Category Archives: ConDFW

A Brief Report on ConDFW XIII

ConDFW XIII was held over the weekend of February 21-23, 2014.  The author GoH was Kevin J. Anderson, and the artist GoH was Alain Viesca.

Yes, I realize I’m a little late in getting this post up.  It’s been hectic. Continue reading

RIP, K. D. Wentworth (1951-2012)

Kathy Wentworth

Damn, damn, and double damn.  I just found out that author K. D. Wentworth passed away from pneumonia yesterday after a battle with cervical cancer.  She was a longtime friend, and she will be missed. 

Kathy got her start in writing by winning the Writers of the Future contest in 1988.  She later became one of the judges for the contest.  More details of her professional life are available at Locus Online

I first met K. D. Wentworth in Tulsa at the second Conestoga in 1998, where she was on the Con Committee..  We saw each other each summer until the convention moved to April in 2009 (I wasn’t able to attend) as well as at other conventions, most notably Armadillocon and ConDFW.  The last time I saw her was at Armadillocon in summer 2009.  She joined a group of us for dinner on Friday night. 

Kathy was a friendly, outgoing person and one of the most generous and kind people in the field.  The greatest kindness she did me was on the way home from the World Fantasy Convention in 2000.  The convention was in Corpus Christi that year, which meant it was close enough for me to attend.  I flew down from Dallas.  Since it was the first large convention I’d been able to attend, I took three suitcases, one tucked inside another, with just enough clothing and personal items to make it through the weekend. 

On the way back, all three suitcases were packed with books.  I was flying Southwest airlines, which at that time had a limit of two carry-on items per person.  All the flights out of Corpus were with Southwest, and all of them went through Houston.  Kathy and I were on the same flight.  I was trying to decide which suitcase to check when Kathy offered to carry one of the suitcases on for me since she only had one carry-on bag.  I accepted.

Kathy and the rest of her party from Tulsa changed planes in Houston while I continued on to Dallas.  Both legs of the flight were packed.  You can imagine the dirty looks I received when I deboarded the plane with three bulging suitcases.  That’s the sort of generous person Kathy was.  I also have a signed manuscript of an unpublished short story set in her Black/on/Black universe she gave me at a convention.

She was a great writer, being a three time finalist for the Nebula.  I’ve not read all of her novels, but I’ve read most of them, and I’ve enjoyed all of them immensely.  In my opinion she was one of the more under appreciated writers of the last two decades.  She wrote across multiple subgenres of science fiction and fantasy.  In addition to novels, she wrote numerous short stories, the most recent short work being “Alien Land” in the January/February issue of F&SF.  If you’ve not read her work, do.  She was good and she had her own unique voice.

Report on ConDFW XI

Author GOH Cherie Priest

ConDFW XI was held over the weekend, beginning on the afternoon of Friday, February 17 and ending, as these things tend to do, just over 48 hours later, on Sunday February 19.  The author Guest of Honor was Cherie Priest, and the artist Guest of Honor was William Stout.

I wasn’t able to get away as early as I’d hoped Friday morning, so I missed the afternoon panels.  I visited with friends, kibitzed with Mark Finn during his signing, then went and grabbed some food.  The Opening Ceremonies were held after dinner and only lasted five minutes.  Since I was five minutes late, I got there just as everyone was leaving. 

I visited with some more folks, confirmed the time for an interview, and generally hung out.  Mark Finn hosted a panel on talking during the movies, a sort of live Mystery Science Theater 3000.  I only sat through part of one of the movies, but it was baaaddd.  I visited the Fencon party, the only one on Friday, and called it a night.

Self-publishing panel

There were a couple of panels on electronic publishing Saturday morning. The first was really good and consisted of advice from Tom Knowles, Carole Nelson Douglas, Nina Romberg, Kevin Hosey, and Bill Fawcett.  This was followed by a panel on scams aimed at authors looking to self-publish.  It consisted of P. N. Elrod, Lillian Stewart Carl, Melanie Fletcher, Mark Finn, and Bill Fawcett.  I snuck out of this one part way through to stick my head in on a panel about breaking writing rules.  Panelists included Kevin Hosey, Chris Donahue, K. Hutson, A. P. Stephens, and Rhonda Eudaly.

I had lunch with some former students.  When I returned I attended a reading by Martha Wells and Sue Sinor.  Afterwards, Martha was gracious enough to answer a few questions for an interview.  I’ll post it after I’ve transcribed it.  I poked around in the dealer’s room, then ended the afternoon with a couple of panels.

Space Opera Panel

The first one on trends in space opera, a subgenre near and dear to the lump of coal that passes for my heart.  This panel was the most fun.  The panelists were Ethan Hahte, Lee Martindale, and Mark Finn (who always introduced himself differently on each panel).  Poor Bill Ledbetter tried to moderate.  Mark was drinking an energy drink, and the conversation was lively.  Since I’m friends with all the panelists, I tended to throw in my two cents a lot as well.

From there, I went to the opposite extreme, the panel on using Norse mythology in your fiction, another topic near and dear to my heart.  I got there a minute or so after the panel started and stood at the back.  It was in one of the larger rooms and well attended.  What I could hear of the discussion, which wasn’t much, was interesting.   Unfortunately the woman moderating spoke in just above a whisper, and at the risk of sounding sexist, so did all the other women on the panel.  The only panelist who even tried to project his voice to the back of the room (and succeeded) was the sole male.  After about ten minutes, I decided that if I had been sitting down, I would have fallen asleep, so I went and met friends for dinner.

That night was the traditional panel on pornography vs. erotica.  The conclusion was that erotica is what I like, and pornography is what all you perverts like.  If you want details, you’ll have to provide proof of age.  I went party hopping after that.  The best one was thrown by Tom Knowles, author and the publisher of Dark Star Books.  In addition to homemade corn bread and venison chilli, I scored a free copy of Morticai’s Luck by Darlene Bolesny.  Look for the review sometime this spring, probably April.

Sunday brought an interview with Brad and Sue Sinor, some readings, and a panel on how to fix terrible prose from Lee Martindale, Mel White, Lou Antonelli, and Adrian Simmons, one of the editors of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.  Then I rode off into the sunset.  Literally.

Other than the whispering panel, I only had one frustration.  There was a late addition to the schedule, a tribute panel to Ardath Mayhar.  I had an appointment for an interview at that time, and when I got there (still within the advertised time), the room was empty.  While I applaud the con committee for adding the memorial, I I wish it had been emphasized more.  I hope someone attended.  Hopefully there’ll be one at Fencon.  Ardath was one of the guests one year.

The dealer’s room didn’t have as many books as in the past, mainly because Edge Books is in the process of shutting down and only had two tables.  Still it was good to see them there.  I was under the impression that had closed for good.

The hotel is a great venue.  It’s a triangular atrium style design, with the elevators in the middle of the place, facing each other.  It was fun to watch get off them and then try to figure out which way to go to get where they were headed.  The restaurant gave convention attendees a 10% discount, a nice first.

I’ve attended all but one of the ConDFWs.  I have to say this was one of the most enjoyable.

The Next Week or So

I’m getting over a sinus infection at the moment, something that isn’t helped by the dust and the wind here on the South Plains.  Unless something major happens tomorrow, I probably won’t be posting anything new until Sunday night or more probably Monday evening.  I’ll be attending ConDFW this weekend and will give a full report when I get back.  I’m also reading Mark Finn‘s updated biography of Robert E. Howard, Blood and Thunder, and Matt Forbeck‘s Carpathia.  They’re both great reads, and I’ll review them next week.  I had hoped to finish one of them in time to write a review before the con, but being sick has slowed me down some.

In the meantime, this Saturday will see the first guest post here.  Author Ty Johnston is doing a blog tour to promote his new book, Demon Chains, the latest in his Kron Darkbow series.  I’d like to thank Ty in advance for his column.  I’ve read it, and it’s good.  Check it out.  And if you haven’t read any of his books, start with City of Rogues, which I reviewed a few months ago.

Coming up after the report on ConDFW, I’ve got commitments to review (not necessarily in this order) Shadow’s Master by Jon SprunkThief’s Covenant by Ari Marmell, The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle, Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig, Trang by Mary Sisson, and Rise and Fall by Joshua P. Simon.  I’ll probably look at some short fiction in the midst of all that, plus the occasional essay.

Interview with Mark Finn, Revisited

Back in late February, I interviewed several people at ConDFW and posted those interviews over the next few months.  Links to those interviews can be found in the sidebar.  The longest interview was with Mark Finn, and it was so long that I broke it into two parts, which I posted a week apart.  The second part was shorter than the first because I chose to make the break at a point where the topic of our conversation shifted rather than at the halfway point.

Both parts of the interview were well received and quickly found a place in the top ten most popular posts, which was fine with me.  For some reason, the second half of the interview had about 10% more page views than the first, maybe because more people linked to the second half.  I wasn’t really concerned, since both parts of the interview got a lot of traffic, Mark was happy with the interview, and Adventures Fantastic was linked to on other blogs and websites.

Then about six or eight weeks ago, something unusual happened.

The first part of the interview began to pick up more traffic.  At first I didn’t think much of it, because both halves of the interview have gotten a small but steady flow of traffic since the initial interest died down, as have several other posts I’ve done since I started this blog.  Blogger shows the ten most popular posts, and there’s always some relative movement in the middle of that list.

But I noticed something.  While the first part of the interview saw an upswing in the number of page views, the second half didn’t.  There would be the occasional bump in traffic, but nothing like what the first half of the interview was getting. In fact, the first half of the interview has surged to be the number one spot by a noticeable margin.  As I write this, it was the second most viewed post in the last day, and the third most viewed post in both the last week and the last month.  In other words, it’s gotten more traffic than most of the posts I’ve done in the last month.

First, let me say “Thank you” to everyone who has looked at that interview.  It’s extremely gratifying to me to know that an interview I conducted months ago is still of interest to people and still speaks to them on some level.  It encourages me to do more interviews, and I will.

But I’m also curious.  Why has the first part of the interview seen such an increase in interest but not the second?  It’s the scientist in me.  I’m trained to notice trends in data and question what causes them.  Please understand, I’m not unhappy that this one post is still generating traffic and interest.  Just the opposite.  I’m thrilled.  I’m just puzzled that the other half isn’t seeing the same response. The only thing I can figure out is that “Tom Sharkey” is part of what the attraction is.  That’s one of the most common search terms, and Mark discussed Tom Sharkey in the first part of the interview.  The numbers aren’t a good match, meaning that the number of page views is much higher than the number of times “Tom Sharkey” shows up in the search terms, so I’m not convinced that’s all there is to it.

If anyone has any idea what’s caused this sudden interest in the first part of the Mark Finn interview, I’d be interested in hearing it.  My curiosity is driving me up the wall.

Whatever Happened to Sense of Wonder?

Thursday, Daniel Abraham posted a brief essay on his blog entitled “In Defense of Exoticism” in which he examines the role exoticism plays in SFF.  He defines exoticism as “the commodification of the Other, appropriating the thoughts or clothing or music or food or religion of an unfamiliar culture for the charm of the unfamiliar.”  He goes, in a wandering sort of way, to discuss some other aspects of this thought, specifically the concept of Other.  And when I say in a wandering way, I in no way intend anything derogatory.  Abraham himself says he’s still thinking this topic through and his post would be a little rough around the edges, and I respect that.

But this essay got me thinking.  What’s wrong with the charm of the unfamiliar?  And where are we to find it, if not in other cultures, epochs, music, etc.  Now I realize that the key verb in Abraham’s sentence is “commodification” and that is sometimes in the eye of the beholder.  That’s not a debate I want to get into at this point.  Instead, my thoughts went down a different avenue.

I mentioned in my report on ConDFW a panel discussion about whether magic systems should be organized in some sort of way that resembled science.  My comment from the audience was that maybe more people of reading fantasy than science fiction these days, and I can well remember when that wasn’t the case at all, because fantasy was providing that sense of wonder that science fiction once did.

There are a number of reasons why science fiction has been supplanted by fantasy, and a number of them come down to sense of wonder.  Shelf space in the science fiction section of many books stores is being taken over by media tie-ins, many of them generic.  Our citizens are increasing familiarity with scientific and technological achievements while their ignorance of scientific principles is (if anything) increasing. Science, and by extension science fiction, have failed to produce the promised wonders of the future (I want my flying car, dammit). To steal a quote whose source I can’t remember, we’ve reached the future and found it not to be Robert Heinlein or Isaac Asimov’s future, but Phillip K. Dick’s.  Fantasy still provides that escape from the humdrum world, and that future.  It provides an Other that, even at fantasy’s darkest, gives that sense of wonder.  Horror on the other hand, gives just the opposite: a sense of fear and oppression.  And that sense is part of much of science fiction.  So much that last year, an anthology titled Shine had the theme of optimistic near futures.

Think about how many new fantasy series have been promoted in the last few years with an emphasis on the uniqueness of their magical systems.  The magical system in any fantasy, including urban fantasy, is an extension of the author’s world building, and world building is one of the main things by which an author will rise or fall, be the world a fantasy world, a futuristic science fictional world, or a detailed historical era.  It’s not the only thing that can make or break an author’s work, but in any setting that’s not contemporary, mainstream society, the world building can be as important as the characterization or plot.

Abraham says there’s something in his psychology that’s deeply attracted to the idea of an Other.  He implies that this a basic human trait.  I think it is.  Call it exoticism, call it sense of wonder, call it a search for transcendence, call it what you like.  There is something in all of us that wants, even needs, to experience the new, the exotic.  That will be different things to different people.

As an example, when we were in Kazakhstan adopting out son, we took at trip one afternoon and evening to the city of Turkestan.  I’ve written a little about it. One of our lawyers seemed disappointed when we didn’t find the trip to be exotic.  We saw lots of flat plains with men on horses herding cattle.  I’ve lived most of my life in Texas.  There was nothing to me about seeing those things that I found exotic; instead, they were comfortingly familiar in land where even the food on my plate was exotic.  The only difference was the cows in Kazakhstan looked both ways before they crossed the highway.  (I’m not making that last bit up.  They really did wait by the side of the highway to cross.  Cows in Texas would have wandered out in front of on-coming vehicles without a thought.  I’m not sure why that was the case, but it was.)  Now someone who had lived all of his or her life in New York City would have probably found such sights very exotic.

Science fiction used to deliver that exotic sense of wonder, where humans ventured into the universe, with or without leaving the planet, and found all sorts of wonders waiting for them.  Of course, these days science has lost some of its luster and exploration is no longer a priority.  Case in point:  the United States in in the process of ending its manned space program.  And if you believe the government’s assurances that it’s only until the next generation of launch vehicle can be designed and built, then I have a bridge I can get you a good deal on.  Thankfully, the private sector seems to be picking up the ball and running with it, at least somewhat.

But I digress.  Fantasy is filling the role that science fiction, science, the space program, and human exploration in general once did on a larger scale.  Magic never loses its sense of wonder or exoticism because it can never be explained.  That’s why I think fantasy is now more popular than science fiction. 

The Adventures Fantastic Interview: William Ledbetter of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly

William (Bill) Ledbetter is an author, member of the National Space Society, and one of the editors of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.  In his spare time he administers the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest.  He sat down with me at ConDFW to discuss writing in general and sword and sorcery in particular.
AF:  How did you get involved with Heroic Fantasy Quarterly?
BL:  Adrian and David had started it up several months before they approached me to help with some of the editing.  I was really busy and worried that I wouldn’t be able to hold up my end of the agreement, so I instead do the editing on one story per issue which includes all the interfacing between author and the team.  That’s pretty much what I do for the magazine, and I really enjoy it.
AF:  What type of stories would you like to see more of, both as an editor of a magazine and as a reader?  So it’s kind of a two part question.
BL:  Considering the kind of fiction we print, we tend to get a lot of stories that are almost D&D adventures somebody wrote down. I think the stories need to be a lot more cohesive and have more of a plot than just going from one adventure to the next hacking and killing.  Even though we like the swordplay and barbarians fighting each other at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly; we still need a full story arc and we like to see how all of this affects the characters.  Some of the ones I’ve liked the most come at it from a different tangent.  We had one called “Living Totem” and one called “The Last Free Bear  Both of these take place in the ice age in very cold, icy environments and are both from the point of view of a lone traveler on a quest.  But neither of these characters are your standard barbarian or sword and sorcery type hero.  They’re very sympathetic characters.  One of them is dealing with a polar bear that’s intelligent, and they end up realizing they’re working towards the same goal, and they end up working together.  I like to see unusual twists or takes on this type of fantasy.  So anything that’s out of the ordinary, things we haven’t seen before, is probably going to get our attention if its well written. 
AF:  Adventures Fantastic is a blog that focuses a lot on heroic fantasy and historical adventure, and in that type of fiction you often have barbarians as central characters.  What qualities do you look for in a barbarian?
BL:  That they have more human qualities than just the urge to kill or get rich or revenge.  One of the stories I was just telling you about, some people have come and stolen the guy’s family, and he was just trying to get them back.  That’s kind of a common trope that’s been used before, but the author did good job making the character believable.  Of course there is still a lot of fast paced action and combat in the story.  That should satisfy just about any fan of the genre, but the protagonist was doing it for his family, not glory or honor..  Any plot driven by human, realistic motivators, gives the character a lot more depth.  I think a barbarian with depth instead of a mindless killing machine is a lot more interesting.
AF:  Do you think that we may be beginning to see a renaissance or resurgence in sword and sorcery, or do you think the market is about saturated?
BL:  (laughs)  I read a lot of sword and sorcery back when I was in college, which has been a long time ago, and even then there were people saying, “Ah, it’s gonna die out”, and it really never has.  It rises and falls.  Most of the fantasy fiction winning awards right now isn’t sword and sorcery, but I think there’s been a solid base all along.  I don’t really know that it’s having a resurgence, but I keep talking to people who say they’d like to see more of it.  That’s one of the reasons why Adrian and David decided to start this magazine.  They couldn’t find the type of fiction they liked to read, and they knew a lot of people who were having the same problem.  So there was a void in the market they wanted to fill.  I think HFQ has done a pretty good job of that. 
AF:  You also write.  What do you have in the pipeline, what’s available right at the moment, and coming out in, say, the next six months from you? 
BL:  I’ve been working on a novel that’s devoured up most of my writing time, but have a few new short stories in the pipeline.  Oddly enough most of those aren’t fantasy.  The novel I’m working on is science fiction and I just finished a story about two guys on Mars.  Probably my last fantasy piece was a fantasy pirate story, and that one sold to the anthology Sails and Sorcery.  That’s still available, and you can buy it online.
AF:  Is that the one with the mermaids on the cover?  I have a copy of that.
BL:  Yeah.  And the floating ship.   There are some great stories in there.  My story “Thief of Hearts” got some pretty good reviews, so I was really happy with that.
AF:  What about science fiction?  Is there science fiction available?  The question wasn’t meant to be limited to sword and sorcery.
BL:  Oh.
AF:  Adventures Fantastic doesn’t just focus on sword and sorcery.   It also does some science fiction.
BL:  Some of my science fiction is still available too.  I have a story called “Medic” that’s at Baen’s Universe.  Baen’s Universe closed down, but the archives are still there.  I think you can buy stories one at a time for .99 cents.  I have a horror story in Something Wicked, a South African magazine.  Those are all still available if you order them online.  You can go to my website,, for a list of all my published works.  Most of those still available have links at each story.
AF:  Last question.
BL:  Okay.
AF:  If you were conducting this interview, what one question would you ask that I have not? 
BL:  Wow.  Let me think here.
AF:  This is your chance to talk about anything you want.
BL:  I guess it would be a question for our readers.  You asked me what we were looking for.  Obviously, the kind of fiction we want to read, the sword and sorcery, the quest type fiction, stuff like that, but we also want to know what the readers want.  What do you want to see more of in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly?  I’d invite our readers to send us some notes or emails.  If there’s something you’d like to see more of, if there’s a particular writer you really like and you want more from them, send us an email and we’ll try to make it happen.  If we just wanted to read this stuff ourselves, we wouldn’t bother making the magazine.
AF:  Thank you.
BL:  Thank you.

Report on ConDFW X

ConDFW X was held on February 18-20, 2011, at the Crown Plaza in Dallas, Texas.   Guests included Brandon Sanderson, Tim Powers, and Brad Foster.  Jack McDevitt, last year’s guest who was unable to attend due to weather, was also there.

Lee Martindale interviewing Jack McDevitt

This was a good convention.  I have only one complaint, aside from the usual that time passed too quickly and I had to miss some of the programming because I couldn’t be in more than one place at the same time, and that was the con suite.  It seemed to have thin offerings this year, which is unusual because ConDFW usually has an excellent con suite.  But that’s minor. 

It was a great con, a lot of fun, and I was able to interview several people.  Over the next few weeks, as I transcribe the interviews, I’ll post them here.

My biggest regret was that I wasn’t able to attend Tim Powers Q&A session, but at least I did manage to score a signed copy of On Stranger Tides, which is the basis for the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean IV, complete with original sketch. 

Tracy Morris, Tim Powers, Lou Antonelli, and Bill Ledbetter         

There was the usual number of writer oriented panels, on breaking out of the slush pile, how to write cross genre fiction, and that type of thing.  Steampunk was prevalent, and a good deal of the art show had a steampunk theme.  Beverly Hale’s line of steampunk accessories in the art show was particularly stunning.  I noticed about four or five self-published authors had tables in the dealers’ room, each of them trying to promote their books.  I leafed through one of them, and the dialogue was pretty stilted.  While I wish the author well, I hope the author is able to improve their craft. 

Probably the most eye-popping thing was in the charity auction.  Someone had donated a large (I’m talking huge here) number of movie related items:  posters, signed publicity photos, Star Trek figures.  That in and of itself wouldn’t be especially eye-popping except that two of the posters were signed.  One was Apocalypse Now, and the other was The Blues Brothers.  Yes, the entire cast of both movies, including Marlon Brando and John Belushi.  I have no idea what they went for, but whoever walked away with them surely got them for less than market price.

Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson used part of his GoH session to discuss how genre fans shouldn’t denigrate fans of subgenres that don’t like.  His point, which was much more eloquently made than I’m stating it, was that genre readers in general, and readers of fantasy and science fiction in particular, have been looked down upon and ghetto-ized by the literary establishment and the general public for years.  We shouldn’t turn around and do that to each other.

(l to r) Frank Summers, Mark Finn, Brandon Sanderson, Gloria Oliver, Stina Leitch, and Lee Martindale discussing magic systems.

The panel I found most thought-provoking was the one on how much should magic systems operate on scientific principles, meaning how well developed should the rules governing an author’s magic system be worked out.  When the discussion went to the audience, I suggested that many science fiction writers use more magic than many fantasy writers because they take Clarke’s Law and reverse it, making magic indistinguishable from sufficiently advanced technology.  I also suggested that maybe people were reading more fantasy than science fiction these days (at least according to sales numbers) was that fantasy was delivering the sense of wonder that science fiction used to deliver.  I may develop this idea and follow it up with another post.

All in all this was a great con.  Rather than talk about it, I’ll let my photos speak for me.

(l to r)  Brad Sinor, Teresa Patterson, Kevin Hosey, Scott Cupp, and Lee Martindale discussing the making of anthologies.
The hotel lobby seen from the 2nd floor.

(l to r) Frank Summers, Thomas Knowles, Bill Fawcett, Michael Finn
A good time was had by all.