Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday Night Videos

Amazing what you'll find poking around on the interwebz. I have only a vague recollection of "The Politics of Dancing" by ReFlex, and have certainly never seen this video, but wow. If there's a better example of low-budget, British New Wave video-making, I've yet to see it. Roller skates!

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Bananarama.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday Night Videos

I like Banarama's song "Cruel Summer," and thought about featuring it today as summer officially ends on Sunday. But the video is serious weak sauce. So instead I'm going with that girl group's other big hit, "Venus." I don't particularly like Banarama's dance cover of this old Shocking Blue hit, but I suppose that's okay, since I don't have much use for the original, either. But the video is absolutely nuts. I mean, it's gonzo insane, makes not a lick of sense even if you turn your head sideways, and looks like it was made for about $300 once the wacky costume rentals are paid for. They sure as heck didn't spend that much on choreography. Truly, this is something that could only exist in the 80s.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Eddie Rabbit.

Now Playing: Gustav Holst The Planets
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Back the other month, I had an unfortunate incident where the lawn men working on my neighbor's yard hacked up part of my century plant in the front yard and then proceeded to remove a small trellis and mow down a passiflora tenuiloba plant I'd had growing beneath the agave. Needless to say, I was livid, because the tenuiloba, after two years, had finally put out flower buds. I've been trying to grow this uncommon Texas native (it's not rare--it grows wild in parts of South and West Texas, but it isn't in cultivation and very difficult to find through nurseries) for years now, and bad things keep happening to my plants. I put up a new trellis to guard it, put down some organic fertilizer and made an effort to keep it watered during our ongoing drought. I was rewarded with it rebounding quite well, and wonder of wonders, flowering freely for me! The photos below are from the second bloom from the plant, taken with my Canon 7D and EF 100mm 2.8 macro lens utilizing a ring light for illumination.

The flowers are tiny, maybe half an inch/centimeter across, and easy to miss. The pretty colors blend together when just observed with the naked eye, and look like a dark brown. It's not until the flower is magnified that the maroon and yellow in the filaments become obvious. The bad news is that tenuiloba is not self-fertile. I have another clone of the species I bought earlier this summer, but it's showing no signs of flowering. I'm at a loss for collecting pollen from these flowers, as I can barely see the anthers without a magnifying glass. Harvesting and storing the pollen would be a big challenge, especially with no idea if or when the other plant will flower...

passiflora tenuiloba

passiflora tenuiloba

passiflora tenuiloba

passiflora tenuiloba

passiflora tenuiloba

passiflora tenuiloba

Now Playing: Dave Davies Rock Bottom: Live at the Bottom Line
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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Back in the saddle, with the sores to prove it

So, by now it should be pretty clear to everyone paying attention that I have completed the Chicken Ranch book. Not only that, but I also put together a photo essay/coffee table companion book. With Chicken Ranch publication efforts now relegated to the "hurry up and wait" of the agent hunting process, I've no excuse not to turn by attentions back toward my first love--fiction writing.

Actually, that's misleading. It's more of a love/hate relationship. As is the case with many writers, I kinda hate the actual writing process. It's having written that I love.

To further my ends, during Worldcon earlier this month I rejoined Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. I'd dropped out a couple of years back, not by any great design on my part. Mostly it was a case of the Chicken Ranch book utterly consuming me, and partly because of burnout. I'd volunteered in various capacities with SFWA since the early part of the decade. It was rewarding to an extent, and I believe in the organization's goals. But in my role of media relations guru, after a few years, some folks started promising me compensation for my efforts, in effect turning the media relations director into a paid position. Which is fine. I was happy to volunteer my efforts, but it's nice to know people value what you bring to the table. In any event, the compensation was a modest amount, but back then finances were tight, and even a little would make a difference. Except... well, good intentions and all that. Compensation never came through, which, again, would've been fine with me, but word got out that I'd gotten a paying gig within the organization. People made comments, putting me on the spot. It got more than a little awkward. So eventually I resigned my position, withdrew from general interactions and then simply dropped out. And to be honest, the notorious pit-fighting of SFWA got to me as well. No matter how benign a proposal, rest assured half the organization was going to feel duty-bound to argue with the other half. This inclination doesn't seem to have abated any during my absence. I missed a contentious expulsion of one member for excruciatingly bad behavior, but there's plenty of other angst to take its place.

Still, lest I sound too negative, the reason I rejoined is the same reason I joined in the first place: The social interaction with other writers and the creative stimulation this imparts. Worldcon drove home just how much my fiction career has suffered from my non-fiction efforts. People remembered me, sure. But I wasn't relevant. I hadn't published anything since 2011, when I had a little short-short in the Vandermeer's Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities. And I can't remember the last thing I published before that. Folks, that's an eternity in the genre publishing world. I had zero dinner invitations during the con, sold no stories, had no discussions of potential projects with other writers/editors. That's a complete 180 from my first Worldcon back in '97, which I--with but one short story sale to Interzone to my name and no scheduled programming--ended up selling a short story and half a dozen interviews over the weekend. I came away from LoneStarCon 3 somewhat dismayed, yes, but determined to rededicate myself to rebuilding what little reputation and presence I once had in genre publishing circles. That, in itself, is a major admission.

Sunday, I completed "A Life Less Illustrated," my first work of short fiction in three, maybe four years. I mailed it off today to Gordon Van Gelder at Fantasy & Science Fiction. Last night, I submitted another story to John Joseph Adams at Nightmare Magazine. I've also got submissions in the queue at Analog and That's four more stories than I've had on submission anywhere in the past four years, so I'm making an effort. But my submission efforts also revealed something else to me--my knowledge of the field is woefully out of date. Looking at the submission tracking system I used previously, I realized several new major markets have come into being whilst several old major markets have ceased to be. That doesn't even scratch the surface of the changes in semi-pro markets and editorial changed. I spent today revamping and updating my submissions list, which is exactly as tedious and mind-numbing as it sounds. But it had to be done, and now I need to keep the stories flowing to get my name back in front of the reading public.

Ultimately it may not matter all that much. Being a relatively slow writer who isn't known for being prolific, there's no way I can make a career out of writing short fiction. Not even a viable secondary career. I just don't have the output to reach the critical mass necessary. If I ever want to be something more than an obscure trivia question, I have to start writing novels. I think, maybe, the intense organization and time investment that went into the Chicken Ranch book can serve me well in that regard. I understand some things about long-form writing now that I haven't previously. Granted, that's a different type of writing, but I'm knee deep in research for Sailing Venus, a YA I've been promising to write for my kids for ages. I think I've got a better handle on some plot issues and pacing that may have confounded me in the past, and I've gotten some great background information from folks like Geoffrey Landis, so that's progress. I expect I'll finish a couple of story fragments I have laying around first, to shake the rust off, and by the end of the month maybe start on the first chapter.

The long and short of it is that I feel like I'm starting new, with zero credits to my name and a very steep learning curve staring me in the face. I've got a lot of work ahead of me, and those stories aren't going to write themselves. Wish me luck.

Now Playing: The Kinks Arthur, or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire
Chicken Ranch Central

Monday, September 16, 2013

This has been A Day


Where to begin? Nevermind, this will be a short post.

I already knew last week that as far as Mondays go, today would be a challenge. And today proved me more than right. Work provided plenty of stress and difficulty on its own, wearing me down pretty effectively. But then around 3 p.m., I get a phone call. My grandmother has suffered an apparent stroke, and was admitted to the hospital.

That news is bad enough, but it gets better. I've alluded to our ongoing legal and guardianship battles involving my grandmother here in the past. The short version: A smooth-talking renter convinced her to sign over power of attorney to him (in secret) some years back, and then proceeded to transfer all her worldly wealth to himself. Because of this, we were forced to have my grandmother declared incompetent and gave the state of Texas guardianship. It's a long story, but a longer ordeal. But because of this drawn out fight, the hospital cannot legally release her medical condition to her family, nor are we allowed to visit. The current state worker serving as guardian is, to put it kindly, traditionally unresponsive to any and all attempts at communication.

So now all we know is that my grandmother is in "stable" condition. Whether that's stable following a massive, life-threatening stroke or stable following a minor episode of dizziness and incoherence... your guess is as good as mine.

Seriously, people, if an elderly relative of your begins showing signs of Alzheimer's or dementia, have them tested and declared incompetent if necessary--even if they hate you for it. You will be saving them, yourself and your family extended grief. I wish I hadn't been so averse to confrontation about five years ago, because I'm sure paying for it now.

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

What's Jayme drinking?

Old Knucklehead barleywine
As I drown my sorrows following A&M's 49-42 loss to Alabama earlier today (really, the Aggies would be well night unstoppable had they even a mediocre defense) I realize there's no need to let a celebratory beer go to waste, even if it has become a defacto consolation beer. And tonight's specialty brew is Old Knucklehead, an American barleywine-style from Bridgeport Brewing in Oregon. I pour in my German glass beer mug, straight from the refrigerator. It pours a clear, coppery red. The head, light tan, is modest and subdued. Lacing is impressive.

First taste is all hops. There's no nuance here at all, like an out of control IPA. Very disappointing. But... I did pour it straight out of the refrigerator. Darker, heavier beers are not usually at their best when served below 50 degrees, so I let it set beside my desk as I work to finish my first piece of fiction since 2011. 2011? Has it really been that long? I'm afraid so. Egads, that's depressing. A steady stream of micro bubbles rise in the Knucklehead, which really is a pretty beer. The color is great. The carbonation is restrained. Despite the overwhelming hops, the mouthfeel is nice--very different from the thin feel of the Flemish sour ale I had last week.

Okay, so I just went and showered. Enough time has passed for the temperature of the brew to climb up above 60 degrees. The scent has improved with temperature. Floral hops still dominate, but now I'm picking up vanilla and some malt earthiness. A little old leather. Hmm. I taste. Wow. HUGE improvement from before. I know we're accustomed to drinking beer ice cold in this country, but with more complex, higher alcohol beers should be treated more like a red wine and allowed to breathe and served a few degrees below room temperature to let their flavors come out. There's definite vanilla from the oak, earthy flavors, a hint of rum as well. The profile of the hops is much more subdued now, balanced much more nicely by the other flavors. Mouthfeel, which was good when cold, is even better now. The high alcohol content isn't obvious at first, but makes itself known with a definite warming of the back of the mouth and throat. The warmer it gets, the more a mellow, caramel-like profile emerges. Not sweet and malty like the dark Belgians I like, but interesting nonetheless. I'm not noticing much, if any, fruit overtones at all.

I've had better barleywines, but damned if I can remember which ones they were, I have the type so rarely. Knucklehead is a solid contender, though, if served at warmer temperatures. The caramel and oak are really coming on strong now, and the hops that were so overpowering at first are now doing a good job keeping everything nicely balanced. This isn't a beer I'd drink every day, but if you're looking for a barleywine to sample to familiarize yourself with the style, you could do far worse than Knucklehead.

Now Playing: Genesis ...And Then There Were Three...
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday Night Videos

I've commented here before on how, despite the huge importance of videos to promote musicians in the 1980 and the arrival of networks such as Country Music Television (CMT) and the Nashville Network (TNN), country music videos by and large sucked. I mean, the sheer awfulness and incompetence of C&W music videos was just staggering on a general basis. Not only did country singers just not seem to get the concept, their record labels--often the same ones who produced slick, cinematic content for MTV--seemingly opted for inexperienced film-school dropouts more often than not if the video involved a country act. The video for Eddie Rabbitt's cover of "The Wanderer," however, is a clear exception. It's got all the cinematic polish one would expect from MTV, but I suppose that's not too surprising, seeing as how Rabbitt has never been part of the Randy Travis/George Strait traditionalist school of country music. Rabbitt has always has a strong crossover element to his work, and when you get down to it, his version of this song sounds infinitely more do-wop than two-step.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Loverboy.

Now Playing: Clandestine Music From Home
Chicken Ranch Central

Monday, September 09, 2013

Worldcon report the third

LoneStarCon 3 was Monkey Girl's first Worldcon. She'd been to several local cons--Armadillocon, Aggiecon and ConDFW--but Worldcon was a whole other animal. She worked at Schlitterbahn all summer, her first job, saving up money so she could buy her own membership and have a little spending money in the dealers room and art show, not to mention the Texas Renaissance Festival later this fall and general goings-out with her friends. She'd shown a bit of responsibility with her money, enough so that her mother and I didn't worry too much about her going nuts unsupervised with her own debit card. Big mistake. Folks, have you ever gotten to a really spectacular buffet line, and your eyes get way too big for your stomach? That's pretty much what happened over Worldcon weekend with Monkey Girl. In just three days, she burned through every single penny she'd earned over the summer with a staggering array of impulse buys--those steampunk shoes to the right being Exhibit A. They cost $150. Cute shoes, if you're into footwear like that, but she can't wear them to school. They're barely wearable at all, and some of the cogs and gears have already started dropping off. Now, I'm sure the merchants were happy with her spending spree, as were the artists in the art show. But there's only so many impractical steampunk shoes, tee shirts, prints and other gee-gaws one can impulsively blow money on before reality sets in and second thoughts rule the day. If you've got teens itching to be set loose in a convention with a lot of tempting buyables beckoning, take my advice and keep them on a very short leash.

Other than these issues with my eldest child, the remainder of Worldcon went by in fairly happy fashion. For my literary beer, I found myself a seat beside Mark Finn, and as he held forth on all things Robert E. Howard, I pulled out bottles of La Terrible Belgian ale and Samuel Smith's Organic Chocolate Stout, and proceeded to school those folks in attendance on the glories of really dark beers. For the next two days I had people stopping me in the halls, thanking me for introducing them to such beverages so powerful good. Even some self-proclaimed dark beer haters admitted conversion on the spot, so I feel confident in declaring victory in Literary Beer. And I talked some Chicken Ranch as well, lest you think I'm only about the fermentables.

Saturday night I took Monkey Girl to the Masquerade. As an aspiring costumer/cosplayer, she drank it all in. It was good exposure for her, and she found much inspiration to be had. The number of entries (30+) was on par with the '97 Worldcon, but apart from the ragged mechanical angel put together by Phil Foglio's crew, there seemed to be fewer high-end, elaborate, hard-core costuming this time around. Lots of whimsy, humor and DIY work on display, though. Afterwards, we hit the various fan/convention parties and enjoyed ourselves a bit before calling it a night around 11 p.m. or so. Gotta set a good example for the child, after all.

Sunday started out with a bit of frustration, as the parking garage next to the convention center was full up when we arrived, and I had to park on the other side of the Riverwalk for double the price. By the time we reached the convention center, I was already sweating. Ugh. My reading didn't make. I'd feel bad about this, except for the fact that Bud Sparhawk had the slot immediately prior to mine, and that one didn't make, either. Early Sunday is not good for readings. My autograph session later that afternoon went a bit better. Whilst David Brin and Joe Haldeman signed for big long lines on either side of us, Rick Klaw and myself cracked wise with each other and--surprise! surprise!--actually signed a few autographs while we were at it. I signed some copies of Cross Plains Universe (to go with the two copies I'd signed on Thursday!) and gasp! an actual for-true copy of Voices of Vision, which means I only have to sell another 700 copies before it earns out (give or take). Monkey Girl decided she didn't want to stay out late after the Hugo Awards, so I took her home, showered and changed before heading back into San Antonio. This time I got a spot in the close parking garage. The Hugos were packed. I was disappointed Jay Lake didn't win a Hugo, but was gratified by Paul Cornell's surprise tribute to the Lakester. Very touching. Somewhat less touching, but somewhat more amusing, was my Twitter commentary throughout the evening. I believe I got more retweets, likes and interaction than ever before. The Gardner Dozois quote from late in the evening is particularly choice:

I found myself staggering home at 2 a.m.--somewhat later than I'd planned, but I'd gotten wrapped up in so many great conversations--some people were actually interested in my Chicken Ranch book, and grokked the significance of the LBJ stuff--that I flat-out lost track of time. And me with a 10 a.m. panel the next day on comic book movies. Ugh. I did make it to the panel almost on time, and was accused of shooting fish in a barrel when I brought up the Justice League TV pilot as an example of a live action adaptation gone horribly wrong. I did earn lots of agreement when I held up Mystery Men as an example of a comic film that gets it right without being condescending to the audience. I also got to hold forth a bit on how the Arrow series makes for good TV, but it only bears superficial resemblance to Green Arrow as historically portrayed in comics.

My takeaways from this Worldcon are an interesting mix. I didn't get invited out to lunch or dinner a single time. Ouch. I've realized that the four years the research and writing of the Chicken Ranch book have taken me away from genre publishing may as well be an eternity. Editors and authors still remember me and are friendly, but I'm no longer an active consideration. I didn't have a huge profile before, but my absence of recent years has been damaging to my fiction career. Aspiring writers I once advised in writers workshops are now coming damn close to winning the Campbell Award, which is as gratifying as it is discouraging. I've also come to the conclusion that I suck as schmoozing. I can engage in all manner of conversations, as long as it doesn't involve schmooze. I lack that particular gene, I suppose. It simply doesn't work for me. I'm also not a bar fly--the hotel bar was an impenetrable mystery to me. I do much better at parties, which is kind of the same thing, I suppose, but the setting makes a difference. Why? I dunno. In any event, it's clear that I've got a lot of work to do in order to repair the damage done to my career by my absence as a productive genre writer. It'd be different if publishers were engaged in a bidding war for my Chicken Ranch book, but right now I'm stuck with agents telling me how they talked themselves out of repping me. I have come away with a renewed focus, and a plan, of sorts, to get myself back in the game. I've got some short fiction pieces lined up to finish, and a novel I've been threatening to write for a while waiting in the wings. If I can find a home for the Chicken Ranch book, that'll be a huge burden lifted, and hopefully this recent LBJ stuff I've dug up will help on that front.

I had a good time at LoneStarCon 3, but much of it was a blur. It brought some issues into focus, and forced me to take stock of things. I can't say that was good, but it was necessary. Hopefully, I'll be able to build on that and make it into a beneficial convention, if only in hindsight.

John Kessel, Gardner Dozois and Gordon Van Gelder

Walter Jon Williams

Gardner Dozois

Gordon Van Gelder

John Moore

Nancy Hightower

Steven Gould--aka Unka Stevie--cleans up real good.

Is there anyone who radiates as much cool as John Picacio? I swear, the man could give the Rat Pack lessons!

David Hartwell

Tim! In a suit!

Bill Page and Fred Duarte

Astronaut Cady Coleman and Paul Abell at the Hugo losers party.

Cady Coleman, Paul Abell and Hugo Award-winning author and feminist with a huge front yard, John Scalzi at the Hugo losers party.

Japanese guests whose names I cannot remember at the Hugo losers party.

Molly--who is an Aggie--and Amy Sisson at the Hugo losers party

My arch-enemy, Stina Leicht, hanging out at the Hugo losers party.

Paolo Bacigalupi and a well-known author I'm drawing a blank on at the Hugo losers party.

Walter Jon Williams and other folks in the Mariott Rivercenter lobby, circa 2 a.m.

Now Playing: Billy Joel & Elton John Face to Face
Chicken Ranch Central

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Patricia Anthony (1947-2013)

Patricia Anthony (1947-2013)
This morning a terrible message from Gordon Van Gelder awaited me in my inbox: Locus Online was reporting that Patricia Anthony had died Aug. 2. It's bad enough that she's gone, but for it to take more than a month for her passing to be noticed is unconscionable. She was a writer of immense talent. Unfortunately, she had little interest in continuing to write traditional science fiction, and this did not sit well with her publisher, Ace. Her work grew progressively non-SF, moving into slipstream and what is now popularly known as the "New Weird." Her career, which had started out so strongly in the early 90s with Cold Allies and Brother Termite foundered later in the decade with the publication of God's Fires and Flanders, two books that were more metaphysical historicals than science fiction, but much more sophisticated and engrossing novels than her earlier efforts. Flanders tanked so badly that Anthony actually bought back her next novel, which she'd already delivered to Ace, rather than let the publisher cast it adrift with no support.

By Anthony's own account, Mercy's Children is a real departure, set in a Puritan colony in the New World and narrated by a gossipy guardian angle in faux Elizabethan English. "It is definitely not [science fiction] genre at all," she told me. "It's 843 pages of 'What was I thinking?' It's an outrageous book. I wanted to show that there are always other perspectives."

I'd encouraged her to seek out a publisher for Mercy's Children in 2006, feeling there's been enough editorial turnover at various publishers, along with a general shift in genre publishing that made the market more receptive to her envelope-pushing style, but she wasn't convinced. She indicated she'd been working on another book--along with some screenplay collaborations--but didn't go into details. I sincerely hope her estate pursues publication of her unpublished work, but as she was divorced with no children, I'm not sure who her heirs are.

In the years since, we stayed in contact until recently. When I published "The Makeover Men" on HelixSF back in 2007, she honored me with the following appraisal of the piece: "Oooooooooo. NICE and sick! Good writing, sneaky story." It wasn't until Gordon's letter this morning that I realized it'd been 2011 since I heard from her.

As fiction editor of RevolutionSF, I had the good fortune to publish two of Patricia's thought-provoking short fiction pieces: "Good Neighbor" and "Eating Memories". She was also the second author I ever interviewed. The original interview appeared in Interzone and has since been reprinted at SF Site: A Conversation with Patricia Anthony. I invite you to read them all, and gain a bit of insight on the extraordinary writer Patricia was.

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Friday, September 06, 2013

Friday Night Videos

I was never that much of a Loverboy fan, but their song "Lovin Every Minute Of It" was inescapable my sophomore year in high school. This also proved to be Loverboy's swan song, as the band quickly faded into obscurity afterwards. I will give them credit for this video, however: It's takes a certain degree of awesome to be able to cram every bit of 80s hair band excess into a video set at a Holiday Inn.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Art of Noise.

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Thursday, September 05, 2013

What's Jayme drinking?

Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale
What's Jayme drinking? Well, I'm glad you asked. After the fun time I had during the LoneStarCon 3 literary beer with Mark Finn, I figured I might as well have more fun sharing my various adult beverage adventures with a wider audience. This evening at HEB, Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale caught my attention. I was in the mood to try something new, and as I'm not terribly familiar with Flemish sour ales, I decided now would be a good time to rectify that situation. Although it's labeled as a product of Belgium and stocked beside--and in a corked bottle similar to--traditional Belgian Trappist ales, this Flemish is a very different animal, indeed. But I'll get to that in a moment.

The cork comes out with a satisfying pop, followed shortly by a curling fog of CO2. The ale pours as a reddish caramel that gets very dark in the glass. Like a good barleywine, it is dark but clear, without the opaque tones of a bock or stout. It forms a modest, creamy-tan head that shows dignified restraint and impressive persistence--I'm 15 minutes in now, and there's still an eighth of an inch of head left. Lacing is moderate on glass. The scent has a bit of sour apple to it, with the faintest hint of yeast. The malty overtones I'd expected with a beer this dark are absent. The taste is equally unexpected. There's a strong apple overtone here, to the point of the flavor being very cider-like. Contributing to the effect is the fact that this is a very "thin" beer, extremely light for all it's dark color with an almost effervescent mouthfeel (although to be clear, it doesn't actually effervesce. But I suspect it wants to, or would if it could). There are hints of raspberry and vanilla, along with a faint, earthy portabella mushroom taste as well. If there are any hops here, I can't taste them. This is a lightly sweet ale at it's best cold. As it warms, the sourness grows more pronounced and lingers longer on the tongue. The 5.5 percent alcohol is lower than I'd expected as well, almost invisible amongst the strong flavor profile, but in an ale with as light a mouthfeel as this, more alcohol would not be a good thing.

This is not a winter dark. The cider-like quality makes this an ale best suited for drinking on a blisteringly hot summer afternoon. I'm not one to buy into the thirst-quenching properties of beer, but I can see how this Flemish sour would fit the bill. It's very mild and inoffensive, an exotic beer for people whom beer begins with Bud and ends with Light. Certainly not in my top 10, but I wouldn't be opposed to enjoying it on occasion.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Oakland 1977
Chicken Ranch Central

Worldcon report the second

Friday dawned and I was feeling much better. I made it back to Worldcon around 10 a.m., and as there were several panels I wanted to see, I ended up dithering and didn't make it to any of them. I did catch the "Turkey City turns 40" panel with Chris N. Brown, Eileen Gunn, Don Webb, Jessica Reisman, Howard Waldrop and Lawrence Person, which was good fun and, seeing has how I've attended half a dozen of them, I had some skin in the game. As my earlier "History of Steampunk" panel got cancelled, the programming folk subbed me onto the "Steampunk: Trend or Genre" panel, alongside Lou Antonelli, Gail Carriger and Jess Nevins. I've known Lou and Jess forever, and the panel went very well. I even learned from Carriger that the steampunk aesthetic arose independently of the literary trend, and has a variety of disparate, unrelated origins. A prime example of "steam engine time," that. I like to think I didn't dumb down the discussion too much.

After the panel, I found my lack of advance preparation to be a huge mistake: Faced with a number of panels I wanted to attend, I couldn't come to a decision and retreated to the art show and dealers room yet again. After grabbing a bite to eat in the green room, I joined up with Joe Lansdale for the "Adapting Bubba Ho-Tep for Film and Other Tales" event. Playing ringleader to Joe's circus is incredibly easy--all I have to do is get out of the way and Joe keeps the audience in stitches with his hilarious stories. The lack of communication that plagued LoneStarCon 3 reared its ugly head here, though. Following the hour-long discussion of Joe's filmmaking experiences, the convention had scheduled a screening of the afore-mentioned Bubba Ho-Tep. Except they hadn't told Joe, who wouldn't have know had I not informed him the day before. Not only that, but the con apparently failed to make arrangements to secure a copy of the film for showing--Joe had to call up to his room and get his wife, Karen, to bring down a DVD (which they luckily had). Nobody from the convention showed up to operate the projector. That's a lot of assumptions and expectations to place upon a guest of honor when you don't communicate well.

Following a hasty dinner of a mediocre kabab from the Rivercenter Mall food court, I dropped by the "Astronaut cocktail party" put on by Amy Sissom and Paul Abell. And when those two put on an astronaut cocktail party, they don't screw around: Cady Coleman, a veteran astronaut with 4,330 hours in space aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia and the International Space Station, was the guest of honor. And I have to say, there was not a party at the convention the entire weekend that was anywhere near as packed as this one was. I made the following observation when Coleman appeared during the Hugo Awards ceremony, but it bears repeating here:

Coleman seemed a bit perplexed by her rock star status amongst all the SF writers. But this is as it should be. Whereas most of us merely write about traveling in space, she actually does it for a living. Pretty much every science fiction writer started out wanting to be an astronaut growing up. I know I did, and my kids currently harbor similar aspirations. Coleman's living our dream. Is there any wonder science fiction writers go all fanboy around astronauts? I think not.

I would be very, very remiss were I to not single out Paul Abell at this point. Being involved in Texas fandom in various degrees for more than two decades, I know first-hand that landing an astronaut guest is one of the Holy Grails of Texas fan conventions. We tried all four years during my involvement with Aggiecon, and were rebuffed each time. One year we did manage to land two planetary scientists who gave presentations on future Mars missions and exploring the outer solar system. Those presentations were so packed, we quickly added additional showings. But astronauts eluded us, and other cons. Until Paul became involved with Texas fandom some years ago. Due in no small part to his liaison efforts, NASA astronauts have become almost-regulars at these events, ApolloCon in Houston being a particularly juicy nexus for NASA involvement. That's a great thing in my book.

Elsewhere, the Dell and Tor parties were great fun. I got to sit in on some great conversations and interact with great people, including Ron Collins (who I hadn't seen in 15 years), Ann Vandermeer, Gardner Dozois, Steve Gould, Laura Mixon... the list goes on. Around midnight I decided to conserve my resources and headed for home. After all, I still had three days to go.

Monkey Girl got to see the Dalek pop its top.

My buddy Paul Carl again. His excuse for this silliness? Grandkids.

There weren't a whole lot of hall costumes this Worldcon, but this franchise-melding couple did stand out.

Another couple sporting pretty good hall costumes.

Scott Edelman stalks a Dalek in the dealers room.

I've no idea who this guy is, but I'm very impressed that his balloon headpiece didn't deflate from the masquerade the night before.

Another balloon-art headpiece from the previous night's masquerade.

The Revolution SF staff who weren't at Dragoncon gathered for an impromptu Worldcon podcast.

David Farnell, direct from Japan, participates in the RevolutionSF Worldcon podcast.

Matthew Bey, direct from Austin, participates in the RevolutionSF Worldcon podcast.

Sarah Arnold plays the role of ring master during the RevolutionSF Worldcon podcast.

Peggy J. Hailey, direct from Kenedy, participates in the RevolutionSF Worldcon podcast.

Elizabeth Moon finds what she's looking for in the dealers room.

Josh Rountree is another author I didn't get to spend much time talking to.

John Klima and I have gotten pretty good at trading snarky comments via Twitter.

Even in the midst of Worldcon, Mary Robinette Kowal, stays hard at work, crafting her next regency masterpiece, no doubt (I have since been informed she was engaged in an intense AMA on Reddit. Upon which she was FOCUSED like a LASER I tell you!).

Adam-Troy Castro, whom I spoke to briefly on Thursday with the intent to have more in-depth conversations later on, converses with Joe Lansdale (Lansdale's out of the picture, so you'll just have to use your imagination). I never did catch up with Adam-Troy for that conversation. Such is life.

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Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Frederik Pohl (1919-2013)

Frederik Pohl died yesterday. By pretty much any reasonable reckoning, he was the last of the Golden Age, Hugo Gernsbackian writers that connected the present day with the birth of modern science fiction and the pulp era. He won Hugo and Nebula Awards, and was named Grand Master by SFWA more than two decades ago. To say he was influential is a criminal understatement.

I can't claim to know the man, but I was indeed fortunate to meet him on a couple of occasions. As everyone else is reporting, he was a witty and gracious fellow, seemingly always in a good humor. My Fred Pohl story doesn't directly involve him, but it has stuck with me all these years and his passing has made it burn bright in my memory. Back at LoneStarCon 2 in 1997, I was the overwhelmed yokel/neo-pro with but a single short fiction sale to Interzone, attending my first Worldcon. The thing was vastly more huge than I'd expected, and the autograph lines seemed to stretch to infinity. I quickly abandoned most of my plans for autographs, lest I spend the entire weekend standing in line, but Fred Pohl was one of the greats that I absolutely had to get. Modest goals, for sure. But then... well, here's my email account from '97 of what next transpired:

The Fred Pohl autograph line moves incredibly slowly, since people are there with literally CARTS of books. By the time I'm in sight of the man, they limit signings to two books per person because time is running out *sigh*. I do get Gateway and Starchild Trilogy signed though (Starchild by Williamson, too!) so I was happy with that. Pohl's got an odd protrusion from his stomach, and this obnoxious collector in line beside me kept going on how Pohl must have cancer, and that's good 'cause he'll die any day now, which means all of this collector's signed first edition books will be worth lots.

I mean, this guy was a complete jerk. He kept bitching about all the morons in line that were getting paperbacks and book club editions signed. Said that was the stupidest thing anyone could do, because those won't increase in value. No one should be allowed to get autographs unless they had 1st editions to be signed. I'm a hothead sometimes, but I managed to keep from strangling this idiot--barely. Me, I couldn't care less about speculating and book values. I got my signatures and hightailed it outta there. That night it's time for the masquerade. I've heard a lot about the famous, elaborate Worldcon masquerades, so I decided to get there early to get a good seat. The Hugos didn't fill up until maybe 15 minutes beforehand, so I head over 30 minutes ahead of time, thinking that's enough. Boy, was I wrong. The line snaked back and forth about six times down the loooong hallway. I was at the end. Fortunately, there were even more people that showed up later than me, so I was able to get an OK seat maybe 25 rows back, slightly right of center stage.

Well, I'm sitting there with empty seats all around me, when I hear THIS VOICE. Remember our friend that couldn't wait for Fred Pohl to die so his signed books would go up in value? Well, he sits right next to yours truly, along with his wife/girlfriend/poor-woman-who-can't-get-away. IMMEDIATELY he opens his program, and starts going on about HOW TERRIBLE this masquerade is going to be because there's only 32 entries, when LA Con III had 164 entries. And the stage is awful. And the lighting's terrible. And everyone around here are crass amateurs. How this is the worst Worldcon he's ever been to. How the seating is terrible, and that the open section across the aisle is much better situated, but it's too far back to see the stage. I promptly get up and head over to the open section across the aisle.
And then, on the final day of the convention...

he panel I'm going to is on "Marginalized characters in SF." Which is interesting in itself, but Lois Bujold is on it. I've seen her at several cons, but have never had any of her books I own with me. She also went to high school with my affore-mentiond writer-friend Lillian, and I was determined to get the stack of books signed. Anyway, I get there early, plop down in the front row, and DUM DUM DUM! Guess who shows up? The old bad penny himself, Mr. I-Can't-Wait-For-Pohl-To-Die. This time he's going on about what a waste this entire convention has been, none of the authors know what they're talking about, and God No he's not staying for this pathetic excuse for a panel, he's just here to get so-and-so's autograph on this chromium-plated, holographic first-edition lizard-skin pages book on the off chance she might die on the way home from the convention, because that would make it REALLY worth something. I moved to the back. WAAY to the back, and sat quitely as the panel went on.
So, as you can see, Fred Pohl has precious little to do with my Fred Pohl story... except for the fact that it makes me damn happy the gentleman lived for another 16 years to make that asshole book collector squirm. If I had any say in the matter, Pohl would've lived to 112. I certainly hope he outlived the collector.

Godspeed, Fred Pohl. You lived a long and eventful life. You will be missed.

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Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Worldcon report the first

Gather 'round, boys and girls, and let me regale you with my tale of Worldcon, otherwise known as LoneStarCon 3.

Living in New Braunfels, a mere 20 minutes or so from the convention site in downtown San Antonio, I chose to commute over the long weekend. I arrived about 9 a.m. Thursday, a bit more tired than I'd like on account of staying up later than intended the night before. The con didn't begin until noon, but they'd scheduled a press conference at 9:30 a.m. and had asked me to come early to help out if I could. I should point out that after LoneStarCon 3 won the Worldcon bid, I was recruited to head up media relations. There are a number of reasons for this: 1) I've more than a decade's worth of experience as a working journalist, 2) I've more than a decade's worth of experience as a media relations professional (I head up the media relations division at Texas State University), 3) I served as media director for SFWA for six years, generating some pretty good press coverage for the Nebula Awards Weekends, with the 2008 event in Austin being particularly successful. I subsequently resigned from the position, but that's a post for a later date. Nevertheless, I agreed to help out with the press conference. Sadly, the press conference turned out pretty much as I expected, with most local media staying away and there not being much of anything for me to do. That's a post for another time as well.

So, suddenly I found myself with a couple hours to kill. I'd neglected to bring a bag with me, as all Worldcons, World Fantasy Cons, Imaging USA, and every other big national convention tends to hand bags out along with various donated freebies (in this case, books). Except not this Worldcon. They opted for plastic water bottles instead. I don't know if this was a cost saving measure or what, but it proved damn inconvenient. Several other folks made the same observation to me. Fortunately, I was parked only a block away, making it relatively easy to take my stuff to the car, but it is still a Texas August, and I returned sweatier and most likely smellier than I'd have preferred.

Once the con opened, things picked up. The dealer's room seemed smaller than in '97, but as that was my first Worldcon and completely overwhelmed me, it could very well be my imagination distorting things. I bought Kasey Lansdale's new CD, Restless. Her vocal range is a bit limited, but when she sticks to her range she can knock 'em dead. Her early work played with a kind of Patsy Cline/Janis Joplin fusion, which I absolutely loved. Her newer work is much more in the Reba McEntire mold. I prefer the earlier style, but there's no denying the newer stuff is good.

Here's the point where I discovered the greatest find--and biggest injustice--of the entire convention. The Science Fiction Outreach Project gives away free books. Great, right? Right. In this case, the North East Science Fiction Association's collected works of the late Chad Oliver: A Star Above It and Other Stories, Far From This Earth and Other Stories and From Other Shores. Oliver was the godfather of Texas science fiction, an influential figure who cast a long shadow and had a great impact on us whippersnappers who came after him. I met him several times and he was always friendly and gracious. Yet try as I might, I couldn't get him to make the 90 minute drive to College Station for Aggiecon. Oliver had gone through a nasty battle with cancer, and although in remission, the spectre of its return always seemed to hover over him and he took few trips away from home and his medical support (as he explained to me). Sadly, his fears were justified--his cancer returned and he passed away in 1993. Even more troubling, he quickly became a forgotten author. I snapped up the three volumes--I have some of his novels and one earlier collection, but I had no idea these even existed. At the same time, it angered me a little. Why weren't the attendees swarming this booth for these handsome volumes? They were all gone within a few days, sure, but I wonder how many people who picked them up actually knew what they were getting. If they get around to reading them, they will.

The art show was nice, with a magnificent display of the late Darrell K. Sweet's work. There was also a fantastic display of original Dungeons & Dragons artwork rescued from the TRS dumpsters, and I spent hours marveling at pieces I recognized (a lot of old-school work) as well as reading the back stories to them. Apart from that, the rest of the show ran a little thin. Maybe by sheer numbers it wasn't, but there were a number of professional artists who are regulars at other Texas conventions that were conspicuously absent. Not sure what to read into that, but the artists participating were certainly top-notch. And it was here that I had my only real negative experience of the entire convention. Whilst looking at the Sweet exhibit, a well-known fannish type who I will not name here looked at my name badge then said to me, "Jayme Lynn."

"Yes?" I answered.

"Your name is Jayme Lynn," he continued, more of a statement than a question.

"Jayme Lynn Blaschke," I answered, a little confused. He couldn't be a fan--I don't have fans.

And then, he actually tsked me, rolled his eyes, shook his head, then turned and walked away from me!

Needless to say, for one of the few times in my life I was left speechless. I've never had anyone so dramatically disapprove of my name before. Near as I can figure, he must've seen my byline somewhere and imagined me as a drop-dead gorgeous, Bettie Page-style bondage queen. The reality must've been traumatizing for him. I ran into him once more during the con, and he damn near did it again. If nothing else, he's given be a bizarre con story to tell at future shindigs.

And then, abruptly and unexpectedly, I hit the wall. By 5 p.m. I was dozing on my feet. The late night of work before, coupled with a general lack of sustained sleep earlier in the week, simply hammered me. Without pre-arranged dinner plans, I wandered the Rivercenter Mall food court a few minutes before realizing nothing was appealing. With the room parties still four hours away, I reluctantly made the strategic decision to go home and go to bed. I wasn't happy with it, but it was the right call.

Anyway, enough yammering. Here are some pictures. Lighting conditions were awful but beggars can't be choosers. Enjoy.

The opening of the dealer's room.

Martha Wells, Troyce Wilson with the art show in the background.

Martha Wells gets meta, taking a photo of me taking a photo of her.

Convention Chair Randall Shepherd rides the mechanical bull the first day of the convention. Yes, they had a mechanical bull.

Doctor Who was well-represented at the convention, in observance of the program's 50th anniversary.

Daleks were out in full force. The copper one rolled around the convention hall followed by little girls calling it "Adorable." The Dalek responded indignantly, "Dalkes are NOT adorable!"

Kasey Lansdale takes my money for her new album, Restless, on the first day of the convention. This woman is very good at separating people from their cash.

George R.R. Martin was a popular person at the convention, for obvious reasons. When not being mobbed by his legions of fans, he could often be seen in the coffee bar area chatting with 3-4 folks at a time.

The remote K-9 could be seen roaming around the convention as well. Unlike the Dalek, K-9 had no objections to being called "adorable."

K-9 was quite polite and cooperative, posing for pictures for anyone who asked.

Whoa! What are these 587 people standing in line for? Oh, must be a George R.R. Martin autograph session.

I am known to occasionally wear a colorful and/or whimsical vest during conventions. That said, this gentleman schooled me in a profound way. I am so envious of him.

One of the convention's behind-the-scenes mover and/or shaker, Karen Meschke.

Norman Spinrad (left) and toastmaster Paul Cornell play to the audience during opening ceremonies for LoneStarCon 3.

The incomparable Jay Lake.

National Treasure Howard Waldrop and Chris N. Brown during the Turkey City panel.

Eileen Gunn and Howard Waldrop during the Turkey City panel at Worldcon.

Paul Carl is always entertaining and quick with a quip.

The talented Lillian Stewart Carl. She instructed me in my very first writers workshop. Considering the awful quality of my work way back then, it's a wonder she didn't break down in tears.

Legendary literary agent Eleanor Wood. She just sat down beside me and started chatting. Lovely woman.

The dashing Steven Gould, aka Unka Stevie, an Aggie made good.

LoneStarCon 3 fan guest of honor and book seller extraordinaire, Willie Siros.

This strange, wet thing was lying inert in one of the hotel elevators. I found it more than a little unsettling.

Ann Vandermeer publicly claimed me as an author she'd published at the Dell party Saturday night. That's cool. Usually they cover their faces and shuffle away awkwardly. That's John Chu next to her.

Unka Stevie and Laura J. Mixon/M.J. Locke at the Dell party Friday night.

This is a shot that doesn't present itself often--Tom Doherty, Ben Bova and Steven Gould at the Dell party Saturday night.

Jay Lake at the Dell party Friday night. He's still incomparable.

Jo Walton and Laura J. Mixon/MJ Locke at the Dell party Saturday night.

Stanley Schmidt, center, finally won a Hugo Award for best editor after something approaching 500 years in the business. Ron Collins, right, is someone I hadn't seen in close to 15 years. Amazing who you run into at the Saturday night Dell party.

The legendary Robert Silverberg doesn't know it yet, but ace assassin Joe Haldeman sees his opportunity and is about to spring into action. Actually, I wish I'd been just a hair faster in getting the camera up, but these guys walk fast!

Bland Lemon Denton and the Lemon-Aids played the Chesley Awards after-party. And drank a little hooch for inspiration.

Caroline Spector kept Blind Lemon Denton on the up-and-up during the Chesley Awards after-party.

Monkey Girl joined me at the convention Saturday. Being a hard-core Whovian, she fell in love with the 50th anniversary Doctor Who display.

Monkey Girl strikes her most regal pose upon the Iron Throne. "But Dad," she complained, "You won't even let me *watch* it!" I assured her she would appreciate this photo a few years from now.

Being a fan of Game of Thrones myself, I couldn't help but strike my own dramatic pose on the Iron Throne.

Being the idiot that I am, I couldn't resist making a fool of myself upon the Iron Throne. It's sort of a counterpoint to the previous image.

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