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.

WhimsyCon Appearances

 

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.

I’m honored to be appearing in both music and literary capacities at this convention. I will also have a few copies of Edward Bryant’s Sphere of Influence (which includes my story “Chesterfield Gray”, as well as great stories from people like Connie Willis, Steve Rasnic Tem, Kevin J. Anderson, Mario Acevedo, Lucy Taylor, Bruce Holland Rogers, and Gary Jonas) to sell, for anyone interested. My schedule is below. I hope some of you can join me there!

(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
Highlands Amphitheater
1:00:pm – 1:50:pm
Second musical performance by Yours Truly

Of Words and Notes

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.

Story Creation Phases

Below is a heavily flawed, slapdash list of phases in the life of a Stace Johnson short story.

Most of my short stories don’t even make it past Phase VIII, to be honest. I have three pieces stalled at that spot right now. Other stories make it all the way through Phase XII or XIII, only to never be submitted anywhere. Very few actually make it to publication.

I wanted to get this written down so I can manage my own enthusiasm, productivity, and expectations. Maybe I can even eliminate some of the less beneficial phases by shining this spotlight on them and consciously avoiding them. By mapping out and naming the phases, I hope to be able to identify them as I’m writing, which could help me prepare for, get through, or avoid the times when my enthusiasm is low.

Obviously, this is partially about self-discipline, especially when enthusiasm is low. Hopefully pushing that aspect into the spotlight will help me address it, too.

Writers, what are your story stages, if you have them? How do you make your way through the doldrums when you find yourself caught in them?


Phase I: Brand new story idea! Enthusiasm: high.

Phase II: Obsessive thinking about the setting, characters, and events of the story. Enthusiasm: Still high.

Phase III: Lots of typing, bringing the idea to life for the first time. Words flow pretty easily after the inertia is defeated. Enthusiasm: high, confident, determined.

Phase IV: Brick wall. The words stop flowing, the ideas suddenly seem stupid. Obsession over how to make the stupid ideas seem less stupid, and no productive output. Enthusiasm: no longer high; pretty much nonexistent.

Phase V: Write a poem! Play guitar! Write a song! Do something creative, even if it’s not part of the project. Enthusiasm: rising, but fragile and misdirected.

Phase VI: Possible solution to make the stupid ideas less stupid, obsessive thinking about how to work the solution into the existing text. Possibly some revisionist typing. Enthusiasm: varies as to how good/clever/believable the proposed solution is.

Phase VII: Harsh self judgment about the original (now stupid) idea, self doubt about talent, ability, and aptitude. Enthusiasm: dashed.

Phase VIII: Time away from the project, perhaps devoted to other creative projects. Enthusiasm: meh.

Phase IX: World-solving solution to the stupid ideas appears, casting the story in a more rosy light. Words start dribbling out. Enthusiasm: commensurate with the dribbling.

Phase X: Cruising. With the stupid ideas resolved, words flow again, and the story doesn’t look so bad. Enthusiasm: rising again.

Phase XI: Obsessive writing, close to the end, trying to get it all down in pixels before the enthusiasm dies again or the ideas turn stupid again. Enthusiasm: grim determination.

Phase XII: Completion! A shiny new manuscript has been brought into the world, but it needs to be revised. Leave the story alone for a couple of weeks, then re-read and revise. (Note: This is a dangerous time, because the process could unexpectedly jump back to any prior phase.) Enthusiasm: high, close to the end!

Phase XIII: Peer review. Submit the manuscript to a writing group for feedback and revise it accordingly, making use of the good suggestions and discarding the rest. Enthusiasm: high or low, depending on the feedback from the writing group.

Phase XIV: Submit to writing markets or self-publish. Repeat as often as necessary to get the piece published. Enthusiasm: very high, but dulled with each rejection.


 

On the Shoulders of Giants

I have many things to be thankful for this year. My life is going well in many regards, and this fall has been fantastic, mostly because of one big piece of news. On November 24th, the book containing my first fiction sale came out: Edward Bryant’s Sphere of Influence. This completes the hat trick of selling fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, so I can finally cross that item off my bucket list.

I could not have picked a better market for my first story sale. EBSoI is a tribute anthology to one of my mentors, Edward W. Bryant, Jr., whom I’ve mentioned on this site dozens of times. My story, “Chesterfield Gray” (which I’ve also mentioned on here numerous times), is in fine company, because stories by Connie Willis, Steve Rasnic Tem, Kevin J. Anderson, Mario Acevedo, Bruce Holland Rogers, and Ed Bryant himself appear in the volume, as well as work by more than a dozen other writers and friends. I’m honored to have my work share the same pages as these giants of the industry. Thank you to Chuck Anderson and Jim LeMay, Editors of the anthology, for inviting me to submit my work and ultimately including me.

But those aren’t the only giants upon whose shoulders my story stands. In addition to passing through two of Ed’s writing groups, “Chesterfield Gray” was also critiqued in Melanie Tem’s writing group and by my first mentor, Leonard “Red” Bird. It’s thrilling to me that all three of the people whom I have considered mentors weighed in on the story at one time or another, and that it was ultimately deemed of high enough quality to be included in the anthology.

So, Melanie, Red, and Ed: This one’s for all of you.