My Mysticon 2016 Schedule

I’ll be a guest at Mysticon this weekend in Roanoke, with Guest of Honor George R.R. Martin. (My wife, award-winning artist Heidi Hooper, is also a guest and will be one of the judges for the masquerade competition.)

George RR Martin

I figured if I posted a picture of me, it wouldn’t get as much attention

Mysticon is a fun little convention which is completely sold out this year for some reason. But if you’re there, here’s where you can find me!

Anthology Don’ts (Friday 3:00): There are always rules for submitting in anthologies: length, subject matter, etc. Our panelists discuss the common errors they see (or have been guilty of) in anthology submissions. With Alexandra Christian, Tera Fulbright, and 
John G. Hartness

Opening Ceremonies (Friday 4:00): Welcoming and introduction of guests

Fantasy Worldbuilding (Friday 5:00): Whether it’s creating entire new worlds or integrating your story into everyday life, fantasy writers can find inspiration in the smallest things that can lead to a whole new world of mystery and magic. How they do it, how they choose, how they are inspired, what fans love or hate, etc. With R.S. Belcher, Ashley Chappell, Alexandra Christian, Anthony St. Clair, and Richard C. White

First Contact Improv (Friday 9:00): The panel consists of a moderator and 3-4 panelists, preferably writers, and preferably with a good sense of humor.  The panelists are charged with designing a human-alien First Contact scenario on the fly. The twist is that the moderator has over 100 improv prompts on cards that are drawn by the panelists and audience members. With Jim Beall, Steven Hancock, Emmy Jackson, Peter Prellwitz, Todd Roberts and Abigail Wallace.

The Eye of Argon (Friday 11:30): The worst science fiction story ever written gets a reading by our brave panel as they compete to go the longest without tripping over a misspelled word or laughing uncontrollably. Audience members are also encouraged to take a chance. Can you keep a straight face, especially when the panel begins acting out the story?  With Gail Z. Martin, Michael Pederson, Peter Prellwitz, and Gray Rinehart 

Match Game (Saturday 10:00): An annual MystiCon tradition – relive the glories of classic game shows, now with a Sci-Fi/Fantasy twist. Contestants from our audience will match wits with our guests. With Billy Flynn, Tally Johnson, Ben Mirabelli, Rich Sigfrit, John Watts, and Nicole Zoltack

How Much Worldbuilding Does an RPG Need? (Saturday 7:00): A game setting can be no more than a dungeon and a tavern-or an entire world with landforms, languages, plants and animals, and a history stretching over millennia. How much world-building do you do? How much does a game need? Is there a sweet spot for world-building, or do different games have different needs? With Bob Flack, Steve Long, John Watts, and Richard C. White

Building Your Brand (Sunday 9:00): Done properly, self-promotion is an important part of building a career. Poorly executed, self-promotion can do more harm than good. Our panelists will discuss what works and doesn’t work along with these common questions: Do book-signings really help a small author? Are bookmarks and/or postcards effective at garnering attention? Does a blog help or hurt an author? Does an author have to have a website? With Alexandra Christian, Pamela K Kinney, and Jim Lavene

No More Evil Priests in Red (Sunday 10:00): Understanding faith in a secular world. It’s easy to depict organized religion as evil, led by greedy rapist scumbags and followed only by the drones and sheeple, but this trope hasn’t been cutting edge for the past forty years. In setting up evil priestly straw men for our postmodern heroes to blow away, authors too often overlook why brilliant people like Boethius could walk smiling to execution, St. Francis could try to protect the animals everyone else wanted to eat, or Hildegard von Bingen could write awe-inspiring music and plays. Let’s talk about books that depict the complexities of religious faith in interesting, insightful ways. With Tony Daniel, Gail Martin, Peter Prellwitz, Gary Rinehart,  and Abigail Wallace

Black and White (Sunday 11:00): Not TVs, but the role of absolutes in literature, movies, and life. Jedi/Sith, good/bad, often SFF is dedicated to these simplistic views. Is it a reflection of our society or has our society come to reflect our literature. What about the reality of Grey? (Politics and Religion Warning) With William Lawhorn and Brian Sunderlin

Interview with Hugo and Nebula award-winning author and editor Gardner Dozois

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today I am pleased to be interviewing author and editor Gardner Dozois, winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards, and probably best known for being the editor of ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE for over 20 years! gardner-dozois

Gardner, you’re well known as THE modern editor of science fiction – no one comes close (especially when you consider the number of awards you’ve earned). What do you have that others don’t?

GARDNER DOZOIS: Many editors are sensitive, highly intelligent, high-strung people, and they tend to burn out relatively quickly. Me, I’m a stolid peasant type who actually likes eating meat and potatoes every day. Where others burn out from reading science fiction all day long, get sick of it, I actually like reading science fiction, and am not sensitive or intelligent enough to get tired of reading it.

VENTRELLA: What, in your mind, makes a good editor?

DOZOIS: It’s similar to the answer to the question above. You have to like what you’re doing. You have to have passion for it. When you read a really good story, you have to have the ability to be excited by it AS a reader, to become engrossed in the reading of it rather than just coolly evaluating it professionally. If you lose that, you’re lost. My strategy as an editor has always been simple: I’m a reader with fairly average tastes myself, and so I figure that if I like a story, as a reader, then many other readers will probably like it too. This is the philosophy I had when I was editing ASIMOV’S, and its what’s guided me through all the years of editing THE YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION, which is now up to its THIRTIETH ANNUAL COLLECTION — so it must work.

It seems to me that editing requires an eye for balance – you don’t want too many stories with the same theme in a collection, but you also don’t want to stray too far and alienate readers by being too eclectic. 9781250029133How do you balance the extremes? What guidelines do you use?

You do have to have balance, and this was as true of an issue of ASIMOV’S as it is for an edition of The Year’s Best Science Fiction. You can’t publish nothing but near-future dystopias, or nothing but grim, depressing stories. I always put a lot of effort into trying to balance the mood of the stories in anything I was working on. You have to try to balance the TYPES of stories, too — some hard science fiction, some soft, some offplanet stuff, some near future, some far future, and with both ASIMOV’S and THE BEST OF THE YEAR volumes I put a lot of effort in to working out the story order so that you don’t get a lot of the same kind of stories in a row. You also have to pay some consideration to sources. You can’t use only stories from one source, and even too many of them, no matter how good a job you think that source is doing. When I edited ASIMOV’S, I used to get a lot of grief from reviewers for using too many ASIMOV’S stories, so I had to be careful not to overdo it.

Sadly, this is largely a waste of time. Most readers ignore the carefully arranged order and either read the stories by the authors they like best first, or start with the shortest stories first, or the longest ones. I know it’s a waste of time, but I can’t help doing it anyway.

VENTRELLA: How do you handle similarly themed stories with the “best of the year” collections? After all, it’s not like you can set one of them aside for the next edition…

DOZOIS: I use the one I like best, although in close cases, determining which one that is often involves reading them again, and again, and again. In the final stages of assembling the Best, I think of it as arranging a steel-cage match between two similar stories; let them fight it out, and the strongest story wins. greatdays-674x1024With a magazine, like ASIMOV’s, you have a little more flexibility –if you have two similar kinds of story and you like both of them, you can always duck one of them into inventory and use it later on, in another issue.

VENTRELLA: How do you find short stories for your “best of” collections?

DOZOIS: You just have to keep your eyes open. I make a good-faith attempt to read every SF story in the English language I can find. Realistically, I know that I must miss a lot, especially these days, with all the proliferating internet markets, but I do the best I can.

VENTRELLA: Do you ever consider self-published works for these collections?

DOZOIS: Yes. Although finding them in order to consider them in the first place is the problem. Many single-author short story collections have unpublished stories in them, and you have to keep an eye out for that as well.

VENTRELLA: You have concentrated your career almost entirely on short fiction. What is it about short stories that attracts you more than novel-length works?

DOZOIS: The brutal efficiency. A short story delivers one hard punch, fulfills one purpose, and then stops. You can’t sprawl in a short story the way you can in a novel. A short story that sprawls doesn’t work at all.

VENTRELLA: Do you regret not writing more fiction and thus being known more for your editing?

DOZOIS: Yes, I regret it. I backed into editing more or less by accident, although my first reaction to reading a story I really liked was always to show it to as many people as possible, which has always suited me for the work. Strangers_Dozois1 In an ideal world, though, I would be a Big Name SF Writer, which is what I set out to be, and be remembered for my writing rather than for my editing. As it is, my writing is already largely forgotten, and will be forgotten completely fifteen minutes after I’m dead. You play the hand you’re given, though.

VENTRELLA: Do you ever stop and consider how much you have influenced the field – how, thanks to you, certain writers have been discovered and moved on to influence others?

DOZOIS: I think it’s possible to exaggerate the contribution of an editor. It’s the writers who did all the work; if a story is good it’s because of all the blood and sweat they put into it. My function is just being smart enough to recognize the good work when it comes along. (Occasionally, an editor can spot something that needs fixing in a story that the author can’t recognize on his own, and help the author to find a way to fix it — but there all the heavy lifting is being done by the author too.)

VENTRELLA: Who are you most proud of “discovering”?

DOZOIS: There are a fair number of them. George R.R. Martin, Connie Willis, Joe Haldeman, Allen Steele, David Marusek, Mary Rosenblum, Kage Baker.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about your newest anthology with George R.R. Martin!

DOZOIS: I’ve just finished and delivered an anthology with George called OLD VENUS. Next out will be an anthology with him called DANGEROUS WOMEN, which will be published in December. Also out soon will be OLD MARS. Sometime in the future, probably 2014, my anthology with him called ROGUES will come out, and also OLD VENUS.

VENTRELLA: Magazine circulation is dropping everywhere; what do you see for the future?

DOZOIS: Most magazines will probably become electronic online-only magazines, as many already have, although the existing print magazines, like ASIMOV’S, ANALOG, and F&SF are doing a bit better these days by selling subscriptions for electronic formats online. 076533206X.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_SL300_I always said that if anything could save the print magazines, it would be the internet, and this may turn out to be true.

VENTRELLA: There are fewer and fewer anthologies being printed these days as well, and many writers are uploading their short stories rather than going the traditional route. Is this good for fiction overall?

DOZOIS: This is completely untrue. There are a lot more anthologies being published these days, from an proliferating number of small-press publishers, as downloadable files, as Kickstarter projects. There are more of them every year, enough so that it’s become harder to keep up with them all.

VENTRELLA: My worry is this: in the past, with magazines and anthologies, there was a gatekeeper (the editor) who, with a good reputation, guaranteed quality. Now I have no idea most of the time if the work I might download has even been edited, much less subject to any sort of review. What can a reader do to find good fiction?

DOZOIS: This is a bit self-serving, but your best bet is to buy one of the Best of the Year anthologies, which serve as a sampler of the work of many different authors, whose work you can then follow up on if you like it. If you don’t like my book, get Jonathan Strahan’s, or Rich Horton’s, or one of a number of others.

VENTRELLA: There still is a stigma attached to books that are either not available in a hard copy or only available as a POD. Do you see that changing in the future?

DOZOIS: Yes, that will change. Is already changing rapidly, in fact.

52

Interview with Author Melinda Snodgrass

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today, I am very pleased to be interviewing Melinda Snodgrass! Melinda Snodgrass studied opera at the Conservatory of Vienna in Austria, graduated from U.N.M. with a degree in history, and went on to Law School. She practiced for three years, and discovered that while she loved the law she hated lawyers — so she began writing science fiction novels.

In 1988 she accepted a job on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and began her Hollywood career where she has worked on staff on numerous shows, written pilots and feature films. Her novels THE EDGE OF REASON, and THE EDGE OF RUIN are currently available from Tor books. She has delivered the first two novels in a new Urban Fantasy series featuring blood-sucking lawyers, THIS CASE IS GONNA KILL ME, and BOX OFFICE POISON, and has a story in the latest Wild Card book, FORT FREAK. She is currently adapting Wild Cards as a motion picture for Universal Pictures. Her passion (aside from writing) is riding her Lusitano stallion Vento da Broga.

Let’s start by talking about the law. It seems that many writers of speculative fiction are also lawyers (myself included). What is it about the law that makes people want to escape so much?

MELINDA SNODGRASS: I went into law thinking it was all about truth and justice. It isn’t. It’s about process, and after three years in law school I realized that was okay too. Law = civilization, and our job as attorneys is to reach some level of basic fairness. I also think that much of law is contracts, and family law. The big Constitutional cases rarely turn up in an average law office, and that was what really interested me. I am great admirer of the Constitution. It is a beautiful document that was designed to grown, stretch and change, and aside from one disastrous episode (prohibition) it has always been interpreted to expand rights. That’s it’s genius.

VENTRELLA: Absolutely agree. It’s why I like being a criminal defense attorney — I do get to argue the Constitution from time to time.

You’ve used your legal experience well in your work, and especially in the excellent Star Trek: Next Generation episode “The Measure of Man.” How did you decide upon that plotline and theme? (Reading Dred Scott?)

SNODGRASS: Yes, it was the Dred Scott decision. It worked perfectly to set up a conflict between Data and Star Fleet command. I also had a navy pilot buddy who gave me the most powerful point of all. He told me that when a ship is at sea, and you can’t utilize JAG officers then the Captain always defends and the first officer prosecutes. To pit Ricker and Picard was just too perfect.

VENTRELLA: Did the story change much between your script and what we saw on screen? If so, what changes did you like and/or dislike?

SNODGRASS: There were virtually no changes. The only thing that happened was a number of scenes got cut because the script ran very long. Now all of those deleted scenes have been restored to the new Blue Ray DVD release that is going to happen in December so folks will be able to compare the “as aired” version with the extended version. There are a couple of scenes I’m really glad are back in.

VENTRELLA: Let’s discuss writing for television. How did you get your break there?

SNODGRASS: I owe it all to George R.R. Martin. He had gone out to Hollywood to write for first the New Twilight Zone, and then for Beauty and the Beast. He called me, and said “Hey, I think you’d be pretty good at this screenwriting thing. It works to all of your strengths – strong plotting, powerful characters, and good dialog, and if you write a spec script I will show it to my agent.” I picked Star Trek because I had loved original Trek as a kid, and I didn’t want to put George on the spot if I wrote a crappy B&B script.

VENTRELLA: How does writing for television compare to writing a short story or novel?

SNODGRASS: Different mediums and you always have to keep that in mind. A short story or a novel can stand if it’s got enough atmosphere and is evocative even if it’s light on plot. That just won’t work in a screenplay. Also interior dialog can work in prose, and it has to be changed to actual dialog to work on screen. You have to be able to see it and hear – film is a visual medium.

VENTRELLA: While there are plenty of science fiction shows on TV these days, there really aren’t any traditional space-faring shows like Star Trek or Babylon 5 or Firefly any more (except perhaps for Dr. Who). In fact, even in literature, there seems to be less and less. Why do you think that is?

SNODGRASS: Expense is the primary reason. Special effects cost a lot of money. I also think there is the fear of comparison to Star Trek, and that it can’t be made different or interesting. I don’t agree that space dying out in literature. I think we are seeing a renaissance of space opera. For awhile writers did seem to think space based stories were too juvenile, but with the success of books like LEVIATHAN WAKES, and the whole collection of British space opera writers I think it’s a booming field. I, for one, am very happy about that. It’s what I like to read, and my next big project is a space opera series.

VENTRELLA: How did you get your first “big break” in publishing?

SNODGRASS: I had written my first novel in the Federal-court-judge-rides-circuit-in-outer-space series, but I couldn’t get any traction. David Hartwell offered me a chance to write a Star Trek novel, and I did. He also counseled me to write only one. I have followed that advice to the letter. The Star Trek novel was THE TEARS OF THE SINGERS.

VENTRELLA: I remember reading that years ago and really enjoying it!

Aspiring authors often seem to think that writing a book is easy and your first one is sure to be a huge hit. What writing experience did you have prior to publication?

SNODGRASS: As I said before I had trouble getting traction with my S.F. books until TEARS. But I’ve been very lucky. I broke in right at the big boom in romance. I had quit the law firm, and I needed to pay the mortgage so I wrote six romance novels under pseudonyms while I also worked on my CIRCUIT novel. The romances sold, had the advantage of teaching me how to write to deadline, and finish a book (something people have trouble with), and they paid my bills.

VENTRELLA: You certainly have not shied away from politics and religion as themes. In fact, your Edge novels deal with that theme. What spurred you to write that series?

SNODGRASS: It was New Year’s Even 1999. I was sitting with Steve Gould, and Laura Mixon, Walter Jon Williams, and several other friends in the bar at El Pinto in Albuquerque. We were drinking margaritas and watching the celebrations around the world as we entered the twenty-first century. We being science fiction writers were bitching that it was actually going to be the twenty-first century, but then a new bitch occurred to me, and I asked the group, “Where is my Moon base and my air car? Why are at the dawn of the 21st century, and people put more credence in guardian angels and healing crystals and tarot cards then they do in science?” Then I thought, maybe there’s an outside force driving us to be ignorant and hateful. That was the start of the idea.

VENTRELLA: You’ve also discussed religion and politics on your blog and Facebook. Now, as a starting writer, I’ve been advised to avoid these subjects, but I ignored that advice. Do you think writers should avoid these issues for fear of alienating potential readers?

SNODGRASS: I think people should write stories that interest them. Stories they would like to read. Of course there are going to be readers who won’t like those stories, but that’s life. Some people like chocolate ice cream and others like vanilla. You can’t produce something that makes everybody happy so you may as well write what makes you happy. Writing is hard, you shouldn’t write something if you don’t enjoy it.

VENTRELLA: To relate back to an earlier question, do you think the current anti-science nature of the religious right has had an effect on hard science in literature?

SNODGRASS: I don’t think it’s affected us in the science fiction field. I think we just ignore the gibberish about evolution not being true, or the Earth being 6000 years old. Most of us love science fiction because we love science and the wonder of discovery.

VENTRELLA: Many people would also know you from the Wild Card series with George R.R. Martin. How did that association begin?

SNODGRASS: George and I were in a role playing group with a lot of other writers – Walter Jon Williams, Victor Milan, John Jos. Miller. Vic had given George Superworld for Christmas and we were playing the game obsessively with George as our game master. One day we had played until 2 or 3 in the morning, George had stayed over at my house, and he wandered out for breakfast and said, “there has to be some way to turn this obsession into money.” That’s when we started to discuss it as a shared world anthology. We cooked it up in my dining room over pancakes and bacon and lots of coffee. I came up with the aliens and the virus because George didn’t want the usual stupid superhero origin story – “struck by lightning while standing in a toxic waste dump”.

VENTRELLA: What do you think makes the Wild Card series so popular?

SNODGRASS: The characters and their interactions. The real world problems they face. Steve Leigh wrote an absolutely heartbreaking story for FORT FREAK about a long time character who is three people fused into one body dealing with the onset of Alzheimer’s in one of the members. It literally brought me to tears. You’re not going to see something like that in most comic books.

VENTRELLA: Who are your favorite authors?

SNODGRASS: God, that’s a really hard question. Outside of the field I often reread John le Carre and Georgette Heyer. In the field I have so many writers I love that it’s hard to narrow it down. Heinlein juveniles. Clifford Simak’s WAY STATION, new young writers like James S.A. Corey and Ian Tregillis. George doesn’t need a plug from me. Most of the world knows his genius and abilities. And I tend to reread The Lord of Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien over and over. I like mysteries very much – Dorothy Sayers, Elizabeth George, Michael Connelly. I could fill pages so I’ll stop with that.

VENTRELLA: What are you working on now?

SNODGRASS: I am writing the Wild Card movie for Universal pictures. I have sent a big hunk of the third Edge book to my agent. I’m writing up the proposal and chapters for my space opera series, I have another urban fantasy book due at Tor that I’m writing under a pseudonym, Phillipa Bornikova. George and I are trying to put the next Wild Card book – LOWBALL to bed. I’m really busy. Sometimes I want to take a nap.

VENTRELLA: And finally, since this is a blog for aspiring authors, what advice do you think needs to be said that hasn’t been emphasized enough?

Write what you love. Treat it like a job. And don’t break your promises to your readers/viewers. Give them the ending that you promised in the opening chapter.

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