ConQuest Kansas City is Next Weekend!

As usual, I will be at ConQuest Kansas City on Memorial Weekend for the local science fiction and fantasy convention. I will be on a number of panels with other fantastic authors.

Here is my schedule:

Friday:
5:00 Jurassic Park and Dinosaurs 5.0
Description: “Twenty-five years ago, an island full of dinosaurs tore up the Hollywood box office. Four flicks later (in June, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom will make five), these reptile relics continue to slay us. Why is the thought of a dinosaur theme park still so cool? (And by the way, what’s funny about the concept of dinos in space?) More broadly, why would the idea of the prehistoric past colliding with our present/future hold such fascination? And would we be better off letting sleeping saurians lie?”
 
Saturday:
12:00 Frankenstein 200 Years Later
Description: “It’s still alive! In 1818, Mary Shelley stitched together a bone-chilling tale of dread and science, and created a monster — whose humanity cut as deeply as Dr. Frankenstein’s knife. This Promethean fiction has inspired authors, fans, and scientists ever since. (Though is it better remembered than read?) What challenges did Shelley face in bringing her story to print? What would she think of her effect on literature over the last two centuries? After all these years, let’s find out what makes this tale tick.”
2:00 Edgar Allan Poe
Description: “He was one of the first writers to develop the genre of both detective fiction and horror. Some have credited him as the “architect” of the modern short story. The genre of horror is bigger today than ever and Poe was at the forefront of this writing style. Our panel will discuss Poe and his influences on literature.”
3:00 Where You Least Expect It
Description: “SciFi and Fantasy can be found in the strangest places, even classic literature – Shakespeare, Milton, etc.”
 
Sunday:
11:00 Philosophy Fun
Description: “Must one be virtuous in order to be courageous? What’s more important: knowledge or imagination? Let’s discuss these and other philosophy questions, applying them to literature, gaming, and our own lives.”
1:00 Reading
I am not sure what all I will be reading. I am planning on a fantasy story titled “Arbor Day.”
You an find the rest of the schedule, including all of the artists appearing, at the official Conquest Kansas City website.
Saturday will also be my birthday, so be sure to stop by and chat. When I’m not in panels, I can generally be found in the bar or the lobby. I will have a few copies of All Manner of Dark Things available for purchase, and I am always happy to chat about books and writing.
See you there!

On Stephen Hawking and the Rise of the Geek

This morning, I woke to the news that Stephen Hawking had died. These days, celebrity deaths are nothing new. We are in a post-cult of personality age, when a surge of media options and advanced marketing abilities created a mass of celebrity. As time has gone by, those people have aged, and it is only natural that they have begun to pass. I note the ones that mattered to me, though over time, those tributes have been reduced to social media one-liners. Maybe I have become desensitized to the death of my influences in the face of their sheer quantity. Today, Hawking felt a bit different.

I’m not a man of science or numbers. The last physics class I took was Physics for the Non-Scientist.  In enrolled in Math for Decision-Makers just to get that pesky college math course out of the way. I work with words, sentence structures, aesthetics, and rhetoric. I like science for the stories it tells. I like math once a year to do my taxes. I’ve never even read A Brief History of Time. Yet, I know Stephen Hawking, and as a father, I am thankful for scientists life him.

Growing up, I didn’t want to be a smart kid. It felt un-cool to me in some ways, and I have to admit sandbagging my way through school. I under-achieved my way though high school and most of college. Only when I made a switch to English did I actually start applying myself to the work. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t regret all of those years I lost, because I was afraid to be seen as a geek. Not that it mattered. I’m pretty sure everyone saw through it.

Since then, fueled by the prevalence of intellectual men like Stephen Hawking (and probably the internet), geek culture has flourished. I don’t know if we will ever be “cool,” but we are legion. We have conventions and game nights and have invaded modern pop culture. We’ve discovered the throwaway ending moral lesson of Revenge of the Nerds is true. We all have a bit of geek in us, if we are truly honest about it.

So why is this important to me. Why did I feel the need to write a blog post about a man whose books I have never read, whose theories I only know through second-hand sources, who I know almost solely from television, when some of my personal artistic heroes got only a tweet?

It’s because I am a father. At ten years-old, my son intuitively understands things about math that I will probably never know. It makes sense to him. His brain works on some different wavelength, and quite frankly, his IQ tests intimidated me a bit. I never want him to feel that he has to hide that part of him out of the fear of being seen as uncool.

Don’t get me wrong. Elementary school is still a jungle, and I know it. My son gets picked on, sometimes. Some of classmates don’t understand him, and I don’t think he understands them. But he has found friends like him. They have “Nerd Night,” chess club, gifted projects, and academic competitions. They get to go to a plethora of conventions, comic book stores, and game nights. They have each other, and they get to see others like them in popular culture. That’s a pretty big deal.

I think Stephen Hawking was a big part of that. Academia has a tendency to alienate itself. Literary criticism is as guilty as anyone. We create terminology and use it in a way that makes our research pretty much inaccessible to those who don’t have the codex of passphrases needed to decipher it. Want proof? Pass your buddy some Jacques Derrida and see what he can make of it. Hawking took astro-physics, of all things, and made it accessible. He made it cool, and he has been followed by the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson and others who have made the information age a bit more informational. They have had a profound influence upon the rise of geek culture, so to speak.

I hope my son will always feel free to be proud of his intellect. If he does, I hope he some day understand that Stephen Hawking was a part of that.

RIP Dr. Stephen Hawking (1942-2018)

Decisions…decisions…

Oh, it has been a minute, hasn’t it? Stephen King talks about “Constant Readers.” I have to admit that I have been a “Sporadic Blogger.” Many things have happened. I completed a post-baccalaureate program in writing at the University of California at Berkeley. I had a lot of fun, but I still wanted more. I decided to look at MFA programs, with the additional idea that I might be able to teach in the future.

My day job doesn’t allow for a lot of flexibility. My life allows for even less. I sought out low-residency and online MFA programs that would be friendly to genre writers, and that did not have winter residencies. Winters are my busiest time at work. I found three: Emerson College, Western State Colorado University, and Lindenwood University.

The application process has been somewhat time-consuming, since each one wants different sorts of samples and references. So far, I have been accepted to Lindenwood and Emerson. I haven’t heard from Western, as of yet.

Graduate school is a costly thing, and low-residency programs don’t normally have many funding opportunities. Emerson has offered me a small scholarship, but it doesn’t make much of a dent in the financial responsibility. Lindenwood costs less, but doesn’t have quite the same reputation as Emerson or quite the same foothold in the publishing industry. Lindenwood is a general writing program, but can be customized pretty heavily to include genre fiction. Emerson’s MFA in Popular Fiction Writing and Publishing is pretty specific, as evident by the name.

I will spend the next few days pouring over websites, Googling instructors and alumni, reading samples from their books, and trying to make the best decision for me, my family, and my career.

Speaking of my career, I am back to working on the second draft of my novella, Mama’s Little Boy. I wrote many things in Berkeley’s program, including non-fiction and book reviews. I’m going through the submission process for some of that, as well.

ConQuest, Kansas City’s annual science fiction and fantasy convention, is coming up in May. I’ll be there, probably on some panels. Nothing gets you excited to write like spending a few days talking about writing. In addition, Neil Gaiman is coming to Lawrence in November for a lecture. I’ve often said that Gaiman is this generation’s Bradbury, a sort of inspirational writing figure who is both artistic and popular. He loves writing, and that love shines forth from him.

It should be a big year for my development as a genre writer, one way or another.

I can’t wait to see what happens.

The Next Step at The Confabulator Cafe

Some of you may know that I have spent the last year and a half taking writing classes through the University of California at Berkeley. I didn’t write horror in those classes, at least for the most part. The final story that I wrote during the program was titled “The Next Step.” You can read it for free courtesy of The Confabulator Cafe. Given that the program is over, and I am now facing next steps of my own, the title is fitting.

It’s a literary fiction story. You won’t find any of my usual horror elements. It has a different sort of darkness, but it is very me, and I am very proud of it. You can read it here.

 

A Shadow in the Dark: Cornell Woolrich in the 40’s

Some people know that I have spent the last year or so taking online writing classes through the University of California at Berkeley. This semester, I took a Mystery Fiction class. As part of that class, we were required to work on a larger project. I decided to develop a website dedicated to Cornell Woolrich, a fairly unknown hardboiled writer. Woolrich’s stories were adapted in to a ton of television shows and films. This includes Alfred Hitchock’s Rear Window. Woolrich was a contemporary to guys like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain. Unfortunately, estate issues let to many of his books going out of print. That is slowly changing.

Woolrich was an interesting guy and an incredible talent when it comes to scenario construction and plotting. I plan on continuing work on the website, even now that the class has finished. Hopefully, it will help Woolrich get a few more readers, and as such, keep his work in print for a long time to come.

You can check out the website here: https://ashadowinthedark.wordpress.com/

As always, thanks for reading.

My Schedule for ConQuest Kansas City 2017

Have I been horrible about posting lately or what? For that I apologize, but we are coming up on one of my favorite times of the year, ConQuest in Kansas City (and my birthday). ConQuest is a long-running science fiction and fantasy convention. As usual, I will be taking part in several panels, which I will list here. You can find the full schedule here.

This is my panel schedule:

Friday (May 26th, otherwise known as my birthday)

3:00 PM – So, You Want to Be in Pictures – Jim Yelton, Leanna Brunner, Bryn Donovan, and I will discuss screenwriting and the applicability of its skill set to writing prose.

5:00 PM – Horror Novels/Short Stories Everyone Should Read – Earline Beebe, Sherri Dean, Jonathan Mayberry, and I recommend the best in horror fiction.

Saturday (May 27th)

11:00 AM – I will be reading, along Donna Wagenblast Munro.

1:00 PM – Comic Book Television and Film: Boom or Bust – Marshall Edwards, Brendan Beebe, Matthew Munro, and I will be talking about comic adaptations. Which are good, which are bad, and when the bubble is going to burst.

3:00 PM – Why Write Short Stories? – Karen Bovenmyer, Sean Demory, Dora Furlong, and I will be talking about the short story genre and why it is still important, despite diminishing markets and diminishing pay.

5:00 PM – The Running Man: The First Hunger Games – Craig Smith, Brian Pigg, Michelle Stutzman, and I will be talking about Stephen King’s The Running Man  and its influence.

Sunday (May 28th)

10:00 AM – Can Writing Be Taught? – Lynette Burrows, Jesse Pringle, Rachael Mayo, Paula Helm Murray, and I will be discussing a writer’s education and debating whether or not writing can truly be taught.

12:00 PM – A Writer’s Library: Books Every Writer Should Read – Lynette Burrows, Brooke Johnson, Rachael Mayo, Paula Helm Murray, and I will be discussing a writer’s library and what books belong in every writer’s toolbox.

It is going to be a busy weekend, but it should be a lot of fun. Hopefully, I will also get some homework done between the paneling and socializing.

If you haven’t made plans to join us yet, check out the website: www.conquestkc.org. There will be cosplay, gaming, a dealer room, and an art show in addition to the panels.

I look forward to seeing everyone there.

Whoops: A Cornell Woolrich Project

As many of you know, new speculative fiction has taken a backseat over the last year in favor of more writing training. I’ve been taking online classes through the University of California at Berkeley toward a certificate in writing.

As a few of you know, I just accidentally posted part of a project for my Mystery Fiction class to my old website. So, here is a quick explanation for those of you who were quick enough to click the link before I unpublished it. I will be using my old WordPress.com site as a backbone for my final project. I accidentally sent the first page out on all of my old promotional channels. The website is titled A Shadow in the Dark and explores the decade of work produced by hard-boiled pulp author Cornell Woolrich during the 1940’s. For those of you who are thinking “I should know that name…,” he is sort of the other guy when it comes to hard-boiled detective fiction.

Everyone knows Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, but Cornell Woolrich gets forgotten. Should you know him? Absolutely, but probably from Hollywood since many of his books are out of print. Rear Window? That’s Woolrich. Original Sin? Woolrich. No Man of Her Own? Woolrich. His stories became inspiration for episodes of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Boris Karloff Mystery Playhouse, and many others.

My project will focus on Woolrich’s work during the 1940’s, which was his most prolific decade for crime writing. It will be finished by the end of the semester. At that point, I’ll be sure to drop the link on my site. Until then, I’m sorry about the early peek.

On another note, things are still happening. My story “A Dead Man’s Dirt” is slated for Volume 2 of Let Us In from Time Alone Press. It should be out in the next couple of months. I’ll keep you posted.

I start a class on developing the novel in a couple of days. I’m not sure what project I am going to work on during the class. I’ve bounced back and forth between a couple of ideas. Whatever I choose, I am sure it will be fun.

Post-WorldCon Hangover

Wow…five days is a long time in con years. By the end of the week, it seemed like I had been there for most of my life, and I had trouble imagining a world that didn’t involve name tags with decorative ribbons, beer at lunch, and conversing with elaborately costumed individuals.

This was my first WorldCon, and the first time that the convention had been in Kansas City in decades. There are a lot of things that I am going to remember for a really long time.

  1. I finally met John Hemry, who writes The Lost Fleet series under the name Jack Campbell. He told me, jokingly, “I’m proud of you, son.” This is the first convention that we’ve both attended. There was also a mix-up in the pocket program. They left the “Jr.” off of my name. This meant that I had a room full of people at my reading, but several of them showed up for military science fiction. Fortunately for me, about half of them stayed for atmospheric horror. All weekend, his fans were very nice to me, and it became a running joke to find out if I was somehow related to Hemry or to influential science fiction editor John W. Campbell Jr. (I am not, as far as I know.)
  2. I was in THAT panel. The one that you may have read about on one blog or another. THE STATE OF SHORT FICTION! Or…whatever. You’ve read the story. Maybe, you’ve heard the recording. I won’t go in to all of that here. David Truesdale’s expulsion from the con has been addressed fully by all sides and by much more famous writers than me. You can find it all over the internet. I don’t feel the need to add to it, and I don’t think anyone particularly cares what I think anyway. However, I was a bit perturbed that I am a short story writer who showed up to a panel to learn about the state of my craft (expanding markets, shrinking readership, low payments) and got…that. Unfortunately, it was evident five minutes in that I was never going to get the panel that I had expected.
  3. I was actually on the panel that got Mary Robinette Kowal suspended for the day. It was an innocent mistake. She goes in to it on her blog. She also owned up to it like a total champ. Beyond that, she did an amazing job moderating the panel, even when she realized that she was probably in trouble. I have a ton of respect for her. I love to see people who are so passionate about literature. The panel was fantastic, and I really need to read Northanger Abbey.
  4. I have better reflexes than I thought. I had a girl pass out on me. Pretty much literally. Being a good person, she’d given blood as part of the Heinlein emergency blood drive and got light-headed. Fortunately, I was able to catch her with one arm and toss the beer in the trash with the other while my friend Laura Croston contacted her mother. She was fine after a few minutes, and her family was awesome.
  5. Orrin Grey and I had a conversation at the bar about how famous writers aren’t any different than the rest of us. We’re essentially the same crowd, but some of us just get paid more. Everything I experienced this weekend proved that to be the case. Whether a fledgling writer, a New York Times bestseller, or an editor that had rejected me many, MANY times, everyone that I met was great. This a tough industry, but its generally a supportive one. Most of my favorite memories this weekend involved talking to people before or after panels, in the Con Suite, in the hallways, or at the bar. Some of them I see quite often. Some I see once a year. Others, I previously knew only as names on dust covers.  All of them made the experience worth repeating. I could go in to the stories and the conversations, but those are just for me.
  6. The Zen Scavenger Hunt was so much fun.

Cons always recharge my batteries, a bit, but this one also left me wanting more–more cons, more writing, more publications, and everything else that comes along with them. I’m a realistic guy. I know that I can’t afford these things every year. I’m probably not going to make it to Helsinki (2017). I may not make it to San Jose (2018). But I will be back. My first WorldCon was a landmark in my writing career. I can’t wait to see where I am by my second one.

Now, I am going to go lay down. I am so tired…

World Science Fiction Convention Schedule

HeaderImage_092015MidAmeriCon II is coming up sooner than you would think. The full programming schedule has been released on the MidAmeriCon website. You can find it HERE.

I’ll have a reading on Thursday morning at 10:30. My plan is to read “Bottoms Up” which recently appeared in 9 Tales at the World’s End and will be part of a longer novel titled The Rest of Us.

I’ll also be speaking on panels with a number of great writers. Here is my schedule:

Austen and Shelley

Sunday 13:00 – 14:00, 2504B (Kansas City Convention Center)
A look at the roots of so much science fiction and fantasy in the works of Jane Austen and Mary Shelley. While Shelley’s Frankenstein is an obvious predecessor to science fiction and horror, Austen’s literature has also had a tremendous influence on modern authors.
Jack Campbell Jr., Heather Rose Jones, Mary Robinette Kowal (M), L. Rowyn, Evey Brett

The Future of Forensics

Thursday 12:00 – 13:00, 2209 (Kansas City Convention Center)
As part of “The Future of” series we look at Forensics.

Forensic scientists analyze scientific evidence in criminal investigations and as with all science the methods available grow and change and improve on a regular basis. This panel of experts discuss what is current and lead to where it might go next.
Jason Sanford, Gerard Ackerman (M), Jack Campbell Jr., Diana Rowland, Anna Yeatts

Utopia, Dystopia and the Default?

Thursday 14:00 – 15:00, 2502A (Kansas City Convention Center)
Certain kinds of imagined futures are currently dominating the SF field, to an impressive and interesting degree. For example, we usually find settings in either grand interstellar deep space futures or trapped-on-Earth dystopias with the rare exception. What about the futures that land somewhere in-between these who extremes? Is the “middle future” to reminiscent of the Golden Age of SF? Is it coming back? Is it too close to our current/probable future? Let’s discuss the “middle future” in SF, how it compares to earlier eras in SF, and where it falls on the Utopia/Dystopia spectrum.
Jack Campbell Jr. (M), Thomas K. Carpenter, Sarah Frost, Mr. Peadar O Guilin

Zen Scavenger Hunt

Sunday 11:00 – 12:00, 2503B (Kansas City Convention Center)
Panelists each bring seven items. Audience members ask for a type of item, a la a standard scavenger hunt. The panelists will then have to show one of the items they’ve brought and try to convince the audience that their item is the best match for what was requested.
Gail Carriger, Jack Campbell Jr. (M), Mark Oshiro, Howard Tayler

Social Media, or, Why I Haven’t Finished My Novel

Saturday 13:00 – 14:00, 2502B – A/V (Kansas City Convention Center)
Social media is addictive. So much so it can impact upon the work of authors. Our panelists discuss the importance of limiting themselves, differentiating between Social Media interactions for personal and professional reasons, and maybe even inspiration gleaned from Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Snapchat and the myriad sites available.
Melissa F. Olson (M), Jack Campbell Jr., J.R. Johansson, John Scalzi, Mur Lafferty

A Love Letter (sort of) to Hastings

I bought my first screenwriting books (written by the legendary Syd Field) at Hastings. This began my foray in to creative writing. Prior to that, I was a visual and performance artist. The drum set and guitar sit dusty in the basement, and I haven’t picked up a paintbrush in years. My keyboard, on the other hand, is missing letters because I’ve typed so much.

I bought Zen and the Art of Writing at Hastings. Ray Bradbury’s passion for writing rubbed off on me, and I went running to the word processor to write out my dreams and fears with reckless abandon. My process is still heavily-influenced by Bradbury, even if my style has changed over the years.

I worked at Hastings for two months in college, just before moving to Lawrence. I spent almost as much as I made, thanks to an amazing discount program, and the readership program gave me a good collection of classic books that provided the base of my extra-curricular literary education. I still have copies of Great Expectations and The Count of Monte Cristo that are missing covers, the price of their liberation from the store shelves.

I spent my lunch breaks walking through the stacks at Hastings, smelling the books and trying to soak in words, as if each aisle was a pool filled with nouns, verbs, and adjectives. When I got down on writing, or felt that things were hopeless, I saw all of these books by all of these writers who found the shelves, and it brought me back to work. You can’t place a value on that, but I bought it at the price of a mocha frappaccino and the occasional book.

I had my first book signing at Hastings. I sat in the front of the store, heard my name announced over the PA, and talked to every customer that came within earshot. I was nervous, but excited. I met other writers. I sold a couple of books. Mostly, I got used to selling myself as a writer to the public.

I sold more copies of All Manner of Dark Things at my local Hastings than anywhere else other than Amazon. For six months, I rode the end cap display, until I was displaced by a number of books by politicians in order to capitalize on the primary election season. I sold several copies, including one to a Hastings employee. She asked me to sign it when I came in for one of my lunchtime strolls. It gives me a thrill to know that complete strangers in my community have my book on their shelf.

Over the last few months, I’ve seen the signs. More used and clearance books than new. Large, empty shelf spaces. Fewer employees. Earlier this week, I saw the story that I feared would be coming. Hastings will have declare bankruptcy if they do not find a buyer. Another bookstore down.

As much as I would like for someone to buy and save my local Hastings, the truth is that the model is out-dated and the products are over-priced in comparison to their online counter-parts. They can’t compete. Few can. If this is the end of Hastings, as it was for Borders before it, as it probably will be for Barnes and Noble unless they do something drastic, then I have to say thank you to them for being there.

Hastings is a chain, but they always treated me like a local business would. They contained so many things that I loved, and as a result, I was able to pursue those loves. I’ve spent thousands of dollars in their stores, and even though that wasn’t enough, their closure will leave a vacancy beyond the strip mall storefront that they occupy.

No more random CD’s or DVD’s that I never knew I wanted. No more midnight releases. No more comics. No more lunchtime book section strolls among the works of my peers and idols. No more book signings. No more hope of seeing my name in the horror section next to Ramsey Campbell, rather than in the local author section. That’s a lot of no mores.

I hope they save it, but if they don’t, then I am thankful for the memories. Hear’s to you Hastings. We’ll always have Lawrence and Ames.