This Weekend @ ConFusion!

You might have seen me discussing on social media that this weekend I’ll be returning to ConFusion, the Detroit area’s annual conference for fans and writers of science fiction and fantasy. I had an amazing time last year and I’m really stoked to head back. Below is where you can find me on programming, but I’ll be around the conference area all weekend ūüôā

Saturday 7 pm – Allen Park Room – To the Pain: On Making Characters Struggle

Sometimes you can’t kill your protagonists outright … but you can definitely put them through a lot. How do writers use different kinds of “pain” to craft better stories around their characters? At what point does a writer push their characters too much? And is it possible to create tension and conflict with minimal struggle? Tracy Townsend (m), Brandon Crilly, Angus Watson, Dan Wells

Saturday 8 pm – Erie Room – Inconceivable! Establishing Narrative Credibility in SFF

The best science fiction and fantasy is often based around bizarre, alien worlds or premises, but these always need to be relatable to the reader. How do writers make the incredible credible? What effective tricks do we see our favorite authors pulling off, and which ones don’t work on us as readers? Tracy Townsend (m), Marie Bilodeau, Brandon Crilly, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Angus Watson

Sunday 10 am – Michigan Room – Black Gate Magazine Interviews GoH Ada Palmer

Black Gate columnist and author Brandon Crilly sits down for a live interview with Pro GoH Ada Palmer to discuss Terra Ignota, mythology, philosophy and looking ahead to the future.

If you’ll be there, give me a shout and come say hi! Looking forward to another excellent ConFusion!

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First Publication of 2019!

You know what’s a good way to start the year? Announcing a new publication!

Yesterday,¬†Abyss & Apex¬†launched its newest issue (#69) including my first story for 2019! “Exactly What You Need”¬†centers on a hole-in-the-wall bookstore with a knack for giving patrons the one thing they’re looking – even if they don’t know it. Except when a grieving mother figures this out and tries to twist the store’s magic, multiple lives are put at risk.

You can read “Exactly What You Need” and the rest of issue 69¬†here. And if you enjoy, please signal boost on social media and/or recommend to a friend. Word of mouth is always helpful and always appreciated!

Hope the start of the new year is a blast (and productive) for all of you!

Holidays for the Beleaguered

The holiday season is funny for me. In my case it’s Christmas (the zero-religious kind) and enjoying hangouts, good food, gift-giving and whatnot. But if I’m being one hundred percent honest, as I like to be on this blog, this time of year is tricky for me because my ideal holiday pretty much involves seeing no one whatsoever.

To be clear: I love my family and enjoy spending time with them. And I’m not just saying that because they might read this. I’m also lucky in that the holiday season isn’t the only time I see them in a year. But those non-holiday visits are automatically different than Christmas, because Christmas generally involves a lot of running around, trying to organize events, making sure you see everyone you want to spend time with and balancing your time fairly. There’s an extra layer of complication and therefore an expenditure of energy you don’t get when you just take a weekend in the summer to go back to your hometown. Or at least, that’s what I find. And so I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little exhausted by Boxing Day, and ready to flip my settings back to introvert and hide for a day or seven.

To be clear: I have a good time at Christmas. But my ideal holiday (if you speak generally and remove “Christmas” or whatever from the equation) is probably to take a few days and have no contact with anyone. Turn my phone off, don’t touch my email, and spend some days to myself. So much of our lives is spent engaging with people all the time, and a writing career demands a surprising amount of that, but that means that when I’m given a holiday, my instinct is to turtle and talk to¬†no one. Which I feel is a common thing for writers, and something that we can’t do during a holiday like Christmas, since it’s a time meant to be spent with other people, right? And if you say on Christmas afternoon, “Breakfast and gifts were great, but I’m going to see if I can block out the world for an hour and pound out some words, then see you at dinner” odds are you’ll get a look from someone, which then takes all the fun out of keeping to yourself for a bit.

To be clear: apparently I’m using a repetitive device for this post. More importantly,¬†I’m grateful to have loved ones to spend the holidays with, really. But sometimes your mind and body are screeching that they need time¬†away and you can’t do that, and it takes a little bit of a toll that most people don’t talk about, since you don’t want to insult your family or loved ones. But everybody needs a little introvert time, and the holidays can be hard if you’re naturally an introvert, even if you like spending time with your family (and we aren’t all that lucky). The problem is that we usually don’t feel like we can, and I’m as guilty as anyone of not taking the time to myself I know I need, even on December 25. I’m getting better at it, but it’s a work in progress, and maybe I’ll better at it a year from now.

Wherever you are, if you spent the last few days celebrating a holiday, I hope it was a blast. And if you’re like me and you need to space out your time spent with other people, I’ll raise a cup of tea to you later, when I’m hiding from the world ūüôā

Bystander

I’m going to talk about something unrelated to writing or teaching this week, just because it’s on my mind.

Taking the bus to get around leads me to see a ton of different things, and all sorts of different people. The vast majority of these experiences are anywhere from positive to at least inoffensive. Occasionally someone on the bus is having a bad day, and while that’s generally unpleasant, I can’t remember the last time I felt threatened or disturbed or the need to step into a situation revolving on a bus. Until this week, and it’s stuck with me enough that I’m feeling the need to talk about it here. Maybe because it’s part of the story of my week, and the larger story of the people I witnessed.

On my way into work, I watched as a mother and son got onto the bus, from my vantage point facing the doors (if you’re unfamiliar with OC Transpo, there’s bench seating facing the back door). The mother was immediately barking at her son to sit in his seat and stay there, while she stood nearby due to the lack of other seats. Parents snap at their kids all the time, so I didn’t think anything of it, figuring the kid needed a little redirecting. Then I heard the mother keep barking, to stay in his seat and sit up straight and sip from a drink, which when I looked up she was practically shoving in the kid’s face. And when I looked at the kid – who was maybe ten, if that – he clearly looked upset. Not in the rebellious, I-don’t-like-when-my-mother-is-stern sort of way, but in a way that almost looked like fear.

At which point, I¬†really paid attention, being careful not to let the mother notice. I watched as someone got up from another seat, and then the young bearded guy with the headphones I see every morning shifted seats so mother and son could sit together. As soon as they were seated, the mother immediately started barking at her son to sit up straight, which did nothing to fix the hunch as the kid sat. Followed by insisting that he should bring the straw of his drink up to his mouth instead of leaning toward it, even though it looked like the kid wasn’t capable of sitting back anymore than he was. At this point, I was mostly watching the kid, comparing him to students I’ve taught with a variety of physical limitations, and trying to decide how much of the hunch in his back might be out of his control, which would explain the slightly frantic look in his eyes – wanting to sit up straighter so his mom would stop yelling at him, but unable to do so. While I was keeping an eye on this, the mother started saying that she’s “figured him out,” as though he’s a misbehaving terror and she’s seen through whatever game he’s playing with her, and that if he doesn’t “behave” they’d be talking about it after school. I could’ve sworn she said they’d be “going on a little field trip” if things went that way, and I had no idea what that might mean, but obviously it didn’t sound good.

At this point, I wondered how serious this situation is that I’m watching. And I wasn’t the only one. The young bearded guy started to glance back, and I spotted another guy seated nearby who was watching things as closely as I was. I started trying to catch their eye, looking for allies, deciding if this is the sort of situation where Mr. Crilly needs to step in and cross that line between Teacher and Protector – which I’ve never had to do, in this sort of context before. Unfortunately, the mother noticed Young Bearded Guy, too, and told him the classic line about taking pictures instead of staring. I didn’t catch what he said back, but the mother made it clear that all she was doing was teaching her son to sit up straight, and that Young Bearded Guy should mind his business.

So what do I do at this point? With just a couple stops until I’m supposed to get off to go to work, scenarios start running through my head. The most direct route is to call the mother out and make it clear what I think about her parenting – but she has a right to parent however she wants, for the most part, and she probably knows it. If I’d been quicker when they were shuffling seats earlier, I could’ve stepped between mother and son and asked if he was okay, which is probably not the safest option and something I’d missed my chance at. I thought about leaning forward and trying to ask the kid his name, particularly his last name, and then figuring out who I can talk to in my network about maybe getting someone of authority to look into this family. I seriously entertained the idea of skipping my stop, staying on the bus until this mother and son reached his school, following them inside and then speaking to the school administration, like some TV movie social worker. And then explaining to¬†my¬†principal that I didn’t show up for my first class, and the thirty students I’m actually responsible for, because I was stalking a mother whose parenting style rubbed me the wrong way.

And so I got off the bus at my stop, and watched it roll away until I couldn’t see it anymore. And I’m still not right with that decision.

Maybe this family was just having a rough day. I’ve heard parents yell at their children way louder and way fiercer than this woman, in public. Maybe this mother is all talk when she’s frustrated, and it never goes beyond that (not that that’s a good situation for a kid anyway). Or maybe there’s something more going on there, which is why my gut was filling me with all kinds of worry. I’ll never know, because as a teacher I’ve been conditioned that a parent has way more rights when it comes to their kids than anyone else (especially strangers) and there’s a surprisingly wide gap in how our society treats harsh parenting versus actual abuse.

But it’s going to be worst case scenarios in my mind for a little while, I think.

To be clear, I don’t want any advice. I don’t want any comments saying that it isn’t my place to get involved in a situation like that, and that it’s better I stayed out of it, or whatever. I know that. Which is largely why I¬†didn’t get involved. I just can’t shake this feeling that maybe I missed an opportunity to change the story for that kid, even just for a moment. I don’t even have a pithy or insightful takeaway from this; I think I just want this particular piece of this kid’s story to be out there, so that maybe the next person who brushes that story will know how to handle it better than I did.

Last Month of 2018! Look Alive, People!

Good gods, how is it already December? I mean, I understand the normal passage of time and whatnot, but every once in a while I’ll be talking to someone about a thing we did and realize, “Wait, that was how long ago?” Like Can*Con, for example, which feels like yesterday but was¬†two damn months ago almost.

Inevitably in those situations, my brain waffles between thoughts of “Balls, time is flying” and thoughts of “Yeah, but you did a lot in that time.” Although, the other day I compared my 2017 publications to my 2018 publications and the latter seemed a little light – five short stories published in the former (among other work) but only three in 2018, one of which was a reprint. In a sheer numbers game it looks like I was less productive, and maybe I was when it comes to short fiction. But then I remembered I’ve been doing other stuff:

  1. I sold a couple stories earlier this year that coincidentally are coming out in 2019
  2. I spent a lot of 2018 working on my novel Three Coins of Silver and made significant progress on the path to finding a home for it
  3. I also spent a lot of 2018 branching out into other work, including two comics, novella-length experiments, doing more with my Black Gate column, and a totally Secret potentially Audio-related project with my pal Evan May (which you may have seen tweeted about recently)

I went into 2018 thinking that I needed to make sure I had stuff coming out periodically, out of fear of disappearing from the public world of SFF. Which is stupid, because it’s not like I’m Chuck Wendig or something, and novels or similar is what I really want to be doing, which kinda take a lot of time to work on (he said, stating the obvious). And between taking a greater role planning Can*Con, my biweekly column for Black Gate, and contributing to other things in the writing community (oh, like a¬†Luna Station Quarterly¬†article by my friend Tracy Townsend! Another thing I did!) among everything listed above, I’ve been pretty busy. So the impostor syndrome whispering “That isn’t enough” can pound sand, basically.

That’s been a really neat part of my writing lately, actually. If you asked me a few years ago what I’d be working on as I round out my twenties, I’d have said something like 80% novels and 20% short fiction. Experimenting with comics was nowhere on my radar – and thinking through storytelling in a short comic is way¬†different than a short story. My primary WIP right now is a novella, and that’s a different animal, too. And as much as we’re told as writers to streamline, I feel like trying out these other forms has been huge for me lately, even if I never go back to them again.

All of this to say: branching out is good for the mind and the soul. Now excuse me as I frenetically try to finish off my Quarterly To-Do List before New Year’s…

Awards Time Has Come! My Eligible Works and Recommendations

I’ve always felt weird about blogging or signal boosting myself for award nominations – something about being like “Hey, look at me!” has never sat well with me, as a writer or as a person in general. But the Nebula nomination period has opened, Hugo nominations are on the horizon, and I see a bunch of my colleagues posting not just about their own stuff, but also about fiction they’ve read and loved for people to consider nominating.¬†That¬†seems way more my speed, so I’ll be doing the same!

My criteria for a truly awesome novel or short story is characters that jump off the page and make me root for them (or loathe them), engaging storytelling and worldbuilding that’s fresh and interesting but also accessible. Below are my recommended reads for 2018 in novels, novellas and anthologies, followed by the short fiction I’ve written which I’d love to see nominated. I spent a good portion of the year getting caught up on books published in earlier years, so my list isn’t huge, but hopefully it’s helpful to people (I imagine I’ll add to this later when I realize I’ve left something off by mistake). Happy reading!

Novels

  • Armed in Her Fashion by Kate Heartfield
  • Impostor Syndrome by Mishell Baker
  • Redemption’s Blade by Adrian Tchaikovsky
  • The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • The Quantum Magician¬†by Derek Kunsken
  • Trail of Lightning¬†by Rebecca Roanhorse
  • Wrath of Empire by Brian McClellan

Novellas

  • Artificial Condition¬†by Martha Wells
  • Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

Anthologies

  • Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction, edited by Elsa Sjunneson-Henry and Dominik Parisien
  • Robots vs Fairies, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe

Me!

My only award-eligible work this year is short fiction, as follows. If you’ve read either and enjoyed them, any additional signal boosting would be greatly appreciated.

 

Can*Con 2018 After Action Report

This isn’t so much a detailed account of last week’s Can*Con, but more a meditation on resetting yourself mentally and physically, as a creative person.

Most people wouldn’t know this (which was deliberate on my part) but I was dealing with some heavy family stuff a week before Can*Con. Once everything around that was sorted, I jetted back to Ottawa to play catch-up on teaching work and the hundred or so little things that needed to be done before the con opened – like preparing to interview a GoH, and for my other panels, and worrying about details because obviously I want the weekend to go off as smoothly as possible, so everyone has a good time. Since Evan May and I took an even larger role on Programming this year, there was an extra level of concern about panels being well-received, etc, and somehow one-upping the excellent programming our team put together last year.

The weird thing, though, was the calm that settled over me during Can*Con. The event didn’t run perfectly (obviously – no event does) but whenever something came up that needed to be dealt with, it was a simple matter to give direction to one of our volunteers or accept that it was something out of my hands (like a presenter not showing up, for example). A large part of that is knowing we had a team put together to deal with anything that might happen – our co-chairs were on top of certain things, Evan and I could handle certain things, and our volunteers dealt with everything else. A friend of mine even commented on how much calmer I seemed compared to 2017, and for a moment I was worried that maybe I was¬†too calm. But no – I was too frenetic in the past, and this year I reached my equilibrium.

(Which was helped by the fact that Can*Con 2018 was¬†fucking awesome. Our GoHs were a blast, my panels were a lot of fun, and I got to chat and geek out with a ton of colleagues and old friends who I don’t get to see as often as I’d like. I could go on and on, but like I said, that’s not really the point of this post.)

That said, I crashed pretty hard after Can*Con, and have been fighting off con crud since Tuesday. And obviously I couldn’t take any time off to properly relax, since I sort of teach and stuff. If I’m honest, the important thing this week was less playing catch-up on teaching work, and more wrapping my head around what’s next¬†for me as a writer – every Can*Con results in new projects, and holy shit is there some super-secret levelling up going on in my career right now¬†(*cough* vaguebooking *cough*). I mean, part of attending cons (and helping organize one) is to advance my career, but you don’t actually expect anything to happen, if you’re realistic. So when it does, you need to recalibrate, and try not to freak out.

Which explains why the other night, when I sat down at my laptop to finally get some writing done after three weeks of not, I froze. And then I wrote a couple lines over and over, hating every try, until I gave up and went to bed. Which¬†almost¬†never happens to me. Maybe it was fatigue, maybe I’d spent too long away from my writing and needed to get back to it slowly. Or maybe I freaked myself out a bit.

The worst thing to do in that moment, I think, is to force it. So I spent Saturday doing some more teacher catch-up, which helped my brain relax a bit more because I don’t like to be behind. Then I played some¬†Pillars of Eternity, continued my rewatch of¬†The Good Wife, made a solid dinner, puttered about my apartment, and listened to music. And let myself really relax, which I realized I hadn’t done since Can*Con, despite being sick.

And then this morning I went to my local to write with a couple friends, as per usual. We chatted a bit about things related to my¬†maybe freaking out, and then we all got to work. I spent the time revising a comic script I’m working on for an anthology, while I blasted Eagles through my headphones, and sent it off for critique. And for whatever reason, that seemed to fix my headspace. I don’t know if it was relaxing yesterday that did it, or just getting back into the routine of my usual Sunday writing, but I imagine it’s a combination of letting my brain and body reset. I push myself a little too hard sometimes, and so I’m learning to pay closer attention when either brain or body telling me,¬†Slow the hells down, dude.

Events like Can*Con are huge when they go well, offering a healthy dose of creative energy by being surrounded and inspired by your peeps. But it’s easy to get spun around by the sheer awesomeness of it all, too, and forget to decompress.¬† We joke that getting back to the grind after a con sucks, but I think we need the grind to keep us level.

Or maybe I’m still spinning and none of this blog post makes any sense. Either way, I wrote some things today and my con crud is almost gone, and I’m not scrambling to get work done for tomorrow’s classes. So let’s call this an extended win from Can*Con 2018, and go relax a little more ūüôā