Last week I wrote about the artists. Now it’s time to write about the authors of Archon 44. Followers of this blog know that I recently attended Archon 44. As the “44” at the end indicates, this is a science fiction convention with a long history in the St. Louis metropolitan area. Their most recent venue is the Gateway Convention Center in Collinsville, IL.
My focus at conventions is mostly split between artists and authors. I had a shiny new book to promote, of course, with A Bone to Pick. Stranger to realize: because of Covid, The Other Side of Fear was also “new” at Archon 44. I’m happy to say I sold several of each!
As an old-school, fan-run regional science fiction convention, the Archon folks offer a full range of “phannish” diversions. There were a vigorous gaming presence, plus many filkers (sf/fantasy music composers and performers), filmmakers, podcasters, and others, along with the artists and authors of Archon 44. The hall costumes came out in force, as usual (See my 2018 and 2019 posts about them).
Panel Discussions with the Authors of Archon 44
Making sure I’m ready for my own scheduled panels (as well as the Art Show) is my top priority at any convention I attend. As I see it, panels are part of the reason people come. That means we panelists are an important part of the “entertainment”—an important element in the convention’s overall success. That’s why many sf cons comp the memberships of attending creatives who agree to be on panels.
But at most conventions there’s also some “downtime” between panel appearances. That’s go-to-the-Art-Show and Dealer’s Room time. It’s wander-the-convention-and-take-pictures time. And it’s go-to-other-people’s-panels time. But Programming kept me really busy this year. I asked for it, so I’m not complaining! I also had my usual stuff to carry, plus a cane (a reluctant but helpful concession). It made the logistics of photography harder.
Developing Your Creative Brand
I had a couple of panels with other authors of Archon 44 on Friday, in addition to the art-oriented panel I wrote about last week. The first one, “Developing Your Creative Brand,” certainly could just as well have included artists, as well as filkers, podcasters, costumers, and more. But as it turned out, it was just two other writers and me—as well as a small but engaged audience. The other two writers, Cole Gibsen and Brian Katcher, each occupy a somewhat different YA niche.
Cole, who was our moderator for this panel, has written YA and Romance, but her most recent book, Risen, published in 2018. It is the first and so far only one in Blood Eternal vampire series—but there’s a reason for that. She’s a dog trainer as well as a writer, and the vast majority of her time these days is taken up with her nonprofit, Got Your Six PTSD Support Dogs. That seems to be her greatest passion these days, and it’s where she’s invested most of her brand-building efforts.
Brian Katcher, similarly, has written a number of books, all in the YA field. He’s a librarian in his “day job,” and recently his kids began to age into his audience demographic. He’s been circling around the “contemporary YA” identity for a while. He tested the waters in YA science fiction with Everyone Dies in the End.
His most acclaim came for his book Almost Perfect, about a high school boy in a small Missouri town who falls in love with the new girl (who turns out to be transgender). It won a Stonewall Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature in 2011, but it also caught some backlash later. Brian has written about his experience for this blog. Watch for it in November!
It’s Never Too Late: Becoming a Successful Writer After 50
This was originally conceived as a “solo” event, a talk by Author Guest of Honor Alma Katsu. She convinced the Programming folks to open it up to additional “mature” authors of Archon 44. They reached out to several of us, which is how I ended up as the moderator.
Alma was right. We had a “deep bench” when it came to writers who are achieving success after age 50. Our conversation explored the reasons why we delayed our assorted launches into writing. Most came down to needing to earn a living while learning the craft and rearing children, which is certainly my story.
The Inevitable Question
We also had a chance to address the inevitable question, “if you were so talented and dedicated to your craft, why didn’t you start earlier?” I, for one, enjoyed calling out the entitlement and privilege that underlies the question. As if, of course, it’s that straightforward. As if, of course, everyone else in your life would be perfectly willing and able to support you until the literary world recognized your brilliance. And as if, of course, a true genius can only be devoted to one art.
So many fallacies! So little time! It was good to have a chance to stick pins in them. Not entirely surprisingly, all the panelists were women (imagine that), although men certainly can be subject to the same delays and issues.
Here’s a look at my other co-panelists. I’ve included a bit about their work in the cutlines.
The Space Races
Saturday’s panels started with one I’d really been looking forward to. The introduction to “The Space Races” read: “Some stories have mankind becoming more and more homogenous until race is no longer an issue. Others have racial, religious and other groups all heading off to colonize their own ‘home planet.’ Which do we think is more likely, and are there positive aspects to both systems?”
Anyone who’s read my work knows I am pulling for a diverse future, based on the understanding that a diverse system (of any sort) is more resilient. In every age, the centers where different people from different backgrounds have been able to come together (ideally, mostly in peace) are the most vibrant, creative, and prosperous. I was all ready to pour cold water on the idea that “divide or homogenize” are our only choices.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find much backing for my idea among other authors of Archon 44. Rachel Neumeier, one of our panelists, took an evolutionary genetics point of view. She wasn’t interested in cultures, so much as biology. We’ll either inevitably homogenize or break into multiple sub-species variants, was essentially her take.
The other two panelists, Grant Carrington and Adrian “A. J.” Matthews, pretty much fell in with the “we’ll self-segregate” philosophy. Their predictions seem based on the idea that most people prefer to be comfortable, and differences make us uncomfortable. Therefore, if we make it to space, we’ll settle in our own little separate places, our “segregated neighborhoods” and “gated communities.” I’d love to think we’ve learned better, but contemporary trends do seem to make my take look too optimistic.
Once again, this topic could have been addressed by creatives in any field, but the folks on the panel were all (except for me) there solely as authors at Archon 44. Meg Elison and Christine Amsden rounded out the panel. The prompt for the panel said: “Maintaining a creative routine during life’s interruptions, whether big or small.”
As the moderator, I had imagined we might talk about some of the issues involved in remaining creative during Covid lockdowns, but lockdown was a topic everyone else wanted to put in the rearview—and then floor it, looking straight ahead.
Christine, who is legally blind, talked about the digital tools she uses to deal with her disability. We discussed more timeless issues for remaining creative, too. How do we balance our time? How do we manage an outside job and writing? What about interruptions from kids and other family members, including companion animals? Our answers, as timeless as the questions, boiled down to setting reasonable boundaries, being flexible, and persevering, whatever comes.
Virtual Pros and Cons
Even as the moderator, I wasn’t sure where this panel would go. The topic was efforts by sf conventions and individual creators to stay active and deliver content in the midst of a pandemic when everything went virtual.
As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. The small audience and one of the panelists, massage therapist and filker Jan DiMasi, all had deep experience as conrunners who’d had a baptism by fire over the past two years. They’d learned far more than they ever expected to, about the ins and outs of virtual conventions, and were eager to compare notes and “war stories.”
A Tale of Two Publishing Experiences
The other panelist besides me was another of the authors of Archon 44, Elizabeth Donald. She is founder and coordinator of The Literary Underworld, a journalist, and grad student pursuing dual masters degree programs at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. As her bio says, “In her spare time, she has no spare time.”
She spoke about the challenges of producing journalism conventions online, and described a downturn in business for The Literary Underworld, when they were no longer able to travel to sf cons. This provided a contrast with Weird Sisters Publishing’s experience. Since we are currently introducing ourselves almost exclusively online, we’ve seen our sales grow during the pandemic.
The One Reading I Did Go To!
As longtime readers of this blog know, one of my favorite things to do is go to other authors’ readings. I’ve blogged about readings at SoonerCon several times. Also at DemiCon, ConQuesT, FenCon, a Worldcon, and a NASFiC. But the only reading I attended at Archon 44 was my own. I’d asked that it be scheduled later in the weekend, so I’d have more time to promote it. Programming obliged, and scheduled it on Sunday of the convention. So, out of all the authors of Archon 44, I only got to listen to Van Allen Plexico and Kurt Pankau.
I came to the reading prepared to read any of several works. After all, both The Other Side of Fear and A Bone to Pick both were “debutantes” at Archon 44. A query revealed that some in the audience remembered how I’d read the first chapter of my then-newly-in-progress draft of A Bone to Pick at Archon in 2019. Did I happen to have something like that to share?
As it happened, I did have an early scene from my first draft of Bone of Contention. I call it Shady and the Not-So Diplomatic Appscaten. I read it,, it was well-received, and I later turned it into a downloadable “extra” for subscribers to my monthly newsletter. If you’d like to read it, scroll down for a way to subscribe!
What did the Others Read?
A current work-in-progress gave Van Allen Plexico his material. He read the opening for his upcoming work Solonis: Master of Space and Time, from his “The Above” series. Previous books in the series are (in order) Lucien: Dark God’s Homecoming, Baranak: Storming the Gates, and Karilyne: Heart Cold as Ice.
Kurt Pankau read a selection from his science fiction western High Noon on Phobos. Yes, “science fiction westerns” are a thing. The selection he read was pretty campy, but the story was set on a megastructure in space that involved an agricultural component (elements I’ve thought about a lot). I looked into it later, and decided to give it a whirl.
In the long run, I found the justification for rangeland and livestock on a modified ringworld around the Martian moon Phobos to be far-fetched. But this book doesn’t take itself at all seriously. It’s played for laughs, and I did laugh. You can read my review on Goodreads.
I have seriously overdone it with the images on this one, and I undoubtedly could have broken this post into several. But I only have time to post once a week, and you’d still be reading about Archon 44 a month from now, at that rate. To make up for cramming them all into one post, I wanted to represent each author with their own small montage. To keep this section from being about a mile long on a post that’s already too long as it is, I’ve tried to make sure the credits are listed in each cutline.