Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Recap of PhilCon - Guest Post by TK Anthony

L to R: Alex Shvartsman; Berakha Lana Guggenheim; Robert C. Roman; Steve Miller; Brian Thomas; Lee Gilliland

First held in 1936, The Philadelphia Science Fiction Convention is the oldest in the nation, and arguably, the world. According to Wikipedia, our Friends Across the Pond claim that distinction, because the first UK SF convention in 1937 was less ad hoc and more organized. As an upstart colonial, I will point out that the first PhilCon had a chairman, a secretary, discussions of SF, parties, filk, and gaming--although the gaming was craps. Seventy-eight years later, many of those same elements filled this year's schedule.

It's been a while since I've been to an SF convention--not since Lois McMaster Bujold was guest of honor at Boskone sometime in the early 2000s.  I'd forgotten how much fun they were. Part of the fun is going with the right people. In this case, two of my sisters, one of whom was celebrating her 29th birthday (that's her story and I'm sticking to it). All three of us managed to clear our schedules so we could arrive on Thursday night. The weather was cold (especially for this Texas transplant), so we decided that, having checked into the conference hotel, we would just eat dinner there. The waiter led us back to our table. And at the next table sat...

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. (Pause here for total fangirl moment.) I've been a fan of Lee & Miller since maybe 15 minutes after they published their first book, Agent of Change, back in 1988. I quashed my first inclination to jump up and down, screaming and pointing. And really, there was no need. My sisters knew exactly who they were.

Not wanting to scare PhilCon's principal speakers running into the frigid night, we played it cool. Yeah. Cool. Until finally I leaned forward and said something on the order of, "I don't mean to intrude...but, we're fans."

Sharon and Steve were all that is gracious, and thus ensued an hour's lively conversation. We chatted about everything from deleting scenes to improve the story's flow; our favorite childhood books; the emotional challenge of weeding one's library; to "Swifties." (For the uninitiated, "Swifties" are based on the writing style of the Tom Swift books. As in: "Look, there's a bridge!" said Tom archly. "There's a pop quiz today," said Tom testily.) I think I mostly managed not to stutter in awe. Truth said, I could've gotten up from the table and gone home, and the trip to Philly would've still been worth it.

Because of commitments on Sunday, I only had two days to spend at PhilCon. After stuffing some fliers for my books in Filthy Pierre's SF Info rack--which travels with the owner from con to con--I made the most of my time, attending several interesting panels. Some of the standouts included:

How to Set Up a Crowdsourcing Project gave attendees the benefit of the real-lfe experience of the panelists. Critical elements of success include: Backers need to be confident in your professionalism and transparency. If you just can't do a video, then do a slide-show with voice-over. Calculate your costs carefully, and show how their support matters. Use social media to promote your campaign; Twitter casts a wider net than Facebook. Think creatively about donor rewards and stretch goals--and keep it simple. (No apparel! You don't need the headache of managing sizes, shipping, and storage.) People want to feel appreciated, and involved. (Sometimes, it's as simple as listing their names on a thank you page in your next book.) Panelists: Danielle Ackley-McPhail (mod); Rob Balder; Neil Clarke; Gil Cnaan; Alex Shvartsman; Alyce Wilson.

In the session Does Science Fiction Need to Lighten Up? it took a little while for the panelists to decide what their topic really meant. Some thought it meant we needed more humor in SF. Others thought both authors and readers needed to stop bringing today's social agendas into every story; the story matters more than agenda checkboxes. Everyone seemed to agree that casting evil nastiness in a positive light is a good thing to avoid. Some elements of SF seem to be going toward a darker literary approach, while others are reviving the best traditions of SF as genre fiction. The panel discussion also touched on the role of YA in building the fandom. Steve Miller, bringing 40 years' of commercial writing to the table, asked what SF had to offer the 10-15 year-olds to bring them into the genre, building our future fandom. (Or, as my sister the librarian put it..."Where's the SF gateway drugs?") Panelists: Alex Shvartsman (mod); Brian Thomas; Berakha Lana Guggenheim; Steve Miller; Robert C. Roman; Lee Gilliland.

Side note: One of my writing buddies, Robert C. Roman, was on this panel--a nice surprise. Bob and I met online about seven years ago, critting each other's stories on Baen's Bar, and have kept in touch at least sporadically ever since. This was the first time we ever met in person. Which is exactly why people attend cons. 

The panelists on Building Believable Relationships in SF offered some stellar advice. Portray emotional truth, so that your reader can find something that resonates with them. Be sure to show them emotional consequences to give them a reason to care. And an interesting insight: Your culture is actually the main character in your book, because your characters exist in a cultural context, and whether they swim with current or against it, they are an expression of their culture. Panelists: Gregory Frost (mod); Rob Balder; Meredith Schwartz; Anastasia Klimchynskaya; Gail Z. Martin; Sharon Lee.

In their principal speech, Lee and Miller outlined the choices that had led them to become first writers, then writing partners, generally eschewing opportunities to rise in the ranks of more traditional employment--no matter how many times the opportunity presented itself-- in order to do what they truly enjoyed doing: building worlds and creating the characters who populate them. Characters and worlds they love, and so their readers...in a total fangirl/fanboy fashion.

In the time since the first PhilCon, the publishing industry has endured dramatic changes. Books went from hardback to pulp to ebook. As Sharon and Steve reviewed a lifetime of decisions that had led to them to the role of principal speakers at the 78th PhilCon, I was struck by the realization that no matter how the industry changes, or the genre changes, the bond between author and reader remains essentially the same: the story that touches our minds and hearts in a shared experience.     


Warped in childhood by too much reading, T.K. Anthony made her living in the world of words, spending two years on Capitol Hill as a press secretary before moving on to Corporate America in business communications and human resources.
She grew up in Pennsylvania, has lived in Illinois, Virginia, Upstate and Central New York, and Massachusetts, and has seen much of the United States by road trip, visiting a whole raft of cousins. Travel outside the US includes Canada, Scotland, England, Italy, France, Belgium, and Spain. With her travel bag packed, she now resides in Texas with her husband, two cats (Pip and Taz are close collaborators in her writing, and keep her keyboard furry), and all the people in her head who talk to her.
She loves to talk to other people, too–so leave a comment, or send her an email at tesskanthony AT gmail DOT com.

Warned by a Seeing… 

The high king of the Scotian Realm expects the arrival of an enemy, a race of psychic predators bent on galactic conquest. The Realm’s one hope is alliance with the neighboring star domains in defense of a shared colony, Forge. 

Caught in Fate’s grim weaving… 

Mindblind, amnesic, Tazhret lives out his drug-induced visions of servitude on Forge. He wants to believe the beautiful woman with the nut-brown hair who whispers reassurances to his harrowed heart: “You have a name.” But is she even real? Or just one bright thread in his dark dreams? 

An unexpected hope… 

Tazhret’s destiny leads him to freedom and the woman he yearns for—and to a desperate struggle against the enemy. 

Tazhret can save Forge, and his beloved. But only at the cost of all he has gained: his name, his freedom, and his love.

Buy links for Forge: 

Barnes & Noble - http://bit.ly/1uEXVdi
Decadent Publishing - http://bit.ly/1AeiUXv
Smashwords - http://bit.ly/1xMPoom

Twitter:       @TK_Anthony_
website:      www.scotianrealm.com


  1. Thanks for the recap! I didn't know PhilCon was the oldest SF convention in the US (or maybe the world). Sounds like it had a great draw. And Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. Awesome!


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