Reflections on 2019

2020 is on its way. The year flew by, with no significant tragedies (knock on wood; there are still a couple of weeks left) and I was able to check off several mental boxes.

In my end-of-year post last year, I listed the following goals.

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

Time for the reckoning.

Publish at Least Two Short Stories
I succeeded at this, with flash fiction publications in both Itty Bitty Writing Space (see link at left) and Flash in a Flash, a weekly flash fiction newsletter. “Jalopy Racer” appeared in IBWS in July and “A Knight’s Tour” ran in September.

Publish at Least Two Poems
I failed at this, with no poetry sales in 2019, though my sale to Star*Line was published in 2019, so that’s something.

Perform at Open Mics More Often
I rocked this one (sometimes literally!) I performed at Lincoln Station‘s open mic night at least seven times, once with a full crowd of friends in the audience, and I’m getting to know the regulars there a bit. I intend to sign up for at least one more this year. I’m trying to play something new each time; it hasn’t always worked out that way, but I know I’ve played at least 15 different songs there this year. Thank you to all who came out to support me, and more importantly, to support live music and the venues that offer it.

Drum Up Some Music Gigs
I succeeded at this, as well. In addition to the open mic appearances, which are technically not gigs, I performed at WhimsyCon, Superstars, FutureScapes, Aurora Mini-Con, Denver Pop Culture Con (as part of a music panel), and the final Myths & Legends Con (MALCon 7.) I also participated in filk circles at MALCon and MileHiCon 51. I’m lined up for another performance at Superstars 2020 with the indefatigable Wulf Moon, Writers of the Future contest winner and ascending literary star, and hopefully Shiny Garden will want me back again for WhimsyCon in 2020.

Write and Perform at Least Two Songs
Success! Around the beginning of the year, I collaborated with the aforementioned Wulf Moon to create music for his song “Vampire,” and we debuted it together at Superstars. I also collaborated with Nathan Crowder to set music to his lyrics for a song called “Tacos and D&D,” which I debuted at WhimsyCon. I played both songs several times at gigs and open mics throughout the year. I also wrote an entirely new filk song set to the tune of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.” I called it “Scoundrel.” It’s about Han Solo, and I debuted that at the Aurora Mini-Con. I have a couple more filk songs in the pipeline, and I’m working on a solo acoustic Rush medley, which I can hopefully pull off at Superstars 2020.

Complete Half-Lives of Quiet Desperation
Yeah … that didn’t happen. I got great feedback on that partial novel at Futurescapes, but ultimately, I made no progress on that. I did start another piece that may become a novel, but novels seem to be my bugbear, so I’m going to try to let that project grow to what it wants to be, rather than force it into a mold.

Other Things Happened, Too
For most of the year, I worked part-time on the weekends for The Inquisitr website, initially as a writer, then as a copy editor. I enjoyed my time there, but had to leave that position late in the year because I got a promotion at my main job that requires me to be more available than before. I feel like I’m finally settling into the new position and not having to put out as many fires, which is nice. I’m grateful to both Inquisitr and my employer for the opportunities they have given me.

In July, Readercon took place in Boston. I was unable to go, but my late friend and mentor, Ed Bryant, was the Memorial Guest of Honor, and Readercon asked me if I would like to contribute a remembrance for their souvenir book. I was honored to do so and have my name appear alongside essays by Mark Barsotti, Steve Rasnic Tem, and Connie Willis. I couldn’t ask for my words to have better company.

Finally, I was a panelist at all of the aforementioned cons, and had the distinction of moderating some pretty significant ones. Thank you to the convention organizers for trusting me as a panelist and moderator. At the final Myths and Legends con, I participated in my first featured reading with Aaron Michael Ritchey and Lou J Berger, and at MileHiCon, I was ecstatic to have a spot in the autograph room next to Connie Willis and Carrie Vaughn!

Carrie Vaughan, Stace Johnson, Connie Willis (l to r)

Moving Forward
All in all, it was a great year of creativity for me, and I’m hoping to build on it in the coming year. 2020 is already off to a good start, with my first appearance at COSine in Colorado Springs scheduled for January and attendance at Superstars in February, complete with another Moon/Lyt collaboration (as Moon and I like to call ourselves.)

I wish you all the best of holidays, whatever your tradition. Watch this space for future announcements, and feel free to connect with me at any of the following venues online. (They are listed roughly in order of the amount I utilize them.) I look forward to hearing from you!

Facebook: Personal page / Author & Musician page
Twitter
Instagram
YouTube
Pinterest
LinkedIn

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.

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.

Speak Out with Your Geek Out: Sense of Community

It’s Speak Out with Your Geek Out week, during which self-described geeks blog about various positive aspects of geek culture.

As an unabashed geek, I’m all over that.

One of the most important aspects of geek culture is the fact that geeks have each other’s backs, as illustrated by the very idea of SOwYGO; Monica Valentinelli came up with the idea after witnessing the development of a geek-bashing thread on a pay-per-click website.  It’s also illustrated by the outpouring of support for one of geekdom’s most brilliant lights: sf/f/h writer, critic, and mentor Edward W. Bryant.

Ed has been a fixture in the speculative fiction world since the early 1970s, when he first began publishing short fiction.  Not long after that, he founded the Northern Colorado Writers Workshop, from which many of the most successful writers in speculative fiction and mystery have graduated, including Connie Willis, Dan Simmons, Melanie Tem, Steve Rasnic Tem, and John Dunning.

Although Ed has published hundreds of stories, essays, and reviews, perhaps his greatest legacy will be his longstanding mentoring in the sf/f/h community.  He is an unabashedly kind man, and has patiently helped hundreds of fledgling writers and pro writers alike improve their writing and critiquing skills.  He is well-spoken, with a resonant, commanding-yet-gentle baritone voice, and he has irresistable charisma and charm.  If we were to apply old-school D&D stats to him, I think his charisma would be a natural 18, and his intelligence would have to be up there, as well.

Ed has been a Type I diabetic since 1968, the same year he attended the Clarion writer’s workshop and launched his writing career.  As he has progressed in years, the diabetes has become a frequent issue due to nerve degeneration.  He recently finished a ten day stay in a Denver-area hospital with a bout of gastroparesis, his fourth in the last three years.  In addition, doctors discovered that his esophagus has slowly been turning to scar tissue over that time, a result of the repeated bouts of gastroparesis.  He also had open heart surgery a few years ago.  The health problems have taken a toll on his writing, and his output has dropped dramatically since the heart surgery.  Unfortunately, this also means his income has dropped accordingly.

Here’s where the geek community shines.  Ed’s friends, students, and neighbors banded together in late 2008 to form the loosely-knit Friends of Ed Bryant organization.  The Friends of Ed Bryant website and Facebook group formed shortly thereafter.  The purpose was to get the word out to all the people who love and respect Ed that his health and finances were in jeopardy; it was time for the geek community to step up and pay back some of what Ed had given to us over the last four decades.  And pay back we did!  Within a couple of weeks, we had enough donations of money, labor, and medical supplies to dig Ed out of the financial bind he was in at the time.

Folks, it’s time to pitch in again.  Ed is currently facing the very real possibility of losing his home due to unpaid property taxes.  Eventually, he will likely sell that house and move into some form of assisted living arrangement, but right now, he needs to get the taxes paid so he can buy time to sell the house.  The Friends of Ed have mobilized again to solicit donations on his behalf, as well as brainstorming ideas to help him out over the long term.  Donations have started rolling in, some as little as $5, others in the hundreds, but we’re still far short of the amount he needs in order to pay the tax bill.  If you can afford anything — even $5 — please consider visiting the Friends of Ed website and giving what you can.  The donations are processed by Paypal and go directly into an account managed by the Colorado Fund for People with Disabilities.  Unfortunately, this is not a tax-deductable donation, but it does go to support one of the kindest, most influential writers in the geek community.  Ed has stood with us for nearly 40 years; it’s time for us to stand in support of one of our own.  Visit the Friends of Ed Bryant website, make a donation, and join the Facebook group to stay in the loop about Ed’s status.

Make me proud, fellow geeks.

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.