Above: The Readercon bookstore. From the convention website: "In the course of its twenty years, it has become the standard bearer and role model for conventions that focus on the literature. A typical Readercon features well over 100 writers, editors, and critics (attracting prominent figures from Canada, the U.K., and occasionally even Australia) and more than 400 of their readers."
This has been a year for me of "coming back" -- to Readercon (which I last attended in the 80s as a professional guest), to Boston (from which I moved to Florida in 2003), and to an industry in which, a quarter-century ago, I had suddenly found myself transfixed like a deer in the headlights.
Back then I was in my mid-20s. I'm about to turn 50, and hope my experiences in the interim have helped prepare me for the next wave....(continued)
First, many thanks go to my friend Michael, who picked me up at Logan Airport and put me up my first night back in Boston. And more -- after a scrumptious dinner at Casablanca in Harvard Square, we went to Dance Freedom. I used to be a regular there and it just happened to be dance night at 10 Garden Street. Getting back into that space was a marvelous treat. So, too, long conversations with Michael, whom I also call my "Midrash Buddy."
Before driving me to the Burlington Marriott for Readercon, he arranged for me to audit the "concerto class" he's taking at the Cambridge Center for Adult Ed. (I used to teach there and he still does, which is where we met around 25 years ago.) The instructor used a great technique of describing the instruments, progressions, tone, etc., in anthropomorphic terms -- how the instruments relate to each other emotionally. ("Brahms shows the relationships from on high. Dvorak's concerto is like two people talking to each other in a bar.") Very cool.
Room 745, Burlington Marriott. While I was settling in, I came up with the title and some of the structure for the keynote address I'm giving at the Florida State Poets Assn. convention in October. On Friday I attended "SF as Mirror for Reality," a discussion led by Robert J. Sawyer; a Kaffeeklatsch with Cat Rambo (editor of Fantasy) and Hildy Silverman (editor of Space and Time, whose issue #104 contains my poem "First Contact in Appalachia"); panel "Triumphing Over Competence;" plus readings by authors in the new annual anthology Clockwork Phoenix (Mike Allen, Ed.); Mike Allen's Speculative Poetry Workshop; R. Scott Bakker's talk "The Post-Posterity Writer;" and a meeting of the "Interstitial Arts Foundation."
Mike Allen waits during the writing of "scifaiku" (speculative poetry haiku) by the group.
"Meet the Pros(e)" party on Friday night.
Having awakened disgustingly early on Saturday after staying up late rehearsing for my two readings, I banged out 1,935 words of draft for the keynote.
My favorite craft-related quote of this convention came early Saturday afternoon from Michael Swanwick at the panel, "Genius is 90% Higher Standards: The 'Unnecessary' Rewrite," in answer to the question, "How do you know when a story is ready to send?"
He answered, "It's not perfect, but you know you have to become a better writer in order to make it perfect."
Oh yeah. Amen. Boy, if that one doesn't put a humble and positive spin on all my raging insecurities, especially when I read stuff that blows me away. Because stuff that blows me away is an "Oh the agony/Oh the ecstasy" experience for me.
My late-night rehearsals for the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading and the Science Fiction Poetry Association "Poetry Slan" paid off.
Broad Universe "Rapid Fire Reading" flyer, constructed by coordinator Sarah Micklem.
Drew Morse reads at the SFPA "Poetry Slan," where he also announced the winners of the SFPA's Rhysling Award for best short and long speculative poetry published in 2007 and the SFPA's new Grand Master (voting results will be posted on the SFPA website). Morse is chairman and editor of the Rhysling Anthology, which is now that trade paperback he's holding. Twenty-plus years ago it was a saddle-stapled Xerox that I put together with paste-up -- White-Out and glue stick! -- so seeing how it and the SFPA have grown and evolved over the years simply blows my mind. A lot of volunteers do a lot of hard and beautiful work over there.
Photos of other readers in the "Poetry Slan" are posted in my photoset here. I'm still trying to match names to faces.
Before the readings I attended the panel "How to Write For a Living When You Can't Live Off Your Fiction," at which roughly half the attendees including myself were already freelancers, and half were looking for info about the business. And now I've got more stuff on my To Do list.
I also filled a box with books and magazines that I mailed home. Never mind that I am waaay behind in my reading as it is.
Covenant and Riffing on Strings: Creative Writing Inspired by String Theory made a stand at the Broad Universe book table (kudos to all the volunteers there, too). On the first day of Readercon, Riffing on Strings (which reprinted my story "Arachne") got a very positive review over at New Scientist. A snippet of the review is here.
I enjoyed conversations with other BU and SFPA members, as well as touching base with people I'd met at WisCon back in May. Now that I'm attending conventions again, I can truly appreciate their "movable feast" aspect.
Mike Allen staffs the Science Fiction Poetry Association table.
Since coming home, I've found these comments in reviews of Electric Velocipede #14, with my story "Hermit Crabs":
"'Hermit Crabs' by Elissa Malcohn is a strong opener and still resonates with me once I was through with the magazine. It features strong characterization and has that powerful, inevitable ending." -- Charles Tan, Bibliophile Stalker.
"At first, I thought: 'Oh, no! another SF crab story!' Then I began reading and I thought: 'Oh, no! another depressed teen suicide story!' But unexpectedly, the more I progressed into the story, the more I enjoyed it; the characterization is good, the flashback structure is well done, the ending is surprising and satisfying. A valuable discovery for me (never heard before of Elissa Malcohn)." -- Fabrice Doublet, on the Night Shade Books message boards.
Doublet also recommended "Hermit Crabs" on the Asimov's Best New Stories of 2008 boards. Gardner Dozois replied, "Elissa Malcohn was a new writer back when I first took over ASIMOV'S, then vanished for decades. Good to see that she's writing again."
"There’s much to like about 'Hermit Crabs,' and I can see why the editors kicked off the issue with it. Great title, too, as it’s a metaphor for the crustacean that takes its new shell for a home after the old inhabitants have departed from it." -- Marshall Payne in his review posted at The Fix. Payne named "Hermit Crabs" as one of his favorite stories in the issue on his blog.
That plastered a grin on my face. "Hermit Crabs" was the first short story I'd completed in more than a decade, several months after moving to Florida. It told me I could still do this stuff.
So -- thanks, guys.
My first week home I received three contributor's copies: We'Moon '09 with my poem "Ancient Wisdom Distilled," Space and Time #104 with my poem "First Contact in Appalachia," and The Drabbler #11 with my short-short story, "Houston, We Are the Problem." (The Drabbler publishes stories of exactly 100 words, and each issue has a particular theme.)
I also learned that Deviations: Appetite, the sequel to Covenant, is now available for pre-order at Barnes and Noble. After a brief summary of Covenant, reviewer Jean Roberta writes in this blog entry, "I recommend the novel & the author..."
Next con: Denvention in less than two weeks!
Covenant, the first volume in the Deviations Series, is available from Aisling Press, and from AbeBooks, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Book Territory, Borders, Buecher.ch, Buy.com, BuyAustralian.com, DEAstore, eCampus.com, libreriauniversitaria.it, Libri.de, Loot.co.za, Powell's Books, and Target. Deviations: Appetite is now available for pre-order at Barnes and Noble. The Deviations page has additional details.