Skulk at @Dublin2019 WorldCon

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Floof Will Out

Dublin 2019 World Con will be full of floof! It even includes a performance by the Fox Spirit Skulk Players!

CON-EIRE

‘ConEIRE’  50 minutes FRIDAY 5:00 PM  –  5:50 PM  |  CCD , Wicklow Hall 2A
Play

A love letter to the people who do the thankless work behind the scenes at SFF cons everywhere!

It’s three days before the start of ConEIRE, the best Irish-themed science fiction and fantasy con in the tri-state area, when a phone call sets the entire Convention Committee into panic mode. Is Big Name Writer going to pull out at the last minute? What does Very Famous Artist have to do with that decision? And what do the fairies have to say about all this? Follow the hilarious mishaps as the committee members work desperately to salvage months of planning and hard work, all of which are about to be undone by a well-known prima donna.

But there are skulk members appearing throughout the con:
THURSDAY
Ruins, curses, and family secrets: the Gothic  50 minutes 11:00 AM  –  11:50 AM  |  CCD , Wicklow Room-3
Panel
Where does the Gothic fit into the overall horror tradition? What elements of the Gothic remain so compelling today, and why? Panellists discuss the genre from its roots to Southern Gothic and other modern interpretations.
Creating podcasts: ideas, people, and themes  50 minutes THURSDAY 4:00 PM  –  4:50 PM  |  CCD , Wicklow Hall-1
Panel
FRIDAY
Fleshy fears: horror and the body  50 minutes FRIDAY 11:00 AM  –  11:50 AM  |  CCD , Wicklow Hall 2A
Panel
From body horror to body snatchers to possession and beyond, how has horror explored, exploited, and pushed the limits of bodily integrity? What is the subtext of different approaches to body horror, and what practitioners are exploring these assaults on the flesh in the most interesting ways?
Escape Artists podcast: live recording  50 minutes FRIDAY 1:00 PM  –  1:50 PM  |  CCD , Wicklow Hall 2B
Podcast
Come and learn more about free weekly podcast fiction! Join the Escape Artists for an audio fiction show presented by all four EA podcasts: Escape PodPseudoPodPodCastle, and Cast of Wonders. There’ll be a Q&A session, swag giveaways, all the latest news, and live readings.
Why is it always raining in Gotham? Noir themes in SF  50 minutes FRIDAY 9:00 PM  –  9:50 PM  |  CCD , Wicklow Hall 2B
Panel
Noir tropes are hugely popular in science fictional settings, such as China Miéville’s The City and the City, or William Gibson’s Neuromancer. In what ways are noir tropes adapted or subverted within the genre? Is there a difference in the ways SF books, comics, and movies use elements of noir? The panel will discuss the uses of noir across SF genres and formats.
SATURDAY
Misconceptions in medieval history  50 minutes SATURDAY 10:00 AM  –  10:50 AM  |  CCD , Wicklow Room-4
Panel
The medieval period is a rich source of inspiration for writers of speculative fiction, but medieval life has been so romanticised in popular culture that it has become hard to separate the chaff of fiction from the wheat of historical fact. Our panel of medievalists will saddle up their warhorses and ride to rescue the damsel of medieval history!
Revolutions in an era of advanced technology  50 minutes SATURDAY 10:00 AM  –  10:50 AM  |  CCD , Wicklow Room-3
Panel
How do revolutions (e.g. overthrowing government) occur in an era of advanced technologies? Are orderly regime changes jeopardised with growing asymmetries in weaponry, surveillance, and political power? Are current political processes up to the challenge?
‘Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know’  SATURDAY 11:30 AM to 12:20 PM (50 minutes) Odeon 6 (Academic) Part of: Crusaders and Fairy Kings
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Susanna Clarke’s sprawling novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell takes in the whole of the 19th century attempt to restore magic to respectability in England. Repeatedly the readers are warned that fairy magic is ‘not respectable’ – most often by Gilbert Norrell, who hides his shame at stooping to its employment on at least one occasion. Why is fairy magic not ‘respectable’? I will argue that it is because it is mostly Celtic, rather than the more dour, respectable, and rather puritanical English magic that Norrell seeks to revive and rule over. In contrast, John Uskglass was trained in fairy magic and his troop, the Raven King’s army, is specifically identified as the Daoine Sidhe. In pursuing the Raven King’s example, Jonathan Strange remains open to this Celtic influence and soon surpasses his teacher in skill and daring, but both Englishmen are unprepared for the full fury of the fairy fight.
Horror: where are we going?  50 minutes SATURDAY 5:00 PM  –  5:50 PM  |  CCD , Wicklow Room-3
Panel
Whose book is it anyway?  50 minutes SATURDAY 5:30 PM  –  6:20 PM  |  Point Square , Alhambra
Panel
Who decides which YA books get bought? Publishers? Editors? Booksellers? Parents? Or maybe even YA readers? Join us for a thoughtful discussion on marketing and publishing in YA as we look at how YA novels get chosen. Moreover, what are publishers and readers looking for in a book?
SUNDAY
Portrayals of mental health in genre  SUNDAY 50 minutes 12:00 PM  –  12:50 PM  |  CCD , Wicklow Hall 2A
Panel

Content warning: may include discussions of suicide and self-harm, mental illness and ableism, eating disorders.

Mental health used well can drive a story, create believable motives for characters and even greater awareness amongst the audience. However, these issues are not always treated sensitively or realistically. This panel will explore examples of mental health issues in genre fiction and consider their implications and accuracy.

‘Ditch Diggers’ podcast: live recording  50 minutes SUNDAY 2:00 PM  –  2:50 PM  |  CCD , Wicklow Hall 2B
Podcast
MONDAY
Irish horror and the supernatural  50 minutes 11:00 AM  –  11:50 AM  |  CCD , ECOCEM Room
Panel
Critic Peter Tremayne observed that: ‘Practically every Irish writer has … explored the genre for the supernatural part of Irish culture.’ Ireland has always held its own in fantastical literature, from Jonathan Swift and Bram Stoker to Dorothy Macardle and Elizabeth Bowen. But is there a discernible tradition threaded through their fictions? And what, if anything, makes their writing Irish?
Kaffeeklatsch: Marguerite Kenner 50 minutes MONDAY 12:00 PM  –  12:50 PM  |  CCD , Level 3 Foyer
Kaffeeklatsch
Kaffeeklatsch: Alasdair Stuart  50 minutes MONDAY 1:00 PM  –  1:50 PM  |  CCD , Level 3 Foyer
Kaffeeklatsch
[If we missed something tweet Kate with the details]
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Waxing Lyrical : Online Fiction

On the subject of online fiction, we welcome Jenny Barber. 

Waxing Lyrical: Online Fiction by Jenny Barber

So there I was, not at Worldcon and living vicariously through everyone’s tweets, when reports of the short fiction panel started popping up. Specifically, the view that print magazines were going to die and hopefully online providers would start selling short fiction.

Start selling?  Start…?  (Looks at calendar. Sees that it is, in fact, still 2017. Shakes head.) If I had been drinking tea, it would have sprayed all over the screen.

I don’t remember exactly when I discovered that online magazines existed (I started slushing for the late Fantasy Magazine [http://www.fantasy-magazine.com/] around 2009-ish so it was probably a couple of years before that), but I do remember the rampant glee at finding so much quality short fiction available for free. Free was important back then as I couldn’t afford print subscriptions to the magazines I knew about, but still had a short fiction addiction that needed feeding. 

What really cinched my newfound love for online fiction was the sheer range of stories available.  I’d spent a good decade or so reviewing predominantly UK horror ‘zines for the British Fantasy Society and while I do enjoy a good horror story, online fiction opened the SFF world up much wider.  New authors, new styles, stories from all over the world and all a mouse click away! Amazing!

Since then, the online markets have expanded: bigger, better, and more beautiful, there are more magazines, more diversity, more ways to support the publications and more ways to read (and listen) to their fiction. 

Online fiction and their venues regularly win Hugos, Nebulas, British Fantasy Awards, British Science Fiction Awards, World Fantasy Awards, Locus Awards, Aurealis Awards, Shirley Jackson Awards, Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Awards & Parsec Awards (to name but a few!) so you can be sure of the highest quality fiction for the low, low price of (mostly) free!

But if you have the spare cash, you can get handy subscriptions (with bonus and/or advanced content) or single issues of titles delivered in the ebook format of your choice – available either directly through the magazines own sites; or from digital stores like Weightless Books [https://weightlessbooks.com/], Smashwords [https://www.smashwords.com] or Amazon.  Those that don’t have subscription options usually have ways to donate via paypal or funding sites, so watch out for the publisher patreons and kickstarters to show your love and pick up some fantastic fiction to boot.

But where can you find some of this award-worthy, affordable, accessible fiction?

::Link-fest mode engaged, Cap’n!::

Strange Horizons [http://www.strangehorizons.com/] is one of my firm favourites and Beneath Ceaseless Skies [http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/] is another top one. Uncanny Magazine [http://uncannymagazine.com/] is not to be missed and if you want some Chinese translation (and other) SFF head over to Clarkesworld [http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/].

Lightspeed [http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/] publish some awesome fantasy and science fiction, and their sister magazine Nightmare [http://nightmare-magazine.com] is perfect for the horror aficionados, with more horror shorts found at The Dark.  [http://thedarkmagazine.com]

But also! Have a look at Apex Magazine [http://www.apex-magazine.com/], Shimmer [https://www.shimmerzine.com/], Holdfast [http://www.holdfastmagazine.com/], Abyss & Apex [http://www.abyssapexzine.com/], Heroic Fantasy Quarterly [http://www.heroicfantasyquarterly.com/], Fireside Fiction [http://firesidefiction.com/], Kaleidotrope [http://www.kaleidotrope.net/], and Tor.Com [http://www.tor.com]

If you like longer fiction, then may I point you at GigaNotoSaurus [http://giganotosaurus.org/] for all your novella pleasures. If you prefer flash, then Daily Science Fiction [http://dailysciencefiction.com/] will give you flash fiction five days a week (and free subscription if you want the stories delivered via email.)

Don’t want to sit staring at a screen? No problem! Many magazines do audio versions of their stories, and if you really want a treat, go check out some of the excellent dedicated podcast magazines.  The Escape Artists clutch of ‘casts are highly recommended and cover a broad range of genre in Escape Pod [http://escapepod.org/], Pseudopod [http://pseudopod.org/], PodCastle [http://podcastle.org/] and Cast of Wonders [http://www.castofwonders.org/].  Also check out StarShipSofa [http://www.starshipsofa.com/], Toasted Cake [http://toastedcake.com/] and The Drabble Cast [http://www.drabblecast.org/] for more audio goodness.

shameless book plug

So whatever the current state of print magazines may be, online short fiction is ready and waiting to welcome you into its digital folds!

Not The Fox News: Panel Beaten

Special thanks this month to Den Patrick and James Smythe, who helped shape the central idea in this column. Go buy their books, they’re ace.midamericon-2

Convention season is (mostly) over for me for the year. I’m incredibly lucky in that my job takes me to shows like WorldCon (Which was in Kansas City or, as I like to call it, the Beef Singularity), EdgeLit, Nine Worlds and FantasyCon. Being able to see how both sides of the Atlantic, and every scale of show, do things is a really interesting experience. Especially as there’s one thing none of those shows managed to do;

Got out of their panelist’s way.

I’m not slamming the organizers here. I’ve worked that side of the fence, I know how hard and how utterly thankless a task it is. What I am criticizing is the culture they’re having to work inside, one inherited from decades of calcifiied and at times no longer relevant experience. Experience that actively stops authors doing their jobs.

Here’s an example, which demonstrates both how conventions and authors need to change; Fantasycon 2009/10, I sat in the audience for that year’s ‘YA? To Be Viewed With Fear? Or Merely Suspicion?‘ Panel. One of the panelists was an American author whose debut novel had just come out. He had a copy with him and, inevitably, referenced it a lot during the panel. Not only is this fine, but he also managed to make a running gag out of it.

Given that other panel members were snarktweeting about him as the panel was happening, I’m guessing it didn’t go down as well with them as it did with me.

I’ve thought about that day a lot recently. It was a miserable convention as everything I attended from that particular era of the BFS was, but that’s not why it’s been playing on my mind. Rather, it’s been coming up a lot more because I’ve now seen four conventions in a row where authors haven’t just not promoted their work, they’ve blithely accepted that they shouldn’t really have to. There’s a feeling, and I’ve heard a real human say this, with words, in the 21st century, that it should be the publishers’ job.

In an ideal world, yeah it probably should.

Take a look outside.

There was a clown out there wearing a DRUMPF 2016 t-shirt and crying about Harambe wasn’t there?

Thought so.

edge-lit

Ugly Truth time. Authors have to promote their own work right now. You just do. You can complain about it all you want but every time you don’t bother promoting your work, fifteen other people are promoting their’s. You can turn in the best work you’ve ever done, you can actually write the Great American Novel or the next Girl With A Pearl Earring Tattoo On The Train and I PROMISE you absolutely no one will give shit one unless you tell people about it.

Feel awkward? Feel like it’s not good enough? Feel like you’re bothering people?

Good.

In order:

1) Suck it up, you’re a ghost buster.

2) Everyone feels that way about everything ever.

3) YOU ARE NOT BOTHERING PEOPLE.

Seriously the moment you hit that unease, stay there because you’re probably talking about your stuff just the right amount. Case in point; we interact with kickstarter campaigns three times before we decide whether or not to pledge. In order to do that we need to be reminded that the campaign exists twice. Same goes for every form of retail interaction ever. So, you need to be talking about your work at least three times during the lifetime of a project. And by ‘lifetime’ I mean three times a day until your next project comes out.

A quick aside; it is absolutely possible to over promote. Automated DMs on twitter and using 3-35 hashtags in a tweet are really good ways to over promote and annoy people. Don’t do those.  Instead do what works for you and what makes you feel just a little frightened. That fear is your friend. Shows you’re pushing yourself.

fantasycon-by-the-seaSo that’s ‘Should authors self-promote?’ Answered. And oddly without using the word YES in 72 point block capitals. This time.

Now, conventions!

For some reason, the panel format has become both the default and a blanket to smother authors’ own priorities beneath. It’s not intentional and is clearly one of those dusty pieces of ancestral wisdom that’s been around so long none of us can tell whether or not it’s bad because it’s what we’ve always done.

Here’s the thing; it’s really bad and, crucially, unfair.

We need to stop doing it. Here’s how.

Encourage authors to talk about their books on the panel. If they want copies up there, so much the better! These are people who, odds are, have paid hundreds of pounds to attend the event and who are so conditioned by the industry wide inferiority complex we labor under that they’re not going to promote their work without being told they’re allowed.

TELL THEM THEY’RE ALLOWED.

Be prepared for some of them to hug you when you do.

Mix the format up a little bit. Here are a few ideas:

 

Podcast Everything

A few years ago, our esteemed leader at Fox Spirit very successfully ran a podcast track of every single panel at Fantasycon and Alt Fiction. The fact this has never been followed up on mystifies me. Yes you need to get releases from people but that’s the sort of legal boilerplate that takes very little research. From a technical point of view you can go old school and just record panels with a voice memo app and a smartphone from the desk the panelists are sitting behind. Feeling fancy? Talk to the hotel about using the built in audio system, get a mixer, and you’re away. None of this stuff is hard, it’s just new. And if you do decide to do this? Please get in touch. If we can’t help, then we know podcasters who can.

 

Magazine Showcases

Panels are fine but there are lots of other ways you can present guests. MidAmericon II did really interesting work with Magazine Showcases this year. They had each publication attending (Or publisher in my company, Escape Artists’,  case) present a panel featuring some of their authors and staff. I attended all these panels and it was a brilliant way to cover a lot of ground, and a lot of authors, in a small space of time.

 

TED Talks!

Or perhaps TOD talks just in case their lawyers are present! I tried this on the Comics track at Nine Worlds this year and it worked really well. Extended, 10-15 minute presentations by individual authors on something close to their heart and related to their work. We were able to get Paul Cornell and Laurie Penny in to talk about the history and symbology of UFO incidents and John Constantine respectively and it was great. Both subjects were tied back to their own work, both went far more in depth normal and the twin needs of self-promotion and added information value for the convention were met brilliantly.

 

Kill The Trade Hall, Save The Trade Hall

Nine Worlds’ Expo and MidAmericon II’s shopping section were the only two conventions this year I’ve seen do retail close to right. Far too often, publishers’ and booksellers’ tables are crammed away in a corner or, worse still, split across multiple locations. Don’t do that. Instead, do this:

 

-Put a book table in every room you have book events. Make sure they have a cash float or if you’re feeling fancy, electronic sales facilities. If you aren’t feeling fancy? A cash float of 50 to 70 pounds and a hand written receipt ledger will sort you out. You have a volunteer in there anyway so give them something to do other than hold up a 5 MINUTES LEFT sign.

-Pre load the table, that morning, with stock written by every author who will be in the room that day.

-As each new panel begins, load the table with books by the new set of panelists.

-At the end of the panel, use the 15 minute inter-room shuffle to give people a chance to buy books by the folks they’ve just spent an hour listening to.

Every single author in that room over the course of your show will sell books. Every single trader will thank you for putting their work directly in front of interested authors. You will be lauded as brilliant, maverick innovators in a field that still sometimes sighs nostalgically about the terrible hotels it decided it deserved in the early ’00s. This is a universally good thing, a moment of Ecclestonian joy

Everyone Lives

Look at him! Look at his little pointy face! You could elicit that joy in authors, publishers and convention goers! All you have to do is try something new and when it works, which it will, other people will follow your example. Then? We can finally start making panels a way of building the future instead of endless cover versions of the past.

Not the Fox News: The Reader’s Duty

Hi! How’ve you been?

Since last we spoke I’ve:

-Attended Nine Worlds 2016 and run their comics programming.

-Attended MidAmericon II where I ran two panels, was on several more and attended a whole bunch.

-Eaten a lot of barbecue.

-Spent four days in Atlanta talking to the various Escape Artists staff we have out there.

-Seriously, it was a LOT of barbecue.

-Come back to the UK where we moved house and town and met the movers at the new place about four hours after getting off the plane.

-Done two podcast interviews.

It’s been a bit intense.

Also great.

Also it was a LOT of barbecue.

 

The upshot of this is I’m just about back into the groove and, in returning to said groove, I’ve been thinking about what the next NTFN should be. It was nearly a piece on panel etiquette for audience, panellists and moderators alike and that one may still be coming. At present it’s a page of notes orbiting the phrase ‘DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE’ so I’m guessing there’s some work still to do there.

Instead I find myself thinking more and more about one of the conclusions every panel I saw seemed to either articulate or come close to articulating;

This is the age of the Reader. More specifically, The age of the reader’s duty.

Here’s the thing. Whether talking about tabletop RPGs, computer games, board games, novels, comics or any one of a dozen other art forms there are three truths that keep coming up; there’s more signal than noise, it’s hard to find an audience and that places a very different, very positive obligation on readers.

It’s traditional to think of the cultural atmosphere we move through as being predominantly noise. In a lot of cases it still is; go take a look at Twitter moments or what the trending topics are. Better still, click on any trending hashtag and see how quickly it’s infested with people desperate to get eyes on what they want to talk about, regardless of whether or not it’s relevant. That, right there? Noise.

But it’s noise that we need. Or at least we can work through. Life, as the great philosopher Bueller once put it, moves pretty fast. However he didn’t have a smartphone and the ability to see just how fast life is moving or to understand where it’s going. We do. We’re assailed by so much signal it becomes noise and while that’s a definite improvement it’s also an immense challenge for creators. It’s no longer enough to be better than most people around you or to stick around long enough. Now you have to be unique enough to stand out from a field that’s, by default, orders of magnitude bigger and better than it’s ever been before.

the-end-is-here

Want proof? Awesome, here you go. The Omega Men is a short lived comic series written by Tom King with art by Barnaby Bagenda, Toby Cypress, ig Guara and Jose Marzan Jr. It was inked by Romulo Fajardo Jr, Tomeu Morey and Hi-Fi and was lettered by Pat Brosseau with covers by Trevor Hutchison. It’s a great series, a Guardians of the Galaxy with blood on its knuckles that explores what happens when the high-handed, naïve optimism of the Lantern Corps is dragged down to ground level. Smart, nasty, complicated fun.

And it got cancelled.

Now it’s a New York Times bestseller.

What does this teach us? A bunch of stuff. That comics are a team sport, that single issues are a brutally unforgiving format for mainstream experimentation and that the audience that waits for collections is in some cases much bigger than the people who buy individual issues.

Most importantly, it shows us that great projects can get read as noise when they’re really signal and that, in order to save them, sometimes creators have to shift format to get noticed. The Omega Men is a perfect example of this, a complex, novelistic story better suited to being read in one chunk. Likewise Matt Wallace’s excellent Rencor: Life in Grudge City which started life as a TV show pitch and has ended up as a novella. In each case the story was a near miss in its original format. In each case the story shines in its new format.

And that brings us to the reader. Which in this context could also mean ‘viewer’, ‘player’ and any other name for ‘person interacting with culture’.

There’s more noise than signal. There are countless projects that deserve audiences and never quite get them. That’s partially on the creators or distributors. The rest?

That’s on us.

We have never lived in more signal than we do now. We have never been surrounded by more inspiring, brilliant art in every single form than we are now. If you are at least a little invested in modern culture than its almost impossible not to run around like a caffeine-addled child in the biggest candy store in human history trying to get as much awesome into your brain as possible.

The thing is, faced with a choice that huge, human nature says we default to what we know. We don’t take risks, we don’t take chances. We just watch the same things and read the same things and play the same things because they’re known quantities.

That’s fine. In a lot of cases, that’s great. I’m playing Uncharted 4 right now because the first 3 were so great. There’s nothing wrong with returning to wells you’ve drunk from before. There’s everything wrong with only going to those wells. You may not risk as much but after a while that’s all you do, the only places you go. Your world shrinks to nothing but routine when that routine should instead be the foundation of something new. And that something doesn’t have to cost money either. Try a podcast. They’re free, there are countless thousands of them and oddly, I know a thing or two about what’s good there.

It doesn’t have to cost anything but time, but the Reader’s Duty is one we all have. It’s a duty to find new things, to talk about them and…actually you know what? I know someone who can articulate this way better.

 

Thanks Captain. Couldn’t have said it better myself. See you next month, folks.

Not The Fox News: The Long Con: LonCon 3 Part 1

 

LonCon 3 was the largest convention I’ve been to this year and the one with the most relentlessly varied, and huge, program. In the space of 3 days I recorded a live podcast, moderated a panel, sat in on several other panels, met some of the best people in the field and realized I couldn’t discuss this in a single column. So, below is a look at the structure of LonCon 3, what it did well, and what it didn’t. My personal experiences will be in the next column along.

I’d go get a coffee.

You’ve got time.

What was the shape of LonCon 3? A couple of years ago my friend Pablo Cheesecake described Edge Lit as a little like being inside his Twitter feed. LonCon 3 was a little like holding your twitter feed in front of your face and letting the information smack you in the face for three straight days. It was an intense, for the most part incredibly positive experience.

Continue reading “Not The Fox News: The Long Con: LonCon 3 Part 1”