Happy Pi-Day … See You at Pi-Con! ‘Distilled Wisdom’ Debuts

Long time since my last post. Sorry, real life got in the way.

I’m now a full-time, self-employed, entrepreneurial, 1099 magnet, so I’ve had to take care of business. I found a way of blending journalism with consulting, and squeezing 40 professional-rate hours a week out of it, but I do have to stay on top of things to keep the cash flowing.

But now that I’ve got things stabilized on career front, I can make time for my writerly pursuits. One odd confluence is that I’m now working out of a client’s office which is six blocks from KGB Bar, home of the Fantastic Fiction readings — and only a block and a half away from the Grand Sichuan restaurant to which the crowd adjourns afterwards. (Not much farther away from The Strand, which is dangerous.)

Anyway, I’m getting back to actual writing. Time to finish Augie, then get started on the next thing. My train reading these days is Paul Witcover’s The Emperor of All Things, which I highly recommend to my steampunky friends (it takes place about a hundred years before The Difference Engine, but what’s speculative fiction if it doesn’t push a little?), and there’s a phrase that’s oft-repeated in the last half of the book. This phrase — which I think Paul borrowed from William T. Vollmann — pried open a creative crevice in my head and I feel a story wriggling out. More on this some other time.

The news I was saving for Pi Day is that I’ll be a program participant at Pi-Con, July 31-August 2 near Hartford, Conn. Looking forward to hanging with GOH Tanya Huff, whose Torin Kerr could kick Honor Harrington’s ass halfway across the galaxy. Don’t know what panels I’ll be on yet, so watch this space. I’ll also be reading — and who knows what else? — at Jennifer Jesia’s relaxicon, this coming weekend (i.e., Lunacon weekend), March 20-21, at the Homewood Suites Long Island-Melville (which is actually in Plainview). The readings will be from Mighty Mighty and Pitch Ribbons.

Another update: I’m following through with my threat to vlog my notes on panel discussions I attend as an audience member. This series of short vids, In which I’ll be discussing the craft of genre literature while imbibing top-shelf spirits, is titled, “Distilled Wisdom”. I just posted the first: the Arisia 2015 panel, “So You Think You Can Write a Fight Scene” modded by Keith R.A. DeCandido and comprising Genevieve Iseult Eldredge, Catt Kingsgrave, James MacDonald, Mark Millman and Resa Nelson. It’s here on the Streaming Media page.

That’s it for now. See you this weekend here on Long Island, over the summer at Pi-Con, or who-knows-where-else!

Arisia: My favorite con keeps getting even better

The upside to the recent convention cancellations here in New York is that I’m free to honestly name my favorite fan convention. It’s Arisia. And I can say that loud and proud without worrying I’m the only Red Sox fan in a Yankees bar.

I really look forward to MLK weekend every year. I’ve been adopted by a tribe of 4,000 people with whom I’m totally at home. The guy you see at the Westin wearing my face (and my dad’s hair) is the legit me. It’s like all I do 361 days a year is roll-play, then I spend four days being myself. Considering the whole concept of Arisia is roll-playing, I understand just how fucked up that sounds, but I don’t care. I love the people I met at Arisia. I love reuniting with others on the East Coast con “circuit” with whom I’ll be hanging out at another hotel bar in another city in another month. I love the costumes. I love the cult movies. I love going to the dealers’ room and buying a book by an author who I know I’ll soon run into and be able to get his or her signature (I’ve recently retired the lipstick bit after acquiring an enviable collection). I love finding craft-made cufflinks or watches or bill clips which I can purchase for roughly the same price as corporate stooges pay for theirs at Men’s Wearhouse. But most of all, I love the panels.

I missed Arisia last year. Without going too deep into my tales of woe, I had a shitty year and a half, financially and otherwise, but mainly financially. That truest version of me who shows up at Arisia is an epicure and bon vivant, one who celebrates both vice and virtue as essential elements of living fully. That kind of free-spiritedness is an expensive hobby, and I just couldn’t keep up appearances. I might have been able to attend Arisia 2014, but I wouldn’t have actually been there.

It looked like 2015 was going to be another miss but, just this past Thursday, I got the call I’d been waiting for since two Julys ago. Nothing I can formally announce at the moment, but it looks like I’ll very soon be back in the chips. Considering the timing of the call, there was very little thought involved in how and where I was going to celebrate.

I have some small regret that I wasn’t able to commit to attending Arisia 2015 until the day of, because I had to decline the invitation to return as a program participant. But no tears. For the first time, I was able to attend Arisia in a completely unstructured manner. I didn’t have any panel or reading commitments. I didn’t have the luxury of the green room to hide out in. I didn’t have to get anything delivered or copied or signed for. I could just hang out. And so I did.

And this turned out to be the most productive Arisia ever for me. I even sold a couple copies of Mighty Mighty, but that’s almost beside the point. There were no scheduling conflicts between the panels I was assigned and the ones I wanted to attend. There was no jealousy about “I know more about this-or-that than so-and-so — the nerve of putting him on that panel instead of me!” I didn’t have to speak at all. So I got to listen.

There were at least three or four standout panels I had the privilege of sitting in the back and listening to. And I do mean “standout”. There was nary a wasted microphone. The people on the panels were all deserving of the honor and delivered sage advice which I hoarded in my notebook.

Going forward, instead of vlogging con reports, I’ll be drilling down into specific panel topics in occasional (monthly?) video segments which will be called “Distilled Wisdom”. The first, coming soon, will be on writing fight scenes. Watch this space.

Meantime, I’m going to get back to work on short stories that I hope to get placed in upcoming anthos and start the serious grind on Augie. Playing in the background, at least one publisher is taking a long look at Pitch Ribbons. I’ll let you know as that develops.

Wow. I went on a lot longer than I intended to (or had time for). I don’t tend toward introspection so sorry I got lost in the unfamiliar territory. Hope to see you at Arisia 2016 at the very latest!

Mighty Mighty party at LI-Con

As you might know, the printer was late getting the first run of Mighty Mighty to Lunacon, but I’m still grateful to the Dark Quest Books gang for all they did to get the word out and give me a chance to read to a packed room!

This time for sure: I have the books in hand and will have a do-over launch party at LI-Con, the do-over convention for the I-Con committee. So be there this Saturday, 7:30-8:30, in Room 469 of the Best Western Mill River in Rockville Centre, N.Y. There will be prizes. There will be food. And of course, there will be individually signed copies for sale. But you don’t have to buy the book to show up for the party. Just drop by … 469.

From there, you can launch into the evening’s entertainment: drinking, dancing, or the snark double-feature of Cards Against LI-Con and the Eye of Argon reading.

I want to thank vice-chair Heather Luttenberger for setting up the launch party. Also, a tip of the hat to chair  Carl Fink and concom member Katrina Lovett for their kind words on the Destinies SF radio show previewing LI-Con.

I’m still negotiating consignment space for Mighty Mighty in the dealer’s room. By the way, if you’re in Suffolk County and can’t make it to LI-Con, you can pick up Mighty Mighty at Escape Pod Comics in Huntington for now, and I expect to list other retailers going forward.

Otherwise, I’ll be pretty sparse around LI-Con. It falls the same weekend as my motorcycle course. Yes. I’m learning to ride a rocket. You can laugh at me or you can be supportive and by “supportive” I mean donate blood. Still, by sundown Sunday, I expect to be a licensed Class M operator in the State of New York. First thing Monday, I’m drawing up a will.


Works in progress

I was hoping to be able to tell you about my Lunacon and LI-Con schedules by now, but that’ll have to keep. No blame! It can’t be easy organizing conventions. All I can tell you about that for the moment is what I reported about a month ago: The launch party featuring Mighty Mighty and other, more worthy titles is scheduled for Saturday night at Lunacon.

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been a busy little nut case.

As I mentioned here shortly after returning from Arisia, where I gave a first reading of my newly completed novel (well, pre-submission draft at least) and generated a little buzz from agents. I’ve gotten some positive vibes back from the beta readers for Pitch Ribbons: A Cantata for Four Voices, but I’m still waiting on all the manuscripts to come back with notes. I’m sure I’ll  have some work to do once those chickens roost. Meantime, I know certain sections that absolutely need rewrite. You see, a lot of Pitch Ribbons takes place on motorcycles, which I’ve never ridden in my life. So I went and got my Class M learner’s permit and am going for lessons. Within the month, I should be a licensed rider. Yes, I thought I was smarter than that too, but I’ve always been a stickler for research. I never want my ignorance to take a reader out of a story.

I have to admit, it was a little jarring when the DMV lady asked, while handing me my temporary permit, if I wished to be an organ donor.

“I hope not,” I replied, then explained I already have that designation on my driver’s license.

Then she showed me the results from my written test.

“Congratulations!” she chirped. “You only got two wrong!”

“Yes, that’s exactly what I want on my tombstone: ‘HE ONLY GOT TWO WRONG.'”

Assuming I live long enough, though, I will continue working on my next attempt at a commercially successful, or critically acclaimed, or at least widely witnessed train wreck of a novel. I just started on it next week, so I’ll tell you more about it as it takes shape.

But here’s what I can say about my new work in progress. The villain’s name will be David Stolarz, the name of the winner of a  raffle to benefit the Boy Scout troop for which I serve as an assistant scoutmaster.  (Yes, you read that right.) In addition to the tuckerization, Dave won signed copies of Land That I Love, Age of Certainty, and an advanced reader’s copy of Mighty Mighty. And if that’s not enough, he also won a $25 dry-cleaning gift certificate.

I can also tell you that it is a return to social satire and speculative fiction parody. The kind of skewering I gave to the superhero genre in Mighty Mighty I now apply to such near-future police procedurals as Almost Human or RoboCop. And as Mighty2 concerned itself with the limitations people saddle themselves with, this new novel will focus on  overt bigotry, unconscious prejudice, cultural appropriation, the hypocrisy of conservatism as a social movement, the privileges of the descendants of those who made the rules, and the sense of entitlement that engenders.

Wow, that sounds pretty deep, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, I’m too much of an intellectual lightweight to be taken seriously about any of it.

The working title is Augie and the first line is “You can tell a lot about somebody by sniffing his anus.”

You’ll love it. Trust me. But something tells me David Stolarz will never speak to me again.

PS: Please say something nice on Amazon and GoodReads!

Are We Writers or Watchers?

I came across a poignant but unsettling Paris Review article recently, via Tumblr. Author Shane Jones begins with Cyril Connolly’s rueful observation, “There is no more somber enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.”

From there, he describes how he came to feel marginalized by his fellow writers by the sheer act of procreating.

“What’s been most difficult, really, is balancing the weird mix of father and writer online, where the community I know is mostly childless. This online world, which I love and cherish, is also detached and ironic and so image-based that being a dad doesn’t seem to fit. To age out, a writer must pass through three stages: First, you turn thirty, thus becoming ‘online old.’ Second, you get married. Third, you have a child. I’ve done all three, and now I’m having to define myself online: Am I a writer or a dad or a husband? Can I be all three?

“Shortly after my wife gave birth, I commented on a friend’s Facebook status; my friend’s response was, ‘Hey, look at this Dad on here.’ It wasn’t meant to slight me, but there was something there, something that said I was now more dad than writer. In our culture, fatherhood means baggy khakis and cars with side-impact airbags—it’s something of a joke.”

That is troubling. At a time in history when caring, involved fathers are becoming rarer and rarer, you’d think the society at large would want to do all it could to support a man like Jones who chooses to live up to his responsibilities. Yes, a child can survive, succeed and even thrive without a dad. Same can be said for growing up without financial security. Or education. But why take any of those advantages off the table or, if you will, the basinet?

Here’s part of my reply to Jones’s article online:

I didn’t become a writer until after we had children. Frankly, I didn’t have anything important to write about until then. Nothing informs my work more than the connection I have with my family — except, perhaps, the connections I made as a result of them: real people with real quirks and real struggles.

It’s a lazy writer who decides to live outside humanity. I don’t mean we all have to have kids. Or embrace any conventional politics or religion. Or even hold down a job. I just mean we need to be part of the community at-large. There’s no point to just staring into a screen all day looking for “inspiration.” It’s nothing other than masturbatory to seek out only the companionship of people who are just like us. Our characters will get stale that way, and the motivations driving our plots will get more and more strained. I have never made my protagonist or exposition character a professional writer or journalist and I doubt I ever will. Not when I know so many people with construction trade skills, hard sciences backgrounds or more specialized studies to draw on. Meeting people — through such suburban cliches as CYO basketball or the Boy Scout troop — has given me perspective into the thoughts and feelings of people I might otherwise have passed on the street without a nod. At Arisia this past month, there were panels on “Writing the Self” and “Writing the Other.” I blew off both.

The takeaway is this: We writers are not and must not be a class unto ourselves. As we become self-referential, we become irrelevant. We’re here to reflect real life, to describe it, to amplify its failings and its successes, to posit how it could be better or what will happen if it decides to pursue its folly. We can do that through artful stories, character studies, adventures, romances, memoirs, humor or, yes, even children’s books. But if a writer feels the need to be defined as a cynical, no-strings-attached hipster, then we’re not, as a group, making ourselves useful. And that’s not to say that there isn’t room in the community for a whole lot of cynical, no-strings-attached hipsters, but it can’t be all of us and ought not be the default. Nobody should feel unwelcome in the community of writers because he’s a lifestyle-conservative family man, any more than if he was gay or poly or black or a woman.

I hope that anyone who’s ever (rightly) got on their soapbox against slut-shaming considers doing the same for dad-shaming.

Seeking a radical, black, feminist review of ‘Mighty Mighty’

Yes, you read that headline right. And for most of us white, male, het, cis, privileged types, it sounds like, “Seeking a dental surgeon with the delirium tremens,” or “Nice shot, Haji, but I’m about two more yards to your right and you gotta remember to adjust for the wind.” (Apologies for the ethnic insensitivity in the preceding sentence; I should’ve expressed the distance in meters.)

So why am I, so much a part of an effete coterie of decreasing relevance in genre circles, asking to have his work excoriated by the New Guard? Let me take another shot of single-malt Scotch and I shall tell you.

(Drat! I dribbled a smidgeon on my Brooks Brothers argyle sweater-vest!)

First, I want the exposure. I don’t care if have a penis, wished you did, wished you didn’t, wished nobody did, or are quite happy without one thank you. I just want you to buy my book. Or at least talk about it. I don’t care what you say about it, as long as you say something. Then somebody else will buy it.

Second, I really think that Mighty Mighty passes some key shibboleths when it comes to appealing to the Millennium’s sensitivities. It certainly passes the Bechdel test. Don’t believe me? Here’s a conversation between two female characters:

“… So I guess that’s where the bad habits came from,” Tara confessed, lying down flat on the Audi’s back bench. “I never thought anyone recognized anything I did, so I stopped trying.”

“But as my powers faded away to nothing, yours just got stronger,” Flare Star observed. “And it’s a good thing they did.”

“Yeah,” Tara conceded. “Maybe when all this is over, I’ll give the hero thing another try.”

“You already have,” Flare Star replied. “But explain this to me: I get why you left The Crusaders. I can figure out why you went back for your Ph.D. But how did you end up working for UPS?”

“That’s the easy part,” Tara explained. “What else are you going to do with a doctorate in formal axiology?”

“I don’t know. What is formal axiology?”

“It’s the study of value. What – mathematically – makes something good.”

“As opposed to evil?” Flare Star asked.

“You make it sound like those are the only two choices.”

“They aren’t?”

“Not by a long shot,” Tara said with a smirk. “Kevin and Elias got into this predicament while they were off hunting something chaotic, which doesn’t rise to the level of either good or evil.”

“So there are at least three choices.”

“More than that,” Tara explained. “You know what’s worse than evil?”

“Worse than evil? No. What?”

“Nihilism. The idea that nothing matters and all humanity’s efforts are wasted and worthless,” Tara summarized. “At least evil has a purpose. And at least chaos can give birth to order and, maybe, to good.”

“So given the choice …”

“Between evil and nothingness? Pick evil every time.”

That’s right. In my novel, I have two women discussing the mathematical underpinnings of the entire concept of ethics. Do you have that in yours? Purists will note that other characters, who happen to be male, are mentioned briefly in that exchange, but the discourse was clearly not about those male characters.

Nor is this the only example. Two of the villains are female, and I don’t think they discuss boys even once through the whole book — despite having started out as college roommates:

“So have you made up our mind yet, Equality?” Brigitte asked as she came in one afternoon with a reusable shopping bag filled with the makings of a salad-for-two. They often ate light dinners together in their room in the former Radcliffe dorms.

Equality was sitting on her yoga mat – which she also insisted on using as a bed – wearing a Guatemalan hemp hoodie and a pair of loose-fitting Capri pants she’d sewn together from home- spun and tie-dyed herself.

“Haven’t really thought about it,” Equality replied, then belched out a cloud of white smoke. “Where’s Phish playing this weekend?”

Brigitte consulted the concert schedule stapled – they couldn’t find magnets or scotch tape – to the refrigerator door.

“New York. The Garden.”

“Oh. I’ll drop by the drycleaner tomorrow, schedule a couple interviews in Manhattan and leave a day early,” Equality said as she began going through her warm-up stretches. “I guess I’ll just go and be an investment banker on Wall Street.”

“Don’t you love going to Harvard?” 

I think that, if you read Mighty Mighty without preconceptions, you’ll find that it has a diversity of characters who are informed by, but not defined by, their sexuality, ethnicity, and class. Oh, and the action takes place over the course of 35 years and 120,000 words. Characters change, grow, learn more about each other and themselves. You might bristle when you’re first introduced to Myron Masters who, in the Mighty Mighty world, was the first African-American superhero. When he took up the mantle, he adopted the simplest, least confusing nom de guerre: Black Man. Yes, you’re supposed to squirm at that. It’s squirm humor (and if you realize he’s a send-up of Marvel’s Power Man, you’ll get the joke immediately). As the world becomes more inclusive and Myron ages out of the fight, we all discover what other abilities he has besides Being Black.

My last reason is this: personal growth. I’m from a small town that was sharply divided into white neighborhoods and a black ghetto. Then I went to college on Long Island, which back then could be as racist as anywhere in the South. The day of a young woman going to college strictly to “get her MRS” was on the wane, but far from over. And this was during the early days of AIDS — I had about a dozen LGBT friends back then, only one of whom dared be out. I didn’t have to deal diversity until I was in my late 20s and in an international program in grad school.

About ten years later, when I was first acting on my longstanding aspiration to be a science fiction novelist, I joined the Online Writers Workshop and posted in a chat  my opinion at the time on the prevalence of gay characters in the magazines. I said something to the effect that, in a short story, if it doesn’t matter to the plot what a character’s orientation is, maybe you don’t need the gay sex scene, and maybe you don’t even have to identify the character as gay or straight or anything. That was followed by about twenty minutes of radio silence on the thread, then An Author Whose Works You’ve Read tore me a new orifice, and all her friends and fans piled on. (Years later I met her at a reading. She greeted me graciously with a hug and a peck on the cheek. I’m not sure if she even connected my name with my face, or had any recollection of the exchange. Anyway, there’s no lingering hard feelings on either side.) I had a lot to learn then. I’m sure I still do now. That’s why I want some honest opinions from sources I know won’t be saying nice things to me just to make me feel comfortable.

Here’s the pitch: If you have a review blog and a radical, black, feminist perspective, I would like to send you a free advanced reader’s copy of Mighty Mighty in PDF. Just send me a note at william_freedman [at] verizon [dot] net or a PM via Facebook. I will read your review and your readers’ comments with great interest. I promise not to be among those commenters. There will be no flame war — I surrender before the first shot. If I think you’re way off base, I’ll tell you so privately. Otherwise, I’ll keep my mouth shut and my finger off the SEND key.

One other stipulation: Try reading it for the entertainment value as well as the social commentary. It’s a satire. It’s supposed to be funny. I’m trusting in the radical, black, feminist sense of humor embodied by such comic geniuses as Wanda Sykes and … uh … um … all the rest.