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:

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?”
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.”
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!

Saving the World through Science Fiction

Recently, I attended the Campbell Conference at the University of Kansas. The Campbell Conference is an annual event named for science fiction legend John W. Campbell Jr. Despite the similarities in names and interests, we are not related–at least not that I am aware of. This year’s conference, hosted by the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction focused on how science fiction is being used in the classroom.

Two of my greatest passions are books and education. I was delighted to see that so many universities are taking a proactive approach to getting genre fiction in to the curriculum. George Tech, Arizona State, Florida Atlantic University, The University of California-Riverside, The University of California-San Diego, The University of Glascow, and of course the University of Kansas all made presentations about their science fiction curricula, which are fantastic and really set a foundation for the utilization of genre fiction in both the sciences and the humanities. I encourage everyone to check out what these schools are up to. From creative writing to literary criticism to scientific research, they are doing some really great stuff. Besides, who wouldn’t want to go to Scotland for a year to study fantasy literature?

I believe strongly in the academic relevance of genre fiction. While it has been looked down upon in the past, I feel that we are reaching a juncture where it will become a vital part of literary study. It can tell us so much about the way that we perceive the world. It takes our deepest fears and our most desperate hopes and then puts them on display in the “safe” realm of the fantastic.  James Gunn, KU Professor and science fiction legend, talked about “saving the world through science fiction.” He believes that science fiction teaches a way of looking at the world that too many people lack in this day and age. I tend to agree with him.

I grew up on science fiction and fantasy. The writings of Clarke, Aismov, et al. were instrumental in my development both as a person and as an artist, although I fall more in to the line of Bradbury than I do of the hard science fiction pioneers. Like Bradbury, I tend to rest on genre boundaries. Horror writers are odd things. We are sort of like that weird relative that gets invited to all of the family functions, but whom no one is quite sure about. We show up at science fiction and fantasy’s gatherings. We crash mystery and thriller’s parties. We carry on and draw attention to ourselves at literary fiction’s picnics. We simultaneously belong everywhere and nowhere. That being said, I think most horror writers would admit owing a lot to other literary genres.

The Campbell Conference was a great chance to immerse myself in the academic side of science fiction, as opposed to the reader conventions that I am used to attending. Being around other people with similar passions is always great for my creative energy. I came away with a long list of books to read, new perspectives to consider, and a lot of respect for what these universities are doing. I will take a lot of pride in finishing Heaven’s Edge, my science fiction noir novel, in hopes that I can live up to their examples. It was a pleasure to talk to everyone, and I hope to see them again next year.

P.S. Cory Doctorow won The Sturgeon Award for his story “The Man Who Sold the Moon” in Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future and Catherine Webb (Claire North) won The Campbell Award for her novel The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.  I have not read either book, but both look fantastic. I can’t wait. I also saw some great academic books on Ray Bradbury from the University of Illinois Press that are now on my research wishlist. Great weekend, indeed.

A Traditional Author Event According to Chuck Palahniuk

J. K. Rowling does it this way. Maya Angelou did it this way. John Steinbeck did it this way.

I attended Chuck Palahniuk’s event at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City last weekend. Palahniuk is touring in support of his short story collection Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread from Doubleday and his graphic novel Fight Club 2 from Dark Horse Comics  I had heard of Palahniuk’s shenanigans, but this was my first time witnessing them.

The night began with Chuck, dressed in pajamas and a silk robe, telling us to blow up the clear latex beach balls in our admission packages. Then, we stuffed glow sticks down inside them and wrote our names on the surfaces with a black Sharpie. Occasionally, throughout the night, Palahniuk would stop the event, have the lights turned off, have the music turned on, and have the balls punched in to the air.

Chuck Palahniuk & Rainy Day Books Event “Balls in the Air” at Uptown Theater in Kansas City on May 29, 2015, 41 Second Video. from Rainy Day Books, Inc. on Vimeo.

One or two balls would be plucked by Palahniuk’s publicist for a special price. Leather-bound, gilded, signed first editions of Fight Club and Beautiful You.

Other times, Chuck would hurl bags of Hershey’s Kisses in to the audience with surprising force.

Questions were answered, mostly about Palahniuk’s writing or his suggestions for new writers. He was fairly inspirational and encouraging, saying that writers needed to state the truth in the way that only they can. It was fairly basic encouragement, which is great. But if you really want a heavy dose of Palahniuk’s writing philosophies, you should check out the 39 essays at LitReactor. They provide insight in to his process and in to writing mechanics that can’t be touched in a question and answer format.

Stories were read. I enjoyed his new stories, “Zombies” and “The Facts of Life.” Palahniuk also read “Guts,” which is extremely graphic, and caused two people in the audience to faint. The show continued on, with the red and blue ambulance lights reflecting in the hallway. If you aren’t familiar with “Guts,” you can read it here, but I’ll warn you that it’s not for the squeamish.

The great people at Rainy Day Books were brought on stage. They do a lot of great programming. If you are in the Kansas City area, be sure to check them out. To end the night, rubber hands were thrown in to the crowd.

It was a weird, wonderful night. It fit Palahniuk’s writing style perfectly, and it set a bar for author events. Afterall, Joyce Carol Oates does it this way. At least that is what Palahniuk told us.

Ironically, I had my own signing the next day. It seemed strangely pedestrian after glowing beach balls and the flinging of rubber prostheses. I asked the book manager at my signing about the possibility of throwing plastic body parts at his customers. His response, “Please don’t get me fired,” wasn’t exactly a no per se.

I wonder how many books I have to sell before fans will thank me for beaning them with bags of candy.