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Celebrating the Roots of the Genre:
Pennsylvania’s Place in SF History

August 15th, 2017

Next month, I’ll be helping celebrate the roots of modern science fiction by heading east to Milford, Pennsylvania, where some of the genre’s biggest names helped establish sf as we know it today. It’s an exciting history that will be commemorated on September 15-17 at The Milford Readers and Writers Festival.

I’ll be attending as this year’s science-fiction guest of honor. Needless to say, I’m jazzed.

In the days ahead, I’ll be posting more information about the event. For now, here’s the official press release:

Milford, PA – The Milford Readers and Writers Festival is thrilled to announce that Science Fiction will be back in Milford, providing three separate Science Fiction/Fantasy Events. Milford, though people may not remember, was a bastion of science fiction/fantasy from the 1950’s to the 1970’s and the original home of the famous Milford Writers Conference for writers of science fiction. The Conference was founded by such notables as Damon Knight, Kate Williams, Virginia Kidd and Judith Merrill and held at the Anchorage, Damon Knight’s home in Milford.

Among the many famous writers who attended these Conferences are Harlan Ellison, James Sallis, Thomas M. Desch, Ann McCaffery and Algis Budrys. It is only fitting that today the Milford Readers and Writers Festival includes events that celebrate this great history.

The main offering will be held at the Milford Theater on Sunday, September 17 from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm and will include a slide show, a panel discussion and a Q & A session. The panel moderator will be Gordon Van Gelder, the editor and publisher of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The panelists will include Lawrence C. Connolly, as guest of honor, the science fiction writers Paul Witcover and Robert Levy and John Grant, encyclopedist and past guest of honor.

Two additional free events will take place on Saturday, September 16. The Twilight Zone Marathon will be held at the Milford Library from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. The marathon will consist of a continuous showing of the original episodes of The Twilight Zone. The second event, Beer Tasting and Readings, will be at the Dimmick Inn from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm. The science fiction writers featured on Sunday’s Science Fiction Panel will be reading from their novels and you can enjoy a beer while listening to the readings. There will also be drawings for SF/F books provided by the Kidd Agency and for tours of Arrowhead, Virginia Kidd’s home in Milford.

In addition to the Science Fiction Panel the Festival also includes the following, all part of the Festival Pass on sale now:

· Love Letters, a two-person award winning Broadway play performed by actors Len Cariou, and Heather Cariou, at the Historic Milford Theatre;

· Lee Child, whose Jack Reacher series has sold more than 100 million copies world wide, in conversation with Stephen Rubin, publisher and President of Henry Holt and Co.;

· Robin Morgan, award winning author, activist and feminist in conversation with journalist Farai Chideya, whose most recent book is The Episodic Career: How to Thrive at Work in the Age of Disruption;

· Patricia Bosworth, one of the country’s preeminent biographers (Montgomery Clift, Diane Arbus, Marlon Brandon, Jane Fonda) and author of a recent memoir, The Men in My Life: A Memoir of Love and Art in 1950s Manhattan in conversation with the director of the Woodstock Bookfest, Martha Frankel, author of a memoir (Hats & Eyeglasses) and other books;

· A Plenary Panel with all the above writers in conversation with each other and the audience; and

· A Private Author’s Reception and a chance to meet and talk with all the authors from the main stage panels at the Hotel Fauchere.

Individual tickets for the Science Fiction Panel only on Sunday, September 17, are on sale now for $25 per person.

A limited number of Festival Passes valid for entry to all Festival events as well as a private Authors Reception open only to Pass holders are now available for sale at the special early bird discounted price of $125 per person.

Tickets can be purchased at the EVENTBRITE LINK and more information about the festival can be found here. (Prices for the Pass and the Science Fiction panel will increase on August 15).

In addition to the ticketed events, the festival also offers a host of free programming and events around Milford and open to the public, including “Women Writing About Their Lives,” “Restaurants that Changed America,” storytelling and children’s and young adults events at the Pike County Public Library, “Artists Writing about Art”, “Recovery from Trauma”, poetry, travel writing, conservation at Grey Towers, an open-mic event: “RAW After Dark” at Bar Louis, a “pop-up” bookstore, conversations and book-signings with local writers and more. The Milford Readers & Writers Festival is a project of Pike Artworks, Inc., (501-c-3 status pending) organized by a group of community volunteers from the Upper Delaware River Valley region.

The Milford Readers & Writers Festival is a project of Pike Artworks, Inc., (501-c-3 status pending) organized by a group of community volunteers from the Upper Delaware River Valley region.

So that’s the official release. I’ll have more to share in the days ahead, but for now, I hope you’ll consider saving the date for what looks to be a terrific celebration of reading, writing, and the history of science fiction. More details coming soon. For now … scop on!

Images

Damon Knight, Anthony Boucher, and Judith Merril at the Milford Science Fiction Conference in 1956. From Aloud Magazine, October 1992.

Harlan Ellison circa 1970 from popmatters.com.

Gordon Van Gelder from orbooks.com

The Twilight Zone circa 1959

“The Wizard and the Dragon” by John Longendorfer, from milfordreadersandwriters.com

 

Confluence: One of the Great Regional Cons

August 12th, 2017

Confluence, one of the great science fiction conventions, was held last week at the Sheraton Pittsburgh Airport Hotel. As always, it provided an opportunity for fans to connect with professionals in the field and for professionals to get out from behind the desk to spend some real-world time with folks they see all too seldom.

This year I served on a number of panels (see previous post) and got the chance to hang out with some of my favorite writers (see photo at left).

In addition, I took the opportunity to drop in on a panel discussion of science fiction and horror poetry (featuring good friends Michael A. Arnzen and Mary Soon Lee) as well as readings by Jason Jack Miller, Heidi Ruby Miller, and Bud Sparhawk.

Jason read from the soon-to-be-released fourth installment of his Murder Ballads and Whiskey series (from Raw Dog Screaming Press), which is due out this November. Like the other books in the series, it looks to be a fast-paced slice of American gothic.

Heidi’s latest release is Man of War (from Meteor House), a novella that takes place in Philip José Farmer’s Two-Hawks universe. Produced in cooperation with the Farmer estate, the book features the kind of vintage sf action and adventure you’d expect from Philip José Farmer, combined with the kinds of insightful reflections on the human spirit that we’ve come to expect from the author of the Ambasadora series.

Bud Sparhawk, one of sf’s top short story writers, read from his new collection Non-Parallel Universes (Fantastic Books), which collects 19 of his favorite stories from the past decade. At his reading, he shared the book’s lead story, “Astronomical Distance, Geologic Time,” which first appeared in Analog, March 2011. Providing an evocative meditation on how distance in time equates to distance in space, the story’s presentation was one of the high points at this year’s con.

I haven’t been doing much blogging this summer. There’s good reason for that. Other writing projects have been keeping me occupied. Big things are cooking, and I hope to share some details with you soon.

In the meantime, you might enjoy listening to a story from Joe Coluccio, one of this year’s Confluence participants (and president of the organization that made the con possible). In the story, Joe shares a tale from his days as a performance artist. It was recorded live a few years back, when the 21st-Century Scop was running a storytelling night at Riley’s Pour House. Where did I ever find the time?

The link is below. Enjoy the story … and until next time, scop on!

Images:

Jason Jack Miller, Heidi Ruby Miller, the 21st-Century Scop, and Joe Coluccio. Photo by Michale A. Arnzen.

Jason Jack Miller and Heidi Ruby Miller. Photo by Karen Yun-Lutz.

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