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The Portal Closes: Looking Back @ GenCon

August 23rd, 2013

GenCon 2013 crowd 2Imagine 50,000 people packed into a single indoor space. Now add a 20-foot tall Cthulhu (made entirely of balloons), a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (in a top hat, no less), armies of warriors and monsters, and a roster of top sf and fantasy writers. Yes, it got crowded. But that’s GenCon.

Never mind that the Indiana Convention Center provides 500,000 square feet of sprawling indoor space. There were still times when I found it impossible to walk without bumping into someone or something.

And did I mention that there was also a motorcycle convention in town. Yeah, you can’t make this stuff up. I can only imagine what it must have seemed like to the residents of Indianapolis, seeing their city overrun with bikers and mythological beasts (there’s a high-concept Hollywood film in there somewhere). Indeed, it must have seemed as if a trans-dimensional portal had opened.

I was in town as part of the GenCon Writer’s Symposium, a large writing convention that coexists within the sprawling wonder of GenCon. Its panels, readings, and workshops often attract standing-room crowds, and the attending writers provide a fine cross-section of the field.

Larry Dixon and Matt O'DwyerThe Symposium kicked off with a Wednesday dinner, where I shared a table with writer Brandie Tarvin, editor W. H. Horner, and up-and-coming novelists Jeffery Brooks and Matthew O’Dwyer (both MFA candidates at Seton Hill University). Along the way, we were joined by Larry Dixon, who contributed to the digital effects on Lord of the Rings and collaborated with his wife Mercedes Lackey on a number of terrific fantasy novels.

the writing process according to Oscar WildeThe next morning W. H. Horner and I launched Fiction Fundamentals, three days of workshops covering the essentials of genre writing. The sessions explored writing as a process rather than a product, looking at how the experience of reading a novel (moving page-by-page from beginning to the conclusion) has little in common with the act of writing one. The graphic on the left illustrates this difference, showing how the manuscript for one of Oscar Wilde’s plays progressed circuitously from concept to finished work – passing through a series of handwritten and typing-pool drafts along the way.

I also did a couple of readings, one featuring selections from Visions and This Way to Egress, the other centering on an abridged version of “The Fourth Sign” from Paul Genesse’s The Crimson Pact. I did both readings from memory, a form of delivery that harkens back to the roots of storytelling (think Homer or the Beowulf poet).

The Crinson PactI particularly enjoyed presenting “The Fourth Sign.” It’s a rather subversive story, one that gradually removes the wall between reader and story. It opens with a few references to the reader’s world and builds from there, drawing the reader in until it becomes clear that he or she has been a character in the story all along, and that the act of reading the story (or attending the reading) is actually the story itself.

It was fun watching the audience as they sensed everything coming together, and having the story memorized helped me keep the performance in synch with their dawning realizations. You can read Paul Genesse review of the reading (and the convention) at his blog.

I also took part in panels on Steampunk (where Jennifer Brozek, Paul Genesse, and Sara Hans talked about ways in which Victorian-age science fiction can reflect 21st-century inclusivity) and Hard SF (where Wesley Chu and Jason Sanford urged beginning writers not to get bogged down doing research). I may go into more detail on these topics in future blogs, but right now I sense the portal is closing. I need to get out while I can.

Till next time, I’ll see you between the pages.

Scop on!

Image Credits:

GenCon Crowd by Mike Olson Spirit of the Blank.

Larry Dixon and Matt O’Dwyer by Lawrence C. Connolly.

The Writing Process According to Oscar Wilde by Lawrence C. Connolly.

Lawrence C. Connolly, Karen Bovenmyer, Paul Genesse, Patrick Tracy, Stephanie M. Lorée, and George Strayton at the Crimson Pact reading. Photo by Tammy Lyn Genesse.

Report from the KGB

June 23rd, 2013

KGB SignFrom the outside it looks like a redbrick townhouse, with only a small sign above the door to let us know we’ve arrived at the KGB Bar – the place that both New York Magazine and the Village Voice have named the best literary venue in New York.

The doors are likewise unremarkable, opening to a flight of stairs that leads to a dim room decorated with Soviet art. For a moment I feel as if I have arrived back in Leningrad, or possibly the upstairs gallery of the illegal artist in my story “Smuggling the Dead.”

MM DeVoe Nicholas Kaufmann Alexa AntopolEllen Datlow, one of our hosts for the evening, is already there. She shows us to our seats, and within minutes people start arriving. I recognize some of them. There’s Nicholas Kaufmann, M. M. De Voe, Rick Bowes, Linda Addison, Gordon Linzner of Space and Time Magazine (editor emeritus), Vaughne Hansen of the Virginia Kidd Agency, and Will and Meesh Horner of Fantasist Enterprises. It’s going to be a fun evening.

Tom Connair and Heather SedlakSome newer writers are also settling in, among them are Heather Sedlak and Tom Connair, MFA candidates from the graduate writing program at Seton Hill University; Andrew Alford, who’s made sales to Space and Time and Midnight Echo; and Nicholas Schwartz, a terrific young filmmaker who has recently option my story “Shooting Evil” for adaptation as a short film. Others are there as well. Too many to mention. Soon, the room is overflowing.

Matthew KresselSarah Langan is also there, of course. We’re sharing the bill. She’ll be reading an excerpt from her forthcoming novel. I’ve selected three stories from Visions. Between the two of us, we have what seems a nice mix planned for the evening.

Cohost Matthew Kressel kicks things off with the announcement of a Kickstarter campaign to help underwrite the continuation of the series. He also shares a list of upcoming readers, including Libba Bray, Lucius Shepard, James Patrick Kelley, and Thomas F. Monteleone. Listening to the list, I’m thinking I’ve got to move to New York so I can become a KGB regular.

Lawrence C Connolly Reading at KGBThen Matthew introduces me, and I’m on. The stories I’ve selected are “Step on a Crack,” “Prime Time!” and “Echoes.” I plan to deliver each from memory, a mode of presentation that harkens back to the roots of storytelling. Think Homer or the Beowulf poet, traveling scops who carried their works in their heads and presented their texts live without reliance on the printed page. I’ve blogged about this technique elsewhere, particularly in Scop 101.

The stories are a bit like songs. They’re longer, of course. And they don’t employ rhyme. But each has a vocal rhythm that facilitates memorization. The audience is wonderfully receptive, and the performance goes well.Sarah Langan at KGB

After a break, during which Will Horner does brisk business at the Fantasist book display, Ellen introduces Sarah – the three-time Bram Stoker winner whom the New York Times has referred to as one of “Shelley’s Daughters,” a strong writer of contemporary horror who carries on the groundbreaking work started by Mary Shelley.

Sarah reads the first chapter from The Clinic, and it’s clear from the delivery that she has another Stoker contender in the works.

The reading leaves us all eager for the book’s release.

will meesh heather3After the readings, about 20 of us head out to dinner at the Grand Sichuan Restaurant in St. Mark’s Place, after which Ginny and I make our way back to our Midtown digs. Special thanks goes out to our New York friend for getting us through the subway turnstiles and showing us the way. We never would have made it without them!

Our original plans were to stay in the city one more day, but a gig at another nightspot – Riley’s Pour House in Pittsburgh – sends us packing in the morning. Still, I’m amazed at all we were able to fit into our short stay.

VortexThere’s lots more to tell, including an account of my visit to GQ for lunch with former Twilingt Zone editor T.E.D. Klein. I’ll try to get to some of it in a follow up post. Look for it soon.

I’d also like to share the preliminary cover art for my forthcoming novel Vortex: Book Three of the Veins Cycle. If you were at the KGB and stopped by the book display after my reading, you got an advance look at what artist Rhonda Libby has planned for the conclusion of the series. If you didn’t, I’m going to keep you in suspense a little longer. The art warrants a blog post of its own.

In the meantime, keep reading. And, as always – rock on!

Image Credits:

Screen cap of the KGB Sign is from the Fantastic Fiction at KGB Fundraiser video.

Photos of  Milda De Voe, Nicholas Kaufmann, and Alexa Antopol;  Tom Connair and Heather Sedlak; Matthew Kressel; Lawrence C. Connolly; and Sarah Langan are © Ellen Datlow.

Photo of Meesh Horner, Will Horner, and Heather Sedlak is © Lawrence C. Connolly.

The Next Big Thing (Part 2)

January 17th, 2013

If you read my previous post, you know that my good friend Alice Henderson has tagged me in The Next Big Thing blog-hop, and now it’s my turn to respond.

Here we go!

What is the working title of your book?

Right now it’s titled Vortex, although there is a good chance the title will change to Vortices before the book is released later this year. Either way, it will be Book Three of the Veins Cycle and the fifth book in my series of V-titles from the good people at Fantasist Enterprises.

Visions by Lawrence C. ConnollyWhere did the idea come from for the book?

The basic premise began evolving while I worked on the novelette “Great Heart Rising,” which originally appeared in F&SF and has since been reprinted in my collection Visions: Short Fantasy SF.

“Great Heart” revolves around an entire family that dies suddenly within their suburban home. The police can see the bodies through the windows, but anyone who goes in to investigate is unable to make it back out alive. And there’s a kid in the basement with a cell phone calling 911. “Help me!” she’s saying. “Get me out of here!” So of course, someone has to get her out, and that someone turns out to be a young man who has ancient ties to the land beneath the house.

All those things — the setting, pacing, mystical undertones — eventually led to the development of Veins.

Veins by Lawrence C. ConnollyWhat genre does your book fall under?

Like the others in the series, it will probably be marketed as a supernatural thriller.

When Veins first came out, some reviewers called it urban fantasy, citing its portrayal of ancient powers in a contemporary setting.

If I were assigning the category, I’d push for Rural Fantasy.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’m generally inclined to leave questions such as this to the casting agents.

Vipers by Lawrence C. ConnollyWhat is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Axle searches his dreams for an artifact that will save the earth.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The third Veins book is being represented by the same agency that handled my previous books. It will be published by Fantasist Enterprises and edited by Will Horner – one of the best editors working in fantasy today.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Four months.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Veins and Vipers . . . of course!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Will Horner at Fantasist, who saw potential for a series after reading Veins back in 2006.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Together, the books in the Veins Cycle cover a single 24-hour period, with the final book bringing the story full circle in some startling ways. The FE art department is also promising an amazing cover that continues the warning-sign motif of the previous books. Can’t share anything yet, but soon . . . very soon!

So . . . that’s what I’m up to.

Now I’d like to introduce you to five writers associated with Seton Hill University’s graduate program in Writing Popular Fiction, all of whom have new projects that definitely qualify as next big things.

The writers are:

Querus Abuttu, a.k.a. Cin Ferguson, a.k.a. Q. She is one of the most exciting new voices in sf and bizarro fiction you’re likely to encounter. Currently an MFA candidate at SHU, Q is definitely going to be making waves in the days ahead. That’s us to the right, hanging ten after the Bram Stoker Awards banquet in Salt Lake City last year (the night my book Voices lost to Joyce Carole Oates’ The Corn Maiden).

Leslie Davis Guccione, the author of over 30 novels for adult, middle grade, and teen readers. She’s one of my fellow residency writers at SHU and one of the best writing mentors around. Of her latest book The Chick Palace, Adina Senft, the RITA Award winning  author of the Amish Quilt trilogy, writes: “New romance, empty nests, love, secrets, betrayal and forgiveness … The Chick Palace has it all, along with healthy dollops of humor and wisdom, all drenched in the sunshine of memory.”

Ann Kopchik, a.k.a. Anna Zabo. Ann is a SHU alum. Her erotic romance Close Quarter was published last month by Loose Id. She also writes sf and has been a regular at Context, Confluence, and other regional conventions. Definitely a talent worth watching.

Meg Mims, another SHU alum. Meg won the Spur Award last year for her debut  novel Double Crossing, a historical western mystery that was also named a finalist in the 2012 Best Books by USA Book News.

Stephanie Wytovich, an MFA candidate at SHU. Stephanie is a Rhysling Award nominated poet, and her  first poetry collection Hysteria will be published later this year by Raw Dog Screaming Press. That’s us on the right, grinning down an advancing  hoard of zombie Gumbies at Horror Realm 2012.

Bizarro, chick lit, erotica, historical western mystery, horror poetry — how’s that for an eclectic lineup?

Querus, Leslie, Ann, Meg, and Stephanie will be posting their answers by the end of next week. Be sure to check them out. After that, please consider stopping back here for more musings on media, music, and fiction.

Until then . . . keep reading!

Everything you want to know about writing … and then some.

January 15th, 2012

 

 Any questions?

Lots of presenters conclude with that phrase. I’m different. I like to start with it.

The strategy may not be as harebrained as it sounds. I’ll explain.

I’ve just returned from my biannual residency in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University, where I always open my presentations by passing out index cards and asking the MFA candidates to record questions that come to mind during the lecture. Naturally, they can raise their hands as we go, but the question cards ensure that important inquiries don’t get passed over in the race toward the bell.

During the final hour of each three-hour presentation, I collect the cards, shuffle them, and spend fifteen minutes discussing them with the students.  It’s a collaborative process. I don’t profess to have all the answers.

At last week’s residency, my presentation on “The Art of Revision” generated some terrific inquiries ranging from the nuts and bolts of manuscript style to deeply theoretical thoughts on the writing process. And as is always the case, a few questions were left unasked and unanswered.

So what do you say we revisit those questions here? I’ve got all the cards, reshuffled and face down. We’ll try one card for starters, do a few more later in the week. Sound good?

So here’s the first one:

How do you show a scene break in your manuscript? Do you use an asterisk, hashtag, or simply a blank line?

This one generated some good discussion, with some of the students preferring a set of asterisks while others suggested that a single hashtag was best.

Indeed, the SFWA website still recommends the hashtag. Vonda N. McIntyre’s wonderfully detailed document on the subject is available there for free download. Go check it out if you haven’t seen it. It’s been the genre standard for many years.

Personally, I prefer the hashtag, but I was intrigued to hear from Christopher Shearer that at least one professional editor recommends avoiding them in favor of simply leaving the space blank.

I recall an amusing story that Harlan Ellison told about his manuscript for “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” about how he cut some graphics from a computer magazine and pasted them onto his manuscript to indicate line breaks.  

I sometimes do stuff like that too: a serpentine line for my novel Vipers and a staring eye for my collection Visions. My editor didn’t complain, and the manuscripts were accepted. Nevertheless, if I were a young writer casting my first manuscripts to the wind, I’d opt for the hashtag.

What do you think? Please submit your questions, comments, suggestions. As I’ve said before, the best part of this blog is often in the talkback.

I’m out of space and out of time. We’ll do more questions later. For now, I yield to the power of the hashtag.

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