Workshop: Build a Space Battle

Workshop: Build a Space Battle While I was at Capclave 2016 this past October, I was asked by Cathy Green, the Vice Chair for Capclave 2017, to contribute a workshop to next year’s convention. As always, I’m gratified to be asked to do these types of things, and even more gratified that people seem to enjoy them.

I’ve done workshops for Capclave before, and each time I try to do something different. Past topics have included:

  • Public Speaking for Writers (2014)
  • Creating an Adaptive Setting (2015)

Capclave is run by the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA). At the WSFA meeting last Friday, I kicked a few workshop ideas past Elizabeth Twitchell, the con Chair for next year. The one we finally settled on was: “Build a Space Battle.”

The concept is that I’m going to provide a basic science fiction scenario. The tasks for the workshop attendees will be to fill in the details until we’ve collectively created a consistent background and timeline for a significant-sized SF space battle (hence the space battle pic at the top of this entry).

I’m looking forward to this. I think it will be a lot of fun for everybody involved.

Posted in Conferences | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Micro Fiction Workshop at Capclave 2016

I attended the Micro Fiction Workshop at Capclave 2016 on a whim. Here’s the description from the program:

Micro Fiction Workshop
Coordinator: Dustin Blottenberger, Deidre Dykes (M), Brigitte Winter
Micro Fiction, a subset of flash fiction, are stories of 300 words or less. Learn how these word count restrictions force writers to boil stories down to their most powerful core elements. You will create micro fiction pieces through a series of exercises, learn about exciting markets for tiny stories and discuss how micro fiction can be a useful tool for deepening your writing skills.
Limited to 15 people.

Now, flash fiction isn’t something you can make a living at. And micro fiction, well, ditto. But what the heck? I figured at least it would be two hours of writing practice that would exercise literary muscles that I didn’t always use.

I was pleased to discover that Dustin, Deidre and Brigitte had put together an excellent workshop with well-organized content and useful exercises. Even better, the final exercise was to write a 101-word Halloween story (that’s 100 words plus a 1-word title). I ended up with what I thought was a rather nifty Halloween story with a killer last line…and a market to send it to. Next Saturday (10/15/2016) is the deadline for the Halloween “issue” of 101Fiction.com.

I’ll be submitting my story as soon as I complete some minor polishing.

Meanwhile, here’s the selfie that Dustin took at the end of the workshop:

Micro Fiction Workshop at Capclave 2016     Photo Credit: Dustin Blottenberger

Posted in Writing Tips | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Capclave 2016

Capclave 2016: Science Fiction and Fantasy Literary Convention Capclave is the Washington area’s premier literary SF and Fantasy convention, hosted each year by the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA). I had a great time at Capclave, as always (it’s my fourth time), but especially from the business perspective of a burgeoning writer.

I was here with Marty Wilsey, a fellow member of my primary writing group, who was here to promote his indie-published military SF trilogy, the Solstice 31 Saga (it’s doing very well, by the way). I’m also on the verge of significant publication myself, with one of my novelettes due to appear this month in an anthology called Reliquary and another one about to be indie-published as soon as I can work out the cover issues with my cover designer.

From the business perspective, here’s what went really well:

  • Cathy Green, Capclave 2017’s Programming Chair, asked me to do a workshop for Capclave 2017. I’ve previously done workshops at Capclave 2014 and 2015.
  • I got to discuss the Reliquary anthology with the production team.
  • I got to discuss a future anthology, possibly two anthologies, that I’m putting together for publication next year.
  • I attended a workshop on “Book Design” put on by Danielle Ackley-McPhail, an industry professional who has successfully published many anthologies, including the highly amusing Bad-Ass Faeries series.
  • I networked with people who can help me promote my indie-published works.
  • I got to talk craft and business with other writers…who treated me as the professional writer that I believe I’m becoming.
  • I attended the “Microfiction Workshop” conducted by Dustin Blottenberger, Deidre Dykes and Brigitte Winter. I ended up with what I think is a publishable 101-word Halloween story and a venue to which to submit it.

In addition to workshops, I attended a number of great panels. One thing that was gratifying, and isn’t always experienced at cons, is that all of the moderators quite obviously spent time to both prepare for their panels and ensure that the content was suitable for the people likely to attend, i.e. – if the topic was aimed at writers then they made sure there was useful information for writers.

As both a writer and a fan, it was great conference and I look forward to attending again in 2017.

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Speaking at Capclave 2015

Two reasons to go to Capclave 2015: 1) it’s the best literary SF convention in the Washington DC metropolitan area, and 2) I’ve been invited to run a “Public Speaking for Authors” workshop there again this year.

[Editorial Note: After discussion with the Capclave Program Coordinators, it looks like I’ll instead be giving my new workshop, “Creating an Adaptive Setting,” formerly known by the title, “The Reactive Net.” For more information, click this link.]

Capclave 2015

Posted in Conferences, Science Fiction | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

My First SF Panel

As a fledgling writer at Capclave 2014, I got to participate in my first panel at an SF convention. My fellow panelists were Paolo Bacigalupi, award-winning writer of The Windup Girl and the Guest of Honor for the convention; D. Douglas Fratz, the moderator for the panel, a writer and a climate scientist in his day job; James Maxey, a fantasy writer; and Max Gladstone, a fantasy writer. The topic of the panel was:

Writing About Climate Change: Climate change is the new nuclear winter. Post-apocalyptic novels used to be set in a post nuclear detonation landscape; now they’re set in environmentally wrecked futures. Most of these books are dystopian and theoretically predictive. Why do authors write the way they write about climate change?

Fellow writer Jennifer Povey was kind enough to “capture the moment” for me:

Writing About Climate Change

Writing About Climate Change: (left to right) Panelists: James Maxey, D. Douglas Fratz (Moderator), Paolo Bacigalupi (Guest of Honor), Max Gladstone and David Keener.

Clearly, I was the junior member of the panel. And Paolo Bacigalupi and D. Douglas Fratz were far and away the most expert on hardcore climate change science and policy. Nevertheless, I think I acquitted myself reasonably well. I was also pleased that my fellow panelists were quite nice and didn’t exhibit any of that bias against self-published writers that I’ve heard others talk about. I had a great time.

Posted in Conferences, Tools for Writers | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Going to Capclave 2014!

Capclave 2014, Gaithersburg, MD

I’ll be going to Capclave again this year. It’s a small literary SF convention serving the Washington DC metropolitan region, probably around 450 – 500 people. We’re expecting attendance to be down from last year’s numbers, which were around 900 or so thanks to the “George Factor” — the Guest of Honor was George R. R. Martin, the author of the Game of Thrones series and the inspiration behind HBO’s hit TV series.

It’s October 10 – 12, so it’s only about a week away. As with last year’s event, it’s being hosted in Gaithersburg, MD. So, be there if you can. It’s money well spent, whether you’re a reader or a writer.

Speaking of writers, Capclave has also got an excellent Writer’s Track, which I’m proud to be part of this year. I’ll be conducting my workshop, “Public Speaking for Writers,” on Sunday, October 12th. This is a talk that is clearly on the business side of being a professional speaker, and which also leverages my extensive Toastmasters experience.

That same day, I’ll also be on a science panel with Guest of Honor Paolo Bacigalupi (I’ve learned how to say his name just so I can manage to not embarrass myself on the a panel — batch-i-ga-loopy), the award-winning writer of The Windup Girl. The panel is entitled “Writing About Climate Change.” Authors James Maxey and Max Gladstone will also be on the panel with me, along with D. Douglas Fratz, a writer and climate scientist (in his day job). It’s my first panel at an SF convention, so I’m really looking forward to it.

One more week, and then it’s off to Capclave!

Posted in Conferences, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Presenting at Capclave 2014

Capclave 2014, Washington DC's regional SF conferenceOK, you can officially label me as surprised. I just unexpectedly landed a speaking gig at Capclave 2014, the regional SF/Fantasy convention for the Washington DC metropolitan area. Here’s how it happened…

I was attending a WSFA (Washington Science Fiction Association) meeting in early June. If you’re not familiar with WSFA, they’re the organization of volunteers that runs Capclave, as well as administering their annual Small Press Award for new writers, and publishing a few books each year by well-known writers. During the evening, I ended up talking to Cathy Green, the Head of Programming for the convention.

I asked Cathy what it took to qualify as a presenter at Capclave.

Now, I know from the conferences that I attend in my daytime IT career, as well as from the the technical conferences that I run, that you generally start planning your speaking engagements a year or so in advance. At least, you start planning for the ones that you intend to pursue; you don’t necessarily get picked for every conference or convention for which you apply (unless you’re a draw like Neil Gaiman or George R. R. Martin). So, I was really asking so that I could ensure that I’d be ready when I went to pursue a speaking opportunity for 2015.

Yes, that’s right. 2015.

However, Cathy knew some things about me already from previous, unrelated conversations. She knew that I attended two writing groups, that I had extensively researched all things related to indie publishing, and that I had experience running technical conferences in my daytime career (the one that pays the bills). She essentially took me more seriously than I had expected.

Without explicitly saying so, it became clear during our conversation that she was considering me for the 2014 Program. What probably helped was that I wasn’t the slightest bit pushy. I was inquiring about opportunities to present, I wasn’t aggressive, and I was perfectly fine if there wasn’t an opening. Trust me, just being “easy to work with” can go a long way sometimes.

I pitched a couple of ideas for her, including my “Pitfalls of Medieval Fiction Writing” presentation that I’ve been putting together. She didn’t bite on any of the ideas. Not that they were bad, but she had other panels that already covered similar topics.

During our conversation, I mentioned that I was in Toastmasters, which is a non-profit organization that helps people learn public speaking and leadership skills. I added that I had spoken at lots of technical conferences, which is something I’ve been doing since 2007. I figured that if she wasn’t interested in one of my panel ideas, maybe I could be a sort of backup speaker, capable of filling in on panels wherever she had an opening.

Then she asked, “How long have you been in Toastmasters?”

I said, “Four years. I’m closing in on my Distinguished Toastmaster accreditation.”

“Really? Could you give a workshop, say, maybe a 2-hour workshop, on public speaking for writers?”

Needless to say, I was surprised. But what I said was, “Yes. Of course I could do a workshop like that. It would be fun, too.”

So that’s how I landed speaking engagement at Capclave 2014. One of the things the convention organizers pride themselves on is having an excellent track for writers. It turns out that Cathy had a hole in the schedule for the writer’s track, and I had the legitimate skills and experience to craft a workshop that would fill the hole.

Posted in Conferences, Science Fiction, Toastmasters | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Proud New Member of WSFA

WSFA - Washington Science Fiction AssociationOn Friday, January 3rd, I officially became a member of the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA). This non-profit organization was founded in 1947. Here’s their official description:

The Washington Science Fiction Association is the oldest science fiction club in the greater Washington area. Its members are interested in all types of science fiction and fantasy literature as well as related areas such as fantasy and science fiction films, television, costuming, gaming, filking, convention-running, etc. WSFA meets the first and third Fridays of every month at approximately 9:00 pm. Non-members are encouraged to attend. Club meetings include a brief business meeting, after which the group gathers informally over light refreshments to talk about just about anything including (on occasion) science fiction literature and media.

Although they don’t explicitly state this in their official description, the organization’s true purpose is to promote science fiction and fantasy literature within the greater Washington DC metropolitan area. To this end, they annually organize and run Capclave, a very nice regional conference. They’ve also hosted, or had members participate in hosting, some of the big, roving conferences. Notably, WSFA has hosted the World Fantasy Convention, most recently in 2003, and they’ll be hosting it again in November 2014. Some of the organization’s members are also currently putting together a bid to bring the World Science Fiction Convention, my favorite convention, to Washington DC in 2017.

Put simply, I think the organization does good work.

But I’m a writer. Why am I interested in joining the organization? Well, let me list some of my reasons below:

  1. Promote SF Literature: I love science fiction, but there’s a vast difference between SF in literature and SF in media. Frankly, the SF literature is far more sophisticated than most of the SF that’s coming out of Hollywood. I’d like to help make sure that our SF books aren’t forsaken for their media counterparts.

  2. Reduce the Graying of SF Fandom: There’s an effect known as “the graying of SF fandom,” in which the average age of SF fans is rising. Prospective younger fans are often lured away by other technologies like games, movies and television. Or worse, they’re not even introduced to SF in any meaningful way. I’d like to help ensure that younger readers are introduced to our “literature of ideas” so that we can bring newer, younger fans into the fold.

  3. Networking: I’m writing professionally now and, frankly, I’m hampered in some ways because I don’t know people in the SF field. I need to know editors, cover artists, fellow writers, etc., in order to be successful at what I’m trying to accomplish as a writer.

  4. Expanding My Fan Base: I write SF and Fantasy. WSFA members read SF and fantasy. By attending meetings, I’m associating with people who might reasonably want to read the things that I write. They are also well positioned to foster great word-of-mouth regarding my stories. However, there’s a careful balance that I need to maintain here since WSFA doesn’t exist to promote individual writers. Joining the organization requires a certain integrity of intent, i.e. – a commitment to help the organization accomplish its goals. Accordingly, I’ve adopted a deliberately low profile when it comes to promoting my own work.

  5. Entertainment: I know more about science fiction than all of my friends. Period. I’ve seen more SF movies, read more SF books, know more about SF history, and I’m more familiar with SF/Fantasy memes. I’m constantly recommending books to other people (“Oh, you like zombies? Try Feed by Mira Grant, aka Seanan McGuire”), loaning DVD’s to friends (“You should see the indie SF movie, Cube“), or explaining SF concepts like the Singularity. Conventions and WSFA meetings are the only places where I can go and meet other people like me.

I’ve been attending WSFA meetings since September 2013. As a writer, how has associating with WSFA been beneficial to me so far? Well, it’s done a lot of things for me already, more than I had envisioned when I first began attending meetings.

  • Scored low-cost tickets to Capclave 2013.

  • Received advice to sign up for the Writers Track at Capclave 2013. I did this, and it proved to be excellent advice.

  • Met an editor at one of the meetings. Got some advice on venues that might buy some of my short fiction. Have periodically had other members tell me about various anthologies that were looking for submissions.

  • Provided advice to the organization that plans to bring a science fiction museum to Washington DC.

  • Got to see a live reading of a new story by Jamie Todd Rubin, an up and coming writer from this area.

  • Have heard some really awesome stories about fandom and the writing community. As a result, I have a new appreciation for lime jello.

Overall, I’m proud to be part of WSFA. I expect to have a lot of fun thanks to the organization. I also expect to do some worthwhile work promoting the “literature of ideas” that I love so much.

Posted in A Little Inspiration | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Capclave 2013

Capclave 2013 I had a great time attending Capclave 2013, which was held this past weekend in Gaithersburg, MD (at apparently the world’s oldest Hilton Hotel). The image to the left is a dodo, Capclave’s “mascot,” which is usually accompanied by the tagline: “Where reading is not extinct.”

According to the WSFA (Washington Science Fiction Association – the group the runs the convention) folks that I talked to, the presence of George R.R. Martin at the con more than doubled the expected attendance from 400 people to about 850 people, including a lot of Saturday walk-ins. Nevertheless, it never felt crowded to me…unless you were one of the people waiting in line for a George R.R. Martin signing, where his line wrapped around the interior of the hotel.

One of the funnier moments of the convention occurred Saturday night when George R.R. Martin, the Guest of Honor, accepted his gift from the con for being a guest. He mentioned a real-world project that aims to resurrect extinct species using reconstituted DNA. He noted that the mastodon was first on the list, but that the dodo was in the top ten — this drew some laughter from the crowd. Then he said, “Screw the dodo, let’s bring back the dire wolf.” This got a huge wave of laughter from the crowd, since everyone knows that the dire wolf features prominently in his novel, “The Game of Thrones,” as well as subsequent volumes in the series (plus the TV series).

I was only able to attend the convention on Saturday and Sunday. Since the convention was (relatively) local for me, I ended up driving to it each day. So I spent a good amount of time commuting through pouring rain.

Anyway, I spent most of my time at the convention in workshops. I’ll have separate posts about the workshops, since I have some good notes that I think might prove useful for other writers.

The workshops were obviously a highlight for me. More than one person told me they viewed Capclave as a “writer’s con” more than a “fan con.” I attended the following workshops:

  • Allen Wold’s Writer’s Workshop (2 sessions, totaling 3 hours)
    — David Bartell, Andrew Fox, Allen Wold and Darcy Wold

  • Area 52 Military Science Fiction – Getting it Right (2 sessions, totaling 4 hours)
    — Ron Garner, Brian Shaw and Janine Spendlove (all active or former Marines)

  • Creating Your Ebook (1 session, 2 hours)
    — Neil Clarke, Hugo-winning editor of Clarkesworld magazine
    — (2013/11/06) Some of his CSS from the session is now up on his blog

Plus, I attended some conventional panels that were also useful to writers, including:

  • Online Writing Tools
    — Jaime Todd Rubin and Bud Sparhawk

  • Aircraft Carriers in Space!
    — Christopher Weuve

  • Self-Publishing and You / DIY Publishing
    — Jennifer Barnes, Andrew Fox, Jason Jack Miller, Betsy A. Riley and Steve H. Wilson

I also ended up having my picture taken with John G. Hemry, author of the Lost Fleet series, and Carolyn Ives Gilman, author of award-nominated novelettes like Arkfall (which I got her to sign) and last year’s The Ice Owl. I promised both of them that the picture would end up on my blog, and so they both will by the end of this week.

Overall, an excellent convention. I had a great time, got to work on my writing skills in a workshop, absorbed a ton of useful information for writers, bought some excellent books, and met some sterling people. Plus, the Philcon and Kansas City parties were very welcoming, and the Dark Quest Book Launch was a lot of fun, too.

Posted in Conferences, Science Fiction | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Watching the Moon Launch with WSFA

WSFA - Washington Science Fiction AssociationI had an interesting Friday night. I’ve lived in the Washington metropolitan area since 1987, when I first came here for a job. There’s a science fiction organization in the area called the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA), which I’ve known about for a long time, but I’d never attended a meeting because, for me, they’re on inconvenient nights in inconvenient places (the first and third Friday of the month, in Arlington and Maryland respectively).

However, as I embark seriously on an SF writing career, I really need to become familiar with the local SF clubs, conventions, etc. So, I decided to attend my first meeting yesterday. I secured the appropriate “kitchen pass” from my wife so that I could 1) go to the meeting, and 2) move our regularly scheduled “Friday Date Night” to Saturday instead.

As SF clubs go, WSFA is reasonably influential. They’re one of the oldest SF associations, formed in 1947 and meeting continuously since then. From the 1950’s to 1997, the organization ran a convention called Disclave; I attended a couple of those events back in the early 90’s. A few years passed without a convention, and then they started up Capclave in 2001, which I was already planning to attend (it’s on October 11 – 13 this year). They’ve also hosted the Worldcon twice, which is my favorite convention, and they hosted the World Fantasy Convention last year.

I showed up at the meeting, which was held at the residence of Sam and Judy Scheiner. I had a great time talking to a very nice group of people who love SF the way I do and, in some cases, know even more than I do about it. During the business portion of the meeting, of course, most of the discussion centered around the logistics for running Capclave in just a little over a month.

I also admitted, in public, to the group that I was trying to become an SF writer. That was … surprisingly daunting. Fortunately, folks were very encouraging.

Some other benefits to the meeting…someone brought a box of ARC’s (Advance Reader Copies) that were left over from Worldcon, and I managed to find a new book that sounded interesting (The Hidden Worlds, by Kristin Landon). Free books, always a good thing.

LADEE Moon LaunchLater we all trooped outside to a nearby park to watch the LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) launch, which was happening on Wallops Island just off the Virginia coast at 11:27 PM, near its more famous cousin, Chincoteague. A key player in the launch was a company called Orbital, which has its headquarters near my house. Ken Kremer, a science writer, has a lot more information about the launch in his article on the Universe Today web site, if you want to learn more about it.

We couldn’t see much of the launch. It was partially obscured by trees, and the rocket never got very high from our vantage point as it headed eastward from the launch site. Nevertheless, it was surprisingly thrilling to watch the moving speck in the sky and know that it was a moon launch, and not just a plane flying by.

Overall, I had a good time. I met some fellow SF fans, and had some good, spirited SF discussions. I learned more about Capclave, got a free book, watched a rocket launch, and scored a reduced-cost ticket to Capclave from someone who bought their ticket long ago but won’t be able to attend. I call that a pretty good night.

Posted in Science, Science Fiction | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment