Posts Tagged ‘Balticon’

In 1999, I did an interview with writer Jack L. Chalker for Lite Circle Books’ speculative anthology, Lower Than The Angels. As the anniversary of his death approaches, today and tomorrow I’ll be sharing that interview in two parts as this week’s guest author post. (Photo courtesy of Patti Kinlock).

A Conversation with Jack L. Chalker (part I)

“Baltimore-born writer, Jack L. Chalker, is the author of more than fifty books. Best-known for his series novels including The Saga of the Well World, The Four Lords of the Diamond, The Dancing Gods, The Rings of the Master, The Watchers at the Well, The Soul Rider books, The G.O.D., Inc. books, The Changewinds, The Quintara Marathon, and The Wonderland Gambit; Jack is also the author of non-fiction, non-series novels, a collection of short fiction, and the editor of a shared-world anthology. The following interview was conducted by Vonnie Winslow Crist with Jack L. Chalker on June 12, 1999.

VWC: You became involved with science fiction and fantasy writing initially as a fan, right?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA JLC: Oh, absolutely. My first published writing was book reviews in a 1958 fanzine; my first Hugo nomination, in 1963, was for my fanzine, Mirage, and I was a member of the Washington (DC) Science Fiction Association from 1958 until 1992 and was a co-founder of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society in 1963 (still going strong, still a member) and creator of Balticon. In fact, somewhere on the Web there’s a reprint of my article on the history of fandom in Baltimore, which basically is my fan history as well. I did some sideline professional editing and rewriting in the Sixties, founded and edited Mirage Press, was an Air Commando (USAFR), taught history in the public schools, and helped run various local and national SF conventions. Didn’t turn pro as a writer until 1975.

VWC: From fan, editor, and little-known writer, you turned pro with the publication of A Jungle of Stars. It doesn’t seem to be part of a series, but starting in 1977 with Midnight at the Well of Souls, your novels usually are part of a continuing saga set in their own world. Do you build a world first or allow it to take shape with each book?

JLC: Well, the funny thing was, I had the idea for some sequels to A Jungle of Stars, none of which ever got done, but Midnight at the Well of Souls was never thought of as a series at the beginning. Its origins have been well chronicled – I’d watched Forbidden Planet one time in mid-1976, and wondered what would have happened if the Krell experiment had worked. I quickly decided that they’d fast run through the entire god routine and quickly become bored. No challenges, no questions, an endless and ho-hum present. From that came the concept of them deciding that they must have done it wrong and the Great Experiment to get it right the next time.

The Well World itself was formed that July in isolated Stehekin village in North Cascades National Park in Washington state. There is a trail there that descends more than a mile and goes through abrupt climatological zones as you descend from snow through rainforest and beyond. The changes were so dramatic that I realized that it was what the Well World might be like if walking across it. The final nail in the construct was when the hex concept came up. A New York SF fan, Ben Yalow, suggested the hex for easy movement and since Avalon Hill games was not far from my home in Baltimore, I dropped by and picked up a ton of blank hex maps and pads. On this, the Well World was created in an elaborate physical-political map since lost (by Lester Del Rey, it should be noted, who borrowed it).

From that it almost wrote itself. The only rewrite I did other than to editorial fiat was to redo the end sequence, the last page, which most readers find the most memorable. That was actually done in galleys. The book was supposed to be a “midlist” fill-in book for summer reading and little was expected of it. Instead, it caught on, became a Campus Cult Classic must-read, and essentially made my career. It was then that Del Ray came back waving big money for sequels, far over what they would pay for other works.

Beyond those, I did several stand-alone novels (including a World War II novel), and really didn’t go back to the long form until Four Lords of the Diamond. When that also hit, publishers were only really interested in multi-book sagas. Since I found a big canvas conductive to my own dramatic sense, that’s what most of the Eighties books were. That led to my most controversial and complex project, The Soul Rider Saga.

In all cases, the world and perhaps a scene come first. Although I’m considered a tight plotter, the plot is the very last thing I work out, after the setting and the more interesting characters.

VWC: Speaking of characters, Joe and Marge in The Dancing Gods books, begin with such mundane names, jobs, and appearances, then transform into the stuff of legends as do many of your other characters. Do you begin your characters with someone you know, say a waitress or truck driver, then imagine them a hero? Or do you design a hero and work back to the truck driver and waitress?

JLC: The names pretty much just come. I have to check them to ensure that I’m not going to get sued by anybody real, but beyond that my characters tend to name themselves. Joe’s name is hardly simple, though; it just came out that way. His original name in the manuscript was a gag: it was Joseph Raymon Felipe San Juan Mario Silvio Enrico Alvarez de Oro. Except for the first and last names, that’s the actual “real” name of Lester Del Ray. “Marge” just seemed like a good west Texas name.

Some characters come fully named. I can swear that Nathan Brazil just up and introduced himself to me at Stehekin Lodge. Mavra Chang was a bit more complex; her first name, like the first name of a few others in the first Well World cycle, are titles of lesser known Stravinsky ballets, for example. A vast majority of the Well World hex names are also gags or tongue in cheek place names. I had just been ordered by the Del Rey legal staff not to name anything after anybody real because they were trying to fend off a lawsuit from an ex of Bill Rotsler’s, who was threatening to sue them after Rostler used her as a major villain in his novel. So I created the ultimate “Tuckerism” as it were, almost a challenge. It was quite easy. The northern hemisphere is mostly anagrams of editors and SF writers, the south places, friends and SF fan clubs and members.

Sometimes, the names are obvious in retrospect. Matson was a mover of cargo; his name came from a major trucking line. Still, those who look for meanings in the character names should stop; in most cases they simply fit the character in my own mind.”

Please stop by for A Conversation with Jack L. Chalker (Part II) tomorrow.

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As 2012 draws to a close, I look back on a year filled with professional highs and lows.

pillywiggins My young adult novel, The Enchanted Skean, once represented by a successful New York literary agent found itself homeless when the agency closed. Due to family obligations, I couldn’t go to a science-fiction/fantasy convention I wanted to attend, and another con didn’t even acknowledge my desire to participate. My 2nd collection of speculative short stories, Owl Light, needed at least 2 more stories and I couldn’t seem to write the right tales. Plus, I had to wait my turn in the publishing schedule (not always easy to do when you’re anxious to see your work in print). A fantasy painting accepted for a magazine cover was not used when the editor left her position. Several stories I thought well-written were rejected from what seemed to me to be perfect markets. And I could go on.

But wait, before I cry in my tea, for every setback, there was something positive in my author-illustrator life.

My young adult novel, The Enchanted Skean, found a home with the wonderful folks at Mockingbird Lane Press, and is due to be published in early 2013. I was able to attend and participate on writer panels at the Library of Congress,  Balticon, and Darkover. And I had several unexpected book signing opportunities at the Bel Air Authors & Artists Holiday Sale and the Carroll County Farmer’s Market Authors’ Day. Ideas for the 2 tales I needed to write for Owl Light sprang into my head like nibble sprites, and my turn to be published by the excellent Cold Moon Press is rapidly drawing near. Though that one painting hasn’t made it to the cover of a magazine yet, 2 others were used for the covers of Bards & Sages Quarterly and Scifikuest. Perfect markets accepted and published several of my stories: Tales of the Talisman, Ocean Stories, and Zombies for a Cure. And I will go on!

Harford’s Heart Magazine featured one of my paintings as a cover and did a feature article on me as an illustrator. Bards & Sages accepted another painting for a 2013 cover. I had 2 ebooks published by Cold Moon Slivers and, yeah!, I got to do the cover art. I had the opportunity to appear as a guest on several blogs. The reviews for my 1st Cold Moon Press book, The Greener Forest, continue to be good. Broad Universe, a fabulous group that supports women who write speculative work, featured me 3 times on their Broadpod podcast, and once on Broadly Speaking. The beginning of an unpublished YA fantasy novel won the Silver Award from Maryland Writers Association. I felt honored to judge both a poetry competition and an art contest.

I’ve gotten to meet many readers and writers in 2012, both in-person and via Facebook, Goodreads, etc. And I was lucky enough to have a poem in the final issue of EMG-Zine, an online speculative magazine. Yes, I said final issue. Though the archives are supposed to remain available, EMG-Zine has closed its doors to new poems, stories, articles, and art work. The editor may be gaining time to work on her own creative endeavors, but readers and writers will surely miss this lovely publication.

And so, 2012 draws to a close. On this last day of the old year, I have an interview up on Highlighted Author- http://highlightedauthor.com/2012/12/welcome-vonnie-winslow-crist/ Thanks, Charlene A. Wilson for allowing me to finish 2012 on a high note. (Okay, that was a little punny.)  I look forward to 2013 with all of its ups and downs, unexpected curves, and joyous surprises. And may 2013 bring good things to each of you.

PS: Though I try to count my blessings accurately, I’m sure I’ve over-looked a publisher or 2 who has used my work. Thanks to them, too.

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Balticon, the wonderful science fiction and fantasy conference sponsored by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society, begins tomorrow. Now held at the Hunt Valley Marriot (Hunt Valley, MD), Balticon is always interesting. I usually attend a few writing, publishing, and art focused programs I’m not involved with — plus participate in and moderate several panels on Saturday and Sunday.

 This year, my Balticon schedule begins early with a 4 PM Reading on Friday, May 25. I’ll be reading from my fantasy short story collection, The Greener Forest. (And maybe give listeners a taste of my next collection, Owl Light). Per usual, I’ll be moderating the Poetry Workshop on Sunday afternoon with writing exercises and publishing tips for all.

If you leaf through the 2012 BSFAN book, you’ll see a promo I drew for my upcoming book, Owl Light. There are 30 birds hidden in a “Bird Search.” For those who can’t attend Balticon, watch for information here and on my website shortly on how to download the “Bird Search,” and try it at home.

Cold Moon Press, the publisher of several of my books, is making a special Balticon offer. A Kindle version of my fantasy eBook, Blame it on the Trees, can be downloaded for FREE from now until Monday, May 28th, 11:59 PM. I’d be grateful to anyone who re-posts the free book link below. I’m trying to reach 1,000 readers by Monday at midnight. Won’t you please help?

Have a magical weekend, and please download, review, like, and re-post the link for Blame it on the Trees:


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 Today, before I begin working on my November novel, YA Urban Fantasy, I glance out the window. I expect the arrival of this year’s Gunpowder Review any day now, and I don’t want to miss the delivery person. I pick up last year’s issue with a water lily photo on the front cover from writer, photographer, and 2012 Balticon chair, Patti Kinlock. I flip through the pages, pausing every now and again to glance at a favorite piece of work.

As the editor, I know every word between these covers. And a year after the 2010 issue appeared, every error that I didn’t catch when proof-reading jumps off the page at me. I sigh, and hope that our wonderful designer, Katie, or I have spotted and corrected all errors in the 2011 issue. But there are gremlins hiding everywhere – so mistakes do happen.

 I turn The Gunpowder Review 2010 face down, determined to write another 2,000 words on my November novel today. But can’t help admiring one last time, the fabulous artwork & photos from Mary Lou Lanci, Mary Stevens, Wendy Stevens, and Kristin Stephens Crist that grace the magazine’s back cover. As impatient as I am for the 2011 Review to arrive, I’m also a little sad to see this fine collection of women’s work put on the “back issue” shelf.

Now (if the gremlins will stay away from my computer), back to the rats, pigeons, and goblins of my YA Urban Fantasy.  Now, where was I? Oh, yes: “A hand grabbed Roni from behind as she walked past an alley on her way from Casa Rosa to the subway entrance…”

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Yes, I know the title of this blog is cheesy. But some days are cheddar & gouda days. I decided to add a couple of fun links that are related to The Greener Forest to my blog.

First, I’d mentioned earlier that I’d drawn a maze which was included in the Balticon 2011 BSFAN book. For those of you who weren’t at that convention, my publisher has kindly scanned the maze, and it can be downloaded for FREE at the Cold Moon Press website: http://www.coldmoonpress.com/forreaders.html

 Second, I participated in a Broad Universe podcast. I must admit to being very intimidated as I stared at the microphone on my computer and tried to confidently read an excerpt of “Birdling.” I had to keep my reading, including intro & sign-off, to about 5 minutes. I “motor-mouthed” through a chunk of the text, then realized that if I wanted listeners to understand what I was saying, I needed to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n. After editing the story and stumbling through multiple read-throughs, I finally managed an agreeable reading of a snippet of the 1st story in The Greener Forest (which also appears in Faerie Magazine Issue 22).

If you’d like to take a listen, I start reading a portion of “Birdling” about 1 minute & 51 seconds into this podcast: http://broadpod.posterous.com/may-2011-celebrating-motherhood

If you’d like to meet me & hear what I have to say about submissions to The Gunpowder Review 2011, I’ll be participating on the editors panel on Weds., Aug. 17, 2011 at 6:30 PM in room 205, Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, Annapolis, MD. This event is sponsored by the Annapolis/Anne Arundel County Chapter of the Maryland Writers Association: http://www.marylandwriters.org  I’ll also have copies of my book & the literary magazine available for purchase that evening.

And finally, take a few moments this week to step outside one night and listen to the cacophony (gosh, I love that word!). Summer is drawing to a close at Wood’s Edge (and in many other parts of the USA & elsewhere). The cicada, katydids, crickets, frogs, night birds, and a few unidentified critters are making quite a racket beneath the blanket of stars.

My advice for today: Do something fun (a maze perhaps?), do something outside your comfort zone, get out and meet people with similar interests, and enjoy the magic of a summer night.

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I’ve been taking time out from writing to do some drawing & painting. I finished a fantasy watercolor painted in various pinks, blues, and purples called Poet’s Moon, then sent a bit of it off to an editor for cover art consideration. That bit will be the cover of the February 2012 Scifaikuest.

I drew a pen & ink, faeriefolk-infested maze for BSFAN, Balticon’s souvenir book to promote my book from Cold Moon Press: The Greener Forest. (I’ve received positive feedback from a number of attendees on the maze). I painted a sweet little fairy, “Crocus,” for an ad in the next Faerie Magazine. Plus, she’ll be matted & framed for an upcoming art exhibit – I’ll have to let you know after it’s published what folks think.

I painted 2 gouaches “on spec” for the cover of an upcoming speculative fiction anthology: Rush of Wings. (Hmm, I’m not sure if that’s the true plural for more than 1 gouache — that strange child of watercolor & acrylic paints). One painting, “Rush of Wings,” was declined, and I’ve since sent it out to another editor for another project. The other, “The Golden Egg,” is still being held by the RoW editor. Both speculative paintings just sold from an art exhibit I have at Bel Air Barnes & Noble (MD) for June 1-30, 2011.

Two other paintings have also just sold “off the wall” of my local Barnes & Noble: “Mermaid & Friends,” the cover art for my eShort Sideshow by the Sea, (soon to be included in my new book) and “Three Dwarves,” a watercolor used as cover art by the now defunct Lite – Baltimore’s Literary Magazine. For those interested, you can see the mermaid painting and also, “Acorn Sprite,” a small painting that another buyer has expressed interest in purchasing when the B&N show ends — at the art-gifts on this blog: https://vonniewinslowcrist.wordpress.com/art-gifts/

 I sent the 2 gouaches (mentioned in paragraph #2) plus a watercolor called “Strawberry Dragon” off to my local Society of Book Writers & Illustrators annual Jack Reid Scholarship for free tuition to their July conference. And, gulp, I won the illustrator’s scholarship, so my $195 tuition is being waived!

So what does this “sudden” artwork success mean? Should I stop writing and devote myself to illustration? I think not! I believe these positive responses to my artwork tell me the hours, days, weeks — actually years — that I’ve spent painting and studying art are being acknowledged. Practice has helped me to get better.

I’ll continue to practice my painting and my writing this summer. Hopefully, I’ll have good news in both disciplines. But most importantly, I hope to grow and improve so I can bring my readers better stories and more powerful art in the future. And I encourage all of you to practice whatever it is that you enjoy doing — and I bet you’ll see an improvement in your skill-level, too!

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Balticon 2011 was a wonderful experience. On Friday, the publisher of The Greener Forest, Cold Moon Press, had a publisher’s presentation where Editor Katie did a fabulous job: http://coldmoonpress.com Cold Moon Press had so many cupcakes, cookies, and other goodies prepared for attendees, that I took the extras to the Broad Universe Reading.

Broad Universe is an organization that supports women who write (and illustrate) science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Gail Z. Martin, D. Renee Bagby, Danielle Ackley McPhail, Roberta Rogow, Jean Marie Ward, Phoebe Wray & I each read an excerpt from our writing. It was a wonderful hour-long reading. For more information about BU: http://broaduniverse.org

On Saturday, I shared an early morning booksigning time with novelist Leona Wisoker, and invited her to read with me during my afternoon reading slot. (She kindly agreed, and shared a few pages of her 2nd novel, Guardians of the Desert). We followed friends, Katie Hartlove & Michelle D. Sonnier. Great fun & a nice audience. I also participated in an Artists & Publishers Small Press Round Table that was relaxed & informative. A group of us went to dinner afterwards, including Balticon regulars writers Grig “Punkie” Larson & Jhada “Rogue” Addams.

Sunday began early with a panel on heroes, a presentation by Dark Quest Books, and I had the opportunity to listen to a presentation by Robin L. Sullivan & the authors of Ridan Publishing. They’re quite an impressive group. Sunday was also the 2-hour Poetry Workshop. We made the attendees write, write, write – and invited the women in attendence to submit something to The Gunpowder Review http://gunpowderpenwomen.wordpress.com

On Monday, I managed to attend 2 more presentations that featured folks from Ridan Publishing. Robin was sick, but her authors did a great job. Look for me to apply some of the lessons I learned from them in the future. Also, I was the moderator for a panel on Cardboard Characters. And I got a few compliments on the maze I’d drawn for The BSFAN, the con’s program book.

Balticon was a fabulous place to network. It was friendly, there was an exchange of opportunities, and people were supportive. I got to meet fellow writers, readers & fans, and a few editors & publishers. I bought books by others, and folks bought a few of my books. And that’s what good networking is all about. Watch online for info on next year’s con chaired by Patti Kinlock: http://balticon.org

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