Capricon Days 1 & 2 (Thursday & Friday)

Capricon is a new convention for me, totally made possible by the fact that it is virtual. After I had kids, we had to pare down our convention-going to three for childcare and money reasons, and we picked three that were pretty local. The pandemic is giving me a chance to check out the programming and general feel for other conventions, and that’s actually kind of nice. Obviously it’s not entirely the same as an in-person experience. But I’m really glad that creators and fans of speculative fiction content have found a way to make this work.

Capricon 2021 – Structure

I started off Capricon by moderating a panel on YA. While I’ve been moderating for years, and I’ve participated as a panelist at a virtual convention, I was a little worried how I’d manage both the panel discussion and getting audience questions. I like to make sure I’m really attentive to my panelists, and managing tech on top of conversation is not a strong suit (I also can’t pfutz with the radio while I’m driving, but I digress). Fortunately, the very clever folks at Capricon had a plan to make this really effective.

When possible, there is a Zoom co-host who feeds Discord chat questions to the moderator/panel, so the moderator can focus on the other panelists and the conversation. The Discord server has a number of useful channels. Each programming “room” has both a live and a hallway channel. The live channel is used for audience discussion and questions while the panel, presentation or reading is happening. The hallway channel is where folks convene afterward for post panel conversation and follow up.

This structure works very well, but it also means that there are a lot of volunteers working behind the scenes. Way to go Capricon volunteers! You have made this a delightful event to participate in.

Events/Activities

In addition to my own panel, I’ve attended panels on writing in dark times, the future of conventions, publicity and marketing, diversity and inclusion in creative spaces, and the economics of art. I’ve also attended delightful readings by Kathryn Sullivan and Catherine Lundoff (she has a new book coming out and I’m very excited about that). I’ve also spent a not insignificant time assembling digital jigsaw puzzles in the cafe.

All in all, it’s a good time and I look forward to enjoying the next few days. It’s sort of like a vacation from the day to day pandemic life stuck at home.

Capricon 2021 (Feb 4-7)

Capricon is coming up in a few hours, and I can attend since it’s gone virtual this year. Getting to check out some cons that I normally can’t afford to attend has been an unexpected positive in the pandemic.

Here’s my schedule, I hope to see some friendly faces (or names if your cameras are off) in the audience.

The Young Shall Inherit the Earth:Wondrous Worlds of YA – Panel – Moderator
Thursday, February 4; 5-6pm (central time)
Other panelists include Kathryn Sullivan, Donna J.W. Munro, and Cindy Matthews

Something Familiar – Reading
Saturday, February 6; 11:30am-12:00 noon (central time)
I will read the first few chapters of Something Familiar, which will also be available on the virtual freebie table.

Future of Accessibility – Panel – Panelist
Sunday, February 7; 12-1pm (central time)
Our moderator will be W A (Bill) Thomasson and Miss Chief will be our other panelist.

It’s not too late to register to attend Capricon. The rate is a very affordable $10, and if that would be a hardship, you can actually register for $0, because organizers know times are tough

Virtual RoberCon – Day 2

I am attending RoberCon this weekend. Saturday went really well and I had an excellent time with the workshops. Today’s events were all panel format, so instead of the presenter and audience having a discussion, it was more like a webinar.

The first panel of the day was Writing For Middle Grade / YA Readers: They’re Not Just Small Adults. It’s actually the panel that brought me to RoberCon as a participant. Our moderator was Paul Smith, an indie middle grade science fiction writer and author of the The Jason and the Draconauts Series. Panelists included: Kathryn Sullivan, an award-winning, small press, middle grade fantasy writer and author of The Crystal Throne; J.R.H. Lawless, a small press adult science fiction humor and middle grade writer, and author of The General Buzz series; and me (indie author). We had an excellent conversation about how writing for younger people differs from writing for adults and how that has changed over time.

My next panel was Engage!: Captain Picard Blazes New Trail in ‘Star Trek’ Universe, and I was in the audience. There was a nice variety of perspectives on this show. Overall the feelings were pretty positive and the discussion ranged over the entire Star Trek universe, looking at the strengths and weaknesses. I enjoyed Picard, but felt some elements were rushed in a way that didn’t work, and that the writers were incredibly wasteful with their characters.

Next panel was Excellent!: ‘Bill & Ted’ Return for One More Encore, which started with a delightful Dr. Pants song in honor of Bill & Ted (alas, it does not yet appear available on the site, but we can hope). The panelists covered historical behind-the-scenes elements I wasn’t familiar with (the time machine was originally the Wyld Stallyns van, but that was scrapped due to Back to the Future; and the original film was nearly dumped to cable when the production company went bankrupt shortly after principal shooting completed). The changes in the music landscape in the 80s and 90s were discussed in great detail, looking at the move from metal to alternative. In general everyone was pretty pleased with the characterization of Billie and Thea.

There were two other panels I’d initially planned to attend, but I was a bit fried by this point and elected to go on a 12 mile bike ride since the weather was allowing it. All in all, I had a great RoberCon experience. People were inclusive and engaging. I would be willing to attend again, though if it’s in person next year, we’ll have to see if we have the finances for travel.

Virtual RoberCon – Day 1

I am attending RoberCon this weekend.

It’s my first virtual convention and my first time attending this event that supports the Roberson Museum and Science Center’s education and outreach programs. For the most part I stick to conventions in the Midwest because I can afford the trip (and can often minimize hotel use. So I guess this is a bright side of the pandemic. I’m Schrödinger’s author, both at home and attending a convention in Binghamton, New York at the same time.

I attended three events Saturday, all of them were more workshop than panel. The first two were on characters and character development and the last was on writing a novel in a short time frame. As a character writer, a lot of the character motivation and goal elements were not new to me, but it would have been useful to someone who struggles with this side of writing. There’s always more to learn and improvements to make, and talking with other writers or hearing about their process can improve your own.

The first workshop, Painless Novel Writing: Set Goals for Your Characters, was hosted by Jennifer D. Bokal, and we looked a lot at character motivation and goals. She wrapped up with an excellent tip about how we, as writers, should view our completed pieces. Our stories are consumable products, not offspring. Think of them as orange juice, not your babies. It makes the rejections and negative reviews less harsh.

The second workshop, Who Are These People?: Putting Character in Your Characters, was hosted by Paul Smith. We explored the use of role playing character sheets, specifically the Fate Core System, for creating a quick look at a character. This method was pretty quick and resulted in a succinct summary of your character, but didn’t include much on back story and motivation. This model could be used to quickly build a world. For people who will spend hours constructing a character before starting to write, the restricted nature of this may be very helpful. Combining these two models may work well for quickly assembling characters while ensuring the primary characters have enough depth.

My final workshop, Sprint to the Finish: Completing a Novel in a Short Time Frame, was hosted by Valerie Valdes. She covered all the big picture life stuff you need to prepare, how to work through the trouble that inevitably crops up, and tips for using writing sprints to charge through a novel at rapid pace. Most of what I write these days is done during timed sprints, and both A Familiar Story books were produced this way. My approach was a bit haphazard, especially on the second book, so it was helpful to get her “clean the house and tell your friends and family, see ya!” advice.

Workshops and panels are running 45 minutes, with follow up discussion in Discord, which is working very smoothly. I’m getting all the word nerd elements of being at a convention without having to travel or spend stupid amounts money on slow mediocre hotel food. While I’m not really getting to know folks they way I would with in person networking and socializing, this is definitely a good way to manage the experience during a pandemic.

MarsCon 2020 – Con Report

Had another lovely MarsCon this past weekend. I got to do a little bit of everything I wanted, including talking writing with some excellent people (on panels and more casually out and about) and finding a few more anime shows to watch with the kids. We also got to see some of our friends who we don’t get together with nearly often enough.

Programming

I was on seven panels this year, five of which I moderated and two that were moderated by Kathryn Sullivan. We are frequently on panels together as she also swims in the young adult (YA) speculative fiction pool. My favorite thing about her is that she doesn’t beat around the bush on the tough issues, and she stays so positive while doing so.

I was able to coax Ozgur K. Sahin onto three of my panels. I’m always happy to have him at the table, because even if something goes horribly awry, no one will get bored with him there. Where I have home-field advantage on character building, Ozgur is by far better at plot, and he had a lot to add on both these topics. He creates historical fiction (and his book table display is an inspiration for the rapidly approaching point when I will need to manage a table at events). As he came to the indie writing path by a different route, it was great having him on my Saturday morning indie writing panel.

I was fortunate to run into T. Aaron Cisco, a Minneapolis author of Afrofuturism and hard science fiction on Friday night. I met him on a diversity panel at last year’s MarsCon, and we both read at Word Brew in October. In addition to being a genuinely nice person and an early Doctor Who fan (Whovians unite!), T. Aaron Cisco a really funny and engaging speaker. With a bit of help from social media, I was able to draft him onto my indie writer panel as well. This resulted in three completely different perspectives, which was what I was hoping for. It was probably my favorite panel of the weekend.

Authors Kathryn Sullivan, T. Aaron Cisco, and S.N.Arly in the hallway between panels.
Kathryn Sullivan, T. Aaron Cisco, and S.N.Arly standing in the hotel hallway between panels.

My last panel of the con, wasn’t really a panel since it was just me at the table. I’ll be honest, I was not expecting much of an audience at 1 pm on Sunday to hear about Midwestern mythological monsters. However, the room was packed! And the audience became excellent participants as we discussed the reasons why so many writers go back to European monsters and what cool critters we could be using here. I’m super excited to explore ways to add these creatures into my own work.

Girl Scout Cookies and Kids at the Con

MarsCon has a long history of supporting Girl Scout cookie sales. We’ve had one-hour cookie booths the last few years. This year, the con was a little short on participating Girl Scouts, so we had three two-hour cookie booths. While it was kind of a lot, it ended up not being too much for 然然 (Ran Ran). We shared our cookie memes, got to see lots of people on their way to different events, and sold a bunch of cookies (victory thy name is Peanut Butter Patties). We sold 101 packages at the booth and 36 to people who contacted us ahead of the convention with pre-orders.

Meme. Screen capture from the Princess Bride. Text reads: Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. Would you like to buy some cookies?

This year we gave the spawn a bit more free rein, and they handled it very well. They had a great time, stayed up waaaay too late, and managed to not get into any trouble, so it was a win for everyone. It felt like the tween/teen population was smaller than usual, and I’m hoping that’s just a blip that will resolve next year. Nerdy kids need nerdy social activities, and it helps if the nerdy kids are actually there.

Anime

Since my son 百仁 (Bai Ren) didn’t really have any con friends to hang out with this year (and herding the little sister is only fun for so long), we spent some time together primarily checking out anime in either the YA/Anime programming room or the Anime Fusion party room.

S.N.Arly dressed as Elizabeth Lioness from the Seven Deadly Sins (Nanatsu No Taizai).
S.N.Arly as Elizabeth Lioness.

Now on our list to check out, having sat through a few episodes, are:

  • Full Metal Panic
  • Blue Exorcist
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion
  • Last Exile
  • Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water

All in all, a great convention. We’re already registered for next year.

Getting Ready for the Con

I’m wrapping up my preparations for this weekend’s convention, MarsCon. It’s one of my all time favorite cons partly because it includes a bit of everything: costumes, media, anime, gaming, props, demonstrations, art show, dealer’s room, stuff for the kids, parties, movies, science room, and panel discussions on science, fantasy, writing, fandoms, and so many other things. This particular convention also features an entertainment track featuring parody and nerd core musicians.

Tonight I’ll be moderating a panel on plot. I’m one of those moderators who prefers to prepare in advance with a list of questions and resources should they be needed. My goal isn’t to follow a set path, as really good panels can often grow organically. But I figure if folks came in to hear or participate in the panel on plot, going off on a tangent on the history of Girl Scout cookies is really not giving the audience what they came for.

I expect to have some new article ideas, and a boost to my motivation on the Indie Writer series after this weekend.

MarsCon 2020 (Feb 28 – Mar 1)

MarsCon (FB page) is coming up next weekend, and I’ve got a full schedule! Here are the places you can definitely find me:

Friday
08:00 pm – Writing Craft: Plot – Re(a)d Mars (III – Eagle’s Nest)

Saturday
10:00 am – A Peek Into the Indie Writer World – Krushenko’s (Room 1117)
12:00-2:00 pm – Girl Scout Cookie Booth
4:00 pm – Psi Powers: Science Fiction or Fantasy or What? Krushenko’s (Room 1117)
5:00-6:00 pm Girl Scout Cookie Booth
7:00 pm – Through the Magic Door: The Appeal of Portal Fantasy – Re(a)d Mars (III – Eagle’s Nest)
8:00 pm – Dealing With Rejection – Re(a)d Mars (III – Eagle’s Nest)

Sunday
11:00 am – 12:00 pm – Girl Scout Cookie Booth
12:00 pm – Writing Craft: Character Development – Krushenko’s (Room 1117)
1:00 pm Midwest Mythologic Creatures – Re(a)d Mars (III – Eagle’s Nest)

Diversicon 2019

I’ll be attending Diversicon, a cozy speculative fiction convention July 26-28. This year’s theme is “The Next Step.”

This year’s guest of honor is Nisi Shawl, a Tiptree-award-winning author who excels at teaching speculative fiction writers about how we can reflect real world diversity in our work.

The special guest this year is Ben Huset, a photographer and life-long advocate of science and space travel.

My Programming

I will be moderating seven panels over the course of the convention (and I’m prepping for those right now). Given the size of the panels and the convention, most of these will likely be more along the lines of structured conversations.

Friday, July 26

4:00-4:55 p.m. – Editors and Authors
S.N. Arly, mod.: Nisi Shawl

5:00-5:55 p.m. Good Blog/Bad Blog–Modern Technology and
Artists.
S.N. Arly, mod.; Conrad Zero

8:30-9:25 p.m. A Peek Into the Indie Writer World
S.N. Arly, mod.; Conrad Zero

Saturday, July 27

Noon-12:55 p.m. Not My Beautiful Minnesota!
S.N. Arly, mod.; Brian K. Perry, Conrad Zero

1:00-1:55 p.m. Resources for Spec Fic Writers
S.N. Arly, mod.; Conrad Zero

3:00-3:55 p.m. Critique Groups–Functional and Dysfunctional
S. N. Arly, mod.; Brian K. Perry, Conrad Zero. 

Sunday, July 28

Noon-12:55 p.m. Preparing for Readings
S.N. Arly, mod.; Conrad Zero

4th Street Fantasy 2019 – Day 1 (Friday)

4th Street Fantasy is held in St. Louis Park, just to the west of Minneapolis.
Check out my Overview post for my first impression and the basics of this convention.

Panel #1 – Fantasy About Everyday People

This was an excellent conversation on the use of the everyday people of fantasy stories. Panelists discussed the Western obsession with monarchs, true bloodlines, and the chosen one.

Panelists noted that having an ordinary person as a protagonist can change things up a bit in an interesting way. Instead of falling into the trap of constantly needing to raise the stakes until they become absurdly high and you just have to end the whole mess, your character could have very meaningful but more localized goals. Saving a community, a friendship, a family member who is in trouble, can all be satisfying. In fact, YA tends to go with these options more often than the goal of saving the entire world.

The mindset that magic and fantasy has to include or rely on a monarchy was noted to be toxic and limiting. Audiences need variety, and regular people (who most of us are) need to see how they can fit into the dynamic of making the world better.

Character development is critical in this type of story, and a rich world can help keep the audience engaged until the plot is sufficient to keep them hooked.

Good questions that writers should be considering at the outset or planning phase:

  • Why not choose the common person for their point of view character this time?
  • What happens to character development and the story arc when the protagonist is a regular person?
  • Can a common person go out and have an adventure or save the world and still be common when they come back, or will they morph into the hero?
  • Can this be written in a way that’s satisfying to read?
  • Is it easier to maintain a character’s ordinaryness in a short story?

I’m personally a huge fan of ordinary people reacting in an extraordinary way in response to a significant event or circumstance. And unlike some of the panelists, I fully believe that the everyday person who goes out and has an adventure can still be an everyday person. Samwise Gamgee went out and saved the world. When he returned to Hobbiton, he stayed on as Frodo’s gardener and caretaker. Being heroic didn’t take away his intrinsic nature.

Dinner at Roti’s Mediterranean

We had dinner at a place nearby that could accommodate a wide range of diets and food intolerances. It was a lot like Naf Naf. If you’ve never heard of either, it’s basically a Chipotle style restaurant with limited items, but assembled in front of you. In this case as a rice bowl or stuffed pita. The falafel was good.

Panel #2 – The Use or Presence of Gods in Fantasy

On this panel it was noted that many gods in fantasy settings aren’t treated with reverence. It was suggested that this may be because so many writers are atheist.

Panelists discussed situations where they felt the gods were more than aesthetic window dressing. Gods can be vast, powerful, and strange (sometimes alien and incomprehensible), who only select characters can interact with. Useful gods are those who explain aspects of the world the characters can’t understand, the ones who provide social order. Interesting gods may be reserved and disquieting.

When fictional gods are more connected to and involved in the world, the author has to work to explain why they don’t get involved and fix problems. It was noted that gods often help fulfill the second stage/act of Campbell’s monomyth.

Questions for writers to consider when including religion in their fantasy:

  • Is there value or usefulness in allegory or dressing up real religions in fiction?
  • How do you avoid this becoming appropriation?
  • Why do we include gods in fantasy worlds? What purpose do goods serve in fantasy?

4th Street Fantasy 2019 – An Overview

4th Street Fantasy is held in St. Louis Park, just to the west of Minneapolis. The hotel has plenty of parking, and the space designated for the con is about the perfect size and arrangement for the roughly 200-person event. The programming room has enough seats and doesn’t feel crowded when nearly everyone is there. The con suite was stocked with a nice mix of treats and healthy food. There’s nice space to take a moment out for yourself, visit with others, or hold a meetup. There are a number of restaurants within close walking distance.

This was very different from any other convention I’ve attended in that it only has one track of programming. It’s common for convention programming to have time slots that don’t have anything of interest to me, and I worried I’d feel cheated out of opportunity if I wasn’t interested in the one panel running at a given time. This ended up not being so much of an issue, and I ended up attending every panel. The programming tends to be much more academic and intellectual than you’ll find at other conventions, even when covering the same topics. With this setup, it was more like the entire convention was sharing a unified dialogue, focused and directed by the programming.

During panels, volunteers ran microphones to audience members with questions, comments, and asterisks. An asterisk is the opportunity to interrupt an entire panel to make a factual correction or request clarification. There are also volunteers who document all the panelist- and audience-referenced books, television shows, and films on a giant flip-chart. There’s a second flip-chart for comments or tangents deemed “that’s a different panel.” The last panel of the convention is taken from this list, either based on frequency of appearance or how well it fits with the overall conversation of the convention.

4th Street schedules generous meal breaks, great for meetups and to let the brain chill after an hour or two of intensity. The con features a friendly and welcoming atmosphere, a communal feel, and a healthy dose of spontaneity. This convention takes inclusion and accommodating to a level I’ve not seen before.

This was my first 4th Street, and I’m definitely planning on returning in 2020.