DragonCon 2015

Preparations for my first DragonCon as a published author are coming to close this week, and I couldn’t be more excited. One of the largest conventions, DragonCon appeals to my many disparate fandoms. It’s the one time of year where I talk with astronauts, listen to editors and agents, and buy a drink for my on screen heroes. I’m especially excited for this year’s parade, which feature Nichelle Nichols as Grand Marshal. You might remember her as half of the first interracial kiss on television, which occurred during an episode of Star Trek (the original series) where she played Nyota Uhura.

My Con-trouage usually includes my two best friends, but neither of them can make it this year. While I’ll still be surrounded by 60,000 of my closest geek friends it feels odd to know I’ll be walking the Con floor alone. Unfortunately, I was late to the sign up so I won’t be speaking at any panels, but I’ll be attending most of what the Urban Fantasy track offers. If you need a coupon, want a book signed, or need a hug, look for me there.

My volunteer shifts at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America table (Hyatt, Exhibition Level) are set for Friday from 1:00pm-3:00pm and Sunday from 3:00pm-5:00pm. My nifty cover flat coupons (good for 25% off Under a Blood Moon) will be on the table throughout the Con.

On Saturday night I’m looking forward to the Georgia Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance of famous Science Fiction and Fantasy music. It wouldn’t be DragonCon without the Rocky Horror Picture Show and glamorous geek burlesque but it’s nice to have some fine arts entertainment as well.

I’ll be running the Geek Girls Run DragonCon Fun Run 5K event on Friday morning. If you’re interested, please join us! The run isn’t limited to women or girls, and there’s a place for pace. Many of the attendees will be walking or walk/running. Thankfully there isn’t much going on early on Friday, so we’ll have time afterward for an awesome brunch.

Except for some very subtle nods to my favorite fandoms, I’ve decided not to costume this year. I will be spending copious amounts of time in the dealers room and at the art show. I harbor fantasies of finding the perfect cover artists for all my books in the 200 artists who are exhibiting. Of course, I’d also like to find the perfect corset, the perfect dessert, and the perfect spot to watch the parade. It could happen. Actually you never know what could happen at DragonCon, that’s the best part.

Goodbye to my Fairy Wings

In my 20’s I wanted to be sexy. That’s probably not shocking to you, but to me it’s a revelation. Schoolyard bullies convinced me I would always be ugly. I carried that truth into college where I focused on my classes, taking as many as 28 credit hours a term, rather than risk the assured rejection of the dating scene. It was only in my 20s, after grad school, that I realized my body could be something more than a container for my mind.

I found cosplay right around that time. There’s something enormously powerful about a man stopping a long line of pedestrian just to take your picture. It’s hard to find a greater confidence boost than to have ten or fifteen camera flashes go off when you stop and pose. Immersing myself in a world of corsets, costumes, and conventions, I found my fairy wings.

fairy wings

Over four feet tall and made of shimmering purple fabric, my wings could not be ignored. Walking on a crowded convention floor required a ‘wing man’  to make sure that no eyes got poked. In my wings, I floated as a sexy, free spirit. I became fey, an attractive just out of reach, thing of beauty to be coveted.

Oddly, as I left my twenties, my wings hung on my wall more than my back. I found that I wanted to be more than sexy. My tastes in costumes began to veer more toward the Evil Queen than Tinerkbell. Sexy was fine, but I wanted to be strong and sexy. The light, flirtatious, giggles I never quite mastered began to grate on me. The goal ceased to be being desirable to someone else and became proving I was strong.

My fashion ideal: Once Up A Time's Evil Queen Regina (Lana Parrilla) (Photo : Reuters)

My fashion ideal: Once Up A Time’s Evil Queen Regina (Lana Parrilla) (Photo : Reuters)

I write about strong woman, and some of them happen to be sexy. I don’t see the two as mutually exclusive. Instead they strike me as phases of a woman’s life. Just like the maiden-mother-crone cycle, surely there must be a fairy-dragon-queen cosplay cycle. Or perhaps there’s something even greater, a systematic unboxing where as women grow older they broaden their definitions of what they want to be, and expand the list of things they can be at once.

My fairy wings will go up on the auction block soon, maybe at a local SciFi Con or maybe in a costuming group. I will miss them, especially the easy way they gave me to define myself. I won’t be the girl with 4 foot fairy wings any more but I will always be the woman who wore them.

One Tough Mother

I’m working on a conference proposal this week about a subject that makes me rant: the portrayal of motherhood as weakness in modern speculative fiction. I’m posting this blog in the (perhaps insane) hope that a few brilliant authors will agreed with me, and want to be on the panel to discuss it with a group of fans.

In mythology and religion, motherhood has been treated as a position of strength as well as gentleness. While depictions of meek mothers certainly abound, strong mothers are also present. The Hindu goddess Durga is a wonderful example. Durga is a fearless mother, who protects with weapons clutched in her eighteen hands. Fierce and feminine, this divine mother rides a tiger into battle.

Historic maternal figures like Queen Isabella of Spain or Queen Victoria, who continued to show their strength after having children, should provide ample inspiration for speculative writers.  Even criminal mothers like, Ma Barker who famously took care of gang members, even eventually shielding them from prosecution, could become a fine character. But where are they? Too often having a baby signals the end of a character’s ability to grow and develop in any direction except a maternal one.

Only two decades ago science fiction had a wonderful example of a mother-warrior, Ellen Ripley. She’s tough. She can fire a gun and run a loader, but at the same time she comforts Newt, connecting with her as she washes the child’s face. She’s exactly the role model I crave: competent, strong, and caring.

She’s also probably lonely, as I can’t think of another strong mother like her. Doctor Who’s Amy Pond can fight off any number of space monsters, but she completely ignores her daughter for several months after the infant is kidnapped. Padme Amidala fires her blaster and works in the intergalactic senate… until she has kids, then she’s too weak to survive heartbreak. Sarah Connor can take down a terminator but we never see her making her son laugh or taking care of him.

Hopefully I’m wrong and the comments will be filled with a thousand examples of characters that don’t suddenly lose the ability to think, fight, or be fierce simply because they’ve managed to reproduce. If I’m not though, and you’d like to talk about why there aren’t any tough mothers in genre fiction today, drop me a note. With luck I’ll find a few brilliant authors, and along with a handful of creative fans, will generate some solutions to the problem.


DragonCon Report

Panels: My panel, Brigands and Buccaneers: Myth and Reality of Pirates, went well. We had a variety of authors and pirate fans giving some great different perspectives. Ann Crispin, author of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Price of Freedom, led the group on a discussion that covered pirates from sweet Disney to bloody historic.

When I wasn’t behind the microphone I spent most of my time in the Science and Skeptic tracks. Sunday’s “How to Raise a Mad Scientist” with Dr. Pamela Gay taught me how to make fireballs with the things I have around the house. Later that day the Skeptic track’s “Very Superstitious….” explored some interesting research about how people form superstitions. Two years ago at DragonCon I viewed Jupiter, and Io (the saucy little moon that she is) winked at me. This year I viewed solar flares and sun spots through three different solar telescopes. Sadly, I didn’t see the dragon.

Corsets: This was the first year I didn’t bring a new corset home from DragonCon. I blame two things. One of my favorite corset sellers treated me poorly/rudely. The cost of her corsets had doubled from 2009, but I could still see buying one. However, after lacing me into a corset that clearly didn’t work for me she told me she didn’t have any more time for me and walked away. I won’t be recommending her ever again. I held out hope that the always wonderful Brute Force Studios would have something for me. Sadly, the recent hurricane damaged most of their stock. They came to Con with only a handful of corsets, most in patterns I already have. Ah well, that just means two corsets next year.

Hotel: I stayed at the Marriott Marquis this year. I’ve split my DragonCon time between the Marquis and the Hyatt, and I’m wondering if it’s time to try something new. While the Marriott still offers a wonderful central location there are no almost no track rooms (places where the bulk of the Con programming takes place) in the hotel. Easy access to shopping (all three dealers rooms) and the vaccination clinic is handy, but not as good as being able to pop down a few stairs to get into a panel on short notice. As always, rooms for next year’s Con need to be booked in October (a full 11 months ahead of time) so I’ll be deciding where to go soon.

As always the spectacle of DragonCon – the costumes, the people, the crowds – blew me away. The hard work that goes into the outfits (and bodies) you see on the show floor clearly shows.  But this year, my favorite was fairly low tech.  Baby Steampunk:

Avoiding Scams at DragonCon (or any other Convention)

Writing scams are many and varied. No one does a better job of covering them than the amazing Writer Beware blog.  If you’re writing you need to read their blog on a regular basis. It will protect you and your work.

But what about your pocket money? What about the money you’re hoping to blow at DragonCon or ComicCon or the money you’re saving up for next year’s Romance Writers of America conference? That’s what I want to talk about, because even though we’re a year away from some Cons (SDCC, RWA), we’re only 30 days away from others (DragonCon). My tips to keep your money safe at any Con:

Be cautious when buying commissioned work. Walking through an artist alley your fingers itch to take things off the walls. In the dealers’ hall your eyes are nearly blinded by the sparkly objects. What you see is amazing, but it could be truly awesome with just a few small changes. An easily approachable salesman strikes up a conversation, and moments later you hand over more money than you expected to spend with the promise of a custom piece in the near future. But will it ever come?

Maybe. Most artists are honest people. They know they live by their reputation in the community and they won’t risk that for your commission. Mistakes do happen though, so before you plunk down money do a little homework.  Check out the artist or creator on the web. Do they have a web page? Is it filled with grammar and spelling errors? Are there people complaining in their Facebook feed? Check Twitter and MySpace for complaints too. Google the name of the artist and words like ‘scam’ or ‘commission’. Ask if they’re delivering any work at the Con. See if you can speak to some of their customers.

Remember there are no returns. The one-of-a-kind light saber, the prop from your favorite movie, and the amazing software package to use on your author website all have the same restriction: once you’ve bought them you can’t return them. Protect yourself by doing research, is this item truly one-of-a-kind or are there fifty of them on eBay? Take a close look at what you’re about to buy, does it seem sturdy? I’d walk away from any sale where I couldn’t touch the item before I purchase. For software and collectibles, check to see that the box is truly sealed, and not just resealed with glue after having been opened. The web is your friend again, google to see that you’re getting all the parts you should be getting. If it’s software, check the web for reviews. In general, don’t spend so much that you’ll be crushed if something falls apart before you get it home.

Don’t be pressured. It’s easy to believe that a special show sale is the only thing that will ever make a book editing service affordable to you, or that if you walk away from a set of stormtrooper armor someone else will snatch it up. However, it’s just as possible that you don’t need that editing service and the armor will sit until Monday morning when you’re sure about it. Most of us don’t make our best decisions under pressure. Watch out for used car salesman techniques like failing to give a firm price, being unwilling to put a price in writing, blaming someone else for a price or policy, or pushing you off from one salesman to another. If you know you’re bad at this, enlist a friend or a stranger for help. It’s easy to say to someone “what do you think?” and break the salesman’s strangle hold on the conversation. Remember, you can always walk away.

Know your limits. If you’re arriving at a convention with twenty dollars in food money, don’t seat yourself in the most expensive restaurant in the hotel. If you can’t resist shiny new corsets (that’d be me) don’t stop at the corset booths without someone to bail you out. If you have a set budget for purchases, don’t take more than that amount of money on to the trade floor. If your credit cards are maxed out don’t carry them in your pocket, stash them in your  hotel room safe.

Don’t trust people just because they share your passion. Writers, Trekkies, and Steampunks can all be scam artists. The MMO player you’ve exchanged a few messages with here and there can hurt you just as much as a total stranger you meet in a bar. We want to believe that our fandom is filled with kind and giving people but that isn’t always true. Trust but verify. Be cautious, real fan clubs have letterhead, t-shirts, and a logo. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Above all, please remember that if you can’t trust someone with your wallet, don’t trust them with your body.

Have I missed any tips? Am I too gloom & doom? Am I just plain wrong? I can’t wait to hear about it in the comments. 😉


Don’t Betray Your Readers

I’d like to begin with a promise. I solemnly swear that I will never introduce a hero on page one, have him act heroic for five hundred and twelve pages and then, have him turn out to be the bad guy. I promise my heroine will not suddenly lose all her intelligence at the exact moment of crisis, just so she can be saved by a hero whose only superpower is common sense. Most of all, I vow that if I make you love a character, a good man, I will never tear him down just so I can show him defeated and destroyed.

And now, an admission. My first draft of this post included a lot of ranting about a certain episode of Doctor Who. I filed it away because it’s not nice to rant in public, but I got it out and dusted it off because of the premier of Torchwood: Miracle Day. Out of respect for spoilers, I’m not going to talk about specifics. Instead I’ll sum up: characters I know and loved changed drastically, in a way that didn’t keep with the canon of the show. The writers probably intended for me to be intrigued, blown away, and captivated. That didn’t work.

I feel betrayed.

I feel like the time I invested was a waste, because if you’re going to change everything and not play by the rules, why did I bother learning them? I feel like I have to second guess everything I knew, and relearn everything about the characters. Will they still be the people I liked? I don’t know. Can I still count on them to act heroically or to be brave? Not sure.

I’ve found this a lot in fantasy fiction. Vampires can’t go out during the sunlight, except when it’s convenient for the author, oh wait, I mean when they’ve drank fairy blood. The magic spell book can only be opened by the hero, except when the villain forces it to open. The heroine will lose her magic if she sleeps with anyone, except when she really loves the hero.

It’s maddening. Authors create a world and, yes, they have full control over them, but don’t we also have a responsibility to our readers? My worlds are filled with contradictions, quiet housewives who know how to clean a machine gun, but they don’t contradict themselves. Books create a social contract between writer and reader. In my head it sounds like this: if I promise you a smart, strong heroine on the back cover blurb, I’m obligated to have her stay smart and strong most of the time. Yes, she can have a moment of weakness, and she can do dumb things, but she’ll stay true to who she is. Characters won’t radically change overnight without a good reason.

I’m not saying that an author can’t be creative or throw in an unexpected twist, those things make writing fun. That doesn’t make it okay to make book five a liar in book 11. If an important plot point of book five is how no one has seen a dragon for decades, book 11 shouldn’t casually mention a character rides dragons each summer.

Your readers will notice your inconsistencies and they won’t be happy about it.

I understand why authors do these things, but they feel like lazy writing to me. If a character is the villain, then for the bulk of the story there should be at least subtle hints of his dark side. Fears and doubts can be overcome, but not in a matter of seconds. Characters should develop over the course of the story, whether it’s in one book or a dozen, not magically in five pages. Storytellers get to be in charge, but they shouldn’t break their own rules.

Accepted by SWFA

Like all high school cafeterias, my cafeteria was divided by social structure. Jocks and cheerleaders by the glass doors so everyone could see them, country kids in the back, cowboy hats and smuggled tobacco marking their turf, the rank and file in between, and outside, some five hundred feet across the quad, my own motley crew. I’d made the mistake of trying to sit at an empty table on my first day, the scathing glares and nasty words are best left unremembered. After that the group of outcasts broiling in the Florida sun, far away from the air conditioned comfort of socially cataloged seats, felt welcoming.

My group understood the things that mattered to me: stories, philosophy, science, life. They knew the difference between telekinesis and telepathy. They watched the ‘new’ Star Trek religiously. They quoted Asimov and Tolkien. They got my jokes. Outside of high school people like that were rare, in the writing world they felt even rarer.

Writing groups vary, and, of course, no group is perfect for everyone. I will forever be indebted to RWA (Romance Writers of America) for teaching me the ropes. But RWA conferences focus on the hero and heroine, their romantic journey. They don’t know the difference between a parsec and a light year. I remember attending my first RWA conference and feeling horribly alone. I didn’t know any of the authors everyone mentioned, I wasn’t part of that group.

Then just a few days ago I received my acceptance letter from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Suddenly there’s another group for me to sit with, another place where people understand the things I wonder about whether it’s an orc or a wormhole.

I’m also basking in a certain level of prestige. SWFA doesn’t take everyone, and I’ve know some pretty good authors who didn’t make the cut. Even if that weren’t true, I think I’d still be walking on air. As I kid I devoured SciFi and loved fantasy. When I look around at the members of SFWA, I’m seeing the people who wrote my hopes and dreams. Now, I’m one of them, and it blows me away.

Connecting at The Con

Flying involves a hint of fear. It’s impossible to dismiss the chance of death completely from your mind. Flying into an area currently under a hurricane evacuation with the CNN news crew seated across the aisle from you typically increases that anxiety. I felt none of it. When the flight attendant prepared a package of peanuts, cookies, and miniature bottles of water wearing the Delta logo, I thanked her offhandedly.

I was going to a Con.

Hurricanes? Not a problem.

Closed restaurants and grocery stores? No worries.

Straight lines of traffic crawling along the highway? No big deal.

It’s hard to explain to someone who fits in, but a simple truth to the geeks, freaks, and lovers of the weird. Science Fiction conventions, whether a gathering of forty thousand or just a few hundred, are the only place where everyone gets my jokes, the only place where I’m not the odd man out. They’re my laughing place, and I never miss a chance to visit.

I’ve attended big cons and little ones, long established cons and brand new ones. They all fill me with the same sense of belonging. There’s DragonCon where I go on yearly pilgrimage, losing myself in the crowds of people, just watching them all. Earlier this year was the very first InterventionCon, just a handful of truly devout geeks turning a boring business hotel into something special.

My new favorite Con is MarsCon. Next month, I’m not just attending but I’m also speaking about breaking into the publishing industry on a Friday night panel. As I read over the list of guests I’m honored to be among them. Checking the schedule leaves me with my usual quandaries of which impossible-to-miss has to be missed. Between obsessively checking for updates and gleefully debating what costume to wear, I’m reminded a Con is a gathering of friends I can’t wait to meet.