Friday, November 8, 2013

Capclave 2013

Jesus Saves So Should Writers Panel at Capclave.
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.

You can see more pictures from Capclave here. They aren't the best, my phone had a lot of trouble in the rooms.

*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.


  1. Did you miss the Saturday night "Howard, George, & Gardner Show" ?

  2. Don''t know why Google thinks I'm Anon. Sheesh ...
    -- Michael Walsh

  3. No, we left after the Broad Universe reading. I'm sure it was pretty funny, but we knew we wanted to be back first thing Sunday, so that meant getting back to Baltimore at a decent time.