My Weekend at Chessiecon ‘16

What a great weekend! I was at Chessiecon, a science fiction/fantasy conference near Baltimore. In case you missed it, here’s the recap:

I moderated a panel on “Gadgets in Fiction.” We discussed how it’s easy to get too passionate about your faster-than-light drive or the workings of your hand-held ray gun, but your audience doesn’t want a textbook. How do you share your geeky idea without straying into too much? When does over-reliance on gadgetry start to take away from the plot and characterization?

The talented and knowledgeable panel members were Martin Wilsey, Nicole “Nickie” Jamison, and Steve Kozeniewski. They had some great ideas about how to discuss and describe gadgets in your fiction without boring readers.

Martin Wilsey, Steve Southard, Nicole “Nickie” Jamison, and Steve Kozeniewski


Later, I moderated another panel called “Care and Feeding of Critique Groups.” The blurb for that panel was—participating in a critique group can be a great way to improve your writing. Not all such groups work out well, though. The panel will discuss ways to keep a critique group helpful, vibrant, and long-lived.

My willing and able panel members were Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Jay Smith, Margaret Carter, and J.L. Gribble. It became obvious to me that critique groups come in all sizes, shapes, rules, forms, etc. The keys to success appear to be setting expectations, actively participating, being fair in providing critiques, and being thick-skinned in receiving them.

Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Jay Smith, Margaret Carter, J.L. Gribble, Steven R. Southard


All that was Friday. On Saturday, I moderated yet another panel, this one called “Dive! Dive! Submarines in Science Fiction.” The idea of this one is that not all SF takes place in outer space. Panelists will discuss their favorite undersea fiction and undersea vehicles.

I called myself the Captain of this panel, and my crew was D.H. Aire, Leslie Roy Carter, Kelly A. Harmon, and Martin Wilsey. Sorry, no picture of this one. We had a great time discussing favorite science fiction submarines, and what sets submarines apart from other story settings.

catseye_final-72dpiAt my book reading, I read the entirety of “The Cats of Nerio-3,” my story from the recently published anthology In a Cat’s Eye. I hope the audience enjoyed the story at least half as much as I loved reading it.

chessiecon-16-book-signing-4I had a fine time at the book signing later Saturday night. For one of the copies of In a Cat’s Eye, the woman asked me to sign it to her two cats. First time I’ve done that! I hope her cats enjoy the story. I sold another copy to a young girl who just loves cats. I forgot to tell her and her mother that the stories in that anthology are a bit on the dark side. Oh, well…

All in all, a delightful weekend! It’s fun to gather with fellow authors who write, and with readers who love, science fiction. It just warms the heart of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

December 1, 2016Permalink

Just Short Stories? No Novels?

Should an aspiring fiction writer start with novels or short stories?  Don’t look to this blog entry for a concrete recommendation for your situation.  I can only tell you the path I took and my reasons for choosing it.  For you, success could well lie on a different path.

When phrased as an either/or choice – novels or short stories – the question itself is too limiting.  There are a variety of other avenues for the creative writer of prose, including flash fiction, novellas, podcasting, television and movie scriptwriting, and playwriting.  I’m sure I’ve left out some options and many more possibilities remain to be discovered, or forgotten ones rediscovered.  Some writer will have to be the pioneer who leads these expeditions.  Why not you?

While serving aboard a submarine many years ago, I thought of an idea for a story.  So grand was this story idea, I was certain it would make me both famous and rich.  To truly capture this story, only the novel format would do.  I was sure my tale would seize the attention of the country and even the world.  I could already see myself resigning my commission in the Navy, doing the talk show circuit, and traveling to book signings.

Though chock full of enthusiasm and energy, I was less well supplied with writing experience.  I’d heard all the arguments for starting with short stories, of course.  But such well-meaning advice could be safely ignored.  It simply didn’t apply to my case, I was sure.  Undeterred by these considerations, I set to work.

Actually writing the novel proved harder than I’d counted on, which surprised me at the time for some reason.  There was a lot to think about, with plots and subplots, characters, settings, even a theme.  How to keep it all straight?  Confident that my future fans would patiently await the great opus, I struggled on.

The struggle filled some time, like two decades or more.  At the end of that period I found I’d created a manuscript of which even my desk drawer was—and still is–ashamed.  To this day, the desk’s immune system occasionally rejects it and I have to gather up the pages, force them back in, and nail the drawer shut again.

In truth I had more to show from all the work than just an unpublishable manuscript.  Without knowing it, I’d been honing my skills in a harmless way, practicing the craft and making all my early mistakes.

Abandoning that first novel, I started another.  But doubts had set in about whether I was cut out for this.  A novel is a daunting task and a significant investment of time with very uncertain payoff, particularly for the beginning fiction writer.  It’s easy for discouragement to build up and eventually overwhelm enthusiasm.

I then read The Mammoth Book of New Jules Verne Adventures, edited by Mike Ashley and Eric Brown, published by Carroll and Graf in 2005.  It’s a marvelous collection of short stories inspired by Jules Verne, all written by modern authors.  As a Jules Verne fan, the book inspired me.  I wrote my own short story, a work that would have fit well in that collection, or would if they decided to put out a second anthology in a similar vein.  That story, “The Steam Elephant,” appeared in Steampunk Tales issue #5.

That started me off writing more.  There are several reasons why I’ve enjoyed my switch to short stories.  I can churn out many more of them per year.  They keep my ever-fickle muse interested and focused.  It’s easier to test out different genres.  Short stories represent a good method for further growth as a writer while getting the positive feedback of more frequent acceptances.

At some point I’ll return to the novel length story.  The average non-writer doesn’t regard an author as serious until she or he has published a novel.  Certainly the pay for a published novel is greater as well.  Who knows, one of these days I may dust off the two novels I started, rewrite them, and send them out for consideration.  If you’re engaged in writing a novel equally as good, perhaps I’ll join you on the talk show circuit!  Until then, I’ll remain a short story writer, and—

Poseidon’s Scribe