Balticon Schedule

The Program Schedule for Balticon 51 has just been released. I’m pleased to announce that they’ve selected me for six panels, two of which I’m moderating, and also elected for me to conduct a workshop on Sunday.

My workshop is called: “Is Your Setting Strong Enough to Support a Series?” For those who have taken my previous workshops, it was previously known as “Creating an Adaptive Setting.” I last ran the workshop at Capclave in 2015, so I’m looking forward to conducting it for a whole bunch of new people.

Here’s my Balticon Schedule:

Balticon 51 Schedule for David Keener

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Writing Tips: Authors Getting Paid for Events

Dollars for AuthorsThere’s been a big kerfluffle going on about authors getting paid to speak at events, whether solo or as a panelist. I’ve been seeing a series of different perspectives on this issue on The Passive Voice, a very useful site that highlights articles around the web on publishing in general, and indie publishing in particular.

The debate was already in progress in the media and online, when author Philip Pullman took a stand in January 2016 and resigned as a Patron of the Oxford Literary Festival because they don’t pay their authors. This rather enflamed the debate because Philip Pullman, the author of the bestselling novel, The Golden Compass, is something of a marquee writer.

I have experience on both sides of the fence. I’m an author, albeit a fledgling one. I’ve also organized and run dozens of technical conferences. I’m a member of the Washington Science Fiction Association, which runs Capclave, an annual science fiction literary convention held in the Washington DC area. I have also spoken at numerous technical conferences and literary conventions.

So, I’m a big fan of the following principles.

         Yog’s Law: Money flows towards the writer.

         David Gerrold: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing for money.


I have to qualify this a bit. My general rule of thumb is: If you make money, then I make money.

I’m talking about significant money. A typical convention, especially one hosted in a hotel, can easily cost 20 – 40K or more to put on, much of which has to be paid up-front (hence the reason most events have early bird pricing bargains to encourage attendees to sign up early). Committing money up-front requires assuming risk; those who take the risks should rightfully make more than those who don’t.

The average convention doesn’t really make a profit, or at least not a significant one. At best, they make seed money to make it easier to sustain the event in the future. In fact, most SF conventions are run as non-profit organizations. So I don’t expect to be paid in cash. It’s eminently reasonable for authors appearing on panels and conducting workshops to attend the event for free, and conventions generally do this. There’s usually a minimum; I believe Capclave awards free attendance for appearing on three or more panels or running one workshop. A good workshop is considered to require much more effort than being a panelist (this is true, by the way, trust me on this).

Generally, program participants get free attendance and the attendant validation of being promoted as an author by the convention. Guests of Honor generally receive more money because they’re draws. Usually this devolves to paid expenses, such as hotel, airfare and meals. For SF conventions, with their low ticket prices, this is generally the max. In fairness, Guests of Honor also get much more in the way of promotion but are also generally booked for many more timeslots than other authors at the event.

As an aside, most regional SF literary conventions have a weekend price of $60 or so, which can be ameliorated by earlybird pricing. Even Worldcon, which ranges from 4000 to 10,000 attendees, is priced at around $250 for a much larger event (likewise ameliorated by earlybird pricing).

Now, in the world of technical events, ticket prices are much higher. For those events, it’s quite common for keynote speakers and people who are legitimate draws to be paid a speaking fee, and sometimes a significant one.

Even there, you have to make some judgements. If George R. R. Martin is speaking at local SF conventions like Capclave or Ravencon, his expenses will be taken care of, but even he won’t be paid a significant speaking fee. The budget just isn’t there, but the promotion opportunity is still very real, even for Martin. On the other hand, if Martin is the keynote speaker at a high-priced Hollywood screenwriter conference, then he might very well expect a speaking fee.

I can’t judge whether Phillip Pullman was right in pulling out of the Oxford Literary Festival. I don’t know what the event’s budget was or what, if any, profit was made. Philip Pullman is sufficiently prominent that he might very well command a reasonable speaking fee. Many other authors, myself included, would not.

I think authors need to look critically at their potential as a draw, the size of an event, the budget of an event, their own potentially uncompensated attendance costs (hotel, airfare, meals, etc.) and the level of promotion provided by the event. After that, it’s a business decision, tempered by realistic expectations based on a sober assessment of an event. I don’t think authors should automatically assume that the world owes them speaking fees for being a program participant. If that’s what you think then, well, I’m happy to take your slot.

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Science Fiction Table Topics

David Keener, Table Topics MaestroToastmasters has a public speaking exercise called Table Topics. A person, designated as the Table Topics Master, gets up in front of an audience and chooses random people to answer questions. Each selected individual has to stand up and respond to the question. The goal is to deliver a one to two minute response (and the exercise IS timed).

It’s a great way to practice ad hoc speaking skills. Personally, I like responding to table topics. But I like being Table Topics Master even more…

Because I am diabolical.

You see, most questions and responses are oh so earnest. What I like to do as Table Topics Master is to force people to stretch themselves, to step outside their comfort zone and do things they might not ordinarily do in a speech.

As a case in point, I devised a set of science fiction scenarios for my turn as Table Topics Master this past Thursday. This is how I introduced the exercise:

“How many of you have experienced one of my Table Topics sessions before?” I asked

Only about a third of the hands in the audience went up.

“Excellent. As those of you who raised your hands already know, I am…diabolical. So, for tonight’s Table Topics, we’re going to do…something different. I need three victims…er…I meant respondents.”

Once I had my three respondents, I told the audience, “I’m going to present each of our volunteers with a written scenario.” Turning to the volunteers, I added, “Each of you is a reporter witnessing some fantastic event that’s unfolding right in front of you.

“But I don’t want you to tell us about the scenario. I want you to push your limits, go places you’ve never gone. Something momentous is happening, and I want you to make us feel it. Dig deep and give us the emotion.

For each volunteer, I gave them a printed copy of their scenario, which they had to quickly digest (which is why key words in the scenario are bolded). I presented the introduction to the audience, and then each respondent had to do their part. The responses were absolutely, hysterically funny.

Here are the scenarios that I handed out:

  1. The War of the Worlds

    Introduction: “You’re a reporter for a local newspaper. During the night, a fiery meteorite struck nearby. Tell us about it.”

    Scenario: During the night, a fiery meteorite landed in the sandpits of Horsell Commons, near the town of Woking in England.

    • It’s now morning.
    • You’re standing just beyond the rim of a deep crater in the sand.
    • There are townspeople standing all around you.
    • You can feel the scorching heat; there’s a smell like brimstone.
    • There’s a massive cylinder in the crater.
    • A grinding sound begins…and the end of the cylinder begins to rotate its way off.
  2. Star Wars

    Introduction: “You’re a reporter, embedded in the rebel headquarters during a major battle of a civil war. Tell us about it.”

    Scenario: You’re a reporter embedded in the headquarters of the Rebel Alliance on the jungle moon, Yavin, which orbits a gas giant planet.

    • The Empire’s Death Star is on the other side of the gas giant from where you are right now.
    • If the Death Star rounds the planet, they’re going to destroy the moon you’re on (and you).
    Rebel fighter ships are desperately trying to destroy the Death Star.
    • All attempts against the Death Star so far have failed.
    • Someone named Luke Skywalker is now on a high-speed firing run trying to destroy the ship.
    • That Skywalker fellow just turned off his auto-pilot and everybody is really worried.
  3. Jurassic Park

    Introduction: “You’re a reporter preparing to cover the opening of a new theme park when everything goes very, very wrong. Tell us about it.”

    Scenario: You’re a reporter getting a behind-the-scenes view of Jurassic Park, which opens in a week. However, something has gone wrong…

    • You’re in the Jurassic Park Control Room by yourself.
    • The power went off for a while, but now it’s back on.
    • Everyone else has left on various rescue or repair missions.
    • There are dozens of screens that let you see what’s going on…the dinosaurs are loose.
    • You can see the big Tyrannosaurus Rex on a screen chasing a jeep.
    • You haven’t seen any of the raptors in a while.
    • There’s a scratching at the door…
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Eight Years of Public Speaking: It All Adds Up…

Public SpeakingWell, I’m an IT professional in my day job, so I tend to keep track of things, including my public speaking engagements. Apparently, since 2007, I have spoken in public 102 times, including speeches, lectures and 4 different workshops. I have spoken in 37 different venues, including auditoriums, studios, hotel ball rooms and restaurants. I have spoken on TV 2 times. In addition, I have organized 16 conferences and more than 100 smaller events of different types. Somehow, it all adds up over time.

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Workshop Attendees at Capclave 2014

Some of the attendees from my workshop, “Public Speaking for Writers,” hard at work on, of all things, a writing assignment (a brief story pitch, which they than had to present to the class). The man in the middle on the far side of the table is Tom Doyle, best-selling writer of American Craftsmen.

You can just FEEL the concentration…

Workshop Attendees: Public Speaking for Writers

The workshop was held at Capclave 2014 in Gaithersburg, MD, in a room aptly called “The Boardroom.”

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Finest Legacy Link Working Again

The Finest Legacy One of my beta readers pointed out that the Media section of my site had a bad link. Specifically, the link to the video, “The Finest Legacy,” on YouTube was broken. While the sound quality on this video isn’t the best, it’s one of my favorites. It’s about my Dad and the love of science fiction that he instilled in me. It was recorded at AOL in 2012.

I’m not sure what happened. But it looks like the YouTube links changed underneath me. I’ve corrected them, and they’re working again. So, go check out the video. Failing that, the transcript is also online.

Many thanks to Frances Holland for pointing out the problem to me.

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Public Speaking for Writers

Mark TwainI’ve been asked to run a workshop on public speaking at Capclave 2014. I’ve incorporated a Mark Twain theme to the workshop, since he was a great writer, a world-renowned public speaker and an early science fiction writer (thanks to his A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court). I thought I’d reveal the official description of the workshop:

Title: Public Speaking for Writers
Panelist: David Keener

Description: David Keener, an experienced public speaker, conference organizer and writer, will lead a workshop on public speaking for writers. In today’s publishing world, simply writing a story isn’t enough – you also need to get up in front of an audience and promote yourself. In this workshop, you’ll learn techniques to be a dynamic speaker. You’ll learn how to apply these techniques to be an effective panelist at conventions, whether as a moderator or as a participant. You’ll also learn to describe your fiction in succinct sound bites designed to intrigue potential readers.

You’ve seen it all done wrong – find out how to do it right.

Limited: 16 participants.
Duration: 2 hours

FYI. I’ve worked out the design of the workshop, which will be pretty cool for the participants, I think. I’ve validated the workshop design and timing with some of my Toastmasters friends, including professional speakers and educators. And I’ve begun working on the accompanying PowerPoint slides for the instructional parts of the workshop. The workshop will consist of three instructional sections, one short writing session, one collaborative session and two public speaking exercises (including a mock panel for each group).

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Pitfalls: The Silver Lining

I guess there’s a silver lining to my recent, semi-disastrous presentation on the “Pitfalls of Medieval Fiction Writing.”

Well, first, I guess I shouldn’t really call it a disaster. The audience was successfully entertained despite the multiple A/V failures that unfolded before them. Likewise, I was pleased with the reaction to my content, although I would have clearly preferred to give my talk backed up by all of my slides, rather than totally without them.

Anyway, I recounted my horror story to the attendees of the Saturday Morning Review, which is the weekly writing review session sponsored by the Loudoun County Writer’s Group. It was near the end of the meeting, and we’d already reviewed the week’s writing samples. After commiserating with me about my experience, a few of my fellow writers asked me to elaborate on some of the points that I’d covered in my talk.

As I gave them an overview of some of the pitfalls I’d identified, I was gratified to notice that they were nodding in general agreement with my observations. Finally, one of them said, “I’d really like to see that talk.” The rest of the attendees made it clear that they, also, would be interested in hearing a talk like this.

That’s my silver lining. I discovered that there are, indeed, fellow writers who find my topic interesting.

So. I’ve decided to expand my talk into a full 50-minute presentation, suitable for a convention like Capclave, Balticon, Ravencon, etc. It’s going to take some effort to work that into my schedule, but I think the talk would function nicely for those types of events. When I get the presentation done, I’m planning to present it locally for the benefit of writers in the area, particularly the ones from my writing group.

My tentative plan is to host a free meeting at the Ashburn Bertucci’s sometime this summer. I think Bertucci’s would work nicely, because they have an excellent back room that is free for groups. The event would take the form of either: 1) a late lunch on a Saturday or Sunday (late so as not to conflict with the various 10:00 AM – 12:00 writer’s meetings in the area), or 2) it could BE one of the Loudoun County Writer’s Group workshops.

I’ll use Evite to manage the RSVP’s. I’ll also videotape the meeting. Hopefully, I can also get one of my friends to man the camera for me. Overall, I think it’ll be a lot of fun. I’m really looking forward to it.

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Total. Audio. Visual. Fail.

I just gave a talk on “The Pitfalls of Medieval Fiction Writing,” covering many of the problems I see in stories, films, and TV shows that feature medieval cultures, whether in a historical setting or transplanted into a fantasy milieu.

Can I say…

Total. Audio. Visual. Fail.

Yes, I believe I can.

The screen showed up, but not the projector. Then my Dell laptop glitched, so no PowerPoint slides. Not even for me, the speaker. So, I gave the talk from memory.

It all worked. Somehow.

Worst A/V debacle I’ve experienced in my seven years of public speaking. (As a conference organizer with more than twelve conferences and dozens of smaller events under my belt, I’ve seen worse failures. This was just the worst that I’ve personally experienced.)

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Picked Up Some Speech Contest Bling

2014 Club Contest Public Speaking Trophies I picked up some bling at the Ashburn Toastmasters Speech Competition yesterday. I won 1st place in the International Speech Contest and 1st place in the Evaluation Contest. I’ve been in Toastmasters for over three years now, so I expect to be competitive. However, both contests featured real competitors, so winning both was both unexpected and gratifying.

For those who don’t know how these competitions work, there are two contests. The International Speech Contest is a 7-rung contest. If you win at the Club level, as I did, then you advance to the Area level, followed by Division, District, Semi-Region, Region and World. If you win at the World level, then 1) you’ve beaten more than 30,000 contestants world-wide, and 2) you get to call yourself the World Champion of Public Speaking for the next year (and you’ll receive tons of both paid and unpaid speaking engagements).

Speeches for the International Speech Contest generally have to be motivational, inspirational and, often, include heart-felt stories in order to be competitive. I took a chance with the Club level, and re-used my “What’s Your Dream?” speech from last week’s taping of the TV show, Mastering Business Communications. It’s a good speech, and had some clear tie-ins that made it particularly meaningful to the members of Ashburn Toastmasters (who were the judges), but I already knew it wasn’t quite ideal for the International Speech Contest. However, I figured it was probably good enough to win at the club level.

My primary competitor was a 17-year veteran of Toastmasters, a Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM). Her speech had those inspirational elements that mine didn’t, as well as some shock value (she kicked over a chair during her speech). However, she hadn’t had enough time to memorize her speech, so she used cue cards. On my side, I fumbled my intro slightly, although people told me afterwards that they hadn’t noticed, so I must have covered myself pretty smoothly. My speech was fully memorized, I used the floor effectively, and I’d had time to choreograph my gestures.

I think I would have won via straight-out judging. But it didn’t matter in the end, because my primary opponent went overtime and was disqualified.

The Evaluation Contest is a little different. It only extends up to the District level, which for District 29 is basically the Northern Virginia area outside of the Beltway that encircles Washington DC. In this contest, a model speaker, generally unknown to the contestants, delivers a 5-7 minute speech. Contestants take notes during the speech, then have 5 minutes to organize their thoughts. After that, their notes are taken from them, and they are sequestered in another room.

One by one, the contestants are brought out to give their 2-3 minute evaluation of the speech. They have 30 seconds of leeway on either side. Beyond that, they’ll be disqualified.

So, what do the judges look for? First, the evaluation is a speech, so they’re looking for a well-defined beginning, middle and, most importantly, a coherent summary. Second, they’re looking for completeness. Was the contestant able to identify things that the speaker did well, and things that the speaker could improve? Did the contestant frame the issues in a constructive manner? Third, they’re looking for solutions. It’s one thing to tell a speaker that they have a litany of problems, but it’s much more difficult to give them solutions, tactics that they can use to improve their speeches in the future. This is the hardest part of an evaluation, recommending actionable solutions for the speaker’s problems.

As it turned out, the originally scheduled model speaker didn’t show up. There was a visiting guest who previously exchanged several emails with club officers and wanted to join the club. So, she joined when she got there, assumed the role of model speaker, and gave her first speech all in the same night. The contestants knew nothing of what had gone behind the scenes, and had no idea that the model speaker was a first-time speaker.

This made the evaluations interesting, because her speech was basically a rambling monologue about taking charge of your own life, and various tactics to accomplish this. In my evaluation, I began by telling her that she was brave to come out and speak in front of a group of people she’d never met before, and that, whatever other problems her speech might have, she had the most critical thing…something worth saying.

I started with some basic corrections. Don’t tell us that you didn’t have any time to prepare your speech; if you don’t tell us, we might not notice. Don’t thank the audience at the end of a speech — you’re the one doing the hard work to prepare and deliver the speech, so the audience thanks you (that’s what applause is all about). Finally, I noted that her general speech problems were organizational in nature. I advised her to start with an outline, work on a more concrete intro and conclusion, and slow down to allow her major points to sink in.

I think I won partly because of the completeness of my criticisms, but most because I offered her solid, coherent solutions to transform her speech into something much more effective.

Overall, I was extremely happy with my two performances. I brought my A game and competed in both contests at the highest level of which I was capable. I’d have been happy with my performance even if I had lost (just because someone else gets the trophy, you never lose, in my humble opinion, if you’ve done your absolute best). Nevertheless, I was extremely pleased to come home with both trophies. Incidentally, it was my third time competing in the International Speech Contest, and only my first time competing in the Evaluation Contest.

The only downside after winning is that I’ll need to craft an entirely new, contest-caliber speech by the time I get to the March 22nd Area Contest.

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