If you ever talk to me personally about my reading habits, you'll know that I have a strong love for short stories. I love the format, both because it strips things down to only its most essential parts and because, quite frankly, I can read a story or two and move on with my day, without feeling like I've stopped in the middle of something important.
I was unaware of this award until this year, when I heard about it on Twitter. I had the great privilege of being one of the first found judges this year, culling a group of the open nominations into a smaller list. These finalists are eligible for cash and prizes, which are donated to storySouth and currently run up to a little over a thousand dollars, according to the website.
Imagine how pleased I am to learn that one of my selections, "All the Things the Moon is Not" by Alexander Lumans, was picked to be a finalist! It's impossible to read every great short story published in a given year, but of those that I read published in 2012, this story is by far the best one I encountered, in my opinion.
storySouth makes it really easy for potential voters, giving access to all the finalists via hyperlinks back to the original story (one of the rules for nomination is that a story cannot be behind a paywall). I strongly encourage you to go there, read the nominated stories, and pick your favorite. I guarantee it won't be easy, but it will be some of the best reading you'll do here at the end of 2013.
Just about a month ago, Erica, our friend Kelly, and I took a short drive down to the DC Beltway to take in Capclave 2013, the DC Science Fiction Convention.
The first thing Erica and I learned is never, ever, try to leave Baltimore on a Friday night. The less said about our journey the better, but suffice it to say it meant we didn't get to enjoy Friday as much as we'd planned.
The second thing we learned was that cars will blow apart on the worst night possible. Our faithful Hyundai was about ready to go, but midnight on a Friday on I-95 in the rain while I was in the left lane is not ideal. Thankfully, Kelly was just behind us, and all was well, if a bit nerve-wracking. Plus, now I get to tell everyone how fan fiction saved my life.*
I'd be lying if that didn't ruin the mood a bit, but I will say that Capclave was so good that it more than made up for it by the time we drove home on Sunday. As promised to me by a staff organizer, the convention is firmly focused on the literary side of speculative fiction. While I have nothing against those who love anime and want to talk about the differences in the various incarnations of the starship Enterrpise (and if we're hanging out together, I might even get into the discussion), a con where that is a fair amount of the programming just isn't for me.
I prefer to talk about the books, the theory of genre fiction, and the practice of writing it, with maybe a bit about other things along the way. In other words, I wanted exactly what Capclave had to offer.
Writer and Editor Alex Shvartsman
Friday we only made it to two panels, starting with one I really wanted to catch, about putting together anthologies. I am very interested in the editing side of the writing business, and hearing the perspective of someone as notable as Gardner Dozios and others who have done work with Kickstarter and standard publishing was enlightening. (Tip: Be active about seeking royalties, if you're eligible!)
The second thing we did was listen to our friend Alex Shvartsman read three of his short pieces to an appreciative audience, and sit in the most comfortable chairs I've ever been in at a con. Alex is a great reader and took time to talk about his work as a writer and editor. We then hit a local Chinese restaurant for dinner with Alex and some other folks, in which Erica yet again failed to get the dish she'd hoped to eat.
Then the car thing happened. Did I mention again how this was on I-95 and people were doing 70MPH while I went from 65 to 35 in about 2 seconds?
White Out Panel
Back on Saturday as a trio, Kelly, Erica, and I spent the day hitting panels, talking to friends new and old (I am especially impressed by how many people Kelly came to know by the end of the con), and socializing at the massive author signing.
There were a lot of great panels on Saturday, and I sometimes had to make hard choices on which panels to attend. We started the morning listening about transitioning from small press to a major publisher, which featured, among others, our friend Lawrence Schoen. Perhaps the most interesting thing said on that panel was that while a small press might not pay much--perhaps even less than self-publishing--it shows a major press you can handle deadlines, work with an editor, promotional team, etc. Interesting stuff.
Despite this being a "book book" con, I was pleased to find a panel about comic strips and science fiction, run by artist Steve Stiles (who also did the convention booklet cover). Stiles blew me away with his slideshow presentation, which began with strips I'd never heard of dating back to the turn of the 20th Century, running through the EC books, and more. It was by far the best comic book panel I've ever attended. He was informative, funny, and engaging. I wish every comics panel I attended was that good.
That was definitely my highlight for Saturday, but the panel on why genre fiction is overwhelmingly white was a close second. Speaking rationally and with facts, the panel discussed their experiences writing characters of color, keeping their covers from being white-washed, and what happens when people who mean well crash the party. The idea of "fear of getting it wrong" was discussed for white writers, as was how books featuring African American authors or characters get thrown into the corner of the bookstore, regardless of their suitability. Panelist Day Al-Mohamed ended the panel by challenging the writers in the room to try harder to make the future reflect the present and show people of all kinds--and not just filling racial quotas or typical roles. It's great advice, one that I'm trying to take to heart going forward.
Erica Satifka reads at the Broad Universe Panel
Saturday ended with Erica being a part of the Broad Universe reading. They're an organization for female genre fiction writers, and they schedule readings where any of their members attending the con can have a few minutes to show off their work.
It was a great selection of writers who showed a wide variety of styles and really proved (yet again) that women are able to write science fiction, no matter how many Old Dinosaurs claim otherwise, either overtly or covertly. Sadly, the audience was also pretty much women-only. Someday, this will change.
I will admit that by Sunday, was I dragging a bit. After going to the panel on saving work, which was a lot more than just "keep hitting the anachronistic floppy disk on Word," I took a significant break to just hang out and talk to people who were around. It's always fun when folks introduce you to other writers, and you can talk a little shop. Writers are nothing if not talkative, let me tell you.
Trying to expand my abilities a bit, I went to an afternoon panel on romance in science fiction. An all-female panel discussed the differences between the romance structure and SF structure and how the two could be combined. They did address how some Old Dinosaurs don't like that "girly stuff" gets into their genre fiction, and I loved the one author's reply, which I am paraphrasing: "They'll be dead soon! Just keep going and don't let them stop you." Good advice, but I was a little disappointed the panel wasn't more about specifics on how to make a sex scene flow naturally into a narrative without feeling dropped in.
My last panel of the day was on alternative histories, and it got quite academic, perhaps the most analytical of all the panels I was at during Capclave. Howard Waldrop, who is one of the funniest panelists I've ever seen, rightfully bemoaned the fact that ridiculous books like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter are sucking the air out of the room for more serious takes, such as those in the vein of Man in the High Castle. Ironically, it's alternative history's popularity that is causing it to become something tagged more to the lowest common denominator instead of trying to work out the complexities of applying the Butterfly Effect on a larger scale. There was talk of how you "modernize" things like Roman society or where you choose to branch off, as well as why one tries the sub-genre in the first place.
Capclave 2013 was a great time, and if I weren't planning to move across the country in the near future, I'd definitely plan to be back in 2014. The overall con atmosphere was pretty good, perhaps just a bit more dude-centric than is ideal, but I didn't observe any skeezy behavior (and I do watch for this) and there were volunteers everywhere, should a problem have occurred. The AV work was excellent, with almost no sound problems, and the rooms, even when packed, were comfortable, especially in terms of temperature (though those who get cold easily may want to bring a light jacket or sweater). I'd definitely recommend Capclave to anyone who loves genre fiction and can make the trip next year.
*Kelly stayed for a panel on fan fiction, otherwise she'd have not been able to help us get home. Thus, writing about the characters of others ensured Erica and I didn't get stuck in Columbia, MD for the rest of our lives.