WisCon Report

This post originally appeared at Diabolical Plots.

Despite trying to be a serious writer for more than 5 years now, it has never occurred to me to attend a con. Writing has always been a very solitary activity for me, and sometimes I have this thing where going to do something just sounds like so much work (I think it’s called laziness). On the other hand, I’m a raging extrovert who is energized by being around people. Enter WisCon.

WisCon 38 logo

WisCon was a very easy “intro con” for me because 1) I live in Chicago and Madison is very close by, 2) I could crash with my brother, and 3) everyone kept repeating over and over again what a kind, small*, welcoming con WisCon was. I’m happy to report, the experience was absolutely wonderful, and I would be more than happy to attend again, or perhaps branch out to other cons.

*Note, did anyone actually say it was a small con? Because it totally wasn’t, at least by my definition, but that was certainly the impression I had been given! But kind and welcoming were accurate at least.

On the other hand, we do have a longstanding commitment for Memorial Day, which conflicts with WisCon. This meant that I attended the con without Sara and the kids, which was probably best for all of us. (Side note, holy childcare Batman! $1 per kid for the entire con??)

To show how absolutely committed I was to attend this con, I rode the bus from Chicago. It was very crowded, but it wasn’t nearly so bad as it could have been. However, though I did get *some* writing done, it wasn’t as much as I had hoped. Turns out bouncing around in the dark, shoulder to shoulder with strangers, is not the conducive writing environment you might think it would be.

In David Steffen’s WorldCon report, he spoke of “finding fandom”. That’s definitely how I felt. I met so many writers that I’ve known online for years. It felt like everywhere I looked I saw nametags of people I recognized. “Hey, I enjoy that guy’s stories!”, “Hey, that woman sends me rejection letters!”, and “Don’t I see that name in my twitter feed a lot?”

Being as this was my first con, and never having attended any panels, it didn’t seem right to sign up to be on any panels. I didn’t know if I would have anything to offer on a panel. That was a mistake. In the very best panels, I was dying to chime in on everything. I will not make that mistake again.  (Did I mention I’m an extrovert?)

I found myself wearing a lot of different hats at the con. Some panels I attended as a writer, some as a blogger, and some just as a fan (a Welcome to Night Vale panel? Say whaaaaat!?). When I didn’t find a panel that sounded interesting, I attended readings, wandered the dealers’ rooms (print of a tiny dragon snuggling with a kitten for Evie’s birthday? Check!), or grabbed a coffee in the con suite. Oh con suite, you were exactly as advertised: stuffed full of free pop and coffee, frozen pizzas, and those hot dogs on rollers. With dusseldorf mustard! DUSSELDORF MUSTARD!

The biggest and best part of the con is that it made me feel like a writer.

The first part of that was the reading I did as part of Clockwork Lasercorn on Sunday morning.

clockwork lasercorn

(Sorry Catherine, we didn’t think to take a picture until you were gone!)

Considering that I hadn’t actually met any of the others in real life until about 15 minutes before the reading, and considering that we were slotted at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning opposite a lot of other great programming, it all could have gone horribly wrong. But it didn’t! At all! Our group totally meshed, everybody’s stories were awesome, and mine seemed to be well received. I got compliments afterwards. I don’t think anybody knew I had never done a reading before.

Our reading was at a coffee shop, which I kind of liked, because anybody could just come in off the street and listen. It was pretty dead when we got there, but it actually filled up. I think we had about 18 or so, plus the 5 of us. And best of all? Ann “Ancillary Justice” Leckie came to my reading! Little did I know, she’s friends with my co-readers, and also super, super nice. This was the closest to my fanboy moment of the con. She just beat Neil Gaiman out of a Nebula for best novel, what, a week ago? And now she’s listening to my story? Awesome.

But! But! That was not all, oh no, that was not all.

I dropped by the Crossed Genres booth to pick up a copy of Long Hidden (which sold out after their excellent panel, so I’m glad I grabbed a copy early!) and to see if I could say hi to Bart and Kay who published me in OOMPH. Not only did I get a chance to chat with Bart for awhile, but he asked me sign all the copies of OOMPH they had on hand.

signing

I can’t tell you how much that made my con. I’ve never done any kind of book signing before, and it was pretty cool. They even put a little “author signed” tent on top of the books later. The only downside is that I kept bumping my head on the door after that, since I was walking around 10 feet tall. The thing is, Long Hidden is blowing UP right now (for good reason! I just started reading it and it’s already so good!), and Bart had a lot going on this weekend. Yet I felt like he really was enthusiastic about meeting me and went out of his way to make me feel good whenever I bumped into him at the con.

Now, since I was staying with my brother, I didn’t have the “true” con experience of hanging out in the bar, attending any of the con parties, or signing up for any of the tabletop gaming sessions (I missed a chance for both Last Night on Earth and Small World). The fact that there was a Jem party that I did not attend is outrageous. Truly, truly, truly outrageous. On the other hand, while I would no doubt have had a good time doing any of those things, I think I would enjoy them more if I had “con friends” whom I was anxious to see. Maybe in years to come.

However, I did get a chance to experience some of the general Madison ambiance, such as drinking liters (that’s plural) of beer out of a boot to the tune of polka music, attending the world’s largest brat fest, and grabbing a to-go lunch from a place that offered to substitute your fruit cup with a “cheese cup” (yeah, that’s pretty much what it sounds like).

beer boot

I did want to make one final note about WisCon. As you might have guessed from the logo at the top, WisCon is the “world’s leading feminist science fiction convention”, with a strong focus on embracing people traditionally left out of science fiction fandom: women, people of color, people with disabilities, gay people, transgendered people…you know, the vast majority of everybody in the world.

Now, I must admit, as a white, cisgendered male, this made me a little nervous. Not because I feel uncomfortable around these groups of people (which is good because, you know, they’re the vast majority of everybody in the world), quite the contrary; I believe anybody who knows me would tell you I am fully prepared to rock a feminist science fiction convention. No, I was nervous because I was worried about intruding.

As a person of undeniable privilege, I kind of thought, “Maybe this one’s not for me. I can go a lot of places and be comfortable doing a lot of things that many of these people can’t. Maybe I should let them have this one, since us white, cisgendered men already kind of have all the rest of them.”

However, I have to say, it wasn’t an issue at all. Not only was everyone wonderful and welcoming as only a crowd of people who know what it feels like to be unwelcome could be, but there really were people of ALL stripes present, including people like me. And honestly, when I looked around the con, it didn’t occur to me to see women, people of color, people with disabilities, gay people, or transgendered people. What I saw was just a lot of people. The best kind of people: science fiction and fantasy nerds.

MY kind of people.

Head ShotShane lives in Chicago with his wife and two kids, where he writes software by day and avoids writing stories by night. His fiction has appeared on Escape Pod, Daily Science Fiction, OOMPH: A Little Super Goes a Long Way, and elsewhere. He blogs regularly at shanehalbach.com or can be found on Twitter @shanehalbach.

Fiction Podcasts Part II – The Rest

Continuing on with the great “best of” audio podcast lists from Diabolical Plots, I’m now going to delve into the smaller, or less well known audio podcasts. As is often the case with things like this, these ones are definitely diamonds in the rough and deserve some coverage!

Drabble Cast – Horror-ish? (best of lists here and here)

Drabble Cast bills itself as “strange stories by strange authors for strange listeners (such as yourself)”. Well, I must be strange, because I think this is my favorite of all of the podcasts (and I’m not even through the whole list yet)! I don’t know if it is because these stories are even shorter (the longest pieces are “flash fiction”, and there is also a “drabble” (a story of exactly 100 words) and “twit-fic” (a story of exactly 100 characters). I can usually finish an episode of each leg of my commute. You can check out some of my favorites, such as Teddy Bears and Tea Parties (NOT as nice as it sounds! Very creepy!), or the science-fictional Mongoose (part I, partII). Note that this podcast is very produced, almost more like a radio drama than a simple reading of a story. At first this was distracting to me, but after I got used to it, I kind of liked it.

StarShipSofa  – Science Fiction (best of list here)

This podcast can only be described as adorable. It is so clearly by the people, for the people and the host is such a nice guy, that you can’t help but love it. However, I would definitely not recommend this for everyone. It’s a lot more than just audio fiction. Although they do include at least one story in every episode, it’s more like one feature among many, instead of the main event. The very, very long episodes contain author interviews, genre news, genre history, upcoming book releases, etc. If you’re really into science fiction in general, then there is a lot to offer here. If you just want to hear some fiction, you’re probably better off with something else. But if you’re going to listen to any random episode, why not start off with the one containing the fantastic Pump Six by Paolo Bacigalupi (if this podcast has done nothing else for me, it has at least taught me how to pronounce Bacigalupi!)

Beneath Ceaseless Skies – Fantasy (best of list here)

Beneath Ceaseless Skies describes itself as “the best in literary adventure fantasy”. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant until I listened to some of the stories. It’s fantasy, but it’s sort of more unique fantasy. Again, we’re not talking about traditional sword and sorcery here. It’s more equivalent to high fantasy meets…strangeness or something. Sort of lyrical world building in a non-traditional setting. For example, check out Mamafield, a story from the point of view of a sentient plant, or Father’s Kill (what can I say, I’m just always a sucker for the dark ones!)

Cast Macabre – Horror (best of list here)

Maybe I’m running out of steam here, but I don’t have much to say about this one. The stories were good and I enjoyed all the ones I listened to. Definitely worth checking out.

Clarkesworld – Science Fiction and Fantasy (best of list here)

I haven’t actually listened to any of these yet, so I can’t say much about it. But there was a best of list, so I will make it there eventually.

Anybody else have any good fiction podcasts? Anybody listen to any of these and have some comments to share? Which were your favorites? Let us know in the comments!

Fiction Podcasts Part I – The Big 3

I spend a lot of time listening to audio fiction. I mostly download full length audio books from the library, but it later I discovered that there are a lot of sites and podcasts out there that do weekly episodes of short fiction.

I have always enjoyed short fiction, but it seems to work especially well in this format. It usually takes me a couple of weeks to listen to a novel, but I can do a piece of short fiction in a day or two, maximum. There are advantages to each length, but I really have been enjoying getting in the car and anticipating a totally new story. It provides great variety.

Most of these have been going for a long time, so there are hundreds of episodes out there. So, you can go browse these sites yourself, or you can do what I did: go off one of the “best of” lists out there on the Internet. I’ve been using the lists over at Diabolical Plots (Get it? Plots? Diabolical Plots?) to get a run-down of where to start. Now certainly my tastes aren’t exactly the same, and I’m sure I’m missing out on some great stories, and on the other hand I don’t always love the stories selected, but it gives me a pretty good flavor of what’s going on there.

When it comes to speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, and/or horror) podcasts, there are three that sort of stand out from the rest as being especially well known and high quality, one for each genre. I don’t think you can really go wrong with any of these, so just pick the appropriate one for the genre you like (or pick all three if you can’t choose, like I did). Again, all of these feature really good short fiction, which can be downloaded totally free. What’s not to love?

Escape Pod – Science Fiction (best of lists here and here).

My super, super condensed list of favorites include stories that vary from hilarious (Connie, Maybe, or The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake) to poignant and sad (Barnaby in Exile). Anybody who thinks science fiction can’t be moving should really check the last one out!

PodCastle – Fantasy (best of lists here and here).

This one really runs the gamut of fantasy, from the more traditional fantasy (Sir Hereward and Mr. Fitz Go to War Again) to other, very dark fantasy (The Mermaid’s Tea Party). Note that fantasy here doesn’t necessarily mean traditional sword and sorcery, but many other things in between (take Sir Hereward and Mr. Fitz up there…very interesting and non-traditional).

Pseudopod – Horror (best of here and here).

Horror is a genre that I just can’t help but come back to. I love it! So I have a lot of personal favorites here: Hometown HorribleThe Evil-EaterSuicide Notes, Written by an Alien MindThe Button Bin,  and Bottle Babies, to name a few. Particularly, you should stick with Hometown Horrible. It starts slow, but wow does it finish strong!

Stay tuned for tomorrow when I cover some of the smaller fiction podcasts!