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Looking Ahead:
This Weekend at the Milford Festival

September 12th, 2017

Sixty-four years ago, science fiction writers Virginia Kidd and James Blish moved to Milford, PA, into a home that they called Arrowhead. It was there that Virginia Kidd founded the first literary agency devoted to the sf genre and where James Blish and colleagues such as Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm wrote stories that helped define modern sf.

Given Arrowhead’s proximity (less than a six-hour drive from my home) and the fact that that The Kidd Agency has been representing me for the past 17 years, I’m surprised I’ve yet to make a pilgrimage to Milford.

This weekend, that’s going to change.

Thanks to a generous invitation by the organizers of the science-fiction track of the Milford Readers and Writers Festival, I’ll be kicking off this weekend by attending a private reception at Arrowhead on Friday afternoon. After that, I’m scheduled to take part in reading, storytelling, and panel events that will culminate with a science fiction panel hosted by Gordon Van Gelder in the Milford Theatre on Sunday.

You can get an overview of the entire event at my previous posts here and here, and I anticipate having a full recap of the event posted at this site sometime next week. For now, heane’s a overview of where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing while there.

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

If you love science fiction and you’re anywhere in the New York Metro Area this weekend, I’ll hope to see you at the Milford Festival. Until then … scop on!

Images:
Arrowhead, Long Ago. vk-agency.com.
Milford Theatre Marquee.

Big Things Cooking in September:
Milford Writers & Son of Monsterpalooza

September 8th, 2017

Big things are brewing this month, with the Milford Readers and Writers Festival on the east coast and Son of Monsterpalooze on the west – both on the same weekend (September 15-17) and 3,000 miles apart.

Makes me wish I had a teleporter.

Nevertheless, despite the distance and the impossibility of two places at once, I’m eagerly looking forward to both.

As science-fiction guest of honor at the Milford Festival, I’ll be taking part a program that will include a marathon screening of the original five seasons of The Twilight Zone, fiction readings at the historic Dimmick Inn on September 16, and a panel discussion at the Milford Theater on September 17. Among the other writers featured at these events will be Paul Witchover, Robert Levy, John Grant, and Gordon Van Gelder. Good company, indeed.

Paul Witcover is the author of five novels, most recently The Watchman of Eternity and a collection of short stories. He has been a finalist for the Nebula, World Fantasy, Shirley Jackson and Locus Awards.

Robert Levy’s  novel The Glittering World was a finalist for both the Lambda Literary Award and the Shirley Jackson Award.  His shorter work has recently appeared in Black Static, Shadows & Tall Trees, Wild Stories:  The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction and The Best Horror of the Year.

John Grant is the author of about seventy books, including twenty fiction novels and non-fiction books that include the highly successful Discarded Science, Corrupted Science and others. He has won the Hugo Award twice, the World Fantasy Award and various other international literary awards.

Gordon Van Gelder is the publisher of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, the long-running publication that first brought us such sf classics as Stephen King’s Dark Tower, Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon, Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, and Robert H. Heinlein’s serial “Starship Soldier” (which later became the novel Starship Troopers). It is the magazine that first introduced me to the genre when I was in my early teens, and it remains the one publication that I read cover to cover the moment it arrives. Gordon also served for many years as the editor of F&SF, and during that time I had the pleasure of working with him on a number of stories that appeared there between 2001 and 2013.

The Milford Festival’s science-fiction track is being organized by Lillian Longendorfer, whose first novel The Quad Consortium and the Sword of Bale was published in 2015.

And while those sf writers are gathering on on the East Coast, Mick Garris and friends will be holding a special preview event at Son of Monsterpalooza at the Burbank Marriott Convention Center in California. The weekend event will feature dozens of celebrity guests from the worlds of horror, science fiction, and fantasy, with a featured event taking place on September 17, when a panel presentation will be lifting the veil of secrecy on Nightmare Cinema, our new anthology horror film that will be coming to theaters next year!

Joining Mick at the event will be directors  Joe Dante (Gremlins), Alejandro Brugues (Juan of the Dead), and David Slade (30 Days of Night). I hear that Ryuhei Kitamura (Midnight Meat Train), who is also involved in the project, has another commitment for the weekend and will not be attending. Nevertheless, he’ll be there in spirit, as will I.

So mark your calendar for a bicoastal weekend of science fiction, fantasy, and horror … and be sure to stop back here for more updates in the days ahead. It’s going to be an exciting month.

 

Writer at Work: Trusting the Process

December 29th, 2016

There’s a scene in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Le Mystère Picasso, a 1956 documentary that shows the artist Pablo Picasso at work. The artist starts with random lines, splashes of color. There seems to be no method in what he’s doing, but soon a few recognizable images emerge — a boat pulling a water skier, a woman in a bathing suit, people at a café. As he paints, the details coalesce, but just as everything seems to come together, something goes wrong.

The artist seems to lose control of the work. The painting changes, grows darker, loses continuity. Finally, the master stops, assesses his progress, and says:  “This is going badly, very badly, very very badly.”

“Whoa! … That CAN’T be right!”

There’s something therapeutic in that comment. It’s reassuring to know that even the masters stumble, or — as critic James Wood tells us in his sometimes abstruse, often insightful book How Fiction Works: “It’s useful to watch good writers make mistakes.” Both Picasso and Wood remind us that the creative process isn’t linear. It’s rife with experiments, setbacks, and dead ends that often force us to reevaluate and possibly scrap work that has taken hours, days, or longer to complete.

When that happens, consider doing what Picasso does next.

After reassessing the work, he says, “Now that I know where I’m going, I’ll get a new canvas and start over.” And so he does. And this time, his artistic vision clarified from hours of experimentation, he completes the painting.

This week, as I lay down the first exploratory lines of what I hope will become a new writing project, I find myself reflecting on Picasso’s approach. It’s useful to remind ourselves that art requires exploration, and exploration takes time and an ability to step away, reassess, and learn.

Sounds like a good resolution for the new year.

Images:

Picasso. Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Le Mystère Picasso, 1956.
Spider Cartoon. Gary Larson. The Far Side.
Trailer for Le Mystère Picasso.

Writer at Work:
Santas, Wizards, & Life behind the Curtain

December 23rd, 2016

jl-santaSo it’s December 1997. I’m driving north out of Oakland, toward Bigelow Boulevard and downtown Pittsburgh. It’s a gray day, light snow falling. Colored lights trim some of the buildings along North Craig Street, but it doesn’t feel like Christmas.

Then I see him.

I clear the rise toward Bigelow Boulevard, and there he is—fourteen-feet high and smiling down from a roadside billboard atop the snowy hillside. Red suit, white beard. It’s Santa. Or is it? I do a double take. This guy’s wearing rollerblades, sporting a Mohawk haircut, and throwing a peace sign. I slow down. Look again. That’s not Santa. That’s my dad!

Backstory: My dad lived a double life. Most of the time he was all pullover shirts, chinos, loafers, conventional haircut. You’d never look twice if you passed him on the street. But every now and then he’d get a call from the modeling agency. When that happened, all bets were off. He could become anything, and for a few years back in the mid-90s, one of those things was a kind of new-age Santa for the shopping district of Pittsburgh’s South Side. He’d go in for the shoot, they’d transform him, and a few weeks later—after he’d gone back to his quiet, nondescript life—his bigger-than-life persona would enter the world on billboards throughout the city.

oz-2In some ways, it’s much the same for writers.

There are exceptions, of course. Writers like Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal come most readily to mind. But most of us prefer living behind the curtain, working the craft’s hidden levers and switches like the great and powerful Oz. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” we say, speaking through the grand illusion or our creations. It’s the duality that drives our writing lives–the desire to create characters more interesting than ourselves and send them into the world to be known, read, and appreciated while we remain safe behind the veil of fiction.

Which brings us to the picture below.

dream-team-vertical-2It was taken at a gathering for a new project that I’ll be sure to tell you about in a future post. But for now, what you need to know is that the picture shows directors Alejandro Brugués and Ryuhei Kitamura in the front, writers Sandra Becerril and the 21st Century Scop in the middle, and directors Mick Garris and Joe Dante in the rear. We all appear to be on our marks, but something isn’t right. I noticed the discrepancy days after the photo was taken. I looked, then looked again.

Can you see it? Look closely.

Is that Mick Garris’s hand on Alejandro Brugués’s right shoulder. Is that Joe Dante’s on Sandra Becerril’s left? No, that doesn’t make sense. The positions and poses don’t line up.

Looking again, I realized something that should have been obvious. There were eight of us in the photo. Writer Richard Christian Matheson had been standing right beside Sandra, but when the rest of us turned to face the camera, he ducked down and assumed the position of the great and powerful Oz–masked from view but nonetheless manipulating the image, adding touches that revealed his hidden presence. Now there’s a writer’s writer.

So what kind of writer are you? Do you foster a public persona to help promote your work, or do you prefer living behind the curtain? Drop me a comment if you have a moment. Facebook and email links are open (see the icons at the top of this page), as are the comment boxes below. I’ve received some terrific responses on my previous posts in this writer-at-work series. Sometime soon, I’ll have to post a compilation of those comments. Until then, watch out for Santas on rollerblades … and scop on!

Images

J. L. Connolly as South Side Santa. 1997.

Frank Morgan as The Wizard of Oz. 1939.

Alejandro Brugués, Ryuhei Kitamura, Sandra Becerril, the 21st-Century Scop, Mick Garris, Joe Dante, and the hands of R. C. Matheson. 2016