World Con 2013: The Trip of A Lifetime

With Toni outside Marriott Rivercenter's main Restaurant
With Toni outside Marriott Rivercenter’s main Restaurant

Well, I’ve been away from blogging for a month due to various reasons, with apologies to those who follow the blog. And so I’m going to try and get back into the swing of it with this report on my recent trip to San Antonio for World Con. As those who’ve seen my pictures on Facebook can already tell, I had the trip of a lifetime.

This year’s World Con brought my first solo sit down meal with a Big Five editor. My first sit down meal with a Grand Master and writing hero. And my first chance to sit in the front rows at the Hugo Awards. Amongst other things. I met so many people, built on preexisting relationships, laid foundations for new relationships, and explored new possibilities in so many ways.

For me, World Con is the most important business meeting of my year by far. So many publishers, authors, editors, booksellers and others come together in one place that it just creates tremendous opportunities. So I plan my trip accordingly. I arrange meals in advance, focusing mostly on people I want to do projects with, friends or not. I try to get on panels and a reading and signing. But then I leave the rest of time free to just mingle and network.

Although this year’s trip started rough with a lost cell phone (a bit of a handicap when trying to meet up with people at a con spread over 3 buildings with 3500 attendees), I quickly shoved it aside and launched into my second day by having lunch with Toni Weisskopf, who was delightful. I remembered chatting with her in 2010 at ConQuest in Kansas City, when she was Editor GOH, but this time we met as publisher and author, as I am coediting an anthology for Baen. We mostly talked about life, ourselves, and anything but business but she did inquire how the anthology is coming and wound up inviting me to pitch another, so I offered two ideas. I’ll be more formally presenting them soon. One is an immediate follow up to Shattered Shields, the military fantasy anthology I am editing with Jenn Brozek for Baen right now. (We just closed our Table of Contents and are doing final edits now). The other is a collaboration with the delightful Cat Rambo.

I also got to finally meet Lezli Robyn for lunch. She’s been my online friend for ages and we had missed each other completely in Chicago, so we made a point of getting together this year. She’s delightful. We sat on a Mexican restaurant’s outdoor patio overlooking the River Walk and were soon joined by Kay Kenyon. Two lovely ladies. Such fun.

In between I had done my first panel, a science panel titled “My Favorite Dinosaur” and had fun with Elizabeth Bear and the other panelists, including artist-author Spring Schoenhuth, a paleontologist, and a scientist from Japan. Later that night, I did a panel with the flawed question: “Do SF Stories have Fewer Happy Endings Now?” which the panelists and I basically deconstructed for an hour. When you name panels, narrow questions work best. Broad ones so dependent on people’s perspectives, tastes, etc., generally don’t work as well, at least for writing panels.

My moderating seemed to go over well, so I was excited for my last panel with Gail Carriger, Robin Hobb and Amanda Downum the next day on “Intricate Worlds.” But first, I spent the evening at parties and BarCon, then did a little crit work for my Writer’s Workshop session that Sunday.

Saturday I slept in then worked on panel prep and workshop stuff before meeting Dave Farland to get Raygun Chronicles bookplates signed. We had chatted the night before for ninety minutes at the Writers and Artists of the Future panel and wound up hanging and chatting again for a while, with David Brin even stopping in at one point. Dave is a really nice guy who is in two anthologies for me this year, and I am very glad, after hearing about him for years, to finally get to meet and work with him.

Mid-day, JM McDermott took Maurice Broaddus, Django Wexler and I off site for a signing and panel on faith in fiction. We had a small crowd but a great discussion, then Django and I hit the food court for a quick meal before I headed to the worldbuilding panel. The ladies and I had decided in advance to not do the stereotypical worldbuilding panel, so I launched us off with worldbuilding pet peeves and we went for there. In all, I was told, it was a favorite and very helpful panel for many. We covered the under valued areas of worldbuilding, favorite examples and more. And the hour simply flew by. Fun people, and, of course, sitting between Carriger and Hobb, I was fanboying the whole time.

After that I just took a nap and worked on my crits so I could print them, then hit a couple parties. The Baen party was a priority, and due to all the rushing around and walking, wound up being my sole stop for the night, though I did grab dinner for a “date” with my pals Jay Werkheiser and Lisa Montoya, whom I met last year and joke around with now constantly on Facebook. Jay is in Analog a lot as a writer and has generously beta read for me a couple times. Just delightful folks.

Sunday I had my Bucket List breakfast with Robert Silverberg and my roommate, Alex Shvartsman–fellow editor and author, tagged along. Silverberg was a blast, as usual, being funny and a great conversationalist, and soon his wife Karen Haber joined as well, and she is a similar delight. Alex and I both got the All-You-Can-Eat buffet but ate only one plate because we didn’t want to go back and miss any of the conversation.100_0458

Then it was off to print my crits and lead my two hour Writer’s Workshop session. I think at least two of the writers were quite receptive. The third was polite but didn’t seem to agree with an assessment all four of the rest of us made of his work. But I hope all of them found benefit in it nonetheless. Time will tell, as always.

At one, I met Patrick Swenson, publisher of Beyond The Sun, John A. Pitts and Brenda Cooper and we had lunch and discussed our mutual book launch at OryCon. These are three of my favorite people in SFF. Normally, I see them once a  year at World Con. Excited that I’ll see them again, and that working on books has had me in touch with them a lot more this year than normal as Patrick published Beyond The Sun and Brenda and John each wrote stories for others.

The last bit of official duties was to record SFSignal podcast with Patrick Hester, Patrick Swenson and Beyond The Sun contributors, including authors Jean Johnson, Cat Rambo, Jamie Todd Rubin, Alex Shvartsman, Maurice Broaddus and artist Mitch Bentley. It flew by but was fun and I hope brings more attention to our collaboration, a project we’re all very proud of. Good reviews keep coming in and Gardner Dozois is reviewing it for Locus next month. Mitch also gifted me an original canvass of his cover art, which was a nice surprise I’ll treasure. I’ve worked with Mitch on four books now and his cover for Beyond The Sun is getting him accolades from Toni Weisskopf, Jack McDevitt, Robert Silverberg and more. Since I do anthologies to help myself and others build our careers, it’s nice to see it paying off for friends like that.

The night was taken up with Hugo Awards, where Alex accepted for Ken Liu and we spent the night carrying around a Hugo.

It was delightful to be together with the community and see recent conflicts and kerfluffles not interfere. That was probably the best surprise of all. Even Silverberg had confessed his fear that there would be a dark cloud over the proceedings but I was as warmly received by all as anyone, and clearly those who matter don’t pay much attention to rumors based on assumptions and innuendo, thankfully. We all had better things to do than discuss such overwrought unpleasantness. And I was relieved.

I am not naming everyone I met, but I did also meet several fans and Kickstarter backers, as well as other top people in the field. It was just an all around delight, and I wish I could afford to go to London. At this point, it appears World Con will be out for me, but we’ll see. It sure is a once a year time of greatness I’d hate to miss. The trip of a lifetime, as I said in the title to this post, and I look forward to many more to come.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. In addition to Shattered Shields, he edited the anthologies Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012), Beyond The Sun (2013) and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age (2013). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter as @BryanThomasS.

Writetips: 10 Most Creatively Inspiring Places In The World I’ve Visited So Far

I love to travel and I love to learn. So, to me, one of the greatest things about trips is getting to discover  things:  new places, new languages, new cultures, new people, new points of view. It energizes me. That’s one reason I’ve dedicated so much of my life to travel. From 2000 through 2010, I visited Africa, South America, Central America and Europe, some more than once the same year, donating time as a teacher and mentor in exchange for learning and discovering. I learned as much as any of my students did, and it’s forever changed my life and writing.

This may seem an odd subject for writetips, but hang on. When I was first starting out, I got accused of cliche and predictable writing and one agent said “live more so  you’ll have stuff to write about.” So, I quit Hollywood and went off to be  a singer and travelled the world. I got a Masters degree, founded a leadership development training non-profit, and spent the next decade travelling three times a year to learn  cultures and help them learn the arts, etc. in places where such training is either unaffordable or available only to the elite.  I and my world are so much broader because of that, and I have so much more to write about.

So here’s my Top 10 Most Inspiring Places I’ve Visited (so far–I’m not done by far):

Life in mud huts and people often seemed more content and happy than I’ve been a day of my life.

1) Ghana, West Africa — From the urban sprawl of Accra, its capital, to the slave castles of its Atlantic Coast, to the humble traditional village of Mesamegor where I spent a blissful New Year’s Day 2004 learning  about traditional dance and village life, my four trips to Ghana have been some of the most enriching of my life. I miss it daily and long to go back. For those of us fortunate enough to be born in the First World, a visit to the Third or Developing World is life changing, if you allow it to be. From the ways they view the world differently, to the joys they find amidst such poverty and want, you realize not only how lucky you are but how much you have and how little you appreciate it. It’s reminds you that there are things far more important than possessions, status, money, etc., and it teaches you how to slow down and live by relying on each other and making the most of every moment in ways that forever transform the way you see the world.

2) Dacchau and Bavaria, Germany — A line of bullet holes along a wall, an ashy oven with a distinct smell, barracks with bunks resembling those on slave ships of  Roots from TV at a famed WWII concentration camp built for killing, and  all of this because of a race/religion and one man’s call to hate.  I went there at 16 and images are indelibly burned into my brain. I don’t have scanned pictures but I can call them up whenever  I  want to in my mind. You can’t deny it when you’ve seen the evidence for yourself.  I also floated over the Alps on  glider, a plane shot up into the air by bungee with no engine. It was so quiet, peaceful and amazing. I felt like a bird.

3) The Favellas (slums) of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil — In both Rio and Belo Horizonte, the third largest city to the north, I visited famed hillside slums, places where the murder count

Slums stretch across hillsides throughout Brazil’s cities. Believe it or not, they started as squatters with no infrastructure, stealing electric by cutting into lines, etc.

each month exceeds that of the whole U.S. in a year at times. These were the people who would rob tourists, ran the drug trade, and  acted as maids, servants, bus  drivers, etc. Their lives were hard and lacking, yet when you were  invited in as a guest, no one treated  you better. I never once felt any sense of danger or worry. And it was humbling to be so appreciated by people who have such hardships that I can’t even begin to understand. You can  read about poverty and violent lives, but only by seeing it for yourselves can you begin to try and understand.

4) Venice Beach, California — In many ways, the quintessential California beach, at least as far as Los Angeles goes. From surfers  to street performers (some of whom make 50k tax free or more  year) to  beach volleyball, rollerblading, and lots of hot, fleshy bodies, not to mention sunsets and even whales  and ships, Venice Beach has it all and it’s an experience to be remembered. I went several times during my time  in L.A. I’ll never forget the 300 lb woman in the thong (I wish I could) but I’ll also never forget the night I went there after a day spent skiing in  the nearby mountains and sat in shorts to watch the sunset over the mountains to the north. Whenever I think of California life, it comes back to me so clearly.

5) The Florida Keys — I wish I could afford to live there, because the Florida Keys remain one of my all time favorite vacation spots. From standing in Hemingway’s home to lighthouses, jetskiing, petting sharks and whales, collecting sea shells, waterskiing, and glass bottom boats, I just love what Southern Florida and especially the Keys have to offer. I move from relaxed to excited in waves and go home exhausted but yet the next day I’m ready to do it all again.

My parents on the streets of Ouro Preto, winding hills with amazing architecture–note one of the many churches up at the top

6) The Gold Cities of  Minas Gerais, Brazil — Brazil is huge and rich  and walking through these cities  with their hundreds of churches, often slave built, with elaborate interiors, exteriors, and gold embossed finishes, amazing Portuguese style Colonial buildings and streets, etc., felt like stepping back in time and into history. I’ve visited them three times  and still find myself in awe and discovery every time. From the old mine you can ride down into on an old fashioned car system, to panning for gold, to horseback rides, to mountain  scenery, to amazing cuisine, to the museums (including an amazing mineral museum with specimens from all over the world), Minas’ gold cities truly are wonders of the world.

7) Amish Ohio, Iowa and Pennsylvania — They may thrive on simplicity of life, but there’s something truly inspiring about people so devoted to their beliefs  that they’re willing to ignore the obvious benefits of so many technologies and possessions in  order to cling to a way of life. Some look at them as odd annoyances, but, to me, they’re fascinating and an example of the kind of  integrity and  discipline many of us can and should learn from. In a world of backstabbing, mind games, and soundbyte thinking, these people preserve a lifestyle they’ve cherished for hundreds of years undisturbed by our distractions, stresses, etc. Their Ohio and Pennsylvania neighbors have told me of their kindness and of admiration for  them. And from my few encounters, I can say, the admiration and respect is well deserved.

8 ) The Birmingham, Alabama Civil Rights Museum — Sit on a bus and hear the white driver berate you and send you to the back; witness the church where two young girls died at the hands of bombers in the name of hate; this amazing, fantastic museum chronicles the history of Civil Rights in the U.S. powerfully and provocatively and my visit  there has remained one of the most powerful museum experiences of a lifetime  full of them. Between the hands on recreated experiences there and my own times standing in  slave dungeons on Africa’s Gold Coast, amongst others, my understandings and views of tolerance, commonality, and the dignity and value of humans and human lives are forever informed and reformed by such amazing experiences.

9) The New Mexico Museum of Space History and International Space Hall Of Fame, Alamogordo, New Mexico — This museum in this small New Mexico city was something I’d driven by several times and thought meh. But just before relocating, I  went there with my parents. Want to try and land a space shuttle? Try the simulator here. It’s incredibly hard (my dad and I each crashed, although I almost made it). Space suits, launch sounds, equipment, meals, and photos of key figures in space  exploration history plus real ships on display, including a simulated Gemini capsule so you can see if you’d fit. Truly amazing! And they’ve got an Imax theatre and planetarium as well. Well worth  a trip. The emergency shuttle landing zone which  was used once or twice is also here along with the amazing White Sands missle range and original ground zero from the first nuclear bomb test, and white sand dunes where  you  can sled in boiling summer heat. From SF writers like Asimov to scientists, the hall of fame alone inspired my imagination and encouraged my dreaming.

10) The Colorado  Rockies — Majestic, mighty, beautiful:  there’s nothing and no place quite like them. I loved the Alps, especially the Matterhorn, but from a young age, the Rockies captured my heart, reinforced my belief in a higher power, and reminded me that when God paints, it out shines anything man can do or imagine. The breeze off the mountains tingles my skin like the breath of heaven blowing down.  It’s a spiritual experience for me and my own love of and passion for the Rocky Mountains is part of what bonded me with John Denver and his music so much and still does.

Well, in no particular order,  those of 10 places which have inspired me greatly in  my life and creative work. As we all know, inspiration and experience are key to good writing. So what’s the writetip for this week? It’s to live a little, explore, discover, and learn whenever and wherever you can. Your readers will thank you  for it. Your editors, too. But no  one will be enriched by it more than yourself. Where have you gone or always wanted to that inspires you and why? I’d love to compare notes in comments. And Friday, I’ll be guest posting on my blog tour about how my world travels have informed my world view and influenced my writing. For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011  Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.