The Gryphon and I had another early morning Sunday at Philcon, since he was scheduled to run a game. We ran into problems on the way there, because a marathon was blocking our route, and after seeking directions from a police officer, we got on the Vine Street Expressway instead.
We were only a few minutes late, but as luck would have it, this wouldn't have mattered. For the second time, nobody showed to play the military strategy game, General Quarters.
The Gryphon vowed that next year he'd run a game that would appeal more to SF fans.
We hung out in the game room chatting with a couple members of PAGE (Philadelphia Area Gaming Enthusiasts). Then, when the dealer's room opened, I stopped in to buy a couple books of authors I'd spoken to over the course of the weekend. This wouldn't be my first purchase of the weekend: I'd bought The Vampire Universe from Jonathan Maberry following his panel the previous evening on selling your first novel.
Fortunately, the books I wanted were right inside the door. I got Bad Ass Faeries by Danielle Ackley-McPhail, as well as her husband, Mike McPhail's collection, Breach the Hull, for The Gryphon. I paid a little extra and got him the version that had been signed by most of the authors. She told me the other two were at Philcon and that, if I tried, I could get a complete set of autographs.
I also bought C.J. Henderson's Baby's First Mythos, in part because I loved his daughter's art, and I also picked up his Trail of Indiscretion: Special Edition 1, which he told me contains some humorous pieces.
I made a valiant attempt to find an album by the musician I'd met the previous night, Jean Farnsworth, but she'd had a handwritten name tag which I was certain said "Leah Harper." So I was looking for entirely the wrong name. Also, I didn't know most of her albums were actually with her group, Double Trouble.
While I was wondering around, though, I did encounter the other guitarist from the previous night, Jack Carroll. We'd been talking about how I wanted to pick up the guitar again, and he gave me some advice, including using brass strings, which stay in tune longer, and buying an electronic tuner.
I dropped off the books with The Gryphon, who agreed to keep them with his bag, since he wasn't lugging it all over the hotel but was more of less staying in the game room. Just after I gave him the book, he spotted one of the authors whose signature was missing and got him to sign it. What luck!
This luck would continue, it turned out. As I was waiting to take a seat for the "Minority Perspectives in Science Fiction" panel, I saw the other author leaving the room. I told him my husband had just bought a book with one of his stories in it and wanted his signature, and he told me where he was heading so I could let The Gryphon know to catch up with him there. I called The Gryphon on his cell phone, and he headed up with the book and completed the autographs.
The "Minority Perspectives" panel consisted of moderator Linda Addison, L.A. Banks, Stephanie Burke and Rock Robertson. Of these, three of them were authors and one, Rock Robertson, is a longtime SF fan.
Linda Addison and Stephanie Burke
The small room filled up as the panel got going, and the panelists introduced themselves. They engaged in a freewheeling discussion, with moderator Linda Addison stepping in where necessary. L.A. Banks discussed how characters are informed by the cultural background of the author.
They spent a lot of time discussion the reality of being an African-American author in the current publishing climate, sharing stories about moments where they dealt with prejudice, sometimes even from African-American editors and readers.
Stephanie Burke related an entertaining story about how she was a speaker at a romance writers' convention and, for the first 10 minutes, they did nothing but stare at her with their mouths open. They hadn't realized, apparently, that she was African-American. Of course, I had to ask her, "Were you wearing cat ears at the time?" She's a well-known costumer and was wearing cat ears that morning. She said that no, actually she was wearing a business suit with her hair in a bun.
They spoke about the challenges of marketing books by nonwhite authors, such as the book industry's tendency to shelf them in the "African-American section" of the store, rather than with the rest of the SF and fantasy books. They also decried the rise of so-called "street literature," which is a spin-off of the rap industry and focuses on stereotypical inner city violence. Rock Robertson called the trend "culture damaging."
Ultimately, an audience member and fellow author summed it up. Her advice to African-American authors: "Keep it real without making it ghetto."
Afterwards, I bought one of Stephanie Burke's books, Lucavarious. I've been meaning to pick up one of her books for years.
Next, I attended the "Building a Web Presence for Free" panel, with artist and Web designer, D.E. Christman; SF author David Louis Edelman; and nonfiction and SF author and editor Jonathan Maberry (I honestly wasn't following him!).
This was a panel I'd considered volunteering for, because I figured I had a little bit of experience that could be useful. If I had, I probably would have been on it, since there wasn't a full pantheon of panelists. Still, I'm glad I got to sit in the audience and learn from them. When I did have comments I felt would be useful, I put up my hand and offered them, letting the panelists build on them.
In addition to talking about resources with which I was already familiar, such as building Web sites through Tripod, Google or Yahoo!, they talked about the usefulness of developing a presence on MySpace and Facebook. Interestingly, I'd started a MySpace page just because my sister's husband and her friends had pages there, and in the two years since I started it's really taken off as a social networking and marketing tool.
Jonathan Maberry spoke about the usefulness of podcasting and shared a story about an author who wasn't able to sell his book until he made the chapters available as MP3 files. He got so many hits to his page that he walked away with a seven-figure book deal! Hmm. Wonder if that would work with poetry...
They advised that networking is very important, and that building a sense of your yourself can help when, down the line, you have something to sell.
In addition, they talked nuts and bolts, recommending some free programs such as the Firefox browser, free adware/spyware programs, W3 Schools online HTML tutorials, Google Analytics for free site statistics tracking, and using RSS feeds on your page to make it easier for people to keep up to speed on your latest content.
When it came to Web design, they all agreed on one main principle: KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). Good advice.
I met with The Gryphon, then, to get lunch. We stopped again at Subway. It was my third time there for the weekend, since on Saturday, in addition to eating lunch there, I'd walked there with The Dormouse and Batman while they got a bite to eat. I'm glad there's someplace sensible to eat within easy reach of the Sheraton.
The last panel I attended was "Alternate Histories Not About War," with SF author Michael F. Flynn as moderator, keynote speaker and SF author Eric Flint, author John G. Hemry ( who also writes under the pen name Jack Campbell), fantasy and SF author Gregory Frost, and Web comics producer and graphic designer/editor Glenn Hauman.
(from left) Michael F. Flynn, Eric Flint, Glenn Hauman
They began by discussing why the subject of war is so appealing to writers and readers. Eric Flint said that major ideas often get ratified on the battlefield, where opposition is resolved by violence. He argued, though, that often the overwhelming conditions that lead to a development may continue to apply even if events happen differently. He said that, even if the South had won the Civil War, they still would have eventually needed to rejoin with the North, as their economy was so deficient.
He said that he doesn't see history as a random series of events and that the framework still exists even if the events change.
Michael Flynn agreed, saying that identifying a key moment which would alter history is difficult to do on a global sense. That sort of story, he said, works better from a personal perspective, such as the movie Sliding Doors.
Building on that idea, Gregory Frost suggested it's often the "soup stone" idea, where the critical change itself may not be interesting enough to focus on but could be integral to telling an alternate history tale. For those not familiar with the folk tale of "Stone Soup," it happens where a character claims he can make a delicious soup with stones. After placing the stones in the pot, he adds carrots, potatoes, chicken, celery and spices, producing a delicious soup which, of course, owes little to the stones.
Glenn Hauman presented an alternate view to the others, arguing that sometimes key events can lead to a vastly different story. He argued that if, for example, Gore had won the election in 2000, we'd be living in a "very different world" now. However, Eric Flint countered that the underlying conditions would have remained the same and there's no way to predict whether we would, indeed, be in a similar situation.
Following the panel, I waited patiently to speak to Eric Flint, since that was the time we'd scheduled to do the interview for Wild Violet. An aspiring author latched onto him, though, asking for his input on a story he wanted to write where the Western world is Muslim. He clearly needed to do more research, though, and he seemed to expect Eric Flint to give him all the answers. Finally, Flint said he had to be going and abruptly walked out of the room.
I followed close behind, until I got a chance in the elevator to say, "Where did you want to do that interview?" Immediately, he remembered. Fortunately, a Philcon staffer was with us, and he promised to find us a quiet room where we could talk. He even made up a sign that said "Interview in progress" and hung it on the door. While Eric Flint took a smoking break, I set up an area in the front of the room where we could talk.
He'd said he had about half an hour, so I told him we'd just hit the key points of the questions I'd written up. We spoke about his collaborations with David Weber and other authors, his views on e-publishing, his alternate histories and touched on a number of other topics, as well. I let him know when 30 minutes were up, and we spoke a little bit longer than that, with his permission. When he said he had to get going, we shook hands and I told him to look for it in our Spring issue.
Incidentally, the interview I did last year with Charles Stross will be appearing in our Winter issue, coming out in December.
After the interview, I met up with The Gryphon and The White Rabbit, and we got dinner at a nearby TGIF's. It was a nice, relaxing end to a long, but productive weekend.