Tales of ConQuesT (48)–The Writing Part

I love  participating in panel discussions at science fiction conventions–and I was part of several at ConQuesT 48 held this and every year in Kansas City on Memorial Day by my home science fiction group, the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society


I participated in several panel discussions at ConQuesT. In addition to sharing an hour of reading with Sean Demory of Pine Float Press, my other scheduled panels all could be potential subjects for future blog posts. Please comment below, if you’d like to see more on any of these topics!

What Gives Characters Depth?

This panel focused on writing techniques, plus a review of “3-D characters we love” and why we chose them. It was ably moderated by Rob Howell. I was joined on the panel by P. R. AdamsLynette M. Burrows, and Marguerite Reed.

L-R: P. R. Adams, Lynette M. Burrows, Marguerite Reed, and moderator Rob Howell

Our discussion ranged through such questions as what makes a character come to life, our assorted techniques for “getting to know” our characters, and what happens when the scene you thought you were going to write takes a right-angle turn because “the character had something else in mind”/you realized it wouldn’t be in character for the person to do/say/think what you’d originally intended. It was a fun and lively discussion.

Intellectual Property and Literary Estates

I got to moderate this panel (former teacher: I like to make sure the discussions are fueled by lots of good, well-researched, leading questions, that everyone gets a chance to talk, and that the audience is actively engaged in shaping the conversation). I’d signed up to be on the panel because of my connection with the administration of my late brother-in-law’s literary estate.

My fellow panelists were Dora Furlong, who’d been involved in establishing a foundation to administer the literary estate of a writer and game-creator; Susan R. Matthews, who’d gone through the process of writing a will and discovered that there were all sorts of decisions to be made about who would administer her literary estate; and Craig R. Smith, whose focus was more on contracts and protecting intellectual property.

L-R: Susan R. Matthews‘ icon; Dora Furlong; Craig R. Smith‘s book cover.

We discussed the nature of intellectual property, the relative importance of registering ISBNs and copyrights, what is included in a literary estate, the kinds of decisions the executor or trustees of such an estate may have to make, leaving specific instructions (for instance, about what to do with emails and unfinished manuscripts), and many other issues that most writers, artists, or other creative people rarely consider–but which have everything to do with their legacy.

Writing Fight and Combat Scenes

I moderated this panel, too–but I did little talking about my own work on this one. Both of my fellow panelists, Rob Howell and Selina Rosen, are well-spoken, engaging, and knowledgeable, with a depth of background I could admire, but not match (SCA battle-experience, military history studies, martial arts training, and many more varied writing projects than I’ve racked up so far).

L-R: Rob Howell, a photo of an SCA battle by Ron Lutz; and Selina Rosen. Yes, it was a lively panel discussion.

It was a privilege to manage time and audience input, while offering them questions about varieties of research, frequent plot objectives of most fight or combat scenes, tips for keeping the action vivid and interesting, and pet peeves about other authors’ bad practices. Rob, Selina, and the knowledgeable audience kept the panel fast-paced, interesting, and wide-ranging.

Horror Fiction and Xenophobia

Yes, I did moderate this panel also–but as with the “Fight and Combat” panel, I ended up mainly facilitating the experts, namely Sean Demory, Karen Bovenmeyer, and Donna Wagenblast Munro.

Not much of a horror writer or reader myself, I approached this panel from the viewpoint of a multiculturalist who generally looks upon xenophobia (fear of foreigners or, more basically, fear of “the other”) as a negative thing.

L-R: Sean Demory, Karen Bovenmyer, and the Facebook Profile Picture of Donna Wagenblast Munro.

Not to worry. While earlier traditions of horror have embraced the “fear of otherness” via unfamiliar cultural practices, deformity, and/or disease to create the objects of fear, my three fellow panelists are contemporary horror writers who have embraced the “feared other” as their protagonists.

This brought new poignancy to their responses to my questions about “who are the monsters of today?” and which is the most potent bogeyman of today, the terrorist (domestic or foreign), the corporate overlord, the hacker, or the community dedicated to conformity? Reactions were mixed, but ultimately conformity won as the most stifling on the individual level.

I See No Way That Could Possibly Go Wrong

This panel focused on new technologies just beginning to emerge today, and our thoughts about their ramifications in the future. The panelists were, L-R in the photo below, Christine Taylor-Butler, Bryn Donovan, me, and Robin Wayne Bailey. The photographer (and knowledgeable contributor from the audience) is the writer J.R. Boles.

I was not originally scheduled to be on this one, but the designated moderator (who shall go nameless) did not show up for the panel. Bryn and Robin invited me to join them and moderate. Since I actually knew a bit about the topic (thanks largely to researching and writing this blog), I was delighted to leap in.

We had a great discussion, with a lot of intelligent input from the panelists and our knowledgeable audience. We spent most of our time on the question, “What technology that’s now in its infancy would you most like to see developed, and how do you think it would change things as we know them?”

Answers touched on flying cars, 3-D printed kidneys, earpieces or brain implants to transmit data, lunar colonies, asteroid mining, and much more.

IMAGES: I’m the one who put together the ConQuesT 48 banner. It features a logo design by Keri O’Brien and a photo of the lobby of our convention hotel, the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center, which provided the photo. 

The photos of assorted authors with whom I did panels come from the following, gratefully acknowledged sources:

The photo of Rob Howell is from his Amazon Author Page. That of P. R. Adams is from his Amazon author page. That of Lynette M. Burrows is from her Twitter Profile @LynetteMBurrows, and that of Marguerite Reed is from her Twitter Profile, @MargueriteReed9

Dora Furlong’s photo is from her Amazon Author Page. Susan R. Matthews’ image-icon is from her website; I was unable to find a photo of Craig R. Smith, so I finally settled for a cover image of his book, Into the Dark Realm

I’d like to offer special thanks to the Society for Creative Anachronism, and photographer Ron Lutz, for use of the photo Clash of Battle.

The photo of Selina Rosen is a detail from a photo by the indispensable Keith Stokes, taken at Room Con 10 in 2014 (a party hosted by James Holloman at ConQuesT each year) and posted in the MidAmericon Fan Photo Archive

Many thanks to the Johnson County (KS) Library for the photo of Sean Demory (there’s also a great interview with him on that page). The photo of Karen Bovenmyer is from her Twitter profile @karenbovenmyer; unfortunately, I couldn’t find a photo of Donna Wagenblast Munro or a book cover for her anywhere, so finally I substituted an image from her Facebook page.

Last but far from least, many, many thanks to J. R. Boles for the photo of the “I See No Way” panel, from her Twitter account, @writingjen

Another way to thank a first responder

Hi! Here’s a quick update to a very popular post I wrote last November. I’m gratified that many readers have read my post Three Great Ways to Thank First Responders. Thank you!

My friend, fellow writer, and excellent resource for that post, Dora Furlong (have you read her book?), recently sent me another idea: 6-LED mini-flashlights with 9-volt batteries

Firefighters are dealing with 9-volt batteries all the time, so these little things are especially handy for them. Dora’s husband the Fire Captain gave them out to the guys on shift as Christmas presents last month.

Of course, you don’t have to wait till next Christmas to use this idea. No time is a bad time to say “thank you.”

IMAGE: Many thanks to Wal-Mart for this product image. I recently bought some of these via Amazon, too.

Three great ways to thank first responders (plus a suggestion)

It’s been a heck of a week to be a first responder.

We started off Monday with a horrible school bus wreck that Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher described as “Every first responder’s worst nightmare,” and the next day we were confounded by the shooting death of yet another police officer, Wayne State University Officer Collin Rose, on Tuesday. On Thursday, while most of America was (we hope) relaxing for Thanksgiving with their families, our local Johnson County (KS) Sheriff tweeted this reminder:

For my late-week posts this month I’ve been focusing on ways to say thank you to and for various things. With both the holidays and the coldest-weather months coming up in North America, it seems to me that the least I can do to focus this week on good, practical, creative ways to thank our first responders. 

First responders are law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel (don’t forget the dispatchers!) who work all hours, in all weathers, holiday or not, to provide the rest of us with emergency services whenever and wherever we need them.

How can we adequately thank them? We probably can’t. But there are ways that members of a grateful community can express their gratitude–ways that really do help.  


I asked around and checked various sources online–but probably the most interesting and helpful source I found was a friend and fellow writer, Dora Furlong (have you read her book?). She is discharged Air Force, a former EMT, former administrative head of a police department, and the wife of a fire captain/Paramedic. If anybody knows really meaningful ways that community members can thank their local first responders, it’s Dora! Here’s her advice:

1. Ditch the junk food! 

cheese-meat-and-crackers“Everybody brings cookies and tins of popcorn,” she said. “What they’d really like are veggie trays!” She also suggested food gifts of: fruit; crackers, cheese and/or salami; bread; or sandwich trays.

Consider coordinating with a local fire station, police station, etc. to provide a meal. If that’s more than you can do alone, perhaps you could recruit help from like-minded folk from your church, yoga class, or workplace.

If it’s not anonymous, a big pot of soup or other homemade food items would be welcome (call ahead).

Gift cards for places such as Subway, Jimmy John’s, or Panera (what’s local to you?) also can be a great help for a hungry first responder with little time for a meal.

2. Think small and practical 

zebrapensThere are lots of little things that make life easier for an emergency responder. Please note that I have linked many of these items to websites. This is not an endorsement, but to illustrate what I’m talking about.

With cold weather coming on, consider handand foot-warmers. There are also warming or cooling wraps of various types that can help in weather extremes. Dora knew of someone who made knitted caps for a fire crew, but of course you can buy those, too!

Yes, it’s the digital age, but all first responders still need pens and pads of paper. Dora tells me that Zebra pens are small, easy to carry and you can get refills easily. They’re always in demand. As for pads, get the pocket-size with the top spiral (much easier to use than a side-spiral), especially for cops or members of an ambulance crew. 

police-flashlightsAnd yes, pretty much all cops carry a large flashlight, but Dora tells me you’d be amazed how often those small, intense flashlights come in handy, to use in addition to their bigger brothers. Having several on hand can be a real boon–and not only for cops.

Oh, yes! Don’t forget the batteries! All kinds of things (not only flashlights) use AA batteries.

Update! Dora gave me a new idea, which I share in my post Another way to thank a first responderon 1/10/2017.

Finally, if your police department has a bike patrol and you live in a warm-weather area (or have hot summers and need an idea for the future), consider water bottles that snap to the frame of the bike.

3. Put it in writing 

There’s nothing quite as great as getting a written “Thank you” for something you did. Sometimes people say “thanks” to first responders–but much more often these folks see a worse side of humanity. Sometimes the people they help can’t physically speak their thanks.

We can, though.

We can buy or make a card, or write a letter. Remember the old saying, “if it isn’t documented, it never happened.” As a teacher, I know I’m not the only one who still has cherished thank-you notes from years ago–and first responders are no different. Don’t know what to write? here’s a suggestion.

Tell them why you are thanking them. Be specific. Maybe it’s a personal experience. Maybe it’s something you saw in the news. Maybe it’s a particular time of the year you know is probably difficult for them. Maybe you just “took a notion.” Whatever the reason, it’s a good way to introduce the subject.

Tell them how you appreciate what they did or do, what a difference they make in the community. Thank their families, too, for the stress they endure. And close with best wishes for their safety, because what they do is all too often frightening, stressful, and sometimes downright deadly. They see people on what might be the worst day of their lives, and sometimes other people’s nightmares turn into their own, too.

4. If you’re so inclined, pray for them 

This is my “(plus a suggestion),” because I know not everyone believes in prayer. I do, however, and whenever I see an ambulance, fire vehicle or or police car, I pray a variation on this prayer:

Dear God, thank you for (that officer’s/those firefighters’/those Paramedics’) life (lives) and service. Please bless and keep (him/her/them), grant (them) strength, wisdom, discernment, and favor. Bless the work of their hands, Lord, and place a hedge of protection around (them), to keep (them) safe on (their) watch. Bring (them) home safely to (their) family (families), and shower blessings into (their) life (lives). 

It’s probably the way I thank my local first responders the most (I’ve prayed that prayer as many as a half-dozen times on a busy day), though they never know it. I can’t keep the bad guys’ bullets (a moment of silence, please, for Det. Brad Lancaster and Capt. Robert David Melton), the collapsing walls (a moment of silence for John Mesh and Larry Leggio), or the job stress away, but I can pray for their strength and beseech their protection. And I can thank God for them.

So can we all.


IMAGES: Many thanks to the Johnson County Sheriff via Twitter (@JOCOSHERIFF) for the Thanksgiving-in-a-cop-car photo (sorry, I was unable to find @EnoughLODD). The “For your service and protection” image is courtesy of Vacation Myrtle Beach (on a page where they offer first responders a $10 off coupon). The amazing cheese, meat and crackers tray is from Pinterest, via their Cheese and Cracker Tray pinboard. The multi-pak of Zebra pens (one of many varieties the company sells) is from Jet. The photo of little “police flashlights” is from Deal Extreme. And many thanks also to Geralt and Pixabay for the “Thank You” pen image.