WhimsyCon is fast approaching! Steampunk aficionados from all around are dusting off their bowlers, drinking tea, polishing their goggles, and wondering if a dram of the Green Fairy is in order for these tempestuous times.
I’ll be there, opening the convention on Friday night with a musical performance on the Main Events stage from 5:30 to 6:20. I’ll also be on literary panels throughout the con, so please check my schedule below for anything you might want to attend.
I’m really excited to announce two pieces of news. First, I received an informal acceptance notice from Itty Bitty Writing Space, an upcoming Kickstarter anthology of flash fiction edited by Jason Brick. The Kickstarter opens on January 29th, and this is Jason’s third Kickstarter flash anthology. Both of his prior anthologies funded successfully, so I’m optimistic that my story “Jalopy Racer” has found a good home.
“Jalopy Racer” is one of those stories that just needed to come out. It doesn’t really have a genre, unless you count it as adventure fiction, I guess. It’s inspired by my dad’s tales of being a stock car racer in southern New Mexico in the 1950s, and it basically told itself. I’m glad it has found a home in IBWS. I find it interesting that two of my last three fiction sales (“Chesterfield Gray” and “Jalopy Racer”) were inspired by family members, and neither are science fiction, my first love in writing. I guess that just goes to show that the words decide on their own what path they will take.
The other piece of news is music-related, and I’ve been bouncing off the walls waiting to share it. Thanks to the efforts of my friend Wulf Moon, I will be performing music at the Superstars writing seminar in Colorado Springs on Game Night next month! This is a private event, and only people who are Superstars participants will be able to attend, but if it goes well, there’s a chance it may become a regular event in the future. Moon and I plan to perform some songs together and I’ll do some solo performing, in a sort of filk/folk mix. I’ll bring lyric sheets for those who want to sing along, too. My thanks to Moon and Chris Mandeville for making this happen!
When I look back at 2018, I have a generally good feeling. A couple of difficult personal events happened toward the end of the year, but overall, it was a good year, and a year of firsts for me. Let’s dig in.
We’ll get the rough stuff out of the way first. November was definitely the most challenging month, with a storage unit fire early and the passing of a longtime pet near the end.
About half my possessions were in the storage unit, and most burned up or were damaged beyond repair from fire and water, including a number of family heirlooms. Every few days, I think about something that I haven’t seen for a while, and realize I’ll probably never see it again. That stings a little, but it’s actually fairly easy to acknowledge that feeling and move on, since there’s no chance of recovering anything. As time goes on and the fire becomes more distant, it’s actually becoming something of a positive, because some of the items in that storage unit triggered painful memories, and resolving them through fire seems appropriate.
Sophia came to live with me and my ex-wife in 2004 (I think.) She was just a kitten, barely weaned. We named her after the goddess of wisdom, but it wasn’t long before we realized she was more oblivious than wise. Life happened to Sophia; she was more of an observer than an active participant in the world, it seemed. She loved shoes (especially leather) and strings, and was content to simply be in the presence of her humans, with minimal petting, unless she requested it. Her markings were exquisite; she was the most beautiful pet I’ve ever known, and I miss her.
Firsts and Successes
While 2018 had some challenges, it was also a year of artistic progress and firsts for me. I sold my first short story, a drabble called “To Be Human,” to Martian Magazine. That sale completed the hat trick of publishing fiction, non-fiction, and poetry for me, and I still owe myself a nice bottle of scotch whisky for doing that. I’ve decided that when I can afford it, I’ll probably buy an eighteen year old bottle of The Macallan, and only drink from it when I make a writing sale.
At the end of the year, I also sold my first poem to Star*Line, the official journal of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association. My hope is that it won’t be the last. In other poetry-related news, I was honored to host the Colorado version of the 40th Anniversary celebration of the SFPA at both Westercon 71/MALCon 6 and MileHiCon 50. At Westercon, the legendary Connie Willis joined us for the reading, and we read poetry from vintage Star*Line journals that were owned by the late Ed Bryant.
I also quietly launched a solo geeky music act, with performances at both Wester/MAL and the inaugural WhimsyCon. Seth Phillips, of Zero Day Exploits, invited me to play at his May the Fourth Star Wars party at Großen Bart Brewery, and I made a couple of appearances at open mics in 2018.
In September, I started a second job with the Inquisitr website as a writer. I wrote 42 articles for them, then transitioned to the weekend copy editing team. I’m enjoying the job and the extra income; it’s allowing me to get more musical gear so I can put on better shows.
Though 2018 is now done, it laid the groundwork for me to have more opportunities in 2019. Late in the year, I applied to an exclusive writing workshop for science fiction and fantasy authors called Futurescapes, which takes place annually in the mountains of Utah. To my surprise, I was accepted! The workshop takes place in April, and the resident writers this year are Ted Chiang, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Fran Wilde. The workshop also features editors and agents, and assigns one professional from each category to every participant. I intend to focus on my partial novel, Half-Lives of Quiet Desperation, at the workshop; the sample writing I submitted to qualify is the prologue from that novel.
There is more music on the horizon, with WhimsyCon already inviting me to play music there again this year. (Hopefully MALCon will do the same, but that may be dependent on how well I do at WhimsyCon, because they are run by the same people.) I am also planning to participate in an informal music session in Colorado Springs next month, adjunct to the Superstars writing workshop.
I hope to be able to participate in the newly renamed Denver Pop Culture Con (formerly Denver Comic Con), but at this point, that’s not something over which I have control. Hopefully some friends will invite me to be on their panels, like last year. (Hint, hint, friends. 😉 )
I also hope to continue participating in MALCon and MileHiCon in 2019. I’ve been a panelist at those cons consistently, so hopefully that won’t change.
Finally, I have been invited to submit work for an upcoming publication with a post-apocalyptic theme, and I’m working on a story for that.
My goals for 2019 are simple:
Publish at least two short stories
Publish at least two poems
Perform at open mics more often
Drum up some music gigs
Write and perform at least two new songs
Complete Half-Lives of Quiet Desperation after attending Futurescapes
That’s probably plenty, especially that last one. The prospect of writing a novel scares me (which is why it’s not done yet), but it’s my hope that Futurescapes will knock that fear out of me or transform it into motivational energy.
Happy 2019 to all of you! May this be the best year of the decade for all of us.
WhimsyCon, the Colorado steampunk convention created by nonprofit Shiny Garden, takes place at the Hyatt Regency DTC on March 2-4, 2018. I’ll be on several panels at this con, as well as performing music on Friday evening and early Sunday afternoon.
(Note that this is a preliminary schedule, and may change without notice. Please be sure to check the current schedule before finalizing plans.)
Friday, March 2, 2018 Musical performance by Stace Johnson
Grand Mesa Ballroom A & B
5:30:pm – 6:20:pm
An hour (roughly) of music performed by Yours Truly
So Charming, Not Creepy
Mesa Verde C
8:00:pm – 8:50:pm
Make your convention experience better by learning how to approach people without being a creep. A discussion on etiquette, consent, common sense and enjoying fandom with respect. Audience is encouraged to share examples of good and bad interactions.
Sandra Wheeler, Stace Johnson
Steampunk Poetry Slam
Mesa Verde A
10:00:pm – 10:50:pm
Create poetry on demand to prompts given by the moderators and audience.
Stace Johnson, Voniè Stillson aka Lady Vo
Saturday, March 3, 2018 Learn to Love Your Writing
Wind Star A
5:00:pm – 5:50:pm
Everyone is their own worst critic. Stop worrying and love your writing: a motivational panel. How to stop hesitating because you feel your work isn’t “good enough” and put words on the paper.
J.D. Harrison, James A. Hunter, Melissa Koons, Stace Johnson, Veronica R. Calisto
Polyamory and Non-monogamy in Fiction
Wind Star A
10:00:pm – 10:50:pm
Panelists will review fiction throughout the decades with non-monogamous and polyamorous themes and how they have influenced current trends.
Catherine Winters, Eneasz Brodski, Shullamuth Ballinger, Stace Johnson
Sunday, March 4, 2018 New Authors Anonymous
Mesa Verde A
9:00:am – 9:50:am
Talk about what it’s like as a newbie in this crazy publishing world.
J.D. Harrison, Jessica Lauren Gabarron, Stace Johnson
Musical performance by Stace Johnson
1:00:pm – 1:50:pm
Second musical performance by Yours Truly
I mentioned a lack of self-discipline in my last post, and that it is one of the things that keeps me from being the writer I want to be. Continuing with that theme, this post is about practice.
“Practice makes perfect.”
“Q: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? A: Practice.”
“Practice what you preach.”
Adages about practice abound, and it just makes sense to practice what I want to be good at, but I have a mental block about practicing writing. For some reason, I feel like I have to produce something when I write, and that creates pressure, pressure that shouldn’t be there during practice. Pressure is common in performing, or in producing a finished product, but it shouldn’t be a part of practicing. Journal writing and blogging are forms of writing practice, I suppose, and I should probably count them as such, but when I sit down to practice writing fiction or poetry, I feel compelled to produce something of quality, rather than just writing in a stream of consciousness or even basic expository style.
There is no shame in writing throwaway fiction from a daily prompt. Sometimes ideas might flow and the practice might lead to something bigger; other times, I might wind up with a loosely connected bunch of words that serve no other purpose. Why don’t I think that’s okay?
I play guitar, as well, and when I practice, I usually do so off-the-cuff, improvising, launching notes into the air to fade and disappear, with no record they ever existed. Unless I’m specifically practicing for a gig, I don’t feel the need to have a product at the end of my practice. I just play to get better and enjoy it, and there’s not nearly as much inertia for me to overcome before I start playing. It’s much harder for me to get the wheels rolling when I sit down to write.
But why? Functionally, there’s not much difference between throwing notes into the air and throwing words onto the page, so why do I have such a block against practicing writing, or more accurately, why do I feel the need to produce something of value when I write, but not when I’m practicing guitar?
I think I’ve turned fiction writing into my own personal bugbear, and with my recent story publication in Edward Bryant’s Sphere of Influence, I’m forced to challenge that bugbear. I want to capitalize on the momentum of this sale, and at first I was enthusiastic, even starting a new story from scratch for a different Mad Cow Press anthology. But after only a couple of days of writing, my momentum faded, and I stopped writing the story when I hit the brick wall mentioned in the last post. I know, I know, I should continue on with the rest of the story and figure out how to deal with the brick wall later. If I were in the rhythm of writing every day (or often, at least), I think I could do that.
Hence these blog posts. I didn’t make any new year’s resolutions this year, but I did set some goals. I want to write something at least five days a week. I also want to write 1,000 words of fiction on my WIPs each week. If I combine those goals, I could write 200 words a day and meet that goal easily, but I’m not going to lock myself into just doing productive writing. Some of those five days should be simple practice, probably from a writing prompt. An extended goal is to write one short story per month in 2018. At 1,000 words a week, that’s a reasonable goal, I think.
Heck, this blog post is about 630 words already. 200 words of fiction five days a week shouldn’t be impossible.