Thursday, 29 October 2015

FantasyCon 2015

My first thought about this year's FantasyCon is that it was a whole 'nother experience going with friends - and, I've got to say, a wholly better one.  Last year at FantasyCon I met Andy Knighton and Charlotte Bond for the first time and this time around we all went together, and if nothing else I say here conveys a useful sense of what makes this particular convention stand out then that alone should do it: one year I made new friends, the next they were good enough friends that we were all comfortable with the idea of hanging out together for large portions of a weekend.  FantasyCon is a hit and miss affair, there's no doubt about that, but at its best, its somewhat smaller scale and more intimate vibe achieve great things that the bigger conventions frequently lack.
Me, John Connolly, Matthew Blakstad, A K Benedict, Guy Haley, Debbie Bennett

2015, it's fair to say, was FantasyCon at its best.  Not the perfect venue, by any means - the horror stories regarding food and drink were almost Nine Worlds-worthy! - but other than that, it's hard to pick on anything that wasn't either good or very good or really kind of marvelous.  And before I go any further, a shout-out to Richard Webb who did ninja work putting this stuff together well in advance.  And also, while I'm thinking, to those redcoats folks, who never once responded to my befuddled queries with "why the holy hell are you asking where room X is when you're standing right outside of room X and there's a big sign that says room X?"*

Soooooo ... even though we were there pretty much from the start, I only made the one panel on the Friday, and then it was mostly because I had friends on it, but Fae-Fi, Folk-Fum: Faerie & Folktale turned out to be an hour well spent, with a broad range of opinions bringing some new perspective to a rather well-worn subject.  (This, by the way, sums up all the panels I attended nicely: no mind-blowingly original topics, but an interesting range of panelists and some productive debates.  In my ideal world, panels would be a lot more like Tarantino movies, but I realise that's not likely to happen any time soon.)

With the remainder of Friday largely taken up by being lazy and hanging out with friends and listening to karoake - no, that wasn't me singing along to Let it Go, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar - I managed to get to bed at an only slightly stupid time.  Saturday was the closest I had to a work day, which as it turned out, wasn't that close at all.  I'd been quite chilled about my panel Is It Legit? Crime in Fantasy, Horror and SF until I realised that I was moderating in the largest (by quite a margin) of the three rooms and that THERE WAS NO COFFEE TO BE HAD ANYWHERE IN THE CONFERENCE CENTRE.  There wasn't much anyone could do about the former, but at least I was saved on the latter front by the magnificent Peter Newman, who basically made it his mission to save my coffee-starved life.  (He must never know that immediately afterwards I discovered that there was free coffee in the green room, and that it was much better than the slush the hotel were selling for ohsomuch money.)  Anyway, once I was suitably caffeinated, my panel seemed to go well enough.  And by the end I was particularly grateful to superstar guest of honour John Connolly, who can talk the legs off any quadruped mammal you could possibly throw his way but is also polite enough to let other people have their say, which from a moderating point of view basically makes him the perfect panelist.  (Though everyone, it has to be said, did sterling work.)

Having spent a large part of the remainder of the day loitering in the bar recovering from the very mild trauma of persuading authors to talk about author-stuff, I braved some more panels in the afternoon - YA: Why, eh? and Robots, Beasts & Humanimals: Writing Non-Human Characters, in close succession.  They were both solid, but two panels in a row turned out to be my limit for sitting in a room listening to people who aren't me talking, so I took a fresh air break, which frustratingly meant missing Tea and Jeopardy for about the thousand time running.  (One day I will experience Tea and Jeopardy.  This I swear upon the bones of someone or other's ancestors!)  Instead I ducked out to hunt up some food that wasn't microwaved by apathetic bar staff and then wandered back in time for my reading - which nearly no one turned up for, despite my copious hinting.  (Needless to say, thanks to the little circle who did.)  From there I moved on to the Undertow Publications book launch to celebrate the launch of Skein and Bone, the debut collection by V H Leslie, who I'd met over breakfast that morning.  This turned out to be an unexpected highlight, since not only was everyone involved really nice, there was free sangria.  That done, I drank an unwise amount and hung out with many more tremendous people, some of whom I knew and some I didn't, and finally staggered off bedwards.

Sunday morning saw me torn between Andy Knighton on the Chained to the Desk? The Writer’s Life Under the Microscope panel and Ian Sales on The Future of the Future, and in the end I opted for the former because it was Andy's first F'Con panel.  Then I decided to ask the question I'd prepped for Ian on Andy's panel, despite how it wouldn't have made a damn bit of sense.  Then I wimped out and asked a sensible question instead - well, one about juggling, at any rate.  Still, it was a good discussion, and no one mentioned going to work in a dressing gown, so perhaps we're progressing as a society.

And that was about the end of it.  If I were to grumble about one thing, and this is me so of course I am, it's that Sunday at a FantasyCon always feels like a bit of a wash-out.  It occurred to me for the first time that there's something slightly horrid and divisive about the notion of ending a conference with a banquet that half the attendees can't afford to go to, and I live in hope that that whole thing will die a death in the not too distant future.  But in this case it was a small deal indeed, because we wanted to get off early and the fact that the programming had finished and almost no one was around by one in the afternoon made that inordinately easy.  Which in turn meant getting back at a sensible time, which in turn seems to have alleviated the usual Con' lag and left me - after two days of considerably too much alcohol, too little proper food and definitely too little sleep - with much more energy than I had before.  Weird but true.

Meanwhile, next year brings FantasyCon back to the hallowed fields of Yorkshire, in the shape of FantasyCon by the Sea, and this of course is an immeasurably good thing.  I'll hope to see you there.

* There wasn't actually a room X.  I would have forgiven the venue everything, even their weird notions of what to put on pizza, if there had been.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

My FantasyCon 2015 Schedule

FantasyCon 2015 is less than two days away.  How did this happen?  I'm looking at you, the linear progression of time!  And I'm scowling in a fashion that should make you deeply ashamed of your behaviour.  Anyway, needless to say, I'm wholly unprepared - largely due to the necessity of having to work like a nutter for the last two weeks to buy myself a whole two days in a row off, which weirdly becomes a lot more complicated when you're setting your own schedule.

But now it's time to get my act together!  Which means a lot of planning, a bit of printing off, a dash of stapling, (apparently I own a stapler!) and also writing this here blog post telling anyone who might curious what it is I'm going to be doing.  Which, as it turns out, wouldn't have taken that long at all if I'd just got on with it.  After all, I'm on precisely one panel - which is more than enough because I'm moderating the thing.  It is...
Sat 24 Oct 11.00 am  Is It Legit? Crime in Fantasy, Horror and SF
Room:  Conference Theatre
Crime has proved fertile ground for fantasy writers and vice versa and the evidence of increasing crossover into the crime-scene is more than circumstantial. Our identity parade of suspects considers some of the issues around depicting crime, criminals and the law in genre fiction.
And my interrogatees - um, fellow panelists - are Alexandra Benedict, Debbie Bennett, Matthew Blakstad, Guy Haley, and a certain Guest of Honour whom you might have heard of, the prodigious Mr John Connolly.  So no pressure there not to ask ridiculous questions then.

Also, I have a reading slot booked, on the Saturday, at 7.40 pm.  Since it's literally inconceivable that anyone could have anything better to do at a conference at twenty to eight on a Saturday night, I shall expect droves on people; in fact, probably best to turn up at least fifteen minutes early.  And as a little added incentive, I'm planning to read the strangest story I've ever written.  I mean, it's really strange.  Even by my standards.

You should totally come.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Of Cons and Confidence

There was a time, not even that long ago, when I considered myself to be pretty introverted.  It's a fact that's rarely far from my mind when I think about conventions, and in particular about getting up at them to speak in public.  I mean, there was a phase when I was a teenager during which ordering a pizza over the phone was too much for my non-existent confidence, and throughout much of my twenties I was uncomfortable around people I didn't know.  It took a public-facing job to shake me out of the worst of it, and even then I was hardly what you'd call confident.

Yet in the last four years I've appeared on and moderated any number of panels, played Just a Minute in front of a packed room of people and single-handedly run an hour-and-a-half long workshop.  I've espoused my opinions, argued with strangers, given moderately coherent answers to questions I barely knew where to begin with, and in general, I hope, managed to maintain the impression that I'm comfortable with being in these situations.  And strangest of all, that's not because I've somehow learned to fake it, but because I genuinely am.  Hell, at a push I'd even say that I enjoy them.

Now if you're not naturally given to introversion, you might assume that I simply got over it before I started doing any of these things, but in practice it didn't at all work like that.  It was more a case of doing things because it seemed to me they had to be done, followed by a slow and steady process of learning what I could and couldn't cope with.  There are still times when I find conventions rather overwhelming environments, and each new challenge brings a fresh bout of nerves - running that workshop certainly did! - but there are other and increasingly more common times when I'm shocked to find myself completely at ease.

The thing that originally made me want to write about all this, and which has been rattling about in my head for a long time now, was a query that someone put to me - if I remember rightly - at Nine Worlds the year before last, when I was moderating a panel on the subject of being debut novelists distinguished primarily by the fact that none of us were debut novelists.  A recurring theme had been just how much business gets done in the publishing industry face to face and particularly at cons, and towards the end someone asked a question that went roughly thus: "I'm not very confident and I'm uncomfortable talking to people I don't know, is it really necessary to do that kind of thing to sell and publicize a book?"

The answer, of course, was no.  I know of successful writers who've never been to a convention in their lives.  The rather longer answer I felt the need to give was that there was a time when I too had been horrified by the prospect of doing such things as speaking on panels, let alone the idea of talking to publishers, editors and agents in public spaces.  If I'd overcome that, it was perfectly probable that they could too.  What I failed to point out, perhaps couldn't have said and yet have always slightly regretted not saying is how that person, by coming to a convention and putting their hand up at a panel and asking a question they clearly felt deeply uncomfortable asking, had proved beyond any doubt that they'd manage just fine if and when the time came.  Because truthfully, it was more than I would have dared to do back in my early days of conference-attending.

Over the last five years or so, I've come to realise that life is considerably more complicated that being a shy or a confident person, an introvert or an extrovert.  My own experiences have taught me that it's perfectly easy to drift from one end of that spectrum towards the other, and to end up hovering somewhere around the middle, depending on the mood of the day.  It's fine to be introverted, just as it's fine to extroverted; I don't at all want to suggest that there's a solution to introversion or that introversion is necessarily something that needs solving.  But if you're introverted and feel that it's impacting your life, as I did, then it's not something you necessarily have to carry with you until your dying day.

As such, my closing point is that I'm overwhelmingly grateful to the convention scene and the parts of my publishing career that have pushed me, year by year, to overcome the doubts that were holding me back and telling me I was uncomfortable in situations I was more than capable of handling.  It's not difficult to imagine a parallel universe version of myself who's still  quaking at the prospect of hanging out in a convention bar or moderating a panel, and I feel for that person.  By the same measure, I've great sympathy for anyone who'd like to be active at conventions and lets a lack of confidence overwhelm them, as I probably would have without the push of having to promote my books.  One of the most wonderful things about the best cons - and particularly those like Nine Worlds that make a policy of inclusiveness - is that, whoever you are, whatever you do, you can get involved and they'll make it as comfortable for you as they can.  This is a marvelous thing, and it can never be celebrated enough.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Degenerates Regenerated, and Other Novel News

Once upon a time there was a novel called Funland.  It had a tough gestation, one that I documented at length in what feels like another lifetime and can hardly believe was only five years ago, and for its troubles it ended up with its name changed, to the less blunt but perhaps sillier War For Funland.  Then it sat for a long, long time on my hard drive as I got diverted by the adventures of a certain Mister Easie Damasco, rapscallion and thief of giants.  Then I came back to it and decided that War For Funland should be called Degenerates, for a whole lot of reasons but mainly because it was a much better title, and rewrote it again and again and again.

Novels don't always come easily.

But hammer away at them for long enough, as if your life depends on it enough, and they do eventually get finished.  As such, I'm declaring Degenerates, nee Funland, temporarily War For Funland, to be finally done.  Because it is.   And now, after five and a bit years, I get to the really difficult part, which is trying to sell the thing.  But I don't want to think about that, let alone talk about it here - so let's move on spryly to happier pastures.

Because elsewhere, my sixth novel and first stab at writing crime at any length, The Bad Neighbour, should be finished early in December, and I felt good about the second draft so I'm not expecting too much in the way of unexpected horrors.  (Though I suppose it's fair to say that the thing about unexpected horrors is that you don't expect them.)  Meanwhile I'm maybe three weeks off completing the first draft of White Thorne, my medieval witch detective novel*, and book number seven - eight?  Hell, I've actually lost count - is comfortably hovering near to its first draft midway point.  That of course being as good a reason as any to start plotting the next one, which I'm scheduled to begin at the start of December, assuming that the novella I'm writing in the meantime doesn't overrun.

And yes, in case you're wondering, I'm now officially working on too much stuff.  For some reason that possibly involves bad planning or maybe makes no sense at all, everything seems to be falling out at exactly the same time.  Then again, the flip side of that is that there's an imminent point - in January, to be precise - when I'll be working on a mere two novels.

That's going to be really weird.

* As in, she's a witch who becomes a detective and it's set in the Middle Ages.  I really need to find a way to phrase that better.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Patchwerk Covered

As is the way, my going on holiday was an excuse for all of the news to happen all at the same time, and it'll be a while before I get up to date on everything that's been going on.  But let's start with the big - nay, huge! - announcement: Patchwerk, my novella due out in January of next year, finally has a cover, and it's a sight to behold.

So here, behold!

Gorgeous, right?  That's by the remarkable Mr Tommy Arnold, and you can find more of Tommy's artwork here ... trust me, your eyes will thank you, and then giggle to each other in a hugely disconcerting fashion.

While I won't say too much about what's actually going on in that cover, because we're still the better part of three months away from release, I will point out that those five characters there have one thing in common other than their snazzy matching white jackets.  Which is that they're all the same person.  Because - yes! - sometimes all you need is an infinite number of heroes.  And sometimes all you have to hand is one person and all of space and time.

I trust that's cleared things up?  Either way, you can find the official announcement, with details of the rest of their January release line-up and a couple more absolutely stunning covers, here.  And before I go, here's the text-free version, since - as galling as it is to admit - sometimes things do look more awesome without my name on them: