer audience, much as Star Trek conventions of yesteryear used to attract a very specific kind of fan for a singularly specific franchise.

Now, the one thing pushing back on the “balkanization” of fandom, is the rise of the super-con: DragonCon in Atlanta, and the many Comic Cons, such as Salt Lake City Comic Con or San Diego Comic Con. Events that will literally draw tens or even hundreds of thousands of people. And not just the hard-core fans, either. The super-cons bring “mundanes” from beyond fandom who are still fans, they just do not identify with fannish culture or history, nor do they even necessarily recognize what it is they enjoy; as Science Fiction or Fantasy. For these “fans outside fandom” they are purely attracted to a popular mass-appeal product, such as a comic book line or comic book movie, a popular television show, and so forth. Things that are explicitly SF/F in context but which have sprung entirely from the mainstream media outlets, drawing more or less mainstream fans.

It’s at the super-cons that one can again get a vague sense of wholeness: all fans of all things merging together for a weekend of intersectionality across innumerable interests.

But even then, the tendency (among attendees) is to focus mostly on what their main interests are: a particular movie, television show, the actors of same, or perhaps a beloved video game line, etc. They will wander through the convention center noting the spectacle of the mass aggregate without necessarily stopping to notice any one thing in particular. Just ask genre bestsellers who lack a presence in television or film how it feels to sit at a book table in the dealers hall while thousands of people wander past, not even recognizing your name, nor your books, nor your face.

As Toni noted so well, “It is possible to be a science fiction fan and have absolutely no point of connection with another fan these days.”

I believe this is both good, and bad.

It’s good (to me) because it means the marketplace (for people producing product) is a bull marketplace. Depending on what your goals and aspirations are, you have a potential audience of hundreds of millions of people. Science Fiction and Fantasy are not the closeted industries they were in 1960. Science Fiction and Fantasy have (as I noted in this space before) grown up, moved out of the basement, gone to Hollywood, and taken over the popular culture. Fandom “won” the culture battle because now you can be a fan and not even know you’re a fan! There is nothing odd or distinguishing about you, because everybody likes Star Wars and Star Trek and Harry Potter, right?

It’s bad (to me) because it also means that at the same time people can be fans without realizing they’re fans, there are also plenty of people who have only a dim awareness of the fact that all the other fannish circles exist; much less have validity as a coherent group of like-minded enthusiasts. This tends to breed a lot of cliquishness, clannishness, turf wars, and worse. Ergo, you’re not really a fan unless dot, dot dot. This even manifests within circles as the “hard core” fans at the center resent the dilettantes and the passing fans at the edges, or those fans who like to mix and match their fandom: various interests and enthusiasms rolled into a million and one hybrid flavors.

It also means that professionals (by whatever criteria we choose to use to define the word “professional”) inevitably form prejudices too. Based either on whether you’re traditional published or indie published, which publishing house or agent you work with, whether you write for games or movies or television or magazines, and so on and so forth. Creative people tend to be competitive (often on an unconscious level) so whatever we can do to get one up on each other, we inevitably do. Especially now that there are so damned many competing forms of SF/F entertainment. It’s not possible for any one writer, director, or game company to completely monopolize the marketplace. And there are thousands of people who try to cross over (from fan to professional) each day, through a variety of conduits. With that much competition and so much turmoil caused by so much jostling in the marketplace, to say nothing of larger cultural political concerns, it’s easy to see why the wholeness of the old days has dissolved into the present thousand-countried continent called Science Fiction and Fantasy.

My personal approach (generally) is to celebrate the vastness of the ocean while acknowledging all the islands upon it. I did not come up through traditional fandom in the pre-1960 sense of the world. I came in “sideways” as a child of the 1970s and 1980s who knew SF/F mostly through movies and television and imported Japanese anime. It wasn’t until I began reading Larry Niven (when I was an older teen) that I became aware of the fannish culture and its roots, tracing back through the decades to the first Worldcons and all that went with them. This knowledge was rather revelatory, and I’ve enjoyed very much sitting at the feet of genre historians and super-fans-become-authors like Mike Resnick, who can speak to fannish history: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

As Toni notes, SF/F tends to thrive when the circles can find excuses to talk to each other. Nobody is really alone, nor does any one voice (or group of voices) control what is and is not fandom, or what is and is not worth caring about, when it comes to the circles. It’s bottles being hurled into the surf at a rate of one thousand per second, and ten thousand Captain Cooks sailing forth every hour to visit previously uncharted (for the captain and crew at least) waters. Not undiscovered, precisely. Just, places said captain and crew have never been before. And across the distance, healthy commerce and an exchange of ideas can occur.

Presuming the sterilizing forces of conformity aren’t allowed to gain overwhelming traction. Even the best of intentions can pave an unfortunate road. And sometimes the concepts, thoughts, and ideas which disquiet us the most, are the very same concepts, thoughts, and ideas which can be necessary for a) truly understanding all those different fans and creators out in those circles, and b) learning to harness the wild nature of the marketplace for fun and profit, as opposed to launching siege engines designed to batter the many circle(s) into line with a given doctrine, principle, or precept.

Brad’s schedule for LTUE 2014

It’s that time again! Utah’s premier science fiction and fantasy conference for writers and artists. Life, The Universe, and Everything will be held February 13, 14, and 15 in Provo, Utah. Click the LTUE link to go directly to the site. This year’s guest of honor is none other than Orson Scott Card, of Ender’s Game fame. Card will be joined by a bevy of talented authors and artists (including me) for three days of panels and discussions regarding both craft and business. Last year’s LTUE was the most successful yet. Come on down (or up, if you’re coming from the south) and attend.

My schedule (current as of February 12):

Thursday, February 13, 2014
12:00 PM: Slower Than Light Travel
● J. David Baxter
● Ami Chopine
Brad R. Torgersen
● Emily Martha Sorensen
4:00 PM: How to Submit Your Writing
● Anne Sowards
Brad R. Torgersen
● Christopher Loke
● Michael Young
● Shallee McArthur
● Mark Forman

Friday, February 14, 2014
9:00 AM: The Rules of the Genre
Brad R. Torgersen
● Eric Swedin
● Michaelbrent Collings
● Stephen Miller
● Anne Sowards
● Elana Johnson
1:00 PM: Selling Your Short Story
Brad R. Torgersen
● Emily Martha Sorensen
● Eric James Stone
● Jaclyn M. Hawkes
● Megan Hutchins
● Suzanne Vincent
7:00 PM: Learning from Failure
Brad R. Torgersen
● Daniel Coleman
● Jenniffer Wardell
● Charlene C. Harmon

Saturday, February 15, 2014
9:00 AM: Character Development
Brad R. Torgersen
● Candace J Thomas
● Jaclyn M. Hawkes
● Jenniffer Wardell
● Julie Wright
● Peter Orullian
4:00 PM PRESENTATION: Why you should write short fiction and how it can help launch you as a novelist
Brad R. Torgersen

Boost your writing business acumen with Superstars Writing Seminars

It’s January, 2014. Time to put my cards on the table, while talking about the business of writing and publishing. Because it is a business. Yet business is one of the things that often seems to get covered least, when people discuss their writing. In fact, great whacks of “How to Write” literature focuses on different aspects of craft, and craft only. As if merely honing craft were the whole of it.

But unless your sole objective is to get published in college literary journals, then you owe it to yourself to study and understand the business history, underpinnings, trends, and realities of the publishing marketplace. Because the moment you sell your story or your book (be it through traditional or independent means) you are officially “in the stream of commerce” to use the vernacular of the trade.

It’s a bit like merging onto the freeway. You can get off at the nearest exit and go back to being a hobbyist.

Or you can depress the pedal and change lanes to the left, picking up speed and getting ambitious with your planning.

For me, things got off to a modest start in 2009, when I cashed my first ever check for writing: my Writers of the Future prize money, for having won a spot in Writers and Illustrators of the Future, volume 26. At that time I was so desperately focused on merely proving my (prose) chops to editors, I had not thought much about business; though I had attended one brief weekend workshop during which business had been a significant component. Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith each had a range of opinions on various business topics, but without having received any compensation for my work (yet) these topics were a little abstract.

Everything changed when that first check rolled in.

Suddenly, I had a third career blooming under me. To compliment my primary career (healthcare IT) and my secondary career (U.S. Army Reserve.)

I realized fairly quickly that I had to begin devoting time to business planning and goals. But without more information, I also felt like I might be stabbing in the dark. Kris and Dean’s weekend workshop had been a good start. The Writers of the Future workshop in 2010 was an even better follow-up.

But I didn’t feel like I had a solid business footing until I attended Kevin J. Anderson’s Superstars Writing Seminars three-day event in January 2011. Just four years ago.

So, what did the Superstars Writing Seminars do for me?

Allow me to post some raw data, in the form of a graph.

In the four years since my first story saw print, I’ve managed to double my writing income almost every year. To the point that my (formerly tertiary) writing revenue stream has now displaced my (formerly secondary) military revenue stream. A not insignificant thing, considering the fact I am a CW2 with 10+ years behind me. And there’s every sign that things will continue to improve.

How?

Because Superstars is the kind of forum where successful professionals are infectiously enthusiastic about sharing their experiences, and have a genuine desire to see others succeed as they, the instructors, have also succeeded. Dave Wolverton, Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Eric Flint, Brandon Sanderson, and excellent guest lecturers like Tracy Hickman, all devote themselves exclusively to pouring forth their hard-won experience. Offering both statistical and anecdotal proof that writers with a little bit of talent, a lot of patience, and a lot of work ethic, can turn their writing into a lucrative enterprise.

For me, the single biggest key has been production. As a hobbyist, I could afford to take time off whenever I wanted, because I had no skin in the game. Bills didn’t get missed if I didn’t feel like writing that week, or that month. But Superstars hammered home (at numerous points) the idea that a vocational writer writes. Every day, or several times a week, in whatever hourly chunks possible. Eschewing television or games or other distractions. Work first. Work always. And while it might have been easy for me to overlook or ignore this truth when I was unpublished and still wondering if I’d ever break in, spending time at Superstars greatly impressed upon me the fact that every single instructor — and they are all full-time writers with significant publishing track records — has managed the trick of putting production at the top of his or her priorities list.

Also, each and every instructor has formulated a strategy, replete with sound business practices, for not only breaking into publishing, but staying in the game; post-break-in. None of them has a career that looks like anyone else’s. But all of them have made very explicit business decisions while selecting and pursuing specific agents, specific editors, specific publishers, as well as specific projects for development. There is art involved, no question about it. Each Superstars instructor is very much in love with storytelling, if not also craft and prose. But each of them is also very much focused on the art as a component of an overall livelihood, and it was supremely beneficial for me to spend time talking with so many pros for whom details of the livelihood were paramount in their minds.

Such as: deciphering novel contracts, understanding the agenting process, understanding how money flows to the author from various sources, when to recognize that a deal may or may not be worth walking away from, how to approach editors and publishers with new material, how to handle questions of taxation, how to be your own best salesperson, what kind of marketing an author can or should pursue to help boost sales, and perhaps most relevant for today’s emergent electronic publishing market, how to be your own publisher and publicist in the event that you take your work directly to the consumer.

Again, very little of any of that was ever covered in my many “How to Write” books that I’d read over the years.

Thus I found Superstars to be a revelation.

The kind of thing I believe is best experienced live. Because half or more of my personal learning took place off-hours. Not as part of the official agenda, but as part of conversation with the pros and other students in attendance. Because Superstars offers you the kind of intimacy that you need to ask detailed, candid questions. So that you can get detailed, candid answers; the sort not always available during in-between-panel chats at conventions.

So, a great deal of my own success can be tied back to Superstars to one degree or another. That graph (see above) has Superstars written all over it. And the best part is? I am just getting started. The informational web of contacts, associates, and mentors from Superstars still pays dividends. And each year I am in the business, I learn a little bit more, push myself a little bit harder with my goals, and (as the graph shows) manage to make even more money.

All while getting to do what I originally dreamed of doing back when I was barely 18 years old, and reading authors like Larry Niven, and fantasizing of one day getting to be a “for real” writer.

Now, to the matter of cost. It is rightly said by most competent pros that money always flows to the writer. The one reasonable caveat that I can attest is true, would be continuing education. Dean Wesley Smith emphasized that for me right up front: with publishing changing so rapidly, it’s not a bad idea to try to stay on top of the latest ideas, thinking, innovations, and direct-from-the-marketplace experiential data. So that you can keep up with the trade, in the same way so many other professions and vocations must stay current on the “state of the art” as it were.

Personally, I feel the investment has paid for itself a hundred times already.

Maybe yours will too?

The next Superstars is coming up quick. February 2014. I hope to see you there!

World Science Fiction Convention and Salt Lake City Comic Con

In 2012 I was fortunate to be literary science fiction’s triple-nominee: Nebula award, Hugo award, Campbell award. This means I got to go to Chicago’s Chicon 7 (World Science Fiction Convention) and participate on panels as a featured guest, as well as suit up for the Hugo ceremony proper. I had some good moments in Chicago. Mostly meeting old friends, and many new friends alike. I got to enjoy a slice of the Worldcon limelight. I didn’t win anything, but this was okay by me because the Hugo and Campbell are not cash prizes. Plus, the Campbell tiara certainly looked better on the female winner than it would have on me. So I left Chicago satisfied that I’d gotten the most I could out of it.

In 2013 I was fortunate to be invited to sit at Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire table at Salt Lake City Comic Con, in addition to sitting on panels as a special guest. This was Utah’s first ever Comic Con, and had been expected to draw as much as 30,000 attendees. That it drew an estimated 70,000 attendees was a complete surprise to even the most optimistic con-planners. Certainly none of us who were working the vendor tables expected so many people. And the panels were almost universally packed. Standing room only. It was a complete blow-the-doors-off five-alarm success story. Biggest inaugural Comic Con of any kind to have ever been held anywhere in the country. I left SLC Comic Con feeling like I got way more out of it than I’d expected going in.

Observations, from the pro side and the fan side:

Worldcon is smaller as well as older. Both in terms of its historical roots, and in terms of its total audience. I think the best estimates place Chicon 7’s attendance at around 5,000 people. A fraction of SLC Comic Con’s. So if you were a producer of product looking to move your wares, the Comic Con was definitely the place to be. SLC Comic Con also had youth. There weren’t a lot of younger fans in Chicago—at least not ones who weren’t joined at the hip to their parents. SLC Comic Con had piles and piles of families in attendance, but also a large contingent of teenagers too. Something I didn’t see a whole lot in Chicago.

Worldcon had editors and agents, whereas SLC Comic Con had actors. Anyone who came to SLC Comic Con hoping to find a literary agent or a receptive editor from a major magazine or novel house, went away disappointed. There were some people from the regional publishing scene in attendance, but nobody national that I knew of. Worldcon on the other hand had many editors and agents from magazines as well as novel houses, both large and small. It was definitely the better venue for prospective writers or new authors (like me) with a track record, and hoping to expand their professional contacts and/or secure interest from people with the ability to pay for work. Whereas SLC Comic Con was a great place to come and meet your favorite actor from any two dozen different television and movie franchises.

Worldcon had the traditional masquerade, but SLC Comic Con had far more costumed fans, per capita. Perhaps one in four SLC attendees was dressed up (or dressed down, in the case of certain people) for the event. Chicago did have some costume people, but they were much fewer and further between. And some of that costuming was definitely tied to after-hours parties—occasionally of the risqué variety. (aka: “Bar Fleet”)

As business ventures, I found both Worldcon and SLC Comic Con advantageous—just for different reasons.

When I went to Renovation in 2011 and Chicon 7 in 2012 I was there strictly as a new pro writer, looking to making connections. Meet old friends and make new ones, sure, but the business connections were the key. Talk to agents. Secure open doors. Etc. SLC Comic Con on the other hand was a chance to actually put finished product in front of brand new eyes. People who’d never heard of me before, and who were coming from outside the somewhat insular community that calls itself “fandom” in the parlance of Worldcon. These were general audience consumers. The kind of “big tent” audience I ultimately want to reach, because that’s the kind of audience I came out of as a teenager. And that’s where the vast bulk of the money is too.

Oh, sure, as a teen, I probably read more SF/F than many similarly-aged fans who were strictly television or movie fans. But I still came into the genre “sideways” as a writer, because I didn’t do it coming up through the traditionally inculcated ranks of “fandom” which still consider film and television to be separate and apart from Science Fiction (capitals) as we know it. Therefore I think I felt much more comfortable at SLC Comic Con. I recognized myself in the young eyes of the many teenaged boys tromping past the WordFire table: just out with their buddies, having fun, sneaking peaks at the more scantily-clad female costumers, picking up game stuff, maybe buying some comics or books, and just generally enjoying being part of the event—utterly oblivious to Hugos or Nebulas or Campbells or anything else associated with Worldcon.

Which is not a putdown of Worldcon. Really, it’s not. I’m just noticing the differences. I thought Worldcon was pretty good, as a business trip intended to establish connections. I met my editor at Baen Books because of Renovation 2011. I got to sit on a panel with my editor (now retired) at Analog magazine because of Chicon 2012. There was solid value (for me, as a new pro writer) in Worldcon as a result.

But as a seller of merchandise, and as someone who was a fan of Star Trek and Star Wars in my youth, and who wore those stripes proudly when I broke into writing science fiction in 2009, SLC Comic Con definitely felt more homey. More crowded, true. But more homey. I was a comic collector for a few years as a teen. Aliens and X-Force and Sandman. I remember those days, and I remember my enthusiasm. I’m still an enthusiast (albeit older) for certain beloved animation franchises, such as Robotech. There was nobody dressed like Rick Hunter or a Zentraedi warrior at SLC Comic Con, but if we’d been holding SLC Comic Con in 1986, there might have been. (May still be?) Gotta see what kind of costumes come out of the woodwork for next year. And there will most certainly be a next year, based on 2013’s receipts.

Looking to the future, I do have to wonder about the long-term prospects for Worldcon. In the 1950s and 1960s Worldcon could count on a steady stream of young fans and aspiring writers to bolster the ranks of established fans and pros. Now, the large bulk of young fans and consumers flock to the general interest cons (such as Comic Con) or the many special-interest anime and gaming cons—which didn’t exist when Worldcon was the con.

Just as newspapers have suffered in the era of instant world-wide internet media, Worldcon has suffered in the era of fan-interest diversification and mainstreaming of the genre as a whole. Ergo, sci-fi isn’t just something restricted to your parents’ basement anymore. It’s a multi-billion-dollar enterprise spanning games, movies, television, comics, and literature alike. The genre has left the nest, so to speak. And it’s doing very, very well.

The Hugo award could continue without Worldcon, assuming Worldcon folds up. One of the more well-known genre cons (such as DragonCon in Atlanta) could adopt the Hugo. Or Worldcon could simply shrink down to become a purely professional event for lit industry insiders: writers and agents and editors, much like World Fantasy con is now. In which case the Hugo would become a truly niche literary award, like the Nebula. Meaningful to those of us on the “inside” but otherwise unknown to consumers and fans on the “outside,” which (based on conversations I had at SLC Comic Con) isn’t much different from the way things are now. Of the hundred or so people I engaged in conversation longer than one minute—while I was working at Kevin J. Anderson’s book table—perhaps ten of them knew what the Hugo or the Nebula awards were. I had to explain it to the rest because my short story collection Lights in the Deep has the words, “Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell award nominee” emblazoned across a gold banner right at the bottom of the cover, under my name.

Now, I understand that there are a lot of people who are defensive about Worldcon’s purpose, its prestige, and also its future.

I am not writing this as a criticism of fans of Worldcon, nor is this a criticsm of those who volunteer to produce the yearly Worldcons. I am writing this as an observation and evaluation for the many fans and prospective writers who have all asked me (usually quietly) about my experiences. Ergo, which con(s) offer the most bang for the buck?

So, these are my observations. Take ‘em or leave ‘em. I’m very much about the bang-for-your-buck conversation, because it’s the one I have every year when planning my calendar.

I do think every new writer (especially Writers of the Future winners) owe it to themselves to go to at least one Worldcon—for as long as Worldcons exist. As the most venerable of the cons, it’s still an experience to go and rub shoulders with the many great writers in the genre, meet editors, and make yourself into a known quantity on the radar of those who consider Worldcon to be a focal point of the SF/F publishing industry.

Then, if you can, the next year, go to DragonCon or a Comic Con. San Diego. New York. Salt Lake. Seattle. See if you can arrange to be on panels and have some product to sell at a table. Evaluate for yourself which venue works best for your career goals and interests, not to mention your personality.

Superstars Writing Seminars 2013

One thing I’ve noticed lately is the proliferation of writing workshops. Everyone and their dog seems to be teaching one. Dozens upon dozens of workshops. So how do you determine which ones are worth their salt? My rule has always been: I don’t spend any money on continuing education unless I am sitting at the feet of the people I most wish to emulate with my own career. This has been true of craft, but it’s also true of business. And to my mind it’s the business aspect that is almost more important than craft. Most new writers will figure out the craft aspect sooner or later, if they keep working at it. But even a very skilled craftsperson can spend an entire career lost at sea if (s)he doesn’t take the time to learn the business. And professional writing is a business, make no mistake about it. Sometimes, six and seven figure business! With so much riding on your business decisions, I think it’s prudent to devote as much time as you can spare to your business plan. But where to start?

I first attended the Superstars Writing Seminar in January of 2011, at the urging of bestseller Kevin J. Anderson, whom I had first met at the 2010 Writers of the Future workshop. I had all of two professional short story publications under my belt, was terribly excited (and terribly nervous) about the road ahead, and felt like I needed to spend a few days immersed in an environment that would help me figure out how I wanted to tackle the rest of my writing career: my 12 month plan, then my 2 year plan, then my 5 year plan, et cetera.

Superstars Writing Seminar did not disappoint. Every single speaker was a top-drawer professional with a proven track record of success — the kind of success I wanted to achieve. I did not want to be a boutique writer. If I’d been satisfied with payments in contributors copies and having only a few dozen friends and family read my work, I’d have never bothered submitting my work to professional markets in the first place. But because I’d decided that any activity requiring as much of a time investment as writing required (to produce the stories and hone my craft) it ought to jolly damn well pay for itself. Or, in the case of some of my writing heroes like Larry Niven, more than pay for itself.

I am pleased to report that almost three years later, everything I learned at Superstars Writing Seminar has proven to be, not only accurate, but prophetic. There is wisdom and practical guidance at Superstars I think has been invaluable to me. So much so that I still go back and review my Superstars Writing Seminars audio files on a regular basis, either to parse out some new detail that wasn’t popping for me in the beginning, but which screams out at me now — or to remind myself of some things I already knew, and just needed to have re-hammered into my brain. Because it’s easy to get side tracked and lose focus.

If you’re a new writer, or you’re a working writer who feels like (s)he could be getting more “bang for the buck” in terms of progress, dollar-per-hour value, and so forth, I can’t think of a better place to go and learn than Superstars Writing Seminars. It really is a special event. Jam-packed with excellent information, advice, anecdotes, things to think about, ideas to take your career in a new direction, or even pick up a career that’s idling or has stalled out somewhere along the line. I feel that even those publishing regularly and doing well could benefit, as there is a synergy at Superstars (between attendees and speakers alike) that tends to generate a unique conversation that I don’t think you can easily get anywhere else.

There’s still plenty of time to sign up. This year’s workshop will be held in lovely Colorado Springs on May 14, 15, and 16. I’ll be there helping out. I’d like to see you there too. My initial investment (of time and money) in 2011 has already paid for itself several times over — and continues to pay for itself. Again, workshops that propose to help you with craft, are a dime a dozen. But workshops that can actually help you with business, taught by successful business-savvy writers who are full-time at what they do, and loving it?

Do yourself a favor and make the decision to commit. Not just because it’s a bang-up fun three days, but because it can literally change your life. I know it did mine, and I am glad I went. Again, the money I invested has more than come back to me — and then some!

February Update: LTUE 2013

Life just keeps getting busier. January was a bang-up month for me, with two short fiction sales and several writing checks coming over the transom. As always — when the money spigot turns itself on — I am reminded of the fact that a good many academic creative writers insist (sometimes hotly) that there is no money to be made in fiction. You’re lucky if you get a spot in a journal or chapbook that pays contributors copies. Boy, am I glad I listened to my mentors, all full-time professionals! They insisted that if I worked hard and could learn as I went, some day I’d be making cash. Good cash. I am pleased to report that my mentors have been right. Never let anyone tell you there is no money in this biz.

So, in addition to my novella “The Chaplain’s Assistant” appearing in a future issue of Analog magazine, I can now report that my story “The Bricks of Eta Cassiopeiea” is going to be appearing in an anthology titled BEYOND THE SUN, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt. My novelette “The Flamingo Girl” will also be published in the forthcoming electronic magazine GALAXY’S EDGE, from Arc Manor; edited by my friend and mentor Mike Resnick.

And if you’re local to the Mountain West you seriously need to consider coming out for Life, The Universe, and Everything, the premiere annual symposium dedicated to artists and writers working professionally (or seeking to work professionally) in the speculative and fantastic arts. I’m a Special Guest this year, along with friends Eric James Stone, James A. Owen, David Farland (Wolverton), L.E. Modesitt, Jr., Tracy Hickman, and Larry Correia.

The LTUE web site can be found at www.ltue.net.

My schedule is below (subject to change, which I will reflect here.)

Thursday, February 14
What Do You Write? @ 12:00 PM
How to Research Genre; and Sub-Genre.
Panelists: Dan Willis, Brad R. Torgersen, Eric Swedin, Scott R. Parkin (M), Dave Wolverton, Megan Whalen Turner.
Adapting Classic Stories to Modern Settings @ 2:00 PM
Panelists: Andrea Pearson, Brad R. Torgersen, Michelle Witte, Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury, Mette Ivie Harrison.
Space Eldritch @ 6:00 PM
Contributing artists and writers discuss the anthology.
Panelists: David West, Michael R. Collings, Carter Reid, Howard Tayler (M), Brad R. Torgersen, David Butler, Robert J Defendi, Jr., Nathan Shumate.

Friday, February 15
Writers of the Future @ 3:00 PM
Contest Coordinating Judge David Farland (Wolverton) discusses this premier entry point into the world of science fiction and fantasy publication. Panel also includes notable recent winners.
Panelists: David Farland (Wolverton) (M), Eric James Stone, Robert J. Defendi, Brad R. Torgersen, Kathleen Dalton Woodbury.

Saturday, February 16
What You Need to Know to Write Science Fiction or Fantasy @ 10:00 AM
Panelists: Scott R. Parkin, Brad R. Torgersen, Eric James Stone, Deren Hansen, Jaleta Clegg (M), Dave Wolverton.

So if you’re going to be at LTUE and you know me from the intarwebz, don’t be shy about coming up and introducing yourself. I am always grateful to meet people face-to-face whom I have only known previously via social media.

The Utah professional writer/artist community is arguably one of the most robust in the country. You owe it to yourself to come to LTUE and rub elbows with bestsellers and up-and-comers alike. It’s just $25 for three days of jam-packed panels where you can get invaluable insight, ideas, information, and (perhaps most importantly) inspiration.

I went to my first LTUE in February of 2009, after many years of futility and no professional fiction sales. I won Writers of the Future in November 2009, and have been cranking along nicely ever since.

Coincidence?