MidAmeriCon2: Worldcon 2016

AWWWW YEAH I'M GOING BACK TO WORLDCON!

I have once again fooled the Worldcon programming folks into thinking I am a person of wit and notability, and as a result I have a freakin' amazing bunch of programming this year! And not just panelling, either. I have a kaffeeklatsch (which you'll need to sign up for in advance if you want to attend), a reading, and an autographing session. Wowzers!

Incidentally, autograph sessions can be lonely and demoralizing when you're a new author like myself and don't exactly have lines going out the door. (Or, uh lines at all...) So if you're free late Sunday morning, I'd be delighted to have you stop by to say hello and chat for a while. You don't even need to have or buy anything for me to sign! I am more than happy to sign nothing at all. Or if you really, really want me to sign something for you, I'll have a few postcards to give away, free of charge.

Please note that there are sometimes last-minute changes to programming, so double-check to be sure nothing's moved in space and time. But for now, this is my schedule:

Driverless Cars

Wednesday 16:00 - 17:00, 2206 (Kansas City Convention Center)
Self-driving cars are being tested on our roads, but it's not clear the public would buy one if available. Who do we trust with the design and production? The challenges -- potential hacks, electrical storms, malfunction or apocalypse -- and opportunities -- to empower people with disabilities, for example -- are discussed.
Andrea Phillips, Howard Davidson, Dr. Jordin Kare

Writing Games in Fiction

Thursday 14:00 - 15:00, 2204 (Kansas City Convention Center)
From Azad to Armada, fictional games, gaming and gamers are an increasingly visible part of our SF landscape, offering us complex characters and interesting discussions of how gaming is becoming an integral part of our lives. Our panel discuss how these representations present gaming to a wider audience.
Becky Chambers, Andrea Phillips, James Cambias (M), Peter Tieryas, Tim Akers

The Future is a Different Country

Friday 12:00 - 13:00, 2208 (Kansas City Convention Center)
How will stuff (culture/tech/etc.) change in the next 40 years? Can we really predict with any sense of accuracy or will there be a singularity of some sort that makes all predictions worthless? Our panel predicts anyway, and wonders what their writing and creative practice will look like as a result.
Andrea Phillips, Edward M. Lerner, Kathleen Ann Goonan (M), Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Kaffeeklatsch

Friday 13:00 - 14:00, 2211 (KKs) (Kansas City Convention Center)
James Cambias, Toni L. P. Kelner, Andrea Phillips

My Transmedia Life

Friday 15:00 - 16:00, 2208 (Kansas City Convention Center)
Authoring is not a stale business. Today's writers are finding new ways to reach audiences, making interactive websites, podcasts, trailers and games to represent or enhance their worlds and characters. Panellists discuss ways that they build transmedia works and take their literature into the realm of games, video and visual arts.
Christopher Kastensmidt, Andrea Phillips, Katie Li

Futurism vs. SF

Friday 18:00 - 19:00, 2209 (Kansas City Convention Center)
Science Fiction explores the future.  Futurism explores the future and tries to relate it to the real world.  What causes someone to be a Futurist rather than a science fiction author?  Where are the overlaps and the differences between the two practices?
S.B. Divya (M), Karl Schroeder, Andrea Phillips, David Brin

Societal Aspects of Technology

Saturday 13:00 - 14:00, 2208 (Kansas City Convention Center)
If your cellphone died would you be late for work? When your power goes out, would you dispair for entertainment? In a world where people are digitally dependent, what will happen when energy fails us? Downton Abbey dramatized the advent of home electricity, the telephone and the radio. How did those advances change social lives? Instead of bringing us together, have phones increase our isolation? We discuss how technology changes the way people communicate and relate in society. 
Mike Shepherd Moscoe, Andrea Phillips, Edward M. Lerner (M), Karl Schroeder, David Brin

Magazine Group Reading: Escape Artists, Inc.

Saturday 14:00 - 15:00, 2502A (Kansas City Convention Center)
Our Magazine Group Reading Series continues with a special group reading that features authors from the family of Escape Artists magazines.
Alasdair Stuart (M), Marguerite Kenner (M), Dr. Amy H. Sturgis, Andrea Phillips, Bud Sparhawk, Scott Edelman

Autograph Session

Sunday 11:00 - 12:00 (Autographing Space) (Kansas City Convention Center)
Kate Elliott, Melissa F. Olson, Robert Reed, Robert J, Sawyer, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Andrea Phillips

Reading

Sunday 14:30 - 15:00, 2202 (Readings) (Kansas City Convention Center)

Annnnnd that's it. Worldcon, get ready, this is going to be great! Just one more thing to work out: what the heck am I going to wear...?

Readercon 2016

This is big news, you guys. ENORMOUS. I'm going to be at Readercon this year, and—this is the big news part—I'll be doing my first-ever fiction reading. I can't decide what I should read from! An upcoming ReMade episode? The Luck Eaters? A short story to be named later? Ahhhhhhh so many options!

Anyway, here's my (possibly still preliminary) schedule. Please, please flag me down and say hello if you're at the con. It's going to be so great!

Thursday July 07

8:00 PM    5    Living in the Future. John Chu, Barbara Krasnoff (moderator), Andrea Phillips, Tom Purdom, Terence Taylor. Today, if we're going to see another person, we have cellphones to instantly communicate with that person, and maps on the cellphones to help us find our agreed-upon location. Twenty years ago we would have had to phone each other on landlines, pick a restaurant in advance or agree to meet at a landmark known to both of us. Five hundred years ago we wouldn't have had watches on our persons, so even keeping to the correct time of the appointment would have been difficult–how would we even know when the agreed-upon time of our meeting arrived? Our panelists will discuss some of the conveniences, large and small, that we take for granted, and the absence of which would cause difficulties of the sort that are often elided in fiction. The discussion will also discuss science fiction novels and stories that incorporate and project modern technology into their fictions, and which fail to take these things into account. 

Friday July 08

1:30 PM    A    Reading: Andrea Phillips. Andrea Phillips. Andrea Phillips reads new work. (!!!)

3:00 PM    C    Fantastical Dystopia. Victoria Janssen, Ada Palmer, Andrea Phillips, Sabrina Vourvoulias, T.X. Watson. Dystopia is popular in YA fiction for a variety of reasons, but why do authors frequently base their future dystopian society on some flimsy ideas, rather than using history to draw parallels between past atrocities and current human rights violations? Is it easier to work from one extreme idea, such as "love is now considered a disease" rather than looking at the complexities of, for example, the corruption of the U.S.S.R or the imperialism of the US? If science fiction uses the future to look at the present, is it more or less effective when using real examples from the past to look at our present through a lens of the future?

5:00 PM    BH    WTF is Transmedia?. Andrea Phillips. Quick answer: transmedia storytelling is the art of using multiple platforms to tell a unified story. Sometimes it looks like the MCU, and sometimes it's stories that infiltrate the real world. Transmedia veteran Andrea Phillips will talk about her years as a pioneer in the transmedia mines, and how it made her a better writer–and a worse one!

Saturday July 09

1:00 PM    5    If Thor Can Hang Out with Iron Man, Why Can't Harry Dresden Use a Computer? . Gillian Daniels, Elaine Isaak, Andrea Phillips, Alex Shvartsman, E.J. Stevens. In a series of tweets in 2015, Jared Axelrod pondered "the inherent weirdness of a superhero universe... where magic and science hold hands, where monsters stride over cities." This is only weird from the perspective of fantasy stories that set up magic and technology as incompatible, an opposition that parallels Western cultural splits between religion and science and between nature and industry. Harry Dresden's inability to touch a computer without damaging it is a direct descendant of the Ents destroying the "pits and forges" of Isengard, and a far cry from Thor, Iron Man, and the Scarlet Witch keeping company. What are the story benefits of setting up magic/nature/religion and technology/industry/science as either conflicting or complementary? What cultural anxieties are addressed by each choice? How are these elements handled in stories from various cultures and eras?

3:00 PM    C    What Good Is a Utopia? . Michael J. Deluca, Chris Gerwel, Barry Longyear, Kathryn Morrow (leader), Andrea Phillips. If an author sets out to write a utopia, several questions arise. Character and interpersonal conflict can drive the story, but how do you keep the utopian setting from becoming backdrop in that case? Were the Talking Heads right in saying that "Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens"? And how do you showcase how much better things would be "if only"?

Bookburners Debut

Ahhhhhhhhh you guys I am so, so, SO excited. It's LAUNCH DAY! Late last summer I holed up for the weekend with some of my very favorite writers to help plan Season 2 of Bookburners. And today, the first of my two episodes this season is LIVE and you can BUY IT and READ IT! OMG OMG OMG it's really happening.

...Wait, wait, hold on. Probably that needs a little translating before you can be as excited about it as I am. So BAM, let's FAQ this thing up!

Andrea. Andrea. What the heck is Bookburners?

Bookburners is a serial fiction narrative written by Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Brian Slattery, Mur Laffery, and ME! Plus the amazing Amal El-Mohtar also has a guest episode this season, so you're in for a real treat.

It's urban fantasy about a team of operatives working out of the Vatican to find and confiscate magic books before terrible, terrible things happen. Or let's be honest: usually slightly after terrible things have already begun to happen, because that's way less boring to read about.

How does this serial work?

One episode comes out every week on Wednesday in ebook and audiobook formats. This season started last week (you're already behind!) and goes for sixteen weeks. 

Serial Box is bringing the HBO model to ebooks -- teams of writers working together to produce high-quality story each week, far faster and better than any one of those writers would be able to do all alone. I'm thrilled to be a part of it, and I'm hoping you'll be thrilled to read it, too! And I've got another Serial Box project in the works, too: ReMade. I can't say much about it yet, buuuuuut I'm pretty excited about that one too. More on that front in September!

OK but here's the important question: how do I buy it?

If you never want to miss an episode, you can buy a season pass for everything in ebook and audiobook format, and have an array of choices for where to read it. You can also buy single episodes (like mine!) on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, basically anywhere ebooks are sold. (For Nook, too, but it looks like it's not up there quite yet...)

Since this is the second season, you may also be interested in the Season 1 Omnibus -- or if you're in a rush, there's a convenient Season One Recap so you can get up to speed right away.

I AM SO EXCITED. ARE YOU EXCITED TO? AHHHHH! If you're feeling excited too, plus you have a couple spare bucks and an hour to read, pick up my episode and let me know what you think!

The Daring Mermaid Expedition

HEY GUESS WHAT I have a game out today!

It's called The Daring Mermaid Expedition, and it's published by the fabulous people at Choice of Games. Available for iOS, Android, on Steam, on Amazon, or you can just start playing in your browser!

Mermaid Expedition is a game set in the Lucy Smokeheart universe. This time, you play as an aspiring scholar of the esteemed Royal German Marinological Society. It's your job to discover proof that mermaids exist, and present your findings to the committee. Also: Pirates! Romance! Deception! It is, if I do say so my own self, very funny and charming. Also entirely scientifically inaccurate and riddled with anachronism!

There are ten endings. "Winning" is probably the most boring one. Sorry?

Anyway! Mermaid Expedition is a special game to me for a lot of reasons. For one, I coded it was well as writing it, which I'd never done before. It's making me question a lot of parts of my self-image, in good, stretchy ways. I don't identify as a programmer, and yet, here I've written a whole game! by myself!

This was also an arduous production process, mostly because my entire life has fallen apart several times over the last couple of years. It's been intense around here. So I want to call out Choice of Games in genera and Rebecca Slitt in particular for being extraordinarily kind about the fact that I blew every deadline they ever gave me, and in some cases by several months. It's not like me, I swear! But thank you, thank you, for your patience, and for working with me to get this lovely little thing into the world.

Anyway! The game is out! Available from multiple outlets! Hurry and give it a shot, it's only $1.99 until Feb. 19. And after that it'll only be $2.99! Cheap!  Consider it buying me a cup of coffee. Happy adventuring!

How to Fake Clarion

So this happened this morning.

For many of us, Clarion isn't in the cards. Maybe you can't leave your job for six weeks without losing the job and your home. Maybe you're the parent of a small child, or take care of an elderly or disabled relative. Maybe you have a chronic health condition yourself, or an anxiety disorder that means you wouldn't be able to travel or participate. Maybe you're saving up for a house or paying off medical debt.

Maybe you'd rather go on a proper vacation if you happen to come into a few thousand dollars in disposable income.

None of these things mean you can't be a professional writer. But the good news is, there's more than one path to being a writer, pro or otherwise.

Clarion Isn't the Only Game in Town

First off, Clarion is a six-week endeavor. There are other writer's workshops that require only one week out of your life, and are also highly regarded. Viable Paradise, for example -- and I wish I could make the time for that one. Taos Toolbox is also reportedly an excellent workshop and worth your time and money, if you have them to spare.

Even better, these retreat-style workshops aren't the only way to improve your craft. There might be a genre writer's workshop in your own town that meets once a week, or once a month. And there are critique circles online ranging from Critters to Absolute Write -- I'm sure commenters will chime in with more. If you want a workshop-style venue to have your work read, and to critically read the work of other writers in turn, there are plenty of options.

And the truth is, workshops are helpful... but they're not necessary. Far from it.

Faking a Workshop

What a workshop does for you is hone your critical eye. Simply by being exposed to excellent critical thinking, you develop the capacity to critique your own work. But you can develop a critical eye on your own, if other means don't suit you.

Read. Read widely. But don't just take in the story. As you go, consciously reflect on what you're thinking and feeling. Are you expecting the story to go in a particular direction? What exact sentence or passage led you to that belief? What made you feel excited, or sad, or tense? How are the scenes structured? How are description, dialogue, and action blended together? How long are the sentences? A story is a machine, and every part should be doing a specific job. You need to become a mechanic, able to look at each piece of the story to identify what work is being done.

Read reviews. But not of your own work -- of the stuff you're already analyzing. When you've finished a book or a story, go looking for the reactions of other people to calibrate your own antennae. In preference, read longer, analytic reviews that talk about both what a work has done and how it fits into the overall landscape of genre publishing. Deep critical analysis like you'll find on NPR Books or Tor.com are perfect, but you'll even find insightful critique on Goodreads and Amazon. 

Read bad work. This is, I strongly believe, an important part of a writer's development. Read stuff you know is going to be bad. And then -- this is the important part -- analyze the hell out of it. Why is it bad? Does it fail on a sentence level, on consistency, does it fail in terms of pacing or plausibility? Sometimes we learn from mistakes better than we learn from success. You can't watch Meryl Streep and learn how to be an amazing performer, but you can watch a fifth grade play and learn that maybe you shouldn't leave your hands hanging by your sides the whole show, and maybe you should speak up a little more.

Revise. This is where you apply what you've learned. The temptation to write and immediately submit is strong, but while you're trying to actively develop your craft, resist the urge. Come back to a story after a few days, weeks, months if you can spare them, and try to read as if you'd never seen the story before. Think about everything you're learning, and apply those lessons to your own work. 

Repeat. Clarion (and other workshops) are an intensive course in this kind of thinking, but even when Clarion is over, you'll need to keep doing these things forever. At least, you do if you want to keep growing as a writer. And why on earth would you ever want to stop getting better?

Clarion's Secret Sauce

Here's the real reason Clarion is a big deal: the alumni association, as it were, is a powerful and widespread network in genre publishing. Human nature being what it is, we like people who have the same experiences and affiliations as we do. And we like to help the people we like. So if you go to Clarion, some doors of opportunity are a little more open to you than they were before.

We like to tell ourselves that publishing is a meritocracy, and that's only sort of true. People do emerge from the slush pile, naked and alone. You really don't have to know someone to be published.

But at the same time, it's a bit easier to break in if you've become a familiar face -- not just because people are more willing to go to bat for a friend, but because you'll begin to understand the kinds of work different editors and markets are interested in, you'll learn from the successes and mistakes of your peers, you'll become a part of the cultural conversation that SF/F fundamentally is.

So how do you fake the network? Duh, networking! Build your own. Go to cons, if you can. Make friends. Invite people to coffee or a drink. If that's not possible for you, work social media. Follow authors, editors, agents on Twitter. 

And don't be all networky and utilitarian about it, because people can tell and generally super hate that. You need to approach everything as an exercise in meeting interesting people and making friends. Promote the work you admire. Ask questions. Introduce people to each other when you can; do favors when you can. Give to the community. Give. Give. You can worry about taking later, or maybe never. 

Because Clarion is, at the end of the day, just one neighborhood in the SF/F community. But there are others, and you'll find professional writers in all of them.