Denver Comic Con 2018 Recap and General Update

My first Denver Comic Con as a panelist has come and gone, and I enjoyed myself immensely. Thanks to the efforts of superwoman Shannon Lawrence, I was able to participate in five panels over the three days of the convention. Here are some personal highlights.

Art

I picked up this beautiful piece of artwork by Chaz Kemp, one of my favorite local artists. Nearly every aspect of this piece has personal meaning to me, and I’m honored to own it.

 

"Insight" by Chaz Kemp

“Insight” by Chaz Kemp

 

I also stopped by the VisiColors booth and picked up some very cute stickers for my girlfriend.

 

VisiColors Stickers

VisiColors Stickers

 

Inspiration

I was lucky enough to get in the front row for Frank Miller’s Q&A session, though I couldn’t afford an autograph. Miller is by far my favorite comic book writer thanks to his incredible “Born Again” run in Daredevil. His economy of language and ability to tell a gripping story in so few words is inspirational to me. It’s no secret to people who have known me for a while that even though I haven’t collected comics for a long time, Daredevil is my favorite superhero, and seeing the man behind The Man Without Fear speak is a bucket list item I can now check off.

 

Comic book legend Frank Miller

Comic book legend Frank Miller

 

Also, after fighting my way through the throngs of people in the exhibitor hall, I finally found Connie Willis‘s signing table and she signed my personal copy of Edward Bryant’s Sphere of Influence. I’m honored to have a story in the same book as her, especially since it’s my first fiction sale. (I also got a free copy of Crosstalk, which she also personalized for me!)

 

Connie Willis personalization on the Prologue page of Edward Bryant's Sphere of Influence

Connie Willis personalization on the Prologue page of Edward Bryant’s Sphere of Influence

 

Artistic Growth and Exposure

After fighting through a writing slump in recent months, I feel like I’m finally moving again. With another recent sale to Martian Magazine (to be published online the week of July 23rd), I’m feeling motivated again, and event submitted a piece of flash fiction to Postcard Poems and Prose from my phone while at Comic Con. There’s a lot of my dad in that story, so it’s fitting that I submitted it over Father’s Day weekend, and I hope it does well in their “Clutch” contest.

I attended a panel on geeky songwriting (“I Sing and I Know Things”) featuring my friends Losing Lara and Seth Phillips, and Lara was kind enough to give me a shoutout about my upcoming Westercon 71 / MALCon 6 concert on Sunday, July 8th at 2 PM. Watch this space for a more detailed announcement about that con appearance, coming soon.

 

Seth Phillips, Will Plumb, and Losing Lara

Seth Phillips, Will Plumb, and Losing Lara

 

Big Audiences without Anxiety

I’ve been participating on panels at SF conventions for over 15 years, and I’ve helped organize them as far back as 1987. But Denver Comic Con is an order of magnitude larger than any other convention where I’ve appeared, so the panel attendees were an order of magnitude larger, as well. Here’s a shot of the audience for my final panel, on “Black Mirror and the Evils of Technology.” DeAnna Knippling did a masterful job moderating the panel, and the time flew by.

Audience for "Black Mirror and the Evils of Technology"

Audience for “Black Mirror and the Evils of Technology”

Even better, when I saw the size of the line before the panel and the number of people streaming in, I barely got nervous at all. The only time this introvert’s social anxiety really kicked in was when I was trying to thread my way through the exhibit hall during its busiest times. For me, that’s a major win.

 

General Update

My life has become very busy lately, between convention appearances, musical gigs, stories published, and everyday work and relationships. Add to that the fact that I’m currently displaced from the room I rent and living out of boxes because the owners of my home are renovating the basement where I live, and I would normally be freaking out. But I’ve realized that I’ve changed a lot in the last couple of years, and the positive changes are mostly due to things I have put in place myself. I told a colleague last September that I really wanted to focus on my writing and music, and good things are coming from that. Even the displacement has had positive effects; it has disrupted my normal routine enough that I’ve broken out of some habits that were taking too much of my time and reducing the quality of my sleep.

However, there have also been some challenges because of these positive changes. I’ve had to erect some boundaries in order to stay on track and not get behind. One of these is in the area of computer consulting. I’ve done consulting on the side for years, but I’ve never done it with a monetary focus; it’s always been about helping people resolve problems inexpensively. But if I want to keep up the momentum on my creative endeavors, I can’t accept any new clients, and I have to be judicious about helping existing clients. That means I’ve had to say “No” to some people who have wanted my help recently, and that’s a new — and difficult — thing for me.

Sometimes I wish I could clone myself so that I could have WriterStace, PoetStace, MusicStace, FriendStace, and ConsultingStace for various tasks. When it comes down to it, though, MeStace is my default setting; I don’t need to create him, and he takes precedent over all others, perhaps for the first time in my life.

MileHiCon Schedule and Publication Announcement (Updated)

MileHiCon is just around the corner again. This year marks the 49th occurrence of this magnificent convention, and the first year where Ed Bryant’s presence will be more of a memory than a staple. A number of events are planned to remember MileHiCon’s favorite toastmaster, and I will be involved with several of them.

Of those events, the one I’m most looking forward to is a selection of readings from the upcoming Ed Bryant anthology tribute, Edward Bryant’s Sphere of Influence, due out in November. My story “Chesterfield Gray”, which I’ve referenced in this blog multiple times, is in that anthology, and I’ll be reading a selection from it. My story is in esteemed company; several pro-level and best-selling authors are also in the book, including Connie Willis, Kevin J. Anderson, Steve Rasnic Tem, Mario Acevedo, Lucy Taylor, Gary Jonas, … the list goes on. In the end, I think this will be a fantastic tribute to our mutual friend Ed. Thanks to Chuck Anderson and Jim Lemay at Mad Cow Press for all their hard work in putting this tribute together.

My MileHiCon 49 appearance schedule is below. As usual, MileHiCon is being held at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center location. The dates are October 27-29, 2017.

Friday, October 27, 2017
I won’t be on any panels on Friday this year, but I will be attending the con, so catch me if you want to say hi!

Saturday, October 28, 2017
1pm — Roundtable: How Can Creativity Transfer? (Bristlecone) — A discussion about how creativity can bridge or transfer between mediums and genres. I’ll be moderating this one, with panel participants Boom Baumgartner, R. Alan Brooks, Kirsten Imani Kasai, et. al.

6pm — Iron Hack (Mesa Verde B) — UPDATED — I learned what this panel is about, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. From the description: “Our fearless contestants–given four ingredients by the Audience: a person/occupation, a thing, a place, and a time period–will then write a piece of Flash fiction. Results will be read and winner chosen by audience acclaim.” I’ll be moderating this panel, too, with panel participants Chris Barili, Nathan Beauchamp, Greg Hyde, and Author Guest of Honor Jane Lindskold. (Gulp! I’m going up against Jane Lindskold in a flash fiction contest?!)

9pm — SF Poetry Slam (Avistrum Academy, 12th Floor) — It sounds like this year’s poetry panel is more of a competition than a reading, as it has been in past years. We can either prepare a poem beginning with the line “In a hundred years” or compete in an improv “slam” format. Tim Anderson will be leading this panel, and I’ll be participating with Jane Bigelow, Rob S. Rice, and others.

11pm — Group Reading & Discussion: The Ed Bryant Anthology (Avistrum Academy, 12th Floor) — Traditionally, Ed Bryant used to hold a late night reading at MileHiCon. This year, in honor of that tradition, Mad Cow Press will be presenting readings from several of the authors in the forthcoming anthology Edward Bryant’s Sphere of Influence. I will be reading from my story in the volume, “Chesterfield Gray”.

Sunday, October 29, 2017
1pm — Southwest Regional Authors (Wind River A) — What impact or flavor does the Southwest give to fiction written here, or by authors who live here? I’m honored to be on this panel with Paolo Bacigalupi, Robin D. Owens, and Aaron Michael Ritchey, moderated by Dana Bell.

3pm — Ed Bryant Remembered (Mesa Verde B) — A panel for all to talk about memories of Ed, similar to the remembrance that was held for him earlier this year at the Mercury Cafe. This is an opportunity for those who couldn’t attend the remembrance to tell their stories and listen to others’ stories about how Ed affected their lives. A memory book will be launched here, curated by Deena Larsen, and other projects involving Ed’s work will be covered, like Jean-Philippe Gervais’ massive three volume compendium of Ed’s collected works. I’ll be coordinating the speaking at this event, and a number of people are expected to attend, including Cynthia Felice, Greg Hyde, Ronnie Seagren, John Stith, and many more.

MALCon 2017 Panel Schedule

Myths & Legends Con 2017 hits the Ramada in Northglenn, CO on Friday,  August 4th, and wraps up on Sunday, August, 6th. Here is my official MALCon panel schedule. The room names are in parentheses.

Friday, August 4, 2017
5:00 PM: Unsung Villainesses and Heriones of Fandom (Serenity)
Bryan Fields, Tonya L. De Marco, Stace Johnson
Starting with Professor McGonagall, who are some of the great unsung heroines and villainesses of fandom?.

10:00 PM: Building and Cultivating Your Creative Community (Helms Deep)
Melanie Unruh, Sarin Tatroe (Sariochan Arts), Veronica Calisto, Stace Johnson
How do you find people with shared creative energies to build community that inspires and helps you grow as an artist, author, musician, crafter, etc? Learn how others have found and built safe, creative communities with a spirit of helping one another thrive.

—- —- —-

Saturday, August 5, 2017
2:00 PM: Wish You Were There: Worldbuilding (The Shire)
Amalie Howard, Sean Patrick Fannon, Veronica Calisto, Stace Johnson
There are two kinds of worldbuilding: the kind that describes the story’s world, and the kind that makes you wish you were there. Authors discuss the difference, and offer tips and techniques to help you bring your own fictional worlds to life.

4:00 PM: Serenity vs. Firefly: The Audience Quiz Bowl Game (Helms Deep)
Ana MacDonel, Pam Walker, Stace Johnson
Do you know more about Serenity and Firefly than your friends? Now is your chance to find out how much you know in this family-friendly and fun game where deep knowledge is pitted against recall speed.

6:00 PM: Verse in the ‘Verse: Poetry and the Firefly Universe (Kings Landing)
Stace Johnson, Bryan Fields
Readings of fan poetry, impromptu Firefly poetry, and any poetry based on Firefly topics. Bring your material to share or provide prompts to the panelists.

7:00 PM: Relationship, Sexual, and Gender Diversity in Fandoms (Helms Deep)
Catherine Winters, Layman Kingsford, Veronica Calisto, Stace Johnson
Sometimes representation of diverse relationships styles, sexualities, and genders is overt in fandoms, and other times they are fan created. What are some examples of non-cis/heterosexual/monoamorous relationships we see and are these characters authentic and fairly represented?

9:00 PM: Epic Rap Battles of Literature! (Helms Deep)
Jason Henry Evans, Thomas A. Fowler, Stace Johnson
Two teams go head to head in a rap battle where the topics are Harry Potter, Harry Dresden, Lord of the Rings, and more. Fight!

—- —- —-

Sunday, August 6, 2017
10:00 AM: Polyamory and Non-monogamy in Science Fiction and Fantasy (Terre d’Ange)
Jacqueline Koyanagi, Vivian Caethe, Stace Johnson
Panelists will review SFF genre fiction throughout the decades with non-monogamous and polyamorous themes and how they have influenced current lifestyle trends.

11:00 AM: Lord of the Rings: Myth or Mythopoetic (Helms Deep)
Aaron Michael Ritchey, Andrew Hallam, Stace Johnson
Tolkien’s works are often referred to as modern myth, but are actually mythopoetic. Our panelists explain the difference and how Tolkien fits into each.

The Man on the Ceiling

A few weeks ago, my wife and I did something we haven’t done for a while; we read to each other.

We’ve done that off and on since before we married, but lately it’s been more off than on due to different sleep schedules. The particular night in question, however, the timing was right, the decision to read was spontaneous, and we couldn’t have picked a better story to read each other.

In 2000, American Fantasy Press published a chapbook by Melanie Tem and Steve Rasnic Tem called The Man on the Ceiling (as opposed to Jules Feiffer’s The Man in the Ceiling.) The little book, sold only in a limited edition run, garnered critical acclaim and is the only work to have won the a literary trifecta of the International Horror Guild Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and the World Fantasy Award in the same year. In March of 2008, Discoveries (the literary fiction imprint of world-renowned gaming juggernaut Wizards of the Coast) will release a full-length novel version of The Man on the Ceiling, a complete rewrite of the original by the Tems themselves. The book is available for pre-order through Amazon. Better yet, have your local bookseller place an order for ISBN-13: 978-0786948581.

The Man on the Ceiling is a unique book. Part autobiography, part nightmare, and all true (though not necessarily factual), it alternates between Steve and Melanie’s tales of their encounters with the Man on the Ceiling. Who is the Man on the Ceiling? I can’t — no, I won’t — tell you that. It’s not my place to tell you about things you already know.

What you may not know is that The Man on the Ceiling is a wonderful read for couples. When Lannette and I read it to each other, we passed the book back and forth. I read the “Steve” sections and she read the “Melanie” sections. A few times, we paused to shiver or say “Wow” after particularly well-crafted paragraphs, and it was interesting to note that such different writing styles could produce the same effects in us. Steve’s writing is surreal and very visceral, and Melanie’s writing addresses the deeper, less tangible fears that we all face. But the shivers induced in us by both styles were the same. The two writers took different paths, but arrived at the same fearful, insecure, vulnerable spots within us, and that is simply astounding in a work so concise.

The story works exceedingly well for reading aloud in separate male and female voices, and I recommend that other couples do the same (if they can find a copy of the chapbook; otherwise, wait for the full-length release in March.) When we finished the book, we sat on the couch and cuddled for a while, grateful that we could experience the story together, secure in the realization that some fears are universal, and glad we have someone with whom we can share the burden.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that we are friends with the Tems, and you might think that gives us an edge in appreciating the story. Maybe; I thought so at first, too. But the more I think about it, I don’t think knowing them makes that much difference. Sure, when they mention the house that they share with the Man on the Ceiling, images of that house jump immediately to my mind, and since we know what Melanie and Steve look and sound like, we automatically “hear” their voices reading the text and “see” them in the story’s scenes. But those elements, real as they may be, are not the story itself. The story is about him — the Man on the Ceiling — and our interactions with him. The setting could be any Victorian house in any historic neighborhood, and the people could have any faces concocted by the reader’s imagination.

I think that’s one of the things Melanie and Steve mean when they say in the story, “Everything we’ve told you is true.” Whether the details provided by individual readers match the “real” details is irrelevant; the experiences in the story are universal, and the Man on the Ceiling is, himself, universal.

Revisionist William Gibson

When I made yesterday’s entry, I intended to talk a bit about William Gibson‘s appearance at the Boulder Book Store last week. The reading took place in the large upstairs room of the store, which Gibson referred to as a “ballroom,” and the crowd had standing room only. I was fortunate enough to get there early since I work in Boulder, and I was rewarded with not only a good seat, but a low number for the book signing line.

Gibson read a chapter from his latest book, Pattern Recognition. Well, initially, I thought he was going to cough a chapter of it; something got hold of his throat and the water he drank to soothe it seemed to make the problem worse. Despite this, Gibson croaked on, and eventually he seemed to find his voice again. It was a bit surreal for a moment, more than a hundred of us sitting there silently listening to his amplified coughs reverberating through the store. I expected people to involuntarily clear their throats, but if anyone did, I didn’t hear it. There wasn’t much we could do, but it was an awkward moment in which I wanted to do something to help him, and didn’t.

The chapter was short, a bit shorter than the Q & A session afterward. I did manage to pose a question to him. The exchange went something like this (paraphrased, since I didn’t take notes):

SJ: You seem to have a talent for putting words together in unusual ways.  Are there any exercises you do to cultivate that talent?

WG:  Revision.  It’s all revision.  I write the drafts, then rework it until it’s right.  

That makes sense. Although I’m a big believer in revision, for some reason I continue to have the notion that Great Writers spew complete paragraphs forth, Zeus-like, from their heads. This personal myth is probably fueled by reports of Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury writing without revision, and surely, the more one writes, the easier it becomes to pre-form great sentences. But that’s no reason to expect that all successful writers write without revision; I’m glad Gibson reminded me that it’s not the case in his life. That makes me feel a little better about the level of his writing, too. It’s a bit more attainable now.

I haven’t read all of Pattern Recognition yet, but what I did read grabbed me. It’s Gibson’s first novel set in the present day, and it’s interesting how it still feels very much like a Gibson novel, despite the fact that no one has an input jack in his head and there are no major characters that are AIs. The evil international mega corporation backdrop is still there, but this time it takes the form of corporate branding á la Tommy Hilfiger. Heavy fragment use in writing, much like this sentence.

One notable difference is that September 11, 2001 plays a direct role in the development of the main character, Cayce Pollard. At his appearance, Gibson spoke at length about how he had completed 100 manuscript pages of the book before the attacks, and how the real world events utterly destroyed those pages of fiction. To be believable, Cayce Pollard had to be completely re-imagined as a result of the attacks, and the first 100 pages had to be re-written. He did so, and I think the revision contributed to the dark feel of the book. Reading this, I get the feeling it’s not such a big jump from Pattern Recognition to the shatterglass worlds of Neuromancer or Virtual Light.

I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.